Order of Business.
Suspension of Member.
Order of Business (Resumed).
Financial Resolutions, 1996. - Financial Resolution No. 7: General (Resumed).
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Nurses' Dispute.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Publication of Reports of Investigation into Child Abuse.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Kilkenny Incest Case.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Hepatitis Victims.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Services for Mentally Handicapped.
Private Notice Question. - Closure of Ballyshannon (Donegal) Plant.
Adjournment Debate Matters.
Financial Resolutions, 1996. - Financial Resolution No. 7: General (Resumed).
Adjournment Debate. - Housing and Land Transfers.
Adjournment Debate. - Sellafield Nuclear Plant.
Adjournment Debate. - Safety at Sea.
Written Answers. - Cancer Services.
Written Answers. - Lung Transplants.
Written Answers. - Women's Refuges.
Written Answers. - Nursing Course.
Written Answers. - Spending on Elderly People.
Written Answers. - Hepatitis C Case.
Written Answers. - Hospital Delays.
Written Answers. - Travellers' Health Needs.
Written Answers. - Misuse of Drugs Acts.
Written Answers. - Substance Abuse.
Written Answers. - Blood Products Recall.
Written Answers. - Meningitis Research.
Written Answers. - Control of Doctor's Fees.
Written Answers. - Special Needs Placement.
Written Answers. - Tallaght (Dublin) Hospital.
Written Answers. - Air Ambulance Services.
Written Answers. - Mammography Service.
Written Answers. - Accommodation of Children.
Written Answers. - Cork Obstetric Service.
Written Answers. - Communications Technology for Elderly.
Written Answers. - Radon Risks.
Written Answers. - Health Board Savings.
Written Answers. - VHI Price Increase.
Written Answers. - Radiation Monitoring.
Written Answers. - Trudder House (Wicklow) Allegations.
Written Answers. - Health Insurance Regulations.
Written Answers. - Patient Follow-up.
Written Answers. - Medical Insurance Premium Costs.
Written Answers. - Hospital Accommodation.
Written Answers. - Child Abuse Cases.
Written Answers. - Long Term Care Bed Numbers.
Written Answers. - Geratric Services.
Written Answers. - Hague Convention Ratification.
Written Answers. - Medical Cards.
Written Answers. - European Investment Bank Loans.
Written Answers. - Reply to Correspondence.
Written Answers. - Ministerial Photographs.
Written Answers. - Student Tax Deductions.
Written Answers. - Tax Yields.
Written Answers. - Contribution to ESAF.
Written Answers. - Community Employment Scheme.
Written Answers. - Storage Area Ownership.
Written Answers. - Helios II Programme.
Written Answers. - Temporary Consultant Post.
Written Answers. - Cancer Patient Support.
Written Answers. - Women's Nutritional Status.
Written Answers. - Method of Payment.
Written Answers. - Low Dose Radiation.
Written Answers. - Sexual Abuse Allegations.
Written Answers. - Hospital Accommodation.
Written Answers. - Hip Replacement Operations.
Written Answers. - Psychiatric Beds.
Written Answers. - Respiratory Infections Research.
Written Answers. - Meningitis Statistics.
Written Answers. - Non-Smoking Ban.
Written Answers. - Planning Costs.
Written Answers. - Recycling Policy.
Written Answers. - Dog Licences.
Written Answers. - Housing Scheme Security.
Written Answers. - Sewerage Scheme Approval.
Written Answers. - Wexford Schools.
Written Answers. - Remedial Teacher Appointment.
Written Answers. - Library Facilities.
Written Answers. - Library Facilities.
Written Answers. - Lucan (Dublin) Community College.
Written Answers. - Westmeath National School.
Written Answers. - Garda Clinic Opening Hours.
Written Answers. - Garda Vacancies.
Written Answers. - County Kilkenny Garda Station.
Written Answers. - Passport for Investment Scheme.
Written Answers. - Crime Statistics.
Written Answers. - Land Registry Dealing.
Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.
Written Answers. - Credit Union Legislation.
Written Answers. - Motor Vehicle Insurance.
Written Answers. - Private Contract Tendering.
Written Answers. - INTERREG Projects.
Written Answers. - Departmental Leaks.
Written Answers. - Beef Prices.
Written Answers. - Livestock Importation Procedures.
Written Answers. - Survey Results.
Written Answers. - Export Refunds Value.
Written Answers. - Green Certificates.
Written Answers. - Fisheries Funding Delay.
Written Answers. - County Waterford Storage Facilities.
 Chuaigh an Ceann Comhairle i gceannas ar 10.30 a.m.
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take item No. 9.
Mr. B. Ahern: Will the Taoiseach give an assurance that the Fianna Fáil Bill passed by the House last night will not be buried but given a fair hearing in the Select Committee on Legislation and Security together with the long awaited but welcome Government Bill on drug trafficking? All the legal arguments made by the Government were clearly answered last night. A lot of work was put into the Bill and it was debated in the House for two weeks. I am asking that the Bill's provisions be incorporated in the Government's Bill.
The Taoiseach: This is the second or third time in recent days that Opposition parties have sought to raise matters appropriate to committees on the Order of Business in the plenary session of the Dáil. We have a good committee system that works well and should allow committee business to be dealt with in committee rather than on the floor of the House for point scoring purposes.
Mr. B. Ahern: I regret the attitude of the Taoiseach. The Government issued a Bill this morning which neither I nor  our spokesperson has read yet. We debated our Bill for the last two weeks. It has little to do with the committee but concerns the instruction which the Taoiseach will give to the members of the committee. The Taoiseach is refusing to answer that question. There is much public concern about crime in general. Will the Taoiseach indicate if the other ten items of legislation listed by the Government will be taken in this session and, if not, why not?
The Taoiseach: The attachment of earnings Bill is in the early stage of preparation. It will end imprisonment where practicable for civil debt and inability to pay fines. I am not able to say exactly when it will be introduced.
The criminal justice (miscellaneous provisions) Bill is designed to achieve savings in Garda time through changing procedures in criminal cases and implementing further changes in criminal procedure recommended by the interdepartmental group on the administration of justice and by the Director of Public Prosecutions. I expect that legislation to be introduced in the first half of this year.
The Minister is working on the criminal law Bill which will abolish the distinction between felonies and misdemeanours and change the categorisation of different types of imprisonment. I expect that Bill to be introduced either this month or next month. The criminal law insanity Bill will be introduced in the second half of this year and will amend the criminal law on insanity. The Minister is also working on criminal law legislation to give effect to the UN Convention against torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. If we can do so, we will introduce that legislation in the first half of the year, but if not it will probably be in the second half. There is also legislation to implement the Europol Convention. There are difficulties with the arguments about jurisdiction in regard to the interpretation of the Convention as between the European Court and other courts. This legislation will be introduced about the middle of this year.
 The Minister is working on a number of other items, for example a Bill to index fines which will update the level of fines. This Bill is at an early stage of preparation and I am not in a position to say when it will be introduced. It is an important matter. The maximum level of fines is out of date and needs to be revised.
Preparation of the juvenile justice Bill is at an advanced stage of preparation. It deals with offences committed by children and involves a comprehensive revision of the Children Act, 1908. Demand for its revision has been made for about 20 years. I expect that legislation to be ready in the first half of this year. The House will agree the Minister has much work in hands involving a range of reforms of criminal law. That matter is being given very high priority by the Government because we regard the updating of our criminal law as important. It is also important that the House understand how comprehensive this programme is.
Mr. O'Malley: Will the Taoiseach arrange to lay before the House and circulate to Deputies written details of the proposals made yesterday by the Tánaiste to Sir Patrick Mayhew? It is important that these details be available to the House and the public. It is particularly disappointing that before they could have been fully known they were already rejected by a number of parties. They are particularly important because there lies the only hope of talks since the original proposal last November for talks by the end of February now seems a forlorn hope.
An Ceann Comhairle: Matters appertaining to Northern Ireland do not arise on the Order of Business.
The Taoiseach: I am happy to answer the question. I will arrange for a copy of the statement issued yesterday by the Tánaiste to be circulated to all Members. The proposal is a very practical one designed to enable us achieve  the objective set and agreed by the two Governments to launch talks by the end of this month. Given that there are only 21 days before that time elapses, the Government's proposal to bring all parties together in the one building for a two day period is the most practical available way of working intensively to resolve the differences that exist.
The Governments not only agreed on a joint firm aim of talks by the end of this month, we also agreed in the communiqué to work intensively in the political track towards that aim. The proposal by this Government to bring everybody together for a two day period flows directly from the communiqué in which there is an agreed commitment from both Governments to work intensively on this matter. There is no better proposal for working intensively in the time remaining than the one put forward by this Government to the British Government. I am very happy to respond to Deputy O'Malley's suggestion and to his implied support for what the Government is doing, by circulating to all Members a full copy of the Government statement issued yesterday.
Mr. B. Ahern: On the basis that there is considerable agreement in the House on matters relating to the communiqué, does the Taoiseach believe this is an appropriate time to have a debate on Northern Ireland, a debate I have been requesting since September last? The Taoiseach may not wish to issue the letter he sent to the British Prime Minister last Monday, but it is published in the British press today. Will he make available to the House his arguments in favour of the Government's proposals?
The Taoiseach: I do not propose to publish correspondence I had with the British Prime Minister.
Mr. B. Ahern: Perhaps the Taoiseach will publish the general content of it.
The Taoiseach: That is not a particularly useful suggestion. It is much better that Heads of Government should communicate in a confidential fashion. The confidentiality of such communication should be maintained.
Mr. D. Ahern: It has been published in the British papers.
The Taoiseach: I do not propose to respond to that suggestion, but I am responding favourably to Deputy O'Malley's suggestion.
Mr. B. Ahern: Does the Taoiseach consider it appropriate that we have a debate in this House on Northern Ireland?
The Taoiseach: I will examine that suggestion taking into account the parliamentary timetable of other business and the views expressed by the Opposition in the matter.
Mr. J. Walsh: Motion No. 35 on yesterday's Order Paper states:
That Dáil Éireann, mindful of the statement made by the Minister for Social Welfare in the House on Tuesday, 23rd January, 1996, in answer to a Dáil Priority Question, calls on the Minister to retract his erroneous statement and correct the record of the House.
Will the Taoiseach devote Government time to discuss this very important matter?
An Ceann Comhairle: This matter has been raised on a number of occasions. The issue is before the House by way of substantive motion. It is also before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and the House should await the outcome of deliberations in that respect. I will hear no more about the issue and Members should not raise it. It is before the House in a very formal way and Members will have an opportunity of utilising the time available for this purpose. In the meantime  there should be no reference to the matter.
Mr. Andrews: On a point of order——
An Ceann Comhairle: I fail to see how there can be a point of order on a statement from the Chair.
Mr. Andrews: On a point of information, you and I have been in this House for a very long time, maybe too long——
An Ceann Comhairle: Please, Deputy.
Mrs. Owen: That is a very good start.
Mr. Andrews: The Minister should not go down that route. The people are not very happy with her. There has been a practice that when a person misleads the House, deliberately or otherwise——
An Ceann Comhairle: Sorry, Deputy Andrews, I have ruled on the matter and you may not comment on it.
Mr. Andrews: The Minister should do the decent and honourable thing and apologise for misleading the House. There are standards in this House that are not being maintained.
An Ceann Comhairle: Doubtless the Deputy will be afforded an opportunity of speaking to the substantive motion when it comes before the House. In the meantime he should remain quiet in the matter.
Mr. Andrews: The Minister said there were no advertisements for the jobs concerned. There was clearly an indication that there were vacancies.
Mr. T. Kitt: I direct this question to you, a Cheann Comhairle. I think you will agree—you have said this on many occasions—the integrity of the House  is paramount and you are the guardian and custodian of that integrity.
An Ceann Comhairle: What is your point of order?
Mr. T. Kitt: If a Fianna Fáil Minister advertised in a Fianna Fáil magazine for five Government jobs and came into the House——
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Kitt is clearly trying to circumvent the ruling of the Chair. He should please desist and resume his seat.
Mr. T. Kitt: No, there is a point of order.
An Ceann Comhairle: Resume your seat forthwith, Deputy Kitt.
Mr. T. Kitt: If a Fianna Fáil Minister——
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should resume his seat, otherwise I will have to name him.
Mr. T. Kitt: I want to finish my point of order.
An Ceann Comhairle: No, you are completely out of order, Deputy Kitt. I am asking you for the last time to desist and resume your seat.
Mr. Andrews: On a point of order——
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy leaves me no option but to name him.
Mr. T. Kitt: If a Fianna Fáil Minister——
An Ceann Comhairle: Is that what you want?
Mr. T. Kitt: I want to use my democratic right——
An Ceann Comhairle: I will give you one last chance to resume your seat.
Mr. T. Kitt: I do not wish to——
An Ceann Comhairle: I have no option but to name the Deputy. I now ask that Deputy Tom Kitt be suspended from the service of the House.
Mr. Andrews: This is outrageous. It is an unfortunate tactic.
An Ceann Comhairle: Order and decorum shall be maintained in this House.
Mr. Andrews: You are bullying the Deputy out of the House.
An Ceann Comhairle: How dare Deputy Andrews make such a remark?
Mr. Andrews: How can an Opposition operate if it does not get fair play from the Chair?
An Ceann Comhairle: I resent the Deputy's remarks.
The Taoiseach: I move: “That Deputy Tom Kitt be suspended from the service of the Dáil.”
The Dáil divided: Tá, 62; Níl, 39.
Broughan, Tommy. Connaughton, Paul.
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Durkan, Bernard J.
Higgins, Michael D.
|Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Carey, Donal. McDowell, Derek.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
O'Malley, Desmond J.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies J. Higgins and B. Fitzgerald; Níl. Deputies D. Ahern and Callely.
Question declared carried.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy will now leave the House.
Deputy Tom Kitt withdrew from the Chamber.
An Ceann Comhairle: We proceed to the business of the House proper.
Mr. Andrews: On a point of information, you said, Sir, you would come to a conclusion on the matter of the  advertisement, or no advertisement. I have here a document——
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Andrews, the matter does not arise now. There is a substantive motion before the House. Doubtless, the Deputy will avail of an opportunity of speaking on that motion. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges is also seized of the matter. It does not arise now.
Mr. Andrews: Well, Sir——
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Andrews, I must ask you to desist from any further reference to the matter.
Mr. Andrews: I am resisting; you can take it that I am resisting Sir.
The Taoiseach: Persisting.
An Ceann Comhairle: Thank you, Deputy, please resume your seat.
Mr. Andrews: All I am seeking to do, Sir——
An Ceann Comhairle: Please resume your seat, Deputy Andrews.
Mr. Andrews: Sir, I do not want to be thrown out and I have to speak in the budget debate.
An Ceann Comhairle: I have always known the Deputy to be fair-minded in such matters. I must now ask him finally to resume his seat.
Mr. Andrews: May I ask you, Sir, for permission to put this on the table of the House for the delectation of the Chair in coming to his decision as to whether this is an advertisement?
An Ceann Comhairle: I need no advice from you, Deputy, in respect of this matter. We know how the matter is  proceeding. Let it proceed in accordance with the rules of this House.
Mr. Andrews: Sir, I am being helpful to the House.
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Andrews, I am asking you for the last time to resume your seat.
Mr. Briscoe: I have been a Member of this House for 31 years. Quite honestly, I have never seen anything like the abuse of this House by the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy De Rossa, this morning.
Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa): What about the beef tribunal?
An Ceann Comhairle: I am now proceeding to item No. 9 — Financial Motions by the Minister for Finance— on the Order Paper. I see Deputy O'Malley offering.
Mr. Andrews: Sir, when is an advertisement not an advertisement?
Mr. D. Ahern: I notice the Minister for Social Welfare has found his voice for a change.
Mr. Andrews: When is an advertisement not an advertisement?
Mr. J. Walsh: The Minister for Social Welfare is a liar.
Proinsias De Rossa: Sir, on a point of order, Deputy Walsh should withdraw that remark; he must withdraw that remark.
Mr. E. Ryan: The Minister for Social  Welfare said the same thing of the bishop.
Proinsias De Rossa: A Cheann Comhairle, I insist that Deputy Joe Walsh withdraw that remark.
An Ceann Comhairle: There was such a commotion in the House I did not hear the remark. I am calling Deputy O'Malley.
Proinsias De Rossa: Everybody on this side of the House heard him say I am a liar.
An Ceann Comhairle: I have said, and I am fearless in these matters, I heard no so such remark, Minister.
Proinsias De Rossa: Sir, everybody on this side of the House heard him say I am a liar.
An Ceann Comhairle: I am calling Deputy O'Malley.
Mr. O'Malley: May I inquire of you, Sir——
Proinsias De Rossa: You are a pathetic bunch of liars.
Mr. Andrews: Taoiseach De Rossa, sit down; Taoiseach De Rossa, resume your seat.
Proinsias De Rossa: Sir, that man opposite, the cause of the beef tribunal, accused me of being a liar. I intend taking this to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
Proinsias De Rossa: Deputy Eoin Ryan does not have a single political idea in his head, he is pathetic; Daddy's boy.
An Ceann Comhairle: I must say I have not observed such gross disorder in this House for a very considerable length of time. If it persists, I will have no option but to adjourn our proceedings.
Proinsias De Rossa: What about the beef tribunal?
Mr. J. Walsh: Ceausescu, the Minister for Social Welfare, has been found out.
Mr. E. Ryan: Ceausescu's pal.
The Taoiseach: Of the 166 Members, Deputy Joe Walsh is the last who should make such an allegation.
An Ceann Comhairle: Unless these interruptions cease forthwith I will have no option but to suspend the sitting.
An Ceann Comhairle: I have no option but to suspend the sitting for 15 minutes.
Sitting suspended at 11.7 a.m. and resumed at 11.22 a.m.
Debate resumed on the following motion:
That it is expedient to amend the law relating to customs and inland revenue (including excise) and to make further provision in connection with finance.
—(Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy J. Higgins).
Ms Shortall: I wish to share my time with Deputy Seán Kenny.
An Ceann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Ms Shortall: During my contribution last week I spoke about the number of welcome initiatives in this year's budget. This morning I draw attention to the areas excluded from the budget which require attention. The first is tax relief for child minding expenses. Anybody who watched RTE last night knows that this is a major issue for women. It has particular significance in encouraging women to enter the workforce. Lack of good child care facilities is one of the main impediments to women playing their full part in the workforce. It is an issue for which no Minister has an appetite.
There is a serious anomaly in this area. If a married woman wants to pay somebody to carry out child care duties in her house, she must pay the minder out of an income which has already been taxed. In effect we have double taxation. If we allowed tax relief for the purposes of paying a child minder, there would be little net cost to the Exchequer. The relief allowed on the first person's income would come back to the Exchequer by way of tax on the child minder's income. This serious anomaly requires attention.
Another area which I regret has not been covered in the budget is the need to examine systems to cater for new lifestyles, new family arrangements and new working circumstances. Our tax and social welfare systems have evolved over the years and are extremely complex and cumbersome. I appeal to the Government to start examining the question of a basic income. There are many reasons why this would be a welcome development, particularly for women who are dependent on social welfare and strongly object to the dependency concept in the social welfare system. Women who are at home looking after families while their husbands are working receive no recognition for the work they do in the home.
It is ridiculous to have people sign on  for unemployment assistance or unemployment benefit when we know there are no jobs for them. Many agencies have done work in this area and there is much good research from groups like CORI, the INOU and the Combat Poverty Agency. I regret that no funding was made available in this budget to research some of those progressive proposals.
Mr. S. Kenny: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. The budget will be a major boost to Ireland's economic growth. Job creation is the cornerstone of Labour's economic philosophy and political agenda. This is the second budget by the Labour Finance Minister, Deputy Quinn. Last year's budget was a success. The economy performed better than any economy of the European Union or in the OECD. This was achieved through the efforts and co-operation of all the social partners.
Job creation has grown four times faster in Ireland than in the rest of the EU in recent years. Last year employment increased by 45,000, the overall growth rate as measured by GNP was more than 7 per cent, investment grew by almost 11 per cent in real terms, export volumes increased by more than 13 per cent and mortgage and short-term interest rates were at an all time low level.
The outlook for 1996 is expected to be one of continuing economic growth. Employment is projected to increase by a further 31,000, GNP to grow by 5 per cent, inflation to average about 2.25 per cent, investment to increase by almost 8 per cent and the balance of payments to remain in a substantial surplus.
The principal objective of the budget is to reward those at work. For example, the disregarding of the first £50 of weekly wages in the calculation of PRSI contributions, introduced last year, has now been increased to £80 per week. This measure will result in a gain of £1.65 per week for full rate PRSI contributors who are exempt from income tax or on marginal relief. The corresponding allowance to those on the  modified PRSI rate and the self employed will be increased from £10 to £20 per week and the PRSI ceiling applicable to employers and the self employed will increase from £21,000 to £22,300.
To further reward those at work the standard income tax band is widened by £1,000 to £18,800 for married couples and by £500 to £9,400 for single persons. The personal allowance is being increased by £300 to £5,300 per annum for married couples and by £150 to £2,650 per annum for single persons. The general income exemption limits below which no income tax is payable are being increased by £400 to £7,800 per annum for married couples—£150 per week; and by £200 to £3,900 per annum for single persons—£75 per week. This measure will remove 18,800 persons from the tax net.
This year's budget consolidates the progress made and takes further steps to ensure that the terms of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work are fully implemented and that further improvements on taxation and social progress are made. The 1994 budget delivered on the concessions forecast in the Programme for Competitiveness and Work negotiations, the 1995 budget provided considerable relief when little was forecast in the negotiations and the 1996 budget has also gone somewhat beyond the expectations of the limited room for manoeuvre.
Thanks to the taxation and PRSI concessions and the Programme for Competitiveness and Work wage increases the average take home pay for a person on average industrial earnings has increased substantially over the period of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work. For example the income of a single person on average industrial earnings has increased by 14.6 per cent, the income of a married person with two children has increased by 12.6 per cent over the period of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work and the income of a married person with four children has increased by 16.5 per cent. These increases are ahead of inflation  for the same period by about 7 per cent. For a married person with children, the increases in child benefit will further increase these gains.
As well as rewarding work the budget has introduced measures to promote enterprise, for example, in the case of employer's PRSI, to reduce the standard rate from 12.2 per cent to 12 per cent and to reduce the lower rate from 9 per cent to 8.5 per cent and to increase the threshold below which this lower rate applies from £12,000 to £13,300 per annum.
I welcome the series of initiatives which will create opportunities for those in long-term unemployment. Long-term unemployment is a social reality that blights so many communities in cities and towns. It also has a devastating effect on generations of families. The new measures to tackle long-term unemployment include a recruitment subsidy of £80 per week which will be paid to employers in respect of new employees who have been unemployed for at least three years. Up to 5,000 places will be provided under these arrangements. In order to refocus community employment to concentrate on the long-term unemployed, an additional 1,000 full-time places will be provided on community employment on a pilot basis for people over 35 years of age and who have been unemployed for at least five years. This measure is aimed at targeting the groups who have been long-term unemployed.
Some 25 per cent of the 40,000 part-time places on community employment are to be reserved for those over 35 years of age and unemployed for three years or more with up to 75 per cent of places reserved for those over 21 years of age and unemployed for at least 12 months. Persons who have been unemployed for at least one year will retain their medical card for three years after entering employment. This had been an obstacle for people re-entering the workforce and this measure will allow people to return to the workforce without suffering a loss of income. Some 1,000 additional places will be provided  under the VTOS scheme run by the Department of Education.
The social welfare increases of 3 per cent will protect the value of all payments. Since Labour entered Government total expenditure on social services has increased by 10 per cent and in real terms by £890 million. In the case of social welfare, total spending is up by 8 per cent in real terms. The majority of social welfare rates are now at either 95 per cent or 100 per cent of the Commission on Social Welfare recommended main rates, but some are as high as 110 per cent of the commission's recommendations. For example, the contributory old age pension is now at 110 per cent of the Commission on Social Welfare recommended rate. The non-contributory old age pension has increased from 88 per cent of the CSW rate in 1985 to 95 per cent. Widows' non-contributory pension has increased from 86 per cent to 95 per cent over the same period. Child benefit increases over the period of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work are worth more than £200 per year to a two-child family and more than £500 to a four-child family.
In education, the primary level basic capitation grant has increased from £29 in 1982 to £45 in 1996, an increase of 60 per cent since Deputy Bhreatnach became Minister for Education. The rate of disadvantage capitation primary grant has increased from £45 to £75 in the same period. The disadvantage primary fund has increased from £1.14 million in 1992 to £4.38 million in 1996. The number of VTOS places has increased from 2,060 in 1992 to 5,000 in 1996. The Outreach programme caters for 2,450 young people in 1996 compared with 1,600 in 1993.
I welcome the recent announcement by the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin, that £32 million is being provided to allow the Dublin local authorities commence a water conservation programme in 1996. Dublin Corporation has already received approval to construct a modern state of the art  treatment plant at Ringsend to implement a sludge management strategy to eliminate the dumping of sludge in Dublin Bay by the required EU dead-line of 1998. This will bring to an end the dumping of untreated sewage off Howth and the pollution of beaches such as Dollymount Sutton, Portmarnock and Malahide after 1998 and will also lead to the restoration of these beaches to their former blue flag status.
I also welcome the allocation by the Government of £13.5 million to Fingal County Council for the completion of the Leixlip water refurbishment scheme. This will improve the quality and volume of water supply to areas of Fingal and the north city which for many years have endured low water pressure. These measures, together with the special amenity area order for Bull Island, represent one of the best initiatives taken on behalf of the people of Dublin to restore the amenity of Dublin Bay to its citizens.
I commend the budget.
Mr. Andrews: Government is about leadership. The people elect us and trust us with the task of leading them. They give us the power to pass laws and enact all sorts of statutory measures which are supposed to make life better for everyone. These measures often cost a considerable amount of money which must come from somewhere as it does not grow on trees. In the normal course the Government must turn to the people for the money to allow it give force to the statutory measures introduced on their behalf. If the people are being asked to pay, they are entitled to know where the money goes and receive value for it.
Most taxpayers accept the need for taxation. In a humane and caring society all but the most callous and selfish members recognise that in order to provide for the less well off and most needy they must make their contribution. Most people are not altogether happy that they have to contribute so much. Nevertheless, a good Government should be able to show them whose money it is taking in tax and that it is being put to  good use. It should be able to say that the burden of taxation is being shared equally among all those capable of paying.
The annual budget is the means by which each Government sets out its financial policy and how it intends to deal with the income it will receive in the relevant year. A good Government should be able to satisfy the people that, in proposing price rises and increases in taxation, they will be better off in the long run, if not necessarily in the medium term. A budget will never be to everyone's liking but the people like to know what they are paying for and why.
The last Government of which I was a member may have had it faults and it fell in circumstances which by the standards of the present Government seem utterly ridiculous. It was in control of the economy, engaged in a programme to tackle crime; it was the engine of the peace process in Northern Ireland and steadily and prudently modified the tax regime to make the system work more fairly. It provided strong leadership. History will show, particularly in the relentless drive which culminated in the historic cessation of voilence in the North, that this was its strength.
The absence of leadership is what is most striking about the present Government. Perhaps — I say this with respect — the Taoiseach is still stunned by his unlikely shove into office and genuinely engaged in a battle to balance the competing demands, both practical and philosophical, of his partners in Government. If the budget is an example of his leadership and that of the Government, it is no surprise that the peace process is becalmed. I listened to what he had to say in this regard this morning and genuinely hope — I support both him and the Tánaiste in their efforts — that all-party talks will commence before the end of this month. I have grave doubts that this will happen.
To describe the budget as a missed opportunity is a gross understatement. The measures were spread too thinly and it has left the unemployed, employed and employers cold. No one  feels they have gained. Apparent gains in one area are clawed back in others. In reality, the only members of society who have gained are non-smokers, non-drivers, non-car owners, non-property owners and non-taxpayers. The rest continue to suffer under the weight of an unacceptable level of personal taxation, both direct and indirect. I wonder how long it will be before an honest assessment of the Government and its abysmal record is exposed by the media.
My job as my party's spokesperson on tourism and trade is to mark the Minister's card and highlight both the shortcomings and positive aspects of his Ministry. So far as the budget is concerned, the former is an easy task. It was a grave disappointment. There was not one penny extra and tourism and trade did not merit a mention in the Budget Statement, in spite of the ever increasing importance of tourism in the war against unemployment and in the face of the exceptional difficulties our exporters to Britain are experiencing.
The Government has failed to recognise that tourism is a major contributor to both revenue and employment. Jobs created within the sector are real jobs, not gimmicks, training schemes or temporary job experience placements designed to doctor the unemployment figures and give the Government an opportunity to crow about “further reductions in the live register”. Jobs within the sector are not grant-aided and cost the taxpayer little or nothing to create. Of even greater importance, they last beyond six months or one year.
Tourism has been left to fend for itself and its strength is such that even without the support of the Government it will remain strong. This is an indication of what could be achieved if the Government woke up to the need for a proper policy to support and encourage the sector which must be fostered so that its full potential can be realised. Assistance is necessary at a time when growth rates have slowed significantly.
The Government has made no effort to ensure that the sector will continue to grow. Bord Fáilte's grant has been  cut by 11 per cent at a time when some costs in the Department will rise by 5 per cent this year. How does this make sense? Cutting Bord Fáilte's grant at this time has no logical or practical basis since every indicator points towards an upturn in the number of tourists and increased prosperity for all involved in the sector for every pound wisely invested.
As well as starving the sector of development funding, the Government has also failed to expedite matters in relation to the European operational programme for tourism. As we approach the medium-term review, only £78 million has been allocated. Over £150 million remains to be allocated and spent by 1999. We will be hard pressed to complete capital projects by that date unless decisions are expedited now.
It makes no sense to delay allocations. The longer the State has to wait, the more revenue and tourists it loses. We have to compete in a competitive and sometimes harsh world of business and there is no time for leisurely reflection on how best the sector should progress. Other countries are stealing our customers and luring away tourists. They recognise that there is no time to be wasted, but what is the Government doing? It has cut the allocation for tourism development projects.
The national conference centre is one of the projects that will benefit from EU funding, but the Minister's handling of the matter has given rise to serious concern. He purported to hold a competition for the design, construction and operation of the centre, invited tenders from interested bodies, rejected all the submissions and then invited one of the applicants to the exclusion of all others to accept the project. Vast amounts of applicants' time and money have been wasted. They applied in good faith and in the belief that their applications would be given careful consideration and that they were all starting from the same position. The competition was a sham. Serious questions remain to be answered by the Minister.
 How does he reconcile the selection of the RDS with the statement in the letter sent by Bord Fáilte that none of the applicants was being invited to proceed to the second stage? The RDS was one of the applicants. He has already decided that it is not suitable, yet he has selected one applicant over 11 or 12 others.
I would be keen to have sight of his legal advice on the manner in which the competition was organised. If there is a legal challenge, it could result in the project being held up for years and the money for the centre being lost if it is not completed by 1999.
He must explain why the RDS has now been selected since that it was previously rejected. Is Ballsbridge the most suitable location given that it already has immense traffic problems? The commercial problems of the RDS have only just been sorted out and it has no major financial surplus. Does it have the technical and professional capability to deal with the project, the purpose of which is to provide a facility for Ireland capable of attracting the most prestigious conferences? It must be at least as good as any other facility in the world. It must be better than all the rest if it is to stand the test of commercial competition.
The Minister seems to be stuck to the notion that the centre must be self-financing. This is one of the reasons proffered for favouring the RDS. I would like the Minister to list the national conference centres in the world that operate without Exchequer funding and on a stand alone basis. To my knowledge there is no such centre. Where will the RDS get the £8 million or £10 million necessary to match EU funding to build the centre?
The Minister claimed that as a public body the RDS will qualify for 75 per cent funding. This gives rise to a number of questions. The RDS is controlled by its members. The Minister does not have control over the manner in which it discharges its functions, nor is it accountable to the Government. It is not a public body in the same sense as  a State company or Government Department. Was the Minister informed by the EU Commission that his proposals comply with normal practice for the allocation of EU funds? It is a matter of public concern that this project appears to have been hijacked by the Minister in this year of supposed openness, transparency and accountability, about which we heard a great deal last year but very little since. Will the Minister tell us what he is doing, why he is doing it and how he proposes to make it work?
Will he also explain to the groups that were rejected by him why they failed? They have been treated appallingly and have not received an adequate explanation from the Minister or Bord Fáilte. Who is advising whom? Did the Department advise them to abandon the competition or was it the Department and Bord Fáilte? There are other matters in the tourism portfolio that have not been addressed in the budget or elsewhere. The hiatus in dealing with violent crime unless tackled swiftly and comprehensively, will affect Ireland's attractiveness as a venue for tourists.
Most citizens desire to be allowed live in safety and security, without fear of being mugged in the street or attacked in their homes and happy to leave their cars parked under lock and key in the knowledge that they will be there when they return. The Government has not introduced legislation aimed at tackling crime. It is only as a result of public out-rage that a belated announcement was made about the prison at Castlerea. If that is the best the Government can do to protect the people from the type of crime that is unfortunately now all too familiar, is it not time for it to stand aside? Law and order is now on the top of the Fianna Fáil agenda. It stands alongside unemployment as the number one public enemy.
I pay tribute to the work of the Dublin tourism victim support service. I thank it for what it is doing in association with the Garda Síochána, for tourists who are the victims of crime and are lost and bewildered in a foreign city. I  criticise the budget for its failure to address aspects of tourism. It was silent on the topic and it remains for me to point out some areas which need attention where the Minister has, unfortunately, failed again.
Growth in tourism is skewed significantly in favour of the east coast. Tourist numbers have increased. The growth in tourism on the east coast is twice that on the west coast and the reasons are simple. There is better access through ports and airports to the east coast, Dublin is a major capital city and there is a change in the type of holidays taken. However, there is vast untapped potential in the west and the Government must act quickly to ensure that access to the west is improved and Bord Fáilte is directed to place special emphasis on that region in its tourism marketing schemes.
I welcome the long overdue decision to tackle the condition of our roads and, while this may remove some of the quaintness of our countryside, improved country roads will be welcomed by tourists and residents alike. The Minister should not overlook the dreadful road conditions in Dublin, particularly in urban parts. He should cast his view beyond the countryside and look to the cities, where much remains to be done.
Unfortunately, there is still no progress in attracting low cost carriers to Shannon Airport and the west generally. Neither has there been progress on attracting transatlantic carriers.
Trade matters are also ignored in the budget. Many exporters are under serious pressure because of the continuing weakness of sterling. The Food, Drink and Tobacco Federation has warned that jobs will be lost in the food industry unless steps are taken to reduce costs for employers. Returns for exporters to Britain have reduced by 6 per cent in the past 12 months according to that federation. Fewer workers have been taken on by these businesses or else workers have been taken on in Britain. The Small Firms Association has cited two examples of the difficulties. It claims that a company employing  34 people in County Mayo, the constituency of the Minister for Tourism and Trade, will relocate to England unless the position improves or the Government addresses the difficulties. It also claims that the owner of a company employing 20 people in the north west, 12 miles from the Border, stated that, to all intents and purposes, the company might as well be located across the Border. It operates almost entirely on a sterling account and conducts the majority of its transactions through sterling. It has discounted the option of hedging as the costs associated with buying forward are prohibitive.
The Small Firms Association claims that 70 per cent of small companies who export do so to the United Kingdom, which remains our most important market. Approximately 60,000 jobs depend on UK trade links. Historically, sterling performs poorly at election time in the UK. Economists claim that if there is an election in Britain this year, the Irish pound could reach £1.07 or higher against sterling. The political uncertainty in Britain is not helpful, with many economists here claiming that even if there is not an election there the Irish pound could reach more than £1.04 against sterling during 1996. We have a motion on the Order Paper to address the disparity between the punt and sterling and its effects on small businesses here. That will be taken in the next few weeks.
The Government ignored all these difficulties in the budget. The PRSI breaks given are insignificant. They have been written off as useless by all the industry federations. The budget provided an opportunity to introduce targeted PRSI measures that could have specifically benefited companies under pressure due to the differential with sterling, but that opportunity was missed.
This is a bad budget for the tourism industry. We face a period of uncertainty in our relationship with our fellow inhabitants of this island. Tourism is an area in which significant cross-Border  co-operation is not only possible but desirable in the process of building trust. I have made a number of proposals, arising from parliamentary questions, to the Minister in respect of cross-Border co-operation and the importance of this country being identified as one island in the context of trade and tourism, particularly tourism. I suggested that an all-Ireland tourism body should be appointed under which people from both sides of the Border could mesh to produce ongoing prosperity in the context of the peace process. I also suggested that we have a great deal to offer one another in terms of trade links. I understand that because of the vast influx of tourists, particularly from the South, as a result of the peace process, people in the North are short changed in terms of hotel accommodation. I understand that is being addressed. I hope the North gets its fair share of tourists and that people from the South go there on holidays.
There is a serious imbalance in the number of people using the tourist facilities on the east coast and those visiting our wonderful west coast. That imbalance must be addressed by the people who propagandise it. It is important not to undervalue Dublin. Dublin is my city and I am delighted it is doing so well in terms of tourism but we must be fair and ensure that the benefits of tourism are distributed equitably. The reason for the imbalance is that we have excellent access to the east coast by way of Rosslare, Dún Laoghaire, Dublin Port and Larne. In addition, we have a first class airport through which approximately seven to eight million passengers passed last year, with many more arriving this year. The problem in relation to the west, as I understand it, is access and those who are charged with identifying these problems should address them as a matter of urgency.
