Dáil Éireann

11/Mar/1997

Prelude

Ceisteanna — Questions. - Commemorative Events.

Ceisteanna — Questions. - Devolution Commission Report.

Ceisteanna — Questions. - Meetings with EU Commissioners.

Ceisteanna — Questions. - British-Irish Interparliamentary Body.

Priority Questions. - Occupiers' Liability Act.

Priority Questions. - Travelling Community Report.

Priority Questions. - Reporting of Family Law Cases.

Other Questions. - Free Legal Aid Scheme.

Other Questions. - Defamation Laws.

Other Questions. - Child Counselling Services.

Other Questions. - Employment Equality Bill.

Adjournment Debate Matters.

Order of Business.

Private Educational Institutions Bill, 1997: First Stage.

Order of Business (Resumed).

National Cultural Institutions Bill, 1996: Report of Select Committee.

Fisheries Amendment Bill, 1996 [Seanad]: Financial Resolution.

Finance Act, 1994 (Section 32) (Exemption of Certain Non-Commercial State-sponsored Bodies from Certain Tax Provisions) Order 1997: Motion.

Courts Bill, 1997 [ Seanad ]: Second and Subsequent Stages.

Freedom of Information Bill, 1996 [ Seanad ]: Second Stage.

Private Members' Business. - Private Educational Institutions Bill, 1997: Second Stage.

Freedom of Information Bill, 1996 [ Seanad ]: Second Stage (Resumed).

Adjournment Debate. - School Expulsions and Suspensions.

Adjournment Debate. - Scoil Chuimsitheach Chiaráin, An Cheathrú Rua.

Adjournment Debate. - REPS Planners.

Adjournment Debate. - Whelk Fishing.

Written Answers. - Employment of People with Disabilities.

Written Answers. - Separation Agreements.

Written Answers. - Property Laws.

Written Answers. - Departmental Submissions.

Written Answers. - Rights of Access to Children.

Written Answers. - Travelling Community.

Written Answers. - Unemployment Statistics.

Written Answers. - Referenda Issues.

Written Answers. - Publication of Documents.

Written Answers. - GTN Directory.

Written Answers. - Irish Prisoners in British Jails.

Written Answers. - Malta Ministerial Meeting.

Written Answers. - Access of South Africa to Lomé IV.

Written Answers. - Eastern Zaire Conflict.

Written Answers. - Accession of Cyprus to EU.

Written Answers. - EU Asylum Rights.

Written Answers. - Human Rights Issues.

Written Answers. - EU Troika Meeting.

Written Answers. - EU and ASEAN Meetings.

Written Answers. - EU Australia Framework Trade and Co-operation Agreement.

Written Answers. - Crisis in Albania.

Written Answers. - Israeli Settlements.

Written Answers. - Earthquake in Northern Iran.

Written Answers. - GTN Directory.

Written Answers. - Civil Service Staff.

Written Answers. - Drainage Works.

Written Answers. - Tax Treatment of Leases.

Written Answers. - Car Scrappage Scheme.

Written Answers. - National Lottery.

Written Answers. - Tax on Silage Wrap.

Written Answers. - Decentralisation of Government Department.

Written Answers. - Tax Incentives to Industry.

Written Answers. - Offsetting of Income Losses.

Written Answers. - Capital Gains Tax.

Written Answers. - Site Inspection and Clean-Up.

Written Answers. - Seaside Resorts Renewal Scheme.

Written Answers. - Project Funding.

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Payments.

Written Answers. - Dredging of River Nore.

Written Answers. - Tax Reliefs.

Written Answers. - Revenue Sheriffs' Remuneration.

Written Answers. - Tax Reliefs.

Written Answers. - GTN Directory.

Written Answers. - Tax Reliefs.

Written Answers. - Tax Refunds.

Written Answers. - Genetically Modified Foods.

Written Answers. - Home Help Scheme.

Written Answers. - Long-Term Illness Scheme.

Written Answers. - Indicative Drug Prescribing.

Written Answers. - Government Appointees to Adoption Board.

Written Answers. - Hospital Staffing.

Written Answers. - Telephone Standing Charge.

Written Answers. - Health Board Action Payments.

Written Answers. - Radiotherapy Services.

Written Answers. - Drug Treatment Services.

Written Answers. - GTN Directory.

Written Answers. - Aids and Appliances for the Disabled.

Written Answers. - National Lottery Funding.

Written Answers. - HIV and AIDS Services.

Written Answers. - Seirbhís Sláinte.

Written Answers. - Cystic Fibrosis Sufferers.

Written Answers. - Heart and Lung Transplant Unit.

Written Answers. - Convalescent Care Facilities.

Written Answers. - Hospital Building Projects.

Written Answers. - Orthodontic Service.

Written Answers. - European Year Against Racism.

Written Answers. - Family Mediation Service.

Written Answers. - GTN Directory.

Written Answers. - Arts Funding.

Written Answers. - Courthouse Refurbishment.

Written Answers. - Television Reception.

Written Answers. - Special Areas of Conservation.

Written Answers. - GTN Directory.

Written Answers. - Kilcummin (Kerry) Old Cemetery.

Written Answers. - Genetically Modified Plants.

Written Answers. - Waste-to-Energy Incineration.

Written Answers. - Recycled Waste.

Written Answers. - Operational Programme for Transport.

Written Answers. - Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Written Answers. - Smoke Free Zones.

Written Answers. - Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Written Answers. - Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Written Answers. - Thatching Grants

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Multi-Lingual Road Traffic Scheme.

Written Answers. - Housing Legislation.

Written Answers. - Roads Funding.

Written Answers. - Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Written Answers. - Public Library Projects.

Written Answers. - Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Written Answers. - Driving Tests.

Written Answers. - Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Written Answers. - Roads Funding

Written Answers. - Driving Licence Recognition.

Written Answers. - National Road Network.

Written Answers. - Mandatory Bicycle Fixtures.

Written Answers. - Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Written Answers. - Remedial Works Scheme.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - GTN Directory.

Written Answers. - Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Written Answers. - Psychological Service.

Written Answers. - Recreational Facilities Scheme.

Written Answers. - Schools Refurbishment.

Written Answers. - Schools Building Projects.

Written Answers. - Remedial Teacher Service.

Written Answers. - Schools Refurbishment.

Written Answers. - Equipment Grants for Disabled Pupils.

Written Answers. - Schools Building Projects.

Written Answers. - Teacher Appointments.

Written Answers. - Sports Capital Programme.

Written Answers. - Higher Education Grants.

Written Answers. - Remedial Teacher Service.

Written Answers. - School Staffing.

Written Answers. - Resource Teacher Posts.

Written Answers. - School Transport.

Written Answers. - School Accommodation.

Written Answers. - Industrial and Reformatory School Files.

Written Answers. - Schools Building Projects.

Written Answers. - Higher Diploma Allowances.

Written Answers. - Home-School-Community Liaison Scheme.

Written Answers. - Schools Building Projects.

Written Answers. - Higher Education Grants.

Written Answers. - Psychological Service.

Written Answers. - Special Education Services.

Written Answers. - School Staffing.

Written Answers. - Higher Education Grants.

Written Answers. - Speech Therapy Service.

Written Answers. - Teaching of Music.

Written Answers. - Higher Education Grants.

Written Answers. - Leaving Certificate Appeals System.

Written Answers. - Schools Building Projects.

Written Answers. - GTN Directory.

Written Answers. - School Ownership.

Written Answers. - Higher Education Grants.

Written Answers. - Schools Buildings Projects.

Written Answers. - Capitation Grants.

Written Answers. - Abortion Referendum.

Written Answers. - Business Permits.

Written Answers. - Registration of Title.

Written Answers. - Prisoner Transfers.

Written Answers. - Coroners' Remuneration.

Written Answers. - Registration of Title.

Written Answers. - Licensing Laws Review.

Written Answers. - Courthouse Refurbishment.

Written Answers. - Registration of Title.

Written Answers. - Criminal Justice Act, 1994.

Written Answers. - Criminal Assets Bureau.

Written Answers. - Adoption Procedures.

Written Answers. - Crime Prevention.

Written Answers. - Transfer of Prisoners.

Written Answers. - Garda Stations.

Written Answers. - GTN Directory.

Written Answers. - Registration of Title.

Written Answers. - Courts Service.

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Written Answers. - Unemployment Levels.

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Offices.

Written Answers. - GTN Directory

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Written Answers. - Equality Payments.

Written Answers. - Tourist Statistics.

Written Answers. - Tourism Development.

Written Answers. - Tourism Projects.

Written Answers. - Resort Scheme.

Written Answers. - Special Seasonality Programme.

Written Answers. - Border Region Tourism.

Written Answers. - GTN Directory.

Written Answers. - Job Creation.

Written Answers. - Motor Insurance Costs.

Written Answers. - Community Employment Scheme.

Written Answers. - Advance Factories.

Written Answers. - New Car Prices.

Written Answers. - Job Creation.

Written Answers. - GTN Directory.

Written Answers. - Abattoir Licences.

Written Answers. - Herd Books.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Disadvantaged Areas Scheme.

Written Answers. - Beef Tribunal Costs.

Written Answers. - Forestry Development.

Written Answers. - Food Industry

Written Answers. - Marketing of Irish Produce.

Written Answers. - Departmental Offices.

Written Answers. - Contagious Livestock Diseases.

Written Answers. - Pesticide Usage.

Written Answers. - Housing for Horses.

Written Answers. - REP Scheme.

Written Answers. - GTN Directory.

Written Answers. - Farmyard Pollution.

Written Answers. - Disadvantaged Areas Classification.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Tuberculosis Eradication Project.

Written Answers. - Register of Grain Growers.

Written Answers. - Diseases of Animals Order.

Written Answers. - Butterfat Quotas.

Written Answers. - EU Structural Standards.

Written Answers. - Dairy Hygiene Scheme.

Written Answers. - Farmyard Pollution.

Written Answers. - Milk Quotas.

Written Answers. - Installation Aid Scheme.

Written Answers. - Milk Quotas.

Written Answers. - Ewe Premia.

Written Answers. - Arable Aid Payments.

Written Answers. - Dublin/Derry Air Link.

Written Answers. - National Gas Network.

Written Answers. - MMDS Transmission Costs.

Written Answers. - Illegal Deflector Equipment.

Written Answers. - Nuclear Waste.

Written Answers. - GTN Directory.

Written Answers. - Tour Bus Licence Application.

Written Answers. - Public Transport Services.

Written Answers. - Border Duty Allowances.

Written Answers. - GTN Directory.

Written Answers. - Marine Search and Rescue.

Written Answers. - Upgrading of Bray Beach.

Written Answers. - Draft Net Fishery.

Written Answers. - Foreshore Lease Costs.

Written Answers. - Leasing of Boatyard.

Written Answers. - Fisheries Operational Programme.

Written Answers. - Fishing Vessel Safety.

Written Answers. - GTN Directory.

[173] Chuaigh an Ceann Comhairle i gceannas ar 2.30 p.m.

Paidir.

Prayer.

  1.  Mr. O'Donoghue    asked the Taoiseach    the progress, if any, which has been made to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the death of Daniel O'Connell on 15 May 1997; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6347/97]

The Taoiseach:  The position has not changed since I replied to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 1 and 2 on 15 May 1996. The Deputy will recall that I replied in detail to him by way of letter on 23 October 1996 to a suggestion made in a supplementary question about the acquisition of Daniel O'Connell's birthplace outside Caherciveen, County Kerry.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  My party's Daniel O'Connell is not present today and I am speaking on his behalf. The Government has shown a lack of imagination in regard to this issue. Is it proposed to hold special commemorative events or to issue commemorative stamps to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the death of Daniel O'Connell?

The Taoiseach:  As I indicated to Deputy O'Donoghue on the previous occasions he raised this issue, the Government proposes to issue a stamp to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of Daniel O'Connell. I understand the Office of Public Works is currently having discussions with a descendant, Professor Maurice O'Connell, on the possibility of holding a ceremony in Derrynane House on the occasion of the anniversary. Two possibilities are an open air mass and a special open day. Other possibilities, for example, a celebration in Dublin, are also under consideration.

[174]

  2.  Mr. O'Dea    asked the Taoiseach    the recommendations, if any, which have been made by the Devolution Commission for local government reform; if so, the action, if any, which has been taken on foot of these recommendations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6508/97]

The Taoiseach:  The interim report of the Devolution Commission was published in August 1996. That report and the Government statement in response to it were laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. I understand the commission is finalising a second report. I do not wish to pre-empt the commission's work by commenting further at this stage.

Mr. O'Dea:  When does the Taoiseach expect the final report to be available? Does the Government have an action plan to respond to the report and to put into effect any proposals it chooses to make?

The Taoiseach:  It is not possible to indicate what the Government proposes to do about a report it has not yet received. In regard to the first report, the Government acted on that in the White Paper on local government produced by the Minister for the Environment. A substantial number of the recommendations of the interim report were incorporated in the White Paper and will be carried forward into legislation which will be introduced shortly by the Minister for the Environment. As to the first part of the Deputy's question, I expect the second report to be received quite quickly. I understand the commission is meeting today and may finalise the report at today's meeting or, if not, at a subsequent meeting.

Mr. O'Dea:  In view of the fact that local government is financed to a certain extent by local revenue, when does the Government expect to announce proposals to end the discrimination it has created against members of certain group water schemes in rural areas?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is entering into an area deserving of another question to the Minister for the Environment.

Mr. O'Dea:  It is directly related.

The Taoiseach:  It is a separate question entirely.

Mr. O'Dea:  On a point of order, surely the question of local government finance is directly related to the question of local government reform. They are inextricably linked. I would like an answer to my question. When does the Taoiseach expect proposals to come forward to end the discrimination created by the Government against members of rural group water schemes?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I have said the Deputy is raising a specific matter worthy of another question.

[175]Mr. D. Ahern:  Page 27 of the interim report refers to group water schemes.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That may be so but it does not necessarily mean the Deputy can raise any matter.

Mr. D. Ahern:  The Taoiseach might like to respond to the question of the devolution of powers in relation to group water schemes. He referred to a second report on the devolution of functions and powers to local authorities. Is that the report the Government requested the commission to produce before the end of last year? Will the Taoiseach enlighten the Whips as to the reason the interim report was referred to them for their consideration?

The Taoiseach:  I am not aware that the report has been referred to the Whips. The first report, which considered the relationship between local partnership companies, other local development organisations and statutory elected local authorities and which made a number of recommendations on that matter, has been acted upon in the White Paper of the Minister for the Environment, which was approved by Government and will be incorporated in legislation. The report now in preparation is at an advanced stage and I expect we will see it quite soon.

Mr. D. Ahern:  The Whips are as bemused as the Taoiseach as to the reason it was referred to us. Perhaps the Taoiseach will ascertain the reason for that before the next Question Time.

The Taoiseach:  The Whips attending the meeting will have an opportunity of inquiring into that matter. As the Deputy is one of the Whips, he is fully equipped with the means of obtaining any information he wishes to obtain.

Mr. D. Ahern:  No one seems to know.

Mr. R. Burke:  Without making any judgment on the contents of the report, is it the Taoiseach's view that, in a country with a population of 3.6 million, there are too many layers of bureaucracy at local and national level? The various partnership bodies and other agencies are all involved in administration. Where will it end?

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy has a point.

Mr. R. Burke:  The Taoiseach should not be too surprised.

The Taoiseach:  I would never underestimate Deputy Burke in any matter. The Deputy has a point. The various bodies were established for historically varying reasons. Viewed from today's standpoint, it is difficult to justify their number and the inter-relationship between them. Viewed from the standpoint of the time of their creation, however, each of them was justified. The Minister for the Environment's proposals will simplify the [176] matter somewhat by ensuring the various bodies are more integrated. It is also fair to say, in contra-point to what Deputy Burke has said, that there were complaints in the past that the State was unduly centralised, in other words, there was too much power in the centre and insufficient power devolved to individual bodies and functions at local level.

Mr. D. Ahern:  Like the regional education boards.

The Taoiseach:  That matter is now being remedied to some degree, but if the intention is to devolve functions being carried out by one body at national level to perhaps 26 bodies at local level, it is inevitable there will be more bodies doing the same functions than there were previously. The price of decentralisation of power is some administrative complexity. The task of Government is to find the right balance between decentralisation and undue complexity.

  3.  Mrs. O'Rourke    asked the Taoiseach    if he will give details of his meeting of 4 March 1997 with the EU Commission President and other Commissioners. [6604/97]

  4.  Mr. M. Kitt    asked the Taoiseach    if he discussed the question of Objective 1 status for Ireland with members of the EU Commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6624/97]

  5.  Miss Harney    asked the Taoiseach    if he will give details of his meeting with the President of the European Commission, Mr. Jacques Santer, on 4 March 1997. [6667/97]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 to 5, inclusive, together.

I had separate meetings with the President of the Commission, Jacques Santer, Commissioner Wulf-Mathies, Commissioner Fischler and Commissioner Bonino in Brussels on 4 March. The meetings were extremely useful in the context of the Intergovernmental Conference and in developing a common understanding of the measures needed to tackle the BSE crisis. They were also very useful in making the first contacts in relation to the financial perspectives for the European Union post-1999.

In my meeting with President Santer I reviewed developments at EU level, with particular reference to the Intergovernmental Conference. In this context I stressed that Ireland will strongly oppose proposals which suggest that small member states should forgo their Commissioner.

My meeting with Commissioner Wulf-Mathies consisted of an early exchange of views on possible developments in relation to the financial perspectives and Structural Funds after 1999. We did [177] not have a detailed discussion on the amount or nature of Ireland's Structural Funding post-1999.

Commissioner Wulf-Mathies and I also discussed the need to ensure continued funding for the EU peace and reconciliation fund. I pointed out in this context that it was essential that the concept of additionality of EU funding be maintained in relation to the Northern Ireland peace process.

In my meetings with Commissioners Bonino and Fischler, I discussed the latest state of play in the fight against BSE and I offered full support in putting in place the new food safety arrangements at EU level.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  The Taoiseach referred in his reply to the right of small countries to have their own Commissioner. In any of his meetings, did the Taoiseach put forward his own idea of a federal Europe, referred to by him in the Dáil on 28 January and earlier in his New Year statement, which, in effect, would diminish the powers of small countries?

The Taoiseach:  My position on this matter is well known, as are my convictions. There was no need for me to repeat them on this occasion.

Mr. R. Burke:  Are the Taoiseach's convictions shared by all the members of his Government, particularly his view on a federal Europe with a common defence policy which he wants to make his principal goal for this year? If it is shared by the other members, why was it not referred to in the White Paper?

The Taoiseach:  I support the ever closer union of the peoples of Europe which was agreed to at Maastricht and endorsed by the Irish people. I believe in that vision as agreed at Maastricht. It is important, in the interests of a country like Ireland, that we have a closer European Union.

Mr. D. Ahern:  We know the Taoiseach's view.

The Taoiseach:  One of the difficulties Ireland has faced historically has been that it was overshadowed by a large neighbour. Our closer accession to Europe and an ever closer union in Europe gives Ireland a capacity to play on a much larger stage and not be overshadowed, as we were in the past, by our nearer neighbour.

Mr. D. Ahern:  Is that Government policy?

The Taoiseach:  I believe in a closer Union based on a federation of the peoples of Europe because that is the best way forward for this country. It will enable Ireland to take its place more fully among the nations of the earth than it can do in any other model.

Miss Harney:  Will the Taoiseach accept it is now unlikely that Ireland will qualify for Objective 1 status? That being the case, does the Taoiseach believe it would be better to pursue a [178] regional approach if we are to continue to get EU funding?

The Taoiseach:  I do not concede that point, nor should we concede that point. We are not in the same position in relation to GNP as we are in relation to GDP. GDP is a particularly inaccurate measure of Irish relative wealth because it includes profits which are repatriated and do not remain here. Also, it is important to emphasise that Ireland's increase in income is very recent and there is no accumulated wealth here which can be drawn down for capital projects or for unforeseen eventualities, whereas other countries have that facility of accumulated wealth. Therefore, simple measurements of income on an annual basis do not state the true relative position of Ireland vis-à-vis other countries. Furthermore, Ireland is a peripheral nation of the European Union. We are the westernmost part of the Union, and we are an island. Those are factors that also tend to justify special consideration for this country. The Deputy can be assured I will use all the resources of this Government, and all the resources that we have evolved and developed during our Presidency, to ensure that we retain Objective 1 status in the negotiations post-1999.

Miss Harney:  Since the Taoiseach is unlikely to be there to negotiate, I will not worry too much about his analysis. From what the Taoiseach said, our growth rate is clearly exaggerating the performance of the economy.

Was economic and monetary union discussed with the Commission, and has the Taoiseach any plans to have fuller consultation with the private sector before we make any further decisions on a single currency?

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy should not make inaccurate political predictions at Question Time. There may well be a certain element of whistling past the graveyard on the Deputy's part, but I will not be drawn into a discussion on that.

Miss Harney:  There is zero tolerance for the Government.

The Taoiseach:  The secret of this Government is that it is tolerant of all, including the Opposition. That is one of the reasons it is a success. Zero tolerance was tried by the Deputy's party between 1989 and 1991 and it was not successful. It possibly contributed to the downfall of the Government in which it was participating, so zero tolerance in Government is not a particularly good principle.

Miss Harney:  The Taoiseach has no support.

The Taoiseach:  The issue of economic and monetary union is one upon which Ireland has taken a position. We did not look for opt-outs at Maastricht. We took the view that if we qualified we would go in, and go in we will.

[179]Mrs. O'Rourke:  In his reply the Taoiseach said this was a preliminary meeting at which he was laying out his stall, so to speak. What agenda is there for further meetings to press home the case of Ireland to continue to be regarded as an Objective 1 region? Is there a timetable, an agreed agenda, whereby that case can be pushed? What arguments are being used to rebut the proposition that if we are fit to enter economic and monetary union we are fit to be cut loose from Objective 1 status?

The Taoiseach:  The criteria for participation in economic and monetary union under the Maastricht Treaty and the criteria for Objective 1 status are completely different. The criteria for economic and monetary union relate to levels of borrowing and convergence in regard to interest rates and exchange rates. The criteria for Objective 1 status relate to income. It is quite consistent for a country to qualify under the criteria for economic and monetary union and still retain Objective 1 status. No responsible politician in this House should concede that point. There is no inter-relationship between the two sets of criteria. As to the action we propose to take to deal with the matter, the Government, following my meeting, is working on a programme of action to deal with this matter to protect the good investment the European Union is making in this country, which gives the best return to Europe on investment by the European Union anywhere within the Union.

Mr. D. Ahern:  The Taoiseach is speaking to the converted on our need to maintain Objective 1 status. Are we to take it the Government has no fallback position in the event of us not achieving Objective 1 status? Deputy Harney referred to regionalisation. Is it not the case that in the event of us not achieving full status, the Government should have a view on looking after disadvantaged areas around the country?

The Taoiseach:  I will not take up the Deputy's invitation to state a fallback position because I am looking for the retention of our existing position. I acknowledge that it will be a difficult negotiation, but we will be well prepared for it. As to the reasons for the stance we are taking in regard to Objective 1 status, I have set those out in some detail in response to a question from Deputy Harney.

  6.  Mrs. O'Rourke    asked the Taoiseach    if he will give details of his attendance at the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body; and if he will summarise the principal points that he made in his interventions. [6606/97]

  7.  Miss Harney    asked the Taoiseach    if he will give details of the statement he made to the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body at Dublin Castle on 3 March 1997. [6664/97]

[180]

  8.  Miss Harney    asked the Taoiseach    his views on the adjournment of the multi-party talks at Stormont. [6665/97]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 8, inclusive, together.

I addressed the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body at Dublin Castle on Monday, 3 March. The main topics that I covered were Northern Ireland, issues within the broad British-Irish relationship such as Sellafield, and EU-related matters like economic and monetary union. Rather than summarising all the points I made in what was a broad-ranging address, I have instead had copies placed in the Oireachtas Library.

I dealt in my address with the multi-party talks in Belfast. As anticipated, the talks have since been adjourned until 3 June, pending the forthcoming local and general elections in Northern Ireland. This was a sensible decision. We have been trying to make progress in the negotiations over a number of months and it has been obvious that the imminence of the elections has made it increasingly difficult to reach agreement.

As I indicated in my address to the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body, I believe that when the talks resume, it will be important that significant progress be made within a finite period, to steer negotiations through to progress as speedily as possible. We will be pursuing the question of an agreed timeframe and calendar for the negotiations with this aim in mind.

As I also indicated in my address, it is the Government's hope that the participants generally, with electoral concerns behind them, will be able to agree on a basis for overcoming the current impasse on the issue of decommissioning soon after the resumption of the talks. The two Governments, working together, must jointly, in all circumstances, continue to offer the leadership that is needed to overcome obstacles and to reach the comprehensive accommodation, founded on consent, which I am convinced is sought by the great majorities on both islands.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  At the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body did the Taoiseach seek to influence the cross-party MPs who were there as to the desirability of the UK joining economic and monetary union?

The Taoiseach:  I specifically availed of the opportunity to do just that.

Mr. D. Ahern:  It must have fallen on deaf ears.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  The Taoiseach does not seem to have had much success.

Miss Harney:  Can I take it there will be no initiative from either Government until after the election in Great Britain and the election here?

The Taoiseach:  Not necessarily.

[181]Miss Harney:  What work is being done behind the scenes on, for example, the parades issue? Have we moved any closer to resolving that issue and towards implementing the North report?

The Taoiseach:  Consultation on the North report, the period for which we believe is too long, is proceeding. I made it clear at the time that I felt eight weeks was too long and the British Government should come to decisions on this matter earlier. That has not happened. However, I am pressing and will continue to press in every way I can for early action on the North report. Local agreement is preferable to outside intervention, including intervention through the very carefully crafted agency of the North report recommendations. I urge all participants in parades and all persons who are likely to be adversely affected by parades to seek to reach local agreement and to seek to reconcile their views on these matters. There is a genuine conflict of rights and a conflict of views, and such conflict can only be resolved either by one side giving in entirely or by compromise. In general compromise is preferable.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  We do not think it was a good idea that the multi-party talks were abandoned for the lead-in to and the duration of the general election campaign in the UK and in the North. How does the Taoiseach equate the existence of that vacuum with his statement that it is important that substantial progress be seen to have been made when the talks resume? It is difficult to see how there can be progress in a lacuna such as that.

The Taoiseach:  The parties in Northern Ireland which are participating in the talks have an eye on the upcoming British general election and are unwilling to make compromises with one another lest those compromises be misconstrued or misrepresented by some of their rivals within their own community. That causes difficulty which any politician can fully understand in the run-up to an election in Northern Ireland. It was a prudent decision to have a break in the talks rather than a period where the talks would be used for electioneering instead of negotiating purposes. I do not think prolongation of the talks through the active election period would have been constructive; it might have led to a degree of megaphone diplomacy in what is designed to be a confidential negotiation. The decision taken was a prudent one on the part of the Governments and the participants. Once the election is over in Northern Ireland the position will be different.

Mr. D. Ahern:  Since the talks have been going on for some time, will the Taoiseach say what progress has taken place? We read in recent times speculation about changes in Department of Foreign Affairs personnel in this area. What is happening in that regard? The Taoiseach said he [182] does not rule out an initiative from the Government. I suggest that the uneasiness in terms of who is moving from where should be sorted out very soon.

The Taoiseach:  Department of Foreign Affairs officials who work for the Government through the Tánaiste do so in accordance with Government policy, in a very dedicated way and with a very high degree of integrity. Officials, particularly in the Anglo-Irish section, and various ambassadors and staff who have been dealing with Anglo-Irish relationships have done so with an exemplary degree of skill in recent years. I and the Government have been very well served by those officers.

On the first part of the question, the best course for me to adopt is to draw the Deputy's attention to the words of the independent chairman, Senator George Mitchell, who specifically said that he was pleased with progress in the talks in regard to a number of matters, including agreement of detailed rules and procedures, agreement to the chairmanship and agreement to the agenda for the plenary session. Serious efforts were made by most participants to overcome the very difficult issue of decommissioning. Nobody should pretend this is a simple issue, in view of the radically different perspectives of the different sides on this question. Although an agreement was not reached, serious efforts were made by most participants at various times to overcome that difficulty. I hope, once the election in Northern Ireland is over and the participants are freed from the constraint which that anticipated event imposes upon them, it will be possible for them to reach an agreement on the issue so that we can proceed to substantive negotiations in the three strands.

Mr. D. Ahern:  I thank the Taoiseach for his presence at the recent British-Irish Interparliamentary Body meeting. The issue of this year's parades took up much time at the meeting, but on the other issue raised, the Bloody Sunday investigation, will the Taoiseach inform the House on the progress the Government has made in its investigation of new evidence in that regard?

The Taoiseach:  Work is progressing. I would like to give the Deputy a more detailed reply on that subject and if he puts down a parliamentary question I will get the information for him.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  On the multi-party talks, which are postponed until after the elections, all parties agree that until there is a declaration of a ceasefire it would not be proper for Sinn Féin to enter the talks. Does the Taoiseach agree with the Tánaiste's adviser who says that talks without Sinn Féin are not worth a penny candle?

The Taoiseach:  That remark was raised in the House at the time it was made. I made my comments [183] known at the time and I have nothing to add to that.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  What are they?

Miss Harney:  Are there plans for a summit meeting between the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister in advance of the British general election? Given that a bipartisan approach is adopted to Northern Ireland by this House and the House of Commons, will the Taoiseach agree that should be maintained during election campaigns in both jurisdictions?

The Taoiseach:  Contacts with the British Prime Minister are ongoing and if a meeting is judged to be useful between us it will take place. We will meet soon in a European context. The Deputy's remarks about the maintenance of bipartisanship in regard to this matter are well made and I will do all I can to ensure that is the case in both jurisdictions.

Mr. D. Ahern:  Does the Taoiseach expect progress will be made this side of a general election? I appreciate the Taoiseach may be in contact with the British Prime Minister, but nothing seems to be happening on either side of the Irish Sea. With the talks at a standstill, it appears that no progress will take place and we will be at a dead end until after the British general election and possibly after the election here.

The Taoiseach:  If the republican movement called a ceasefire it would certainly create positive conditions for progress by removing the physical threat which has hung over participants in the talks since 10 June. Negotiation under threat from outside is obviously more difficult than negotiation where all participants have for-sworn the use of violence and there is no threat of violence from any of the participants in the talks or potentially in the talks. Clearly the republican movement has a responsibility to make that decision itself. It can see that its 25 year campaign of violence achieved absolutely nothing. It reached its original ceasefire on the basis of political analysis which pointed to political participation without the use of violence or the threat of violence as the best way of advancing its objectives. Nothing has changed to alter that analysis. If it was right in August 1994 when there were no talks on offer it is even more right today when talks exist which that movement could enter on the basis of ground rules that are explicit and clear.

Mr. D. Ahern:  I think I speak for the vast majority of my colleagues on the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body who have been of the view over the years that when there is a vacuum the men of violence take advantage of that lack of political movement. There is no better time than now to heed that maxim. What is required is that the two Governments take an initiative [184] rather than de-escalate initiatives, however flawed they may be. The Taoiseach is holding out no hope of either Government doing anything to ensure the men of violence stay out. That is wrong. It is up to the two Governments to leave aside electoral considerations and continue to push their political agenda. They are, in effect, currently giving in to the men of violence.

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy is mistaken. The peace process is based on inclusive negotiations, not on imposed solutions.

Mr. D. Ahern:  I did not refer to imposed solutions.

The Taoiseach:  It is based on negotiations between the Governments and the parties in Northern Ireland designed to reach an agreement between all parties that will ultimately give us a settlement. It is not something imposed by the Governments. I do not believe it is possible in a democracy for two Governments to impose a solution in the way the Deputy, perhaps inadvertently, infers. The Governments must create an opportunity and an impetus and give leadership to the parties in the talks process so that an agreement can be reached. We have done that by creating a talks process which is open to all who forswear violence. This is the first time a talks process as comprehensive as that commenced on 10 June has been available in the history of the Irish problem. These talks represent an historic opportunity for all concerned to move forward. The Deputy should not, inadvertently or otherwise, undermine the existing talks process by suggesting that unilateral or bilateral action by the Governments could supersede the comprehensive inclusive talks process involving all the democratically elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland as the best way forward.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  As usual the Taoiseach deliberately misinterpreted what Deputy Ahern said. He did not talk about imposed unilateral decision making or the imposition of ideas.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The word “deliberate” should not be used.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  He spoke of proper governmental initiatives. The abandonment of the talks process in the North is not conducive to keeping the channels of communication open.

The Taoiseach:  The talks are not being abandoned. There has been a suspension——

Mrs. O'Rourke:  They have been abandoned.

The Taoiseach:  ——to accommodate the political reality that a general election is about to take place in Britain. Anybody with political sense knows that in the run-up to an election parties tend to take maximalist rather than compromised positions with opponents. The Governments have [185] taken a practical approach to this matter. The participants have agreed the talks should be suspended until June so that the electoral process in Northern Ireland can run its course and the parties can come back to the talks equipped with a renewed electoral mandate to deal with the issues in a less charged atmosphere. Meanwhile, the Governments will continue to work on the matter. I maintain close and ongoing contact with the British Prime Minister — the Tánaiste is doing likewise with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland — to pursue all possible initiatives to build confidence in the process and to create the best possible conditions for forward movement when the talks resume.

Miss Harney:  If a political settlement is to be reached through the talks process, does the Taoiseach agree there would need to be a sea change in the attitude of many of the participants?

The Taoiseach:  I heartily agree with the Deputy. It is important that participants take their responsibilities seriously. There is a tendency, perhaps because of the number of participants in the talks and because the Governments are also involved, for participants to delegate responsibility for contributing towards a compromise to the Governments or someone else. I agree with the implication in the Deputy's question. I hope, however, the atmosphere after the British general election will be different and that people with a longer electoral timeframe will be more willing to compromise with one another. It is important that people realise the price of failure to compromise in these talks may be high for everybody. It may not be possible to pass it off to others, as is currently happening in regard to responsibility. I thank the Deputy for asking that question.

Mr. D. Ahern:  The Taoiseach referred to the elections in the North. In regard to a renewed electoral mandate for all the political parties, including Sinn Féin, will the position post the election be the same for a party in Sinn Féin's position which might renew its electoral mandate before the people but would not be subsequently allowed to participate in the renewed talks?

The Taoiseach:  That matter is laid down in the ground rules for the talks and there has been no change in those rules. They are founded in legislation. The electoral mandate for the purpose of the talks is the one given prior to the opening of the talks on 10 June. That is not altered by any other election that may occur. The conditions of last May's electoral mandate are not being altered in so far as the talks are concerned.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  They could find themselves elected to Westminster.

[186]

  13.  Dr. McDaid    asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform    the plans, if any, he has to review the operation of the Occupiers' Liability Act. [6867/97]

Minister for Equality and Law Reform (Mr. Taylor):  The Occupiers' Liability Act to which the Deputy refers came into operation on 17 July 1995. It contained specific provisions which were intended to facilitate the use of land for recreational activities. It was also designed to simplify and clarify the law on occupiers' liability by putting it on a firm statutory basis.

The legislation in question was preceded by a Law Reform Commission consultation paper, published in 1993, and by a final report, published in 1994. Because the introduction of the Occupiers' Liability Bill was so proximate to these reports, it inevitably took on board all the recent developments in this area of the law. In addition, in drawing up the Bill, I engaged in a very wide consultative process. Members of the farming community had a particular input in its provisions and I am glad I was able to accommodate many of their concerns.

It would be premature to review the operation of the Act at this stage. Since the Act was passed, I have had very little correspondence on this issue which, to my mind at least, suggests that its key provisions are generally regarded as satisfactory. Furthermore, legislation of this kind can be assessed properly only when it has been tested within the context of court litigation. Such litigation would, as a matter of course, be monitored by my Department. However, I am confident the principles which the Act contains will safeguard occupiers against unmeritorious claims.

Dr. McDaid:  I am not happy with what is happening in Ireland today. Does the Minister agree that one of our greatest assets is our openness to tourists? Why is the second largest farming organisation erecting luminous signs quoting part of the Act and stating that “unauthorised persons will be prosecuted”? That is, in effect, telling tourists to keep out. Is the Minister aware that people in certain areas are charging tourists to cross their lands to climb mountains and so on? If section 5-(2) of the Occupiers' Liability Act is working so well, why does the ICMSA feel it necessary to erect such posters?

Mr. Taylor:  Tourism is an important industry and everything possible should be done to facilitate it. I am not aware and cannot accept that the operation of the Occupiers' Liability Act causes any problem in that regard; the contrary is the case. I and my Department had extensive consultations with the IFA and the ICMSA and many of the clauses and subsections in the Act result from representations made to me. I am prepared [187] to keep the operation of the Act under review but there is nothing in it which should cause any undue problems for farm owners or members of the IFA or ICMSA. Since the Act was passed, I have received no representations from the ICMSA or anyone else indicating a problem or difficulty with it. If such representations are made to me, I will examine them carefully.

Dr. McDaid:  I accept the Minister is unaware that the ICMSA has put up signs. I was informed today that a sign has been placed on Bray Head, which is a public right of way. Perhaps the Minister could ask the ICMSA why it is afraid of the Occupiers' Liability Act and why it is putting up these signs on public property. Does such action not ruin our tourism industry and our image as “Ireland of the welcomes”?

Mr. Taylor:  If the property referred to by the Deputy is public property to which the public has right of access, then no person has any right to block it off. As far as private property is concerned, if there is no right of way over it, a land-owner has a right, guaranteed under the Constitution, to prohibit access to it by any member of the public. During consultations on the Occupiers' Liability Act it was made clear to me that farmers had no wish to do that and were prepared to welcome recreational use of their land provided certain provisions were included in legislation to protect them from unmeritorious complaints and claims. Those suggestions were taken on board and both farming organisations expressed their reasonable satisfaction with the terms of the Act which changed the previous common law position that had led to problems for their members. They felt that unmeritorious claims were being sustained by the courts against them. However, the Act has dealt with that, so there is no reasonable basis for members of either organisation to feel their position is being interfered with unduly. If they feel that a particular case has given rise to problems, I will be happy to look at it.

As far as I know, few, if any, cases have reached the courts under this legislation. There is no reason farmers should fear they are leaving themselves open to compensation claims in unreasonable circumstances. We must monitor this situation but we must also give the Act time to operate. We must wait to see what type of decisions the courts will make pursuant to this Act and then review the matter if necessary.

Dr. McDaid:  I am sure the Minister agrees that such action is intimidatory to recreational users and tourists. Is the Minister suggesting that a court case should be taken to test the Occupiers' Liability Act?

Mr. Taylor:  Far be it from me to suggest that anybody should bring a test case. The type of cases which could arise under the terms of this [188] Act could be wide and varied. The primary thrust of this legislation is to deal with recreational users or trespassers. The extent of a land-owner's liability to recreational users or trespassers was covered in section 4. It is a limited liability which provides for liability in only two cases. One is if the land-owner injured the recreational user or the trespasser intentionally or acted with reckless disregard for such a person. That is a restricted form of liability. There can be borderline cases in any situation that arises and I have no doubt the courts will form their own interpretations. It may be a long time yet before cases reach the courts.

The fact I have had no letters of complaint or adverse comment about the Act suggests it is working reasonably well. I urge farmers and landowners to give recreational users and tourists the maximum possible access to their lands because it is an important factor in the tourism industry, which led to this Act in the first place. I agree with Deputy McDaid that everything possible should be done to encourage them to do so.

  14.  Mr. Flood    asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform    if he intends to implement as a matter of urgency recommendation CR.10.1 of the report of the Task Force on the Travelling Community which recommends that each Government Department, semi-State body, State agency, local authority, private sector and voluntary sector organisation adopt, implement and monitor an equal status policy appropriate to the nature of its function and that public and voluntary sector organisations and institutions be adequately resourced to meet their obligations in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6848/97]

Mr. Taylor:  It is for each of the bodies, both public and private sector, referred to in recommendation CR.10.1 to take the recommendation on board in its area of activity. The Equal Status Bill, 1997, will, when enacted, provide a legislative underpinning to ensure that organisations do not discriminate unfairly in relation to the supply of goods and services. I also draw the Deputy's attention to the proposal in the Equal Status Bill, 1997, for an equality authority which will have the general function of working towards the elimination of discrimination and promoting equality of opportunity. The Employment Equality Bill, 1996, also contains powers relating to the elimination of discrimination and promotion of equal opportunities for travellers in employment.

Mr. Flood:  I thank the Minister for his reply. Is he concerned that the recommendations of the report of the Task Force on the Travelling Community, which was published in July 1995, have not been implemented? My question relates to equal status policy. Does the Minister agree that it would be appropriate for his Department to implement not just the recommendation referred [189] to in the question, but also the other recommendations in the report? Does he also agree that the Government is making little effort to implement these recommendations on a co-ordinated basis? The Minister's reply with regard to recommendation CR.10.1 would seem to confirm this fact when he is unable to outline today the progress which has been made by Departments other than that made by his Department with regard to this most important issue for the travelling community.

Mr. Taylor:  I agree that it is a most important issue but surely Deputy Flood must agree it would not be possible for the entire responsibility to rest with the Department of Equality and Law Reform when one takes into account that there are many Departments and agencies involved. However, there is the interdepartmental group working on the report of the task force. It meets from time to time and examines the recommendations and the question of implementation among the Departments and agencies coming under the responsibility of individual Ministers and Departments.

It is open to Deputy Flood or, indeed, any Deputy to raise questions with any Minister with regard to his or her Department or, where that Minister has responsibility for agencies working under the Department's ambit, to examine the operation of equal status in the agency for which he or she has responsibility.

The Employment Equality Bill, 1996, and the Equal Status Bill, 1997, which are proceeding through the Houses of the Oireachtas, will have a major general input into the provision of equal status. The Equal Status Bill, 1997, will have general application. The Employment Equality Bill, 1996, has provision for equality reviews and action plans and gives powers to the new Equality Authority, which is to be set up under the provisions of the Equal Status Bill, 1997. That authority will play a major monitoring role and major powers will be devolved to it under these two Bills.

There is also provision for codes of practice on these issues and the legislation providing that will be particularly helpful. It may well be that codes of practice will be prepared which will provide rules for the application of equal status provisions to Departments and their agencies. All these things taken together are a positive sign and the two equality Bills, when enacted, will be a major source of progress in that regard.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There is little more than two minutes to reach the third priority question which is in the name of Deputy Keogh. I will only allow a brief question lest Deputy Keogh's question falls.

Mr. Flood:  Has the interdepartmental group, to which the Minister referred in the course of his reply, met recently? How frequently has it met in the past year? If that information is not available [190] now, he might provide it to me later. Does the Minister's Department chair this group?

Mr. Taylor:  Yes. The group is chaired by my Department. I do not have information here about its meetings but I will make inquiries about it.

  15.  Ms Keogh    asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform    his views on the position of the Law Reform Commission that the rules in relation to the reporting of family law cases are too stringent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6846/97]

Mr. Taylor:  The law on reporting of family law cases is contained in various family law statues, including those dealing with divorce, separation, maintenance and domestic violence, which, in general, provide that such proceedings shall be heard otherwise than in public.

In its 1996 report on family courts, the Law Reform Commission affirmed the importance of the right to privacy in family law cases on the basis that they frequently involve detailed discussion of personal relationships. However, the commission recommends that access by a bona fide researcher to such proceedings should be allowed by a judge subject to refusal only on the basis of compelling and stated reasons and that the attendance of students of family law should be allowed at the discretion of the judge. The commission's report was preceded by a consultation paper in 1994.

As the Deputy will appreciate, the Law Reform Commission's recommendations fall far short of any major relaxation of the in camera rule for family law proceedings. Legislation would be required to implement the commission's recommendations and when other legislative priorities are disposed of my Department intends to give consideration to the in camera rule in family law proceedings, taking into account the commission's recommendations.

Ms Keogh:  I thank the Minister for his reply. Notwithstanding that we do not want to infringe on the privacy of the people involved in family law cases, it is important to have some methodology by which we can keep legislation under review because there are few written judgments and transcripts cannot be examined in the vast majority of family law cases at present. Does the Minister agree the development of the law and public debate is inhibited by the fact that this information is not available? Does he see the provision of a mechanism in the short term which will encourage debate on this important social issue?

Mr. Taylor:  Yes. I agree that, if all other things were equal, it would be desirable that the family law courts, like all other courts, would be open and the cases reported. Without question it would [191] be helpful to practitioners. However, all other things are not equal in family law cases. There is a serious difficulty having regard to the nature of the material which is adduced before the courts in family law cases which gave rise to the present restriction in virtually all family law cases. Admittedly, the Law Reform Commission suggested some reform but Deputies will see that even what it proposes is rather limited as it recommends providing access to bona fide researchers on the one hand and students of family law on the other.

I am broadly sympathetic to considering some relaxation of the present rule provided schemes can be devised to protect the identity of the people whose cases are involved. It is really a problem which would give rise to difficulty in more rural areas outside the large urban centres. It would not be such a problem in the large concentrated urban areas where anonymity, from description of a case, would not be so readily destroyed. In rural areas people would readily be identified from the description of events and I would not wish that to happen.

As I indicated in my initial reply, when the Department has disposed of its other legislative priorities we will look carefully at the in camera rule to see what variation can be made. When we do that we will take into account the comments of the Law Reform Commission and, indeed, other comments made by Members of the House.

Ms Keogh:  We must protect the identity of people involved in such cases and that must be paramount but I would sound a note of caution on this matter. Will the Minister agree that one of the difficulties we encountered in the run up to the divorce referendum related to the acceptance of the extent of marriage breakdown and the trauma involved? We must have an accurate picture of what is going on in society to be able to frame laws. It is for that reason that a degree of information, irrespective of how it is collated, is essential. I am glad to hear the Minister will examine the matter. How imminent is such an examination? Does the Minister see this happening in the short term?

Mr. Taylor:  Deputy Keogh enunciated the reasons it is desirable that there should be some relaxation of the in camera rule. Those were the arguments in favour of it. They are valid and I agree with them. However, there are also arguments to the contrary which must be taken into consideration. It is a difficult area as there are arguments for and against the issue. We must find some basis for some relaxation of the in camera rule and the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission, though vague in some respects, may form a suitable base. It is something I will have to consider in the fullness of time, but [192] I cannot give a commitment that it will be done in the short term.

  16.  Ms O'Donnell    asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform    the impact, if any, the opening of law centres in Tullamore, County Offaly, and Newbridge, County Kildare, has made in relation to waiting lists for free legal aid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6642/97]

  17.  Mr. O'Malley    asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform    the number of people who have registered with the Legal Aid Board seeking a divorce; the percentage of those seeking free legal aid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6645/97]

  99.  Mr. Flood    asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform    if he intends to extend the free legal aid scheme to those people taking action on the grounds of discrimination in both employment and non-employment areas, including travellers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6850/97]

Mr. Taylor:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 16, 17 and 99 together.

I am happy to be in a position to inform the House that completion of the final phase of the development plan for the Legal Aid Board, the opening of the law centres in Tullamore and Newbridge, has recently occurred. I am sure those centres will make a significant contribution to the work carried out by the board.

The opening of the law centre in Tullamore on 27 January 1997 had an immediate impact on the waiting list in the law centre in Portlaoise. When the centre opened 62 persons were transferred from Portlaoise law centre to the Tullamore law centre. Also, it is expected that the new centre will reduce the numbers of persons who would otherwise be seeking legal services at the Portlaoise centre. In addition, since the centre opened some 18 persons have applied to the Tullamore centre from areas traditionally catered for from the Athlone law centre. This trend is expected to continue. It is also expected that persons who previously would have sought legal services from Nenagh law centre will now apply in Tullamore for the provision of services.

There was a pre-existent waiting list at the Newbridge law centre which was previously operated on a part-time basis from Finglas law centre. This list was taken over by the Newbridge law centre when it opened. The opening of the Newbridge centre should, accordingly, enhance both the service generally and reduce the pressure on Finglas law centre. In addition a number of existing clients transferred from Portlaoise to New- [193] bridge when it opened and it is expected that persons who previously would have sought legal services from Navan law centre and some of the Dublin law centres will now apply instead to the Newbridge law centre.

The introduction of divorce will affect the numbers seeking appointments with Legal Aid Board solicitors. As of 26 February 1997 1,062 persons had registered with the Legal Aid Board seeking appointments with solicitors of the board on the coming into force of the Family Law (Divorce) Act, 1996 on 27 February 1997. The figure of 1,062 represents slightly less than 41 per cent of applicants for legal aid at the end of February.

There is a charge for the services of the Legal Aid Board. At present, the minimum charge amounts to £23 for this service. However, the board may, where the maximum income contribution is assessed at £23, either waive the contribution or accept a lower contribution if it considers that it would cause that person severe hardship to pay the maximum contribution. This provision also applies where the applicant is required to pay both an income and capital contribution. Therefore, applicants for legal aid are required to pay at least a minimum contribution which may be waived or reduced, should the board consider it necessary.

On the question of extending the Civil Legal Aid Act to people taking legal action on the grounds of discrimination in both the employment and non-employment areas, including travellers, the position is that legal advice is available to an applicant seeking the assistance of the board in respect of an alleged case of discrimination in either the employment or the non-employment areas, where the applicant meets the criteria for the grant of legal service as set out in the Civil Legal Aid Act, 1995 and in the regulations made under that Act. Legal aid is available in similar circumstances where the proceedings in question are to be conducted in the District Court, the Circuit Court, the High Court or the Supreme Court. Also, the Civil Legal Aid Act, 1995 contains a provision in section 27-(2) that enables me, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, to make an order to extend legal aid to tribunal hearings. It would be my intention to consider the question of the operation of that provision in due course taking into account progress, workload, the situation of the Legal Aid Board and the demands the introduction of divorce will make on that service and the Exchequer position.

Ms Keogh:  What effect will the 1,062 cases have on the waiting list? How soon will those cases be processed?

Mr. Taylor:  The addition of 1,062 cases will involve a substantial increase in the workload of the law centres, depending on where they are. I cannot give any prognostication as to how that will work out over time. The law centres are reasonably equipped to cater with the additional [194] workload. The funding provided for them was substantially increased and the number of solicitors working in them has more than doubled. As time passes, and the procedures proceed and the divorce jurisdiction develops, this matter will have to be kept under ongoing review. We will have to monitor how it works out. It probably will impact more heavily in some areas than others. It may be necessary to move staff from one centre to another, if there is a lightness of pressure in one area and a weight of pressure in another. The Legal Aid Board does that as it becomes necessary. The divorce procedure is in place but it is only beginning to get under way. We, as well as the Legal Aid Board, will monitor the matter closely.

Ms Keogh:  Is it intended to extend the private practitioners scheme as part of the response the Minister indicated?

Mr. Taylor:  That is a separate question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  It is an extension of the question.

Mr. Taylor:  I understand the Legal Aid Board is having ongoing consultations in a number of quarters to ascertain the possibilities to extend the private practitioners scheme. If Deputy Keogh wishes to table a question on that, I will give her a more detailed answer.

Dr. McDaid:  It is up to the Legal Aid Board to appoint counsel to represent its clients. Is representation given by a senior counsel or a junior counsel or is that at the discretion of the Legal Aid Board? Is a system of appeal open to the appellant if he or she is not satisfied with the way a case has been dealt with by counsel?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That appears to extend beyond the bounds of the question before us.

Mr. Taylor:  Is the Deputy asking if there is an appeals procedure for a person who applies to the board for legal aid and does not get it?

Dr. McDaid:  Is representation given by a senior counsel or a junior counsel?

Mr. Taylor:  I will answer that in a moment. If a person applies for legal aid and his or her initial application is turned down or granted on circumstances which are unacceptable to the applicant, he or she can avail of an appeals procedure. The level of representation they receive depends on what is involved in a particular case. For example, if a matter could be dealt with by the District Court it would be handled by one of the highly skilled and professional solicitors employed by the Legal Aid Board or, in the small number of cases where the relevant scheme applies, a private practitioner. On the other hand, counsel would be employed if a case involved Circuit or High [195] Court proceedings or an appeal to the Supreme Court. Depending on the complexity involved and whether a case was heard by the Circuit, High or Supreme Court, a junior counsel or possibly a senior counsel would be briefed if the situation so warranted.

Dr. McDaid:  It often happens that the female party involved in a case may not have access to adequate finances. Is consideration taken of the fact that one party can be represented by senior counsel while the Legal Aid Board may only be able to afford to employ a junior counsel or solicitor to represent the other party?

Mr. Taylor:  The Legal Aid Board will provide whatever level of representation it considers appropriate and necessary.

Dr. McDaid:  Does that include employing senior counsel?

Mr. Taylor:  It does not necessarily follow that senior counsel has any particular magic in these situations. The level of representation that is appropriate and necessary is provided. Whether or not a person receives legal aid, representation in the District Court is generally carried out at solicitor level. It is true that junior counsel occasionally appear there but, by and large, solicitors are the advocates in that court. In the Circuit Court, the usual form of representation involves junior counsel but many solicitors appear without counsel. Occasionally a senior counsel might appear in the Circuit Court but this is by no means usual. In the High Court, representation is carried out mostly by junior counsel but the extent of the presence of senior counsel is greater there. In the Supreme Court, representation is usually, though not necessarily, at senior counsel level.

Solicitors have a right of audience in all courts of the land, from the District Court up to and including the Supreme Court. However, this right is not exercised in the higher courts to a major extent. I believe this to be regrettable but it is the position.

Ms Keogh:  Is the Minister satisfied that the staff of the courts are adequately trained to deal with the new cases? Is he confident that the initial difficulties have been overcome or will there continue to be difficulties in this area?

Mr. Taylor:  I do not have any responsibility for the staff of the courts. That matter falls within the ambit of the Minister for Justice and the Deputy should consider tabling a question to her Department in that connection. However, I do not believe there should be any particular difficulty. While not identical, the procedures have much in common with those involving judicial separation. The latest information available to me is that, as far as the Department of Justice is concerned, there is no dispute involved. However, that is [196] more appropriately a matter for the relevant Minister.

  18.  Mr. Kenneally    asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform    his views on the contents of the Law Reform Commission report on defamation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6651/97]

  19.  Mr. H. Byrne    asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform    his views regarding reform of the defamation laws; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6654/97]

  26.  Mr. H. Byrne    asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform    whether he will bring forward legislation which will provide that deceased persons can be libelled; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6653/97]

Mr. Taylor:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 18, 19 and 26 together. In the past I indicated that the law of defamation raises complex legal and constitutional issues. It is beyond question that there are competing rights in this area — to a good name, to privacy and to freedom of expression. A good defamation law requires the careful reconciliation of these rights. I also refer to the fact that the influences which bear upon the law of defamation derive from a multiplicity of sources which include the common law, statute, international law and the fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution.