I wish to quote the immortal words of Deputy De Rossa on 4 March 1993 when he stated:
 The sense of public disappointment has been compounded by the apparent preoccupation of Members of the Government and, unfortunately, Labour Ministers, with appointing extra advisers and staff drawn, in the case of Labour, from party supporters or family circles. What is even worse, is that all of this is adding to the public cynicism and disillusionment with politics which was at such a high level anyway and which contributed to worryingly low turn-outs at recent elections.
The potential annual cost of the special advisers, assistants and programme managers for Ministers and Ministers of State — I am not identifying solely the Labour Party element, because this applies right across the board to the Government as a whole — may amount to more than £2.25 million, according to information supplied to my colleague, Deputy Gilmore, in written replies to Dáil questions.
We had a row here this morning on the Order of Business. I know I cannot rerun that argument because I understand the Cheann Comhairle has indicated that the problem is being dealt with through the committees of the House. It has been suggested, however, that an advertisement was not placed for particular plum jobs which the Minister for Social Welfare so willingly threw out in all directions, not by way of a general public advertisement but in an advertisement in a Democratic Left magazine.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I am sorry to interrupt the Deputy but we must not pursue that matter now.
Mr. Andrews: I accept your ruling and it is not my intention to go beyond that. With your permission, I would like to place on the record of the House either viva voce or physically an advertisement outlining——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: This  debate is confined to taxation, expenditure and financial policy. The Deputy can raise other matters only in so far as they are connected with financial policy. We cannot pursue any other matter at this time.
Mr. Andrews: I accept your ruling and I will not pursue the matter
Once again I wish the peace process well. I was part of that process at the outset for a period of six months when I sat around the all-party table, as it were, with various political parties, North and South. I believe we did very well in that regard. Unfortunately, the talks broke down and I regret the way that happened but that is the way of democracy and politics. It is important in the interest of the continuation of the peace process that all party talks are commenced again as a matter of urgency. The Taoiseach is hopeful these will take place by the end of February but I wonder whether he is being over optimistic. I hope the talks take place by the end of February; it is in everybody's interests that they do.
I am persuaded by the Tánaiste's efforts in particular to launch a new peace initiative in the context of the Dayton proposals. I am not certain that will find favour with the Unionists who seem to be suffering from one of their bouts of intransigence. That is unfortunate and I ask them to reflect again on the Tánaiste's proposal or some similar type of mechanism whereby everybody will be talking, albeit in different rooms. It is unfortunate that he has to make that proposal but now that it has been made, it should not be dismissed.
I wish the Government well in regard to the peace process. I believe I am reflecting the views of my party Leader, Deputy Ahern, I want to pay particular tribute to him for the leadership he has given in the past number of months. He has maintained the consensus in the tensions that arise from democracy but that is what democracy is all about. It is about what happened here this morning, which was not a pretty sight, but that is the way democracy operates.  Deputy Ahern has given and will continue to give good leadership on the question of Northern Ireland and the peace process generally.
Minister of State at the Department of Education (Mr. Allen): I wish to share my time with Deputy Eamon Walsh.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I am sure that is satisfactory and agreed.
Mr. Allen: I wish to deal with aspects of public spending that relate to my Department on sport and youth affairs and I am glad of the opportunity to contribute to this debate.
As we all know Ireland is a great sporting nation and over recent years we have had outstanding success at the highest level of international sport. For a small country such as ours to succeed at this level is an extraordinary tribute to the level of commitment, the vision and the ambition of all concerned.
Our success has been achieved through constant effort, the endless hours and the unselfish determination of the national governing bodies of sport, thousands of dedicated volunteers in sports organisations, local clubs and communities and myriad other agencies and bodies who work tirelessly for the good of our people. We are fortunate to have our own thriving, vibrant native games which are distinctive and unique to our country.
As Minister for Sport I have responsibility for the development of sport at all levels described in the now well established Sports Continuum — foundation, participation, performance and excellence.
Sport and active recreational pursuits cannot thrive without a sound infrastructure. Many people make a substantial investment of their own time in providing sporting opportunities for others. These people range from those who voluntarily organise sporting opportunities  for young people to those who are professionally involved in the leisure industry and who approach their work with commitment and dedication. The value of this human investment is incalculable but the return on the investment will be poor unless the appropriate levels of support both financially and otherwise are provided by the State.
Shortly after taking office I set out a number of priority tasks which I would undertake as Minister of State with responsibility for sport. I was also very much aware that there was no overall coherent plan or strategy for the development of sport in all its aspects.
The priorities which I identified included: the preparation of a national strategy, the publication of codes of practice for safety at sportsgrounds and at outdoor pop concerts and other outdoor musical events, the preparation of a code of ethics and good practice for children in sport and the introduction, in co-operation with the national governing bodies of sport, of a national drug testing programme. I am pleased that substantial progress has been made on all these priority areas. The codes of practice were recently published and have been distributed to the relevant statutory bodies, Government Departments and interested organisations and individuals. The publication of the codes brings us into line with international practice and with the Council of Europe's Convention in this area.
The Code of Ethics and Good Practice for Young People in Sport is aimed at promoting positive adult-child relationships in sport. The code consists of a general set of principles which should underpin the conduct of sport in all areas, including competitive sport and non-competitive physical recreation. It is designed to assist those who work with children in sport to do so in an ethical and responsible manner and to provide a basis for good practice. The code should be formally adopted by all sporting organisations at national, regional and local level and all individuals working with children and is designed to cover all sporting activities  involving children and young people up to 18 years of age and also those with disabilities. I have received the final draft report and I hope to have it published in the near future.
A considerable amount of work has been done on the introduction of a national drug testing and education programme for sport. An educational seminar was organised by the sport section of my Department for all the governing bodies of sport in December 1995. The purpose of the seminar was to outline in detail the systems, structures and procedures involved in introducing a national drug testing and education programme. Presentations were given by leading experts in the field from the Northern Ireland Sports Council, the British Sports Council and the Olympic Council of Ireland.
The responsibilities and involvement of national governing bodies include informing their athletes of the procedures involved in testing, the need to amend their constitutions and regulations to cover testing and to decide in advance what sanctions and penalties should be in place in the event of an athlete testing positive. My Department is now engaged in the preparation of plans and systems to enable the introduction of dope testing in sport in 1996. Pending consideration of the different options available, final details of these plans have not yet been decided but I expect to be in a position to make an announcement shortly. I wish to pay tribute to the Chairman of Cospóir, Mr. Eamon Doherty, who has been very prominent in the preparation of the plans.
The national lottery has provided virtually all the funding for sport since its establishment in 1987 and to date a total of some £90 million has been provided. The average annual national lottery allocation given to sport is approximately 13 per cent. I am aware of the criticisms which have been expressed by many sports groups in recent times that sport does not receive its fair share of national lottery funding and the increasing demands for more funding for sport.  I am glad to confirm that late last year I established a working group to prepare a national strategy document for sport which will be instrumental in supporting the case for increased funding. This work is now well under way under the chairmanship of John Treacy. The working group is preparing a comprehensive detailed, rational and coherent strategy which will guide and map the road ahead for the development of sport in all its aspects and at all levels up to the year 2000 and beyond. The introduction of such a strategy is essential if sport is to move forward in a co-ordinated and structured way to the benefit of all concerned.
This national sports strategy will be of value only if it can be implemented and applied. The working group will work very closely with the various areas of sport to ensure that the goals and objectives of this document will be realistic, attainable and of real value for the future development of sport. I should mention that I am inviting submissions from organisations, groups and interested individuals through a public advertisement which appears in today's national newspapers and which will also appear in Sunday's newspapers. I am also writing to the leaders of all the parties in the House seeking submissions, including their priorities for the future development of sport in Ireland. I ask that the matter be given very careful and detailed consideration. I expect the strategy document to be completed by the end of the year.
The Sport Council for Northern Ireland is also preparing a similar strategy, we have representatives on its group and it has representatives on ours. The majority of the national governing bodies of sport operate on a 32 county basis and I expect there will be many issues arising from the work of these two groups which will benefit the country, North and South, and on which there will be potential for joint initiatives — there have already been four joint initiatives between the two councils in recent months.
 I referred to the need to provide suitable, modern, well managed sports facilities and would like to outline the current position in this area. My Department administers a sports capital programme consisting of the major facilities programme and the recreational facilities scheme. The multiannual major facilities programme provides grants for national, regional and local sports facilities. This programme now comprises up to 130 major projects and the total grant aid provided since the scheme was introduced in 1988 is now in excess of £36 million. When I came to office I was faced with outstanding commitments under the programme of more than £10 million which arose from grant allocations made in previous years. In addition to the £4.1 million in the Estimates for spending in 1995 I was able to secure an additional £4 million to further new projects and, in some cases, to increase grants to existing projects to ensure that facilities are completed to acceptable standards.
I was pleased to be in a position in late 1995 to increase the value of the commitments under the scheme by £1.5 million. I subsequently allocated grants to approximately 240 projects, increasing the total value of grant allocations under the recreational facilities scheme in recent years to £10.863 million. I intend to ensure that funding similar to that provided in 1995 will be available this year to allow me make some inroads into the very high number of applications. We have received approximately 1,400 applications seeking grants of up to £65 million for projects worth in excess of £500 million.
The provision of a 50 metre swimming pool is still under consideration in my Department. The proposals developed by my Department following a detailed feasibility study is for a 50 metre swimming pool which is specifically geared to cater for the training needs of our élite swimmers, to provide for national and a wide range of international competitions and to serve as a major community facility. This project  would cost an estimated £20 million which is equivalent to four years' funding for the sports capital programme.
I am also considering the Dublin International Sports Council's proposals which have been developed in consultation with the International Swimming Hall of Fame. This latter proposal is essentially for a full Olympic standard facility, including an international swimming hall of fame and other accommodation which I am satisfied will cost well in excess of £20 million. The provision of a 50 metre pool could not be financed at the expense of my sports capital programme given the huge demands from the wide range of sporting organisations, local authorities and the wider community to refurbish existing facilities and provide new facilities. The total expenditure on current programmes for sport was £7.3 million in 1995. The range of programmes available for those involved in sports at performance and excellence levels is largely dependent on the efforts of recognised national governing bodies of sport.
The rate of change in society tends to leave young people, even those who excel academically, vulnerable, confused, isolated and excluded. In such a vacuum the youth services provide opportunities and support to young people for association, the development of personal autonomy and the essential values and competencies to participate effectively in a changing society. Voluntary youth organisations, youth clubs and community youth projects provide valuable opportunities for the social and personal development of young people. Qualities and skills such as leadership, co-operation, decision-making, motivation and self-responsibility can be acquired in a learning by doing manner.
The aim of the youth service is to assist all young people to become active participants in a democratic society. This participation, essential to the full development of young people, extends to involvement in institutions of social, political, cultural and economic life. In essence, therefore, the pimary objective of the youth service is to help realise the  potential of young people and to facilitate their full participation in community life.
As Minister of State at the Department of Education with special responsibility for youth affairs, I am convinced that the establishment of a proper system of formation and development for young people must be viewed as a high priority. To facilitate the emergence of a more comprehensive and accessible youth service, a revised policy on youth work was outlined in last year's White Paper on education.
Youth services operate in the area of non-formal education and I am continuing my efforts to make these opportunities available to young people. This is principally done through the provision of financial assistance to special projects for disadvantaged young people and to national youth organisations which support local clubs and units throughout the country.
State funding for the support of voluntary youth work is made available on an annual basis to voluntary youth organisations through the youth service grant scheme. Through the grant scheme for special projects to assist disadvantaged youth, my Department funds nearly 200 community-based youth projects and special youth projects targeted at young people in disadvantaged areas. Grants are allocated to organisations and groups for specific out-of-school projects which seek to address the needs of young people who are at risk due to a combination of factors ranging from early school-leaving, unemployment and isolation to drug abuse, homelessness and involvement in crime. These projects involve local communities and liaise with other voluntary and statutory services to provide learning experiences through recreation, sporting, cultural and other activities. Although the worth, by any criterion, of the existing projects has been fully demonstrated, there has been little scope to establish new projects since 1988. However, during 1995, I provided for the establishment of four new projects  in areas demonstrating a significant level of need, and I intend to further extend provision under this scheme to areas of greatest disadvantage in 1996.
In addition, I will consider the advantage that might be gained from the provision of an additional youth worker to a number of existing one-worker projects where the scope for worth-while intervention is, of necessity, limited. A comprehensive network of youth information centres is a vital component of an effective youth service. Through the effective dissemination of information, the centres enable young people to identify their own resources and make decisions, promote personal autonomy, resourcefulness and encourage active participation in society. I am glad I was in a position, in 1995, to establish the national co-ordination service for youth information on a more secure basis. I will continue to examine priorities for the ongoing development of the network, including modern information technology requirements.
The increased availability of drugs, their accessibility owing to reduced cost and prevailing social attitudes have made young people the most vulnerable category in terms of the threat drugs pose to society in general. I am conscious that youth organisations, youth workers and volunteers throughout the country are faced with an increasing level of drug-related problems among young people. However, I am convinced that the flexible approach of youth work, which encourages assertiveness, self-esteem and responsibility and reaches out to those most at risk, presents an ideal medium for implementing demand reduction strategies with young people.
The initiatives and developments I have outlined are indicative of the importance I attach to the role of youth services. They will provide a solid basis to further consolidate these services as an integral and very important part of our overall educational and social provision. I am very heartened by this prospect.
Mr. E. Walsh: I congratulate the Minister of State with responsibility for Sport, Deputy Allen, on the fine work he has done in the area of sport. I assure him of our good will in the future.
I am happy to be able to contribute to this debate, and I congratulate the Minister for Finance on delivering a fair and well balanced budget. I take this opportunity also to congratulate him on his contribution towards revitalising Ireland in the past few years. If anybody had said ten years ago that Ireland would prepare to enter the 21st century with one of the most buoyant economies in Europe, he would have been laughed at. We are now in an enviable position, and it is due in no small measure to the parties in Government particularly, the party of which I am a member, the Labour Party.
I will mention some of the criticisms levelled at this budget to see if they can stand up to examination. They include allegations that the Government has failed to deliver on taxation changes, has failed to close the gap between the Commission on Social Welfare recommendations and present payments, and has failed to honour its commitment to the long-term unemployed.
I draw attention to some of the large payments made under this budget. For public sector pay, £160 million has been provided. A sum of £92 million has been provided for income tax relief and £75 million has been provided for PRSI levy reductions. Other accumulated taxation reductions amount to £11 million. A sum of £13 million is being provided for Army pensions, and the long-term employee provision is £10 million. In the 1996 budget social welfare payments of over £80 million are provided for although there has been a dramatic increase in employment. These are just some of the large amounts of finance that have been put together to make this one of the most successful budgets. Unless we look at the scale of those figures we will not realise the importance of this financial matter.
Despite comments to the contrary  from some quarters, considerable progress on taxation has been made in recent years. There has been a substantial improvement in social services and a dramatic increase in employment while interest rates have been reduced substantially. When we entered this House after the general election of 1992 fears were expressed by people whose mortgages were under severe threat and whose houses were in danger of being repossessed. We have come a long way since then.
Despite the changes, there is still an unfair burden on the PAYE taxpayer, and that burden has been shouldered by that group for a long time. It is time to look at that in the coming year to see if we can shift the burden. The farming community are now enjoying very large incomes compared to previous years. Perhaps that is an area where we should consider looking for extra returns by way of taxation. I would like to see those points addressed in the coming year.
This year's budget consolidated the progress made and is a further step to ensure that the terms of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work are fully implemented and further improvements on taxation and social welfare are made. The budget reaffirms that this Government has three main objectives — to reward work, to promote enterprise and to strengthen social solidarity. This Government is and always has been pro employment, and the budget is an illustration of the Government's ongoing commitment to underpinning the distribution of benefits from the growing economy.
As a result of sound financial management the economy has the confidence of both the domestic and foreign investment markets. For example, over the period of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work, 1994-96, inclusive, there has been an increase of 116,000 people in the workplace. This is a major achievement which, translated into percentage terms, is a 10 per cent increase. In addition, employment has grown four times faster in Ireland in  recent years than in the rest of the European Union.
We have noted in the past that the private sector in Ireland has not been able to produce a sufficient number of jobs to meet the employment demands of our population and, on many occasions, the State has had to take responsibility for job creation. We should also consider the prospect of our semi-State sector becoming an engine to create employment. I would like to see the Government consider that in the coming year.
This Government has also arrested the level of public spending which absorbed the benefits of growth, thus ensuring that those benefits are instead distributed through Irish society. The real increase in current spending for 1996 is 2.5 per cent, in contrast with an average of 5.5 per cent over the preceding five years. During the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Coalition public spending grew annually by 6.5 per cent in real terms.
Measures designed to address important problems include improving the benefits of working by easing the transition from unemployment to work thereby encouraging more people to accept employment. A central tenet of the budget is tackling the problem of long-term unemployment. Measures to support recruitment among the long-term unemployed represent a serious attempt to address this priority. One of the Government aims is to ensure that the benefits of our buoyant economy are distributed more evenly throughout society. In rewarding those at work, the Minister has increased the gains from working. The increase in the employer's PRSI exemption limit from £50 to £80 is an integral part of the Government's employment strategy. Another important aspect of the strategy is the new £80 a week recruitment subsidy to encourage employers to take on someone who has been long-term unemployed. In addition the provision to allow those who return to work to retain the child dependant allowance for 13 weeks and the medical card for three  years after taking up work will help to tackle unemployment. These measures are aimed at impacting on the pressing problem of long-term unemployment.
Ireland has one of the most severe unemployment problems in Europe and for this reason the task force on the long-term unemployed recommends that special intervention is necessary. The measures aimed at tackling long-term unemployment are a component of social solidarity.
One of the problems affecting the areas of high unemployment in my constituency is drugs. A very important community initiative is now under way in Fettercairn, west Tallaght, where a group in the community has decided to tackle the drugs problem and is dealing with 25 heroin addicts in the community centre. Its work is making a significant impression on the reduction of crime in the area. Employment is an important part of this programme. When the young people have been detoxified and are able to participate in the community as fully fledged citizens, employment will be a key factor in ensuring that they do not return to drugs. I pay tribute to that group of people. Will the Government consider funding community initiatives dealing with the drugs problem?
The budget reaffirms this Government's commitment to education. Since entering Government the Labour Party has brought about fundamental changes in education at every level. Free third level education has been introduced. My colleague the Minister for Education, Deputy Bhreathnach, is committed to ensuring that these changes bring about a more efficient and effective education system. I pay tribute to both the Ministers for Education and Finance for ensuring that a further 1,000 places are available on the vocational training opportunity scheme, which is an important mechanism in dealing with long-term unemployment.
This Government created 45,000 new jobs in 1995. It has also gained control of public spending which has absorbed the benefits of growth. The real increase  in public spending in 1996 is 2.5 per cent whereas it was as high as 6.5 per cent during previous administrations. In the health area a comprehensive programme for women's health has been introduced. This is a well balanced and fair budget which aims to tackle long-term unemployment and at the same time reward those at work. It seeks to promote social solidarity while recognising the individual's input as a basis of a sound and healthy society.
I overheard a comment in the corridors that this was a budget for Tallaght. I regard that as a compliment as the budget addressed many problems in the constituency I represent. This is not only a budget for Tallaght but for Walkinstown, Greenhills, Templeogue and Clondalkin and for people throughout the country who are suffering from long-term unemployment and the burden of taxation that leaves them without a disposable income.
I congratulate the Government, in particular my colleague, Deputy Ruairí Quinn on this budget. I remind the Minister of State, Deputy Allen, of the important question of a water leisure centre for Tallaght. I hope he will ensure that the money for this facility is provided.
Dr. O'Hanlon: No budget in the history of the State received less attention in the media. Within 24 hours there was not a word about it. On budget day there were fewer in the gallery than I have ever seen before and one must ask why. The budget was leaked. People at home on the previous Sunday were able to read in the newspapers what would be in the budget. There was nothing significant in it, which is the reason it fell flat within 24 hours.
In the programme for Government we were promised radical reform and tax concessions for those at work but there was no sign of them in the budget. Had the Minister sat at home and not introduced a budget, he would have been £800 million better off and I do not think life would have been any different  for people. Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left have committed themselves in their programme to firm management of the public finances. Deputy Walsh thinks that has happened but everybody else, including economic commentators, is well aware the Government went over its spending target in 1995. Already this year it has gone over the proposed increase of 2 per cent in public spending promised in the programme for Government.
Mr. E. Byrne: It was the best received budget in the history of the State.
Dr. O'Hanlon: The budget was a total nonentity. It is important to look at some of the comments in the programme, A Government of Renewal. An example is: “Adherence to fiscal parameters outlined above should permit for substantial tax reductions in the next three years”. The reason we are not getting tax reductions in its second budget is it did not stick within the public spending parameters it laid out for itself.
Another gem from paragraph 4 of the same document reads: “The fruits of economic growth will be used in substantial measure for tax reform as well as the improvement of public services”. Where is the tax reform? There was very little of it to be seen in the budget.
Public spending should be kept under control because in that way the workers, the people who produce the wealth of the country, can benefit from a fairer tax system. We can provide the funding necessary to ensure improved social welfare, health and education. It also allows us to avoid borrowing which has been a millstone around our necks since 1973.
In 1995 £1 billion was added to the national debt. In 1994, when Deputy Bertie Ahern was Minister for Finance, he brought in a surplus of £15 million on the current budget deficit — the first time in 28 years that had been achieved. What happened in 1995 at a time when the economy was booming? The Government targeted a £310 million  deficit, but despite the buoyancy of the economy it could not even stay within that target and had to borrow a further £50 million, thus ending up with a current budget deficit of £362 million.
Anyone with any sense, seeing the way the economy was booming, would accept that we should eliminate the current budget deficit because of high economic growth and because we receive substantial amounts of money from the European Union. We have no guarantee that such aid will continue after 1999.
Eliminating the budget deficit would have given us lower taxes which would have been to the benefit of workers and the economy generally. Our generation does not have the right to provide a level of public services that we are not prepared to pay for and leave the bill for our children. No one would accept that principle because it is not right.
At a time of economic boom the Government should make some effort to bring public spending under control. In fact, had the Government lived within its own target of 2 per cent, not alone would we not have had a budget deficit but we would have had £130 million more to distribute in tax and PRSI relief.
The budget provides for an increase of 6.2 per cent in public spending which in real terms is an increase of 4 per cent. That is double the target the Government set for itself. Apart from the seriousness of massively increased public spending, it is interesting that that figure comes from the Principal Features of the budget. Perhaps another reason the budget fell flat after 24 hours is that the statement the Minister read out here did not contain that type of information. The document that we were not circulated with in this House on budget day was well named as the Principal Features of the budget. While we would normally hear the salient points of the budget in this House, in this instance they were hidden away in a document which was circulated afterwards.
The tax concessions were paltry and  amounted to a type of circular transfer. I doubt if people will be any better off when they get their pay packets, especially if we take into account the reduction in the PRSI ceiling. Employers' PRSI is reduced by 0.2 per cent from 12.2 per cent to 12 per cent, which amounts to £20 in £10,000. I do not know how any member of the Labour Party or Democratic Left can praise that as a major tax concession. Given the current pound/punt exchange rate, employers' PRSI has a particular relevance to the Border economy and the problems of the food sector. The Minister's statement, under the heading Promote Enterprise, refers to the reduction of the employers' PRSI contribution, but that is all there is. How can one promote enterprise with a reduction of £20 in every £10,000?
While the social welfare increases were higher than last year, why is it that over two years, when the cost of social welfare increased by 28 per cent, old age pensioners have received an increase of only 5.5 per cent? They received 2.5 per cent in 1995 which saw the worst budget for old age pensioners since Ernest Blythe was Minister for Finance in 1929 and took a shilling off the old age pension. This year they received 3 per cent, making a total of 5.5 per cent altogether as against a general budget increase for social welfare of 28 per cent.
Mr. E. Byrne: Is Charley Haughey complaining again?
Dr. O'Hanlon: The Minister introduced a tax allowance on alarms. Deputy Walsh mentioned that somebody said it was a budget for Tallaght and that he was very pleased with that. I would like to know how many people in Tallaght will benefit from an £800 tax relief on alarms. How many people around the country will benefit from it? I would be interested to hear Deputy Byrne talk about the great job it will do in the constituency he represents, and how much he welcomes it in these days of unprecedented crime.
Mr. E. Byrne: Would the Deputy prefer if it was not in the budget?
Dr. O'Hanlon: I would prefer if a serious effort was made to tackle crime. There should be a realistic contribution for installing alarms instead of offending the elderly by saying they can have £800 tax free on their alarms when the vast majority of them do not pay any tax at all.
Mr. E. Byrne: We should tell them that a Fianna Fáil budget would look after them. Is that what the Deputy wants?
Actin Chairman (Mr. Browne,: Carlow-Kilkenny): Everybody will be given a chance to speak later on.
Mr. E. Byrne: I am being provoked.
Dr. O'Hanlon: Some £1 million was provided for an £80 per week recruitment subsidy which amounts to £4,000 per year, and will take 250 people out of the 140,000 long-term unemployed. That is very paltry.
One of the things we have always got from left wing parties in this House— the Labour Party and Democratic Left —is an attack on the farming community. Deputy Walsh was at it again this morning and said he would love to see the Minister go after the farmers and collect more tax from them. Deputy Gallagher agrees with me that farmers are not doing as well as some members of the Labour Party who do not represent rural constituencies would make out.
Ms Burton: Their incomes rose by 7 per cent this year.
Dr. O'Hanlon: They got great relief from the budget. The VAT refund rate was increased in the budget from 2.5 per cent to 2.8 per cent. That rise of 0.3 per cent representsd £30 in every £10,000. That is the relief the farmers got.
Mr. E. Byrne: They are cleaning up.  Some 20 per cent of their income comes from Europe.
Dr. O'Hanlon: I am sure that Deputy Browne, in the Chair, and Deputy Gallagher, both of whom represent rural constituencies, will agree with me that they would have liked to see more.
Mr. Gallagher: (Laoighis-Offaly): I am well able to speak for myself.
Dr. O'Hanlon: It is not the fault of Deputy Browne's party, it is the fault of the Labour Party. The Labour Minister for Finance gave no relief.
Acting Chairman: The Deputy is inviting interruptions.
Mr. Gallagher: (Laoighis-Offaly): Farmers had a great year last year.
Dr. O'Hanlon: Livestock prices are causing difficulties for farmers at present. The Government should address this issue particularly as it relates to winter beef finishers.
The price of petrol was increased by 4.5p for ordinary petrol and 14p for super leaded petrol. The latter was a significant increase. The economy of the Border area was ignored. The former Minister for Finance, Ray MacSharry, stabilised that economy by introducing the 48 hour rule and reversed the practice of people in the South shopping in the North and buying petrol there. Clones which is a large town did not have a petrol station for eight years. An Post vans had to travel 15 miles to Monaghan to get a fill of diesel.
The sterling-punt relationship must be addressed. If employers' PRSI had been significantly reduced in the budget it would have helped the export trade to remain competitive. There are major problems in labour intensive industry particularly in the food sector. In my constituency there is a large mushroom and poultry industry. These and food processing plants have been hard hit by the punt-sterling exchange rate. During the last 14 months the value of the punt  rose from 95p to £1.03 against sterling. Some 50,000 jobs are under threat as a result of the cost of our exports to Britain and the reduced price of British imports. I am aware of one successful industry which is concerned about starting a new plant until it sees what will happen with the punt-sterling exchange rate. I am disappointed that not only was nothing done about this matter but it would appear from a reply I received yesterday to a question I tabled that the Government has no intention of addressing it irrespective of what price the punt rises to. I know the Minister consulted with organisations such as IBEC and must be aware of the seriousness of the problem.
Some 27.5 per cent of our exports are to Britain and 36 per cent of our imports come from Britain. What number of jobs is involved in producing the goods we export to Britain? I suspect it is a high percentage because of the labour intensive nature of the industries.
We welcome the cessation of violence and that it has lasted for so long. No doubt it will continue. I am concerned, as are Northern Nationalists, that the British Government and the Unionists are moving towards an internal settlement in the Six Counties. That would be totally unacceptable. Successive Governments accepted the three stranded approach, Strand I, the relationship between the two communities in the North; Strand II, the relationship between North and South and Strand III, the relationship between Britain and Ireland. It is incumbent on the Government to ensure that Strand II is placed firmly back on the agenda and I will support it in its efforts. It appears the British Government is not living up to the agreements it entered into with our sovereign Government. Recognition was not given in the budget to the special problems in the Border region apart from the small relief given to cross-Border workers. At a meeting in Letterkenny last October the Taoiseach stated that additional money could not be targeted at the Border areas unless it was redirected from other  areas because the Government had to live within the 2 per cent. That is not legitimate because the problems of frontier areas throughout Europe have been recognised by the EU. Ireland's problems have been doubly recognised. We receive INTERREG funding and we received money after the ceasefire to try to develop Border regions. Those who support the IFI, the United States, Australia and New Zealand recognise this. It is unfortunate that the Government does not recognise it because what we are asking is that the money provided by EU taxpayers, particularly Germany and France, be allocated to the areas for which it is intended, as additional aid.
The Government did not appoint a Minister from the Border region and that is indicative of its commitment to that area. The funding provided by the EU should be additional funding and proper infrastructures should be put in place. The IDA is anxious to locate advance factories but does not have the money to do so. There is the promise of American investment. We must provide the environment in which investment can take place. Moneys should be targeted at the IDA for the purpose of building advance factories in the Border region. Infrastructural developments such as water and sewerage should be carried out in towns in the Border region to attract industry. There are no fibre optics in the Border region, except for one or two areas in Dundalk and Donegal. High technology and telecommunications should be put in place and developed to increase the opportunity of attracting high technology industry from the United States and elsewhere. It is significant that of 400 United States companies in this country only 16 are in the Border region. For that reason the Border areas should receive the funds to which they are entitled.
Road development at county, regional and national primary level must be addressed. In the last eight years there has been a substantial increase in road funding and much work has been done in that regard. Anybody  who wishes to visit my constituency, which experienced serious problems, is welcome to come and see the good work carried out by the county council engineers and their staff. However, much still needs to be done. I do not understand the announcement, of the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin, on Tuesday last that £750 million would be spent on county and regional roads in the next ten years. A similar announcement was made last July and I thought at that time we would receive £750 million extra——
Mr. Gallagher: (Laoighis-Offaly): Extra money was provided last year.
Dr. O'Hanlon: I thought that would be extra money over the ten years, but now I find it is to cover the whole programme. If, without taking inflation into account, a similar amount of money was allocated to county and regional roads as provided by Deputy Michael Smith when Minister for the Environment in 1984, it would amount to £1,070 million over ten years.
Mr. Gallagher: (Laoighis-Offaly): The greatest allocation was made last year and this year.
Dr. O'Hanlon: The Labour Party knows it will not be in Government after next year's election and it makes all sorts of promises but fails to deliver on them.
Mr. E. Byrne: Is the Deputy suggesting there will be a Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government next year? That will not happen.
Dr. O'Hanlon: There is need for an improved east-west national primary route and that should be addressed in the context of the substantial Structural Funds which will be available up to 1999 —there is no guarantee they will be available thereafter. It is important that industry is attracted from the greater Dublin area. The fact that the whole  population might live in the greater Dublin area in 20 years' time is in nobody's interest, but if we proceed with the present policy that will be the result. The IDA can confirm that people are prepared to buy land for £120,000 an acre within 20 miles of Dublin whereas they are not prepared to pay £20,000 an acre 20 miles down the road.
All Governments have been committed to decentralisation and the decentralisation of Departments has been of great benefit to many towns. I am concerned, however, about the policy of centralisation to county towns, which is very undesirable. For example, in my constituency the Army barracks were transferred from Cootehill to Cavan Town. If there is need for only one Army barracks in County Cavan, why should it not remain in Cootehill? I accept it is necessary that some facilities are situated in county towns, but, for example, in terms of the threat to close ESB offices around the country it is not absolutely necessary to centralise them in county towns. Similarly, in regard to infrastructural development, I do not understand why massive sums of money are spent on facilities in county towns while other towns barely receive sufficient money. That matter must be addressed.
In rural areas, where post offices and Garda stations have been closed, the people who provide services— teachers, doctors and so on—have moved to the nearest towns. If that trend continues, there might be only 26 towns in Ireland in the future, and perhaps further into the future there may be only one town in every region.
Crime is an issue that has been of concern recently in my constituency and has been raised constantly at meetings. The Government should stand indicted in terms of rural crime. It gave a very bad signal when it came to office by not going ahead with the prison in Castlerea. That was a disastrous decision. People say it was the result of pressure from left wing parties such as Democartic Left who is in favour of civil liberties and believes there are too  many prison spaces, but I do not know if that is true. The Government has no policy on crime. Deputy O'Donoghue, the Fianna Fáil spokesman on Justice, did excellent work in the past 12 months and produced a number of Bills. An Opposition Bill introduced by him and debated here over the last two weeks was accepted by the House last night. The Government produced a similar Bill this morning which is not quite as good. It should accept Opposition Bills as we did in Government, for which we received kudos at the time. If that practice was followed people would believe we are serious about crime.
The Government inherited a very healthy, booming economy which resulted from the policies of a single party Fianna Fáil Government in 1987-89. Perhaps it is too much to expect that it will be in the same healthy state when Fianna Fáil comes back to Government. I appeal to this Government not to do too much damage in the meantime.
Mr. Gallagher: (Laoighis-Offaly): I wish to share my time with Deputy Eric Byrne.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Gallagher: (Laoighis-Offaly): I was entertained during the last half hour by Deputy O'Hanlon's contribution in which he stated that there should be less tax and more spending. I wish to address the allocation to education. I spent a number of years before coming into this House in the education and training area and, I am particularly pleased there has been a further major increase in the education provision in this year's budget. There has been a 33 per cent increase in spending on education since the Minister for Education took office in 1992 and this year expenditure on education is well over £2 billion. Political parties who object to tax and spend policies and at every opportunity argue for cuts in public expenditure will admit that investment  in education is not only an investment in the development of young people but in the future of our country. This year's allocation of moneys to the three main sectors of education is fair and balanced. A sum of £700 million will be allocated to primary education, more than £800 million to second level education and more than £500 million to third level education.
I am particularly pleased that during the past two or three years more attention has been given to primary education. As numbers declined the Minister for Education managed not only to retain but to substantially increase finance for that sector. That is a great achievement. If choices have to be made in education, I would favour investing in the primary sector. All students would benefit from such investment and it would determine whether they will be successful at second or third level and at work.
When the Minister took office there were major gaps in primary education resulting from a lack of investment, particularly in the basic capitation rate per pupil paid to all primary schools. At that time the rate was £28 per pupil and this year it will be £45 per pupil. That money covers the cost of electricity, heating and other utilities in schools. I am pleased that the local contribution has been frozen because not all schools on which extra demands have been placed have been able to meet the costs. The review of the local contribution is welcome and it might be worthwhile abolishing it at some stage.
The area of special needs whether for physical or mental disability for traveller's education or remedial education, has received much needed attention. I am pleased with the work of the Minister in this area, in my constituency during the past two or three years. The efforts of schools to provide education for travellers or children with disabilities has finally been recognised through the provision of the full level of special capitation recommended by a review committee two years ago.
I am particularly happy that the rate  of capitation grant for disadvantaged schools will be increased to £75 per pupil this year. Grants of that order will enable schools to begin to address the disadvantages experienced by their students. I am pleased that the Minister directed the Combat Poverty Agency to examine the area of disadvantage, particularly rural disadvantage. Students in many schools in the rural parts of my constituency suffer from disadvantages. Many of those students would not qualify for a grant under the crude measures used to determine disadvantage prior to that review. I hope this year, the Minister will seriously examine and implement that agency's recommendations.
Another important area, associated with primary education is the level of co-operation between primary schools and the library service. For many years paltry funding was allocated to that service. When I was elected to the county council in 1991 45p per pupil per year was allocated. That rate was increased to £1 last year and £2 this year. We are nearing the point where funding allocated will allow the library service and primary schools to provide a decent service for pupils. In fostering literacy and an interest in science and literature it is important that primary pupils should be encouraged to use the library service. I hope the increase in funding to that service last year and this year will continue in the years ahead.
There have been substantial increases in the capital funding of primary schools in recent years. Money invested in a primary school building programme yields great value. All interested groups, whether the board of management, a local parish committee or the Office of Public Works, co-operate to ensure the money stretches as far as possible. When making my first speech in this House I had an opportunity to name schools in my constituency in severe need of refurbishment and extension. That number has been steadily whittled down during the past three years. I hope the work that still remains to be done in  a small number of schools will be sanctioned and covered by this year's allocation.
The Minister's target of retaining 90 per cent of students in second level until leaving certificate will not be achieved unless major changes are introduced in the provision for second level students. Changes have occurred with the introduction of the junior certificate, the leaving certificate vocational programme and the alternative leaving certificate programme. As much money as possible should be invested in those programmes as it will not be possible to retain students until leaving certificate if they are offered only a traditional programme. I worked for seven years in a community training workshop where I dealt with young people who dropped out of secondary school not only for social reasons but because of dissatisfaction with the curriculum, school organisation and lack of motivation. It is possible within the mainline education system to address many of those difficulties. As much as possible should be spent on retaining potential early school leavers in the education system by providing the programmes they need. That has begun in the delivery of alternative programmes. If students are not retained in the system we will have to adopt more expensive policies to address the needs of early school leavers, some of whom may become perpetrators of crime and may have to be dealt with through the criminal justice system.
A local liaison unit was set up in every area under the social guarantee for young people by the former Department of Labour for early school leavers. It involved co-operation among youth workers, social workers, schools, vocational education committees and manpower and training agencies to identify potential early school leavers. It designed programmes targeted at retaining students in school but if they left school it quickly placed them in some form of appropriate education or training. We should consider reintroducing it.