The Law Reform Commission report on the civil law of defamation is a comprehensive document which deals with this topic in a clear and lucid way. Many of the recommendations are difficult to quarrel with, for example, the proposal to abolish the outmoded distinction between libel and slander and the emphasis the commission places on the desirability of developing timely and effective remedies which will provide an alternative to damages for those who are anxious to vindicate their good name. The proposals in the latter area are of particular importance because there is a perception that our current law is too centred on the award of damages and that damages may not necessarily be the appropriate remedy in all cases. The commission also has interesting proposals aimed at rationalising the range of defences which would be available in a defamation action.

Other proposals are more controversial. At present, a plaintiff must show that a statement complained of is defamatory. However, he or she is not obliged to prove that such a statement is false since the law presumes the falsity of defamatory statements. In consequence, it is for the defendant to establish the truth of the statement if the defence of justification is raised. A majority of the commission recommended that this presumption of falsity should be abolished. This would be a radical change in our existing law. The [197] Law Reform Commission proposals for a new cause of action with regard to defamation of the dead are also somewhat contentious. One of Deputy Byrne's questions deals exclusively with this matter and, in that context, I refer him to the reply I gave to a similar question in this House on 19 February last.

On taking up office as Minister for Equality and Law Reform, I took a conscious decision to concentrate my legislative effort on those areas of the law which had hitherto been somewhat neglected, namely, those relating to the family and to inequality within our society. It is a regrettable fact of life that the need to prioritise means that some issues will, of necessity, be dealt with less expeditiously than others. Reform of defamation law has been one such issue but the matter is under continuing review taking into account the need to dispose of current legislative priorities which are in hand in my Department.

Dr. McDaid:  Does the Minister believe that the current defamation laws limit the freedom of the press in respect of investigative journalism?

Mr. Taylor:  Yes, the current laws limit the freedom of the press. They provide that a person may not be defamed and is entitled to a good name. Those laws evolved over a lengthy period and result from an amalgam of common, statutory, constitutional and international law. Of course, there have to be and there are restraints, otherwise a person's good name could be damaged for which there would be no remedy. What those constraints ought to be is a matter for consideration, requiring careful, detailed study as very serious issues are involved. As any Member of the House will know, the protection of the good name of the individual is a very important matter and must be protected within reasonable constraints, striking a balance, on the one hand, between the rights of newspapers and other media to report and, on the other, the rights of the individual.

Dr. McDaid:  Has the Law Reform Commission taken into account the recent advent of defamation on the Internet? What is the position in regard to this? No doubt the Minister is aware that in Northern Ireland a case arose recently of a person allegedly accused of being a child sex abuser and through the Internet it was possible to ascertain his identity, where he lived and so on. How do our laws on defamation cater for such circumstances? For example, can such a defamed person lodge a claim in the country of its origin against the countries in which the totality of information on the Internet is available or against the various other sources now opened up through the Internet? The Internet would appear to introduce a whole new set of potential defamation circumstances into our defamation laws. Has this aspect been considered recently?

[198]Mr. Taylor:  I am not aware whether the report of the Law Reform Commission referred specifically to defamation through the medium of the Internet; it probably did not but I cannot be certain of that. The general principles applicable to defamation on the Internet would be the same as those applicable to defamation disseminated in any other way.

The issue raised by Deputy McDaid is an interesting one and highlights the point I made earlier that this subject has connotations in international law as well as many others. The question of cross-boundary defamation is not confined to the Internet. For example, there are newspapers that may contain a defamatory article on a person which are circulated in more than one country — perhaps an Irish paper being circulated in the United Kingdom or a United Kingdom newspaper being circulated here or radio or television broadcasts that could be defamatory and be picked up in another country. Therefore, there is an international dimension to determining the appropriate venue at which an action for damages could arise in a cross-boundary case.

However, this is not the time or place to engage in a detailed analysis of the private, international problems that arise. The law is there to deal with them.

The question arises for my Department as to what review may be necessary of the legal position obtaining. When continuous legislative matters in hand in my Department — both before this House and in course of preparation — have progressed sufficiently we will undertake a more in-depth examination of the defamation question to ascertain what further amendment, if any, of the law may be necessary.

Dr. McDaid:  Since the Minister has agreed that his Department will be examining defamation laws in regard to the Internet, does he agree that a number of questions should be raised and placed on record with regard to the venue at which a defamed person can sue? For example, is that location where the information is read, where it has been loaded or in any country through which it is channelled? Does he agree that a whole new spectrum of defamation is about to be opened up through the Internet? Does he also agree that this overall question is worthy of examination since I can foresee such cases arising in the not too distant future?

Mr. Taylor:  While the Internet may represent a new form of dissemination of potentially defamatory matter, I would envisage that the broad legal principles applicable would be no different from those applicable to dissemination of defamation in any other cross-border manner. Of course, the question arises of the source from which the particular defamation on the Internet emanated which could well present problems for any person defamed in that manner.

[199]

  20.  Miss Harney    asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform    if he has requested that specific counselling services be developed for children whose parents have separated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6663/97]

Mr. Taylor:  Following my appointment as Minister for Equality and Law Reform I instituted a scheme of grants to voluntary organisations providing marriage counselling services. Grants were first paid under this scheme in 1994 when £750,000 was expended. A similar amount was expended in 1995. However, in 1996 the scheme was extended to include the provision of assistance to organisations providing counselling to children whose parents have separated. Nine hundred thousand pounds was made available in 1996 for distribution under the revised scheme, when 75 organisations were grant-aided, of which 29 provided both marriage and child counselling services, two such organisations providing child counselling services only.

Having regard to the level of commitment and generosity shown continually by the voluntary sector in coming to the assistance of those in need I consider that the financial assistance offered by my Department will act as an encouragement to that sector to provide the facilities for counselling children whose parents have separated. I believe they have the expertise necessary to provide this type of service and I assure them of my continuing support in their endeavours.

I am pleased to be in a position to inform the Deputy that my Department is currently assessing applications for grants for the current year, payment of the first instalments to be made within the next few weeks.

Ms Keogh:  Does the Minister foresee a means by which he can encourage services focused specifically on child counselling, bearing in mind that the introduction of divorce has made people generally more aware of the necessity for such services, not only for those who are divorcing but for others experiencing difficulties in their marriages? Does he envisage any way in which this allocation could be increased or is he satisfied that the amount already allocated will meet the potential demand?

Mr. Taylor:  While fully supporting Deputy Keogh's intent I should point out that we have been doing so. Whenever I have had meetings with representatives of counselling organisations I have raised with them the provision of child counselling, which I regard as extremely important, in respect of which we have had some success, 29 organisations now providing specific child counselling. There are approximately 12 to 15 such organisations in Dublin. Deputy McDaid will be interested to learn there are two in County Donegal, one in his home town, providing specific child counselling. However, I agree it is a service that will have to be extended. I and my Department [200] will continue to suggest to such voluntary organisations that they endeavour to expand the child counselling aspect of their activities. Our suggestions in that regard generally fall on receptive ears. Many have availed of the increased funding provided on an ongoing basis to enable them provide the necessary specialised training for counsellors. We will continue to encourage them to extend that aspect of their services further.

Ms Keogh:  Is it appropriate that we should rely on voluntary organisations to provide such services? In relation to the funding of the voluntary agencies which are doing an excellent job, is it sufficient that they can budget only on a year to year basis? Surely the allocation of resources should be over a longer timescale in order that they may better plan their services?

Mr. Taylor:  Budgeting is done on a year on year basis and has to be done in that way. If I had any means at my disposal to guarantee even the current level, not to mention the increased levels of funding, to the counselling organisations I would be happy to do that. However, I am afraid that some future Government, of which Deputy Keogh's party may be a part, may curtail expenditure——

Ms Keogh:  Use the money for the education boards.

Mr. Taylor:  ——for such social activities as counselling and mediation in general to enable cutbacks to be made in the social area. I would be happy to do that but unfortunately budgeting is done on a year on basis. As long as I have been Minister and in the term of office of this Government, the money available for counselling has either been maintained or increased. A sum of £900,000 is available this year for the service countrywide. It is a substantial sum and good use is made of it. We maintain contact with them on an ongoing basis. The question of whether it is appropriate that the service should be provided in this way is interesting, coming from Deputy Keogh. I thought her party was not in favour of nationalisation of any kind of service. I am not sure whether she is suggesting that this service should be nationalised. So far as counselling is concerned, the voluntary organisations are doing a good job. I am grateful to them as we all should be for the contribution they make. Counsellors and administrators give of their time and expertise on a voluntary basis. It is remarkable there are so many people here who are prepared to do that. We would be in a bad way without them. They deserve every encouragement and monetary help which I and the Government are happy to provide for them.

Ms Keogh:  In case the Minister is looking for funding from any sources I suggest he ask his colleague, the Minister for Education, who spent [201] £150,000 on preparing a glossy report in the form of the White Paper on Education, some of which could have been devoted to counselling services. Small amounts of the £25 million, or perhaps £50 million which is to be spent on regional education boards, would be much better spent on services such as this. If the Minister is looking for sources of funding I have the answer for him because his colleagues in Government do not.

Mr. Taylor:  Deputy Keogh can be assured that any moneys spent by any Minister in the Government is well spent for a worthwhile object, as is this funding and expenditure by the Minister for Education. These payments are monitored carefully. The Government ensures that value for money is secured and the results can be seen.

Ms Keogh:  The Minister for Education does not know how much it will cost.

Mr. Taylor:  The Deputy should look at the counselling service and legal aid service being provided and the extensions in mediation services. I have not seen a commitment from the Progressive Democrats Party that it will continue the level of funding for these widespread social services. All the indications are that it would cut them back, restrict the provision of counselling and restrict social services right across the board.

Ms Keogh:  That is ridiculous.

Mr. Taylor:  The consequences of that would be disastrous and people ought to know that.

Ms Keogh:  That is disingenuous.

  21.  Mr. Molloy    asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform    the response, if any, he has made to the criticisms of the provisions of the Employment Equality Bill by the Employment Equality Agency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6644/97]

Mr. Taylor:  The Employment Equality Agency has a function under section 35 of the Employment Equality Act, 1977, to make proposals to me whenever it thinks necessary for amending either the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act, 1974, or the Employment Equality Act, 1977.

In that context the agency has furnished its views to me. In its latest submission it welcomed, inter alia, the fact that the Bill had been amended in a number of significant ways in the Dáil and considered that as a result it is much enhanced legislation. I am continuing to keep the comments of the agency under review.

Ms Keogh:  Will the Minister further examine the remarks made by the Employment Equality Agency because it is not convinced the legislation as framed, in relation to sexual harassment, is workable and appropriate?

[202]Mr. Taylor:  All aspects of the Bill are kept under review. One has to bear in mind that important as the representations from the Employment Equality Agency are, responsibility for legislation rests not with the Employment Equality Agency or any other agency but with the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Members thereof. That is where the ultimate responsibility lies. Amendments have been made to the Bill which have been welcomed. The matter is still under consideration in the Seanad. That is the appropriate place to progress the matter further and that will be done.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.

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 21 and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy Lynch — the need to devise a system whereby all exclusions from school are notified immediately to the Department of Education; (2) Deputy Molloy — Drochstaid Scoil Chuimsitheach Chiaráin, An Cheathrú Rua, Contae na Gaillimhe agus na pleananna atá ann chun scoil a dhéanamh den Cholchar agus oibreacha deisiúcháin don scoil féin a chur i gcrích; (3) Deputy Seán Kenny — the grave concern expressed by the Howth Fishermen's Association regarding the impact on whelk fishing by the application to extract gravel from the seabed at the Codling Bank in the Irish Sea; (4) Deputy Quill — the action, if any, intended, to avert the proposed cancellation of EU funding for visitor centres in view of the imminent decision on the part of the EU in respect of moneys for such centres; (5) Deputy Seán Ryan — the effects of the phasing out of duty free facilities in 1999 and the need for the Government to reactivate this issue within the EU; (6) Deputy Sargent — the need to meet with Fingal County Council and various representative bodies to establish a properly resourced harbour authority for Skerries and Balbriggan prior to the vesting of the two harbours in Fingal County Council; (7) Deputy Shortall — the need to put the home help service on a proper footing in order to ensure standardisation of service and rates of pay; (8) Deputy Tom Foxe — the matter of REP scheme planners and their qualifications; (9) Deputy Callely — the need to extend the recently announced package of incentives for job creation outside the Dublin area to Dublin and in particular to areas of high unemployment within Dublin; (10) Deputy Ring — the reason the personal assistants FÁS scheme for the Centre for Independent Living in County Mayo is not going ahead in early March, even though this had been promised; (11) Deputy Lenihan — the proposal to site the alternative waste to energy facility at Ballycoolin, County Dublin.

[203] The matters raised by Deputies Lynch, Molloy, Tom Foxe and Seán Kenny have been selected for discussion.

The Taoiseach:  It is proposed to take the report from the Select Committee on Social Affairs on the National Cultural Institutions Bill, 1996, from the Seanad; No. 10, Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 1996, from the Seanad — Financial Resolution; No. 11, motion concerning the Finance Act, 1994 (Section 32) (Exemption of Certain Non-Commercial State-sponsored Bodies from Certain Tax Provisions) Order, 1997 in draft; No. 1, Courts Bill, 1997, from the Seanad, Second and remaining Stages; and No. 2, Freedom of Information Bill, 1996, from the Seanad, Second Stage. It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that: (1) the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 10.30 p.m.; (2) Nos. 10 and 11 shall be decided without debate; (3) Second and remaining Stages of No. 1 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion after one hour by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Justice; and (4) the Dáil, on its rising on Thursday, 13 March 1997 shall adjourn until 1 p.m. on Wednesday, 19 March 1997. Private Members' Business shall be No. 9, Private Educational Institutions Bill, 1997, Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, subject to leave being given to introduce the Bill.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There are four matters to be put to the House. Is the late sitting agreed? Agreed. Is it agreed that Nos. 10 and 11 be decided without debate? Agreed. Are the proposals for dealing with No. 1 agreed? Agreed. Are the proposals for the Adjournment of the Dáil agreed?

Mrs. O'Rourke:  On the last question, I wish to raise the question of education, which has general importance and on which there has been much comment. The Taoiseach has often said that the cornerstone of democracy is decent education. Two important Bills are before the House this week, the Universities Bill and the Education Bill, and the Minister asserts that these will effect the most sweeping changes ever made to the education system. We are dissatisfied that debate on these Bills is to be strangled and cut short when many people wish to contribute. Many amendments from Committee Stage of the Universities Bill will be recommitted on Report Stage and the Education Bill will, if implemented, have far-reaching importance. Many Members wish to speak on the latter Bill but they will be denied the opportunity. I ask the Taoiseach to reconsider the matter.

[204]Miss Harney:  I agree with Deputy O'Rourke. The Government proposes to guillotine the Education Bill on Thursday but we have more speakers anxious to contribute to the debate. It is neither helpful nor healthy to impose a guillotine at lunchtime on Thursday.

The Taoiseach:  The Government's proposal is not before the House today but it will be tomorrow. Its purpose is to allow the House to proceed to discuss the details of these Bills section by section when constructive proposals can be considered. We cannot begin to do this until Second Stage is concluded, as general speeches are made then. There has already been a lengthy Second Stage debate on the Bills in question——

Mr. Martin:  There has not, only four Fianna Fáil Members spoke so far. What is the Tánaiste muttering? This is an election gimmick.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Let us hear the reply, please.

The Taoiseach:  The Minister is anxious to move forward to a detailed discussion of the legislation and she has already made public her assurance that she will consider constructive suggestions not only from the Opposition but from the interested parties in education. Discussions are taking place with those parties with a view to ensuring their views are taken as fully as possible on board. It is not possible to give effect to any agreements which might be made with interested parties or to any constructive suggestions from the Opposition until we begin Committee Stage discussion of the Bill.

Dr. Woods:  That is a new one.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  I challenge the Taoiseach's suggestion that the Minister is anxious to bring the Bill to Committee Stage. It has always been a point of principle in the House that if there is great interest in a Bill Members are entitled to contribute to it on Second Stage.

Miss Quill:  It is democratic debate.

Mr. Martin:  Fianna Fáil has only had four speakers on Second Stage of the Education Bill.

Mr. Spring:  Too many.

Mr. Martin:  Not all Members of the House are members of the Select Committee on Social Affairs and Second Stage is the only opportunity they have to contribute to a Bill as fundamental as this.

Mr. Finucane:  Has Fianna Fáil no confidence in its spokesperson?

Mr. R. Burke:  We have more confidence in him than the Government has in the Minister.

[205]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy in possession, please. Be brief, Deputy Martin, but you will have order.

Mr. Martin:  A two-hour debate on Thursday is totally inappropriate because, for one thing, this Bill purports to drive the churches out of Irish education.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy has had an opportunity to make his point. We cannot debate the Bill in detail.

Mr. Martin:  Some groups have yet to finalise their positions and make submissions to the House or the committees. They are faxing them through in a hurry. This is a guillotine for the purposes of an election and the way the House and the Members are being treated is disgraceful.

Ms Keogh:  Because of the rota system within the House my party has had only one speaker, myself, on the Education Bill and other Members wish to contribute. The reason we are going into Committee Stage is that the Minister realises that opposition to the Bill is building up so she is trying to get it through as quickly as possible.

Mr. Spring:  Nonsense.

Mr. R. Burke:  The Minister is running away from her proposals and trying to get them out of this House, which is the forum for democratic debate. The people elect Members to voice their views and we are entitled to a proper debate on what the Minister called the most fundamental change in education in the history of the State. It is ridiculous that the Government is trying to guillotine the Bill, or strangle it, as may colleague said. It is essential that the House has more time to debate it.

The Taoiseach:  The purpose of the legislation promoted by the Minister is to provide for a partnership——

Mr. Martin:  Do not talk nonsense. Some partnership — it is dictatorship.

Mr. Callely:  A one-way partnership.

The Taoiseach:  ——between the religious patrons of schools, the State and the parents and provide an institutional structure in which all the partners in education can have their say.

Mr. R. Burke:  The public has its say here through its representatives.

The Taoiseach:  I think this a reasonable approach but suggestions which are in be made by any of the partners to education or by the Opposition can and should be considered when we look at the Bill on a line by line, section by [206] section basis, which we can only do on Committee Stage.

Mr. R. Burke:  After it has been guillotined.

The Taoiseach:  It is the Government's anxiety to move as soon as we can into Committee Stage where all these points of view, many of them valid, can be taken into proper account. Deputy Martin should realise that it is important that parents have a say in the education of their children——

Mr. Martin:  Absolutely.

Mr. R. Burke:  Through their representatives.

The Taoiseach:  ——and the suggestion being made that somehow they should not is not a good one.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I will not call all the Deputies who are offering.

Dr. Woods:  On a point of order——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Excuse me, Deputy. The question the Chair put to the House is not the Education Bill. I have allowed questions to be asked and after calling one more speaker I must put the question.

Mr. D. Ahern:  This party provided 29 speakers on the Universities Bill and so far we have only provided four speakers on the Education Bill. There have been four hours' debate on that Bill and the Government proposes to allow only another two. We raise the matter to put the Government on notice that what it is doing is wrong. Merely giving more time on Thursday is not acceptable. We ask that the Bill be debated for at least another week to enable outside groups “tick-tacking” with the Government to tick-tack with the Opposition because we have a duty——

Mr. J. O'Keeffe:  Are they ignoring the Opposition?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy has made his point well.

Dr. Woods:  On a point of order, a Leas Cheann-Comhairle, you will appreciate that Second Stage of a Bill deals with its principles.

Mr. Currie:  Where is the point of order?

Dr. Woods:  The main issue in the Education Bill is the principle under which the Minister seeks to drive all churches out of education.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is not a point of order, Deputy.

Dr. Woods:  This issue must be discussed in the House before it goes to Committee.

Question put.

[207][208] The Dáil divided: Tá, 71; Níl, 43.

Ahearn, Theresa.
Allen, Bernard.
Barrett, Seán.
Bell, Michael.
Bhreathnach, Niamh.
Boylan, Andrew.
Bradford, Paul.
Broughan, Thomas.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Bruton, John.
Bruton, Richard.
Burke, Liam.
Burton, Joan.
Byrne, Eric.
Carey, Donal.
Connaughton, Paul.
Costello, Joe.
Coveney, Hugh.
Crawford, Seymour.
Creed, Michael.
Crowley, Frank.
Currie, Austin.
Deasy, Austin.
Deenihan, Jimmy.
Doyle, Avril.
Dukes, Alan.
Durkan, Bernard.
Ferris, Michael.
Finucane, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Brian.
Fitzgerald, Eithne.
Fitzgerald, Frances.
Flaherty, Mary.
Foxe, Tom.
Gallagher, Pat (Laoighis-Offaly).
Harte, Paddy.
Higgins, Jim.
Higgins, Michael.
Kavanagh, Liam.
Kemmy, Jim.
Kenny, Enda.
Kenny, Seán.
Lynch, Kathleen.
McCormack, Pádraic.
McDowell, Derek.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
McGrath, Paul.
McManus, Liz.
Mitchell, Gay.
Mulvihill, John.
Nealon, Ted.
Noonan, Michael (Limerick East).
O'Keeffe, Jim.
O'Shea, Brian.
O'Sullivan, Toddy.
Owen, Nora.
Pattison, Séamus.
Penrose, William.
Quinn, Ruairí.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Ring, Michael.
Ryan, John.
Ryan, Seán.
Sheehan, P.J.
Spring, Dick.
Stagg, Emmet.
Taylor, Mervyn.
Upton, Pat.
Walsh, Éamon.
Yates, Ivan.

Níl

Ahern, Dermot.
Ahern, Michael.
Andrews, David.
Brennan, Matt.
Brennan, Séamus.
Browne, John (Wexford).
Burke, Raphael.
Callely, Ivor.
Coughlan, Mary.
Cowen, Brian.
Cullen, Martin.
de Valera, Síle.
Flood, Chris.
Foley, Denis.
Harney, Mary.
Haughey, Seán.
Jacob, Joe.
Keaveney, Cecilia.
Kenneally, Brendan.
Keogh, Helen.
Killeen, Tony.
Kirk, Séamus.
Kitt, Tom.
Lawlor, Liam.
Lenihan, Brian.
Leonard, Jimmy.
Martin, Micheál.
McDaid, James.
Moffatt, Tom.
Molloy, Robert.
Morley, P.J.
Nolan, M.J.
O'Dea, Willie.
O'Donnell, Liz.
O'Hanlon, Rory.
O'Keeffe, Batt.
O'Keeffe, Ned.
O'Rourke, Mary.
Power, Seán.
Quill, Máirín.
Ryan, Eoin.
Smith, Michael.
Woods, Michael.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies J. Higgins and B. Fitzgerald; Níl, Deputies D. Ahern and Callely.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  In the absence of the Taoiseach last week, the Tánaiste took the Order of Business. On the question of the Advanced Technology College, he said that if something could be done it would be done. What progress has the Minister for Education made in terms of meeting these students and their parents?

The Taoiseach:  The Minister for Education will deal with that matter in the next day or so in the context of debates on the subject in the House.

Mr. Andrews:  With respect, it will be too late to deal with it in two or three days time.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Order, is this not the subject of a Private Members' Bill this evening?

[209]Mr. Andrews:  The Taoiseach is a generous man but——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Did the Deputy not hear me?

Mr. Andrews:  This is a very serious matter.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Andrews, I asked if this was the subject matter of a Private Members' Bill later today.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  The general principle is but the college is not.

Mr. Andrews:  I am seeking clarification——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy will have an opportunity to have matters clarified when the measure comes before the House.

Mr. Andrews:  In the absence of the Minister for Education, will another Minister meet with the Merrion Square 500? The matter is as simple as that.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Martin to move the First Stage of the Private Educational Institutions Bill, 1997.

Mr. Martin:  I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for the regulation of private educational institutions and for the protection of students attending such institutions, for those purposes to enable the Minister for Education to issue licences to private educational institutions and to require them to enter into and maintain bonds, to provide for the establishment of a fund to be known as the private students' protection fund and for the payment of contributions by private educational institutions towards the resources for that fund and to provide for other matters connected with the foregoing.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the Bill opposed?

The Taoiseach:  No.

Mr. S. Brennan:  Is it supported?

Question put and agreed to.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Since this is a Private Members' Bill, the Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

Mr. Martin:  I move: “That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time.”

Question put and agreed to.

[210]Mr. R. Burke:  The Taoiseach and Tánaiste will be aware of the sectarian discrimination case involving the Minister, Baroness Denton, in Northern Ireland. Will they make strong representations through the Anglo-Irish Conference to ensure that this horrendous case is fully and independently investigated with a view to ascertaining the facts——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I am sorry to interrupt the Deputy but could he relate the matter to promised legislation?

Mr. R. Burke:  ——and ensuring that Minister Denton takes the necessary action which is the honourable thing to do in a case like this?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I hesitate to rule against the Deputy but the matter is not in order now.

Mr. R. Burke:  There has not been a response.

The Taoiseach:  I would be happy to respond but I am guided by the Chair.

Mr. D. Ahern:  The Taoiseach responds when it suits him.

Mr. R. Burke:  I invite the Government for once in its lifetime to criticise the British Government.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Burke should raise this matter at a more appropriate time, and he knows that.

Mr. Cowen:  As the person responsible for protecting the privileges of the Members of this House, I want to bring to your attention that the report of the hepatitis C tribunal was given to the Minister for Health by the tribunal chairman last Thursday or Friday, yet no Member apart from the Opposition spokespersons has received a copy of the report, as we are entitled to since we set up the tribunal. I want to bring to the attention of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and others who claim to have an interest in this matter the fact that one copy of the report was sent to the Positive Action group — one copy for the 1,200 victims awaiting the outcome of the tribunal for some time.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That should be adequate.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  It is not adequate.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It will be adequate for now.

Mr. Cowen:  Apart from the disrespect shown to Members of this House who were not provided with copies of the report, disrespect has been shown to the victims of this tragedy some of whom are currently in an office making 1,200 [211] copies of this report so that they can find out what the Chairman has to say about the matter. That is a disgrace and the Government should be ashamed.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The provision of important documents is relevant.

The Taoiseach:  I understand arrangements are being made to ensure every Deputy will have a copy of the report quickly.

Mr. Andrews:  Thank God for that.

The Taoiseach:  I understand also that all the people affected by the tragic events in the Blood Transfusion Service Board will receive individual copies. Anybody with experience of printing will understand it is not possible to ensure all the copies are made available to everybody at precisely the same time.

Mr. Martin:  It is possible.

The Taoiseach:  Out of respect for the principal Opposition parties, copies were provided early to the Deputy and to the Progressive Democrats.

Mr. Cowen:  One copy was provided at 3.45 p.m.

The Taoiseach:  This report was available at Cabinet only this morning and publication was approved immediately on receipt of copies by the Cabinet.

Mr. Martin:  The spin doctoring has started already.

The Taoiseach:  There has been no delay in the distribution of the report, and I understand arrangements are in train for agreement with the Opposition on the timing of a debate on the subject. Obviously, there will be many opportunities for further discussion on the important conclusions reached in this tragic matter.

Mr. Cowen:  On a point of order, a Cheann Comhairle, as you are the defender of the rights of the Members of this House——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Cowen, you may not circumvent my ruling by that kind of tactic. I am on my feet and I am calling Deputy Coughlan.