 The Youthreach programme has expanded significantly in recent years, but it is not enough to provide funding at that level. It is also necessary to ensure that mechanisms are in place at local level to ensure that the provision is delivered to those who need it, and I am not satisfied that is happening. The local liaison unit model should be re-examined and the Minister should make that a priority this year. Significant improvements can be made through local co-operation among all those interested in the welfare of young people not only in determining the length of time they spend in the education system but also the quality of education they receive.
I welcome the extra 1,000 places on VTOS which is currently under review. It has been successful in encouraging people in receipt of social welfare benefit to participate in education courses. Qualification for participation in courses under that scheme should be made as flexible as possible. Participants who require an extension of time on a course should be facilitated. I met a person who was unable to read or write before participating in a VTOS course two years ago. That person has benefited greatly from it but would need to continue to participate in it for another three or four years to reach a standard of education that would enable him or her to compete in the labour market.
I also welcome the significant increase in funding for the National Parents' Council, primary and post-primary, which has risen from £50,000 in 1992 to £150,000 this year. Parents are playing a much more structured role in education and, in the legislation to be introduced following the White Paper on Education, I look forward to them being given statutory rights. The type of funding now allocated to their representative organisations will enable them to become true partners in education rather than in name only.
Third-level education is being allocated approximately £500 million this year. Many people have almost implied  that expenditure on third-level education is a sin, something in which one should not engage. However, people living in the real world know that the expectation of the majority of students nowadays is to continue into some form of third-level education and, as that expectation and demand grow, provision for it must also increase.
One of the main benefits of this year's increased allocation for third-level education, particularly in the case of middle income families, will derive from the abolition of fees in this sector which, when announced, led to much criticism of the Minister. The background to this proposal is in the establishment of the de Buitléir commission whose mandate was to review the means-testing of third-level student support and whose report recommended a number of what I considered eminently appropriate proposals for tackling the problem. Nonetheless, the Minister had to recognise that sufficient political consensus did not exist for their implementation. At the same time she was aware, as are all of us, of the many families whose income was just above the eligibility limit for the existing grant scheme, who were being fleeced by third-level tuition fees. Given that 55 per cent of students had been participating in ESF supported programmes in regional technical colleges, the Minister's method constituted the fastest method of providing some relief to those middle income families.
Since the averge third-level fee now amounts to £2,000 per annum, in the case of a middle income family in the 48 per cent tax bracket, its abolition for them is the equivalent of approximately £80 weekly earned income. That is a significant contribution to their children's education, for which I make no apology. Many such families are supported by PAYE workers and caught at every turn, through means-testing, for every penny they earn. Therefore, this relief for them should be widely welcomed and I know that such families are very appreciative.
I gladly welcome the increase in the  student maintenance grant by twice the rate of inflation as recent increases were only in line with inflation. I am glad that this 5 per cent increase will move that student support grant toward a reasonable level.
I warmly welcome the overall budgetary provision for education and the Minister's continuing emphasis on primary education in all its facets. I particularly welcome the efforts being made to retain students in second-level education, through the provision of attractive programmes appropriate to their needs and, within the third-level sector, the full abolition of tuition fees.
Mr. E. Byrne: While I gladly welcome the presence of Deputy Dan Wallace, I regret that the previous Fianna Fáil speaker, Deputy O'Hanlon, has left because I wanted to ask him a few questions. Perhaps Deputy Wallace will convery them to him.
This budget is a landmark victory for those who have had to struggle for too long on the economic and social sidelines of society. Indeed it was a victory for those who, under previous administrations, were told to wait another year to have their problems discussed.
I noted the muddled sounds of unconvinced protestation emanating from Deputy O'Hanlon and others on the Opposition benches, clearly demonstrating how good and unassailable this budget is.
Fianna Fáil, rather than engaging in a serious analysis of the contents of the budget, decided to concentrate on the old reliables. It was ironic to note Fianna Fáil's claims that the Government is not spending enough, in sharp contrast to its simultaneaous claim that it is spending too much, throwing its hands up in despair and asking: where it will all end. Deputy Wallace will be aware that this evident muddled thinking on the part of the best and brightest on the Fianna Fáil Front Bench leads one to be extremely grateful that it is in Opposition rather than Government benches, a very frightening prospect.
Mr. D. Wallace: The Deputy's time will have expired without his having addressed the budget.
Mr. E. Byrne: I will explain the reason. Because of Fianna Fáil's new found love of the policies of the progressive Democrats it is equally interesting to note that the contributions of members of the latter party have not been muddled; on the contrary, they have followed a clearly defined but nonetheless slightly limited path which appears to be of enormous seductive attraction to Fianna Fáil. Indeed the display of love-making in which Fianna Fáil has engaged with the Progressive Democrats has been frightening. I would go so far as to say the electorate will quickly realise the horrific prospect of, say, Deputy McCreevy, a former Minister for Social Welfare who introduced the infamous dirty dozen, as Minister for Finance—in a Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Coalition—with the equally horrific prospect of Deputy Michael McDowell —serving in the same Cabinet as Minister for Social Welfare. I do not agree with Deputy O'Hanlon about the formation of the next Government, such a scenario is sufficient to guarantee such a formula not reaping votes.
If one is to judge from some recent Progressive Democrats' statements in this House and elsewhere, clearly they are unwilling to give Thatcherism a decent burial. They are lingering at the wake of Thatcherism, muttering wistfully about the good old days when neoliberal ideologues everywhere believed that a rising tide would lift all boats. I envy Deputy Michael McDowell's touching faith in old recipes, in which I had some faith myself until fairly recently. However, I suppose one matures with age, a lesson Deputy McDowell might well learn. Certainly in my constituency thousands found their boats stranded right in the middle of an economic boom.
I really do wish that the old Thatcherite policies in which the Progressive Democrats believe had been successful  and had led to all boats being lifted. Unfortunately, like the rest of the European Union, Ireland has in recent years had to contend with the modern day phenomenon of growth in unemployment. Last year we saw record levels of job creation but, unfortunately, those jobs tended to pass the long-term unemployed by. Those people have not been benefiting to date. The measures in the budget have been consciously aimed at alleviating the plight of the marginalised in our society, those with no work and those in low paid work. Instead of carping, Fianna Fáil and their Progressive Democrats allies should be applauding the excellent direction this budget is taking.
As Fianna Fáil speakers have neglected to address the specific measures in this budget, I will refresh their memories. Some 15,000 new places have been provided on three programmes, that is, 5,000 each on the back-to-work allowance scheme, the new £80 per week subsidy to employers scheme and the new work trial scheme. It is widely accepted that the older the unemployed person and the longer their time out of work, the less chance they have of making a return to the workplace. For this reason, 1,000 places on community employment schemes will be specifically reserved for people aged 35 years and over who have been out of work for five years or more. That is worthy of applause from the Opposition benches but they do not seem willing to give it.
These measures will help the long-term unemployed re-enter the world of work from which sadly they have been excluded and will, hopefully, be able to make the transition to conventional employment in the future. That transition has in the past been almost impossible due to the myriad poverty traps which confronted job seekers. Up to now, a person coming off the live register lost a range of benefits. If they took up low paid work—sadly much of the work available to the unemployed is low paid—they could have been out of pocket and at a financial disadvantage.  In effect they were penalised rather than rewarded for work.
This is the only point on which I have found myself in agreement with the Progressive Democrats in the past. Unfortunately, even that small piece of common ground which existed between Democratic Left and the Progressive Democrats has been swept away by the Government which, for the first time, made a concerted effort to ensure that those taking work will not lose out financially. This budget provides that, in future, the long-term unemployed will retain their medical cards for three years and their child dependent allowances for 13 weeks after taking up employment. That is probably one of the most progressive steps any Government has taken to try to reintegrate the long-term unemployed into the workplace.
Deputy Wallace knows the value that unemployed working class families attach to the medical card and how important it is in their decision as to whether a member of their family will take up employment if they are lucky enough to be offered it. These provisions will make a substantial difference to those making the transition from the dole to work. It will also ensure that people are not deterred from taking up employment simply because of financial considerations.
It is not good enough simply to provide work. We all know that people in work must also be guaranteed an income which is sufficient to maintain an acceptable standard of living. We must be careful that, while attempting to attract the long-term unemployed back into the main stream of work, we do not concede to the employer lobby that the only employment these people should be awarded is that with a remuneration so low as to be demoralising. We must work towards a guaranteed income to maintain an acceptable standard of living for those who take up employment.
The family income supplement scheme which is designed for the low  paid, has been improved. The tax burden for the low paid has been reduced. Following this budget, single people earning less than £75 per week or married couples earning less than £150 per week will no longer be liable for tax and no PRSI will be payable on the first £80 of weekly income. Deputy McDowell, the emerging bedfellow of Fianna Fáil, and his colleagues ask us to believe that the high and middle earners are a neglected minority. According to Deputy McDowell and his ideological ilk, tax cuts, together with spending cuts, will automatically result in jobs.
The Progressive Democrats mantra is beginning to look rather threadbare. That formula was tried in Thatcher's Britain and I recommend that Deputy Wallace and his colleagues on the Opposition benches consult the research findings in the United Kingdom. They show that poverty levels have increased substantially since the Tories came to power and were able to implement Darwinian dog-eat-dog policies. The Progressive Democrats and the Fianna Fáil party are promising the people that they will form the next Government. It is sad that the economic policies of the Progressive Democrats are so seductive for Fianna Fáil and it causes me serious worry.
Rather than the wholesale tax slashing advocated by the Progressive Democrats, my party espouses tax reform. We recognise that, in order to reform the tax system and reduce the tax burden on individuals, the country must be put back to work. Until we have reduced the numbers on the live register and helped people to make the transition from social welfare to wages, we will be confronted with a tax burden that will remain unacceptably high. Democratic Left knows that there are no quick fix solutions to these problems which have evolved over decades, ironically while Fianna Fáil was in power. We are happy to be in Government to develop and implement practical, coherent and long-term responses to the challenges facing  society in general and politicians in particular.
We know that short-term solutions have failed. It is worrying to see Fianna Fáil demands for short-term solutions to complex social problems such as crime. They tell us that building an extra prison will solve the problem. That farcical line will never be accepted by the Irish people because they are not stupid. They know we are dealing with a complex society which developed under the tutelage and leadership of Fianna Fáil and is now displaying unacceptable levels of social alienation, victimisation, criminality, drug addiction, marginalisation and so on. I ask our opponents in this House to cut out the messing and stop demanding short-term solutions to complex problems that evolved over the decades.
This is the second budget of three which will be introduced by the Government. The 1997 budget will build on the gains made in the 1996 and 1995 budgets. I look forward to being in this House to applaud the budget of 1997 which will be brought in by the Minister for Finance to continue the march forward that the Government commenced in its short period in office. I hope the Fianna Fáil representatives will convey my views to their leader.
Mr. D. Wallace: I wish to share my time with Deputy Mary Wallace.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I am sure that is satisfactory and agreed.
Mr. D. Wallace: I was disappointed with Deputy Eric Byrne's contribution. I have heard some articulate contributions from him but he spent 50 per cent of his time today talking about the Fianna Fáil Party and the Progressive Democrats. We are here to debate the budget. He asked that I take back some messages to my party but there are few to convey. Following the next general election the Deputy will not be sitting on that side of the House. He will be back in Opposition with answers to all the problems because he is not making  the decisions. The Deputy's party is now 15 months in office and there are more people on the poverty line now than there were 18 months ago. He can check the statistics. That is the message I have for the Deputy.
Any analysis of the recent budget must take account of the economic position. All economic commentators accept that the proper financial parameters are in place to allow the country prosper. In 1995, overall growth was 7 per cent, investment grew by almost 11 per cent in real terms, export volumes increased by over 13 per cent and mortgage and short-term interest rates were maintained at historically low levels. All these factors combined provided the Minister with an opportunity to introduce an innovative budget that would provide some hope to the unemployed and those on low incomes. Unfortunately, the Minister opted to tinker with the finances while at the same time he failed to offer any measure of hope for a better lifestyle to the majority who hoped to obtain something from the budget. While it is difficult to criticise much of what the Minister did, it is what he failed to do that is a cause of major concern.
The Minister in his speech indicated that his first objective was to reward those at work. However, the measures he has introduced have ensured that he has failed in his primary aim. It is worth noting that this is the first time for many years that a real opportunity existed to allow for a major reduction in income tax rates. Regrettably, the Minister declined to avail of this opportunity.
The widening of the tax bands and the increasing of personal allowances has, for the most part, been negated by the reduction in mortgage interest relief and VHI relief and also the abolition of the PRSI allowance at a time when inflation is running at 2.5 per cent. A married couple with two children earning £16,000 per year will gain less than 1 per cent and this includes the proposed increase in the child benefit allowance.
The constant whittling away of mortgage interest relief and VHI relief is a  source of major concern to many middle income families who are finding it difficult to make ends meet. The position is difficult enough at present with low interest rates. If rates are increased in the future, those people will be faced with the prospect of substantial increases in their outlay without any safety valve by way of tax reliefs. Mortgage interest payments should revert to the position that obtained last year when at least 50 per cent of a person's interest could be claimed at the higher rate.
If we are serious about income tax reform, the unemployment problem and the creation of sustainable jobs it is essential that innovative ideas are introduced. The issue must be addressed on a two pronged basis. We must create a culture whereby people will consider it worthwhile to go out to work. This can only be done by reducing significantly the tax burden people in employment have to bear. At the same time we must provide incentives to employers to employ people. This can best be done by reducing drastically the level of PRSI for which employers are liable. The reduction in the budget of the main rate of employers' PRSI from 12.2 per cent to 12 per cent was derisory and insignificant for the majority of employers. We must work towards rewarding employers who create jobs rather than penalise them as at present.
I welcome the proposal to introduce a recruitment subsidy of £80 per week for employers. It should be available to any person who has been unemployed for at least one year, not three years as stated. Any person unemployed longer than 12 months is generally classed as being long-term unemployed and they should be given every incentive and assistance in their efforts to obtain work. When the terms and conditions of this scheme are outlined. I hope this aspect will be dealt with and that there will be equal opportunities for those who are unemployed for more than one year to get back to work.
The 3 per cent general increase in  social welfare payments is barely keeping pace with inflation. Those on social welfare will be no better off as a result of the increases. It is important to acknowledge the employment measures introduced to assist the long-term unemployed. Under these measures the long-term unemployed will be entitled to retain their medical card for a period of three years and the child dependant allowance for 13 weeks after entering employment. Both of these measures should help to encourage people on social welfare to accept jobs which up to now were unattractive because of the loss of their anciallary benefits.
The new rate of corporation tax at 30 per cent will benefit small and medium sized industry. If the Minister had confined the change to small firms rather than making it available to all businesses, including banks and major service firms, the impact could have been greater. The majority of jobs in recent years have been created in small service companies, which is the sector most likely to create jobs in the future. If the Minister had confined the corporation tax reduction to small enterprises he would have been able to reduce the tax rate to a much more attractive level and provide a greater incentive to existing industries to expand and, in turn, to create new employment.
Many Irish employers cannot afford to increase their workforce because of the burden of PRSI and corporation tax. The Minister could have reduced this burden significantly, and at no extra cost to the Exchequer, by confining this cost in the standard rate of corporation tax to small industries and maintaining the status quo for larger companies, such as banks who are making huge profits.
The proposal to provide assistance to the elderly who wish to install alarm systems in their homes is laudable and necessary, given the widespread concern in the community about the ever increasing spate of crimes, particularly against the elderly. The proposal in its present form is fundamentally flawed as  it will only provide a benefit to those who are paying tax. The majority of elderly people pay no tax as their only income is their old age pension. For that reason this proposal will be of no benefit to them. Common sense indicates that a person who is paying tax would be more likely to install an alarm system by virtue of the fact that they have a higher income and would be in a position to afford it. The proposal needs to be amended to allow for a grant to be payable to any individual over 65 years of age who wishes to install an alarm system in their own premises. Consideration should also be given to providing tax relief to those who pay for the installation of alarm systems in their parents' homes. The two year limit on this initiative should be withdrawn. It is essential to create an awareness of the need for security among the elderly. This can only be done by providing reliefs such as this on an ongoing basis.
We are all aware from radio and television reports of what is happening and have voiced our concern. There have been a number of murders, attacks and muggings in recent weeks. In my constituency recently two elderly persons were attacked in their homes late at night, which is unacceptable. We must provide the elderly with every assistance and assurance to allay their concern. The Minister should amend the scheme, which I have already acknowledged is a good one, to allow alarms to be installed. I do not suggest for one moment that this will solve the problem, but it should be made more attractive.
I am disappointed that the brief of the task force chaired by the Secretary of the Department of the Environment to consider arrangements for the development of an overall master plan for the Dublin docklands is confined to that area as other areas could benefit from such a co-ordinated planning process. My own constituency of Cork North Central is in need of urgent attention to ensure it attracts the correct type of industry and this can only be done with  the help of the Government. Unfortunately, its assistance has not been forthcoming to date. I ask the Minister for the Environment to consider establishing a similar task force to deal with the problems of unemployment and deprivation evident in many parts of my constituency. The record will show that in the run-up to the by-election in Cork last year it was used by all shades of political opinion who voiced their concern about the scale of the unemployment problem and the lack of infrastructure in the area.
On Monday, the Minister for the Environment announced the road allocations. The biggest problem on the north side of Cork is the delay in commencing work on the new Mallow road. Yesterday the Minister of State, Deputy Allen, who represents the constituency, expressed dissatisfaction that only £100,000 is to be allocated for the project this year whereas millions of pounds are to be made available for the Lee tunnel project which will be of no significant benefit to the people of Blackpool and surrounding areas.
We have a tendency to highlight the major issues and neglect the minor ones. It is unacceptable to hear the Minister of State complaining about this issue; the responsibility lies with the Minister. It is easy to refer the matter to the National Roads Authority, but the Minister has a role to play. I make a strong appeal to the Minister of State present, Deputy O'Shea, to see if anything can be done to provide the necessary funding to allow work on the Blackpool bypass to commence.
The budget presented the Government with an opportunity to make bold decisions to benefit the country as a whole. However, the Government parties seemed to be either unwilling or unable to do so. The most unfortunate aspect is that a similar opportunity may not present itself again in the near future to undertake the radical overhaul of the tax system required to create significant employment.
The manner in which the various issues were handled in the run-up to the  budget was also significant in that it showed that the Government parties had little or no regard for Members and were more interested in being the first bearers of good news to the media. It was extremely amusing to watch the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs competing with Democratic Left in an effort to claim credit for the measures which might be classed as of benefit to society.
It appears that Fine Gael Ministers are more than happy to hang on to their ministries and leave the general development of policy to the two left wing parties. The biggest losers were those who contribute most to the economy by way of PAYE deductions and enterprise. They looked to Fine Gael to protect their interests. However, their calls were not heard.
Miss M. Wallace: I thank my colleague for sharing his time with me. In the Budget Statement the Minister for Finance made much play of his objective of striving to achieve greater social cohesion. According to him, the measures he announced represented a radical step, including the disadvantaged and marginalised, in the benefits to be gained from an expanding economy.
It is useful to take a step back from the well-spun words of the Government and examine its deeds in detail. In spite of the fanfare with which it greeted its own work, subsequent analysis has exposed the budget as inconsequential when it comes to addressing any of the major social problems facing the country. The bottom line on employment, supposedly the key target, is that any significant growth in the coming year will have nothing to do with the slight measures contained in the budget, rather it will be based on the success of the economy which was turned around by a Fianna Fáil administration. It had been left in a mess by the previous Fine Gael-Labour Coalition.
Instead of going over the many areas covered so far in this debate I wish to concentrate on one of the most  excluded and marginalised groups within society, people with disabilities and their families. This group has been left to bitterly reflect on the Minister's fine words about social cohesion. The reality is that the Government has failed to address any of the major issues of concern to them.
The budget contained some minor measures of relevance. By increasing certain tax allowances the Minister reversed a policy decision taken by him last year not to extend such allowances. He reasserted this policy in response to a number of questions tabled by me and I welcome this belated change.
I also welcome the minor measures announced which will be of help in the provision of care. However, when set against the diverse needs of the thousands who provide care in the community, the absence of appropriate support for care services and the many proposals put to the Minister, these measures do not scratch the surface in terms of the action required.
Disability organisations prepared detailed pre-budget submissions setting out how progress could be made in addressing the concerns of people with disabilities and their families in a number of important areas, Unfortunately, almost all these submissions were completely ignored. In response to the various ministerial speeches in the past fortnight I wish to point to a number of areas where the Government's failure to prioritise disability issues will result in lost opportunities and continued hardship in the coming year.
In a previous administration, as Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy Woods established the respite care fund. He was the first Minister to address this need for people who care for those with disabilities. When he left office the fund was making a valuable contribution and ways of extending respite care services were being examined. Last year responsibility for the administration of the fund was transferred to the health boards. That was a massive step backwards.
 The organisations which provide respite care services now have to cope with multiple applications, inaccessible bureaucracy and constant delays. Last year it took the raising of an issue on the Adjournment to have funds allocated to the health boards after a four months delay in spite of the fact that at least one major organisation which was providing an efficient and popular service was placed in severe financial difficulty because of the new arrangement.
Government inaction in the past year has meant that not only is the level of support for respite care services not expanding, in many instances it is contracting. The need for additional funding and reformed administration has not been addressed by the Minister responsible or in the budget.
The announcement by the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy O'Shea, of extra funding for services for people with a mental handicap failed to live up to the Government's promise. While the extra funding is welcome it only scratches the surface.
It is estimated that there are 1,500 people with mental handicap who require residential care. If this service is expanded every year at the level proposed for 1996, and assuming other people are not put out on the waiting list, it will take more than 22 years to meet the current demand for places. Many Members have been approached by parents of people with mental handicap concerning their dismay at the Government's failure to allocate significant funding to this area in the budget.
Employment for people with disabilities is also important as approximately 80 per cent of them are unemployed. In pre-budget submissions a number of organisations dealing with the disabled set out inexpensive ways in which the Government could tackle this problem. A submission from the Rehab group showed that more than 350 jobs could be created for significantly less than that which would be required to entice an overseas company to create the same number of jobs. It proposed  the extension of the pilot programme for the employment of people with disabilities. Established by Fianna Fáil in 1994, this scheme has created one of the largest integrated workforces in the world. In the light of this and other proposals, a budget supposedly targeted at creating jobs could be reasonably expected to specifically aid this section of the unemployed. It is regrettable that the Minister did not mention even one of those proposals, once again the Government failed to act on its promises.
It is now four years since the Special Education Review Committee published its report and despite continuing promises from the Minister for Education she has failed to produce the funding for a systematic programme to implement the committee's recommendations. She even refuses to give timetables and costings. As demonstrated last year in respect of third level fees, the middle class voter-friendly policies get greater priority with the Minister and her Department than real advances towards inclusion and support for children with disabilities. The budget provided no evidence of commitments being turned into action in this important area.
We are all familiar with the question of funding for voluntary bodies. Since the introduction of the national lottery voluntary bodies find it increasingly difficult to maintain the level of funds raised to support their activities. The unfair cap on lottery prize funds and the discriminatory tax relief scheme introduced last year serve to undermine the level and quality of this service provision. These issues were ignored in the budget.
In trying to provide excuses for this, the Government stated that it would address the issues in a fund raising Bill and in a White Paper and charter on the voluntary sector. Those excuses are incredibly feeble. The fund raising Bill has been repeatedly delayed and will not be published until after June at the earliest. In addition, funds have not  been allocated to provide for a proposed new regulatory body and, as such, there will be no effective Government action on the fund during 1996. The White Paper and Charter on the Role of the Voluntary Sector was ready for publication at the end of 1994. Having decided that he wanted to make changes, the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy De Rossa, repeatedly failed to meet his promised publication dates. Assuming he gets around to publishing it this year, he has not proposed legislation or allocated funds to deal with issues that may arise during 1996.
The failure of public transport operators to cater for the needs of people with disabilities represents one of the great barriers to the development of an inclusive society. Following considerable pressure from people with disabilities, CIÉ recently entered into constructive dialogue about developing accessible services and sharing their expertise with disability groups. In a pre-budget submission, the Centre for Independent Living proposed the development of a demand driven system for Dublin which would create 68 new jobs. This is another issue that was ignored in the so-called budget for social cohesion and jobs.
Following the reduction in real terms in social welfare payments last year it is believed this year's increase will at least keep pace with inflation. However, all other major social issues concerning people with disabilities have been ignored. This is all the more striking when one examines the monthly Question Time statements from the Minister, Deputy De Rossa, about his concern to help people with disabilities. Having proposed a basic allowance of £150 per week for a person with a disability only a few months before going into Government, he subsequently failed to make any extra provision. He has even failed to properly complete the transfer of the disabled person's maintenance allowance from the Department of Health after more than a year of trying. Among the issues he failed to address is the need to move to a cost of disability  allowance, to pay benefits directly to people with disabilities in all cases and to give permanent guarantees on the maintenance of secondary benefits.
When I seek replies to detailed questions I am generally informed by Ministers that they are awaiting a report before deciding on action. This would not be unreasonable were it not that the reports are consistently delayed and the necessary implementation funds are not made available. A series of reports from concerned people with disabilities, commissioned by the Government, have been effectively sidelined because of its failure to provide funds to implement their recommendations. The important review group on services for people with physical and sensory disabilities was established in 1992. Its report was ready last year but it has been with the Department since then, a victim of the Minister's failure to act on his promise to give it priority attention. Unless he intends to suppress the report it should be published shortly. It is obvious that action will not be taken this year on foot of the report's recommendations because the Government has not allocated funds in the budget to implement the report's recommendations.
A similar position prevails in respect of the report of the advisory group on personal assistant services. The most important event in the coming year for people with disabilities will be the publication of the report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities. In preparing to make a full and constructive contribution to a discussion on that report, Fianna Fáil published the most comprehensive policy document on disability ever prepared by an Irish political party. On the other hand, the Government has repeatedly promised to act immediately on the report and prepare comprehensive legislation on disability. This intention was the main reason given by the Government two weeks ago for voting down Fianna Fáil's Bill of access for disabled voters. The budget reveals that money has been allocated to publish this report but  funds will not be available to implement it. The three years within which the Department of Equality and Law Reform failed to produce the promised employment equality and equal status Bills shows that comprehensive disability legislation cannot be expected during the lifetime of the Government.
The budget message for people with disabilities is similar to last year— warm words, earnest commitments and an ultimate lack of comprehensive action. Unfortunately, as is the case with so much of what the Government does, the gap between the political spin and the practical reality shows that the budget fails to meet even the modest demands of people with disabilities and their families. In the context of major increases in funding for other areas, the public funds which are readily available for the pet projects of various Ministers and the hiring of political hacks on a scale never before seen in the country, the pretence that this is a budget for social cohesion and unemployment collapses.
Mr. Nealon: Overall, the Minister produced a well balanced budget. He received contrasting demands and sharply conflicting advice prior to it. Some felt that there should be a substantial cutback in borrowing while the economy is growing the EU funds are flowing. Others believe this is not a time for restraint and the final outcome was criticised by all sides. However, I am sure even the Opposition will accept that on this occasion the criticism was muted. The Minister made a correct decision in targeting the long-term unemployed for special priority in the budget. The package he produced for this purpose will be effective in not only getting substantial numbers back to work, but it will also lead to a change in attitude. People will no longer be written off if they are unemployed at the age of 35 or 45. That kind of hope is badly needed. A major survey of unemployment in the north west carried out by Pathways, which is to be announced today, found that of those between 45 and 65 years of age  who have been unemployed for a considerable period, 51 per cent no longer apply for jobs despite having a trade, a skill or having completed a training course.
As a Dáil Deputy for Sligo-Leitrim, I hope the Minister has targeted some of the special problems in the west which have resulted in the present drastic loss of population. From the days of the Great Famine, which we are now commemorating, through successive waves of mass emigration, there has always been a struggle for survival but the resilience and determination of the people and their love of the land ensured that sufficient numbers remained or returned for the population to regenerate itself. With the present depopulation, I am not so sure that will be the case this time.
The population crisis can be seen in the statistics for the west. Over the past 65 years, between 1926 and the 1990s, Connacht lost 24 per cent of its population. At the same time, Munster grew by 4 per cent while Leinster grew by 62 per cent. Those figures do not tell the whole story of the present crisis. The forces of depopulation do not strike evenly, even within the confines of an area like the west of Ireland. The population of Leitrim, for instance, fell by an alarming 55 per cent in the same period. Some areas of my native south Sligo and across the border in Mayo suffered an even greater loss than that. I witnessed the mass exodus of the 1950s—indeed I was part of it for a short while—and a further mass exodus in the 1980s. This outward migration is naturally most severe among the young. A recent study indicated that in the 1980s a number of areas lost up to 60 per cent of those in the 17 to 30 age group.
There is now a serious imbalance in the population with 41 per cent living in the east coast counties. By contrast only 9 per cent live in the vast geographical area described generally as the north west and the imbalance is becoming greater all the time. The Minister may well say that many costly schemes and incentives of one kind or another are in  place to address this problem in so far as any Government can address it. We have the new Leader programme, the partnership programme, the county enterprise boards, the Structural and Cohesion Funds, the INTERREG programme, the International Fund for Ireland and many other agencies, but with the vast majority of these programmes the question of matching funds to be provided locally proves the stumbling block for development. There is no shortage of good ideas or enthusiasm among the people and the communities in the west. Most areas have produced their own development plans which would qualify for Government and EU assistance but they cannot proceed because local funding is not available. This area should be targeted by the Minister who could demand a level of local contribution while making up the difference in some other way.
The Government must take special action also to assist access to the west. To an ever increasing extent, future opportunities in most activities lie with the European Union, but as far as the EU is concerned the west is not only on the periphery but on the periphery of a periphery. It is fair to say that considerable progress is being made with some of the national primary roads leading to the west, but in the overall allocation of Structural and Cohesion Funds there are no signs of equal treatment, let alone positive discrimination which I will be seeking, to take account of the remoteness of the region.
Of a total of £1.2 billion allocated for the present operational programme, only £87 million is to be spent in the area west of the Shannon from Donegal to Clare. That is 7.8 per cent of the total allocation. Broken down on a per capita basis—although I do not think that should be done—the west is faring badly. Take, for example, the N16 from Sligo to Blacklion to Enniskillen. This is a vital artery in the North-South context for tourism, trade or any kind of general movement. I looked under the various heading for some recognition of the need to upgrade this road which is now  in a very bad condition, but there is no mention of it despite the fact that recent surveys show a 31 per cent increase in traffic since the peace process began. I call on the Minister to ensure that in the mid-term revision of the operational programme for Structural and Cohesion Funds this blatant omission is rectified. The same can be said about the road from Sligo to Stranorlar and indeed from Letterkenny to Bridgend. A western corridor should be opened up and, in an area where tourism will hopefully be an increasingly important part of the economy, special attention must be paid to the roads linking up with the main national primary roads.
Despite the best efforts of the various communities, Sligo Corporation, Sligo County Council, Longford and Mullingar local authorities and Members of this House, and the acknowledgment that drastic action is needed, little has been done in relation to the Sligo-Dublin railway line. I understand that this year on the line between Mullingar and Sligo only 0.75 of a mile of new continuous welded track will be laid. That is hardly the progress we were expecting.
A properly developed tourism industry in the west could give employment to 25 per cent of the population. Thankfully, arising out of the peace in Northern Ireland, we have seen a substantial increase in tourist numbers around the country and it is predicted that will continue. We must be careful to ensure, however, that the west continues to get its share of this increase and that another imbalance does not emerge, as I fear it could. The eastern regions have the distinct advantage of easier access from the population centres in Britain and the Continent. Positive discrimination is needed in this area also to prevent the creation of a new imbalance.
In this respect I was pleased with the initiative taken by the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications to assist the regional airports. While it was not possible for Sligo and Carrickfinn Airports to avail of this in full last  year because of EU regulations, I am hopeful that this special fund for regional airports will result in second scheduled flights daily from both of these airports from next April. For whatever reason, the regional airports in Connacht—it may be somewhat different in the Kerry area—have not generated anything like the volume of tourist traffic of which they are capable. I realise it is up to the regions themselves to attract their own tourists but there is a limit to what areas inexperienced in the hard, competitive world of tourism can do. Bord Fáilte can take a leadership role in this regard in organising operators in Britain and the Continent to bring in package tours through the regional airports in the west. We have attractions such as golfing, fishing, horse riding and other activities but we need someone to actively package these types of holidays and fly in chartered aircraft to Sligo, Carrickfinn, Knock and Galway. This is another area where there should be positive discrimination. Just as the Minister targeted the long-term unemployed, I am asking him to target the west because of its depopulation problem.
Despite its many attractions and its natural beauty, County Sligo is not yet perceived as a main tourist destination as is the case with areas such as Kerry, Connemara or Donegal. These areas need a number of major attractions which tourists will want to visit, attractions which cannot be overlooked. There are some very interesting projects before the Government and I have every confidence that the Minister for Tourism and Trade, Deputy Enda Kenny, who is from the west, will ensure that these are sanctioned in due course.
I have long advocated a flagship attraction in Sligo, a Spanish Armada museum, which would be built around the artefacts recovered from three ships which were wrecked off the coast of Streedagh on the north Sligo coast. These wrecks, which were discovered approximately ten years ago in shallow waters a short distance from the shore, are known to contain 59 cannons, the  most significant Armada discovery anywhere along the coast. However, because of various legal processes and the need to ensure that the artefacts become the property of the State and are not lost to the country, unfortunately the wrecks and cannons remain where they were found. I appeal to the Government to immediately start work on the recovery of these wrecks.
The decentralisation of Government Departments has considerable potential in stabilising the population in certain areas. The Departments which were decentralised to Sligo and Ballina are working well and with improved communication systems, it is time the Government considered decentralising some sections to smaller towns with populations of approximately 1,000.
One of the most depressing sights while travelling to the west is the number of recently vacated houses going to ruin. Nothing deteriorates as fast as a deserted house; it is as if some evil forces are lying in wait for the doors to be locked before starting the process of deterioration. I am not talking about houses dating from the Famine but about relatively new houses with all the necessary infrastructure and close to schools and churches which are in danger of closing down because of a lack of people. There must be some way in which these houses can be purchased by the local authority and made available to people on the housing lists. Special incentives would be required to persuade the owners to sell—for example, offering a price which is 50 per cent above market value — but it would result in a saving for the authority in the long-term.
The Select Committee on Finance and General Affairs recently heard a submission from Rural Resettlement Ireland. I am very impressed with the work being done by this organisation. More than 4,000 families in urban areas, mainly Dublin, have expressed a wish to transfer to rural areas, particularly the west. The vast majority of those who wish to leave live in local authority houses. The transfer of these people to  rural areas would free up a huge pool of local authority houses in urban areas which could be given to those on the waiting lists. The transfer of two or three families to a rural parish can mean a significant injection to the local economy. For example, it could help maintain a second or third primary teacher whose job may be under threat. There are no grants available to the owners of unoccupied houses to repair them and make them available to Rural Resettlement Ireland. Thousands of houses have been left vacant following the death of their owners or because of emigration.
Rural Resettlement Ireland, which must be complimented on its very successful programme, told the select committee that it is finding it very difficult to acquire suitable accommodation for the number of families who wish to transfer from Dublin. It would make economic sense to provide an incentive to encourage people to repair secondhand houses so that they could be made available for families who wish to transfer from Dublin. Rural resettlement is not a solution to the major difficulties of the west but the transfer of even three or four families into an ailing community is a great help in ensuring that it stays alive. It also goes some way towards reversing the trend of emigration and declining populations. The Minister should be able to establish a broadly based renewal scheme similar to the very successful urban renewal scheme.
Previously we relied on farming to sustain the population in the west. In this respect I was very glad to hear the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Yates, describe farmers as the custodians of the countryside. However, given the inevitable developments in this sector and the CAP. there is no way the present farming population can be stabilised and I am afraid we may be witnessing the last generation of small farmers. In vast tracts of the west people are being replaced by trees. Forests are all right in the proper place but we should not  plant trees from the Shannon to the Atlantic.
There are very few jobs in forestry but there is a certain capacity for job creation in timber factories. My constituency is fortunate to have secured a major industry for Carrick-on-Shannon which has considerable employment potential. However, this came after the loss to Waterford of a wood pulp industry. To this day I do not understand the logic of locating a wood pulp industry, which depends on forest products from the north-west, in Waterford in the south-east. Any future wood pulp industry — and there is a place for at least one more — must be based where the raw material is produced—the north-west.
One of the sad consequences of the decline in the population in the west has been the withdrawal of services in rural areas. We heard recently that the number of Masses in certain areas was being curtailed and priests were being withdrawn from rural parishes. I welcome the proposal by the Minister of State with responsibility for the west, Deputy Carey, to set up a number of pilot schemes which would ensure innovative approaches to the provision of services in rural areas. He will not be able to do much about spiritual matters but I hope some of these schemes will be situated in the west.
The most threatened areas are the offshore islands. In this respect I welcome the recent announcement of an allocation of £2 million for their development. One million pounds will be allocated to the Leader programme which supports enterprises on the islands while the remainder will be used to improve outward access, which is of particular relevance in the promotion of tourism and economic development. I am disappointed that Coney Island in Sligo Bay, which is still inhabited, does not appear to have figured in the plan. I will be asking the Minister to redress this anomaly.
I understand that the headquarters of the Western Development Partnership  in Sligo recently submitted a major policy programme for the west to the Government. This programme originated from the people and is based on their practical experiences. It deserves the most serious consideration and I hope the main elements will be introduced as a pilot plan for rural areas affected by a declining and ageing population.
I wish to pay tribute to the Minister of State with responsibility for the west, Deputy Carey, for the work he has undertaken in the past year and for the programmes he has developed. His dedication and enthusiasm have given new hope to the west. I commend him for the way in which he is trying to pull the various agencies together to prevent duplication and wastage in their work. His plans should receive the full backing of the Government and, in particular, the Minister for Finance.
1. Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn asked the Minister for Health the current situation in relation to the nurses dispute; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2769/96]
24. Miss Quill asked the Minister for Health the efforts, if any, he is making to ensure that there is no strike action by nurses in the health boards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2730/96]
69. Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Health the issues and concerns, if any, that have been brought to his attention by nursing organisations; his views on the dispute with the nursing profession; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2832/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): I propose to take Questions Nos. 1, 24 and 69 together.
Unions representing general and psychiatric nurses have been involved in negotiations with health service management for some time in relation to their claim for a special pay increase under the Programme for Competitiveness and Work.
Following an earlier breakdown and intervention by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, exploratory talks between the management and union sides took place over a three-day period last week. These talks ended on 1 February 1996 and the unions have decided to ballot their members on an offer made by the management side aimed at resolving the nurses claim within the parameters of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work.
If this ballot results in the offer being rejected, I understand that the unions then intend to commence arrangements for a ballot of members on industrial action. The likelihood of industrial action will depend on the outcome of this second ballot. The exact form of such action is not clear at this stage.
The generous contribution made by nursing staff at all levels to the health services is widely acknowledged. In general terms, there is a very constructive relationship between nurses and their employers and between the organised profession and the Department. In advancing the management side position in this pay dispute, particular care is being taken to protect this constructive relationship.
However, that cannot take from the responsibility of the negotiators on the management side to defend the Government's position on public service pay policy. That position is constrained by the terms of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work pay agreement. I have to assume that all parties to that agreement entered into it in good faith and with a full appreciation of the obligations involved. If the demands of the nursing unions were to be met in full, it would entail a significant breach of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work parameters, with inevitable follow-on claims from other groups in the public service and, ultimately, to a cost explosion in the public service pay bill. It was precisely to avoid such an outcome that the Government at the time agreed the terms of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work pay agreement in its present form. Against that background I can only assume that there is continuing commitment to that agreement by all Members.
The Government takes an equally serious view of the need for stability and certainty in pay costs, and any threat to the overall integrity of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work agreement would be a matter of serious concern to both the Government and, no doubt, the other social partners. For these reasons, the solution to the nurses' pay dispute will ultimately have to be found within the parameters set down in the Programme for Competitiveness and Work. This can be done, given a constructive approach by all parties concerned.
The recent exploratory talks were convened on the basis that management would be willing to discuss improvement in the offer to nurses in respect of their special pay claim under the Programme for Competitiveness and Work within the context that: (1) any settlement would accord broadly with the terms of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work; (2) talks would attempt fo reach a mutually acceptable agreement which would be put to nurses with the support of the unions involved: (3) the services of an independent third party facilitator could be used; and (4) the unions' ballot on industrial action would be stood down while negotiations progressed.
The management side tabled a conditional offer of £20 million aimed at resolving the claim. In the absence of a willingness on the part of the unions to engage in detailed discussions as to how this total sum should be distributed over the various grades, the management side proposed a distribution which con.  centrated on the priorities identified by the nursing unions.
On this basis, the recent offer to the nursing unions provides for the following: in the case of staff nurses the current maximum of the pay scale could be increased from £17,485 to £19,207, primarily on the basis of long service increments; in the case of ward sisters, the current maximum of the scale could be increased from £19,727 to £22,166; in the case of unit nursing officers, an increase of 10 per cent on all points of the salary scale could be applied; in the case of matrons, a revised four-band pay structure, to replace a 14-band pay structure, with a salary maximum of £35,000 could be introduced; and in the case of nurse tutors, there could be phased upgrading of lowest grade (of tutor) and a 6.5 per cent increase.
The management side have also offered to sympathetically consider any proposals made regarding the position of long-term, temporary nurses and in relation to continuing education, where there is already a significant ongoing investment.
The management side have also offered to table other initiatives. However, these issues could only be accommodated in the context of an overall settlement on the pay claim which is within the terms of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work agreement.
The disposition on the management side of these talks has been to tilt the balance as far as possible in favour of the nurses' interests. That will continue to be the position and I would urge the nursing unions even at this late stage to reconsider their position and re-enter talks with a genuine intention to work towards a realistic settlement.
I recognise the potentially harmful impact on the health services and its patients and clients that could arise from a widespread industrial action by the nursing unions. All possible steps will be taken by the Government, by myself as Minister, by the health agencies and by the management side to the  negotiations to avoid such an outcome and to mitigate its effects if the nursing unions persist with it.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: I also would like to acknowledge the tremendous, unrecognised contribution which is made by more than 26,000 members of the nursing profession throughout this country. I notice that the Minister said this dispute can be resolved if a constructive approach is adopted by both sides. Why then has the approach of management in these negotiations been one of inflexibility, lack of imagination and of not being prepared to go the extra mile to keep things within the public service policy which we all support?
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): The Deputy was in Government when the Programme for Competitiveness and Work was negotiated. She is, therefore, very well aware of its provisions and of the possibilities for negotiations which exist under the remaining 3 per cent element of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work. The management have not been inflexible. They approached the talks last week with great flexibility. The figure of £10 million which was originally on the table was raised to £20 million. It was only when the unions decided they did not want to negotiate the manner in which that £20 million would be allocated that the management tried to answer the needs of the nursing unions by bringing forward the detailed proposals which I have outlined to the House. If the unions had a view that resources would be better allocated elsewhere, the management would be quite flexible about that, and were prepared to indicate their flexibility at all stages.
On the question of imagination, it does not require much imagination to realise that there are legitimate grievances which the nurses have as individuals and as a profession for over 15 years. I will try to address those in so far as I can, but I am constrained by the provisions of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work. There is no solution  which allows me to pay a special pay claim to the nurses with any prospect of confining that to nurses, because my contacts with the trade union movement have already indicated that anything that is negotiated in a manner which is not within the parameters of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work, and looks like a special pay increase, will be immediately demanded by the other public service unions. It is difficult, but there is no lack of good will, no lack of commitment to solving the problem. Significant progress is being made, and it is a pity that negotiations have broken down. We are ready to negotiate it but I must stress that there would be difficulty in addressing all the anomalies and grievances which the nurses have in a manner which would take the matter outside the Programme for Competitiveness and Work. Within the Programme for Competitiveness and Work there will be no lack of imagination or flexibility.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: The Minister is correct in saying that my party was part of a Government which negotiated the Programme for Competitiveness and Work. Before that we were also part of a Government which negotiated the Programme for National Recovery, and any objective commentator would have to agree that the Programme for National Recovery was a far more inflexible and more rigid public service pay policy. Despite that, and despite the fact that fiscal policy within Government was very sensitive at the time, the Government was capable, with imagination, flexibility and productivity, and without going outside the Programme for National Recovery, of negotiating such disputes as those involving the ESB, the radiographers, the dental assistants and the fire brigade staff. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility and imagination, within a much more flexible and far less rigid pay policy agreement, for management to negotiate to give the nurses what they deserve and what we strongly support. Does the Minister agree that it would  be possible to do that? Will the Minister explain how the Minister for Education could negotiate a deal with the teachers and stay within the Programme for Competitiveness and Work if it is not possible for the Minister for Health to do the same for nurses?
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): I think it is possible to resolve this dispute within the parameters of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work, but I need the people across the table negotiating with me to negotiate within the parameters of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work. I agree there is some flexibility in the Programme for Competitiveness and Work but it does not give an enormous amount of elbow room. We are talking about flexibility of 3 per cent and it can be arranged in a manner which involves structural changes in the profession.
The questions about teachers should be addressed to the Minister for Education but the Deputy will be aware that the negotiations with the teachers have been ongoing for almost 18 months, the solutions were not arrived at easily and, as I understand it, they are not concluded. I hope we will be able to resolve the difficulties which the nursing unions have listed but it is not only the amount of money involved but the context. The Deputy will be well aware that the public service unions regard themselves as roped together and they will invoke relativity claims as soon as one group is perceived to have got more than another. That would lead to a pay explosion that we do not want and take the public service beyond the boundaries of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work, which were negotiated by the Deputy's party when she was in Government.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: Will the Minister agree that at all times nurses and the nursing alliance representing its 26,000 members states it wants to negotiate a resolution to the dispute while remaining within the Programme for Competitiveness and Work and not outside  the public service pay policy? Will the Minister look at the lessons to be learned from the long negotiations with the teachers and the solutions another Minister is capable of finding without going outside the Programme for Competitiveness and Work and put it into practice on the management side? Is the Minister prepared to ask management to put what has been learned into practice? Is there the political will to resolve the dispute with the nurses?
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): I will deal with the last part of the question first. It is self-evident that any Minister would like to resolve a dispute with a profession as dedicated as the nurses. That goes without saying and I do not think it should have been questioned. There is a context in which a settlement must be found and there is not great flexibility. There is room, we have exercised some of it already and I hope we will be able to resolve the problem.
There seems to be a suggestion in the Deputy's question that the management side are not interested or imaginative enough in working out a solution but I assure her this is not the case. They are as interested as I am in working out a solution, but there are very wide implications for the eventual conclusion of this dispute. I referred to them in the context of my reply and again in reply to supplementary questions. There is not a lack of willingness, flexibility, imagination or the willingness to sit down and discuss options. My officials, management and I are available to start talks tomorrow if people want to come and talk to us.
2. Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn asked the Minister for Health if he will publish the full findings of the investigation into the Kelly Fitzgerald case; the other reports of investigations, if any, into child abuse which have not been published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2770/96]
12. Ms O'Donnell asked the Minister for Health when he will be in a position to outline the current position in relation to the report on Madonna House, Dublin in view of the urgent consultations he had with the Attorney General on the question of legislation to permit the publication of such reports. [2727/96]
14. Ms O'Donnell asked the Minister for Health the status of the inquiry which he ordered into the Western Health Board's handling of the Kelly Fitzgerald case; the reason it took so long to report and publish the findings of this inquiry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2728/96]
Minister of State at the Department of Health (Mr. Currie): I propose to take Questions Nos. 2, 12 and 14 together.
The position in relation to the Kelly Fitzgerald case is that following the completion of the inquest in London into the death of the late Kelly Fitzgerald, the chief executive officer of the Western Health Board appointed an independent team to examine the Western Health Board's involvement with the child and her family. I understand that the chief executive officer is taking legal advice as to whether he can publish the report which has been completed by the inquiry team. I wish to make it clear to the House that neither I nor my colleague the Minister for Health has seen this report.
With regard to the investigation into the operation of Madonna House which was commissioned by the Sisters of Charity, I have already indicated to the House the report of this investigation was referred for legal advice with a view to determining how much of it could be published, without undue risk of legal complications. In the light of the legal advice available to me on this matter my Department is preparing a report on the investigation. This report will be ready  shortly for referral to the Attorney General for clearance to publish.
As I already indicated to the House, I am committed to putting as much as possible of the report in the public domain. However, I cannot proceed unless I am advised that what I propose to do conforms with the law. I have previously stated that I am examining what legislative changes may be necessary to ensure that similar reports may in future be published without fear of legal proceedings.
I think it is important to stress that, notwithstanding these legal problems, considerable improvements have been made in the provision of child care services. Since 1993, the year in which the Kilkenny incest report was published, in the region of £30 million on an annualised basis has been invested in the development of new child care and family support services. The scale of this investment is unprecedented and is specifically designed to ensure that a proper infrastructure to support the Child Care Act is in place and that the health boards are equipped with the resources required to enable them to cope with the new demands imposed on them under the legislation. A range of new services and facilities have been put in place in each health board area and some 850 new posts have been approved for the child care services. Funding has also been made available to the boards for the training of front line staff who are involved in the operation of the new statutory provisions.
I should also mention that the Health Estimate for 1996 includes provision for a further round of new service developments in the child care area.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: The Minister of State states in his reply that neither he nor the Minister for Health has seen the report on Kelly Fitzgerald and, of course, I accept that but has an official in his Department seen it? The chief executive officer of the Western Health Board stated he would have no difficulty in publishing the report provided the legal advice available was that this  could be done. Will the Minister of State say whether his Department has been involved in the provision of legal advice to the health board? Is the Minister convinced there is not public confidence in independent inquiries of cases in health boards where health board officials and staff may well be involved? Is it not high time for the Department to establish, what we have called for, an independent child care inspectorate?
Mr. Currie: Yesterday, in reply to Deputy Frances Fitzgerald's question on this matter, I said it is my strong wish that the results of the inquiry be made public at the earliest possible moment and I have made my views known to the chief executive officer. Part of the problem is that none of the three reports referred to is the responsibility directly of my Department. Two are the responsibility of health boards and the other was initiated by the Sisters of Charity. Obviously, if one is to devolve responsibilities one has to be careful about the extent of one's interference. I have given careful consideration to this matter.
In response to the other questions, I have not seen the report, my colleague, the Minister for Health, has not seen the report and, as far as I am aware, none of my officials has seen it.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: When will legally binding Protocols be introduced for health boards in child care cases? When is it proposed for the Minister's interdepartmental committee to report on mandatory reporting? Does the Minister believe that other health boards could learn many valuable lessons from the publication of reports, such as the Kelly Fitzgerald report.
Mr. Currie: I will refer to mandatory reporting in reply to the next question.
3. Ms O'Donnell asked the Minister for Health the recommendations, if any, of the report on the Kilkenny Incest Case that are currently outstanding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2758/96]
57. Ms O'Donnell asked the Minister for Health when a child abuse register will be established as recommended by the report on the Kilkenny Incest Investigation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2759/96]
Mr. Currie: I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 and 57 together.
As I explained to the House on 25 May last in a comprehensive reply to a previous question, considerable progress has been made in implementing many of the substantive recommendations of the report of the Kilkenny Incest Investigation that relate to the health services.
Priority is continuing to be accorded to the central recommendation of the report concerning the implementation of the Child Care Act, 1991. Some 61 of the 79 sections of the Act are now in force. These include the core provisions of Parts III, IV, V and VI which deal with the protection of children in emergencies, care proceedings and the powers and duties of health boards in relation to children in their care. The investigation team underlined the need for the early introduction of these provisions and I was in a position to bring them into operation with effect from 31 October last, together with three new sets of regulations governing the placement by health boards of children in foster care, residential care and with relatives. In accordance with the time scale set by the Government for the full implementation of the Act, it is my intention that the remaining 18 sections which deal with the supervision of pre-school services and the registration of children's residential centres, will commence by the end of the current year.
Since 1993, in the region of £30 million on an annual basis, has been invested in the development of an infrastructure to support the Act and to enable the health boards to cope with  the new demands placed on them under the legislation. The Health Estimate for 1996 includes provision for a further round of new service developments in the child care area. These allocations represent the largest ever investment of resources in our child care services and demonstrate the commitment of the Government to strengthening those services and equipping them to respond to the needs of vulnerable children.
Of the remaining substantive recommendations of the Kilkenny Incest Report that come within my area of responsibility, the most important of these relate to mandatory reporting, revised child abuse guidelines, and standardised child abuse registers.
The position on mandatory reporting is that a discussion paper on the subject is currently being finalised and will be issued later this month as a basis for widespread discussions with the various interest groups.
As regards a revision of the child abuse guidelines issued by the Department of Health in 1987, the Deputy is aware that the procedure I introduced last year for the notification of suspected cases of child abuse between the health boards and the Garda represents a major amendment of the 1987 guidelines, in so far as the interaction between the two key players involved in child protection is concerned. It should also be noted that the health boards have reviewed their regional child protection procedures in the light of the relevant recommendations in the Kilkenny Incest Report and have taken specific measures to improve arrangements in this area. I consider it prudent to await the outcome of the forthcoming consultation process on mandatory reporting before the current guidelines are revised further since that process is likely to throw up issues which will need to be addressed in any new guidelines.
On child abuse registers, I would make the point that the 1987 guidelines already provide guidance on the collection, recording and exchange of information on suspected and confirmed cases of child abuse. It is not therefore  the case that lists or registers are not at present being maintained by the health boards. Having said that, however, I am conscious of the need to ensure a uniform approach by the boards and of the importance of incorporating certain safeguards into the system.
I intend that the recommendations in the Kilkenny Report relating to the introduction of revised national child abuse guidelines and the establishment of standardised child abuse registers will be vigorously pursued as soon as the preparatory work currently under way in the Department for the implementation of the remaining provisions of the Child Care Act has been completed. I hope by that stage a clear consensus on the mandatory reporting question will have emerged and that all of the issues that need to be addressed in revised guidelines will have been identified.
Ms O'Donnell: How can the Minister continue to give the same answer to the issue of mandatory reporting and the establishment of abuse registers which was the other recommendation of the Kilkenny Incest Case report? The tendency to be lethargic about this issue was also a feature of the Minister's predecessor. On 17 May 1994, a year after the report was issued, the then Minister for Health, Deputy Howlin, said he would establish a discussion document procedure on mandatory reporting. On 24 October, the Minister of State, Deputy Currie, said exactly the same thing. On the same day he said he was seeking urgent consultations with the Attorney General in relation to Madonna House.
How can the Minister continue to say the Government is still at the discussion document stage, five years after the Law Reform Commission's report recommended mandatory reporting and three years after the Kilkenny report made the same recommendation?
Mr. Currie: I am surprised by that question. Most people who have studied the issue of mandatory reporting realise just how complex it is. Serious consideration  is required by all the agencies and interests involved. That is why I have a discussion paper. The Deputy has quoted me and others in the past, but I will refer to an article written by her colleague, Deputy Michael McDowell on 5 November 1995 at a time when I was considering precisely what he suggested. In that article, entitled “Praise-worthy principle, but problematic”, Deputy McDowell said that mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse is a laudable principle that will be difficult to translate into practical law. He concluded by saying that to legislate in a way which is both practical and effective will require a careful and measured approach, which was why John Bruton should ask Austin Currie to publish a discussion document within, say, three months.
I have produced a document within that time.
Ms O'Donnell: Let us see it.
Mr. Currie: Unlike the Deputy not everyone sees this issue in simplistic terms.
Ms O'Donnell: No one is saying the issue is not complex but that does not excuse the Government's failure to act. As far as the discussion paper on mandatory reporting is concerned we have not moved forward one inch in three years.
Mr. Currie: That is not true.
Ms O'Donnell: It is a complex area yet we do not have any legally enforceable Protocols on the reporting of allegations of child abuse which would ensure children have minimum protection, despite the fact that approximately 5,000 cases are reported to the health boards every year.
Mr. Currie: I am surprised that the Deputy does not appear to understand what she has been told. Before the end of the month she will have the discussion paper I promised and that is well within the three months suggested by her colleague. When she  reads it she will see that the issue is a complex one. I have been in office just over one year and I am ahead of target in regard to full implementation of the Child Care Act, 1991. I am happy that we are on the right road and that I am dealing with the issue urgently. I hope the Deputy accepts that eventually.
Ms O'Donnell: As regards the reports on Madonna House and the Kelly Fitzgerald case which the Minister of State failed to publish, he said he was seeking urgent advice from the Attorney General on 24 October last. Today he stated he was in urgent consultations with the Attorney General on the publication of an abridged version of these reports to guard against third party liability. The Minister's total abdication of responsibility is a scandal and is highly curious. It indicates that there is a cover up in relation to these activities and the publication of the two reports.
Mr. Currie: Some of the Deputy's language is reprehensible. She is a member of the legal profession. I explained this matter to her before, particularly as it relates to the Madonna House investigation. I received advice to the effect that substantial parts of the report cannot be published without running a serious risk of grave contempt and defamation. A number of civil actions have been initiated against Madonna House and the Eastern Health Board by or on behalf of former residents of the home. These actions claim damages against the defendants for assault, negligence and breach of duty. I am advised that it would be improper and unlawful to publish any material which prejudges issues arising for determination by the courts pending proceedings. If a potential client approached the Deputy in her professional capacity and she advised him or her that he or she was running a serious risk of grave contempt and defamation she would expect the advice to be heeded.
Ms O'Donnell: This House is privileged.
An Ceann Comhairle: The time for dealing with Priority Questions is exhausted.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: May I raise a point of information during Question Time?
An Ceann Comhairle: Question No. 3 was dealt with in priority time. It could not have been dealt with had we not adopted that procedure. I am now proceeding to deal with Questions Nos. 4 and 5 which can be taken in ordinary time in accordance with the procedures of the House.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: Is it possible to raise a point of information now?
An Ceann Comhairle: We will deal with the questions before us in the ordinary way. I wish to facilitate the Deputy but I am constrained by the time factor involved. If Deputy O'Donnell's question was not called during that time it could not have been dealt with at all. I am only allowed to deal with the last two questions on the Order Paper.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: Under Standing Orders is it possible to raise a point of information now?
An Ceann Comhairle: No, not if it deals with the previous question. Only the Deputy who tabled the question may ask supplementary questions. That is the procedure in dealing with Priority Questions. We will now deal with Questions Nos. 4 and 5 and Members will be able to ask supplementaries.
4. Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn asked the Minister for Health the contacts, if any, he has had with the hepatitis C compensation tribunal; the progress, if any, made with the groups representing the victims of Hepatitis C, particularly in relation to the level of details required on the tribunal application forms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2771/96]
28. Mr. Browne (Wexford) asked the Minister for Health the number of applications which have been made to the hepatitis C compensation tribunal; the number of applications which have been withdrawn; the way in which the Tribunal is briefing itself on Hepatitis C; and if he will give details of the guidelines on compensation which are being used by the Tribunal. [2693/96]
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 and 28 together.
The compensation tribunal is independent of my Department. However, in response to anxieties expressed by Positive Action in relation to the discretion of the tribunal to make provisional awards and by Transfusion Positive—a support group for blood transfusion recipients and their families—in relation to the non-availability of certain medical records, I requested my officials to write to the tribunal conveying these concerns. My Department wrote to the tribunal conveying the concerns of both groups on 5 January 1996.
Officials in my Department are in regular contact with the groups representing those who have been diagnosed hepatitis C positive, the Irish Haemophilia Society, the Irish Kidney Association, Positive Action and Transfusion Positive. Substantial progress has been made in meeting the concerns of these groups on a range of issues.
The question of the details sought in making an application to the compensation tribunal is a matter for the tribunal itself. However, I understand that the details sought on the application forms are in order that the tribunal may verify claims before it, to ensure that persons are compensated appropriately. The details that could be sought by the tribunal are the same as those that could be sought by the courts in a civil action. If claimants are concerned in relation to  the tribunal contacting certain persons in order to verify details of a claim for compensation, their concerns should be conveyed by the claimants to the tribunal. Given the eminence and wide experience of the members of the tribunal, I know that they will act with sensitivity and fairness in all cases.
As the Deputy will be aware, I formally established the compensation tribunal on 15 December 1995. Since that date 600 application forms approximately have been forwarded to individuals and solicitors in response to requests by letter and telephone for such application forms. The scheme of compensation provides that claimants have six months in which to make their application to the tribunal from the date of its establishment or the date of a positive diagnosis for hepatitis C, whichever date is the later. I understand that 72 applications have been received by the tribunal to date and that it has heard 2 priority cases and expects to begin hearing further cases in early March 1996. No applications to the tribunal have been withdrawn. The scheme of compensation provides that the tribunal may appoint medical and other experts to advise it as it sees fit and the tribunal may take such other steps to inform itself as it considers appropriate.
The scheme of compensation provides that the awards of the tribunal will be calculated by reference to the principles which govern the measure of damages in the law of tort. Therefore, damages will be calculated in accordance with the same principles as those that apply in the High Court.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: The Minister stated that 600 application forms were requested. If that is so, will he explain why the Department sent unsolicited application forms to women who were infected as a result of anti-D? There are approximately 1,800 potential applicants. Can he explain why 600 application forms were sought and only 72 have been sent back to the Department despite continuous intensive advertising by his Department in the national newspapers?  Is that not sufficient evidence of the lack of confidence hepatitis C victims have in the ad hoc tribunal set up by the Minister?
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): The Blood Transfusion Service Board sent out application forms in order to be of service to people who might wish to apply to the tribunal. My Department and the tribunal sent application forms to the solicitors who requested them. We advertised nationally to ensure that people were aware the tribunal could, if applicants wished, deal with their claims. The question of whether there should be more or less applications is a matter of debate. Persons have until the end of May to complete their application forms and they fill them up on the advice of their solicitors.
The tribunal was set up before Christmas and will proceed in March. I have given the number of applicants who have made claims. This matter should be handled sensitively. Nobody is being forced to go to the tribunal. People may go to the High Court if they wish, but the tribunal is a very good option which should not be attacked. At the end of the day individual decisions will be made on each case and there should not be undue influence, particularly since some of the information in circulation is inaccurate.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: The Minister said he is very anxious that people have the right to go to the tribunal or the courts. Is it on his authority that the State is at present in the High Court objecting to and delaying the present case? If that is correct why is it so? Is it a device used by the State to cajole and corral hepatitis C victims from exercising their constitutional rights and to force them to attend the fundamentally flawed tribunal established by the Minister?
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): The tribunal is not fundamentally flawed. Never was a tribunal put in place with  such a range of measures as this tribunal is putting at the disposal of applicants. The most recent example of a tribunal was that which dealt with compensation claims relating to the Stardust tragedy. This tribunal, which is built on the experience of the Stardust tribunal, is much better. It is on a different scale and has been constructed deliberately to facilitate applicants. There is no attempt to dragoon, compel, coerce or coax people.
Since I became Minister for Health I stated I would set up a tribunal which would have advantages over the courts and that it would be available as a choice for applicants. The choice of going to the High Court still exists. I have moulded the two options in that if people are dissatisfied with an award granted by the tribunal they do not lose one iota of their right to proceed through the High Court.
These are difficult times for persons with hepatitis C and misleading information in newspapers about the manner in which the tribunal is operating upsets them. Because the tribunal is independent of me and must act confidentially on behalf of applicants, nobody is in a position to correct that information. I ask all those involved, in the interests of fair play and of those who have hepatitis C and wish to make claims, to proceed cautiously. If people are dissuaded from doing what is in their best interests on the basis of incorrect information, there is a very heavy responsibility on those who disseminate such information.
On the issue of the case before the High Court, as I told Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn on the Adjournment last night, it was never the practice in this House to discuss cases currently before the courts. It would be completely out of order for me to argue a case being processed in the courts.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: I am not asking the Minister to argue the case; I am talking about the principle.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick-East): The functions of the courts are separate  from those of this House. It has never been in order in this House to ask a Minister to reply to a case before the court. I will not create a precedent and, with respect to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, if the Ceann Comhairle was here he would rule me out of order if I tried to do so.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: Will the Minister please stop equating the Stardust tribunal with the ad hoc tribunal for hepatitis C victims? There is no comparison between them. I hope he is not asking us to believe that where a State agency perpetrated a crime against women, men and children through negligence and of its own procedures, that should be equated with something that happened in a company run by private people. Is the Minister seriously asking this House and the public to believe that no contact has been made by members of the tribunal with any of the groups representing victims or with individuals inside or outside this House who have expressed public concern about the tribunal? Will he explain why, since women are not of right allowed to bring oral medical evidence before the tribunal, no member of the tribunal has medical experience specifically related to hepatitis C?
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick-East): The Deputy raised a range of questions with underlying accusations, political and otherwise, all of which are incorrect. I am not equating the events which led to the establishment of the Stardust tribunal to the events which led to the establishment of this tribunal. I am comparing the two tribunals which were put in place to provide compensation to large groups of victims. The most recent example of putting in place a tribunal which would give, at a minimum, flexible and readier access to compensation for large groups of claimants than the court system is the Stardust tribunal. We learned from some of the inadequacies of that tribunal, which I as Minister for Justice was involved in setting up with the then Attorney General,  John Rogers. This is a much more sophisticated tribunal which is better geared to deal with the legitimate claims of applicants who come before it.
On the question of whether the tribunal should be in contact——
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: I asked whether any member of the tribunal made contact with the people involved.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): That is like asking whether a judge made contact with a person claiming before a court. The terms of reference of the tribunal are laid down. Application forms are available and people who apply attend the tribunal with their legal advisers. I cannot predetermine the decisions of the tribunal. It is chaired by a very eminent jurist who has just retired from the Supreme Court. He has available to him a panel of very eminently qualified legal people and I have confidence in their ability to deal with the day to day issues that arise within the tribunal. It is not possible for me as Minister for Health to dictate to the tribunal how to proceed on every case. I think it will work very well. There have been two cases before it which were in very special circumstances, and totally misleading information has been published in the newspapers about those cases. To protect the privacy and rights of those who made claims and were offered awards, I cannot explain the details of the claims. They were not the regular type of claim with which we are all familiar and hearing of which will commence in early March.
Another lie I want to nail is that there is an instruction to the tribunal that it is not to give the going rate. The terms of reference explicitly outline that the tribunal will measure the amounts under the law of tort, which is exactly the same procedure under which a judge in the High Court operates. Many difficulties have arisen. When we discussed this matter some months ago the major difficulties did not relate to the amount of money victims would be awarded by the tribunal or the High Court, but to  arrangements for the ongoing health needs of persons with hepatitis C. Those arrangements which were very complicated have been resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned. When the published legislation, with which Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn is familiar, is passed, there will be an opportunity to discuss the issues further.
Rather than being confrontational about this matter, many victims, who are not qualified legally and do not have experience of public debate or public issues, are concerned about their health. They are trying to make up their minds whether, in their interests and that of their families, they should bring their case to the tribunal or to the High Court. Some people in the public domain, whom I cannot identify for certain reasons, are trying to prejudice their decisions. That is not fair play. Victims should be able to make decisions freely which are in their best interests in consultation with their legal advisers. If they are unhappy with the award given by the tribunal, they can follow the twin track approach by simultaneously processing their claims through the High Court. I am confident that the tribunal will proceed. It will hand down awards and as soon as some of the very large awards are made, there will be a rush of applicants bringing their cases to the tribunal.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: That remark is outrageous. The difficulties that have arisen with the tribunal do not relate to the amount of the award that will be handed down to victims.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): Two issues have been running for the past 12 months. The first relates to the provisions that could be put in place for the ongoing health needs of persons with hepatitis C, on which there is virtually total agreement, and the second to how persons with hepatitis C coming from circumstances which have been described on several occasions could claim compensation. That second issue  is about money, whether victims will apply for compensation from the tribunal or the High Court and how much will be awarded.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: The Minister said the difficulties of the tribunal related to money.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): I did not say that. I was making a point that would be helpful to victims. Persons who have been advised they have a claim have nothing to lose by bringing their cases to the tribunal because if they consider the awards granted by it insufficient they can reject them and process their claims in the High Court.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: But they must have confidence.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): The courts by their nature will process claims in the usual way. This brings me to the point I was making when I was interrupted by Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn who misunderstood what I was saying. The work of the tribunal to date has been exceptional, but when it deals with its normal business of processing applicants' claims it will grant a variety of awards, some of which will be small and others large. The time will come when people will be anxious to have their cases heard by the tribunal and there will be a queue of applicants. Victims should be aware that many potential applicants will bring their cases to the tribunal and there may be delays in processing claims there.
I am not prejudicing or making a case for the tribunal. The rate of compensation that will be paid by the tribunal will have to be the same as the rate that will be paid in similar cases brought to the High Court. There are no savings for the State in having cases heard at the tribunal. The £60 million allocated for victim's compensation, debated on an earlier occasion, is a notional amount and I expect total awards to be far in excess of that. As there are many claimants I do not expect it to conclude its  work in 1996. People who are not in a position to establish what is in their best interests should not be put off making an application to the tribunal. Some information in the public domain about particular awards did not take account of the circumstances in which those awards were made.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: Will the Minister respond to the second part of my question relating to whether a medically qualified person with specific expertise in hepatitis C may sit on the tribunal?
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): The skills needed in the tribunal are those required to measure, in so far as it is possible, the appropriate amount of compensation to be given in, say, a civil damages case. Those are the skills of judges and other members of the legal profession familiar with that task. They will need to brief themselves fully on the medical side. As I said in my reply, there is a provision within the terms of the tribunal that legal people can retain any medical advice they need and have any medical consultation they need or can attach expertise to the tribunal as needed. A case heard at the tribunal would proceed in exactly the same way as a medical damages case in respect of a hospital in the High Court. It would not be appropriate to put a doctor on the Bench to decide the appropriate level of award, but medical expertise could be used to enable a judge more accurately to measure an award. There is not a hidden agenda nor is the Government attempting to confine the amount of money allocated for compensation. Once the tribunal grants an award, it must be paid. There are advantages for applicants in bringing their cases to the tribunal, but the only advantage to the State is that a large number of claimants could be dealt with and their cases would not cause a backlog in the courts. There are some legal cost advantages to the State in pursuing the tribunal route as larger costs would accrue if cases were individually processed  in the courts. I ask Deputies to restrain themselves from trying to score political points.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: We are not doing that. That remark is unfair.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): I do not object to political point-scoring, but Members should be aware of the circumstances of applicants and that the spin they might put on a reply to a question might discourage victims from doing what is in their best interests.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: I hope the Minister is not accusing this side of the House of political point-scoring.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy should not speak repeatedly from a seated position. I am anxious to make progress and facilitate other Deputies. I call Deputy O'Donnell to ask a concluding question.
Ms O'Donnell: I am sure the Minister will agree that the two female Deputies on this side of the House are acutely aware of the subjective feelings of the women involved. The Minister referred to the twin track approach and stated that if the victims are not happy with the awards granted by the tribunal they can process their claims through the High Court. The State, acting on behalf of the people, is opposing and trying to obstruct the progress of a case currently before the High Court by trying to adjourn it or strike it out because the woman in question insists on confidentiality and is using a pseudonym. Why is the State trying to obstruct that woman's case? Will the Minister agree that such obstruction by the State in demanding that the woman in question does not use a pseudonym to ensure confidentiality is setting a bad precedent for other women who may want to exercise their constitutional right by bringing their case to the High Court?
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): I am now being asked to comment on a case  which is before the courts in respect of which I understand there is a hearing today.
Ms O'Donnell: The sub judice rule was lifted.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): I am not claiming it is sub judice, I am saying it is entirely inappropriate for a Minister or Member of this House to attempt to argue a case across the floor of the House which is being simultaneously argued in the High Court. Let us wait and see how it works out in the High Court.
Dr. McDaid: Perhaps the Minister would clarify whether he has dealt with people who developed hepatitis C many years ago, a small proportion of whom, have since died. What is the position of families of those who died indirectly from hepatitis C vis-á-vis the compensation tribunal?
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): Its terms of reference say the tribunal is available to persons who contracted hepatitis C from a blood or blood product where the blood or blood product is the factor which transmitted the virus. Persons within that category fall within the scope of the tribunal whereas persons outside that category do not fall within the remit of the tribunal.
If the Deputy has an individual case or cases in mind, and submits the relevant details to me in writing. I will obtain a more explicit answer for him.
Dr. McDaid: I have in mind two cases whose families will be the claimants, whose deceased family members contracted hepatitis C from a blood or blood product. Are those families entitled to submit their cases to the tribunal?
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): No, I have outlined the scope of the tribunal and the categories of applicants that can apply. Deputy McDaid is endeavouring  to obtain a more precise definition than that, which comes very near to asking for legal advice across the floor of the House which I am not prepared to give because I do not know the full circumstances of the cases he is putting to me. If the Deputy will furnish me with their details I will obtain a confidential reply from my Department taking all the relevant circumstances into account.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: The Minister gave the House incorrect information. I would like to give him an opportunity to correct that. Would that be possible?
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): If I did, I will correct it.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: I am sure he did it unknowingly, but the Minister has continued to emphasise in the House today and on other occasions the privacy of the tribunal proceedings and what an advantage that would be for the women concerned. How can he say there is privacy when the certificate of authority an applicant is asked to sign may well include her employer, the VHI, health board or Revenue Commissioners being informed of the decision of the tribunal? Does that not break the privacy proviso? Therefore, it is incorrect to state that there is privacy at the tribunal.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): No, people can always ask a tribunal, or a judge in court, to deal with a matter in a confidential way. There is a set of procedures laid down, there is an application form which has become an issue, and there is the verification of earnings with employers which does not present any problem to quite a number of people. Their names will not be spread all across the newspapers. It is something they can arrange with their employer quite easily. From time to time everybody has to request a certificate of earnings from their employer. I know the members of the tribunal and its chairperson are aware that there are cases where absolute privacy is essential.  If that point is put I am sure it will be met.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: The Minister is not saying it will definitely be met?
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): I am repeating what I said earlier, that the tribunal has a job to do, it has a huge budget, is independent of me and has full authority to conduct its affairs in accordance with its terms of reference. It is not possible to have terms of reference so detailed they can deal with every eventuality. In the final analysis, one puts one's faith in the good sense of the people doing the job. The same issue would arise in the High Court where the issue has been dealt with quite fairly over the years, protecting the interests of the claimant in circumstances like that.
5. Dr. Moffatt asked the Minister for Health if he will make a statement on the recent allocations in the financial Estimates for his Department regarding the mentally handicapped and the additional allocations of moneys to the various voluntary bodies and health boards for the mentally handicapped in 1996. [2214/96]
Minister of State at the Department of Health (Mr. O'Shea): Additional funding of £10 million has been made available in 1996 for services to persons with a mental handicap. This includes £6 million revenue funding of which £3 million is being provided to meet the 1996 cost of additional services which were put in place in 1995. The remaining £3 million revenue funding provided will facilitate the provision of an additional 66 residential or respite places and 265 day care places as well as home support services this year.
In addition, £4 million capital funding is being provided of which £2 million will be used to support general service developments. The remaining £2 million will be used to develop and improve the  quality of training facilities for persons with a mental handicap under the European Regional Development Fund-assisted programme.