Mr. Cowen:  Will the Chair call me later on a point of order, arising out of what the Taoiseach has said about a serious matter?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Provided it is a point of order and not a point of disorder.

Mr. Cowen:  This is a serious matter. May I make the point to you, a Cheann Comhairle?

[212]An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy may do so now.

Mr. Cowen:  This is a matter that may be taken up by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is the Deputy's prerogative.

Mr. Cowen:  The Taoiseach talked about the difficulty with the logistics of printing. There was no problem providing copies of the report to the media at a media briefing at 3 p.m.——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is embarking upon a speech.

Mr. Cowen:  ——even though the Members of this House still await those copies. I remind the Taoiseach that we have rights in this House with regard to the tribunal and, not for the first time, he has disregarded those rights.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is this the point of order?

Mr. Cowen:  I recall what was said by Members on the opposite side of the House about selective leaking——

An Ceann Comhairle:  If the Deputy persists with this kind of tactic, I will not entertain a spurious point of order.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  It is not spurious.

Mr. Andrews:  Withdraw that remark.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I have given the Deputies an opportunity of hearing a reply.

Mr. R. Burke:  On a point of order, I do not want to enter into controversy with the Chair, but it is not a spurious point of order that the rights of the Members of this House——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The point has been adequately made. I am calling Deputy Coughlan.

Mr. Andrews:  Resume your seat, a Cheann Comhairle.

Mr. Cowen:  The media have copies of the report but the Members of this House do not. That was orchestrated by this Government of openness and transparency. That is the type of openness we have in this House.

Mr. R. Burke:  They have been playing with it since last weekend.

Mr. Cowen:  I am putting you on notice, a Cheann Comhairle, that the Committee on Procedure and Privileges will bring this matter formally to your attention——

[213]An Ceann Comhairle:  That is your privilege, Deputy.

Mr. Cowen:  ——because the Members of this House will stand up for their entitlements.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That should be enough, Deputy.

Mr. Cowen:  The Government has done its spin doctoring with the media. Thousands of people have been affected by this tragedy, yet the Government is only concerned with the best way to present this report to the media to cover its own ass.

Mr. D. Ahern:  The Government of disgrace.

Mr. Sheehan:  The Opposition is a disgrace.

Miss Coughlan:  Is it the Government's intention to immediately introduce legislation to legalise the deflector systems? If not, will the Taoiseach intervene to ensure the deflector systems are not turned off until such time as this legislation is before the House, as promised by the Taoiseach recently as well as a number of years ago?

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy might get some assistance on that matter from the then Minister, Deputy Ray Burke, who I understand was involved in agreements on the matter.

Mr. R. Burke:  ——and from the Taoiseach's own well publicised view.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  The Taoiseach is the star of south Cork.

The Taoiseach:  I have already answered the question by indicating to other Deputies in the Deputy's party that the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications is currently considering this matter. The problem is that exclusive licences were given by the then Minister, a member of the Deputy's own party.

Mr. R. Burke:  Correctly so.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Replies from the Taoiseach ought not to give rise to constant disorder.

Miss Coughlan:  The Taoiseach should be well aware of the consequences.

Ms O'Donnell:  On the publication of the report of the tribunal of inquiry into the hepatitis C scandal, does the Taoiseach not think Deputy Cowen's point is worthy of a response, given that it was a motion of this House, not of the Minister, which established the tribunal? Surely it is improper, in terms of parliamentary procedures, for the report to be given to the media prior to it being given to any Member of this House, including Opposition Deputies.

[214]An Ceann Comhairle:  The point has been made adequately. I am calling Deputy Séamus Brennan. If the Deputy wishes to raise the matter in another way, she may do so.

The Taoiseach:  My understanding is that copies of the tribunal report will be available to all Members this evening. There is no wish to deny full access to all the information in the report——

Mr. D. Ahern:  That is what is happening.

The Taoiseach:  ——as early as possible to all Members of the House and to all those who have been victims in this tragic matter. I assure the House that all the people concerned will have their copies as early as possible. The Government only received copies of the report this morning——

Mr. R. Burke:  We have had leaked variations of it all weekend.

The Taoiseach:  ——and we immediately approved it for publication. We made it available to the media. It is important to make the point that the media is the means whereby the contents of the report may be disseminated to the public.

Mr. Cowen:  The Taoiseach is really changing his tune.

Mr. D. Ahern:  The effrontery of it.

The Taoiseach:  The parties of the Deputies who are complaining received advance copies of the report this morning.

Mr. R. Burke:  We had one copy at 3.40 p.m.

Mr. D. Ahern:  The Taoiseach is treating this House with disdain.

The Taoiseach:  I understand all Members of the House will receive their copies this evening. There is no question but that all Members will have adequate opportunity to study the report and contribute on the matter contained in it.

Mr. S. Brennan:  This Government likes to conceal reports. In that regard will the Taoiseach now release the report made by consultants on the MMDS which was given to the community group in Cork? This report was commissioned and then concealed by the Government, but given to a community group in Cork. Will the Taoiseach now make it available to the Members of this House?

An Ceann Comhairle:  This is more appropriate to Question Time.

The Taoiseach:  There has not been any concealment.

Mr. S. Brennan:  Where is it?

[215]The Taoiseach:  The report in question contains certain information that is confidential to a particular commercial operator.

Mr. S. Brennan:  Every parish in Cork has it.

Mr. Finucane:  It is amazing the Deputy does not have it.

The Taoiseach:  Obviously, it would not be appropriate for the Government to disseminate publicly that aspect of the report. As the Deputy knows, the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications is considering all the matters involved, including the question of the publication of an appropriate version of the report that does not contain information that would be commercially compromising for any individual company.

Mr. S. Brennan:  Members of the House are entitled to the full report.

Mr. D. Ahern:  It is ironic that we will be discussing the Freedom of Information Bill later, when one sees what goes on here in regard to getting information on the report of the hepatitis C tribunal and how the Education Bill is being addressed by the Government. A number of weeks ago the Government voted down a Fianna Fáil Bill on offences relating to syringes. The Government promised to bring forward legislation immediately to address the issue. In the intervening period there have been many syringe attacks. When does the Government propose to bring forward legislation?

The Taoiseach:  That Bill has been published.

Mr. D. Ahern:  When is it being taken in the House?

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy is obviously better placed than most, being the Whip for the main Opposition party, to make any representations he wishes about business. That Bill will be taken as quickly as possible. I will make inquiries for the Deputy as to when exactly it will be taken, but the Deputy's party must understand that it is not possible to take the Second Stage of three or four different Bills on the same day at the same time. The Deputy's party, for example, has been objecting to a foreshortening of the Second Stage debates on certain other legislation.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  Quite rightly.

The Taoiseach:  If one were to accept the Deputy's party's advice on that it would postpone the taking of the Offences Against the Person Bill.

Mr. D. Ahern:  When is it intended to take the Bill?

[216]The Taoiseach:  It is not possible to take three pieces of legislation at Second Stage at the same time in the House. It is necessary to seek the cooperation of Deputies opposite to allow the Second Stages of various Bills to be passed so that we can get them into committee. Deputy Ahern, who is concerned that the Offences Against the Person Bill should be taken soon, might use his influence with Deputies in his own party to allow the Education Bill to be passed to committee so that there will be time for debate on Second Stage of other Bills.

Mr. Cowen:  Why? I want to speak on Second Stage.

Mr. B. O'Keeffe:  Can the Taoiseach explain to the House how a consultant's report can be made available to South Coast Community Television which contains sensitive commercial information but it cannot be made available to Members of this House?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should put down a question on the matter.

The Taoiseach:  It is sensitive commercial information concerning South Coast Television. Making such information available to the company in question is not a problem, whereas making it available to others would be a problem.

Mr. Cowen:  This is the first time a Minister has had to report to a pirate.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I understand there is a question tabled on the matter for tomorrow. The Chair should be listened to in this House.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  I do not want to let the occasion pass without putting on the record that it is an insult to the women and their families who have suffered through the hepatitis C scandal that they have not received copies of the report and that they will hear details of the report when they turn on their radios and televisions.

Mr. Cowen:  Public warning, “tainted with a Government spin”.

Mr. Callely:  With regard to the commitment in A Government of Renewal to eliminate waiting lists in respect of people with a mental handicap, is the Taoiseach satisfied that it is being met?

The Taoiseach:  That is more appropriately a subject for Question Time. I am satisfied that the Government is making progress on that matter.

Mr. Callely:  Is the Government doing anything to limit waiting lists? It is not providing funding.

Mr. O'Dea:  Paragraph 111 of the Programme for Government states “we will prepare a youth service Act to provide a statutory basis for [217] developing youth work in Ireland”. When will that plank of Government policy be introduced?

The Taoiseach:  It was published last week.

Mr. O'Dea:  When will it be taken in the House?

The Taoiseach:  The same problem arises here as before. The Deputy wants to have Second Stage taken. Deputy Dermot Ahern wants to have the Second Stage of the Offences Against the Person Act taken, yet the Deputy's party insists on discussing other matters at Second Stage for a very long time.

Mr. R. Burke:  It is tiresome that we should discuss legislation.

The Taoiseach:  We could, of course, sit longer if the Deputy wants that. I do not know whether the Deputy wants to sit here on Fridays. We will be quite happy to sit here on Fridays to process some of this legislation if that is what the Deputy wishes. The Government is anxious to have the legislation taken and enacted as quickly as possible.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  When will the women and their families get a copy of the report of the tribunal? There is no reply.

Mr. D. Ahern:  The Taoiseach referred to the discussion of legislation in the House. This party has provided most speakers on Government Bills. They are not putting in Members to discuss their own legislation. It is not our fault if we adhere to our duty to discuss legislation in this House.

Miss Quill:  When will legislation on conservation of the built environment be brought before the House?

The Taoiseach:  The legislation in question is likely to be introduced in May or June.

Miss Quill:  This year?

The Taoiseach:  This year.

Mr. Flood:  Given that there are approximately 1,100 families from the travelling community living in appalling conditions on the side of the road, when is it intended to bring forward legislation to require local authorities to draw up a five year accommodation plan for their respective areas?

The Taoiseach:  I hope that legislation will be introduced next month.

Mr. E. O'Keeffe:  I fail to understand why the Taoiseach cannot make the consultant's report on deflector systems, commissioned by his Minister, Deputy Lowry, available to the House. That report is the property of this House because it was commissioned by the Government. The Taoiseach's [218] promise has not been honoured, and there is no use in hiding behind a consultant's report.

Mr. Pattison:  The Select Committee on Social Affairs has considered the Bill and has made amendments thereto. The Bill, as amended, is reported to the Dáil.

Minister for the Marine (Mr. Barrett):  I move:

That it is expedient to make provision allowing for the making of regulations by the Minister for the Marine, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, providing for the payment of fees on applications for the granting and renewal of licences to engage in aquaculture, fees on appeals against decisions relating to the granting, revocation or amendment of such licences, and fees in respect of such licences generally, under any Act of the present session to amend and extend the law relating to fisheries, to prohibit persons from engaging in aquaculture except with and in accordance with a licence, to establish a procedure for the granting, renewal, amendment and revocation of licences, to allow for appeals against decisions relating to licences, and for connected purposes.

Question put and agreed to.

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen):  I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the following Order in draft:

Finance Act 1994 (Section 32) (Exemption of Certain Non-Commercial State-sponsored Bodies from Certain Tax Provisions) Order 1997,

a copy of which Order was laid before the House on 5th February, 1997.

Question put and agreed to.

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen):  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

When I became Minister for Justice I was acutely aware of the need for reform of our courts system. A full reappraisal of where the courts stood and where the system was going had been [219] long overdue. A fresh approach was badly needed. A vastly increased volume of civil actions, family law business and criminal cases over a number of years had meant that the entire courts system was under considerable strain. The most serious and immediate problem was, of course, the delays in the hearing of actions and appeals at all levels of the courts system. This adversely affected litigants, victims of crime, the business sector and the community as a whole.

The first major step I took to turn around this unsatisfactory state of affairs was to introduce and secure the enactment of the Courts and Court Officers Act, 1995. That Act provided for a total increase of 18 in the statutory maximum limit of judges — three in the Supreme Court, three in the High Court, seven in the Circuit Court and five in the District Court. All but three of those extra judges have been appointed. The 1995 Act contained other innovative reforms that improved the position considerably, for example, by enabling the Supreme Court to sit in two divisions which could hear appeals simultaneously and by giving the Master of the High Court and county registrars the power to deal with business that previously only judges could handle.

Last summer I brought forward the Courts Bill, 1996, to increase the maximum statutory limit on the number of judges of the Circuit Court by a further three to 28 judges, including the President of the Circuit Court. The Courts Act, 1996, and the 1995 Act, provided for an additional ten Circuit Court judges, that is, an increase of more than 50 per cent in the number of judges of that court. Developments in the family law area and changes to the limits of the jurisdiction of the courts in 1991 had a major impact on the volume and complexity of business coming before the courts system as a whole, but this affected the Circuit Court in particular.

The implementation of divorce legislation is likely to impact further on the volume of business, particularly in the Circuit Court. It is not yet possible to assess its long-term requirements for judicial and staffing resources but in the shortterm it is expected there will be a considerable number of applications to the courts. My Department is currently in touch with the Department of Finance regarding the provision of additional staff in this regard. If a continuing upward trend becomes apparent I assure the House the Government will look at the need for additional judges and staff in that specific context.

The appointment of additional judges has enabled the President of the High Court to arrange additional sittings of the Central Criminal Court and the President of the Circuit Court to arrange additional sittings of the Circuit Courts, in particular in areas where delays were acute. Alongside my legislative programme, this development has had a significant effect on the backlog of cases before those courts. My strategy has been to combine the allocation of additional judicial resources with practical legislative and [220] administrative reforms to quickly equip the courts system with the means to make inroads on delays in hearing cases and appeals.

This strategy has produced excellent results. The existing backlogs in the courts are well on the way to being cleared. For example, in the Dublin Circuit Court I understand new litigants in civil cases can now obtain a court date within six weeks of the lodgement of their cases. This compares with a delay of two years last July. In family law cases in the Dublin Circuit Court the delay has been reduced from 16 months to four months and now there are no delays in the hearing of criminal cases in the Dublin Circuit Court.

Delays in the hearing of personal injury actions in the High Court have been reduced from 35 months to 20 months and delays in the hearing of cases in the Central Criminal Court have been reduced to as low as six months in some cases. There is still room for improvement, particularly in personal injuries actions, but the reduction in delays from 35 months to 20 months in a very short space of time is welcome. There have been similar substantial reductions in delays in the hearing of cases in the provincial Circuit Court. To give just one example, delays in the hearing of civil cases in Galway have been reduced from two years to as low as three months and delays in the hearing of family law cases which had been up to six months have been eliminated. The vast majority of provincial Circuit Court venues have experienced this pattern of reductions in the level of delays in hearing cases.

A major step has been taken to reform the courts system with the establishment of the working group on a courts commission which I set up at the end of 1995, chaired by Mrs. Justice Susan Denham, to review the operation and financing of the courts system with particular regard to the quality of service provided to the public. I also asked the group to consider the matter of the establishment of a commission on the management of the courts as an independent and permanent body with financial and management autonomy in line with the commitment to that effect in the programme A Government of Renewal.

Last November the Government approved the recommendation in the working group's third report, Towards the Courts Service, to the effect that steps be taken as a matter of urgency to legislate for a courts service as an independent and permanent body and accorded priority to the drafting of this Bill. The legislation required to enable the new courts service to be established is being dealt with as a priority within my Department and this measure will be published as soon as possible.

The working group is continuing its work on the review of the day to day operation of the courts system and it will submit further reports to me as appropriate. This is valuable work and I take this opportunity to again thank Mrs. Justice Denham and the other members of the working group for the very important work they have undertaken in this area. This strategy for the [221] longer term development of the courts system is crucial. As I said in other venues, too many sticking plasters have been put on the courts system over the years. The Government is now taking a fresh and long-term look at the courts and, with the help of Mrs. Justice Susan Denham, we will have a more effective courts system when the new courts structure is set up.

Another major area of concern with regard to the courts, which I am actively addressing, is the standard of court accommodation. A major courts building programme has been drawn up and a number of works are under way throughout the country. I am aware that, despite the work done in recent years, the standard of much of the court accommodation around the country is seriously inadequate and fails to provide the facilities necessary for persons using the courts. I have obtained nearly £7 million from the Government this year to carry out capital projects and a further £1.6 million for maintenance projects, totalling about £8.5 million. This is the largest amount to be allocated in one year since financial responsibility for courthouses was transferred to the Exchequer in March 1990 and is an indication of the Government's commitment to provide modern court accommodation which is necessary for the effective discharge of court business.

Up to 1990 responsibility to keep court premises in good condition rested with local authorities, which for various reasons neglected their duty in that regard perhaps because of lack of finance or pressure for spending on other purposes. There is now a programme in place and this year I received the largest amount of money ever to progress that programme of renovation and rebuilding. Over the next month or so new courthouses will be provided at the former Riverbank Theatre and the former Richmond Hospital, at Carrick-on-Shannon and Naas. Work on the building of a new courthouse in Tallaght has just commenced and major projects in Ennis, Listowel, Longford, Trim and Cork city will also get under way this year.

Deputies will be aware of the recent Government decisions to appoint two judges of the High Court, Ms Justice Mella Carroll to the Nursing Commission and Mr. Justice Brian McCracken to the Dunnes Stores Tribunal. These developments will, naturally, have implications for the existing judicial resources in the High Court, and that is the background to this Bill. I would be most concerned if the progress already made in reducing delays in hearing criminal and civil cases before the High Court were adversely affected by the appointment, albeit temporary, to other duties of the two judges I have mentioned.

The purpose of this Bill is to increase the statutory limit on the number of judges of the High Court, not including the President of the High Court, from 19, as set by the Courts and Court Officers Act, 1995, to 22. This will be raised to 23 where one of the judges of the High Court is appointed to the position of commissioner in the Law Reform Commission, which is a standard [222] provision. It is my intention that one new judge should be appointed to the High Court as soon as the Bill has been enacted. The Bill takes account, therefore, of the need for possible future increases that may be required in the number of High Court judges. That approach makes much better sense than legislating to increase the complement of judges on an ad hoc basis on each occasion that an additional judge might be required. Urgent circumstances could arise in the future which would require the appointment of an additional High Court judge. This Bill means that it will be possible to respond to such a need without having to bring forward another Courts Bill.

Tackling immediate problems and implementing a longer term development strategy for the courts are key priorities for me as Minister for Justice. The reforms I have already put in place and ongoing reforms will ensure that the courts will have the capacity in future to respond effectively to the demands placed on them. This commitment of resources and longer term planning is vital for the operation of an efficient system of justice and that is a standard the public is entitled to expect and which I am confident my reforms will deliver. The Bill which is being debated here today is a significant measure that will enable the great progress that has been achieved in the operation of our courts system to be maintained and developed further. I commend it to the House.

When I introduced the legislation in the Seanad I was heartened that two lawyers from the Opposition had the good grace to agree the position in the courts has improved greatly in recent times. They commended the speed with which court cases are currently being heard.

Dr. McDaid:  We welcome the Bill. However, while additional judges have been appointed, the backlog in the courts has not decreased. The Government has done nothing to decrease it. On 1 October 1995, before the new judges were appointed, there were 51 cases involving rape, murder and aggravated sexual assault before the Central Criminal Court. On 1 October 1996, after the new judges had been appointed, there were 65 cases awaiting hearing in the Central Criminal Court. While we welcome the new appointments, the Minister must examine the organisation of the Judiciary. When new judges are appointed one expects the backlog to diminish rather than increase by 14 cases. The judges who have been appointed deal with civil rather than criminal cases. Given the current crime statistics, that is not what they should be required to do. Perhaps the Minister would examine those statistics before replying to the debate.

As a lay person I often wonder why the Judiciary, like most other professions, does not hold an annual or biannual congress to deal with difficulties that arise in the courts system. The Garda, nurses, farmers, teachers and bishops meet on an annual or biannual basis in the [223] interest of their professions and to ensure consistency in the matters with which they deal.

Fianna Fáil believes the organisation, administration and financing of the courts must be reappraised. We will implement the report of the Courts Commission with particular reference to the establishment of an independent courts service. We also believe current court procedures are cumbersome and slow. There is an unacceptable delay in processing cases, some of which can take up to 18 months. Such delays serve the interests of neither the defence nor the prosecution. We need a fast-track prosecution system. The number of court appearances must be reduced to permit trials to take place within three rather than 18 months.

To achieve this, Fianna Fáil proposes that the system of preliminary examination should be abolished and instead, at the first appearance, an inquiry should take place into whether the matter should be dealt with on indictment. If it is dealt with on indictment it should be referred directly to the court of trial and the trial should proceed within 90 days of arrest. This would involve reform of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967. Cases involving certain serious crimes should be heard within 90 days.

When in Government Fianna Fáil will establish special family courts to deal with family law cases and commence a programmed national courts refurbishment scheme. It will also recognise that court delays often derive from the way in which the court calendar is organised. That should be reorganised for more efficient dispatch of business.

Increased staff must be provided to service these additional sittings and, in particular, the number of registrars must be increased. Fianna Fáil believes there is scope for modifying the approach to the giving of evidence. We will remove the necessity for oral evidence to be given by purely formal witnesses. We propose to establish a witness protection programme similar to that operated by EUROPOL. In conjunction with this, we will provide a statutory basis for plea bargaining and establish a specialist section in the Department of Justice with a brief to provide an ongoing statistical backup for the courts.

The role of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board is merely advisory. Its purpose is defined in the Courts and Courts Officers Act as identifying persons and informing the Government of their suitability for appointment to judicial office. In November 1995 Deputy O'Donoghue said the Minister for Justice had radically altered the composition of that board. It was no longer deemed appropriate for the chairman of the Law Reform Commission to serve as a member. Instead, the Minister proposed the appointment of the Attorney General — the general law officer of the Government — to the board. If he were not appointed to the board, the holder of that office could provide a more independent role in assisting with such appointments.

[224] Fianna Fáil has a proven track record of having staffed the Bench with numerous lawyers with affiliations to other political parties. That was the case for all the courts. Unfortunately, that commendable attitude has not applied to the Minister's party while in office.

Mrs. Owen:  Does the Deputy want me to give him names?

Dr. McDaid:  Despite what the Minister might say, it is a case of more jobs for the boys. The Courts and Court Officers Bill, originally introduced by Fianna Fáil, would have operated impartially. The Bill eventually introduced by the Minister killed the spirit of the original Fianna Fáil Bill. The new Government's version of the Bill was designed to load the dice in favour of the Government's carefully selected nominees for judicial office.

Mrs. Owen:  On a point of order, as the body to whom the Deputy referred comprises the Chief Justice and the presidents of the High Court, Circuit Court and District Court, an allegation that it is carrying out its work in a less than impartial manner should not remain on the record.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I did not observe a personal imputation. I take it the Deputy is making political charges.

Dr. McDaid:  That is true. I would not impinge on the independence of that board. It is an extraordinary coincidence that the people appointed to the board support the parties of the Rainbow Coalition. It seems even more extraordinary that two solicitors, both of whom belong to Democratic Left and one of whom is a former Democratic Left Deputy, were appointed to the Circuit Court.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask the Deputy not to refer to persons in such a manner as to identify them.

Mrs. Owen:  That is disgraceful. The Deputy should be careful because I can quote him chapter and verse.

Dr. McDaid:  So much for impartiality. I wish to share my time with Deputy Lenihan.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Only one hour has been provided for this debate. I am anxious to hear Deputy O'Donnell, so I will call Deputy Lenihan if time permits.

Ms O'Donnell:  I welcome this Bill in the same way that the Progressive Democrats have welcomed other legislation to reform the courts. The courts service is the Cinderella of the justice system, not only in terms of the allocation of resources but also the time and attention given to it by legislators. As the Minister said, the cumulative effect of more judges means that serious [225] inroads have been made into the backlog, particularly in relation to the processing of civil litigation. Delays which had been legion and, in many cases, defied belief have been reduced, particularly in the civil lists.

As regards criminal trials, any improvement in the backlog of cases is a double-edged sword because of the lack of prison spaces. If we start to free up the wheels of the criminal justice system, more people will be committed to Mountjoy. However, because of a shortage of space, other convicted offenders will be released to make room for them.

There are three legs in the criminal justice system. The first is the enforcement of the law — there was much debate recently about zero tolerance — the second is an efficient courts service to process criminal trials and the third is an efficiently run prison service. I know the Minister has made every effort, with the limited resources available to her, to provide 120 or 130 more prison places over the past year, but there is still a chronic shortage of space in our prison service for convicted persons. The courts are sentencing people who are serving a short time in jail or no time at all, as happened recently when a person was sentenced to a year in prison and was allowed out after one day. Such action sets at naught all the efforts to improve the criminal justice system. This cannot be allowed to continue. We often hear about people who have been sentenced to Mountjoy but who are allowed out after one or two days because of a lack of space. However, we should not be tempted to accept that in our criminal justice system because it is a scandal.

Some improvement has been made in the civil lists which will be welcomed by individual litigants, the legal profession, the business community and insurance companies. Delays added to the cost of civil litigation and, in many cases, caused unnecessary trauma for individual litigants and witnesses who were called back to court time after time because cases were adjourned. I congratulate the Minister on her success in this regard, although I am still concerned about the operation of the criminal justice system because of the shortage of prison spaces.

As regards family courts, it is appropriate for the Minister to increase the maximum statutory limit for High Court judges. One High Court judge has been appointed to the Dunnes tribunal and another, Ms Justice Mella Carroll, to the Nursing Commission. It is appropriate to legislate for the appointment of further High Court judges. There will be a demand for more judges now that the divorce legislation has been enacted.

In a recent report on the family law courts, the Law Reform Commission referred to what is described as “the negative ethos of the court system as it currently operates in the area of family law”. It continued:

Instead of concentrating on the empowerment of individuals to resolve their own family disputes by encouraging negotiation and agreement, the emphasis of our system, [226] with its concentration on adjudication, is on solutions which take control away from the participants. A humane system of family law is one which encourages the responsible resolution and management of disputes wherever possible by members of the family themselves. Judicial intervention is, of course, necessary to prevent exploitation or abuse between family members. The ideal of empowerment should not blind us to the problems of inequality which may arise in a system of private ordering. This apart, it is perhaps time to consider how reforms in our legal process may help in the process of family empowerment.

One of the key recommendations of the commission is the establishment of a system of regional family courts based in 15 centres around the country, operating as a separate division of the Circuit Court and presided over by judges nominated to serve for a period of at least one year who are assigned on the basis of their suitability to deal with family law matters. This is important in terms of the Minister's ongoing efforts to improve the judicial system as it applies to the courts. Much has been and will be achieved if the recommendations of the Courts Commission are put in place. The report of the courts commission was before the Select Committee on Legislation and Security recently and, rather than delay matters by debating it at length, we decided to note the report and send it back to the Minister so there would be no delay in getting on with the business of establishing the independent courts service which will mark a huge change in the administration of the courts.

One further aspect which I want to raise with the Minister relates to the proposal by the Director of Public Prosecutions for a unified prosecution service. Many pre-trial delays in the criminal prosecution service relate to what he called duplications and delays which arise as a result of splitting the responsibility for the decision making aspect of running cases. The DPP deals with decision making and instructs the Chief State Solicitor to run cases but inevitably delays occur because of the separation of the two functions. There has been a proposal for a unified prosecution service and perhaps the Minister will indicate if that proposal is being considered.

Recently a confidential report, which was leaked and subsequently published, revealed great inadequacies in the administration of the Chief State Solicitor's Office and I am glad to note that additional attention has been given to the obvious need for a change in the management structure of that office to guard against a panorama of doom outlined in the consultants' report. They pointed to great dangers facing the State because the Chief State Solicitor's Office was determined not to be fit for its purpose as it was inadequately resourced and had poor management structures in place over a long period.

All of these matters are very important. It is important to rectify administrative and structural defects in the criminal justice system and procedural [227] delays which are not beyond resolution. Reform of some of these important aspects does not require legislation. I am glad that the Strategic Management Initiative encompasses all institutions and public offices, including the Chief State Solicitor's Office, the DPP's Office and the Department of Justice because in the past many of these things were hidden from view. There is an accountability deficit as far as such matters are concerned. I am not happy about that but at least there has been some review of the operations of those offices and that can only be for the betterment of the criminal justice system.

I support this Bill which allows the ceiling to be raised and the appointment of three more High Court judges.

Mr. Lenihan:  Fianna Fáil welcomes this short measure which enables the Government to advise the President to appoint three additional High Court judges, raising the statutory number, as the Minister said, to 22 or 23 in the event that a judge of the High Court occupies the position of President of the Law Reform Commission.

The reason given by the Minister for the immediate appointment of a judge is a good one — two judges are deployed on work in connection with the resolution of the nursing dispute and the tribunal of inquiry into the payments by Dunnes Stores to which the Price Waterhouse report refers. However, in justifying an increase of three appointments, the Minister said that urgent circumstances could arise in the future which would require the appointment of an additional High Court judge. As a matter of abstract principle, I would have been interested in the Minister expanding on that somewhat. I ask her to give the House an undertaking that those urgent circumstances will not arise on the departure of the present Administration in a few weeks time and that the period following the dissolution of this House, the consequent general election and the time which elapses under our constitutional arrangements between polling day and the formation of a new Government, which as we all know from recent years can be quite lengthy, will not be one in which urgent circumstances arise. There is a suspicion abroad that this measure is an attempt to provide for making appointments in the event of the departure of the present Administration. The Minister is in a position to assure the House that is not the intention.

I was interested by the intervention of the Minister earlier in the debate on the question of the judicial appointments commission. I was not a Member of the House at the time but I should declare my interest as a member of the Bar. I was interested in the measure because I saw a fundamental constitutional undesirability in the establishment of that commission and the Minister's intervention highlighted it. I do not mean to criticise the Minister personally but judges are now being brought into the process of the appointment of other judges. That is a very [228] undesirable development because judges are there to administer justice and not to partake in Executive decisions relating to the appointment of judges.

We all know that the circumstances which led to the departure of the last Government surrounded the appointment of a judge and the Minister, representing the collective emanation of the Government, is responsible to this House in connection with any matter regarding the appointment of a judge. It seems undesirable if the Opposition seeks to criticise some issue relating to the appointment of judges, as Deputy McDaid did, that the Minister says that is a slight on the Judiciary. Of course, that cannot be the case. Under the Constitution, as the Minister will be well aware, the appointment of judges is a matter reserved to the Government and the Government is responsible to this House for these appointments.

As I understand it, the commission has been established simply to filter lists which the Minister then presents to the Government so, in effect, the procedure is that the Government makes the selection. It might have been much more desirable to make it clear in the original legislation that this was really only a certification procedure where one needed a clean bill of health from this committee before one could be considered for appointment as a judge by the Government. That, as I understand it, is the substance of the new procedure. I welcome the fact that advertisements are placed in the public press or The Legal Diary inviting applicants to apply for these appointments so that at least they can have their suitability assessed by this committee prior to a Government decision, but the actual decision on an appointment remains a political one vested in the Government.

I made the point about the undesirability of judges being involved in the procedure. I realise this was something which the Tánaiste negotiated with the former Taoiseach at a military aerodrome but the fact remains that advocates should be independent in the performance of their functions before the courts and it is not desirable that they can be inhibited or that a judge decides on the suitability of particular advocates for appointment. That is my view. I know it was not advanced vigorously by my party at the time but I am glad of the opportunity to record that view now as I thought it was an undesirable development for the legal profession. Judges have important work to do in adjudicating cases, not in connection with the selection of people who should take their place or sit beside them on the bench.

With regard to the procedure itself, the general view of the profession is that the Act has not changed the fundamental principles on which appointments have always been made and the general practices of Governments in that regard have not changed.

There is merit in the idea that appointees should have some political experience. My [229] experience as an advocate has been that, by and large, judges who have had political experience have been very humane and talented and have had a good insight into the human condition. We should not be hard on ourselves. We should accept that persons of political experience should not be disqualified or debarred by virtue of that from judicial appointment. Deputy McDaid's point related to how the Government had exercised its functions under the Constitution and that matter can be raised in the House.

It would be churlish of me not to concede there has been considerable improvement in the various court lists. I have been impressed by the improvements in the operation of the Supreme Court where there were great delays. The splitting of the Supreme Court into two divisions has been successful and is a permanent improvement in the system of justice in the State. The assimilation of the Court of Criminal Appeal into the Supreme Court has rationalised and greatly improved the system of appeals from the High Court and the Circuit Criminal Court and I welcome that improvement. The Supreme Court is substantially up to date and that is a welcome development.

On the criminal side, Deputy McDaid highlighted a problem that seems to persist in the Central Criminal Court and I would be obliged if the Minister would investigate it. There is a problem of delays in that court's business. The most serious offences proceed on indictment to the Central Criminal Court. As the Minister indicated, there has been considerable improvement in the Circuit Criminal Court.

I wish to comment on a the matter I raised before, that of district courthouse provision in the greater Dublin area. The old practice of ensuring a district courthouse was located near a local police station was desirable. A vast amount of Garda time in Dublin is wasted commuting from suburban areas to city centre district courthouses. While a great number of district courthouses were constructed in the centre city area adjacent to the principal court buildings, there is a strong case for the provision of district courthouses throughout the suburbs for the disposal of criminal business. The Minister mentioned the development of a courthouse at Tallaght. Tallaght appears to be a pioneer case for new developments of this kind in the suburbs. The infrastructure in other suburban districts requires that improvement. The three suburban county areas of Dublin now have a greater population than the county borough area, yet the number of district courthouses in those areas is very small compared to the number of district courthouses in the city centre.

Deputy O'Donnell made the point that with the introduction of divorce legislation there will be a considerable increase in the volume of business transacted on the matrimonial side. The Law Reform Commission put forward proposals that would require considerable time and attention of the House to implement. There are a number of [230] hardship cases we discussed during the referendum debate. They need an expeditious remedy, but that is not available because of the delay. Is there a fast-track procedure that could be provided under the court rules or legislation to give certain cases priority where an individual requires an urgent remedy? There has been a great improvement in the Circuit Court in Dublin and the civil list has been expedited substantially.

On the circuit side, I wish to raise a matter that is the subject of reports but that does not strictly relate to the Bill — that of an increase in the jurisdiction of the court. It has been suggested that the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court will be increased further. The successive increases in the jurisdiction in recent years have exceeded general inflationary pressures. There may be a case for another increase. Has the Minister any proposals in that regard?

I wish to raise another matter relating to the Circuit Court that is unsatisfactory and requires examination — the appeal from the Circuit Court to the High Court on the civil side. On the criminal side, a transcript is produced and an appeal is made to the Supreme Court, but on the civil side when a Circuit Court judge hears a case the appeal is by way of a full rehearing before a High Court judge. There was a long debate about that in the Free State in the 1920s. At one stage there was a different arrangement when there was a written record and appeal by way of a written note but that was found to be unsatisfactory and the rule that applied to the county court in British times was restored to provide for an appeal by way of complete rehearing. There is a view among witnesses and lawyers that witnesses like to have two bites of the cherry; they like to have their case heard twice. I have always thought it an unsatisfactory arrangement on appeal to have a complete rehearing of a case a second time. When one judge is dealing with a case and it is appealed to another judge, there is not a predictable outcome and that is an unsatisfactory aspect of Circuit Court procedure. I do not know if the Minister has considered that matter. Perhaps she could refer it to Mrs. Justice Denham. With modern recording devices, it may be possible in a few years' time to generate cheaply a record of Circuit Court civil proceedings which could be reviewed on appeal as a transcript rather than have an appeal by way of a complete rehearing.

Deputy O'Donnell mentioned the unified prosecution service. Far be it for me to introduce a rift between our two parties, but one should be careful of building too large an empire in any quarter of the legal establishment. The experience in England has been of a substantial increase in costs caused by the development of a unified prosecution service there and it is a matter that is under review.

My party welcomes the Bill. I congratulate the Minister on the improvements that have taken place in regard to the court lists and I urge her to take action where further action is required.

[231]Mrs. Owen:  I thank Members for their support for this Bill and their comments about the improvements in the courts. Deputy McDaid raised the issue of the Central Criminal Court and I said the delays were reduced to six months. I did not say there were none. There are still delays. Deputy McDaid claimed there were 51 cases on 1 October 1995 and 65 cases on the list on 1 October 1996. Because of the mechanism of advertising for applications and their consideration, etc., the appointment of the additional High Court judges was not made until mid-1996 or thereabouts and the effect of their appointment did not have any impact by 1 October, the start of the court term. I am not surprised the number of cases on the list was of that order. Our aim is to reduce the waiting time for cases to be heard in that court and to ensure a backlog of cases does not build up in that court again.

Deputy Lenihan made the point that the Bill allows for the appointment of three High Court judges and I said we would appoint one when the Bill is passed. However, the Deputy need not fear, I have nothing in mind in regard to urgent business. In 1995 when I increased the number of High Court judges by three that was considered a worthy increase, but because of the backlog of cases the Government decided to make those appointments immediately to deal with the backlog. I had thought that in 1995 we might have been able to keep one of those appointments in reserve for a time we might need to make one, but we needed to make the three appointments then. Ms Justice Mella Carroll is doing a job that will take a year to complete and it is difficult to say how long Mr. Justice Brian McCracken will be away from court, but he should not be away for anywhere near a year. That is why I asked the Government to approve the appointment of one judge to fill the temporary vacancy left by Ms Justice Mella Carroll. The Government will monitor the position as to the availability of Mr. Justice Brian McCracken.

It is possible a High Court judge could be involved in an accident but would not have to give up his or her job. However, that person may be unavailable for a year if severely paralysed, for example, and need time to recuperate. The President of the High Court may decide it is necessary to appoint another judge. Deputy Lenihan will know that some time ago the Government decided not to continue the practice of temporary appointments to the courts because it was found unsatisfactory. If a judge is unavailable for a year, it would be appropriate for a Government to appoint another judge and in doing so, may decide not to fill the next vacancy if it believes the court is large enough. I have nothing more sinister in mind.

A number of Deputies raised the issue of the family law courts. Mrs. Justice Susan Denham is examining the Law Reform Commission's report on family law in the course of her work with the Courts Commission. A major courts refurbishment programme is under way. This programme [232] includes the provision of family law court facilities. Shortly, we will have a network of major court development. An integral part of that development will be a completely self-contained family law suite where family law cases may be heard. Separate family law facilities are available in Athlone, Arklow, Bray, Cork District Court complex, Donegal, Dungarvan, Enniscorthy, Galway, Kilkenny, Loughrea, Waterford, Ballina, Ballinasloe, Clonmel and the District, Circuit and High Courts in Dublin. These facilities will be provided in Naas and Carrick-on-Shannon shortly. We have begun to make great improvements. I visited a number of these suites where there are separate rooms for the two sides in a family case and facilities for looking after babies and making coffee. These facilities are needed in traumatic family law cases, are progressing well and will make a difference to our courts system.

Deputy O'Donnell referred to improving facilities in the courts and ensuring cases are heard more quickly and said this would mean more people being sentenced by the courts. I did not deny this would not be a problem when the building of new prison spaces was taking place. The only alternative was to maintain the slow pace in the courts which would ensure people going through the courts did not require prison places. A considerable number of people are going through our courts. By the end of the year, a substantial number of prison places will be available. Next year a 400 place remand prison will be available which will free up places in prisons.

On family law, the concept of nominating judges is practised in the Dublin area where Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness was appointed to deal with such cases.

I have no proposals to extend the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court. Given its present jurisdiction, and the additional family law work expected, I would like to defer any consideration of extending its jurisdiction. On gardaí commuting to the city centre for District Court cases, there are District Courts around Dublin and two in my constituency, in Balbriggan and Swords. We recently turned the sod for a District Court in Tallaght. The issue of gardaí having to be in court is being dealt with under the criminal justice Bill. Under that Bill gardaí will be able to give evidence through certificate and prisoners may be brought to the District Court nearest to them for remand hearings thus reducing the need to send gardaí long distances.

The Judicial Advisory Appointments Board was included in a Fianna Fáil-Labour Bill published around the time the last Government broke up in late 1994. It was introduced by a Fianna Fáil Minister for Justice. The Constitution requires the Government to make recommendations for appointments to the courts to the President. People will know from talk in the Law Library that there were many applications for District Court and Circuit Court appointments. The board is able to consider the qualifications of applicants, the expertise required and make [233] recommendations to the Government. It is then a matter for the Government to decide.

I would not like to mix it with Deputy McDaid about the political affiliations of any appointments over the years. However, he should look at some recent appointments. He may assess their politics but, perhaps, they were apolitical. Appointments this and previous Governments made have stood the test of time by the quality of judges. It would be wrong for us to get into a slagging match about who belonged to what party because we could match it with Fianna Fáil which has boasted about being in Government for 50 of the 70 years the State has been in existence. The Deputy will find more judges were appointed under the stewardship of his party. The qualifications of those who have applied to the Judicial Advisory Appointments Board can be checked.

I am happy this legislation is going through the House today. As a famous French scientist said, you never get credit or notice for what you have done, only notice for what you have not done. There will always be something to be done in the justice system. That is part and parcel of the job. I am glad we are taking this action today before any delays build up because of the temporary transfer of two judges from the High Court. I thank Members for their contributions.

Question put and agreed to.

Agreed to take remaining Stages today.

Bill put through Committee, reported without amendment and passed.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  A message will be sent to Seanad Éireann accordingly.

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise and Employment (Ms E. Fitzgerald):  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

I have great pleasure in speaking to the Government's Freedom of Information Bill. It arrives in this House following a most constructive debate in the Seanad where the Bill received the support of all sides. I was happy to accept positive suggestions from all sides to strengthen the Bill's commitment to openness. We all want to adopt the most effective mechanisms for ensuring the culture and practice of secrecy in public bodies are set aside for good. Information is power and access to information is fundamental to the reform of our democratic institutions to create genuine openness and to empower the ordinary citizen.

The Bill has drawn on best practice abroad and, in coming late in the day to this legislation, we have been able to draw on a wealth of legislative models and practical experience in other countries. I welcome the work of the Select Committee on Legislation and Security in enhancing openness and, in particular, their recent report on the review of the Official Secrets Act. I will return to this issue later.

[234] What is freedom of information? Freedom of information is a legal right for every person to ask for and get access to records held by public bodies. It creates a new legal right for citizens to see public files. It recognises in law that public bodies should be directly accountable to the ordinary public they are there to serve. Freedom of information overturns the presumption of official secrecy set out in the Official Secrets Act and replaces it with the legal presumption that the public has a right to know.

The Bill carries a mandate to the public service to provide the public with access to information to the greatest extent possible consistent with the public interest and the right to privacy. That mandate is contained in the Long Title to the Bill. This Bill will mark a permanent change in the way public business is done. Giving people a legal right to know what public bodies do and what information they hold is extremely important because public services touch every aspect of our lives — as parents, as patients, as residents, when we pay tax or draw a pension.

The public bodies to be covered under the Bill include central Government Departments and their subsidiary agencies, including the Blood Transfusion Service Board, county councils and health boards, other public boards and semi-State organisations and organisations which are substantially publicly funded, such as secondary schools, voluntary hospitals or organisations contracted to provide services for people with disabilities. In case there is any confusion, the list in the First Schedule to the Bill is of bodies to be included, not those to be excluded.

When this Bill is in force, every person will have a legal right to see what is on his or her files held by public bodies and to correct that information if it is wrong. The Bill carefully protects personal privacy and personal information will not be available in the normal course to third parties. Community groups will be able to look at policies and plans which affect their community. This will include information on road repairs, waste disposal and recycling and information on issues which are important for the quality of daily life. People will be able to look at their tax and pension files. They will be able to see what happened to their application for a grant or how their dealings with any public body are being handled. People will be able to see how public bodies spend their money, how priorities are set and reasons for delays. Freedom of information will give the public the right to know how and why decisions are taken. Public bodies will be legally obliged to give answers to the public they serve.

Governments and Government bodies will become more accountable when information is out in the open. Freedom of information, everywhere it has been introduced, has brought about more open government and better administration of public services. Doing business in the open is the best guarantee of efficiency.

What is in the Freedom of Information Bill? At the very heart of freedom of information is [235] the creation of a new legal right for every person to access any information held by a public body. This right will place an obligation on public bodies to provide the public with information when they look for it. Complementing this, a powerful mandate for openness and access to official information is set out in the Long Title. This establishes that the purpose of the Bill is “to enable members of the public to obtain access to the greatest extent possible consistent with the public interest and the right to privacy.”

Since the foundation of the State, public bodies have worked in a culture where secrecy was the norm. Overturning the practice and philosophy of three quarters of a century involves a radical change. For this reason, the Bill sets out a range of key measures to enable, support and enforce this fundamental change.

Recognising that the public need information to get information, the Bill requires that each public body must publish information on its structures, functions and the categories of information it holds. This is so that members of the public can find out which public body has the information they are looking for and can learn what kinds of information are available.

The Bill places a legal duty on public bodies to help members of the public in making requests, so the public can pinpoint the information they want to see. It also requires that the public be encouraged to make requests for information under the Bill where they would otherwise not be able to access the information they seek.

When this Bill is in force, every person will have a legal right to correct any personal information on them on public files where it is incorrect, incomplete or misleading. In addition the Bill provides that each public body publish its internal rules and guidelines which it uses in decision making. In this way the public can be informed in advance as to the ground rules and basis on which their application for any grant or benefit will be judged. The Bill provides that, where a public body fails to publish such guidelines in full, nobody can be placed at a disadvantage where they might have been able to qualify for something if they had known the full rules.

The Bill requires public bodies to give reasons for the decisions they make to the individuals concerned. So, for example, when a public body turns down a grant those affected will have a legal right to the reason for that decision. The Bill also requires that people are told what the appeals mechanism is for challenging any such decision.

Taken together, these changes confer important and powerful new rights on individuals in their day to day dealings with public bodies. These provisions of the Bill set out important guarantees that public bodies are fair and seen to be fair in their dealings with the public.

The public's right to know will be backed up by a powerful and independent appeals system which is the cornerstone of the Bill. Experience abroad has shown that an effective appeals system [236] is the best guarantee that the public actually get the information they look for and that public officials carry out to the full their legal duty to provide information.

The Bill establishes the Office of Information Commissioner which will act as an independent watchdog to ensure the public's right to know is upheld and not blocked. The commissioner will have power to issue binding rulings and to overturn decisions to withhold information. He or she will have power to examine all the documents in any case and to send for and examine witnesses. In the normal course, an unfavourable decision on a request for information will be reviewed, in the first instance, by a higher official in that organisation. If the decision is still not satisfactory, there is a right of appeal to the Information Commissioner. The onus of proof is on the public body to show why the information should not be released. As a result of the fine track record he and his office have as the people's champion, the Government have asked the Ombudsman, Kevin Murphy, to be the first Information Commissioner.

The commissioner will develop, protect and enforce the legal right of the public to get information. He will enforce the legal duty of public bodies to supply information. The Office of Information Commissioner will be a separate and independent office with its own staff.

The commissioner will have power to report to the Oireachtas on how the legislation is working and its operation in any case to which he wants to draw attention. He will have a role in promoting a more open attitude to release of information generally by public bodies, whether or not it has been requested. He will be able to investigate how any individual public body is meeting its legal obligation to provide information to the public.

Like freedom of information the world over, there are certain exceptions to the automatic right to see information. These exceptions are similar to those in comparable legislation elsewhere — Sweden, the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and consist of those areas which commonsense requires should remain as confidential — information which could jeopardise security or law enforcement, breach legitimate personal privacy of individuals, or where, for operational reasons, release of the information at a particular time would be premature. These exemptions are sensible and balanced. The Bill will not be a charter for crime bosses or drug barons and will protect the criminal investigation process. Companies doing business with Government bodies can be assured that commercially sensitive information they provide will be protected.

Generally speaking, the exemptions are discretionary, not mandatory. They are “Yield” rather than “Stop” signs. They permit information to be withheld, but do not oblige or require it to be withheld. They are subject to two vital tests whose purpose is to ensure that exemptions are not abused. First, release of the material [237] must be assessed as harmful to the interest concerned. In other words, it is not something about security but something which would damage security. Second, most exemptions can be set aside where the balance of the public interest favours disclosure.

The purpose of the exemptions is not to inhibit disclosure but to protect information in circumstances where its disclosure could be contrary to the public interest. Subject to that public interest concern, any discretions under the Bill are intended to be used to the greatest extent possible to provide access to information in line with the mandate given in the Long Title. The provisions in relation to exempt information are set out in detail. The practical experience of freedom of information elsewhere suggests that openness is better served where exemptions are clear and specific.

A broad brush exemption allows more information to remain hidden rather than something which would harm law enforcement or security. Tightly drawn exemptions ensure the release of information is at a maximum. In the event of a public body using an exemption to refuse to grant access to a record, the matter does not end there. It will ultimately be for the Information Commissioner to decide on appeal whether access should be granted.

In exceptional cases, where the release of information would prejudice law enforcement, defence, security, or international relations and the matter is sufficiently sensitive and serious to warrant it, a Minister may issue a certificate. This effectively removes the avenue of appeal to the Information Commissioner. Instead, a certificate will be reviewed by Cabinet colleagues and must be withdrawn where a review finds insufficient grounds for its use. An appeal can also be made to the High Court.

A number of requirements must be met before a certificate can be issued. First, the matter must be likely to prejudice a key matter under either of the exemptions mentioned. Second, the matter must be of sufficient seriousness or sensitivity to justify the issue of a certificate. If not, the courts will so find.

Experience in common law jurisdictions abroad has been that certificates have rarely been used and only in the early days of freedom of information. I emphasise that the intention of the Bill is that a certificate should be issued only on a most exceptional occasion where the nature of exempt information is such as to justify excluding the Information Commissioner from access to the records concerned.

This Bill effectively turns the Official Secrets Act on its head replacing the presumption under that Act that all information is secret unless expressly authorised for release with the presumption that all information can be made public unless its release would give rise to specific harm. The Bill amends the Official Secrets Act accordingly.

[238] As I mentioned, the Select Committee on Legislation and Security has also recently issued a very good report on the Official Secrets Act. A key recommendation of that report is the repeal of the Official Secrets Act and its replacement by criminal sanctions in relation to espionage and the unauthorised disclosure of specific categories of information and civil sanctions in relation to other breaches. The committee's report suggests in paragraph 5.10 that this be done by either new legislation providing for such matters or as part of criminal justice legislation. These recommendations anticipate and complement this Bill.

I wish to put on record my strong support for the committee's report. In line with the Government's commitments to act in this area, I look forward to early action on the matter by the Department of Justice in whose remit the Official Secrets Act lies.

We are concerned to ensure that, when people look for information, it will be readily available, that teething troubles will not derail the principle and purpose of the legislation and that foreseeable steps are taken to have a user friendly system which works. Within the public service, a special group is overseeing the practical steps Departments must take to make access to information a reality when the Bill is enacted. These include reorganising the filing and file retrieval systems and the training of staff. The Bill creates a statutory duty on the Department of Finance to ensure these practical steps are taken to make access to information work. There will be a special unit in that Department to drive the working of the Bill when passed.

There is a lead-in time of one year from the passing of the Bill to ensure everything is prepared and can run smoothly from day one. Because all internal rules and guidelines will be published from day one and will be equivalent to the force of law, Departments must ensure these are complied, scrutinised and rationalised in time for the Bill's starting date. Other important public bodies are automatically included in this first phase — they are listed in the First Schedule — and county councils and health boards are automatically included six months later at the most.

The Long Title sets out the purpose of the Bill as, among other things, enabling the public to obtain access to official information to the greatest extent possible consistent with the public interest and the right to privacy. It is the purpose clause which guides interpretation of the discretions offered under the Bill for the release of information. It is the mandate given to Government Departments, to the Information Commissioner and to the courts in deciding on queries under the Bill.

Part I contains standard provisions on Short Title, commencement and interpretation of various terms used. Part II is concerned with access to records and establishes a legal right for the public to access records held by public bodies. It sets out arrangements for making requests and determines times within which public bodies must [239] respond and the ways in which access may be granted. In general, people must be given the information as soon as possible and within 20 working days. Public bodies must publish information about themselves, the information they hold and the internal rules and guidelines used in decision-making. This Part also deals with deferral and refusal of access to records. It sets out procedures for internal review, establishes rights for each member of the public to access reasons for decisions directly affecting them and to have personal information held by a public body amended where such information is incorrect, incomplete or misleading.

Part III sets out a series of related measures to protect information relating to key areas of Government activity. Information may be protected where its disclosure could damage the security or defence of the State, international relations or law enforcement. Matters before Government or information likely to prejudice the operations of Government may also be protected for a period. In addition, information relating to third parties may be protected where disclosure may constitute a breach of confidence, invasion of privacy or damage to commercial interests. Many of the protections outlined can be set aside where the public interest would on balance be better served by the disclosure rather than the withholding of the records in question.

Part IV establishes the Office of Information Commissioner and sets out the functions and powers of the Commissioner and the procedures for review of decisions under the Bill. In addition, the Commissioner is required to keep the operation of the Bill under review and may carry out investigations into procedures adopted by public bodies for the purpose of compliance with its provisions.

Part V presumes a decision to have been made in the event of failure by a public body to reply to a request. This is to allow for immediate access to the appeal system. It provides for appeals to the High Court, legal protections for the release of information under freedom of information, exclusions from the Bill, charges and the amendment of the Official Secrets Act. It provides qualified privilege to authors of documents and those who release them under freedom of information.

Freedom of information commands support across party lines. This was most apparent in the recent debate on the Bill in the Seanad. In this regard I acknowledge the contributions of Senators Roche, Lee and Dardis. I also acknowledge the contributions of Senators Howard, Sherlock, and O'Sullivan. Arising from that debate, the Bill has been amended to take account of these contributions. I look forward to a similarly constructive and informed debate in this House.

Every country which has introduced freedom of information has seen significant improvement in the quality of public administration and in the accountability of public services. I have no doubt that this Bill will quietly enhance democracy by [240] making Government bodies more accountable to the public they serve. It will create a new climate of openness. Because information is power, it will transfer power to ordinary people from those behind closed doors. Freedom of information will mark a profound and lasting change in the way public business is done.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Dr. McDaid:  I welcome this Bill but must say some critical things about it and hope they will not be taken personally by the Minister of State or by her colleagues in the Labour Party. The Bill promises much but is in danger of delivering less than it promises. It is confused. Perhaps this is too little, too late from the Labour Party. It is not the radical Bill which I expected and which had been promised in countless press briefings over recent years. However, I commend the Minister of State for her personal pursuance of this matter, although I have some criticisms of the Bill.