As the Deputy is aware, substantial additional funding has been made available in recent years for the development of services to persons with a mental handicap. Additional funding of £44.58 million was invested in the services in the period 1990-95 which enabled health boards to put in place over 1,000 additional residential places and 2,100 day care places.
I am satisfied this additional annual funding has made a significant impact on the number of persons with a mental handicap awaiting services. However, I am aware that more needs to be done if we are to meet the needs of those awaiting services. The Government is committed under both the health strategy document Shaping a Healthier Future and A Government of Renewal to the continued development of the service as resources become available.
Comprehensive data on the population with a mental handicap will become available over the coming months from the national mental handicap database.
Once this information is available, it is my intention, to initiate a review of the implementation of both policy documents Needs and Abilities and Services to Persons with Autism with a view to preparing an overall medium-term development plan for the services.
Dr. Moffatt: As the Minister of State said, of the total of £10 million, £4 million has been allocated for capital expenditure and, of the remaining £6 million, £3 million has already been spent, leaving £3 million this year for services for the mentally handicapped, which is totally inadequate and hardly in line with the prevailing rate of inflation. Is the Minister making any special case for the mentally handicapped? What was the amount sought for these services from the Minister's Department this year by the voluntary sector and health boards? Does the Minister agree that a sum of  £3 million is totally inadequate in the case of the mentally handicapped who have nobody to voice their needs?
Mr. O'Shea: An extra £10 million is being provided this year to enhance the provision of services for people with a mental handicap. Within the context of the manner of disbursement of those extra moneys, a regional co-ordination committee has been established within each health board area, comprised of the providers of these services, parents' representatives, officials of the relevant health board and so on. Within the guidelines laid down by my Department those committees will submit recommendations to us on how they consider those additional moneys can best be distributed. We must bear in mind that heretofore no proper, in-depth, scientific analysis was undertaken of the number of people in receipt of services or of the number requiring them. The waiting lists have been crude in the sense that they can contain duplicate information. We must make the distinction between current and future need. Indications are that work in bringing the database to a proper scientific conclusion should be completed midway through this year, by which time we will have the Report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities. We will then be armed with scientific analysis of the area and precise information on the number of people who require services.
There are other factors which must be taken on board. For instance, people with a mental handicap are living longer and geriatric people with a mental handicap are far more prevalent than was the case heretofore. We must plan properly and planning is only possible on the best statistical and scientific information. As time passes, interim information will become available and we can plan properly, pursue the area by way of a package and aim for full provision of services for those who need them. A great deal has been achieved through the provision of extra moneys  but we have not been focused enough in the way we have developed services. The most important job to be carried out this year is the conclusion of the policy review and the programme. Armed with those, we can pursue the question of funding in a much more meaningful and effective way.
Dr. Moffatt: The Minister can plan ad nauseam but if he does not invest money in the service, it will be of no use. He knows that there are 1,450 people waiting for residential care. There are about 1,500 people waiting for day-care services and there are already 900 people with a mental handicap in psychiatric hospitals. This is not acceptable. The £3 million in exact funding which the Minister has is in no way adequate for the services needed at present. The number of people with a mental handicap will peak around 2,004 and then decline. I accept the Minister's statement that people with a mental handicap are living longer but, nevertheless, we must get across to the Minister that more funding is needed now. The Government can find £12 million for advisers.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy is being over long.
Dr. Moffatt: The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry got £28,000 to see how well he was doing himself. Surely the Minister can find some more money for this needy service.
Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn: They have no heart on the Government side of the House.
Mr. O'Shea: I repeat that £10 million extra is available this year, not £3 million. On waiting lists and the sector generally, approximately 15,283 people with a mental handicap were in receipt of specialised mental handicapped services at the end of 1995, of whom 7,197 were in residential care. In January 1995, the Department requested information from the health boards on the  numbers awaiting service. The data received indicated that about 1,453 persons were on waiting lists for residential services and 1,526 for day-care services throughout the country. These figures do not take into account the additional 243 residential respite places and 514 day-care places which were provided in 1995.
While the figures reflect the more precise information becoming available to the boards, the bottom line is that we need to be absolutely certain of the accuracy of those waiting lists. We need to know if there is duplication and whether people in receipt of services are getting the appropriate services. Some of the innovations of the 1990s, such as respite care and home support, have opened up new avenues. To examine waiting lists in the crude terms of residential and day care places is to miss areas where creativity can be applied to give a more fulfilling lifestyle to the people about whom we are talking.
The figure is £10 million extra this year. Our determination to continue the work that has provided an extra 1,000 residential places and 2,100 day-care places will continue. We are approaching it in a much more scientific and professional way. We must look at the extent to which the money provided is doing the best by the clients we all seek to serve.
Mr. D. Wallace: I welcome the Minister's remarks about the scientific information he requires and the statistics on those awaiting facilities. An area of crucial importance is where people with a mental handicap who were in residential care are sent home to elderly parents when they become adults. It is a problem and a traumatic time for people. I have been made aware of cases where this is happening and it is unacceptable. I accept that there is an additional allocation of £10 million this year and huge strides have been made in this area but people feel let down.
The Minister said he needs information but he has already given us information. Can additional funding be found for groups such as the Cope  Foundation in Cork, and others, who do tremendous work? If they had more money, they could provide additional spaces. It is an urgent problem. While awaiting the information there is a crucial need for assistance and these people, particularly elderly parents, feel left out. I make a strong plea to the Minister to examine this to ascertain what assistance can be given to those people.
Mr. O'Shea: Deputy Wallace mentioned some specific examples of people who were in residential care and we would be happy to examine them. More money is needed in every area of health. Both the Minister and I are committed to maximising the resources in this area. The Deputy need have no doubt that will continue during the lifetime of this Government.
Mr. B. O'Keeffe: An extra £3 million is being provided in capital spending. I heard of a case yesterday where a 22 year old person with a mental handicap was sent home to a parent who is a manic depressive to be looked after on a 24 hour basis. We spend our time putting together four and five year plans for the mentally handicapped. The difficulty is they are compiled by service providers, parents and voluntary groups on the basis of what can be attained realistically in four or five years. Unfortunately, the level of funding——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We can only proceed by way of question.
Mr. B. O'Keeffe: ——in this sector is totally inadequate. Parents are trying to look after mentally handicapped people in their own homes because they cannot get residential places. I appeal to the Minister to make additional funding available because this is a major problem for these parents.
Mr. O'Shea: If the Deputy gives me details of the case he mentioned I will be happy to pursue it. The Minister and I are fully committed to the development  of services for people with a mental handicap. Our method of providing a service this year is the best one in terms of getting full value from the money available in the interests of the people we all want to help.
Mr. Flood: Is it true that the information for which the Minister is trawling the country already exists in his Department? Each health board will have that information, that exercise has already been gone through and the position has not changed over the last few years to any appreciable extent. I suggest this is a delaying tactic. My second question relates to the Minister's statement that persons with a mental handicap are living longer. Is it not the case that the Minister is presiding over a section of a department which has failed to keep pace with the fact that elderly carers of people with mental handicap who were in a position for the past 30 or 40 years to care for such people are dying? Consequently, those mentally handicapped persons need residential care which is not available because over the past two or three years we have not kept pace with the provision of additional residential accommodation as in the early 1990s.
Mr. O'Shea: In compiling the database we must be sure we are comparing like with like as between one health board and another. In the latter part of 1995 the health research board, which is finalising the processing of the data in the database, has employed a researcher to complete that work. An independent clinical audit will have to be carried out on a random group to ensure the information is accurate. This job is not easily done. Even if figures are received from one health board it does not mean its terms of assessment of people are compared with another health board. I accept patients are living longer and that from time to time emergencies arise. We have tried to keep a check on the system to provide for emergencies but, depending on the client, it can be  difficult and money is not always the answer in the short-term. We are seeking to identify all the difficulties and adopt a comprehensive approach to the development of a medium term programme which we can pursue in the context of meeting the total service requirement for this group.
Dr. Moffatt: The Minister omitted to mention the total number of applications received and the allocation sought for the voluntary bodies and the different health boards for the current year. Will the Minister examine the position in Lisnagry where 21 mentally handicapped patients are denied access to education, because of a Government embargo?
Mr. O'Shea: My initial response is the most appropriate. Where extra moneys are involved they are allocated to the health boards. We give certain guidelines and the regional co-ordinating committees respond to them and come back with their priorities. One of our guidelines is that those who are in most need of service should be provided with it.
Miss Coughlan: asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment his views on the closure of Donegal Rubber, Ballyshannon, County Donegal, on 8 February 1996, and the subsequent loss of 67 permanent jobs.
Minister for Enterprise and Employment (Mr. R. Bruton): I share the Deputy's concern at the loss of a further 67 jobs at Donegal Rubber. The plant has been in operation in Ballyshannon since 1978 and has given good employment in the area since then. For the past few years concern has been expressed about the future of the company, because of the situation at the parent  company which was experiencing decline in market share and in a weak financial position.
Donegal Rubber competes in a very highly competitive lower, marginal segment of the rubber auto components market. In 1995 the company introduced cutback measures involving the layoff of 126 full-time and part-time workers. The IDA had been aware of the company's difficulties and have maintained close contact with both local Irish management and the parent company in Germany. I understand the IDA introduced a number of potential investors to the company but none of these attempts has come to fruition.
The closure of the Ballyshannon plant takes place against the background of the difficulties being experienced by the parent company and the closure is part of a restructuring of the parent company's activities. I have asked the IDA to redouble its efforts to find a replacement investment for the area and to work with other State and voluntary agencies for this purpose. I have also contacted Forbairt asking for a particular effort to assist Ballyshannon.
Miss Coughlan: I thank the Minister for his reply. Is the Minister concerned that over the past 18 months to two years when a review on restructuring was taking place in this company, at the behest of the IDA and Údarás na Gaeltachta, that the expansion of the company some years ago—as suggested by many in Ballyshannon—was to their detriment and downfall?
Mr. R. Bruton: I presume the Deputy is referring to the expansion in the Údarás plant. The plant was grant-aided prior to my term in office so my knowledge of its background is scanty. Obviously, the agencies concerned assessed the project and were satisfied that there were real market opportunities in 1991 for further growth in this product market. It has now transpired otherwise. If, implicit in the Deputy's question is concern that the agencies are not sharing information  and being conscious that there is no danger of displacement, I assure her procedures are in place to ensure that a decision in relation to one agency does not encroach on another. We must view this closure in the context of 800 to 900 people being made redundant in the German company prior to the decision being made at Donegal Rubber. This was a broad based restructuring of their operation and it is against that background this has occurred. I assure the Deputy that every effort was made to protect these jobs. As recently as yesterday, the chief executive of the IDA was engaged in intensive meetings in Germany. I have spoken to him since then but no positive outcome could be achieved. We are conscious of the needs of Ballyshannon which I have stressed to the IDA and Forbairt.
Miss Coughlan: Arising from the Minister's assurance that he will impress on the IDA and Forbairt the necessity for investment, will he consider setting up a task force, involving all the State agencies, to work with the local people and some of those who will lose their jobs to ensure we have real investment, given that there are almost 1,000 people on the live register in Ballyshannon, to which will now be added 67? Following the changes regarding the ESB station and probably at Finner Camp there are major difficulties in Ballyshannon given that it is an employment black spot. Will the Minister give an assurance that he will set up some type of organisation or task force what would work with all the State agencies and the local people to encourage investment and, perhaps, to make available the existing factory, which is owned by the German company, to others who may invest in the town?
Mr. R. Bruton: I am not in a position to agree to the establishment of a task force. The difficulty with that type of proposal is that every time there was a company closure a task force would have to be established and there would be a multiplicity of task forces. That  would not be an effective use of the resources of the State agencies. The company has agreed to make the premises available at a special rate and to work with the IDA in seeking alternative industry for the factory in Ballyshannon. Forbairt is working with the Erne Trust on the idea of an enterprise centre or incubator unit. I hope their work will come to fruition.
On the broader strategic issue, there is no doubt that in general the availability of suitable land presents a problem in attracting inward investment to the Border counties. As the Deputy will be aware, this issue is being addressed by an inter-agency group to see whether some of the funding available for the Border region could be usefully channelled towards this purpose for the provision of important infrastructure.
I cannot agree to the Deputy's request, although understandable, that a specific task force be established, but I hope the work that is in train will keep Ballyshannon to the fore.
Miss Coughlan: Will the Minister ensure that there is positive discrimination in favour of the town to ensure that it does not lose out in attracting potential investors to the Border region? As he can appreciate, feelings are running high following the loss of this industry.
Mr. R. Bruton: The IDA is determined to do all it can to ensure that a replacement industry is found. This is at the top of its agenda. I have contacted the chief executives of the respective agencies, Mr. Kieran McGowan and Mr. Dan Flinter, to emphasise the needs of Ballyshannon.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That disposes of questions for today.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 20 and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy Seán Kenny — the recent out-break of joyriding and the burning of stolen cars in the Kilbarrack area of Dublin; (2) Deputy Michael Smith — the question of initiating an inquiry into the cause of recent tragic accidents at sea (details supplied) and the action to be taken in the light of these events; (3) Deputy Lawlor — the crisis in the South Dublin and Fingal Council areas due to the failure by the Minister to finalise the scheme to enable Dublin Corporation houses and lands to be transferred to South Dublin and Fingal Councils; (4) Deputy Kenneally — the future of the  military barracks located in the south-east; (5) Deputy Theresa Ahearn — the need to give disadvantaged status to the Presentation Convent primary school, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, in view of the fact that such status has been awarded to two post-primary schools; (6) Deputy Hughes — the need to widen the range of persons permitted to reside with the elderly for the purposes of housing repair and other grant aid schemes in view of the attacks on isolated elderly persons; (7) Deputy Frances Fitzgerald — Government action in relation to the recent incident at Sellafield and (8) Deputy Coughlan — the closure today of the Donegal Rubber company, Ballyshannon, County Donegal, with a subsequent loss of 75 permanent jobs.
The matters raised by Deputies Lawlor, Frances Fitzgerald, Kenneally and Michael Smith have been selected for discussion.
Debate resumed on the following motion:
That it is expedient to amend the law relating to customs and inland revenue (including excise) and to make further provision in connection with finance.
—(Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy J. Higgins.)
Mr. B. Smith: I wish to share my time with Deputy Callely.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that satisfactory? Agreed.
Mr. B. Smith: I am glad to have an opportunity to make a brief contribution to the debate on the budget. My Fianna Fáil colleagues have highlighted the opportunities that were missed. There was a real opportunity to reform  the tax system but, unfortunately, the Government did not take it. It inherited an economy which was in good shape. Fianna Fáil's record in Government between 1987 and 1994 was second to none. In early 1987 it inherited an economy in which every economic indicator was pointing in the wrong direction. By making the right decisions it turned the economy around. Thankfully, the public finances were restored to good health. Confidence in the economy was also restored both at home and abroad.
As a representative of Border counties, I am particularly anxious to ensure that the local economy is regenerated. The cessation of violence at the end of August 1994 gave a new lease of life to all the people of Ulster. For 25 years the economy of the six southern Border counties was destroyed by the political troubles on our doorstep. It was practically impossible to attract inward investment and the required investment in infrastructure in the area was not made. There was industrial decay.
The return to normality in Ulster should have produced the major investment dividend required in the six southern and six northern Border counties. In autumn 1994 the then Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds, and the then President of the European Commission, Mr. Delors, established the mechanisms to provide the substantial funding necessary to underpin the peace initiative and rectify the major infrastructural deficiencies in the six southern and six northern Border counties. I have yet to meet any person in the region who is aware of funding coming on stream.
Public representatives of all political groupings in the Border counties are frustrated at the lack of urgency shown by the Government in attracting the necessary investment. As the Minister for Enterprise and Employment indicated, there is a need for industrial infrastructure. There is a need for a modern advance factory in County Cavan. That is the basic requirement to attract a substantial project to create a few hundred jobs. Cavan town would be  the ideal location as it is the county town and situated in the centre of the county. The council has a land bank of almost 17 acres which has been designated for industrial development. It would be the ideal location for an industrial project. The provision of specific funding to the relevant State agency, whether it be Forfás, IDA Ireland or Forbairt, to provide a modern advance factory would demonstrate to all the Government's commitment to the regeneration of the local economy.
When I raised this issue with the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, specifically requesting the introduction of special measures to attract inward investment, he admitted that the availability of top quality infrastructure is a constraint in many Border counties and referred to the ongoing discussions between various Government Departments, State agencies and Oireachtas representatives for the area on the deficient industrial infrastructure in the region. It is most disappointing that he did not give any indication that the necessary funding would be allocated to underpin the efforts of the public representatives and State agencies to provide the jobs required in areas such as Cavan-Monaghan.
We are all conscious and appreciative of the efforts made by the United States Administration to help advance the peace process and to develop the political track in particular and of its commitment to attract inward investment to the region, both north and south of the Border. There is a need for a follow-up conference to the Washington conference on trade and investment held last May, as mentioned by the US Secretary for Commerce, Mr. Ron Brown, while in Dublin with President Clinton. I urge the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs to make the necessary arrangements for this conference which should be held as quickly as possible.
There is a need for highly visible projects to create meaningful employment. That is one way of underpinning the peace process. At a more difficult time,  politically, the Irish and British Governments made the courageous decision to restore the Ballyconnell-Ballinamore canal, now known as the Erne-Shannon waterway, at a cost of £30 million with financial support from the European Union and the International Fund for Ireland. This decision was made by Fianna Fáil in Government and has been of great economic benefit to Counties Cavan, Fermanagh and Leitrim. It was a major cross-Border project undertaken at a time when serious political difficulties existed in that region.
Our waterways are an important natural resource and will be of major economic significance in the future. I appeal to the Minister of State to advance as quickly as possible with the tourist angling programme. More funding should be allocated under that programme to the Cavan and Monaghan areas, particularly to the upper Shannon regions of Dowra, Glangevlin and Blacklion where a major waterway has been totally neglected by the fisheries board for many years. Will the Minister provide funding for investment in that waterway?
The River Erne project, which takes in Belturbet, Killykeen, Killeshandra and Lough Gowna, would complement the Ballyconnell-Ballinamore Canal. The River Erne, north of Belturbet, is predominantly in County Fermanagh and has been a major cruising area for many years. The river southwards, from Belturbet to Killykeen and Killeshandra, needs to be made navigable for cruiser traffic. During the lifetime of the previous Government the necessary preliminary engineering report was carried out which confirmed that there are not any insurmountable problems in making that stretch of waterway navigable for cruising purposes. Unfortunately, this Government — the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, in particular — delayed the preparation of the environmental impact study on that project. After continuous questioning in the House, I am pleased the Minister has at last made a commitment to prepare such a study and I hope similar  delays will not occur in preparing the detailed design of the scheme. It is an obvious cross-Border project that would have immense economic benefits for Counties Cavan and Fermanagh and should be supported by the present Structural Funds or the Delors package.
I concur with most of Deputy Nealon's comments, particularly those about rural depopulation. He referred to an issue frequently highlighted by Members from Counties Cavan, Monaghan, Leitrim and Sligo, namely, the need to make better use of our housing stock. Public representatives, from rural areas in particular, are conscious of the large number of basically sound houses that are uninhabited. A relatively small financial incentive in the form of a house reconstruction grant would provide the necessary impetus to have those houses upgraded. Such a move, at a small cost, would at least help to stabilise the population in rural areas.
Unfortunately, large numbers of people live in unsatisfactory housing accommodation that lacks basic sanitary facilities and comforts. Many of the occupants cannot afford the cost of carrying out the necessary remedial work. In many cases the people involved are hard workers and do not draw benefit from the State or qualify for the limited housing aid schemes. They would benefit greatly from a house improvement grants scheme. I appeal to the Government to introduce a limited house reconstruction grant scheme that would be available to people within a specific income limit and confined to a person's principal place of residence.
The budget was remarkable for its scant attention to agriculture. I thought the Government would have grasped the opportunity to provide the necessary additional resources to allow the on-farm investment schemes proceed without delay. I requested the Minister on a number of occasions to adopt whatever measures are necessary to process and approve, where appropriate, all the applications under the control of farm-yard pollution scheme in County Cavan.  In response to a parliamentary question on 30 January last, the Minister informed me that only 403 approvals out of a total of 1,058 applications had issued in County Cavan. Many of those applications were submitted to his Department at the end of 1994. This figure does not take account of the fact that applications have not been accepted since April 1995 which means that many farmers cannot even apply for the scheme, not to mention get approval to proceed with work. In reply to a parliamentary question yesterday the Minister stated that there are no plans to reopen the scheme at this stage. That scheme is crucial in County Cavan. The development of agriculture and the control of pollution at source will be seriously hindered by the Government's decision.
The suspension of the scheme and the inordinate delay in processing applications will impact severely on the farming community in County Cavan. The majority of farmers want to control farm waste that contributes to pollution. That makes sense from a farming, environmental and financial point of view. The scheme is not a handout for farmers. It provides necessary assistance for large-scale expenditure. The majority of farmers cannot develop the necessary pollution control facilities without financial support. A large number of farmers could be forced out of farming because of pollution problems. I appeal to the Minister to review the scheme and to issue the necessary approvals without delay. Apart from providing the facilities on farms to cope adequately with the regulations that are in place, it would also generate employment. When the farmer is making money it is reinvested in the local economy to the benefit of rural Ireland.
Mr. Callely: Deputy Smith outlined the state of the economy since 1987. I am sure all Members would agree that from the early 1970s to the late 1980s our economy went through a rather turbulent period. During that time  Members asked the public to bear with us until we came out of the recession and in 1987 further tightening up measures were adopted. In the late 1980s there was some light at the end of the tunnel and in the early 1990s we appeared to be back on the rails, we had come out of recession.
Having regard to that record and the opportunities that prevailed in 1996 the budget can only be described as disappointing, a non-event. The public were expecting light at the end of the tunnel because that is what they were told to expect by Members of the House. In essence, the budget has not benefited anyone. The comments of a broad spectrum of the population, including the unemployed, workers, single and married persons and those separated or widowed have been reported in the newspapers and the clear message is that they are disappointed with the 1996 budget. How could it be otherwise? The Minister for Finance was in a tricky position. It is difficult to satisfy three parties that are politically poles apart. They were prepared to come together simply to be in Government. This Government is made up of a combination of political parties from the far left to the far right and its motto seems to be, “Let's stick together whatever the cost”. If that is this Government's motto, it has cost implications. Prior to the budget, we had contradictory statements, some of which were purposely set up, about an area that warrants special attention, namely, the young unemployed. The Minister for Enterprise and Employment made a statement; some days later the leader of the Labour Party commented on present Government policy and, within a few hours of that, a Democratic Left Minister of State gave a totally opposing view. That was followed by some political play on the part of the spin doctors, we heard about Pat on his high chair wanting to make a little bit of noise with his rattle and other remarks about the Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, being the high king of Ireland. The Minister of State, Deputy Gilmore, is laughing and this  whole issue would be funny were it not so serious. We are talking about a serious problem and the political players should not engage in game playing with an issue such as this.
Many Members contributed to the debate on the budget and I do not intend to focus on a particular aspect of it, we are all affected by the budget regardless of the sector of society to which we belong. We all pay tax but the reality is that the PAYE workers, and indeed the person paying tax through any of the other corporate systems, has gained little or nothing from this budget. We can all play with figures but the one bandied about fairly glibly concerns the single person earning £10,000 per annum who is approximately 40p better off as a result of this budget.
Is the Government seriously telling single people who have had to tighten their belts for a number of years that they will be a few pence better off as a result of this budget? If those people drive vehicles or smoke cigarettes, however, they are actually worse off as a result of indirect taxation. The figure bandied about for a married person earning £12,500 per annum is a variance of £1.67 per week. I use the word “variance” because they are not actually better off; in net terms they are worse off.
On the question of tax reform, I do not intend reading into the record the contributions of members of the Government when they were in Opposition, but I invite anybody to read the contributions of the Minister of State, Deputy Gilmore, when he spoke about the innovative changes he and his party would make if they were in power. Democratic Left, the Labour Party and Fine Gael consider it innovative to give a single person an increase of 40p and a married person an increase of £1.67 per week. That is what they call change.
In regard to changes in PRSI, my party can proudly say it reduced the 12.2 per cent rate by 0.2 per cent, while the 9 per cent rate has been reduced to 8.5 per cent. I did not come up with the phrase “tinkering with the system” but  the people who use that type of language frequently are now in Government. However, when they were on this side of the House they often spoke about tinkering with the system.
What has happened in regard to real tax reform? When they were on this side of the House the members of the rainbow Government parties philosophised about the great changes they would make. At a time when public finances are in check, we should be innovative and avail of existing opportunities. We have low inflation, keen interest rates and buoyant tax revenues — the economy is looking good.
I and other Members of this House are disappointed with the sea change in regard to members of the Government parties who held a particular line when they were on this side of the House but who changed like the tide when they crossed the floor to the other side. As soon as they availed of their mercs and perks they shredded the clothes they wore in Opposition, that brings me back to my point about the cost implications — which are now clearly evident — of keeping three parties in Government.
I want to refer to a number of issues affecting my constituency, including residential property tax. A number of people in my constituency, including myself, are being treated unfairly in that we must pay tax on our properties. I have frequently brought this matter to the attention of the Minister and indeed did so today. I asked him if he would consider abolishing residential property tax and I was told the matter has been referred to a study group — I would be interested to know the number of studies taking place under this Government. I asked the Minister if he was aware of the imbalance between Dublin and the rest of the country in relation to residential property tax and was told that the matter has been referred to the Minister for the Environment for yet another study. I asked him a question on the value and location of residential property tax returns received on 1 October 1995 and was told that out of a total of 19,500 paying this tax nationally, 14,325 — approximately 70 per cent — live in Dublin. The total property tax paid by people in Dublin was £7,381,344 out of a total national figure of £9,531,559. That imbalance must be addressed, if the Labour Party Members were on this side of the House they would be screaming to high heaven about it and Democratic Left Members would be calling for it to be addressed.
When the Minister for Finance was asked to address this imbalance, he said the matter had to be referred to a study group — he was not prepared to do anything about it. When the Minister who spoke so much about openness, transparency and accountability was asked about the tendering procedure, he replied that it has not been the practice under successive Governments to address that. He has no intention of doing anything about it.
In my constituency of Dublin North-Central the Mater and Beaumont Hospitals are barely able to survive; they are sitting on a time bomb. They do not have sufficient beds, elective procedures are being cancelled, patients are left lying on trolleys, people with disabilities cannot be placed and there is no orthodontic treatment. There is a waiting list of 16,000 for orthdontic treatment and approximately 1,200 people are awaiting residential places. Yet the Government funded 28 places only.
My constitutency colleague, Deputy Derek McDowell, knows there is a totally inadequate water supply in Dublin North-Central. As requested, we made a submission to the Department of Finance but it has been left on a shelf there for two years. Hundreds of tonnes of untreated sewage are being pumped into Dublin Bay. When we ask for an additional set of traffic lights to deal with the traffic chaos we are told there is insufficient funding. The Garda have stated clearly they do not have sufficient personnel to man cars or motorbikes and when they seek replacement bikes or cars they get no response.
Tonight I will attend a fund raising  function for Belgrove School in Clontarf. Deputy McDowell does not attend too many of these functions but he is welcome to attend this one. Like all the other schools in my constituency, this school is crying out for funding and it has no secretarial staff or caretaker.
Mr. D. McDowell: How can we provide extra funding and cut spending at the same time?
Mr. Callely: This week I visited a school which does not have a caretaker, where the boys clean the corridors and yard and empty the bins. The pupil teacher ratio is appalling and no remedial teachers are available. The voluntary sector cannot obtain funding and is not given any recognition for the good work it does. The only lucky organisations are located in a Dublin constituency where there seems to be an abuse of EU funding.
Members on this side of the House and the public are very concerned about unemployment, drugs and crime. Last night I asked the Minister for Justice if she would send a clear message to the perpetrators of crime that they will go to prison and stay there until they have paid their debt to society, to make an example of them to others of like mind. She replied: “I have no doubt but the public interest is best served when a range of effective alternatives to custody are employed to the full and prisons are used only as a last resort”. I would love to see the Minister stand in front of the public and ask them what they think of that answer.
Mr. Gilmore: Does the Deputy agree with it?
Mr. Callely: No, and neither do I agree with providing a wide range of recreational facilities for prisoners, such as fully equipped gyms, outdoor exercise areas, group and individual facilities, qualified instructors, basketball and netball facilities, videos, televisions, computers, sewing machines, fully  stocked libraries and educational programmes. Recent recreational initiatives for female prisoners include swimming lessons on a weekly basis in a community pool. Hundreds of thousands of people cannot afford these comforts yet prisoners are being given them at their expense. There are 2,489 prison officers and 2,174 prison places. The Government thinks this is the right way to spend taxpayers' money.
The public has lost confidence in the Government which tells us funding is not available because of budget constraints. In March 1993 Deputy De Rossa said: “The sense of public disappointment has been compounded by the apparent occupation of members of the Government and, unfortunately, Labour Ministers, with appointing extra advisers and staff drawn, in the case of Labour, from party supporters or family circles”. He went on to say that this practice was disgraceful.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy's time is exhausted.
Mr. Callely: Yet as Minister for Social Welfare he advertised in the vacancy column of the Forum for a number of staff for his Department.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Displays of literature are disorderly.
Mr. Callely: In response to a question from me about the employment of 17 assistants in his ministerial office he said: “In order to support my role as party leader in Government a small research unit has recently been established to provide me...”. When the matter was raised today this supposed Minister for Social Welfare in a most unbecoming, disgraceful, cold faced and tense manner abused some members of the Opposition.
Mr. D. McDowell: I will reply to many of the provocative remarks made by my constituency colleague. Deputy Callely and I will be on the same ballot paper at the next election and we must  ask ourselves if we are offering people a choice and, if so, the nature of it. I agree with the points made by him about the health and education services in our constituency.
Mr. Callely: If that is the case the Deputy should do something about it, he is in Government now. He should not give us his party's two handed approach.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy in possession without interruption.
Mr. D. McDowell: I agree with the points made by the Deputy about social services in our constituency and elsewhere. We will go to public meetings and agree on these matters. However, unlike the Deputy I will outline how we will pay for these social services — we will borrow money we can afford and spend it on them. We will be honest with people and say that——
Mr. Callely: The Deputy's party is doing nothing about them.
Mr. D. McDowell: Unlike Fianna Fáil we will not say we should not run a current budget deficit——
Mr. Callely: The Deputy's party is spending the money on people like Fergus Finlay and special advisers.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Callely will cease interrupting the Member in possession.
Mr. Callely: The Deputy's party is doing nothing at all.
Mr. D. McDowell: I did not interrupt the Deputy. I will not say to people that we should not run a current budget deficit, cut back on spending or use a unique opportunity to pay off bits of the national debt. I will say to them honestly that we will spend money on necessary social services in my constituency and elsewhere. I will be proud to stand  over the record of my party in this Government and the previous Government with Fianna Fáil.
Mr. Callely: If the Deputy cannot hear me he should read my lips.
Mr. D. McDowell: We have not turned our backs on that record but apparently the Deputy's party has. We spent money——
Mr. Callely: The Deputy should talk to the people in Beaumont Hospital.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Callely may not have heard what I said but he will hear me this time. There will be no further interruptions. If the Deputy in possession addressed his remarks through the Chair perhaps they would be less provocative.
Mr. Flood: He is inviting interruptions.
Mr. D. McDowell: We did not say we would not spend money and we do not say now that it is wrong to run a current budget deficit. We are honest with people and, like the previous Government, we spend money in a prudent and sensible way on social services. We spend it on reducing hospital waiting lists. Deputy Callely knows the figures as well as I do and while they are still too high, they have been reduced substantially in recent years.
Mr. Callely: That is rubbish.
Mr. D. McDowell: We spend money on local authority houses in the Dublin area.
Mr. Flood: That is inaccurate.
Mr. D. McDowell: We built 600 houses last year and 500 during the previous two years. The Deputies should compare this with the record of Fianna Fáil during the previous five years when  not one local authority house was built in Dublin.
Mr. Callely: Dream on honey.
Mr. D. McDowell: We are doing these things. We are spending money, and we are making no apology for doing so. We are doing it at a time when interest rates and inflation are low, when the current budget deficit is in double figures in millions of pounds and, with any luck, will not be there next year.
Mr. Callely: What about the people awaiting residential care?
Mr. D. McDowell: We are doing it in a sensible targeted way. We are not trying to have it both ways, as Fianna Fáil has been trying to do since the budget was introduced.
Mr. Callely: What about the 16,000 on the orthodontic waiting lists?
Mr. D. McDowell: Fianna Fáil are saying that we should cut spending, reduce the national debt——
Mr. Callely: No, just be prudent.
Mr. D. McDowell: At the same time they try to pretend——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Callely cannot disregard the Chair. The Deputy in possession must be allowed to speak without interruption.
Mr. Flood: He is inviting interruptions.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: There is no such thing as inviting interruptions.
Mr. D. McDowell: I am simply responding to some of the points so eloquently made by my constituency colleague. Let us be clear about the choices. I am prepared to defend the record of my party in Government with Fianna Fáil for two years and in this current  Government. There is continuity. Let me go back to my script.
Mr. Callely: Was this written for you?
Mr. D. McDowell: I wrote this myself. At least we are offering a choice. Perhaps our little contretempts today will give the lie to those who believe there is no difference between the parties. It does not look like that from where I stand.
The budget offers continuation of policies implemented by the Labour Party in coalition previously with Fianna Fáil and now in coalition with Fine Gael and Democratic Left. The Minister has continued to reduce tax on personal income and to target the benefit of those reductions at people on low pay. The Progressive Democrats/Fianna Fáil Government in power from 1989 to 1992 reduced the overall rates of tax. This, of course, gives disproportionate benefit to those on higher pay. By contrast Governments of which the Labour Party has been a part since 1992 have looked to target the benefit of reduced taxes at those on the lower end of the pay scale. This has been done by widening the standard rate bands, increasing the exemption limits and, above all, by the introduction of differential rates of PRSI.
We were told in 1992 that it was not administratively possible to introduce differential rates of PRSI. We did not accept this, and with the support of the then Minister, Deputy Bertie Ahern, we won the case and established a precedent which has been followed several times since by the current Minister. It is worth reflecting — and I have not picked the best possible example — that a worker on £100 a week was paying £7.75 in PRSI in 1993 and the same worker is now paying less than £1.
I very much welcome the continuing progress in relation to the PRSI exemption limits, and I hope the Minister will be in a position to pursue this matter further in years to come. PRSI rates have also been reduced for employers in relation to workers on lower pay, and  IBEC has been gracious enough to accept that this has made a significant difference to many firms at the competitive edge of our economy. There is no doubt, for example, that firms such as those in the clothing industry have benefited significantly from these improvements. I hope the Minister will be in a position to continue this progress in years to come.
The budget also sees a continuation of support for small industry and business. We have once more reduced the rate of corporation tax for firms with modest levels of profit. I hope we can also reduce the amount of administrative work that causes so much difficulty for people who carry on small businesses.
This budget also sees a continuation of our efforts at tax reform. We are continuing the process of standardising the rate at which relief can be claimed for mortgage interest and VHI relief. The previous position was entirely unjustifable on grounds of equity, and this is a reform which I fully support. Tax reform is one of those things which everybody favours but, if we are to be frank, the phrase has become entirely devalued as the years have progressed. For most people tax reform means tax reduction. Most political parties have long since abandoned any notion of widening the tax base. We have confined ourselves to deploring our high rates of personal taxes while failing to acknowledge the fact that our overall rate of tax is quite low by OECD standards. The difference lies in the fact that other EU countries have higher rates of tax on property, profits and capital acquisitions. By contrast our tax base relies hugely on income and consumer taxes.
Mr. Lawlor: Unfortunately I must take up the time of the House yet again.  This matter was raised on the Adjournment during 1995. I communicated at length with the Minister for the Environment. The Minister of State who is here today came into the House and tried to put a gloss on the issue. To date no decision has been made.
The Taoiseach, the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, the Minister herself recently, obviously with the make-up artists, the spin doctors and other expensive back-up staff, cherry-picked a small housing area in Cork from which the Minister appeared on our television screens explaining about estate management and how local authority estates will do this, that and the other. However, in north Clondalkin, west Blanchardstown and west Tallaght there is a trail of destruction dating from the time when the Minister's former party leader at the time, Tomás Mac Giolla, made the ridiculous, stupid argument that Dublin Corporation should be allowed to retain the ownership of local authority houses in those areas.
It is obvious that the Minister cherry-picked the estate in Cork for publicity purposes, not in the interests of factual decision-making. What has gone wrong? Why can a decision not be made? Why can the people of north Clondalkin not pay their rents to the South Dublin Council in Tallaght? Why can that council, which is answerable to the electorate in that area, not be available to look after the estates? Why are there mud patches all over the place? Why has Dublin Corporation got away with one of the biggest land speculation transactions within the past 100 years, flogging off every bit of land it owned in the county before the break-up, blatantly abusing the potential for the reform of local Government? It is a shambles which should be addressed forthwith. I sincerely hope the Minister will be definitive and make a decision.
The Minister has a report from the South Dublin and Fingal Councils and from the corporation, but there seems to be a lack of will to interpret the  reports, bring them together and make a decision. Under the legislation it is the Minister's responsibility to make a decision. Dublin Corporation has been a planning disaster in County Dublin. North Clondalkin is the unfortunate area that has the distinction of having a task force on urban crime, mainly because Dublin Corporation came out into the county, dumped thousands of houses and families in the area and walked away.
I have represented this area for close on 20 years now. I have lobbied in City Hall, met city managers and lord mayors and made a case for these areas, but nothing has been done. What was needed was reform of local government. These tenants were to get a service from locally elected councils, but this matter is well into its second year and nothing has been done. I plead with the Minister to make some real decisions. That is why she is in the Department and that is what she should be doing, not cherry-picking television appearances and waffling instead of making real decisions. It is one of the real failures of the Government that it has not been capable of implementing this aspect of local government reform that is so desirable.
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Ms McManus): I listened with interest to what the Deputy said. I wonder if his Fianna Fáil colleagues from Cork city would share his denigration of that very fine city and of the initiatives that are taking place already as a result of cash being provided for the first time by this Government towards the very important function of housing management. It is a pity that it is beyond the capability of the Deputy to understand the importance of housing management.
Having said that, I want to set the record straight. I reject the imputation by Deputy Lawlor of a failure on the part either of the Minister for the Environment or myself as Minister with responsibility for housing and urban renewal in this matter and I propose to say why.
 I will set out, briefly and in a general way, the background to the current position. For many years Dublin Corporation built houses and purchased land for housing and other purposes in County Dublin to the point that the corporation owned some 7,500 houses in the county. This was clearly not ideal from the point of view of efficient organisation or of proper democratic representation. The fact that such a large number of houses in the area of one local authority are owned by another, which is responsible for management and maintenance, and that the local authority members elected by the residents of these houses exercise no control in relation to these matters, is something I recognise as undesirable. The same arguments apply, with somewhat lesser force, to land holdings generally.
The break-up of Dublin county into three separate local authorities was bound to exacerbate the position on housing. As Deputies are aware, the Local Government (Dublin) Act, 1993, sought to rationalise this situation by providing that, in general, houses should be owned by, and be the responsibility of, the local authority in whose area the houses are situated. Similarly, lands not immediately required would be transferred from one authority to the other.
Clearly, a reorganisation of this nature poses complex issues, including the terms under which transfers are to take place. For this reason, the Act set out a procedure which required schemes to be prepared by the managers, after consultations with each other and their elected councils. Schemes prepared in this way were submitted to the Minister for approval, and the other authorities affected have exercised their right to make submissions on these schemes.
It is well known that there was a wide divergence between the transfer schemes submitted by the Dublin city manager and the submissions made on the schemes by the county managers. Indeed Deputy Lawlor in a previous debate in this House claimed that the  transfer schemes made, in Deputy Lawlor's words, “unacceptable demands on the new county council and, if accepted by the Minister for the Environment, would seriously damage the finances of the county council and its ability to meet its statutory requirements”.
Mr. Lawlor: On a point of order, does the Minister understand the point I made, and has she interpreted it correctly? The corporation is trying to damage the two new local authorities and the Minister should penalise the corporation, who has been the cause of the problem.
Mr. McManus: It is unfortunate that the Deputy does not get my drift. The Deputy, more than anybody should be aware, considering the words he used, that we have to deal with this fairly and ensure the best result is achieved.
Mr. Lawlor: To the detriment of the people in the houses?
Ms McManus: Deputies will be aware that separate schemes were proposed for the transfer of housing and land. I am pleased that decisions on the transfer of land will be made very shortly. The transfer of housing, presents additional and more complex issues than arise in the case of a land transfer. Therefore, at the suggestion of my Department, the four managers got together in an effort to establish what scope there might be for achieving a greater level of agreement on the issues involved. Some progress has been made towards resolving the issues and I hope that further progress will be possible in the near future. I consider the issue an important one and I assure the House that I will do what I can to bring the matter to finality at the earliest possible date. I am giving it great attention and I hope the Deputy might be a little more constructive in his approach to dealing with a complex matter that must be resolved. I share the Deputy's sense of importance of resolving this matter.
Ms F. Fitzgerald: Sellafield's nuclear operations were shut down yesterday, not as a result of a policy decision and a recognition by the British Government of the serious concerns of this country and of its own citizens about its operation but by the Arctic weather which has gripped Britain. I will look forward to the day, and it will come, when a Member of this House can welcome the permanent closure of Sellafield.
Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant is just over 100 miles to the east of this country. Its safety record is poor and poses a serious and continuing threat to the health and safety of Irish people. The site contains four ageing Magnox reactors built in 1956 and they have exceeded their expected design by 20 years.
The most recent incident at Sellafield is the third such incident at British nuclear plants about which the Government has been notified this year. The most recent incident was just a few days ago. Is the Minister satisfied with the quality and quantity of information being made available to him by the British authorities and the UK Government on these recent incidents? If not, what action can the Minister take, at the very least, to have high quality information available on which he can assess the seriousness of the threat posed by these incidents? Will the Minister outline the range of legal actions which the Government intends to take to force this issue on to the agenda at international and European level in order to raise standards in the plant and ensure as much transparency as possible? What steps have been taken to seek to amend and update the EURATOM treaties to take account of the concerns of non-nuclear jurisdictions sharing land or maritime borders which countries operating nuclear power and reprocessing plants to include stringent regulations for decommissioning nuclear facilities?
Recently, THORP reprocessing plant was opened on the site thus increasing  the traffic of radioactive waste on the Irish Sea. This, allied to the recent revelation of the dumping of radioactive waste in the Beaufort Dyke between the north east coast of Ireland and Scotland, raises serious questions about the safety of our seas.
I congratulate the Minister on his action on Nirex Ltd., and the Government's submission at the recent hearing. The possibility of an underground nuclear dump being built virtually on the edge of the Irish Sea raises the most disturbing questions. The transboundary effects of a whole range of these developments is one with which we have to be seriously concerned as we are talking about our children's health. I recognise that the Government task force is one of the most comprehensive and co-ordinated initiatives taken by a Government to date to redress the problems caused by Sellafield and the task it faces cannot be underestimated. It will be a long and slow battle to have our concerns taken seriously, given the fact that if this threat was to be removed, it involves persuading one of the world's major industrial nations to forego a quarter of its energy source. It is right that we are concerned and raise questions at the highest level. It is unacceptable that these series of incidents are taking place. I believe that many people in the UK share the concerns I have outlined today.
The explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear station almost ten years ago has left an indelible mark on the world. The memory of Chernobyl demonstrates the potential transboundary impact of a major nuclear accident. Chernobyl had many minor accidents before the big one. The consequences of a major incident at Sellafield would be horrific. The risk to health, the risk of environmental contamination and the risks of accidents mean that we must be continually vigilant and active on this question. Will the Minister ensure this issue is a major part of the agenda during our EU Presidency during the latter part of this year.
Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications (Mr. Stagg): I thank Deputy Fitzgerald for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. The incident to which the Deputy refers occurred in the vitrification plant at the Sellafield complex on 2 February 1996. Under the relevant UK nuclear incident procedures, the operators, British Nuclear Fuels, notified the relevant regulatory authorities. In accordance with existing bilateral reporting arrangements, my Department was notified of the incident that afternoon by the UK Department of the Environment. The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland was immediately contacted to assess the radiological and health implications of the incident for Ireland, if any.
Based on the information received, the RPII have advised me that the incident had no radiological or health implications for Ireland. There was no release of radioactivity to the environment, however some radioactive material was found within the vitrification plant. This plant is not a nuclear reactor or a reprocessing facility. It is a facility that converts high level liquid radioactive waste into a dry form which is then vitrified in glass. This in turn is stored in stainless steel containers in a purpose built above-ground storage system.
As a precautionary measure the staff involved in the incident were moved to another part of the plant until the situation had been checked and declared stable. I have been informed that all detection and safety procedures worked satisfactorily. Until the International Atomic Energy Agency's eight-point international nuclear event scale, the incident has been classified as level one, that is, an anomaly.
I would stress that this is an initial rating and when the incident has been fully investigated by the regulatory authorities it may possibly be assigned a lower or zero rating. I have asked the British authorities for a report of its on-going investigations into the cause of this latest incident.
 While this particular incident had no environmental implications for Ireland, I want to stress that all such incidents are matters of grave concern to me. This latest incident is yet another addition to the growing list of incidents in British nuclear power stations and it highlights once more the on-going and unacceptable nuclear risk that Ireland faces from Britain's nuclear industry.
In 1995 we were notified of 16 incidents by the British authorities. To date in 1996, my Department has been notified by the British authorities of three incidents — at Heysham in Lancashire, Wylfa in Anglesea and this latest one at Sellafield in Cumbria, all located on the west coast of Britain. The proximity of these installations to the east coast of Ireland and to centres of population here only serves to increase the anxiety felt by the Irish public about each successive incident.
Last Monday, I met with the British Ambassador, Veronica Sutherland, in my office and I expressed my grave concern about this and other recent incidents and about other aspects of the British nuclear industry, including in particular the ongoing pollution of the Irish Sea which is unacceptable; the NIREX proposals for an underground nuclear dump near the Sellafield complex; the continued existence of Magnox reactors which are past their sell-by date and ought to be decommissioned; and my concerns about the safety implications of privatising the British nuclear industry.
I stressed that the Government was firmly opposed to any expansion of the nuclear industry in Britain and in that context I repeated my welcome for the recent decision not to proceed with the commissioning of two new nuclear reactors. I sincerely hope that that decision signifies the beginning of the end of the nuclear industry in Britain. I also raised with the Ambassador the issue of the quality and quantity of information flowing from the UK authorities to Ireland. We have agreed that we will seek to improve the flow of information through the Ireland-UK contact group.
 I am realistic enough to know that the nuclear industry will not close down overnight. It pays a significant role in Britain in terms of power generation and employment. However, the time is now ripe for the British authorities to turn their attention to developing an energy strategy for the future that excludes nuclear power.
In the meantime, this Government remains committed to using every available opportunity, in all appropriate fora, to voice its concerns about the safety aspects of the nuclear industry, to press for the highest possible safety standards to be maintained and to strive to prevent and eliminate radioactive discharges into the marine environment.
The House will be aware of my recent attendance at a planning inquiry in Cumbria into an application by UK Nirex Ltd. to site a rock characterisation facility or rock laboratory near Sellafield.
I took the unprecedented step of personally attending this inquiry in order to emphasise publicly to the British authorities the extent and depth of my concern, and that of the Government and, indeed, of all the Irish people, about the NIREX proposal. I told the public inquiry that I objected to the facility because I saw it as a first step, and indeed a significant pre-commitment, to an eventual underground nuclear waste facility virtually on the edge of the Irish Sea.
Copies of all my full submission to that inquiry are available in the Dáil Library. I have also written directly to the EU Commissioner with responsibility for the environment, to the UK Secretary of State for the Environment and the UK Minister for Energy about the waste facility.
The task force of Ministers which was set up last year has developed a co-ordinated strategy to progress the Government's policy in relation to Sellafield as set out in the Government's policy agreement. A blueprint for action was drawn up to implement the various proposals on Sellafield and the Irish Sea  and action on each commitment is proceeding.
One of the commitments is to reassess legal opinion on the possibility of taking a court case over Sellafield. This is currently being considered by the Attorney General who has been asked to examine all legal possibilities open to the Government to take a case against Sellafield. At the recent public inquiry in Cumbria concerning my objections into the NIREX rock laboratory I set out a number of legal submissions which provide options which we might pursue in other fora if the NIREX appeal is successful. It would be unwise to expand at this time on the detail of these.
Recently in the Supreme Court, counsel for the State supported four Dundalk residents in their action against an appeal by BNFL over the decision of the High Court last year which established the jurisdiction of the Irish courts to hear the substantive case against BNFL.
Although the Government and the Attorney General are named as co-defendants in the substantive case our support of them in the appeal process clearly illustrates the Government's commitment to do all in its power to eliminate the threat posed by Sellafield and THORP.
My Department is also making available to the Dundalk plaintiffs, on a voluntary basis, its files and documentation concerning Sellafield and other related aspects relevant to the Dundalk plaintiffs' substantive case.
In a separate move, a diplomatic offensive is being undertaken by Irish embassies in countries that send or are contemplating sending nuclear waste to the THORP plant at Sellafield for reprocessing with a view to dissuading them from doing so.
The Deputy has raised the matter of the EURATOM Treaty. The Government's policy agreement, A Government of Renewal, set out the Government's commitment to seeking and amendment and updating of Euratom. This is being pursued in the context of the intergovernmental conference which  will consider amendments to the treaties.
In June, 1994, a reflection group was established by the European Council with the aim of preparing for the intergovernmental conference to be held in 1996. The reflection group presented its report to the EU Heads of State and Government in December 1995 and Ireland succeeded in having a reference to strengthening the health and safety provisions of the Euratom Treaty included in the report.
Any amendment to the Euratom treaty will require the unanimous agreement of all member states. Such unanimity will be difficult to achieve given the opposition of certain member states to any review of Euratom and given the significant dependence of almost half the member states on the use of nuclear power for electricity generation and security of energy supply. Also, while Ireland has rejected the nuclear option, some member states see it as a cheap and environmentally friendly way of generating electricity, particularly in the context of CO2 abatement strategy.
Notwithstanding the obvious institutional and substantive difficulties facing us in seeking to have the Euratom treaty amended, I will continue the effort to have the Government's concerns about the safety of nuclear power taken seriously by our European Union partners with a view to having improvements to the health and safety provisions of Euratom debated by the intergovernmental conference. I will also continue to take all practical steps in relevant international fora to highlight our concerns. These positive steps are clear evidence of my commitment to action, and not just words, against Sellafield and the British nuclear industry which have implications for the Irish people.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Kenneally was selected to raise a matter on the Adjournment. I understand, however, that the Deputy is unavoidably absent. He wishes to extend his  apologies to the House, the Minister and the Department concerned.
Mr. M. Smith: I am grateful for the opportunity of raising this important matter and I thank the Minister for coming here to address it. Over recent weeks I refrained from raising this matter because of the pain and suffering that tragic accidents at sea have inflicted on bereaved families. I was also extremely anxious to ensure that under no circumstances would these tragic events be turned into a political slanging match. The sheer volume of accidents and consequential loss of life make it imperative for all of us to approach this matter with a new urgency and a clear determination to do whatever is necessary to avoid a recurrence.
Sea fishing is a highly skilled business. It is a hard life and those pursuing it are a special breed who work in a highly dangerous environment. We should never lose sight of the bravery of our men who put out to sea day after day in conditions which most of us could barely contemplate never mind endure.
Apart from maritime skills such as general seamanship, navigation and net mending, the crew of a fishing vessel must know how to maintain and repair large and small diesel engines and hydraulic pumps as well as electrical and electronic installations. They must also have a knowledge of first aid and life-saving. The skipper and crew must be able to do all these things while far away from any shore facilities.
Health and safety in the workplace are dealt with under stringent regulations. While these regulations are effective on the mainland, little is heard of them as far as seafaring is concerned. This is simply not good enough. The management requirements I referred to dictate that immediate action must also be taken on this front.
There are approximately 1,500 fishing vessels in the Irish fleet, not including small unregistered craft found all  around our coastline. The fishing fleet, especially the demersal or bottom-trawling fleet, is the oldest in the European Union. It has an average age of between 25 and 30 years. It must be embarrassing for the Minister to preside over such a daunting problem. A fleet with such an age profile has serious implications and consequences for the owners and crews. Their viability compared to the state of the art vessels from EU countries working alongside them, not to speak of the danger and risk involved, must be questioned. It is critical to provide additional resources for a successful decommissioning scheme. Greater emphasis must be placed on financial incentives to ensure a radical overhaul of existing boats where possible, the purchase of new boats and that the practice of buying cast offs from other countries is stopped. I appeal to the Minister to introduce a grant scheme which would facilitate the purchase of safety equipment.
Sophisticated life saving equipment is available including inflatable life rafts, life belts, instruments which identify location, beacons and so on. The tragedy is many boats are not adequately equipped with such equipment and in some cases even the most modern equipment does not work. Economic pressures and overloading are sometimes cited as a possible cause — the effort to make a final payment on a boat sometimes leads to losing all.
There may be a culture among fishermen which does not take sufficient account of the nature of the risk involved. It is vital that we change that culture. We need more recruitment programmes, training and guidance. BIM is to be commended for its efforts in this regard but insufficient resources are available to ensure that new entrants and those involved in the industry have the necessary facilities to deal with the many problems which arise.
The EU Commission President, Mr. Santer, announced earlier this week an additional package of EU funds for  research and development. The Minister should apply immediately for an adequate share of this fund to be dedicated to coastal communities. There is urgent need to revamp and strengthen research and development into the marine resource. We do not know enough about the sea or what causes these accidents. It is time we found out.
I request the Minister to introduce, as a matter of urgency, new safety regulations for all seafarers, to tighten up these procedures so far as they affect the responsibility of harbour masters and ensure the results of the review are published as quickly as possible. In the meantime the inspection of boats by the Marine Survey Office is of paramount importance.
I have endeavoured to address some of the more pertinent issues as far as marine safety is concerned. Education, training, refresher courses, enhanced research, changing the culture of unnecessary risk taking and renewing the fleet must feature in a combined and comprehensive approach to this problem. I hope we will place greater value on our marine resource and on the communities who depend on those who face the untamed elements of the sea, tides and weather so that fish may be eaten, moneys earned and communities maintained.
I wish to express my thanks to the Marine Rescue Service and to the volunteers who searched for missing personnel. No words of mine could adequately thank them for their unrelenting efforts, commitment and dedication. My only wish is that new efforts will be made to prevent the loss of life and to obviate the need for daring rescue bids.
Minister for the Marine (Mr. Barrett): I share the Deputy's concern about these recent tragedies and extend my deepest sympathy to the families and friends of those who lost their lives. I, too, commend the rescue services who proved themselves to be the best in the world and the voluntary effort of the  fishing industry and coastal communities who have always been available to assist in any rescue mission. I am particularly perturbed by the frequency of accidents involving fishing vessels to the extent that the tragic loss of fishermen at sea has become a recurring and, in some respects, expected feature of the Irish industry. As Minister for the Marine I am not prepared to accept this as a matter of unavoidable fact.
The Deputy will be aware that, in response to this scourge of our fishing communities, I have recently established a high level-group to review the safety status of the Irish fishing fleet. The Fishing Vessel Safety Review Group is being chaired by Mr. Donal O'Mahony, former Secretary at the Department of Tourism, Transport and Communications. Its membership includes representatives of the Department of the Marine, including the Marine Survey Office and the Irish Marine Emergency Service; the main fisheries organisations, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, the Naval Service, the Commissioners of Irish Lights and the Department of Finance.
The review group's terms of reference are: to review the safety status of all categories of vessel in the fleet; to review the status of training for fishermen; to review manning requirements and compliance therewith; to make recommendations on safety requirements to apply in future, together with a suggested timeframe for their implementation; and to assess the financial and sectoral implications of the implementation of the recommendations made.
This review will be the most thorough and wide-ranging examination ever of the Irish fishing fleet. Its purpose is to establish what actions may be necessary to ensure the highest safety standards in the Irish fishing fleet and, ultimately, to reduce the number of tragedies involving fishing vessels. Such is the importance I attach to the review that I have asked the group to complete its onerous task and report to me by the end of May. The Marine Survey Office has already completed an indepth survey of  the safety status of a large sample of the fleet. The information gathered in this exercise will be analysed and considered by the review group.
I should point out that, apart from the work of the Fishing Vessel Safety Review Group, the Marine Survey Office is conducting an investigation into each of the tragedies referred to by the Deputy. The purpose of such investigations is to determine the cause of the accident and to make recommendations with a view to preventing similar accidents in future. The outcome of these inquiries will of course be fed into the deliberations of the review group with a view to the lessons to be learned being taken into account in its recommendations.
I am aware that the setting up of the Fishing Vessel Safety Review Group has generated considerable interest and anticipation in the fishing industry, fishing communities, the media and among the general public. I would caution at this stage against any simplistic assumptions being made regarding the causes of fishing vessel accidents, particularly in the absence of definitive supporting evidence.
Safety of the fishing fleet is a multidimensional issue embracing such matters as a safety culture, crew numbers, adequacy of training, equipment, adverse weather, etc. I would regard any effort to focus attention on particular aspects, such as the age of the fleet or the impact of decreasing fish stocks, to be unfounded, pre-emptive and unhelpful. This review must be allowed to proceed thoroughly and with an open agenda so as to ensure that we get it right. Three of the vessels involved in the recent sea tragedies were built in 1983 and would have been regarded as relatively modern, well-found vessels of their type. In addition, comments have been made that there has not been any State investment in the fishing fleet. Under the last Structural Funds package £23 million was invested in fleet modernisation, over half of which was grant aided. Under the Operational Programme for Fisheries 1994-99, £36.2  million is being invested in fleet modernisation of which almost £11 million is EU or national grant aid. Almost 90 per cent of the current fleet modernisation projects have a substantial safety element.
I assure the House that the review group's eventual recommendations will be promptly and thoroughly assessed, and that any necessary action will follow without delay. I have specifically mentioned to the group that if it has interim recommendations to make in the short-term I will be glad to consider these on an urgent basis. If it the case that financial considerations are impacting  heavily on safety of fishing vessels, I will certainly look at how the Government might assist the industry in that regard.
The Health and Safety Authority is at present conducting a separate review of the fishing industry from the point of view of the safety of fishing vessels as a workplace and the personal safety of persons working on board. I am confident that the results of this exercise together with the report of the group established by me will bring about a much safer environment at sea for our fishermen.
The Dáil adjourned at 5.20 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 13 February 1996.
6. Mr. J. Walsh asked the Minister for Health the specific initiatives, if any, which he has sanctioned to ensure the cancer mortality and morbidity rates are systematically reduced in this country; and the estimated cost of each initiative. [2610/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): Cancer is the second leading cause of mortality in Europe with approximately 1.3 million cases each year and more than 840,000 deaths. As with other Western European countries, the standardised death rate from cancer for all age groups is rising in Ireland where the rate is higher than the EU average. An average of 18,000 new cases of cancer are recorded in Ireland each year and the annual death rate is approximately 7,500. In 1994 alone there were almost 42,000 hospital episodes due to cancer.
The incidence of cancer helps to put into context the very real difficulties faced by the health services on a daily basis in meeting the challenge presented by cancer.
Accordingly, on taking office just over 15 months ago I set as a priority the development of services to combat cancer and established a review group within my Department to examine all aspects of the health services as they impact on cancer patients.
This initiative was prompted by the perceived need to ensure the provision of an equitable and high quality cancer service throughout the country. The objective is to take all measures possible to reduce cancer mortality and morbidity rates and to ensure that those who develop cancer receive the most effective care and treatment.
The initiative concentrates on four main areas; prevention (including screening), treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care. The group, in considering its subject, has consulted widely at  national and international level. The report of the group will outline a clear strategy aimed at meeting the expectations of patients, families and carers for a high quality comprehensive cancer service.
The review group will be submitting its report to me in the coming weeks. On receipt of this, it is my intention to bring the resulting proposals to Government and seek to secure additional investment for the development of cancer services where necessary.
Notwithstanding the work of the Cancer Review Group, I was pleased to provide significant additional development funding for cancer services in 1995 and again in the current year with the aim of reducing cancer mortality and morbidity rates.
In the acute hospital sector the largest single investment in the service is taking place at St Luke's Hospital, Dublin which is being developed as a national centre of excellence in the care and treatment of cancer patients. This development involves a complete upgrading of accommodation throughout the hospital and the provision of new state of the art treatment equipment. The total additional investment approved for this hospital alone currently exceeds £10 million.
Further major improvements in the acute hospital service include the following. St. James's Hospital have been allocated a sum of £350,000 in 1996 towards the cost of opening a new bone marrow unit in the hospital. A consultant obstetrician/gynaecologist with a special interest in oncology is being appointed to the Mater Hospital and the Rotunda Hospital. The Mater Hospital also received funding in the amount of £175,000 in 1995 to provide a day facility for chemotherapy patients and to provide a new cancer drug for suitable oncology patients. Beaumont Hospital appointed a new consultant in palliative care last month. This new post is shared with St. Francis Hospice, Raheny. A sum of £35,000 was allocated to St. Vincent's Hospital, Elm Park to recruit additional staff to improve oncology  services. The Midland Health Board received £75,000 in 1995 for the commencement of oncology/mammography services at the General Hospital, Portlaoise. A further £50,000 is being made available in the current year to improve this service. The Mid-Western Health Board received a sum of £125,000 in 1995 to employ additional oncology nurses and for oncology drugs. On foot of a recommendation in the board's oncology services report a further £100,000 was allocated this year for the development of haematology services. A sum of £100,000 was allocated to the North-Western Health Board to develop oncology services in Letterkenny General and Sligo General Hospitals. An additional £175,000 was allocated to the board this year for the same purpose. Accommodation for cancer patients in University College Hospital, Galway, was improved in 1995 at a cost of £38,000 and this year the hospital plan to spend £40,000 on enhancing chemotherapy facilities.
An equally high priority has been attached to the development of palliative care services and additional funding has been allocated in 1995 and this year as follows. A new 19 bed in-patient unit was commissioned at St. Francis Hospice in Raheny in October, 1995. I have provided £1.3 million to date to meet the revenue costs of this new unit. Our Lady's Hospice, Harolds Cross has received approximately £250,000 for the continued development of facilities. A sum of £21,000 was allocated to the South Eastern Health Board to improve hospice accommodation in the board's area.
In the area of health promotion, which is also a central focus of the cancer review, developments are continuing which will improve the delivery of cancer services. The target set down in the Department's Health Strategy is to reduce the death rate from cancer in the under-65 age-group by 15 per cent in the next ten years. The National Health Promotion Strategy which was published more recently also has the objective of effecting a significant improvement  in the health status of people in Ireland by “making the healthier choice the easier choice”. Other initiatives funded by my Department in the area of health promotion include: anti-tobacco initiatives; a healthy eating programme; co-operation with the EU under the Europe Against Cancer Programme which concentrates on cancer promotion and early detection; and a smoking cessation programme for pregnant women currently under way at the Rotunda Hospital.
In the area of breast screening, I was pleased to announce in October 1995 the establishment of a National Breast Screening Programme to be introduced on a phased basis. The decision to proceed on a phased basis is guided by the need for the achievement of acceptable compliance levels among the target population; on-going evaluation of the programme from a quality assurance perspective; and availability of the necessary clinical expertise to conduct the programme. Funding of £1.1 million has been allocated in 1996 to meet the start up costs associated with this initiative.
While the above information answers the specific questions raised by the Deputy, I would like to point out that the cancer services cannot be considered as a distinct entity apart from the health services overall. A wide range of diseases come under the heading of cancer and it is treated at all levels of the health service. Within the acute hospital sector, for example, a multidisciplinary approach is taken to the care and treatment of cancer patients. Cancer specialists will often receive the assistance of their colleagues from a variety of specialities, for example, radiology, phlebology and haematology, in accessing and treating cancer patients. It will be clear, therefore, that apart from direct funding of improvements in cancer services, the funding of developments in many other areas also has an indirect beneficial effect on the way in which cancer patients are treated.
7. Mr. Bell asked the Minister for Health if his attention has been drawn to the fact that vital organ transplantation is available in Ireland for all patients requiring necessary life saving transplant operations, with the whole exception of lung transplantation; if he will agree that this causes great hardship to Irish patients awaiting lung transplant -particularly those with cystic fibrosis; if he will further agree that reliance on transplant centres in the United Kingdom involves very inconvenient and repeated visits to transplant centres for both patient and accompanying family members; if he further will agree that the number of adult patients transplanted has only been a tiny fraction of those who have travelled back and forth to the United Kingdom for assessment; the plans, if any, he has to provide lung transplantation services in Ireland to cater for increasing numbers of patients who will require lung transplant each year, approximately 10 per annum, in view of the fact that the expertise to carry out these procedures is available in the Mater Hospital, Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1662/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): I am aware of difficulties being experienced by patients requiring lung and heart/lung transplants. These difficulties are caused by the lack of suitable matched donor organs and also due to the fact that we do not have a lung and heart/lung transplant programme in this country. The establishment of a successful transplant programme for any speciality is an extremely complex and difficult task. It is essential to have appropriately trained staff, suitable infrastructure and a multi disciplinary approach to ensure successful outcomes. The Department's recent experience with the successful liver transplant programme and it's establishment in Ireland bears this out.
I would like to clear up some misunderstandings in regard to the question  of expertise being available to carry out lung and heart/lung transplantation at the Mater Hospital in Dublin. My Department has been in discussion with the Mater Hospital for some time on the question of the possible development of a lung and heart/lung transplation programme in this country.
The Mater Hospital has recently informed my Department that it considers that it would be uneconomic to initiate a lung and heart/lung transplation programme on its own without incorporating extra routine open heart cases. The Mater Hospital has submitted an outline preliminary proposal on that basis.
The cost of the proposal from the Mater Hospital which would include additional cardiac surgery activity is capital cost, £2.6 million; revenue cost £2.4 million per annum. This would involve the employment of an additional 45 staff.
The Mater Hospital submission does not deal in a comprehensive way with the complex medical matters such as proposals for pre-operative assessment and arrangements for the post operative management of patients. My Department has asked the Mater Hospital for more information on a number of issues and on receipt of this information will consider the proposals further. My Department will be meeting the Cystic Fibrosis Association next week to continue discussions in this area.
8. Mr. M. McDowell asked the Minister for Health if he has satisfied himself that adequate refuge places are available throughout the country for women fleeing from domestic violence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2737/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): I want to assure the House that I am committed to the development of appropriate services within the health area for victims of domestic violence. The discussion document,  Developing a Policy on Women's Health, identifies services for victims of domestic violence as one of the priorities for the further enhancement of services to protect women's health. This document is the basis for consultation with all those interested in improving the health and welfare of Irish women, including those involved in the provision of services to victims of domestic violence. This consultation process is under way at present.
I fully recognise the essential role of women's refuges as a key element in the range of support services required to address this problem. I am particularly conscious of the fact that while comprehensive information on the number of women who are unable to obtain accommodation in women's refuges is not available, there does appear to be a shortfall in the overall provision.
The Department of the Environment provides considerable financial assistance towards the development of women's refuges under the capital assistance scheme for voluntary organisations. In so far as my Department is concerned provision has been made for a sum of £450,000 in capital grants towards the development of women's refuge centres in Dublin, Kerry, Galway and Dundalk. Also, a grant of over £100,000 will be made available this year to the Eastern Health Board to meet the running costs of the new Bray Women's Refuge. In addition, increased financial support has been made available for counselling and telephone helpline services for victims of domestic violence.
It is my intention to make continued progress with the development of services for victims of domestic violence as resources permit.
I recognise, however, that the provision of emergency refuge accommodation and other family support services, while necessary, deals only with the symptoms of domestic violence and does not confront the issue of violence itself. This is a much more complex issue and one which no one Government Department or agency can tackle  in isolation. The nature of the problem calls for a wide ranging inter-agency and interdisciplinary approach.
9. Mr. B. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Health if he intends to designate hospitals in the Southern Health Board area for the Diploma in Nursing studies; and if funding is to be made available in 1996. [18903/95]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): It is my intention that the diploma programme in nurse education and training which commenced in Galway in October, 1994 will be extended to all schools of nursing and other disciplines as resources permit. To this end three new general hospital and one psychiatry site commenced the new programme in 1995.
My Department has received numerous submissions and approaches from nursing schools and third-level colleges, including schools of nursing in the Southern Health Board area and University College, Cork, who wish to commence the diploma programme as soon as possible. The Deputy will appreciate that the rate of progress actually achieved depends on the availability of development funding for this purpose as determined in the Health Estimate each year.
In relation to 1996, preparations are now well under way at the sites due for start-up next October. My Department has arranged to meet a group representing the Cork nursing schools later this month, at which the whole question of future start-up dates and other issues will be discussed.
10. Mr. D. Wallace asked the Minister for Health the level of increased expenditure on elderly people, aged 65 years or more in his Department during 1995; if he will subdivide the total amount into distinct cost centres or programmes; and the plans, if any, he has to expand age related services during 1996. [2608/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): In 1995 my Department allocated an additional £2.1 million in development money for services for the elderly to the eight health boards. A sum of £1.1. million of this development money was spent on a number of essential requirements, which are listed on the following schedule.
The remainder of the money was divided between the eight health boards on a pro-rata basis as follows:
|Eastern Health Board||285,000|
|Midland Health Board||57,000|
|Mid-Western Health Board||90,000|
|North-Eastern Health Board||82,000|
|North-Western Health Board||81,000|
|South-Eastern Health Board||108,000|
|Southern Health Board||165,000|
|Western Health Board||132,000|
The boards used this funding to strengthen community care services for the elderly by employing extra nursing and paramedical staff in health board long stay hospitals, employing extra home helps and purchasing equipment such as aids and appliances for the elderly.
I should also like to mention that over £15 million was provided in 1995 to continue the implementation of the Health (Nursing Homes) Act, 1990. I have made £2.5 million development funding available to the health boards in 1996 and this will allow further progress to be made, particularly in the area of specialist units and community nursing care.
|1. St. Vincents, Elm Park (Day Hospital)||65,000|
|2. Eastern Health Board (Transport for No. 1 above)||30,000|
|3. Tralee General (Specialist Unit)||70,000|
|4. St. Finbarr's CRH|
|5. Mullingar General (Specialist Unit)||100,000|
|6. Nenagh/Thurles (Specialist Unit)||150,000|
|7. Wexford General (Specialist Unit)||50,000|
|8. Beaumont (Day Hospital)||80,000|
|9. Ely House, Wexford (Nursing Unit)||75,000|
|10. Community Nursing Unit, Navan Road, Dublin (New nursing unit plus day facilities)||90,000|
|11. Alzheimers Society of Ireland||50,000|
|12. Milford Hospice Day Care Centre||100,000|
|13. Sacred Heart Home Roscommon (2 nursing posts)||40,000|
|14. St. John's Enniscorthy (2 nursing posts)||40,000|
|15. Additional Geriatrician Limerick||30,000|
|16. Royal Hospital, Donnybrook EMI Unit||20,000|
|17. Age Action Ireland (To EHB)||30,000|
11. Ms Keogh asked the Minister for Health if a woman has informed his Department that she has become infected with Hepatitis C as a result of alleged contamination by a blood product known as gammaglobulin which she received by vaccine prior to a visit to a tropical country; if a claim has been made to his Department; if there have been any other claims of infection of such a produce; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2741/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): My Department received a phone call from an individual alleging that his wife contracted hepatitis C from the administration of a blood product, gammaglobulin and requesting a copy of the scheme of compensation, which was forwarded to the person on 21 December 1995.
Under the terms of the scheme to compensate certain persons who have  contracted hepatitis C from the use of human immunoglobulin anti-D, whole blood or other blood products, it is open to any person who claims that they have contracted hepatitis C from any blood product, to pursue such a claim before the compensation tribunal which I established on 15 December 1995.
Gammaglobulin is an intramuscular immunoglobulin which is used to vaccinate against hepatitis A. I have been advised by the BTSB that there have been no documented cases of hepatitis C associated with gammaglobulin produced by any European or US manufacturer. I have been advised also that a small number of cases of hepatitis have been reported in relation to gammaglobulin produced by manufacturers who may not have employed standard fractionation procedures such as those used in Europe and US. The gammaglobulin imported and distributed by the Blood Transfusion Service Board is manufactured by a leading European manufacturer.
13. Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Health if his attention has been drawn to the number of times patients awaiting elective hospital procedures have their appointments cancelled due to the shortage of beds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2612/96]
26. Mr. M. Brennan asked the Minister for Health the measures, if any, that have been taken to ease the accident and emergency crisis in hospitals; the cost of these measures; and the agency conducting the current advertising campaign urging the public to use their General Practitioner. [2696/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 and 26 together.
The hospital service has encountered problems in the provision of accident and emergency services, particularly over the winter period in the past number of years. This is not a problem confined  to Ireland but is a feature in other developed countries also.
The causes of the problems which arise have been well documented. The ageing of our population has contributed to the difficulties in accident and emergency departments. The winter period brings its own set of problems for our elderly population. This in turn can lead to an upsurge in the number of patients who present in accident and emergency departments requiring admission to hospital. Many elderly patients require acute hospital care initially but much of their recovery period could be spent in step down subacute accommodation. The shortage of sub-acute beds, particularly in Dublin, has caused problems in that acute hospitals have not been able to discharge patients in sufficient numbers and quickly enough, to cater for new patients seeking the services of the hospital. This in turn has led to the cancellation of elective admissions to hospitals at times, medical priority being the determining factor. There is nothing new in this. This has been the position for quite some time and has faced different Ministers for Health.
The volume of patients who present at casualty departments for treatment has also increased. For example between 1988 and 1995 the number of new attendances at the six major accident and emergency hospitals in Dublin increased by approximately 39 per cent. The extra volume of patients, in some instances, has necessitated extending the physical facilities in some accident and emergency departments and it is intended to continue refurbishing accident and emergency departments as required.
The accident and emergency problem has been building up, especially in Dublin, for some time. Up to now, difficulties in the accident and emergency services have been dealt with by providing mainly once-off solutions. I was anxious that a more comprehensive and integrated approach be adopted and therefore I asked officials in my Department  to examine the situation in Dublin and submit proposals for the winter of 1995-96.
In the first instance there is a need for hospital management to give greater priority to the problems that have emerged in the organisation and delivery of accident and emergency services. Hospitals need to refocus their activities to a greater degree with regard to bed utilisation and in relation to admission and discharge procedures. It is important that each hospital agrees a series of measures that will result in a better and more streamlined response. It is only when the above issues have been tackled that a hospital is in a position to deal with the many day to day logistical problems that arise in the provision of accident and emergency services.