Many of the aspects of the Bill are conservative and constrained and it is confused in many areas. I hope I am not being too uncharitable and I will seek to defend the Bill as I make my points. On a positive note, it gives us a good foundation to put much needed administrative reform on the Statute Book. If the Minister of State is willing to listen to what is said in the House and accept the views of Members, we can together make real administrative reform which will benefit Irish people and politics. It has been thoroughly discussed by my colleagues and other Members in the Seanad and much has been added to the Bill.

Fianna Fáil is committed to administrative reform. In the 1994 negotiations between the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil following the collapse of the last Government administrative reform was a major item on our agenda. It is ironic that Fianna Fáil proposals that were agreed between the two parties form a substantial part of the current Government's programme. I am not unhappy about that and celebrate it, for it appears that for once we got it right.

In stark contrast to the Bill the Minister of State is introducing, Fianna Fáil's proposals were not encumbered by bureaucratic procedures but simply set out the rights citizens should have in public administration. Those proposals broke new ground in that they sought to codify, in clear details, areas where the administrative system could withhold information. The Fianna Fáil proposals can be seen as the precursors to legislation removing the now ridiculously outdated Official Secrets Act, 1963. The Minister of State regards that Act as an anachronism which should be consigned to the shredder or the archive, with which I agree. It is ludicrous legislation which was brought in on the assumption that everything was secret.

On taking office, the Taoiseach said the Government would operate as behind a pane of glass. That pane of glass, as produced today by the Minister of State, is not only very smoky but [241] probably bullet-proof also. The goods delivered today fall far short of the description given in the bill of sale. If politics were subject to the remit of the Director of Consumer Affairs, the Labour Party could be sued for false advertising. The ink is hardly dry on the serial press releases from the office of the Minister of State promising a brave new era of openness, transparency and honesty. This Bill falls far short and is far too conservative, providing safe sanctuary for those Labour totems. This Bill is a minimalist and disappointing administrative fig leaf for real openness in Government. Fianna Fáil will not oppose the Bill. We have no objection to the very modest improvements being introduced.

The Bill is unsatisfactory from any objective viewpoint. I will set out why and explain the Fianna Fáil position. I also want to expose the failure of the Government in general, and the Labour Party in particular, to live up to its most important commitment. The reason this Government was cobbled together in the first place was ostensibly to point the light into the furthest arcane regions of the public administration. This Bill is proof positive of the failure by the Government to deliver not only on its most important promise but to justify its reason for coming into existence.

This is the second Freedom of Information Bill to come before the Oireachtas in the life of this Government. The first was introduced by Fianna Fáil in the Seanad. That Bill, and a position paper published by my predecessor as Fianna Fáil spokesperson for equality, Deputy Woods, cogently set out the Fianna Fáil position. What we proposed in the Fianna Fáil Bill goes far beyond what is provided for in this Bill. The central premise of the Fianna Fáil position is that the Official Secrets Act, 1963, must be repealed. Until this is done there will be no legal basis for the Minister of State's claim that the presumption in relation to official information is for disclosure.

The claim made for this Bill, that it will shift the presumption in relation to official information from secrecy to disclosure, is unfounded. First, there is the glaring failure to repeal the Official Secrets Act. This is compounded by the invention of the Minister of State of a ministerial licensing system for withholding information. This system is itself totally flawed as it provides for the most awkward and inappropriate political intrusion conceivable. Any such licence, however well justified, will be the subject of political contention. Furthermore, the system devised by the Minister of State for ministerial orders will remove this failure to disclose from the appeals mechanism, which is totally unacceptable. The appeals mechanism is itself more an obstacle course rather than an access point to obtaining information. It appears to be back to front, inside out and upside down.

The appeals system in the Bill is based on appeals by the citizen against a failure to disclose, based on one of the innumerable exemptions the Minister of State has devised. That flatly contradicts [242] the claims made for the Bill that it will shift the presumption away from secrecy towards disclosure. If the presumption was in favour of disclosure, then the appeal would have to be made by the public authority to the information commissioner. This is why it is upside down. Why should the citizen have to make the appeal to the information commissioner? Why does the authority or the Minister, before putting the stamp of secrecy on a matter, not have to go to the commissioner? It is ludicrous practically and perverse legally that the onus to appeal non-disclosure should be put on the citizen and not on the public authority.

Fianna Fáil believes that the presumption should be in favour of disclosure. In practical terms, this means that the appeals system envisaged in this Bill should be reversed. If a public authority believes that it is entitled to an exemption, then the onus should be on that public authority to actively seek and justify the exemption to the Information Commission. It is ironic that a Labour Minister who has preached endlessly on the need for access should put the considerable and complex practical difficulties of making an appeal onto the ordinary citizen. Putting up a case for a successful appeal will, necessarily, be complex in many instances. This appeals system puts an unnecessary and very onerous difficulty on the citizen seeking to obtain information. Politically, it is clear that the Minister of State has been mugged by the mandarins.

The appeals system should not only be reversed, but should be supplemented by a confidentiality list. Under Fianna Fáil's Bill, rejected by the Government, any information that is exempted must be included in a confidentiality list. When information is exempted from disclosure, a general description will be contained on a publicly available disclosure list. The description should be sufficient to enable the public to challenge the inclusion of the information on the list. This is a much simpler method for allowing the public access to information which they deserve to have. The Minister of State emphasised areas where information would be available to the general public. However, they will have to go through a complex procedure to get that information and the Minister of State's work has been compromised by that.

The faults in relation to the provision of general classes of information is even more glaring in regard to the provision of environmental information. Existing policy is driven by the EU directive on freedom of access to information on the environment. The directive requires public authorities to make information relating to the environment available to citizens. This directive was implemented in Irish law by Fianna Fáil while in Government in 1993 and was replaced in 1996, albeit with few changes. In 1993, this was a considerable advance on the existing situation. Apart from these directives, and some provisions in the planning Acts, Irish law contains no adequate provision for giving an individual the legal right [243] to information on the environment. This Bill provides none either.

There is a general recognition that the current position is inadequate. The standards set out in the directive were envisaged as minimum. The Irish regulations have hardly advanced from their original minimal provisions. They still incorporate nearly every optional exemption contained in the directive. Considerable confusion has arisen as to which public authorities are covered by the regulations. Perhaps the Minister could enlighten us on this. The one month time limit for responding to a request for information is too long and vague. The response given often falls far short of the information sought. Similarly, the discretionary grounds for refusing to give information when requested are too vague and facilitate evasion. There are no provisions for copies of information to be made available.

The 1995 review of the regulations carried out by the Department of the Environment highlighted many of the deficiencies I have outlined. Unfortunately, the regulations introduced in 1996 made only modest changes and do not resolve the serious difficulties now being experienced. There was a definite expectation that the Government's long promised Freedom of Information Bill would address the issue. It has not. Perhaps the Minister will contact the Department of the Environment to investigate some of the deficiencies.

The Bill fails to properly address the issue of access to information on the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency and An Bord Pleanála are excluded from the list of agencies covered by the provisions of the Bill. Fianna Fáil supports the EU position that environment information should be subject to a specific statutory right of access. This Bill will not come into effect until one year after its passing into law. In the case of local authorities this can be extended to three years.

Ms E. Fitzgerald:  No, it is 18 months.

Dr. McDaid:  I beg the Minister's pardon. The time limits for responding to requests for information proposed in this Bill are unacceptable from the point of view of environmental information. In this Bill a 21 day time limit is envisaged. Under the environment information directive, the time limit is one months. This will lead to a situation where an individual citizen would have a statutory right of access to information under the Government's Bill within a shorter time limit than for environmental information under the 1996 directive.

The Bill further provides for a wide range of exemptions that are unacceptable in the context of environmental information. These include unreasonable disruption to the work of the public body involved. It is against this background that Fianna Fáil recently published a party position paper on environmental information and a [244] Private Members' Bill which will remedy the situation. The Fianna Fáil Access to Environmental Information Bill, 1997, will provide a much more liberal measure of access within a much tighter timeframe. The Bill will also provide a speedy and inexpensive appeals system. Fianna Fáil is seeking the support of the Government for this Bill. In any event my party is committed to implementing its provision on our return to Government.

By having a statutory basis to the right to environmental information, it will be possible to provide regulations which can be widened further in the future as circumstances change and develop. The appeals system provided for in the Fianna Fáil Bill will allow for a simple, inexpensive and binding process. At present the only recourse in the event of information being refused is the Ombudsman, whose recommendations are non-binding or judicial review which is prohibitively expensive. The appeals procedure we envisage will ensure that qualified personnel adjudicate on these issues.

Fianna Fáil's Bill will also provide for a schedule of charges to applicants. This will ensure that the current position where applicants are effectively discouraged by outrageous charges for information that is often readily available cannot continue. The time limit for provision of information will also be increased to 14 working days. The timely provision of the information being sought is vital to its effective use in many situations.

The Fianna Fáil policy initiative and accompanying legislative proposals on environmental information lay the foundations for allowing participation in an active and informed partnership for the formulation of environment policy. Fianna Fáil has set out its detailed legislative proposals to secure real openness in Government. The Bill on freedom of information introduced by our spokesperson for the public service, Senator Roche, in the Seanad last year, together with the Bill introduced more recently by our spokesperson on the environment, Deputy Dempsey, form a comprehensive and cogent set of proposals.

The Government defeated Senator Roche's Bill.

Ms E. Fitzgerald:  No, we did not. We accepted it in the Seanad.

Dr. McDaid:  Yes. The Minister of State promised something better but she has singularly failed to deliver on all that was good in the Bill. The Fianna Fáil Bill on environmental information is a direct response to the failure of this Government Bill to address the issue of environmental information. It is on the Order Paper. If the Minister of State is serious about openness she should support it.

On balance, along with many other agencies, we welcome this Bill. The Minister is probably aware of two principal concerns about the Bill.

[245] First, it does not contain any guarantee that its provisions will begin to affect the Garda Síochána by any given time. This can be deferred indefinitely. Second, An Bord Pleanála is not mentioned in the list of bodies covered by the Bill. These two matters are covered in section 1, subsections (2) and (3) and in paragraph 5 of the First Schedule.

The gardaí will only come under the provisions of the Bill after the Government has promulgated regulations. It is only right to recognise that the functions of policing and planning involve matters which must be kept secret. Modern society demands that these functions are conducted in an accountable manner. Leaving these two bodies outside the remit of the Bill facilitates mismanagement and corruption. Perhaps the Minister of State will allude to these two areas when she replies.

The Minister of State referred to amendments tabled by my colleagues in the Seanad which were accepted. The Bill was discussed at length in the Seanad and, undoubtedly, it will receive further scrutiny on Committee Stage in the Dáil. The Select Committee on Legislation and Security accepted the proposal of my colleague, Deputy Woods, that the Official Secrets Act should be re-examined. It is ridiculous legislation which deserves to be put through a shredder.

We support this Bill. Unfortunately, although it is a proposal of the Labour Party, it is conservative and confused. It will be much discussed in the coming weeks.

Ms O'Donnell:  The Progressive Democrats welcome this Bill. It has already been amended by the Seanad and is the better for those amendments.

The Minister of State said the Bill marks a permanent change in the way public business is carried out in Ireland. I hope that will be the case. The proof will be seen in how the exemptions are determined and utilised by State authorities, public bodies and future Governments. Traditionally, the concept of democracy in Ireland was associated simply with the right of the people to elect a Government. Nowadays, there is a growing recognition that there is more to democracy than that simple test. The concept of democracy now requires not just a Government elected in free elections but a Government that is open and accountable. The job of the Opposition is to hold the Government of the day to account.

My experience in the four years since my election and in dealing with two Administrations is such that I approach this legislation not with cynicism but with genuine fear. The heart of the Bill is in the right place and the Minister of State has dedicated a great deal of time, energy and personal commitment to it. However, the ethos of the Bill sits uneasily with the record of this Administration for accountability by way of parliamentary questions. My perception of the Bill is coloured by my lack of confidence that the ethos of the Bill will be translated into the workings of [246] this House. The Dáil is the major tool of accountability and one cannot legislate to compensate for the manner in which Members of this House are routinely deprived of information to which they are entitled.

Another element of democracy is that individuals ought not be treated as subservient to the Government of the day or to the democratic institutions of the State. This Bill will be a considerable step towards achieving open Government. Ireland has lagged behind other democratic States in introducing measures to create open Government and institutions. Each section of the Bill must be carefully scrutinised to see if its provisions truly enable the public to hold institutions and those who exercise public power to account. That power derives from the will of the people and the true test of the Bill will be whether people in power serve the needs of the individual citizen.

The most important provision is section 6 (1) which creates the right of access to records. However, that right is subject to a wide range of exceptions. The menu of exceptions must be carefully scrutinised and challenged to ascertain whether they are truly legitimate or simply provide a refuge for those who do not wish to co-operate with the ethos of the Bill. The Bill was given a tortured passage through various Departments. Some Departments are less willing than others to adopt the ethos of open Government and some of them have prospered behind a culture of secrecy. It is important to realise, therefore, that the Bill has been compromised by the deliberations and slow passage it received through some Departments.

There is little point in legislating for the principle of openness and access to information if everything sensitive to the authorities is to be excluded by exemption. The strength and radical nature of this legislation could be nullified by a too wide range of exemptions. The Minister of State said the exemptions are discretionary, not mandatory. They permit information to be withheld but they do not require it to be withheld. They are subject to two vital tests whose purpose is to ensure that exemptions are not abused. That is an important consideration because people who wish to withhold information will hide behind exemptions.

The first test is that the release of the material must be assessed as harmful to the interest concerned. The second test is that most exemptions can be set aside when the balance of the public interest favours disclosure. How will we determine what is the public interest? We can look at practical examples of how this and previous Administrations interpreted the public interest in a manner that might be suspect under the ethos of this Bill. In the case of the beef tribunal, for example, the questions originally posed were about export credit insurance. That information was sought through parliamentary questions and its release was cleverly avoided by crooked replies to those questions. As a result there was [247] a tribunal of inquiry. Had that information been subjected to the test of whether it was in the public interest that it be released, convincing and powerful arguments would have been put forward by people in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry against its release. The public interest at that time would have been seen as protecting our greatest export and the integrity of our meat export trade. Members will recall that Deputies who dared to ask questions about export credit insurance were accused of national sabotage.

I can envisage the Government of the day or the public body which has possession of certain information being determined to plead the public interest in order to withhold that information. That is the heart of the problem. We are not talking about information that is not sensitive or unremarkable. We are discussing sensitive information which will cause embarrassment, bring down Governments and initiate calls for the resignations of the heads of public bodies. No Administration will go to great lengths to hide information which is not of import. That is the problem. There would have been no need for a tribunal of inquiry into hepatitis C if the Department of Health, the BTSB and the then Minister for Health had provided more information. That is the truth of the matter. We are not concerned with routine information, we are discussing sensitive information which could cause the downfall of Governments.

Mr. Martin:  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.” I propose to share time with Deputy Eoin Ryan.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Martin:  The Bill is “an Act to provide for the regulation of private educational institutions and for the protection of students attending such institutions, for those purposes to enable the Minister for Education to issue licences to private educational institutions and to require them to enter into and maintain bonds, to provide for the establishment of a fund to be known as the private students' protection fund and for the payment of contributions by private educational institutions towards the resources for that fund and to provide for other matters connected with the foregoing.”

The background to the introduction of this Bill by the Opposition is the recent collapse of the Advanced Technology College. Over two years ago, in its programme — A Government of Renewal — the Government gave a commitment [248] to introduce legislation to regulate the private third level colleges sector, particularly in respect of the protection of the consumer rights of students. In other words, it stated that it would introduce financial bonding which would, in essence, provide a guarantee to students attending private colleges that their courses would be completed in the event of a company going into liquidation or collapsing, as happened in the case of the Advanced Technology College.

The collapse of the Advanced Technology College was a disaster waiting to happen. The warning signs were apparent for some time because Newman College and ACT had previously collapsed in similar circumstances. On both occasions, it was left to other private colleges in the Dublin area to come to the rescue of a number of students attending those colleges. Some of the existing private colleges took on board a number of students from Newman College and ACT and facilitated them in completing their courses.

To their credit, a group of private colleges have recognised the need for regulation. I understand that their proposals have been with the Minister for some time and, like her promises to introduce legislation, they have not been acted upon. Will she provide a clear indication why the Government has not introduced legislation to deal with the provision of financial bonding arrangements for private third level colleges?

The basic facts of the latest instalment of mismanagement by the Minister of the private colleges sector are well known. Students who, through their own hard work and that of their parents, paid thousands of pounds in fees arrived at their place of education one morning to discover it had collapsed overnight. The first and most important point is to strongly condemn the scandalous and cavalier attitude of the owners. Clearly there had been a wilful and cynical deception of the staff and students. In my opinion, there is a prima facie case of reckless trading. Will the Minister inform the House if an investigation is taking place under the Companies Act? If not already involved, the Garda Síochána should be brought in to investigate this matter.

The students were treated in an appalling manner by the owners of the college. Its doors were shut and there was a complete absence of information regarding the students' futures, what had taken place and the reasons for the collapse. This week, we witnessed the unhappy spectacle of students taking High Court proceedings to seek the appointment of an examiner. It is a disgrace that the Minister for Education, Deputy Bhreathnach, refused to meet the students. Her refusal is indicative of her complete inaction with regard to private colleges in general.

On the Order of Business last week, the Tánaiste was asked if the Minister would meet the students, their parents and the group trying to resolve this matter but to no avail. Her failure to meet these people was a breach of faith. The Tánaiste informed me that whatever could be done would be done. However, his promise has [249] not been fulfilled and hundreds of students approaching the end of the academic year and important examinations have been left high and dry. To date, the Minister for Education's response has been “let them eat cake”. If the academic careers of these students are to be salvaged it is essential that an examinership be established. The Minister has a duty to do what she can to ensure that such an examinership is viable. She must overcome her ideological grudge against private colleges, recognise that they have evolved as a response to gaps in the State sector and take immediate and necessary action in respect of the Advanced Technology College.

The appointment of an examinership is vital because there was a complex range of courses on offer at the Advanced Technology College and other colleges would not be in a position to readily assume responsibility for them. Some of the computer science and business courses could be replicated in other colleges but that is not the best solution. The existing staff at the Advanced Technology College are prepared to help the students complete their courses during the next three months. Essentially, we are requesting that the Government provide a sum of money to the examiner to enable the college to remain in operation for three months. This would allow the students to complete their courses with the help of the staff. Many of the courses, such as cinematography, film, photography, etc., are of a specialist nature and involve the use of complex equipment.

Members are aware of the reasons students attend places of education such as the Advanced Technology College. They do so because sufficient places are not available in the State's third level colleges to cater for the increased demand in recent years. That demand has occurred for demographic reasons and there has been a dramatic increase in the numbers attending second level education during the past five years. It is envisaged that this increase will peak either this or next year. As a result of the growing participation in education generally and the need to pursue further qualifications after post-primary level, those students who do not secure a place in the State's third level universities or regional technical colleges — plcs in some cases — have no alternative but to pursue their education in private sector third level colleges.

The Labour Party seems to be of the opinion that these students are the sons and daughters of well-heeled, upper middle class families who can afford private education and it is their tough luck if anything goes wrong. To date, this has tended to be the view emanating from the Department of Education. The initial response of the Minister's office to the parents that this matter was none of the Department's business and they should not have registered their children for the courses was disgraceful. There was a complete lack of sympathy and compassion from the Department. The Minister can nod and make any facial expression she wishes, but that does not hide the fact that [250] the initial response was disgraceful and quite unbecoming in respect of the plight of students who found themselves in great difficulty.

It is important to make the point about the insufficiency of college places. Thousands of people applied to the Dún Laoighaire College of Art and Design for its cinematography and film courses but there were only a small number of places on offer and many applicants were disappointed. Therefore, people will seek to pursue courses in private colleges. Many of our students have gone abroad. The number in third level institutions in the United Kingdom has scored over the past five years, resulting in their being deemed eligible for the higher education grants scheme. Why has all of this happened? The answer is that we have had an insufficiency of places in our third level sector coupled with a huge demographic growth. If we acknowledge all of that we must also accept that the private third level sector has a viable and important role to play. We must acknowledge students' rights to attend private colleges and accept that they form part of the national effort to provide third level places and that they will continue to have a definite role to play until we have a sufficiency of places within the State sector.

That fact has not been acknowledged by the Minister in her four years in office. Generally her attitude to third level colleges appears to take the form of some ideological difficulties with their very existence and origins. The immediate requirement in relation to the Advanced Technology College is the underwriting of an examinership, which is the cheapest, most expeditious way to solve this mess. Before people start accusing me, Deputy Eoin Ryan or others of offering simplistic solutions or throwing money at the problem, I understand the amount required is estimated to be in the region of £150,000. We should remember that the State has bailed out banks and large insurance companies for far greater amounts. In this case we are talking about enabling 500 students to complete the final three months of their education, enabling them to complete their course and secure certification. Without setting any precedent that would be a generous deed on the part of the State.

This Bill, if accepted by the Minister, will create new circumstances with an obligation on third level colleges to have financial bonding. This is remarkably different from prevailing circumstances in which no such arrangements are in place. While the Minister may worry about creating a precedent, if we pass this Bill and put in place the proper legislative framework governing financial bonding, we will not be creating any precedent in the event of her supporting an examinership in the case of the Advanced Technology College. That is the Bill's raison d'etre— to support the students and their parents' campaign. It has been introduced on the basis of its own bona fide merits, in line with the Government's commitment to introduce such legislative arrangements.

[251] On behalf of the students and staff involved I want the Minister to state where she stands in relation to an examinership for the Advanced Technology College. Do the promises of the Tánaiste and Labour Party mean anything? Does the Labour Party stand for anything any more in relation to the difficulties confronting these students? Time is fast slipping away for any action in relation to this college. There is a further hearing in the High Court on Thursday next with a full hearing later in the month. With each successive week the position becomes ever bleaker for the students involved. Fianna Fáil's objective is to ensure that whatever can be done is done.

The collapse of the Advanced Technology College represents the latest instalment of a totally unsatisfactory saga. The Minister's continued failure to make any response whatsoever to the needs and demands of the growing private colleges sector allowed circumstances to arise in which the Advanced Technology College collapsed. It is the aim of my party to ensure that will never recur.

In order to secure the proper regulation of private colleges I prepared this Bill with my colleagues, Deputies Eoin Ryan and Woods, in response to the circumstances that have evolved. The private colleges sector is a vibrant, enterprising one catering for real needs in education. Many private colleges have been to the fore in seeking change and submitted detailed proposals to the Minister some time ago. Unfortunately, for the students and staff of the Advanced Technology College those representations, as in the case of so many others, fell on deaf ears in the Minister's Department.

This Bill will provide for the regulation of private educational institutions, their students and staff. It will require the Minister to license private colleges, requiring them to enter into a bound to guarantee against business failure. I hope the Minister will at last acknowledge the need for this legislation and accept its underlying principle. I urge her to accept it on Second Reading and if amendments are necessary on Committee Stage, we will be open to their acceptance. I do not think she can deny the principle behind the Bill, which is that private colleges should be regulated and statutorily obliged to have financial bonding. Any reservation on detail or the thrust of any particular section can be addressed on Committee Stage.

Under this Bill a licence will be a necessary condition to the operation of a private college. Any Minister will have to be satisfied as to the financial bona fides of a college before granting a licence and the business record of any operator will be taken into account. The Minister can attach terms and conditions, as appropriate, to any such licence which can be used for registration and other purposes. The withdrawal of any such licence would also be a matter for the Minister and any private college would have to continuously satisfy the appropriate conditions.

[252] Furthermore, the Bill confers powers of inspection on the Minister which will ensure that he or she can effectively monitor the private colleges sector. In addition, the refusal or revocation of a licence by a Minister would be subject to appeal to the courts.

A condition of obtaining a licence to operate a private college will be the entry into a financial bond, the purpose of which will be to ensure that, in the event of a private college being unable to discharge its responsibilities, moneys from the bond will be available to the Minister who, as trustee, will apply them to secure ongoing obligations. The uses to which the bond may be put by the Minister include helping students to continue their education, refunding as far possible moneys paid for services not rendered and defraying reasonable expenses incurred by him or her while acting as trustee in such circumstances. The Minister will also be responsible for accounting for the bond.

In addition to the bond into which private colleges will have to enter as a matter of course, this Bill provides for the creation of a private students' protection fund, the purpose of which will be to assist students of bonded colleges, as necessary, over and above the resources of the bond. Furthermore, the fund can be used if for any reason a delay is incurred in paying out under the bond. However, the fund cannot be used to make payments for which the bond has already provided.

This Bill is timely and represents a vital response to the failure to date to regulate the private colleges sector. Hundreds of students, their parents and teachers have been bitten financially by the lack of financial regulation. Studies have been disrupted. It is difficult enough to study for a difficult examination once but the pressure of having to do so again is appalling. We are aware of many individual students having to work part-time, late at night, to fund the courses in which they participate at the Advanced Technology College.

As I have already pointed out, these are not all children of rich parents merely enjoying the luxury of a private third level education. These are students who have been forced to earn the money with which to pay for that education for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the lack of places in the State third level sector. I have met these 500 students and their parents.

I have already given two examples of difficulties that occurred in this sector over the past three years. Some four or five years ago in Cork the College of Aeronautics collapsed, whose individual students, training to be pilots, had paid thousands of pounds. This private college was opened with great fanfare, was assisted by the State, collapsed and went into liquidation. I witnessed the trauma experienced by students while trying to help them secure places in other colleges. Given the specialised nature of the training involved, many did not find alternative places. Iona Training Centre provided some places. I am aware of [253] the financial commitment of these young people who, in some instances, borrowed the money to pursue their courses. When the courses collapsed they had no protection.

One of the last articles by the late Christina Murphy, a great education journalist in The Irish Times last year, highlighted a case in Cork where a body established itself as a higher education institute almost overnight and began to advertise. It said it would provide degrees to enable people teach in Irish primary schools and the degrees would be vetted by a British university. The article revealed the body in question did not have a franchise to offer that degree course. Many parents of students had paid deposits of £100 which they subsequently recovered. Where it not for that article many people would have been affected, perhaps not financially but certainly in the context of securing employment here on the basis of that degree because the State did not recognise the college in question. In the past four or five years a number of examples of difficulties in certain colleges have highlighted the need for a proper legislative framework. That is what we are attempting to do here.

There are some excellent private colleges performing extremely well and it is unfortunate for them that the sector gets a bad name because of the sins of a few. For example, Portobello College has its own bonding arrangement. The principal there believes passionately there should be a bonding obligation for all private third level colleges. I have visited the owners of Griffith College, Dublin, who are doing excellent work as are LSB College Limited and Skerry's College, Cork. Over the years other colleges have provided high quality courses for many young people which have enabled them to go into the market place and secure jobs.

We acknowledge those colleges are doing an excellent job in terms of the quality of the courses provided and the standards achieved. Many have been acknowledged by the NCEA who have designated a number of the colleges for the provision of various courses. Those I have mentioned are NCEA designated and some are on the CAO list and have an excellent track record.

The Bill is about protecting them because until we have a proper legislative framework collapses such as this will continue to occur. Without regulations and controls people can be ripped off and unfortunately the Minister did not regulate the colleges sector. It is our duty to legislate to protect students, parents and staff. Despite promises in the programme, A Government of Renewal, the State has failed to legislate. There is a moral obligation on the Government to do something for the students of the Advanced Technology College. We have allowed this system to continue unregulated and have not moved despite many warnings. Given the Government's negligence in this area, it has an obligation to financially support the examinership and ensure the college is viable during a three months period in order that staff and students can complete their courses.

[254] Whatever is done for the students of the Advanced Technology College will be little but I hope it is not too late.

I urge the Minister to see beyond party politics and support the Bill. In the past five years there has been a change in the treatment of Private Members' Bills. When in Government we accepted Deputy Shatters' Bills — Judicial Separation and Family Law Reforms Act, 1989, and the Adoption Act, 1991. A number of private Members' Bills have been accepted by the Government and a number have been rejected. Fianna Fáil will not stand aside and leave the 500 students without anybody to speak for or help them. We will do what is open to us as an Opposition party. The ultimate is to put forward and seek Government approval of legislation. We have raised the matter on the Order of Business, on the Adjournment and we now have a Private Members' Bill to progress the matter. It is a pity it has taken so long and that we could not have had intervention at an earlier stage.

Mr. E. Ryan:  I did not expect we would have to move a Private Members' Bill tonight. The week before last I received a telephone call from some students at the Advanced Technology College, Merrion Square, who told me they had been studying at the college for the past two years. There were told some changes would be made in the college but before they knew what was happening they realised the college was being closed. Out of frustration and anger they occupied the building where they remained for a number of days. Following a request I visited the college. Given that they had occupied the college for a number of nights, the conditions under which they were living were appalling. The owner of the college had turned off the water and had refused to allow food to be taken in. Nearing the end of their occupation they were getting food in by hauling bags up the front of the building. While at the college that afternoon, a gentleman arrived from a water filtering company and removed the pump from the building so that no water could get to the students.

On behalf of the students I tried to negotiate with the owner of the college. I told him the way in which the students were being treated was outrageous, that it was not leading anywhere and if he wanted to resolve the matter he should sit down with the students and negotiate with them. Unfortunately he refused to do that and said he wanted the students to leave the college. The students would not leave the college because they considered they would have no ground on which to bargain. As it happened the students moved legally and were successful in court on Friday evening in a bid to save the college. In the meantime they decided to try to meet as many people as possible with the view to setting up a structure that would save the college. At this stage parents began to congregate at the college and asked me what they could do. The issue had been raised in the House on the previous evening by Deputy [255] Keogh of the Progressive Democrats but unfortunately the Government's answer was negative. Both the parents and I were shocked by that answer. They and I naively believed some avenue must be open through the Department of Education, the Minister's office or through another Department but no ideas were forthcoming.

On Saturday afternoon in Jury's Hotel there was a meeting of students and parents. Some parents of final year students had spent £6,000 on courses; their children would have qualified this summer but now their money was gone down the drain. At the meeting a Government backbencher, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, said the students were being treated outrageously and the Minister and the Government should do something about it. However, that, too, fell on deaf ears.

This country's film industry has been well promoted by the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Higgins. It is a growth industry and has focussed a lot of attention on Ireland. We are rightly proud that many high-profile films have been made here. Many students in this college hope to graduate and work in that industry. A few weeks ago, the Taoiseach said we had a shortage of multi-media graduates; students in this college are pursuing such courses. There is a lack of qualified people for industry and that is a growing problem because we do not have graduates to fill the jobs becoming available. Everyone, including the Government and various State bodies, recognises that. In many ways it is a good complaint but we must be mindful to address it. If we have a shortage of graduates in these and other courses provided by this college, I cannot understand why the Government would not ensure these courses could be completed in the few months that are left.

The Minister has no idea how angry people are, not because Fianna Fáil or the Progressive Democrats are whipping them up but because they simply cannot believe she will not meet them. If she even met them to say she could do nothing some of them would accept it but they cannot accept that she, as Minister for Education, will not meet them at all. The parents cannot understand how she can watch 500 students go out on the street. Many of them are in shock.

This is not the first time this has happened; it occurred with Newman College and that is probably why the subject was mentioned in the Programme for Government. There are many good private colleges, some of which were mentioned by my colleague Deputy Martin. Portobello College, Griffith College, the LSB, etc. They are running excellent courses and doing a good job. Long may they continue to prosper. This is a growth area because the State is not able to cover it. There is nothing wrong with the private education sector. In some cases it sets a better standard than the State sector and it provides a variety of courses, so it is not to be discouraged.

[256] Many people on the Labour Party front bench made their names through student politics. They stood in buildings close to here and marched for great ideals and socialism. However, when 500 students are thrown on the street, their Minister and party colleague will not meet them. I am not asking her to sort the matter out, all she has to do is meet them because it is the least she could do.

We have seen a huge growth in private colleges and many foreign students have come here. It is not good that they should see a private college go bust while nothing happens. The issue is being watched and discussed by students all over Dublin. As I said both when we were in Government and since, we should encourage and nurture the practice of attracting foreign students to third level education in Ireland. It is the fourth biggest industry in England and many private colleges here say we have not pursued it as much as we could. Ireland is an attractive country to which to send students to be educated. It is stable and safe and, for many Middle Eastern countries, it is much more politically correct to send students here rather than to England. It is a potential growth area which we have not tapped as much as we should.

Last week the Tánaiste told Deputy Martin that everything which could be done would be, but that is not the case. This side of the House has been accused of introducing Private Members' Bills for reasons of political expediency but we do not do so. The Bills we introduced have acted as a catalyst for this Government to take action. We introduced a Child Pornography Bill and straight away the Minister addressed the problem; we introduced a Bill on syringe attacks and the Minister has prepared legislation in response. Our job as an Opposition is to raise issues of concern to the public and put the Government under pressure. If introducing this Bill means the Government will take action on this issue, that will be a good night's work and we will be happy. I hope the Minister has no ideological grudge against private colleges because it is important that they grow and prosper. It is necessary to underwrite the examinership of this college immediately, as this is the cheapest and most expeditious way to sort out the mess.

Deputy Woods, Deputy Martin and I, among others, have put a lot of work into this Bill. The Government has failed to legislate although it promised to do so in the Programme for Government. Private colleges submitted detailed proposals to the Minister some time ago. Unfortunately this Bill will be too late for the staff and students of the Advanced Technology College. I was most impressed with the staff's commitment to continue the courses until the end of the year and prepare students for their final exams.

My colleague, Deputy Martin, dealt with the details of the Bill. It is not perfect but it is not meant to be because we are in Opposition. However, we hope the Minister accepts the principle of it. If amendments are required, we will [257] support them if we agree with them. Other Private Members' Bills have been passed and I ask the Minister to support this Bill. I also ask her to meet the students of this college and their parents.

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  I sympathise with the students, and their parents, of the Advanced Technology College, which is in financial difficulties. I am conscious of the commitment of students and parents to providing for students' education and of the financial and other sacrifices involved for them. Developing a policy and regulatory framework in this area is complex. However, the Government is committed to developing an appropriate regulatory framework for private colleges. Much work has been carried out in developing one but work remains and it will be done.

This is not an area which lends itself to overly simplistic solutions, such as are seen in the proposed Bill before this House. The rights of parents and students are involved. The rights to conduct private business within the terms of the laws governing the operation of companies is relevant. The procedures for dealing with private companies which experience financial difficulties are relevant. There are consumer protection issues, which embrace the concerns of other Departments of State. There is a range of issues related to the quality of education provided in such institutions.

Finally, there is the complex issue of framing appropriate legislation taking account of the relevant constitutional provisions, the right to carry on business in a private commercial capacity, the rights of consumers to be protected and the rights of students to a quality education. The deeply flawed Bill presented to us ignores many of these issues but the Government, through its programme for Government, and the commitment in the White Paper on Education is committed to moving forward on these fronts.

I propose to set out what we have done and where we propose to go. I will also set out why this Bill fails to adequately address the complexity of the issues involved. The Bill being proposed by Fianna Fáil is a knee-jerk and oversimplistic reaction to the difficult situation faced by students of the Advanced Technology College, which ignores the remedies being pursued through the courts. An application to have an Examiner appointed to the Advanced Technology College is currently before the courts. The objective of the procedure for the appointment of an Examiner is to allow a company experiencing financial difficulties an opportunity to put together a rescue package which would in turn be adjudicated upon by its creditors, shareholders and the court.

The legislation provides for the making of an interim report to the court on the future viability of the company within a timescale of 21 days, although the court has the power to grant an extension to this. The Examiner is also required [258] to form a view as to the manner in which the company has conducted its affairs and in particular whether any question of negligent trading arises. Therefore, there is a statutory procedure for private commercial colleges which get into financial difficulties and it is being availed of by the students of the Advanced Technology College. As creditors of the company they will have the opportunity of stating their case to the Examiner and the court, as appropriate.

Mr. E. Ryan:  They were in the Supreme Court today. What is the Minister talking about?

Ms Bhreathnach:  This Bill will not have any effect — good, bad or indifferent — on the plight of the students of the Advanced Technology College.

Mr. Martin:  That is nonsense.

Ms Bhreathnach:  There are statutory mechanisms for companies experiencing financial difficulties and these mechanisms are being availed of by the students in question.

It is clearly important that every effort should be made to protect the financial investment of students and their parents. The Government recognises the need for regulatory control of private education and, in this regard, the programme, A Government of Renewal, outlines its commitment to introduce legislation to regulate private education to ensure proper educational standards, consumer protection and employee rights.

This Bill significantly fails to adequately address the questions associated with the regulation of private education. Furthermore, the complexity of the issues and the risk of getting it wrong if we rush to legislate is borne out by the Bill in which there is serious confusion as to the intended target of its provisions. The introduction of a regulatory framework which will stand the test of time and serve the consumers of educational services demands a considered approach involving dialogue with the relevant interests, a detailed assessment of the various options available and a clear understanding of the implications associated with each option. A rushed approach based on a regulatory framework designed for a different set of consumers with different needs and concerns is clearly inadequate and oversimplistic.

Mr. E. Ryan:  The Minister is not doing that. There is no fear of her doing so.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  No interruptions, please.

Ms Bhreathnach:  This Government has made significant advances. I hope the Deputy listens [259] because the accusation is we have not done anything.

Mr. E. Ryan:  The Minister will not even meet the parents of the students. That would be common decency.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I am tired, Deputy Ryan, of asking for order.

Ms Bhreathnach:  It is the job of the Opposition to oppose but parties in that position should also avail of the opportunity to reform themselves.

Mr. E. Ryan:  The parents of the students would love to meet the Minister.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I will not allow the Deputy to disregard the Chair.

Mr. Martin:  The only problem is we are getting a history lesson.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Minister should be allowed to continue without interruption. Every other Deputy had order when speaking.

Ms Bhreathnach:  It is a pity to waste time. There have been advances in meeting the programme's commitment to regulate private colleges and I consider it is important to outline the initiatives I have taken in this regard.

Before doing so, we need to look at the current arrangements. Under section 20 of the National Council for Educational Awards Act, 1979, the Minister for Education may, with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance, and after consultation with the NCEA, designate an educational institution other than a university as being an institution to which the NCEA Act applies. Since its foundation in 1972 and its establishment on a statutory basis in 1979, the NCEA has pursued its mission of putting in place quality certification at third level in the extra university sector.

A number of private commercial colleges have been designated under the NCEA Act, such as the Dublin Business School, formerly Accountancy and Business College; The American College, Dublin; Burren College of Art; Griffith College, Dublin; HSI College, Limerick; The Institute of Education, Business College; LSB College Ltd.; Mid West Business Institute, Limerick; Skerry's College, Cork and St. Nicholas Montessori College, Ireland. The work of the NCEA is complemented by the National Council for Vocational Awards whose function is to develop a comprehensive national certification and assessment system for a wide range of vocational programmes, particularly those in the education sector, in consultation with the relevant interest group.

The development of a national qualifications framework is being progressed by Teastas, the Irish National Certification Authority, which has [260] a wide ranging remit, including the development, implementation, regulation and supervision of the certification of all non university third level programmes and all further and continuation education and training programmes; responsibility for the plans, programmes and budgets necessary for the achievement of these functions, including the plans, programmes and budgets of the NCEA and the NCVA; the establishment, direction, supervision and regulation of a national qualifications framework; and ensuring international recognition for all the qualifications under its remit. Teastas is charged with welding the many existing certification systems into a coherent framework and in so doing establishing flexible routes by which students can gain access and progress to further qualifications.

My approach to the question of regulating private colleges is clearly set out in the White Paper, Charting Our Education Future. There has been significant growth in recent years in the number of private commercial colleges. The White Paper outlines how new control procedures will be put in place in relation to private commercial colleges offering third level programmes which seek State certification. It is important to regulate such colleges so as to guarantee the academic integrity and quality of the courses and qualifications on offer; to prescribe institutional norms in regard to, for example, staff qualifications, support services, teaching/research balance, entry standards and the balance of course provision; and to protect the financial investment of students and their parents.

There is a dual focus in the area of policy, namely, to ensure the quality of provision in private colleges and to provide for adequate consumer protection. The White Paper sets out the parameters of the control procedures which will, in addition to requirements to protect students' financial investment, involve rigorous evaluation of the quality of courses on offer; an evaluation of the physical and educational facilities, teaching staff and other support services available; a requirement that each institution receiving NCEA designation provide at least three courses of certificate or diploma standard; and the provision of relevant statistical information to my Department and the NCEA. The evaluations will be carried out on an ongoing basis. These new control procedures will be the responsibility of Teastas, the Irish National Certification Authority.

The first report of Teastas, which was published in January 1997, is currently under detailed consideration. This report presents the initial proposals and recommendations of the board on a national qualifications framework and the organisational structure for Teastas. It also outlines the progress made during an extensive consultative process. The key issues in relation to the development of a national qualifications framework are quality assurance, accreditation, access, progression [261] and mobility and international recognition. My Department has commenced discussions with Teastas on the system of approval for institutions seeking State certification. These discussions will also encompass issues in relation to financial and academic bonding.

In the interim considerable progress has been made in formulating educational standards. Private colleges now offer courses for which tax relief is available under the 1995 and 1996 Finance Acts. This improvement has been introduced during my time in office. In keeping with the commitment in the White Paper, I published a code of standards to which institutions must adhere in order to be eligible for tax relief. That information can be made available to parents by the Department of Education. These codes of standards were developed by the Working Group on Third Level Private Commercial Colleges which I established to advise me on the appropriate criteria for recognition of colleges and courses, including admission and quality standards.

The working group was representative of Teastas, my Department, the NCEA and the Department of Enterprise and Employment. In response to media advertisements, it received a large number of submissions from interested parties and met with representatives of a number of the colleges involved. The codes of standards require institutions to meet specified criteria in the following areas. In the academic environment institutions are required to have an academic board and adequate internal processes for self-evaluation. In the physical environment institutions are required to have adequate accommodation, equipment and access to library and other learning facilities, including facilities for research and computer facilities. They are also required to have adequate finance for student clubs and societies. In the case of staffing and staff development, institutions are required to have sufficient professional, technical and other staff with appropriate qualifications in the areas of teaching, administrative and clerical support, technical support, library and information technology services and advisory, counselling and guidance services. The staff must undertake work that will keep them abreast of developments in their field of specialist knowledge and have access to appropriate training in pedagogical skills.

The working group was also asked to consider the issues of academic and financial bonding and consumer protection. Following careful evaluation of the advice available to it in relation to possible provisions for academic and financial bonding and consumer protection, the working group concluded that such provisions should not be included in the codes of standards. It recommended that my Department should address these issues in association with Teastas and the NCEA——

Mr. E. Ryan:  We have finally got to the point.

[262]Ms Bhreathnach:  ——and in discussion with the private colleges.

(Interruptions.)

Ms Bhreathnach:  I will send the Deputies copies of the codes of standards and report. I hope they read these.

Mr. Martin:  I have read the report but the Minister has done nothing about it.

Mr. E. Ryan:  If the Minister meets with the students and parents I will read the report.

Ms Bhreathnach:  I have met parents.

Mr. E. Ryan:  The Minister has not met them.

Ms Bhreathnach:  I have met parents and the Deputy should not say I have not done so. I do not tell lies to the House and Deputies should not accuse me of doing so.

Mr. E. Ryan:  The Minister has not met the students and parents as she was asked to do.

Ms Bhreathnach:  This is the fourth time I have been accused of not meeting the students and parents. I want to put it on the record that I have met them.

Mr. E. Ryan:  When did the Minister meet them?

Ms Bhreathnach:  The Deputies have accused me of not meeting them but I have met them.

Mr. Martin:  When did the Minister meet them?

Mr. E. Ryan:  The Minister did not meet the students.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Minister without interruption, please.

Ms Bhreathnach:  The Deputies evidently need the information I have with me and I would like to give it to them.

Mr. Martin:  What was the outcome of the Minister's meeting with the parents and students?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  No further interruptions.

Mr. Martin:  We do not need to hear about——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Let us proceed without interruption.

Mr. Martin:  This is boring.

Ms Bhreathnach:  There is a quality mark associated with the Department of Education and I am responsible for ensuring it is upheld for students, their parents and colleges. My Department [263] has commenced discussions with Teastas. The working group was impressed with the consideration being given to the questions of academic and financial bonding by the private colleges which are very concerned about what is happening. For example, the Institute of Education Business College already has a bonding system in place.

A number of NCEA designated private colleges represented by the Higher Education Colleges Association are further developing proposals for academic and financial bonding for consideration in the context of decisions on the future framework. My Department has been actively involved in the development of a regulatory framework for third level private commercial colleges. This work is, of its very nature, slow and incremental having regard to the complexity of the issues involved and the need to develop an effective and efficient framework. This work is in complete contrast to the hastily framed Bill being proposed by Fianna Fáil. This Bill fails miserably in its attempt to regulate private colleges.

Mr. Martin:  Of course the Minister would say that.

Ms Bhreathnach:  I have carried out much work in regulating and maintaining confidence in the quality mark which is associated with the education system.

Mr. Martin:  The Minister has done absolutely nothing in this regard. The colleges have done the work.

Ms Bhreathnach:  The Deputies do not want to listen to what has been done.

Mr. Martin:  I have read the speech.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please, Deputy Martin.

Ms Bhreathnach:  This is not of benefit to those whom the Deputy represents.

Mr. E. Ryan:  The Minister also represents them.

Ms Bhreathnach:  The Bill fails miserably in attempting to regulate private colleges, and there will be little protection for many who find themselves in situations similar to that of the students of the Advanced Technology College. We owe it to those students to spell that out.

The Bill proposed by Fianna Fáil is almost a mirror image of the Transport (Tour Operators and Travel Agents) Act, 1982 which is designed to protect holidaymakers who travel abroad on chartered holidays for a fortnight once a year, if they are lucky. The Bill as proposed represents an over simplistic approach by Fianna Fáil which is attempting to apply the statutory framework [264] introduced for travel agents and tour operators who regulate a large market that affects people for a fortnight each year at the most. Nothing other than a superficial comparison can be drawn between the position of travel agents and tour operators and that of education providers.

Mr. Martin:  We are still waiting for the Minister's Bill.

Ms Bhreathnach:  The provision of education is not analogous to the provision of chartered holidays. I therefore consider that the Transport (Tour Operators and Travel Agents) Act, 1982, on which this Bill is largely based, provides an inadequate template for this kind of legislation.

Mr. E. Ryan:  It is a lot better than what the Minister did.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Member in possession, without interruption.

Ms Bhreathnach:  The issue facing a holidaymaker in the event of a travel agent or tour operator experiencing financial difficulties is the recovery of a deposit paid in the event that the person has not started their holiday, and how the holidaymaker will get home if he or she is abroad on holiday. Of all the annual customers of a particular travel agent or tour operator, the proportion affected by any financial difficulties is limited to those already on holiday and those who, having paid their deposits, have yet to travel.

The issues facing students in educational institutions who experience financial difficulties are far more complex. Students may have invested a number of years or months in pursuit of the course, in addition to their financial investment. Students will want the opportunity to complete their courses and obtain the relevant qualifications. They are not asking me or the Deputies opposite to get their money back. Furthermore, all the students enrolled in the institution are equally affected by any financial difficulties encountered.

Mr. E. Ryan:  The Minister should talk to the parents of the students.

Ms Bhreathnach:  The Bill fails to adequately recognise the additional complexities involved in the area of private education. It focuses exclusively on the financial aspects of consumer protection with no regard for the objective of ensuring proper educational standards. The Bill ignores the question of academic bonding which is equally important to the question of financial bonding.

Mr. Martin:  The structure already exists in relation to academic bonding.

Ms Bhreathnach:  The long title of the Bill indicates that its purpose is to regulate private educational [265] institutions to protect students attending such institutions. The Bill introduces a mandatory licensing system, under the Minister for Education, for anyone proposing to provide private education at post-primary levels for more than ten students. The Bill requires educational institutions to enter into and maintain bonds and establishes a protection fund to be financed by contributions from educational institutions.

The definition of a private educational institution in section 2 covers an institution, company, partnership or association of persons whose business is the provision of private education at post-primary levels for more than ten students. This definition appears to include——

Mr. E. Ryan:  Appears to include? It either does or it does not.

Ms Bhreathnach:  ——all the voluntary secondary schools in the State. In preparing legislation for education it must be borne in mind that large parts of the system are privately owned, although publicly funded — the subject of another ongoing debate in this House. The drafters of the Bill made the fundamental error of failing to accommodate this fact.

Mr. Martin:  Is the Minister serious?

Ms Bhreathnach:  The private nature of much of the education system requires full consideration before this House should be asked to consider a Bill like this. No explanation of private education at post-primary level is provided.

Mr. Martin:  The Minister should read the definition again.

Ms Bhreathnach:  The Bill, as drafted, includes summer schools and hobby pursuits. There must be a clear understanding of the scope of any regulatory framework. There can be no ambiguity as to the type of institution to be included in the Bill.

As proposed, the Bill could result in a situation whereby no educational institution could provide private education at post-primary level for more than ten students without a licence from the Minister for Education. Are the proposers of the Bill serious? The desirability of introducing a mandatory licensing system needs to be fully explored, having regard to the cost implications for consumers who will ultimately bear the cost of such licensing.

A regulatory framework requires an efficient, effective administrative structure to ensure compliance with all statutory requirements. Such a structure would have significant resource implications. A balance needs to be achieved between the costs of, and benefits to be derived from, a regulatory framework. We are not talking about taking £5 from everybody passing through Dublin Airport. Does the Opposition seriously intend to require a licence for each voluntary secondary school?

[266]Mr. Martin:  That is nonsense and the Minister knows it.

Ms Bhreathnach:  The Bill, as framed, is extraordinarily wide in its application. There is not a little difference between the education system and the holiday tours business. It could include not only every voluntary secondary school but also every summer school, part-time course, the Irish Times Training Centre, the Oscar Wilde Summer School and every course in yoga, reflexology or flower arranging which caters for more than ten students.

Mr. E. Ryan:  The Minister should go on a communications course.

Ms Bhreathnach:  The Deputy needs to go on a course for the hard of hearing. Does the Opposition seriously intend to regulate each course regardless of its length or subject matter?

The constitutional implications of any legislation of this nature require detailed consideration because Article 42.2 of the Constitution states: “Parents shall be free to provide this education in their homes or in private schools or in schools recognised or established by the State.” An initial consideration of the Bill raises serious questions as to the constitutionality of introducing a mandatory licensing system for private educational institutions. The constitutional guarantees for the owners of schools need to be addressed.

In preparing the Education Bill, 1997, I was conscious of the competing constitutional rights of the various institutions in education. I had to seek a balance between the rights which could be objectively supported as being in the interests of the common good. Without detailed legal advice I could not be satisfied that the approach adopted by the Bill is constitutionally sound or is the best approach in the circumstances.

The framework set out in the White Paper involves a dual approach involving academic and financial bonding. It recognises the reality that students' investment is not just a financial one but one of time invested on route to a particular desired qualification. The benefits of such an approach are recognised by a number of private colleges, represented by the Higher Education Colleges Association, which considers that proper academic bonding would reduce the cost of financial bonding.

In relation to financial bonding, a number of options will have to be considered. These bonding arrangements should be on an individual college basis or on a sectoral basis with a common fund. The size of the private commercial colleges sector needs to be acknowledged.

The question of academic bonding may include provision whereby students affected by the collapse of a college could transfer to another college to complete their courses. For obvious reasons, what is envisaged could only operate in private colleges which are State certified. I have [267] already referred briefly to the constitutional issues. My proposals outlined in the White Paper are for a regulatory framework to be limited to private commercial colleges which seek State certification. This is the optimal approach because we can have at that stage a balance between the academic and the financial bonding.

Legislation has to address the real world. This legislation ignores the fact that the fundamental concern of students at the ATC and other students in private colleges is the continuation of their education.

Mr. Martin:  What happened at the meeting?

Ms Bhreathnach:  The Bill does nothing to help the ATC students. Its enactment would cause mayhem in the education sector.

Mr. Martin:  Did the Minister meet the students?

Ms Bhreathnach:  We need to build on the progress to date so that a proper regulation of private commercial colleges offering third level programmes which seek State certification will be put in place. This Bill is a distraction and an irrelevancy and it does nothing to advance that process. I oppose the Bill because it does not offer anything to the colleges, the students or the private education sector.

Mr. Lenihan:  I would like clarification on the question of when the Minister met the students or parents of Advanced Technology College as it is unclear. I do not wish to be accused of misleading the House but it has been suggested that the Minister met those who were designated to represent the students and parents caught up in this unfortunate matter. Has the Minister met those who were designated by them?

Ms Bhreathnach:  I have not.

Mr. Lenihan:  I am glad that is on the record, because I do not want to be accused of misleading the House. My information is that the Minister had not met a delegation constituted to represent the parents and students at this entity, and that is the position. However, the central burden of the Minister's argument is that this Bill does nothing to help the students of the college. It is my respectful submission to the Minister that it does and is part of a very well thought out strategy by our spokesperson to assist those who have been caught up in this dreadful affair. No Government wishes to commit itself to assist a college of this type when it believes it might lead to an open-ended commitment for the Exchequer; but if a proper bonding system were put in place, it would be possible to deal with the problem of ATC on a one-off basis. Surely an administration such as this, spending the amount of money it has been spending since budget day and facing into an imminent general election, could find a place in [268] its heart for this group who have been affected by the collapse of the college.

It was disappointing to hear the Minister oozing sympathy for the students and parents of the Advanced Technology College, saying how conscious she was of the commitment of the students and parents and how aware she was of their financial and other sacrifices, and yet not prepared to meet the parents or those designated to represent the parents or students of this body.

The rest of the Minister's contribution, was most disappointing because of what it told us about her thinking and the quality of official thinking in the Department. So much of the speech consisted of nit-picking, taking fine points, looking at a Bill and finding that this or that subsection was defective in some minor respect. I will return to that later because the Bill does not bring within its scope the voluntary secondary schools. Much of the Minister's contribution was devoted to this kind of negative, carping criticism. Not once in her contribution did she outline a positive strategy for addressing the problem that has arisen in the college. Our spokesperson, to his credit, put forward a positive strategy based first on creating financial confidence in the sector through a bonding system — that is essential because no Government wants to become involved in interfering in this private educational sector unless it can be sure that financial probity and confidence can be maintained in the system hereafter. That is guaranteed in this Bill and opens the way for the Minister to take an initiative in regard to this specific institution. The Minister, however, is not interested in clearing the way towards this end. In the long list of beneficiaries we have seen queuing up before the forthcoming general election, this is one group that will not be allowed to join the queue. That is the message from the Minister.