The successful management of the accident and emergency difficulties includes tackling a number of areas including services for the elderly, services for the chronically disabled and services provided by the acute hospitals which, when taken together provide a comprehensive and integrated response. The measures adopted for the winter 1995-96 are are follows: 25 new elderly care beds were opened in Peamount Hospital; 40 additional nursing home places in private nursing homes were made available; 3 new community ward teams for the elderly have been approved; a 25 bed unit for the young chronically disabled is being opened in Cherry Orchard; a 46 bed community unit for the elderly on the Navan Road is due to be opened next week; a health board public education campaign co-ordinated by the Eastern Health Board on the appropriate use of accident and emergency services was launched on 15 January 1996 and is ongoing. The agency involved is Doherty Advertising and the cost of the campaign is approximately £140,000. In the six accident and emergency hospitals in Dublin a number of measures were taken including: (i) the opening of extra beds, (ii) additional staff recruited, (iii) medical equipment grants were approved for  accident and emergency departments, (iv) observation facilities were opened.
The cost of the measures outlined above was £534,000 in 1995 and will be approximately £2.5 million in 1996. This is the largest investment ever in the management of accident and emergency services in Dublin.
15. Mr. Flood asked the Minister for Health if he intends to make special provisions available to meet the health needs of the travelling community in view of their nomadic way of life; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2725/96]
39. Mr. Clohessy asked the Minister for Health the steps, if any, being taken to implement the recommendations of The Report of the Task Force on the Travelling Community; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2732/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): I propose to take Questions Nos. 15 and 39 together.
The Report of the Task Force on the Travelling Community contains a wide range of recommendations for the provision of services, including health services, to the travelling community.
In authorising publication of the report of the task force, the Government decided that the Minister for Equality and Law Reform should convene a group of officials to consider the implementation of the report and to report back to Government. I understand that the Minister for Equality and Law Reform will submit this report to the Government in the immediate future.
In the meantime a group of officials within my own Department is examining the implementation of the recommendations of the task force in relation to travellers' health in consultation with the health boards. Initiatives which seek to improve access to mainstream health care services for travellers will have  priority. The community health worker scheme developed by the Eastern Health Board is the kind of initiative I have in mind.
As indicated in the health strategy— Shaping a Healthier Future—it is my intention to publish a policy statement on travellers' health which will take account of the recommendations of the task force and build on successful initiatives already in place.
16. Mr. Dempsey asked the Minister for Health the plans, if any, he has to amend the Misuse of Drugs Acts, 1977 and 1984. [18830/95]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): I have no plans to amend the Misuse of Drugs Acts, 1977 and 1984 in so far as relaxing controls on drugs is concerned. It will be necessary from time to time to amend the Schedules to the Acts to include certain substances which come under international control. These amendments usually arise as a consequence of Ireland being a party to various international conventions on the control of drugs.
17. Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Health the level of co-operation between his Department and the Department of Education regarding awareness on the law and health effects of substance abuse; and the plans, if any, there are to publicise more widely the neurological damage of cannabis in view of its widespread use by young people. [18996/95]
Minister of State at the Department of Health (Mr. O'Shea): I am very aware of the need to highlight the health effects of substance misuse. The Health Promotion Unit of my Department is involved in the development and dissemination of a wide range of substance abuse prevention programmes targeted at selected groups.  These programmes not only highlight the dangers of drug misuse but also give people the opportunity to develop and practice the skills necessary to resist pressures to use various substances of abuse. The unit co-operates with the Department of Education in the development and dissemination of these programmes, where appropriate. As a result of this co-operation, a comprehensive substance abuse prevention programme has been developed. The programme, On My Own Two Feet, has now been introduced to about fifty per cent of second level schools. It is a participative programme consisting of modules on identity and self-esteem; assertive communication; feelings; influences on young people and decision making.
The unit has produced a range of literature for young people, parents and professionals. Reference is made in all of the literature to the health effects of cannabis use and to the fact that illegal drugs carry the risk of involvement with the law.
Facts About Drug Abuse in Ireland is a comprehensive publication for professionals. It includes a detailed section on drug laws and a section on cannabis detailing legal status and physical and psychological effects. I am arranging to have a copy of the booklet sent to the Deputy for his information.
In addition, we have an information leaflet on cannabis which outlines the short-term and long-term effects of cannabis use, as well as the legal risk. Drugs Your Choice Your Life is another leaflet available from my Department's Health Promotion Unit. I am arranging that these leaflets will also be sent to the Deputy. All Health Promotion Unit materials are widely distributed.
You may be assured that the Health Promotion Unit of my Department will continue to work towards the achievement of the target set in the health promotion strategy that “all pupils leaving school will have received information and education programmes on the dangers of substance misuse in the context  of a comprehensive health education programme”.
18. Mr. N. Treacy asked the Minister for Health the schedule of events surrounding the recent recall of blood products from hospitals supplied by the Blood Transfusion Service Board; and the findings of the investigation into the alert. [2702/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): The Blood Transfusion Service Board (BTSB) informed my Department on Friday, 12 January 1996 that they had received a report of the development of serratia marcescens septicaemia in a patient in a Dublin hospital which it was considered may have been associated with a possible fault in a blood bag. At that time, the BTSB was engaged in an audit of blood bags and handling procedures for blood bags currently in use and supplied by NPBI, a CE accredited manufacturer of blood bags. In view of this, and in an effort to allay public anxiety, the BTSB took the following urgent measures:—
(i) The Medical Director at the BTSB instructed all hospital blood bank heads by fax, on 12 January, to quarantine all blood, platelets and plasma which had been collected into NPBI bags. BTSB staff at the same time contracted relevant hospital personnel to advise of the instructions and follow up action.
(ii) The Medical Director advised that if products contained in NPBI packs has been transfused close observation of the patient was warranted.
(iii) Urgent arrangements were put in place to restore stock supplies. In order to assist in the replenishment of stocks special donor clinics were arranged for Saturday 13 January and Sunday 14 January in Dublin and Cork. In addition, the North London Blood Transfusion Centre and the Scottish Blood Transfusion Service were contacted in order to secure additional supplies. Additional supplies of blood were also subsequently obtained from Holland. All  imported blood met the relevant European Union, World Health Organisation and European Pharmacopoeia standards of safety which encompass donor selection, testing and processing.
(iv) A decision was taken on an interim basis to suspend using NPBI at donor clinics; arrangements were put in place as a matter of urgency to import bags from Baxter, a UK blood bag manufacturer.
(v) Arrangements were put in place to commence an immediate investigation to determine, if possible, the source of the serratia marcescens which infected the patient.
(vii) The Irish Medicines Board and the Dutch Inspectorate were informed of the situation and of the investigation.
An extensive and thorough investigation followed which included members of the BTSB staff, members of the company NPBI, the Irish Medicines Board and the Department of Microbiology in St. James's Hospital. Physical inspection of all quarantined bags in Pelican House and all hospital blood banks was undertaken by BTSB laboratory staff. Independent environmental monitoring was undertaken in the BTSB including the monitoring of the blood transport system. Environmental monitoring of St. James's blood bank and the Meath Hospital Dublin where the blood transfusion took place was undertaken by the Department of Microbiology in St. James's Hospital. Likewise, results of detailed environmental monitoring undertaken routinely in the NPBI plant in Holland were reviewed.
On 31 January, the results of the investigation were examined and no evidence was found of any breakdown in the manufacturing procedures of NPBI or of bacterial contamination of the blood bags in question. Likewise, environmental monitoring of the BTSB, the blood transport system, St. James's Hospital blood bank and the Meath Hospital revealed no evidence of contamination with the relevant bacteria. BTSB processing equipment and transport passed all the relevant tests and  there was no evidence of any defect in the product supplied by the BTSB. BTSB and the Irish Medicines Board are satisfied that NPBI bags meet all European standards. In view of the above findings, it was decided to reintroduce NPBI bags for routine use in the BTSB. All aspects of blood supply will, of course, continue to be monitored very closely.
I would like to take this opportunity to commend all those involved at the BTSB and the Irish Medicines Board who worked continuously throughout the investigation. I would also like to extend particular thanks to those donors who responded so generously to the need for additional donations.
19. Mr. O'Malley asked the Minister for Health if he has satisfied himself that there is full reporting of the incidences of meningitis in each health board area; the research, if any, that has been carried out into the causes of meningitis by his Department; if he has further satisfied himself that the public are aware of the symptoms of meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2735/96]
27. Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn asked the Minister for Health the current level of investment in research and publicity on meningitis by his Department; the funds, if any, he will provide for the investigation of the filter method of treatment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2704/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): I propose to take Questions Nos. 19 and 27 together.
The Department of Health's funding for clinical research is channelled through the Health Research Board. I understand, however, that none of the projects currently being supported relate to meningitis. International research is monitored on an on-going basis, and I am aware that a major study  being conducted by the Meningitis Research Foundation will include Irish cases in its coverage.
The haemofiltration treatment, to which Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn refers, has been used on a trial basis in a British hospital in a small number of cases of meningococcal septicaemia. Further reports on this mode of treatment will undoubtedly issue in the near future. The Department of Health and the medical profession in general will continue to monitor this development and if it proves a safe and effective treatment for this condition, its introduction will be seriously considered.
As regards reporting, the system of notification has improved considerably. A comprehensive system for monitoring the incidence of bacterial meningitis and meningococcal infection is now in operation. In addition an expert medical group has been established to examine ways to further strengthen the diagnostic, surveillance and preventive aspects of our approach to this disease.
As regards publicity, in December 1995 the Department of Health reminded the health boards to maintain the high level of awareness of meningitis and meningococcal disease which had been established in the winter of 1994-95.
Actions which health boards took in this regard included: circulation of the Department's Health Promotion Unit's leaflet on meningitis to general practitioners, pharmacies, libraries, health centres, pre-school nurseries and other locations as considered appropriate participation in local, regional and national radio programmes to discuss the signs and symptoms, and the giving of information to the print media; and contact with hospitals and general practitioners to raise awareness.
In addition, the Department circulated, to the national media, press facts on meningitis. Health boards were also asked to make these press facts available to the provincial papers and I gave an interview to the media on meningitis which was widely reported. I should also  point out that the Department of Health regularly supply information to the media in response to their queries. In addition, the Department met with Meningitis Action Aid which comprises a group of Irish parents who are working to raise awareness among the public. They are organising a meningitis information day on 15 February 1996 which is being supported by the Department of Health and the Eastern Health Board. I am satisfied that every effort is being made to make the public aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia.
Since informing the public and raising awareness of the symptoms of this disease is an integral part of the work of the Department of Health and the health boards it is not possible to isolate the costs involved.
20. Mr. E. Byrne asked the Minister for Health the plans, if any, he has to impose controls on the private patient fees charged by general practitioners in view of reports that the IMO may seek to increase fees to between £20 and £25; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2721/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): In accordance with the provisions of the Health Act, 1970, health boards have entered into contracts with general practitioners for the provision of a number of services for patients including, the General Medical Services Scheme, the maternity and infant care scheme and the recently agreed national primary childhood immunisation scheme.
The fees paid to general practitioners under such contractual arrangements are the subject of negotiation between my Department, health board management and the Irish Medical Organisation.
As Minister for Health, I have no function in the determination of fees paid to general practitioners other than those paid in respect of contractual  arrangements with general practitioners for the delivery of State-funded services. Private fees would be a matter between the general practitioner and the patient.
21. Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Health the number of people with special needs under the special hospital programme that are waiting appropriate placement in service but due to lack of necessary funding will be denied such service; if he will give a breakdown of the figures for each health board area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2613/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): I am assuming that the Deputy is referring to persons with a mental handicap in psychiatric hospitals when he refers to people with special needs under the special hospital programme.
The latest statistics available indicate that there were 935 persons with a mental handicap accommodated in public psychiatric hospitals on 31 December, 1994. This compares with 2,170 persons in 1981. This 1994 figure shows an increase of 20 on the figure given by me in recent replies to parliamentary questions due to an error in respect of figures submitted by one of the health boards.
Information regarding the number of persons with a mental handicap in psychiatric hospitals on 31 December, 1995 is currently being collected by my Department as part of the annual statistical returns submitted by the mental health services.
The breakdown by health board area is as follows:
|Board||No. of Persons|
Included in the 1994 figure are a number of persons due to be transferred in 1995 to more appropriate care settings.
The figure of 935 would include a number of persons who are not inappropriately placed because of the nature of their ongoing mental health needs. However, a large proportion of those currently accommodated in psychiatric hospitals would, however, be considered for transfer to more appropriate care settings as resources come on stream.
Where persons with a mental handicap continue to be cared for in psychiatric hospitals, health boards are encouraged to care for them in separate accommodation and to develop programmes of activity suited to their needs. The reduction in the numbers of persons with a mental handicap in psychiatric hospitals has enabled hospital management to increase the staff/client ratio and to reduce the numbers accommodated in the various units to the benefit of the remaining clients.
My Department is at present actively considering a number of proposals for the transfer of clients with a mental handicap to more appropriate accommodation.
22. Miss Harney asked the Minister for Health the changes, if any, in the design and layout of the Tallaght Hospital, Dublin 24; the cost of these changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2740/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): The brief for the Tallaght Hospital was completed in March  1984 and the design stage for the project was completed in 1987.
Because of the time that will have elapsed between the completion of the brief in 1984 and the opening of the hospital in late 1997 it has to date been necessary to carry out changes to the following departments: pharmacy, day care unit, catering and ward pantries, dialysis unit, intensive care unit, coronary care unit, operating department, autopsy/mortuary and hospital sterile supply department.
The cost of changes to the listed individual Departments varies according to the extent of the change and every effort has been made to ensure that these costs are met from corresponding savings on elements of the project which do not materially affect the functional content of the hospital. This approach is in line with normal practice and is a well-established policy of my Department and of the Tallaght Hospital Board. The greater portion of additional costs of changes has been met from savings on the contract and the design team is critically re-examining the project with a view to eliminating the outstanding amount.
23. Miss Harney asked the Minister for Health when the Standing Committee on Air Ambulances was set up; the reports and recommendations, if any, that have been made by the Standing Committee to date in respect of dedicated and purpose equipped air ambulance facilities and services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2739/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): A standing committee on air ambulance services under the aegis of the Departments of Defence and Health was set up in mid-1995 on foot of the recommendations of the report of the Review Group on the Ambulance Service. The standing committee's terms of reference are:- (a) to  regularly review the operation of air ambulance services; (b) to ensure appropriate medical input and advice; (c) to specify Protocols in order to obtain maximum cost benefits and ensure the appropriate use of aircraft; and (d) to consider the adequacy of resources for air ambulance missions and jointly put forward any proposals for the improvement of the air ambulance service.
The report of the review group also recommended that the question of having dedicated and purpose-equipped air ambulance aircraft should be considered within the context of the standing committee.
The committee is currently engaged in an examination of all the options regarding the most appropriate arrangements for the provision of air ambulance services, having regard to the recommendations of the ambulances review group, with the aim of ensuring that all available resources are utilised in the most cost effective manner possible.
The committee has not as yet made any reports or recommendations in respect of dedicated and purpose equipped air ambulance facilities and services.
25. Ms Keogh asked the Minister for Health the waiting period for mammograph services in each of the health board areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2742/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): Diagnostic mammography services are currently provided at 19 centres throughout the country. Within each health board area immediate appointments are available for urgent referrals. The waiting times for routine referrals in each of the units are as set out in the following schedule.
The Deputy will also wish to know that I recently announced the introduction of a national breast screening programme on a phased basis. Phase 1 will  commence as soon as possible and will cover the Eastern, North Eastern and Midland Health Board areas. It will target 120,000 women which represents 50 per cent of the target population for the programme.
|UC.H. Galway||4 week wait|
|Mater Hospital||1 week|
|St. James' Hospital||Immediate|
|Adelaide Hospital||8 weeks|
|O.L.L. Drogheda||3-4 weeks|
|Mayo General||2-3 days|
|Our Lady's Navan||1 week|
|Limerick Regional||5 weeks|
|Nenagh General||2 weeks|
|Portlaoise General||1-2 weeks|
|Beaumont Hospital||2 weeks|
|St. Vincent's Hospital||5-6 months|
|Sligo General||1 week|
|Sth Infirmary/Victoria||4½ months|
29. Kathleen Lynch asked the Minister for Health the number of children under the care of health boards who were accommodated in hospitals beds, bed and breakfasts and adult hostels in each health board area in 1995; the average number of days spent by a child in such accommodation in 1995; the longest number of days spent by any child in such accommodation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2723/96]
41. Mr. Flood asked the Minister for Health the concerns, if any, he has at the increasing high number of children placed in bed and breakfast type accommodation; the action, if any, he proposes to take to have this practice stopped; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2726/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): I propose to take Questions Nos. 29 and 41 together.
The detailed information requested by Deputy Lynch in relation to the number of children in the care of health boards accommodated in hospital beds, bed and breakfasts and adult hostels in 1995 is not readily available in my Department. I will arrange to let the Deputy have details as soon as they come to hand.
As the Deputies will be aware, section 5 of the Child Care Act, 1991 requires health boards to take such steps as are reasonable to make available suitable accommodation for homeless children up to 18 years. Health boards are developing a range of options to enable them to discharge their responsibilities under this section. These include emergency hostels and other forms of residential accommodation; day care programmes for adolescents who are currently homeless or at risk of being homeless; out of hours social work services targeted at homeless children; and special foster care services for out of home adolescents.
I do not regard the use of bed and breakfast accommodation as an acceptable response to the problem of youth homelessness. My Department has made it clear to the health boards that if, in cases of emergency, there is no alternative to the placement of a homeless child in this form of accommodation, immediate steps should be taken to secure an appropriate hostel, residential or family placement for the child. At the same time, it must be recognised that the occasional case may arise where the provision of bed and breakfast accommodation may be appropriate for a youngster who is only seeking overnight accommodation in response to a specific unforeseen situation. It is my firm intention to minimise the use of bed and breakfast accommodation for this purpose to the greatest possible extent.
The Eastern Health Board, in whose area the problem of youth homelessness is mainly concentrated, is pursuing a  number of strategies to reduce its use of bed and breakfast accommodation and the number of young people in such accommodation has been reduced significantly. An important development has been the recent establishment of an emergency/short-term care facility which can cater for up to 14 young people who are temporarily out of home or are awaiting a more long-term placement. In addition, the 1995 Child Care Action Plan provided for a further range of important new child care developments including the provision of additional hostel and other residential places and an expansion of the board's out-of-hours social work service into a 24-hour crisis intervention service for all children. I am confident that these services, which will become fully operational over the coming months, will greatly strengthen the capacity of the Eastern Health Board to provide appropriate accommodation and services for homeless young people.
The Health Estimate for 1996 includes provision for a further investment of £5 million in the child care services. This brings to £35 million the total additional funding that has been provided for these services since 1993 and will enable substantial further progress to be made this year in expanding services and supports for children and families in need, including the young homeless.
30. Mr. B. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Health if he will give immediate approval for the setting up of a design team for the obstetrics unit for Cork. [1277/96]
60. Mr. B. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Health if he will put funding in place to ensure that an improved obstetric service is provided in the Cork area until such time as an obstetrics unit is put in place in the grounds of University Hospital, Cork. [1275/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): I propose to take Questions Nos. 30 and 60 together.
The Deputy will be aware that I have repeatedly given a commitment to putting the resources in place to support the development of enhanced maternity services in Cork, both in the short-term, and as a long-term solution to current difficulties.
It is understood by all parties concerned that the centralisation of maternity services on the Cork University Hospital site is a major capital project which will now require detailed planning work by the Southern Health Board, in close consultation with the Department. This process is already under way with the full co-operation of my officials.
With regard to interim arrangements for improving the existing services, I understand that the Southern Health Board, in its monthly meeting of 5 February, 1996, endorsed the general manager's proposals in this regard. I expect to receive a copy of those proposals in the coming days and they will be given immediate consideration in my Department.
I would like to assure the Deputy that once I have received the interim proposals, there will be no delay in advancing the formal planning process for the obstetrics unit at Cork University Hospital.
31. Miss Quill asked the Minister for Health whether the recommendations of the 1986 report on Communications Networks and The Elderly were implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2729/96]
43. Mr. M. McDowell asked the Minister for Health if the pilot scheme to assess the potential of radio and telephone based alarm systems to assist the elderly recommended in The Years Ahead - A Policy for the Elderly, 1988 was set up; if its findings were extended throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2738/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): I propose to take Questions Nos. 31 and 43 together.
The 1986 report on Communications Networks and the Elderly was published to provide technical advice to the health boards on the potential of new communications technology to assist the dependent elderly. Its recommendations should be interpreted in that light.
The pilot scheme to assess the potential of radio and telephone based alarm systems recommended in The Years Ahead was implemented in the south inner city area of Dublin, subsequently evaluated and the results were very positive.
At this stage, each of the eight health boards have varying degrees of involvement in emergency communication systems for the elderly, either directly or by grant-aiding some voluntary organisations.
I will be arranging to supply details of the various communication systems to the Taskforce on Security for the Elderly which has been established by my colleague, the Minister for Social Welfare.
32. Mr. Kirk asked the Minister for Health the survey work that has been carried out on the health implications for people living in high level radon areas; the survey work that has been carried out on the health implications on people who have moved from low level radon areas to areas of high radon levels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1625/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. Long-term exposure to very high levels of radon in an enclosed area can be a contributory factor in increasing the risk of contracting lung cancer, particularly where  other factors such as cigarette smoking are involved.
The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland is the statutory body with responsibility for monitoring radiation in the State. The institute initiated a national geographically based radon survey in 1992 which will extend over a number of years. The target date for completion is 1998. The survey is being carried out to assist in identifying areas at greatest risk of high indoor radon levels. I should also mention that the Radiological Protection Institute provides a radon measurement and advisory service to the public.
33. Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn asked the Minister for Health the percentage saving each health board has been asked to find in 1996. [2706/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): As the Deputy is aware the Government set out its targets in relation to the growth in public expenditure last June. As part of this process each Minister was asked to identify proposals to reduce his or her gross non-capital spending, on a continuing basis, by 0.7 per cent of his or her approved level of expenditure. In accordance with this decision and after consultations between my Department and the chief executive officers of the health boards, each board was required to achieve savings equal to 0.7 per cent of their 1995 approved level of expenditure, in 1996. It was agreed by Government that these savings would be retained within the health services as a contribution towards funding the further development of services in line with the Programme for Government, A Government of Renewal.
34. Mr. Browne (Wexford) asked the Minister for Health if he has received notification from the VHI of a further price increase; and the view he intends to take on an application for a further increase. [2699/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): I have not received notification from the VHI of a proposed increase in premium charges applicable to its schemes of voluntary health insurance.
It would not be appropriate for me to state what view I intend to take of any such proposal in the absence of full details relating to same. I can, however, indicate to the Deputy that any proposals for a premium increase will be given careful consideration in the context of the need to ensure the solvency of VHI and the continued provision by it of a high level of insurance cover to its subscribers.
35. Mr. Kirk asked the Minister for Health the plans, if any, he has to establish a special monitoring force for low dose radiation along the east coast with particular concentration in County Louth, comprising personnel from health authorities and the Radiological Protection Institute; if he will publish the readings on a monthly basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1626/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): The monitoring of ionising radiation levels in the State and in any waters, including international waters, surrounding the State is the function of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland. The institute is involved in the operation of 12 continuous radiation measurement sites throughout the State including one located in County Louth at Dundalk. Other continuous measurement sites located on or near the East coast are at Dublin, Kilkenny and Rosslare. The institute publishes results of its monitoring programmes on a regular basis. I have no plans to establish a special monitoring force.
36. Ms F. Fitzgerald asked the Minister for Health the investigations, if any, carried out by the Eastern Health Board into allegations of abuse in Trudder House; the action, if any, he intends to take in this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19009/95]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): I can confirm to the House that the Eastern Health Board and the Garda have been investigating allegations of abuse of residents at Trudder House. Newtownmountkennedy, County Wicklow, which, until its relocation last year, was a residential centre catering for young travellers.
I understand that an investigation file in this matter was forwarded on 4 December 1995, by the Garda to the Director of Public Prosecutions whose directions are now awaited. The Deputy will appreciate that, in view of the fact that prosecutions may be initiated, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further on the matter at this stage.
37. Mr. McCreevy asked the Minister for Health the current situation in relation to the renegotiation of the Health Insurance Regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2701/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): Following the circulation of the draft Health Insurance Regulations pursuant to the Health Insurance Act, 1994, my Department has been in discussions with the European Commission relating to the proposed regulatory framework for health insurance in this country. I am awaiting final notification of the Commission's position and I am very hopeful that this notification will be received in the near future. Following receipt of that notification. I hope to be able to sign the regulations.
38. Dr. Moffatt asked the Minister for Health if he will issue guidelines to the health boards and psychiatric institutions regarding the discharge and follow-up of patients from these institutions, who have a known suicidal risk, in view of the recent High Court decision against North-Western Health Board. [2708/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): It would be inappropriate for me to comment specifically on the recent court case to which the Deputy has referred and which is still being given full consideration by the North-Western Health Board in consultation with its legal advisers.
The discharge and follow-up of patients from psychiatric institutions is a matter for clinical decision. The procedures followed in relation to the discharge and follow-up of patients in each mental health service are reviewed each year by the Inspector of Mental Hospitals. The inspectorate in recent years has recommended that every service develop written Protocols and procedures which conform to the highest clinical standards.
I have already expressed my concern at the rise in the number of suicides in Ireland over the last 20 years. In late November 1995, I established a Task Force on Suicide which is due to present an interim report to me in June 1996. It will then engage in a consultative exercise with interested parties leading to the formulation of a national suicide reduction-prevention strategy.
40. Mr. E. Byrne asked the Minister for Health if his attention has been drawn to the spiralling cost of medical protection insurance premiums; if he intends introducing a medical review panel to hear cases in a speedy and non-adversarial manner in order to reduce costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2722/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): My Department has been concerned with the growing cost of medical indemnity cover for doctors and dentists working in public health agencies. This country has, in common with all developed countries, experienced growth, both in the number and in the average cost of civil claims against doctors.
While the Deputy will appreciate that the issues involved are extremely complex, touching as they do on fundamental rights under the Constitution, my Department has taken a number of initiatives to reduce costs. These include the introduction of a group medical indemnity scheme in 1992 which provides cover for non-consultant hospital doctors, public health doctors, and dentists employed by health boards and some others. A number of risk management pilot projects have also been established in health agencies around the country with the object of identifying and eliminating adverse incidents which give rise to claims.
My Department has also recently retained the services of consultants with the task of evaluating the existing arrangements and making recommendations to improve the current medical indemnity and public liability insurance arrangements in place in the health services. The consultants have been asked to consider the type of system proposed by the Deputy.
42. Mr. Clohessy asked the Minister for Health the degree to which male and female patients are accommodated in mixed hospital wards excluding emergencies and coronary care; if he approves of such a practice; the measures, if any, he proposes to take to ensure that the practice is discontinued; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2731/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): In the interests of ensuring that the privacy and dignity of patients, both male and female, are  respected, I would of course be concerned at any mixing of patients, outside the areas to which the Deputy has referred and some other specialised units such as intensive care units.
I am at present carrying out a review of mixed wards in each health board area and I will assess the position when the review is completed.
44. Kathleen Lynch asked the Minister for Health when he intends publishing central guidelines for the recording of reported cases of child abuse, follow-up procedures in cases where child abuse has been alleged but not proven and the operation and implementation of supervision orders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2724/96]
Minister for State at the Department of Health (Mr. Currie): National guidelines for the identification, investigation and management of child abuse were issued by the Department of Health in 1987. A further set of guidelines clarifying the circumstances in which health boards and the gardaí are to notify suspected cases of child abuse to each other was introduced last year.
The 1987 guidelines were specifically designed to provide guidance for those who are likely to be professionally concerned with any form of child abuse or neglect. They spell out clearly the respective responsibilities of, and the steps to be taken by, the key personnel involved in the investigation and management of child abuse cases. The guidelines also deal with the collection, recording and exchange of information on suspected and confirmed cases of child abuse.
At regional level, each of the health boards has reviewed its child protection procedures in the light of the recommendations contained in the report of the Kilkenny incest investigation and has taken steps to improve arrangements in this area.
I have no plans at present to issue guidelines to the health boards in relation  to the making of applications for supervision orders under section 19 of the Child Care Act, 1991, which only came into force on 31 October last. The Deputy will appreciate that it is a matter for the relevant health board to decide in a particular case whether it should apply for such an order. Having said that, I shall of course be monitoring the operation of this important new provision.
45. Mr. D. Wallace asked the Minister for Health the total number of long-term care beds in State owned hospitals; if he will give a breakdown of this figure by health board; and if he will give an estimate of the total number of such beds in the private sector. [2609/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): The number of long-term care beds in health board geriatric, district and community hospitals at 31 December 1994 is set out in the following table. Excluded from these figures are 1,354 beds in health board welfare homes and approximately 9,400 in voluntary and private nursing homes.
Number of Long-Stay Beds at 31 December 1994*
Source: Annual Survey of Long-Stay Units, 1994.
46. Mr. J. Walsh asked the Minister for Health his assessment of the level of adequacy of acute geriatric services throughout the country; the counties without any such service at present; and the plans, if any, he has to remedy current deficits. [2611/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): The report of the working party on Services for the Elderly, the Years Ahead — A Policy for the Elderly which was published in 1988, recommended the development of additional departments of medicine of old age in general hospitals throughout the country. This recommendation has been progressively implemented and the number of specialist departments of medicine of old age has increased from eight in 1988 to over 20 this year.
It is the policy of my Department to continue to increase the number of departments of medicine of old age so that every general hospital either has such a department or has access to one. I am pleased to inform the Deputy that this progress is continuing in 1996 with such services about to be put in place in Tralee, Wexford, south Tipperary, Cavan-Monahgan and Meath-Louth. I am confident that, before the end of 1997, every county will have this specialist service.
47. Mr. R. Burke asked the Minister for Health if he considers enabling legislation to ratify the Hague Convention necessary, particularly in view of the distressing plight of Chinese children; if so, the time-frame in which this will be done; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2420/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): I presume the Deputy is referring to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in respect of Intercountry Adoption which was completed in 1993 under the aegis of the Hague Conference on Private International Law.
I am fully supportive of this Convention and its objectives. It represents an important instrument for improved international co-operation in the area of child protection. I am currently in the process of seeking Government approval to the signing of the Convention  in order to signal our intention of eventually ratifying it.
Before the Convention can be ratified here, it will be necessary to give the Convention the force of law in the State. This will involve making major changes to our domestic adoption legislation, including the Adoption Act, 1991, which contains the current statutory procedures for the regulation and recognition of foreign adoptions. It is likely to be some time before I will be in a position to bring forward the necessary legislation because my absolute priority in the adoption area is the preparation of an appropriate legislative response to address the issue raised in the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Keegan-v-Ireland. That judgment was delivered subsequent to the completion of the Hague Convention.
I am aware of the interest among Irish couples in adopting children from China. I should explain, however, that the Convention only provides for the recognition by countries which are parties to the Convention of intercountry adoptions which take place under and in accordance with the requirements of the Convention. This means that the Convention will not be of benefit to Irish residents wishing to adopt children from China until such time as it has been ratified by both Ireland and China. I understand that China has not ratified the instrument to date.
In advance of the ratification of the Hague Convention by Ireland and China, the question of whether Chinese adoptions are entitled to be recognised here must be examined in accordance with the provisions of the Adoption Act, 1991. In this context, I understand that the Adoption Board has taken the view that adoptions effected in China do not qualify for recognition under the 1991 Act. However, I have asked the Adoption Board to re-examine the position in relation to the compatibility of the two laws and, if necessary, to obtain counsel's opinion in the matter.
48. Mrs. T. Ahearn asked the Minister for Health the proposals, if any, he has to allow all MS patients be provided with a medical card; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2589/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): Under the Health Act, 1970, medical cards are issued to persons who, in the opinion of the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board, are unable, without undue hardship to provide general practitioner medical and surgical services for themselves and their dependants.
Income guidelines are available to assist chief executive officers in the determination of a person's eligibility and these guidelines are revised annually in line with the consumer price index. However, these guidelines are not statutorily binding and even though a person's income exceeds the guidelines, that person may still be awarded a medical card if the chief executive officer considers that the person's medical needs or other circumstances would justify this. Medical cards may also be awarded to individual family members.
Multiple sclerosis is one of the conditions covered by the long-term illness scheme. Under this scheme drugs and medicines for the treatment of multiple sclerosis can be obtained without charge. Taking account of this and the discretionary powers of the chief executive officers to issue medical cards, I do not think that it is justifiable to extend an automatic entitlement to medical card to all multiple sclerosis patients, without any reference to their means, particularly in view of the many areas of pressing need in the health services and the limited resources available to meet them.
49. Mr. D. Ahern asked the Minister for Finance the current position regarding the subsidised loans for Northern Ireland and the Border counties through the European Investment Bank; the reason these loans have not come on stream in spite of the fact that the initial plans were that they would be available in the final quarter of 1995; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2794/96]
Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn): Preparations to launch the interest-subsidy scheme for small and medium-sized enterprises, which is one of the measures included in the Special Support Scheme for Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the Border Counties of Ireland, are almost concluded. There remain a number of matters to be finalised in respect of the operation of the scheme. There has been no undue delay in completing the necessary arrangements, which require a co-ordinated approach by all the parties concerned — the European Commission, the European Investment Bank, the national authorities, the intermediary banks who will operate the scheme, and the agents who will assess the projects on behalf of the European Investment Bank and the national authorities on both sides of the Border.
50. Mr. Bree asked the Minister for Finance when the Engineering Services of the Office of Public Works will reply to a letter of 13 June 1995, from Deputy Bree in view of the fact that they acknowledged receipt of the letter on the 16 June 1995, reference C85/463/266; the reason the Office of Public Works has been incapable of responding to the letter in the intervening seven month period; if he considers this acceptable; if he will introduce procedures to ensure that standards are improved in the Office of Public Works; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2792/96]
Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Coveney): The correspondence in question relates to an unquantified claim for compensation  arising from works carried out under the Bonet catchment drainage scheme and to a request for reinstatement of a bridge and a fence. The claim was assessed some time ago following visits to the holding by Engineering and Valuation staff of the Officer of Public Works but the benefits arising from the scheme were found to far outweigh the minimal damages involved. In the circumstances no compensation is payable. The bridge and fence were not removed by the Office of Public Works and reinstatement does not therefore arise.
I do not consider a delay of seven months in replying to representations to be acceptable or desirable. I apologise and regret that a reply was not issued to the Deputy much earlier in this case. I emphasise, however, that this case is exceptional and that the standing instructions to staff in the Office of Public Works is that representations are to be dealt with expeditiously. The normal procedure which clearly, was overlooked in this case is that representations are to be acknowledged immediately and that final replies should generally issue within four weeks. Where final replies cannot be issued within this period an interim reply should if possible be issued.
A formal reply to the Deputy's representations is being issued by the Office of Public Works today.
51. Mr. D. Ahern asked the Minister for Finance the cost of the production of the ten inch by eight inch photograph which showed him with copy of his budget speech in his hand as he sat at a coffee table; the quantity produced; to whom they were sent; the number sent by special courier to editors of newspapers and other sections of the media; the overall cost of publicity in respect of the budget speech presentation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2793/96]
Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn): To assist the main provincial newspapers in  highlighting the articles they would carry on the budget, it was decided to provide them with the opportunity to use Budget Day photographs to accompany their stories. These newspapers were contacted and asked if they wanted a photograph. Only then was it dispatched to them by train or bus and not by special courier. They had to make their own arrangements to collect the photographs from the train stations-bus drop-off points respectively. This is contrary to the impression given in an article in one local newspaper in the Deputy's own constituency.
A total of 34 prints were produced and sent by train (27 packages) and bus (four packages) to the provincial papers. In addition, photographs were wired to the Financial Times, the Sunday Times and the London Independent. The total cost of the production and delivery of the photographs is £898.72 (excluding VAT).
The only other cost incurred by my Department in relation to publicity regarding the Budget Speech presentation was the employment of a technician in the Press Centre in Government Buildings for the usual evening Press briefing at a cost of £86.00 (excluding VAT).
52. Mr. McCreevy asked the Minister for Finance the estimated cost of allowing a tax deduction at the standard rate, against their income, for students who undertake post-graduate and night classes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2814/96]
Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn): The estimated cost of allowing a tax relief at the standard rate in respect of fees for post-graduate courses and night classes is estimated to be up to £8 million based on approximately £30 million paid in fees between part-time and post-graduate students.
As you are aware, fees for full-time undergraduate courses at public colleges are being phased out. In addition,  provision has been made for tax relief from the academic year 1996-97 in respect of fees paid to approved private colleges in respect of approved full-time undergraduate courses.
A further income tax concession of the sort proposed would not only involve a substantial cost to the Exchequer but would, inevitably, be bound to generate many similar claims from other taxpayers for tax relief on a variety of personal expenditure. The consequential loss to the Exchequer would mean that considerable revenue would have to be found elsewhere to maintain services.
53. Mr. S. Brennan asked the Minister for Finance the actual and expected tax yield from 27 per cent taxpayers and 48 per cent taxpayers in each of the years 1994/1995 and 1996/1997; the actual and expected revenue from PAYE sources in each of the two years; the total tax forgone by all existing personal reliefs and allowances; and the total PRSI revenue from each of these two years. [2816/96]
Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn): The full year yield of income tax to the Exchequer arising from taxpayers liable to tax at the tax rates prevailing in the income tax years 1994-95 and 1995-96, the latest available, is estimated as follows:
|Marginal Rate of Taxpayers||1994/95||1995/96|
|Yield to the Exchequer¹||Yield to the Exchequer¹|
|27 per cent (including Marginal Relief)||836||964|
|48 per cent||2,950||3,161|
The tax amounts attributable to taxpayers liable at the marginal rate of 48  per cent include some £1,179 million and £1,280 million payable at the 27 per cent rate for 1994-95 and 1995-96 respectively. The corresponding information is not yet available for the income tax year 1996-97.
The relevant information available on the income tax yield under the PAYE system are figures of the net receipt of tax in the calendar year 1994 and the post-budget estimate of yield in the calendar year 1996. The net receipt of income tax under PAYE² was £3,259 million in 1994 (excluding the yield in 1994 under the 1993 tax amnesty) and is estimated to be £3,719 million in 1996.
The full year cost to the Exchequer of personal income tax reliefs and allowances³ is estimated at £1,787 million in the income tax year 1994-95 and £1,981 million in 1996/97.
Information on PRSI receipts is compiled on a calendar year basis. Total PRSI receipts was £1,685 million in 1994 and is estimated to be £1,720 million in 1996.
(1) The figures shown as the yield to the Exchequer are the estimated ultimate net yields from the tax assessed for the years 1994-95 and 1995-96, whether actually collected in those years or later, and include the yield from taxation of declared interest income.
(2) The figures cover more than income tax on ordinary wages and salaries. They include tax paid by directors of close companies who are akin to the self-employed as well as tax on “other income” of employees such as rent and other investment income. They also include the tax paid under PAYE on the income from employment of farmers and other self-employed individuals.
(3) The personal reliefs and allowances included in the estimates of cost are the exemption limits, the married, single and widowed allowances together with the associated one-parent family allowance, the PAYE allowance and the PRSI allowance where appropriate.
54. Mr. Lawlor asked the Minister for Finance if he is committed to Ireland's contribution to the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility operated by the International Monetary Fund in view of the disquiet regarding, what are perceived to be, punitive, conditions imposed upon Third World countries which are recipients of concessional loans under the ESAF; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2823/96]
Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn): The Government decided in 1994 to contribute to the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility and the IMF was notified accordingly. Such a contribution would require enabling legislation to be put before the Oireachtas.
I am aware that a number of organisations have expressed opposition to Ireland's making such a contribution, arguing that the macroeconomic conditions which the IMF typically attaches to ESAF loans have unduly harsh social effects. I am reviewing the position having regard to these representations and the broad acceptance of the other members of the IMF (including our EU partners) of the need for assistance for Third World countries to facilitate the restructuring of their economies by way of the facility referred to.
55. Mrs. O'Rourke asked the Minister for Finance the reason his Department refuses to give financial recognition in tax terms to a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath who is obtaining paid recognition for his family from the Department of Enterprise and Employment via the Community Employment Scheme. [2836/96]
Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn): I have been advised by the Revenue Commissioners that since the taxpayer is not married to his partner he is not entitled to the married allowance.
 As the Deputy will be aware, there are no special income tax allowances for unmarried couples living together. In this context, I would point out that tax law follows the general law relating to marriage. The basis on which the married person's tax free allowance (and double rate bands) is given derives from the Supreme Court decision in Murphy v the Attorney General (1980) which held that it was contrary to the Constitution for a married couple to pay more tax than two single people living together.
I am conscious of the difficulties which can arise for cohabiting couples in certain circumstances. The Expert Group on the Integration of the Tax and Social Welfare Systems has been looking at, inter alia, the position of cohabiting couples generally. The group is expected to report shortly and I will carefully consider its recommendations.
56. Mrs. O'Rourke asked the Minister for Finance if he will ascertain from the Office of Public Works the current registered owners of the storage area adjoining a property (details supplied) in County Westmeath. [2837/96]
Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Coveney): The storage area, a vaulted cellar adjacent to the property in question is the property of the Commissioners of Public Works. The Commissioners' title is not registered.
58. Mr. E. Byrne asked the Minister for Health the total amount drawn down under the Helios II Programme for 1995; the projects which have been assisted under the programme; the plans, if any, he has for the further development of projects under the programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18272/95]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): The Helios II Programme is an EU Programme aimed at  promoting exchange of information on good practice between the member states and with NGOs based on the best innovative and effective experience in the disability field. It does this by facilitating and funding organisations' participation at conferences, seminars and study visits on four key themes, (i) functional rehabilitation, (ii) educational integration, (iii) economic integration and (iv) social integration and independent living. The programme does not provide funding for project service development per se, but simply facilitates exchange of information between participants in the programme.
Ireland has 24 participant organisations in the exchange activities as follows:—
Central Remedial Clinic
National Council for the Blind
NRB (Audiology Service)
Daughters of Charity Service
Western Health Board
St. Fergal's junior national school, Bray, County Wicklow
Scoil Padraig Naofa, Bandon, County Cork
Good Shepherd national school, Churchtown, Dublin 14
St. Patrick's College of Education, Drumcondra, Dublin 9
Bishopstown community school, County Cork.
NRB (Psychological Service)
APT/Midland Health Board
Irish Trade Union Trust
Brothers of Charity Services
KARE, County Kildare
Social Integration/Independent Living
Dundalk Access for Disabled Association
 Inter-Departmental Transport Accessibility Committee
Department of Equality & Law Reform (Commission on Disability)
Irish Interpreters Association
Galway Association for Mentally Handicapped
Ireland does not receive a specific allocation for the programme. The reimbursement of expenses in respect of participants' attendance at conference, seminars, etc. is a matter between the EU Commission and the participants concerned.
The other major element of the Helios programme is the Handynet project. This is a European-wide computerised database on technical aids available to people with disabilities. In Ireland, it is based in the National Rehabilitation Board. In 1995, the EU made 30,000 ECU in technical assistance available to Ireland towards the development to the Handynet system.
In addition, the EU Commission made available funding of 11,000 ECU in 1995 for the purpose of holding a National Helios Information meeting. This was held in Athlone on 23 November, 1995. Current Helios participants and a cross section of other organisations representing people with disabilities were present. A senior EU Commission representative also attended. A paper prepared by my Department and NRB reflecting the views expressed at the meeting on proposals for a post Helios II programme was submitted to the Commission on 29 December 1995.
59. Mr. B. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Health the reason the Sexually Transmitted Disease temporary consultant's post has not been advertised; and if he intends to provide funding for ancillary staff and equipment. [1276/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): The Southern Health Board is responsible, in the first  instance, for the management of services and the deployment of staff in its own area.
On foot of a number of recommendations and reports concerning the care and management of HIV and AIDS patients in the Southern Health Board area, the Department has agreed to sanction the appointment of a consultant to act as co-ordinator for these services in the area. Funding for the consultant and for support staff has been put in place.
The Southern Health Board will shortly submit an application to Comhairle na n-Ospidéal to have the consultant post filled on a permanent basis. The delay in submitting this application arose from consideration of various proposals as to the structure of the post.
61. Mr. B. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Health the resources and support that is provided by the Southern Health Board to parents of cancer patients who have to attend Crumlin Hospital, Dublin for treatment over prolonged periods of time; and if he has satisfied himself with the supports currently being given. [19177/95]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): As Minister for Health I am very conscious that a very important part of the child's welfare while in hospital is having access to one or both parents particularly at critical times in acute illness. The Southern Health Board share my concerns in this regard.
It is the board's policy through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, to assist parents with the cost of travelling and staying in Dublin to be with their children who may be in-patients or who have to visit the out-patients department on a regular basis.
The recipients of such assistance would normally be eligible for supplementary welfare allowance in the first instance, i.e. their sole income would be derived from social welfare. However, in exceptional circumstances  for persons who would be outside the supplementary welfare allowance category applications are considered on their own merits for assistance. The board in appropriate circumstances can assist with diet and or heating allowance.
In addition to the above, the Southern Health Board's nursing service is available to provide a range of counselling and other advisory support to parents of children attending Crumlin Hospital, or elsewhere, for prolonged periods of time.
62. Mr. B. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Health his views on the claim by certain charities that a lack of proper nutrition among pregnant women on benefits contributes to a higher illness rate in children. [18434/95]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): The importance of nutrition during pregnancy is well established. There are however, no specific studies relating to the nutritional status of Irish women. The health promotion unit of the Department of Health provides advice on eating during pregnancy in “The Book of the Child” and in “Food and Babies.” Information is also provided by the health promotion unit on the importance of the B vitamin folic acid before conception. Other relevant leaflets include smoking and pregnancy and alcohol and pregnancy. These booklets and leaflets are available from the health promotion unit of the Department of Health or from the health boards. Advice on nutrition should also form part of the prenatal advice given to women by general practitioners and hospital staff.
The importance of good nutrition to women's health is one of the issues raised in the discussion document on women's health which is currently the subject of extensive consultation, co-ordinated by the health boards with the co-operation of the National Women's Council of Ireland.
63. Mr. Clohessy asked the Minister for Health the number of community welfare officers in Ireland who are using their cars in order to pay people supplementary welfare allowances; the health board area and location of each officer; and if proposals for providing adequate office accommodation for supplementary welfare allowance recipients to receive payment are being made. [1303/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): There are four community welfare officers issuing payments to supplementary welfare allowance recipients from their cars.
The locations are in the Southern Health Board as follows:
1. Myrtleville and Fountainstown;
2. Desertserges, Newcestown, Crossbarry and Kilumney;
3. Coolea and Kilnamartyra;
In the case of the Myrtleville and Fountainstown locations, alternative arrangements have been made and the board is now transferring these payments to Crosshaven Health Centre or paying them by post.
In the remaining locations, the board is investigating alternative arrangements for these areas such as transferring the payments to other centres within the area or offering a payment service by post.
The Southern Health Board has no proposals to provide office accommodation in any of the areas concerned due to the small number of clients and the short length of time spent by the community welfare officer in the areas.
64. Mr. Kirk asked the Minister for Health if his attention has been drawn to survey reports from anywhere in the world on the impact of low dose radiation on the health of people living in the vicinity of nuclear plants. [1627/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): Medical officers in my Department are aware of various studies carried out on the possible health implications from low dose radiation for people living in the vicinity of nuclear plants, and keep themselves informed of developments in this area. A study carried out in 1984 on the incidence of cancer in West Cumbria by an independent advisory group at the request of the United Kingdom health authorities is of particular interest. The study investigated claims of an increased incidence of cancer in the vicinity of Sellafield. The study found no evidence of any general risk to health for children or adults in the vicinity.
65. Mr. D. Ahern asked the Minister for Health the current position regarding the allegations made against a medical consultant, now retired from the Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, County Louth, in connection with allegations of sexual abuse against a number of patients; the current position regarding criminal investigations and the investigation and inquiry by the Medical Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2795/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): The current position with regard to this case is as follows. The Deputy will be aware that the consultant in question retired with effect from 13 October 1995. He also subsequently resigned from the board of the North Eastern Health Board.
In November 1995, an independent expert group was set up by the hospital, under the chairmanship of Dr. Miriam Hederman O'Brien, to examine and report to the hospital board on the hospital's response to complaints of sexual abuse made against the former consultant. The group is also to assess the  current Protocols, practices and procedures in place at the hospital relating to the prevention of cases of this nature, and to make such recommendations as they deem appropriate. In addition, the hospital has set up a confidential help-line and counselling service for all those who may have had a distressing experience arising from medical services provided by them. I have supported the hospital in these moves and indicated that I am anxious to see the result of the group's work.
The question of the current position regarding criminal investigations is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Justice, so I cannot comment in this regard. Finally, the Medical Council has indicated that it considers that, by virtue of the provisions of Section 45 (5) of the Medical Practitioners Act, 1978, the Fitness to Practice Committee is prevented from divulging matters about which a complaint or an application for an inquiry has been made.
66. Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Health the progress, if any, being made regarding the need of additional long stay nursing beds in the Dublin area; the identified needs; the progress, if any, made since May 1995; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2828/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): With the elderly population set to rise, there is a need to provide some additional health board long-stay places and to improve existing accommodation. I announced in the summer of 1995 my commitment to a capital programme over the next few years which will improve and expand long-stay health board care facilities for the elderly in each of the eight health board areas.
The Eastern Health Board has identified the following developments as priorities in the Dublin Area — Community Nursing Units at both the Navan Road and Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital  which are already under way and a further unit at South Circular Road which is expected to commence construction in the latter half of 1996. I have provided revenue funding for the Navan Road unit which has been built and should be in use in a relatively short time. Since May 1995, further progress in the provision of long-stay beds in the Dublin area has been made with the opening of a 25 bed unit for the elderly in Peamount Hospital in December, 1995.
67. Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Health the waiting period for assessment and necessary treatment procedures for people awaiting hip replacement operations; the existing waiting lists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2829/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): The total number of people awaiting hip replacement operations at December 1995 was 1,286 of whom 412 had been on the waiting list for a period greater than 12 months. The remaining 874 had been on the waiting list for less than 12 months. My Department does not routinely collect information regarding out-patient waiting times.
Orthopaedic surgery is one of the specialities where additional resources have been provided under the Waiting List Initiative to reduce waiting lists and improve waiting time. The Government has made an additional £7 million available in 1996 to allow work in reducing excessive waiting times to continue and orthopaedic surgery will continue to be a priority area in the allocation of waiting list funding.
68. Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Health if he has satisfied himself with the total number of beds available for psychiatric patients; the concerns, if any, of those working in the service regarding the required number of beds to meet the demands; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2830/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): Planning for the Future, the report on the development of the psychiatric services published in 1984, recommended a shift in the delivery of mental health care from a predominantly institutional — to a community-based setting. This change in service delivery has vastly improved the quality of life of persons with mental illness. Planning for the Future has been accepted as mental health policy by successive Governments and its recommendations have received unanimous endorsement from all those involved in the care of the mentally ill. Each health board has developed its service plan which incorporates the goals of Planning for the Future.
While recognising that many mental health intervention can be as effectively delivered in a community-based setting, Planning for the Future noted that in a certain number of cases in-patient care is required. It proposed a norm of 0.5/1000 population in-patient places for short-term and medium-term psychiatric patients.
In line with these recommendations there has been a reduction in bed provision nationally, from 3.6/1000 in 1982 to 1.84/1000 in 1993. This has been accompanied by a corresponding increase in the number of community residences places available as illustrated in the following Table 1. The level of bed provision still exceeds that set by Planning for the Future and remains very high by international standards. I am aware of the concern of some professionals regarding bed availability for psychiatric patients. However, I believe the organisation and use of available resources is the issue to be addressed rather than the number of beds.
 Table 1: Mental Health Service Provision 1982 and 1993
|Psychiatric beds/1,000 inhabitants||3.6||1.84|
|Community residence places per 1,000 inhabitants||0.13||0.73|
70. Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Health the research, if any, that has been carried out regarding the huge increases in respiratory infections over the past six months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2833/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): Respiratory infections which are notifiable to my Department include whooping cough, tuberculosis and influenzal pneumonia. The returns to my Department do not indicate an increase over the past six months.
While there have been no specific research projects carried out into increases in respiratory infections over the past six months I am, however, aware that the Virus Reference Laboratory has received some reports from GPs in the Dublin area regarding high levels of respiratory infection among their patients. This is being investigated by the laboratory. The outcome of these investigations is not yet available.
I should also point out that the ‘flu vaccine is available free of charge to GMS card holders in the at-risk categories from their general practitioner.
71. Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Health the number of meningitis cases reported in 1995 by each health board area; the age and gender of the sufferers; the comparable figures for each of the years 1990 and 1985; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2834/96]
Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): The number of cases of bacterial meningitis, including meningococcal septicaemia and acute cases of  viral meningitis reported to the Department in each of the years 1995, 1990 and 1985 is as follows:—
|Bacterial||Acute Viral||Bacterial||Acute Viral||Bacterial||Acute Viral|
The increase in the number of cases of bacterial meningitis reported since 1985 may indicate that notifications were incomplete in the past. The system of notification has been considerably improved. A comprehensive system for monitoring the incidence of bacterial meningitis and meningococcal infection is in operation.
The increase in the number of cases reported in recent years is almost certainly composed of two elements i.e. an actual increase in the community and more efficient reporting. The actual increase is a reflection of the unpredictable nature of bacterial meningitis and meningococcal infection which can increase, sometimes significantly so without apparent reason. The greater propensity to report brings with it the possibility of over reporting of cases, i.e. cases are reported as bacterial meningitis but following thorough hospital investigation, another diagnosis is made, usually viral meningitis.
An expert group has been established to examine ways to further strengthen the diagnostic, surveillance and preventive aspects of our approach to bacterial meningitis and related conditions.
Information on the age and gender of persons who contract meningitis or meningococcal septicaemia is not routinely collected in the weekly returns submitted by the health boards to my Department but this and other aspects of the epidemiology of the disease will be considered by the expert group to which I have referred.
72. Mrs. O'Rourke asked the Minister for Health the action, if any, he proposes to take regarding organisations who are flouting the non-smoking ban, particularly in bingo halls. [2840/96]
Minister of State at the Department of Health (Mr. O'Shea): The Tobacco (Health Promotion and Protection) Regulations 1995 are enforced mainly by officers of the health boards. While I am aware that this enforcement is temporarily affected by an industrial dispute by environmental health officers, the normal position would be that the owner, manager or other person in charge of a facility, who failed to take reasonable steps to ensure compliance with the prohibitions set out in the regulations, would be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding £500 and or a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months.
73. Mr. M. McDowell asked the Minister for the Environment if his attention has been drawn to the practice of certain local authorities (details supplied) in making a charge over and above planning and their ascertained costs for developments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2813/96]
Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin): Section 26 (1) of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963 empowers planning authorities to attach conditions to planning permissions while section 26 (2) contains specific provisions for conditions requiring contributions towards expenditure already incurred, or to be incurred, by the planning authority in respect of works which have facilitated, or will facilitate, the proposed development.
Decisions on the attachment to planning permissions of contribution conditions, and on the amount of contributions required, are matters for the relevant planning authority in the first instance. Such conditions can be appealed to An Bord Pleanála, which can, where it considers it appropriate, give to the planning authority directions relating to the attachment, amendment or removal of conditions to which the appeal relates, or of other conditions.
74. Mr. D. Ahern asked the Minister for the Environment the plans, if any, he has to introduce a charge on glass bottles used in the retail trade in order to ensure their return for recycling; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2788/96]
Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin): The need for the introduction of charges or other measures in relation to packaging or products in the interests of waste management will be considered in the context of the implementation of the national recycling strategy, the  industry-led REPAK scheme and the Waste Management Bill, 1995.
75. Mr. Power asked the Minister for the Environment the number of dog licences that were issued in each of the last five years. [2789/96]
Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin): The information requested for the years 1991, 1992 and 1993 is set out in issues 18, 20 and 25 respectively, of the Environment Bulletin, copies of which are available in the Oireachtas Library. In 1994, a total of 171,247 individual licences and 196 general licences were issued. Information for 1995 is not yet available.
76. Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for the Environment the plans, if any, he has to provide additional funding to Dublin Corporation to complete security measures on the rear walls of the Portland Row/Dunne Street, Dublin 1 housing scheme. [2790/96]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Ms McManus): Dublin Corporation's request for funding for this work has been approved.
77. Mr. Reynolds asked the Minister for the Environment whether he will approve the Ballymahon, County Longford, sewerage scheme in order to allow it to proceed this year. [2809/96]
Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin): This scheme is included in Stage 1 of the Lough Ree Catchment Protection Plan for which an application has been submitted to the EU Commission for Cohesion Fund assistance. The position regarding the Cohesion application is as set out in the reply to Question No. 113 of 6 February 1996.
78. Mr. Browne (Wexford) asked the Minister for Education the reason work required on a school (details supplied) in County Wexford, has not been carried out in spite of the fact that an agreement was reached between the school and her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2779/96]
Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach): Major improvement works have been carried out at this school over the past year. Further improvement works are necessary. My Department is currently reviewing its financial commitments to see what further works can be funded this year. When the review is completed, my Department will be in touch with the school.
79. Mr. Browne (Wexford) asked the Minister for Education when extra classroom space will be provided to a school (details supplied) in County Wexford. [2780/96]
Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach): I am not in a position to say when additional classroom space will be provided to the school in question. The school sought grant-aid for a one classroom extension. My Department offered the school a pre-fabricated classroom but this offer was not accepted. Given the number of priority cases on hands, I am not in a position to improve on the offer made.
80. Mr. H. Byrne asked the Minister for Education if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the roof at Ramsgrange national school, County Wexford which was built just 16 years ago is leaking; the works, if any, she proposes to carry out on the school; when these works will begin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2781/96]
Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach): I am pleased to inform you that a grant was sanctioned by my Department in December 1995, for the repair of the roof at Ramsgrange national school. This project will be overseen by the Office of Public Works.
The school authorities have been advised accordingly.
81. Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Education whether she has received an application from schools (details supplied) in County Cork for the appointment of a remedial teacher; and the current position regarding this application. [2782/96]
Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach): My Department has received an application from the schools in question for sanction to appoint a shared remedial teacher to the schools.
Fifty-five remedial teacher posts were allocated to the primary schools with effect from September 1995. This allocation brings the total number of remedial posts in the primary sector to 1,188.
These posts were allocated on the basis of priority of need following the collection and analysis of data by my Department's primary inspectorate. Unfortunately, the schools referred to by the Deputy were not successful on this occasion.
I will continue to review needs in this area and consider how best these needs can be addressed within available resources. The needs of all schools, including the schools referred to by the Deputy, will be considered within this context.
82. Mr. Kenneally asked the Minister for Education the current position regarding the allocation in 1994 of £4 million for additional library facilities at Carlow Regional Technical College; if she will have arrangements made to have this work undertaken as a matter of urgency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2783/96]
Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach): Planning of the new library facility to Carlow Regional Technical College is proceeding with a view to having tenders sought for the project at the earliest possible date. The funding which was set aside for the college under the 1994-99 European Regional Development Fund programme, remains available for the project.
83. Mr. Kenneally asked the Minister for Education the current position regarding the provision of library facilities at Waterford Regional Technical College, which are inadequate at present; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2784/96]
Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach): Planning of the new information technology facility for Waterford Regional Technical College is proceeding with a view to having tenders sought for the project at the earliest possible date. Funding, which was set aside for the college under the 1994-99 European Regional Development Fund programme, remains available for phase 1 of the new library.
84. Mr. Lawlor asked the Minister for Education if, in relation to her previous reassurances regarding places at Lucan Community College (details supplied) she will ensure that the pupils referred to will be accommodated in September 1996; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2820/96]
Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach): Every effort is being made to ensure that all Lucan children seeking a place in a second level school  in the area will be accommodated next September.
With regard to the two children specifically mentioned by the Deputy, one of these has gained a place in a local school for September and efforts are continuing to place the other child.
85. Mrs. O'Rourke asked the Minister for Education if she will review the situation regarding a national school (details supplied) in County Westmeath; if she will leave in place the second assistant in this school in view of the fact that this second assistant was granted last year and excellent work is being carried out, particularly in the remedial area. [2842/96]
Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach): It is not possible, at this stage, to indicate the likely staffing situation at the school for the 1996-97 school year as the staffing schedule for next year has not yet been determined.
The schedule will be finalised shortly and my officials will correspond with the board of management in the matter.
86. Mr. S. Kenny asked the Minister for Justice the regular opening hours of the Garda Clinic, Donaghmede, Dublin 13, for the past 12 months; the number of gardaí assigned to this office; and the plans, if any, there are to improve the level of police service provided. [2796/96]
Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen): The Garda Clinic in the Donaghmede Shopping Centre which was established in 1989 was closed in October 1994 due to reconstruction work within the centre. I am glad to say that it was re-opened on 1 February 1996 and is open to the public 6 days a week at the following times:
|— 11.00 a.m. — 12.00 midday|
|— 3.00 p.m. — 4.00 p.m.|
|— 11.00 a.m. — 12.00 midday|
|— 3.00 p.m. — 4.00 p.m.|
|— 7.00 p.m. — 8.00 p.m.|
I am informed by the Garda authorities that the clinic is staffed by one Garda member during the above opening hours.
The Garda authorities also have informed me that the policing needs of the area are adequately catered for by personnel attached to the Coolock station. The Donaghmede area is constantly policed by two neighbourhood gardaí and by mobile patrols which include patrol cars and vans, the district detective unit, the divisional task force unit, the crime prevention unit and the drug unit at Coolock.
The Garda authorities are satisfied that the Donaghmede area receives a sufficient level of Garda attention and that the overall situation will be kept under review.
87. Mr. Reynolds asked the Minister for Justice if she will approve the filling of vacancies for a one person rural Garda station in Newtowncashel, County Longford and the vacancy for Sergeant at Ballinalee, County Longford, in order to allay the fears of the local community. [2797/96]
Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen): The Garda authorities are responsible for the detailed allocation of Garda personnel and resources to different areas and they have informed me that the former resident garda at Newtowncashel retired on 10 September 1995. I understand that the vacant position has been advertised within the Garda Síochána in the Longford-Westmeath Division without success. It was subsequently advertised countrywide on 19 January 1996 and I am informed by the Garda authorities that while a replacement member has not yet been allocated to Newtowncashel it is intended that this vacancy will be filled as soon as possible. The  successful applicant will be required to occupy the official accommodation at Newtowncashel.
With regard to the position of sergeant at Ballinalee which became vacant on the retirement of the former sergeant on 28 January 1996, I understand that prior to his retirement the strength of the station was one sergeant and one garda. The garda resides within the Ballinalee community. Since 30 January 1996 a sergeant has been allocated to Edgeworthstown station with responsibility for the day-to-day running of Ballinalee sub-district. The Garda authorities do not propose to allocate a sergeant to Ballinalee Garda station at present. Nevertheless, they have assured me that these policing arrangements for Ballinalee will not lead to any diminution of service in the area.
88. Mr. Aylward asked the Minister for Justice the progress, if any, being made towards the provision of a new Garda barracks at Thomastown in County Kilkenny; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2798/96]
Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen): A possible site for the proposed new station has been identified and I understand that the Office of Public Works is pursuing its acquisition.
89. Mr. Aylward asked the Minister for Justice the progress, if any, being made towards the provision of a new Garda barracks at Castlecomer in County Kilkenny; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2799/96]
Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen): A site has been purchased and the Office of Public Works are preparing a sketch scheme for the new station. It is not possible to say at this stage when work will commence. However, the Deputy can be assured that there will be no avoidable delay.
90. Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice if she will send a copy of the current rules and guidelines regarding the Irish passports for investment scheme to Deputy Thomas Broughan; and the way in which this scheme is monitored to check adherence to the guidelines. [2818/96]
Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen): I have arranged for a copy of the terms of reference of the interdepartmental advisory group established to assess and make recommendations to me on investment-based naturalisation applications to be sent to the Deputy. These terms of reference which came into force in July 1994, set out the conditions on which a person may make application for naturalisation on foot of their investment in an Irish company.
The terms of reference also specify the monitoring arrangements in place for ensuring that investments continue to remain in place in the recipient companies in accordance with the terms of the investment-based naturalisation scheme.
In addition to these, my Department will not issue a certificate of naturalisation to an applicant unless and until it is satisfied that the investment has been made, that proper and appropriate arrangements for its retention for the specified period are in place, and that all other conditions as deemed necessary are complied with.
91. Mr. O'Donoghue asked the Minister for Justice the number and type of crime in each area within the Dublin Metropolitan area and each Dublin electoral constituency for each of the years 1990 to 1995. [2819/96]
Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen): I am informed by the Garda authorities that information regarding the number of indictable crimes recorded for each category of offence is published in the  Garda Commissioner's Annual Report on Crime, copies of which are available in the Oireachtas Library. The Commissioner's report for 1995 will be published later this year
Statistics are compiled on a Garda divisional basis rather than an electoral constituency basis.
92. Mrs. O'Rourke asked the Minister for Justice if she will review the case of a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath who requires a proper land registry dealing for his property. [2839/96]
Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen): I am informed by the Registrar of Titles that dealing No. X6383/93 refers to an application under section 49 (i.e. acquisition of title by long possession) of the Registration of Title Act, 1964.
I understand that this dealing is in the final stages of completion and it is expected that a final decision will be made in the matter next week.
93. Mr. Hughes asked the Minister for Social Welfare the estimated annual cost of all social welfare benefits paid to persons living on offshore islands. [2802/96]
Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa): The population of inhabitants of offshore islands is around 9,600 (1991 Census, Central Statistics Office). However, the number of those in receipt of a social welfare payment is not separately compiled and consequently the annual cost of social welfare benefits paid to them is not available.
94. Mr. S. Brennan asked the Minister for Social Welfare the total actual and expected payments under unemployment assistance and unemployment benefit in each of the years 1995 and 1996. [2805/96]
Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa): The information requested by the Deputy is as follows:
|1995 Provisional Outturn||1996 Post-Budget Estimate|
Final outturns for 1995 are not yet available. The figures for unemployment assistance include payments to smallholders; £35.2 million in 1995 and £35.7 million in 1996.
95. Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment whether he intends to introduce legislation to enable credit unions to provide mortgage finance. [2815/96]
Minister for Enterprise and Employment (Mr. R. Bruton): I would refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 81 on 25 January 1996 in this House when I indicated that proposals for the updating and consolidation of the body of legislation (1893 to 1978) dealing with credit unions were with the parliamentary draftsman. As I have indicated previously in replies to questions, it would not be in order to formally anticipate the detailed content of the proposals that might eventually emanate from the drafting process. I can, however, say that, in the course of the development of these legislative proposals by my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for Commerce, Science and Technology, my Department and the Registrar of Friendly Societies, there has been extensive consultation with interested parties, including the Irish credit union movement.
I take it that the Deputy is aware of the particular ethos of the credit union movement. It is that ethos that makes  credit unions different from banks and building societies. It has never been proposed that this ethos would be breached. It is the intention of the Minister directly concerned to introduce the Bill as soon as possible after the drafting processes have been completed and after approval by Government.
96. Mr. Ellis asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment the current position regarding the insurance of vehicles that are registered in this State but are insured in another member State of the EU; the EU position in such situations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2810/96]
Minister for Enterprise and Employment (Mr. R. Bruton): The cross-Border availability of motor insurance has been in operation in Ireland since 25 August 1992 under Regulations (S.I. 244/1992) implementing the Motor Insurance Services Directive (90/618/EEC — O.J. No. L330/44). Under those regulations, vehicles registered in the State could be insured by an insurer established in another member state, provided that, in the case of private individuals and certain other risks, as defined, the insurer was granted an authorisation by the Minister in addition to any authorisation held from its home member state. In all other cases, mainly large commerical policyholders, a single authorisation from the home member state was sufficient.
Under subsequent regulations (S.I. 359/1994) implementing the Third Non-Life Insurance Framework Directive (92/49/EEC — O.J. No. L228/1) the motor insurance market was fully liberalised by the institution of the single authorisation system for all risks, irrespective of size, insured throughout the EU whether on a branch or cross-Border basis. This system is in operation throughout the European Union under agreed harmonised procedures.
In accordance with the insurance Directives, the regulations provide that  non-established insurance companies who underwrite third party motor insurance in the State, must appoint a claims representative resident or established in the State to collect all necessary information in relation to claims and to represent the company in relation to those claims. The regulations also require such insurance companies to become members of the Motor Insurers' Bureau of Ireland and to be a party to the declined cases agreement.
97. Mr. Ellis asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment the action, if any, he proposes to take regarding public companies tendering for private contracts in view of the fact that they are not operated as commercial organisations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2811/96]
Minister for Enterprise and Employment (Mr. R. Bruton): From a competition perspective, the Competition Act, 1991 sets out the conditions under which free and fair competition takes place, by prohibiting anti-competitive practices and the abuse of a dominant position. The 1991 Act applies to undertakings be they in the public or private sectors. An undertaking is defined in the Act as “a person being an individual, a body corporate or an unincorporated body of persons engaged for gain in the production, supply or distribution of goods or the provision of a service”. At present the Act is enforced primarily by way of private civil actions in the courts between disputing parties.
Section 4 of the Competition Act prohibits and makes void all agreements between undertakings, decisions by associations of undertakings and concerted practices which have as their object or effect the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition in trade in any goods or services in the State or in any part of the State. Section 5 prohibits any abuse of a dominant  position. Below cost selling is not anti-competitive per se. However, if the below cost selling was by a firm in a dominant position this might be considered predatory and to be in breach of competition law.
Section 6 provides that any person aggrieved in consequence of anti-competitive activity has a right of action in the courts for relief, by way of injunction or declaration and damages, including exemplary damages. The Minister has a similar right of action but the reliefs available to the Minister are restricted to an injunction or declaration.
While the Act illustrates examples of what may be prohibited, it is ultimately for the courts to decide what constitutes a breach of the law in any case brought before them.
I would also refer the Deputy to the Competition (Amendment) Bill, 1994 which proposes to give the Competition Authority powers to investigate anti-competitive activity, either on its own initiative or as a result of third party complaints, including the power to take court actions where necessary. In line with the Policy Agreement for Government I am committed to strengthening the enforcement of competition by giving the Competition Authority powers of enforcement and by enabling the courts to impose stiff fines on those found to be engaging in unfair competition. I intend to seek to have the Bill, which passed Committee Stage recently, enacted as soon as possible.
98. Mr. Gallagher (Donegal South-West) asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment when a decision regarding INTERREG under the human resources measure will be taken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2812/96]
Minister for Enterprise and Employment (Mr. R. Bruton): INTERREG is a EU Community initiative which requires the decision on projects to be  supported in the Irish case to be taken on a joint north-south basis. I am hopeful that a decision on the projects to be supported can be taken over the coming weeks when necessary consultations with the northern authorities have been completed.
99. Mrs. O'Rourke asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment the number of leaks which have occurred from his Department during the last twelve months; and the effects, if any, which they have had on potential start-up industries. [2841/96]
Minister for Enterprise and Employment (Mr. R. Bruton): As the Deputy is probably aware, there were leaks of information during October-November 1995 concerning two industrial projects which IDA Ireland were negotiating. In both cases the project went ahead. The Secretary of my Department is investigating those leaks.
No start-up industry has been lost due to leaks of information; however, the leaking of sensitive information about projects does cause serious concern to IDA Ireland and the promoters with whom it negotiates.
100. Mr. Leonard asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the average price per pound paid for beef at processing plants during the month of January in each of the years 1994 to 1996. [2774/96]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates): The average price of beef at export approved premises, during the month of January 1994, 1995 and 1996 was as follows:
Price (P/lb including VAT) for Steers R3
101. Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the procedures involved in importing livestock, including sheep, from Great Britain and Northern Ireland. [2775/96]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates): The importation of livestock from other EU member states is governed by a number of EU directives which establish the animal health condition for such trade, e.g.—
—Council Directive 64/432 on trade in cattle and pigs;
—Council Directive 90/426 on trade in horses;
—Council Directive 91/68 on trade in sheep and goats.
Any livestock imported into Ireland must comply with the terms of these directives and, where appropriate, must be accompanied by the health certificate laid down by the relevent directive. By virtue of a further EU decision, however, the importation of cattle from Great Britain and Northern Ireland is prohibited with the exception of very limited exemptions. In the case of sheep and goats imported directly from Northern Ireland, bilateral arrangements are in place in view of the common health status of those sectors.
102. Mr. Cowen asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry in relation to Parliamentary Question No. 43 of 30 January 1996, the result of the survey undertaken on his behalf by McMahon, Sheedy Communications Consultants; the reason he commissioned McMahon, Sheedy to undertake a survey among journalists and others in the agri-business of his standing on various issues; the number and names of those surveyed for this purpose at public expense; the questions asked and the results obtained; whether McMahon, Sheedy have to date itemised this work in any invoice to his Department; whether this invoice has been settled to date; the date on which he commissioned this work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2817/96]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates): The results of the survey referred to and the questions asked therein are confidential. The numbers and names of those surveyed were not made available to me. As stated in my reply of 30 January 1996, the survey was part of ongoing work undertaken by McMahon Sheedy Communications Consultants on their own initiative. This work has not been itemised in an invoice. I understand that the work was carried out during a brief period last month.
Future work carried out by McMahon Sheedy Communications Consultants will be focused on provincial media and local radio on behalf of the Department. This type of consultancy has been a normal feature for many years.
103. Mr. Cowen asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the value of export refunds to Ireland in each of the years 1994 and 1995 in respect of beef, cattle and dairy products. [2835/96]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates): The statistical data which the Deputy requested is set out in the following tabular statement:
|£IR Million||£IR Million|
104. Mrs. O'Rourke asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the reason his Department allowed the ICF and the ICMA to be the joint agency which issues the green certificates to persons operating withing the agricultural, food and forestry areas for the supply of concrete materials. [2838/96]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates): The concrete certificates required for grant-aided farm structures, the “Concrete Manufacturers' Specification Certificates”, were introduced in June 1993. The certificates were introduced by the concrete industry itself, operating through the Concrete Manufacturers' Association of Ireland and the Independent Concrete Manufacturers Association, and working in consultation at all stages with the farm building industry, and with officials of my Department. Membership of either association is not a prerequisite for obtaining certificates.
The certificates record not just delivered concrete but also, by way of a comprehensive Technical Audit, the capacity of the relevant plant to produce consistently the required type of concrete. The certificates and the audits form a detailed long-term record of all concrete produced. The audits, to which every manufacturer must regularly submit, are the mechanism whereby the concrete industry regulates itself. The certificates and the audits are kept under continuous review by my Department. The system is working well.
105. Mr. Leonard asked the Minister for the Marine the reason for the delay in allocating funding under the Fisheries Measures of the Joint INTERREG Programme 1994 to 1999. [2800/96]
Minister for the Marine (Mr. Barrett): I understand that consideration of proposals for the allocation of funding  under the Fisheries Measures of the Joint INTERREG Programme for Northern Ireland and Ireland 1994-1999 is at an advanced stage. I expect the matter to be finalised shortly.
106. Mr. Kenneally asked the Minister for the Marine when approval will be given to provide 13 sheds at the harbour in Dunmore East, County Waterford, to replace the derelict containers that are in situ at present, in view of the fact that cost estimates have already been submitted to his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2801/96]
Minister for the Marine (Mr. Barrett): A decision has not been taken on the options for providing, or facilitating, new storage facilities at Dunmore East. The options are being costed and assessed at present in the context of a 1996 maintenance programme for the habour which is currently being finalised by the Department and the harbour master.