The Minister suggests that developing a policy and regulatory framework in this area is complex. It is far less complex than the regulatory and policy framework the Minister has been attempting for some time to devise for the primary, secondary and university sectors. She accepts that the Government is committed to developing an appropriate regulatory framework, and much work has been done, but much remains to be done. When I see the kind of work the Minister has done on the Universities Bill and the Education Bill, I am worried about what she might produce to deal with private educational institutions. If it is drafted on the analogy of her earlier legislative efforts, we will have a great deal more talking in this House, and the Constitution will certainly come into play at that stage.

The next point the Minister made is that the rights of parents and students are involved. It is great to hear her say that but, again, one looks at her legislative efforts in the university, second level and first level sectors. I make this point because my right as a Deputy to comment on these matters has been curtailed by the decision of this Government to close the debate on the [269] Education Bill, one of the most fundamental items of legislation ever introduced in this State. The Minister of State, Deputy Currie, was in another jurisdiction for part of his working political life. He knows how fundamental the 1944 Act was in the United Kingdom. This is the equivalent legislation here and there is an attempt by the Labour Party to nationalise by stealth a huge swathe of the Irish educational sector in the last weeks of a Dáil, just before a dissolution. It is a scandal and the upset and worry it is causing to people of the minority religious faiths throughout this State is enormous. That is what the Minister should address. She should also address the upset and worry of the parents of the students of this private college, instead of introducing theoretical socialistic solutions to our educational system which do not inspire public confidence.

The Minister had the effrontery to suggest that the question of rights to conduct private business within the terms of the laws governing the operation of companies is relevant. This Bill has nothing to do with rights to conduct private business within the terms of the laws governing the operation of companies which is a matter regulated by a companies code which the Oireachtas has amended many times and which provides for relationships within companies. Nobody is questioning the right of a company to conduct a private business. What we are putting forward is a practical thought out scheme to ensure the financial probity and well-being of companies which carry on this particular business, and no reasonable person could object to that or suggest it is not in the interests of the common good.

Consumer protection legislation is in existence in this State and if the Minister wishes to extend the ambit of that protection to this sector, that course of action is open to her colleague, the Minister for Trade and Tourism, who carries the responsibility for that legislation. It is not an issue that arises on our Bill.

The Minister suggests starkly that there is a range of issues related to the quality of the education provision of such institutions. Happily, to date, such institutions have been immune from ministerial inquiry in these matters. The quality of our educational institutions down the years was built up by parents, the different Churches, teachers and by the Department in setting standards through the inspectorate. It was a true partnership, not the kind of partnership the Minister is at present trying to construct in education, a sort of collectivist partnership where the State nationalises by stealth the entire primary, secondary and third level sector and attempts to inhibit creativity and initiative in these institutions. Here the Minister is concerned with the quality of education provision in such institutions. The persons who go to these entities make a decision about the quality of the educational provision in them, and people can be trusted to make these decisions themselves. It may surprise a socialist Minister to hear it, but people are capable of making intelligent choices and do not need the Minister for [270] Education to tell them what a quality education is.

Then there is the complex issue of framing appropriate legislation, taking account of the relevant constitutional provisions — the Constitution was finally introduced. Again I suggest in relation to the education Bill that the Minister should have regard to the constitutional issues there if she is examining her constitutional obligations at present, because she has very serious constitutional obligations in relation to the provision of education. One of them is that while the Minister is obliged to supplement private initiative in education, she is not allowed to supplant or nationalise private education. That is something she has purported to do in the education Bill. She now suggests that our Bill is in some way unconstitutional in devising a very minimal standard of financial protection for these private colleges.

It is a very disappointing contribution from the Minister, most of all for the poverty of official thought in it and the lack of any thought out initiative to deal with the problem that has arisen in the Advanced Technology College. One issue that very much concerned me when I heard what the Minister said was this question of the definition of an educational institution. The Minister was concerned that the definition of a private educational institution in section 2 would extend to or include all voluntary secondary schools in the State, but it is clear that the definition of private educational institution in the Bill means an institution, company, partnership or association of persons whose business is the provision of private education at post-primary levels for more than ten students and is referred to in the Act as an educational institution. A voluntary secondary school is not engaged in a business, which in law means an occupation or activity carried on with a view to a profit — as we know, the voluntary education sector has not been carried on with a view to a profit. The voluntary school, therefore, does not fall within the statutory definition under this Bill and no question of bonding arises. The Minister is in error in suggesting that.

The Minister went on to suggest that every summer school, every part-time course, the Oscar Wilde summer school and courses in yoga, reflexology and flower arranging fall within the scope of the Bill, but none of those courses is carried on with a view to a profit. They are voluntary activities which citizens are free to undertake. It is remarkable the Minister made such a suggestion. If the definition of private education institution is defective, it could be amended in Committee, thereby addressing the Minister's concern.

The only other point of jurisprudence raised by the Minister related to the analogy between education providers and travel agents and tour operators. In the Labour Party thinking on education there is no analogy. It has not got around yet to [271] telling tourists what the politically correct destinations are.

Mr. D. Ahern:  It will get around to it.

Mr. Lenihan:  As far as parents and students are concerned, there is an analogy. Perhaps the Minister does not like an analogy to be drawn between the high world of education and what she saw, rather patronisingly, as the low world of the travel agent. As far as the consumer is concerned, what is provided is a service for which they pay, and what we are endeavouring to provide in this Bill is a basic mechanism to ensure financial protection for those who engage in that service. Far from being a disreputable form of jurisprudence or dishonourable to equate the provider of a private educational service with a travel agent, there is a well established precedent in the Acts of the Oireachtas for this approach. I was surprised the Minister did not refer to auctioneers or solicitors because similar arrangements have been put in place by the Oireachtas to ensure these classes of persons do not take money entrusted to them.

Mr. Currie:  I am not sure they are good comparisons.

Mr. Lenihan:  There is no need to refer to the Bar because it does not have to handle clients' money, that is left to solicitors. The Bar simply sings for reward and, some say, is more than adequately compensated for doing so. Since the Bar does not have to handle clients' money, it does not need to be bonded, although some would say it should be outlawed.

It is superficial for the Minister to suggest that it is a cause of derision that the legislation is modelled on legislation relating to travel agents when similar legislation has been well established in terms of the bonding of a wide range of persons who are entrusted with other people's money. The key feature as far as the parent or student is concerned is the entrusting of money to a private institution. What is required is a bonding arrangement to ensure there is no defalcation of money or withdrawal of promised service, or in the event that there is such withdrawal, there is guaranteed return of the money. That is the core proposal in the Bill, but the Minister did not address that point.

The Minister said that legislation dealing with travel agents and tour operators is an inadequate template for this kind of legislation, but I am at a loss to know what is an adequate template. The issue facing the holiday maker or tour operator experiencing financial difficulties is the recovery of the deposit paid, and that is the precise difficulty faced by parents and students. The position is much the same with entities which go into receivership or liquidation. It is not correct for the Minister to say that the issues facing students are far more complex. The issues facing these [272] students are very simple and the remedies required very urgent, but the Minister did not recognise the simplicity of the problem or the urgency of a solution.

The Minister suggested that there would be constitutional implications involved and that we must be conscious of the competing constitutional rights of the various interests in education, but she should have thought out that matter more carefully when drawing up the Education Bill. This Bill, which is a minimalist measure constitutionally, would provide financial security for those who deal with private educational institutions. It is in the interests of the common good that such provision be made. No Supreme Court would strike down legislation which provides, in the interests of the common good and of social justice, for the regulation of a private activity such as this. That relates to Article 43 of the Constitution, which provides adequate constitutional protection for this type of legislation. There is no question of anyone's rights in regard to education being interfered with, unless of course the Minister decides to go one step further, as she envisaged in her contribution, and prescribes the courses students should take, what they should be taught or the kinds of boards that should exist in colleges.

Far from doing nothing to help ATC students, this Bill goes a long way towards helping them by providing for an adequate system of financial bonding for this sector. In so doing it allows the Minister to find an amicable resolution of the problems faced by parents and students. I was very disappointed by the response to this matter. This is an urgent problem which should be addressed. It is not good enough for the Minister to talk about the Constitution, certification of courses and the complex issues involved. It is disappointing the Minister has refused to meet those involved in this tragedy.

Mr. Martin:  There is no indication that she will meet them. It is scandalous.

Mr. Lenihan:  I urge the Minister of State, in his gracious way, to bring my pleas to the notice of the Minister and urge her, before we dissolve this Dáil, to deal with the problems faced by parents and students of this institution.

Debate adjourned.

Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Ms O'Donnell:  I agree with the ethos and spirit of this legislation. The key to the legislation in terms of its effect in providing open government will be the manner in which the exemptions, which are plentiful, are interpreted by the appeals commissioner or the body that retains the information [273] sought. I was drawing a comparison with earlier cases in which it was deemed to be in the public interest to retain information when it was sought in the House. The beef tribunal would not have been necessary if legitimate parliamentary questions had been answered here. If the authorities at the time had been challenged with the definition of the public interest, I am sure they would have made a cogent argument for retaining the information sought. In their view it would not have been in the public interest to release the information because it would have exposed massive malpractice in the beef processing industry and have had implications for the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

The instinct to self-preservation exists in all bodies, including the human. It certainly exists in the body politic. Governments tend to preserve their interests and have gone to enormous lengths to retain information, the release of which would have prejudiced their being in Government. The collapse of a Government must be avoided at all costs and that applies to all Governments. Therein lies the real difficulty with this legislation.

A tribunal has reported on negligence in the BTSB which led to the infection of many people. From my first reading of the report it is clear the Department of Health, the BTSB and the individuals concerned were mindful of protecting their interests and withholding information that would have represented an appalling panorama of doom if released into the public domain. There was an instinct to cover up and that had to be sustained over many years by retaining information and failing to give Ministers sufficient information before coming into the House to reply to parliamentary questions. That was complemented by the instinct of Ministers to preserve themselves and their Governments from trouble. The report states that “there was a sort of vague irresponsible hope that the problem might go away”.

In the hepatitis C crisis the authorities' interest in self-preservation was far stronger than the public interest. If they had been challenged by the exceptions in this Bill relating to the public interest, they would have argued it was in the public interest not to admit that the blood supply was contaminated. They would have said it was in the public interest to protect the State from widespread claims of negligence by the persons so infected. They would have argued to the commissioner or to their Cabinet colleagues that it was in the public interest that this information remained secret because public confidence in the blood supply was at stake.

Those are examples of cases in which Ministers, a State body and individuals would have argued the public interest was best served by the retention of information. Public bodies, authorities and Governments have no problem releasing information that is non-controversial. This legislation will be tested only in cases involving damning information which could cause the collapse of a public body or involve a large suit against the State. We must examine carefully the list of [274] exemptions and the procedures in place for their use.

In the event of a public body using the exemption to refuse to grant access to information, there is provision for an appeal to the commissioner to decide whether its use of the exemption is proper. The Minister stated that in exceptional cases — these are the cases that cause problems — a Minister may issue a certificate which will remove the right of referral on appeal to the commissioner. When that right of appeal has been removed from the commissioner it will be reviewed by other members of the Cabinet. That is an interesting scenario because under the rule on Cabinet confidentiality one would never find out what happened in a particular case. The Cabinet operates collectively and decisions on retaining or releasing information would not be made public. The Bill provides for an appeal to the High Court, but major obstacles undermine its fundamental principle, the public's right to information. From my experience as an Opposition spokesperson trying to extract sensitive information by way of parliamentary question, I am not confident that this or future Governments will be forthcoming with sensitive or explosive information when their skins are at stake.

It has been stated that section 6 reverses the existing principle under the Official Secrets Act that everything is assumed to be confidential. I will attend a briefing meeting with the officials on this matter because I am not sure that this is the case. Section 4 of the Official Secrets Act effectively makes it a crime to communicate official information unless such communication is permitted. Section 6 of this Bill extends considerably the circumstances in which some communications are permitted. In so far as it goes, that is a move in the right direction, but it does not abolish the mindset that treats official information as secret unless there is an exception. To do that we would have to get rid of the Official Secrets Act.

The Select Committee on Legislation and Security recently published a detailed report on a review of the Official Secrets Act. The extent of the committee's concerns are reflected in its recommendation that the Act should be repealed at the earliest possible date. Time is of the essence if we are not to put this legislation on the Statute Book in a half-baked manner. It is important that real work continues on the repeal of the Official Secrets Act. The committee noted a number of flaws in that Act. Under its provisions a document acquires confidential status simply by being stamped as such. A document can acquire unchallengeable confidential status by being certified as such by a Minister and even the courts cannot challenge that certification. There are serious doubts about the constitutional validity of this. The Act uses criminal sanctions where civil or disciplinary ones might be more appropriate and fails to distinguish between information the release of which would damage the national interest, and information which [275] would not. It is not clear whether the Official Secrets Act allows a public interest defence.

I accept that in enacting the Bill the Government did not hide behind the Officials Secrets Act. Under section 32(1)(a) it is irrelevant whether a Minister has certified a document as secret if a person requests access to it. It is time to repeal the Official Secrets Act which should be done by amending this legislation or by introducing another Bill. This Bill is not due to come into force until a year after it is passed, so it should be possible to place a new Bill on the Statute Book by then to replace the Official Secrets Act.

I hope that access to records will not be treated in the same way as parliamentary questions to Ministers are dealt with in this House — in other words, by giving as little information as possible. It is important for this House to observe the right of access to information. Under section 15(5), the Minister for Finance must ensure that appropriate measures are taken by public bodies to train staff and to put organisational arrangements in place to breathe life into the spirit of this Bill. It is important that the House is kept informed of these developments.

No section requires public bodies to preserve documents. In the absence of such a provision, there could be a temptation to destroy records or documents which would be of interest to someone who subsequently requested access to them.

Section 6(4), which defines the types of records to which the public may have access, threatens to destroy many of the good aspects of this Bill. Subject to certain limited exceptions, people will not be entitled to access to records created before the commencement of the Act. Amendments were made to this section during Committee Stage in the Seanad. The Minister said it was the Government's intention to provide access to past records on a rolling basis — first, two years, then four years, six years, etc. While the Minister was willing to respond to the concerns expressed in the Seanad, further consideration of this issue is required.

It is important to instil public confidence in the new measures. We are a few years behind other democracies in providing access to information. If the Bill is passed in its present form, almost every request for access to information will be turned down, not on the grounds that the information sought was prepared in confidence or that it is commercially sensitive — such exemptions are provided for elsewhere in the Bill — but because the Bill does not cover records created before the Bill came into force. This could have a serious negative impact on public confidence in the new measures.

I do not understand the reason for the blanket approach adopted in section 6(4). The Minister's rolling back approach should start at the same time as the Bill comes into force — in other words, people should be allowed access to documents not less than two years old. In the Seanad debate, the Minister said it was a question of putting [276] filing systems and access in order. Given that Departments will have a year and local authorities 18 months from the passing of this Bill until it comes into force, not to mention all the time they had since this legislation was mooted, there is room for progress on the issue of the right of access to documents created before the commencement of the Act.

I am also concerned about the 18 month implementation period for local authorities. The Bill, as originally drafted, allowed for three years but this was amended in the Seanad. It is important that changes are made at local level to allow access to information. Local authorities are run by county or city managers and his or her officials. We had an extraordinary situation recently where a councillor had to sue a county manager to get access to records. Many managers are willing to co-operate with elected representatives. Local authorities are playing an increasingly important role in the day to day lives of our citizens. There is no reason a culture of secrecy should prevail, so it is vital to replace it with openness.

Many people would like to know the extent to which “section fours” are still being passed by local authorities. Section fours cause political alarm bells in many local authorities because they override a planner's decision on a particular planning application. I am concerned that some local authorities have an appetite for section four motions. Many citizens look forward to the reform of local authorities, particularly in relation to the planning process. There is widespread concern about undue influence being placed on elected representatives in relation to planning decisions. It will be good for democracy if our citizens feel the planning process is divorced from political interference.

Section 19 does not deal with the issue of Cabinet confidentiality. Subsection (2) states that access cannot be granted if the record relates to statements made at a meeting of the Government. I do not expect the Minister to mention the Supreme Court decision in the Attorney General v. Hamilton case. Members of this Government and of the Minister of State's party were among the most vociferous critics of that decision and the most vigorous proponents for a referendum to change it. It is ironic that this Bill proposes to further consolidate the confidentiality of Cabinet discussions. Unless we deal with this issue and repeal the Official Secrets Act, we will have some way to go before we achieve open government to which this Bill aspires.

If the spirit of this legislation was translated into the replies to parliamentary questions, we would have a reformed democracy. The classic reply to parliamentary questions is that “the information sought is not readily available and could only be obtained by the expenditure of a disproportionate amount of staff time and resources”. Such a reply hides a multitude, is crooked in its intent and is used to mislead this House when Deputies legitimately seek information [277] on behalf of the people. This Government has a long way to go to match its stated commitment to openness with the ethos of this Bill and parliamentary procedures.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mrs. Doyle):  The organisation and management of the public service is the biggest business in the State. General Government expenditure in the 1997 budget is equivalent to about 38 per cent of gross national product. There are approximately 219,000 public servants with a pay and pensions bill per annum of about £4.7 billion. Given the scale of this business there are bound to be difficulties in managing it. One of these is undoubtedly a problem of image. The civil and public services have made a major contribution to the growth and development of the Irish economy and society over many years. However, there may be an erroneous perception that the Civil Service is managed by faceless bureaucrats detached from the real world of commerce. Changing this perception for the better means much more than a new image. It is about creating more efficient and effective public services and delivering that message home to the general public. The time for this change is now.

There is a need to build on the foundation provided by the Constitution and existing law to strengthen the positive features of public administration and to create a basis in statute for addressing the practical difficulties facing public service management. Grounding the Government's programme for change and development in the public service in a series of substantial pieces of legislation sends a very clear signal to civil servants, politicians, and, most importantly, the general public that public service reform is a reality which is happening under this Government.

The Government's programme of legislation to reform, open up and streamline the day-to-day management of the public service is a key element of the strategic management initiative. While each individual piece of legislation is important in its own right, taken together the legislative programme forms a mosaic of reform and renewal. The long-term objective of this legislative reform is to transform the administration of central Government and deliver better quality and more efficient and effective public services to the citizen. Public service must be just that — a quality service to the customer, the public. In essence, the legislative programme of renewing the machinery of Government represents a new deal for citizens.

The citizen's right to have access to information is fundamental to this process of administrative change and development. The Freedom of Information Bill will empower individual citizens by giving them a legal entitlement to have access to official information kept on them by the State. The intention of the Bill is to ensure that members of the public may exercise this right to know to the greatest extent possible consistent [278] with the public interest and legitimate rights to privacy. I will say more about the specifics of this in a moment. The Freedom of Information Bill fits into a process of change and development which will involve the implementation of the most substantial programme of reforming legislation in a generation.

A key element in this programme, the Public Service Management Bill, was published by the Government last Thursday, 6 March. This major Bill will empower the Civil Service to take measures needed to transform fundamentally the administration of central Government. Its fundamental objective is to provide a legal basis for the new management structure set out in Delivering Better Government. This statutory foundation will allow for a new relationship between Ministers and the Civil Service and will make possible the modernisation of the machinery of Government.

A further legislative initiative which dovetails with the Freedom of Information Bill is the legislation, which I have been directing through the Oireachtas, to empower committees of both Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann to compel witnesses to give evidence and to confer privilege when they do so. The Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Compellability, Privileges and Immunities of Witnesses) Bill, 1995, will enhance the capacity of committees of the Oireachtas to act on behalf of the citizen in investigating matters of public concern. The new law will give power to relevant committees to compel witnesses to give evidence or produce documents and to grant them privilege and immunity from legal action if they do so. The Bill has passed through Committee Stage and Government amendments for Report Stage will be published soon.

The Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill will increase the powers and extend the remit of the Ombudsman to cover a number of key areas. Essentially, administrative matters in non-commercial State-funded bodies, which receive 50 per cent or more of their funding from the Exchequer, including non-medical matters of voluntary hospitals, will be brought within his or her remit — there might be a female Ombudsman one day. The Minister for Finance is currently finalising specific proposals to put to Government on these changes. It is also envisaged that an administrative procedures Bill will further empower the general public by introducing a code of practice or quality service statement which will guarantee stated levels and quality of service when dealing with the State administration.

Freedom of information is at the heart of the deepening of our democracy. By providing the citizen with a statutory right of access to official information the law will fundamentally change the nature of the relationship between the citizen and the State. It will alter the balance of power between institutions of the State and individuals to give greater advantage to the citizen. A new [279] approach of openness and a culture of accessibility to official information will be generated. Information is power.

Up to now, the institutions of the State maintained the principle of confidentiality in relation to the business of Government. Indeed, until 1972, the State successfully maintained the position that Ministers could not be compelled by court order to produce official documents for inspection. Even today, costly, formal and time-consuming legal processes are required to access some forms of official information. This will change.

Experience in other countries has demonstrated the power of freedom of information legislation to change these matters for the better. I believe that a careful reading of the Bill before this House will show the following key changes. There will now be a statutory right to official information based on a presumption of openness. Necessary exemptions will be subject to an overall public interest test. A public register of information and guidelines to be used in decision making by Government bodies will come into play. There will be a legal obligation on officials to help citizens requesting information to identify and find what they need to know. There will be an onus on those who hold information to justify any refusal to disclose such information. There will be a powerful independent appeals system to resolve disputes between citizens and public bodies promptly and without undue expense.

While the legal changes brought about by freedom of information legislation are important for us in this House to consider, it will be in more practical ways that the individual citizen will see the benefits of this Bill. Greater transparency in policy making will generate more confidence in the system of governance as a whole. Client relationships with Government bodies will improve as individuals gain the reassurance of having access to records — people will know that their cases are dealt with fairly and impartially. An administrative culture which promotes openness rather than unnecessary secrecy will develop across the public services. Openness will itself encourage quality — our public services will become more efficient and effective. Freedom of information legislation will ensure that the highest standards are maintained in Government agencies in relation to accuracy and objective record keeping. The citizen will be made central to the democratic process because the citizen will, in effect, own the official information on his or her particular case which the public services possess.

Secrecy and centralisation of information — and, therefore, of power — is a major issue which all mature democracies must address. Lack of information clearly places a barrier to the public seeking to understand and participate in the democratic process. The Freedom of Information Bill will change this profoundly. Decision makers, both [280] Ministers and officials, will now have to demonstrate greater transparency in policy making and a more comprehensive process of debate and consultation. Freedom of information will open doors to the ordinary citizen leading to a deeper and richer democratic society. When the Bill is passed there will be an intensive process of training in the public service to deal with the standards and quality of service required to provide the citizen with the guarantees set out in the Bill. The public will be made aware of their rights and entitlements to information.

When the Act comes into effect one year after its passing, the Minister for Finance will make regulations regarding its practical application. He, in consultation with other Ministers, will decide when certain sections of it will come into force. He will also draw up and publish guidelines on access and compliance which public bodies will have to follow. The process of adjusting to freedom of information will require a cultural change in the public services so that the citizen, the customer, is always right.

Mr. O'Dea:  I welcome the Bill in principle. I listened carefully to what Deputy O'Donnell said and I agree with her. There is no move on the question of Cabinet confidentiality, which was specifically promised in the programme, A Government of Renewal, and is enshrined in section 19 of this Bill. Despite various Government promises, including one in the programme for Government to abolish the Officials Secrets Act, it remains firmly in place. I say that despite a rather vacuous section 45 which, whatever it does — and that is a matter for debate — it does not go any distance towards replacing the Officials Secrets Act.

The administration of this State has been infected by a culture of secrecy since the foundation of the State in 1922. That should not greatly surprise anyone because the system we inherited was that operated by the Civil Service of the British Empire, which was known to be the most secretive system of administration in the civilised world. That culture of secrecy infected and permeated our public administration virtually to date. In 1993 the then Fianna Fáil-Labour Government promised a fundamental assault on secrecy and wide-ranging legislation to eradicate it.

While I welcome the Bill in principle, and accept it is an immeasurable improvement on the heads of the Bill discussed almost two years ago by the Select Committee on Legislation and Security and concede it was improved somewhat by the debate during its passage through the Seanad, as the culmination of four years of effort to put freedom of information legislation on the Statute Book, it is a grave disappointment. It is a minimalist, carefully hedged in Bill which, if interpreted in a certain way will make very little practical difference to the administration of this country. The long list of exemptions and cop-out clauses are so vague and imprecise that they can [281] be interpreted as the bureaucracy wishes. This effort will hardly qualify the Minister of State, Deputy Fitzgerald, for a place of pride in the open Government hall of fame.

Some parts of the Bill are defective in legal terms and I will deal with them at length on Committee Stage. Some parts of it do not seem to have any legal meaning and a number of its provisions are arguably unconstitutional. The main difficulty is that section 6, which allows citizens access to information in the possession of the bureaucracy, is so hedged in by vague and widely drawn restrictions that if interpreted in a certain way it would be rendered nugatory and ineffective. There is nothing in our experience in dealing with the bureaucracy, for which I have every respect, which suggests there will be a sea change in attitude simply because this legislation has been put on the Statute Book.

Section 6 contains a number of curious provisions. One of its subsections prohibits an individual who is a member of staff of a public body from gaining access to a personnel record that is more than three years old. On the other hand it permits such access where information is being used in a manner or for a purpose which affects, or will or may adversely affect the interest of the person. In the real world requests for such information will hardly ever originate from idle curiosity. Almost invariably a request will be made because the person in question wants to check what may be on his or her file that may adversely affect his or her chances of promotion or whatever. That provision is superfluous; it will give rise to needless legal difficulties and it should be deleted.

Section 8(4) states that in deciding whether to grant or refuse a request the decision maker must not take into account “any reason the requester gives for the request”. That seems to conflict directly with section 10(1)(e) which states that a head of a Department may refuse a request where in his opinion it is frivolous or vexatious. By definition section 10(1) (e) involves the evaluation of the quality of the reasons adduced by the applicant. Section 8(4) conflicts with section 10(1)(e). It will give hostages to fortunes, will give rise to needless legal difficulties and it should be deleted.

Section 10(1)(c) is a curious provision in freedom of information legislation. It means that administrative inconvenience will be a good reason for refusing to give the information requested. If the head of the Department or a person to whom a request for information is addressed says no to it on the basis it would cause too much difficulty to provide it, he or she is legitimately entitled to refuse to grant it. We realise there are certain cases where it might be extremely difficult because of cost and the time involved to procure information but as this exemption is drafted, it enables the head of a Department to say to the information commissioner when the matter is appealed that the reason he or she refused to grant the information [282] was because the staff were engaged in A, B or C and the request would have involved so many additional man hours and would have disrupted the programme of work. While it may be necessary to insert a clause approximating to that to provide for cases where it is genuinely too difficult to procure the information, that should be more clearly specified than it is in section 10(1)(c), which allows the head of a Department to advance the spurious reason we hear day in day out in the Dáil for not granting information, that it will take too long to compile the requested figures and it is too difficult to procure the information.

Part of section 18 is unconstitutional. It allows two bodies, the Civil Service Commission and the Local Appointments Commission to refuse to give reasons for their failure to appoint someone to a job. Why are those two bodies singled out? Why are other public bodies not mentioned? Why is there that invidious and arbitrary discrimination between those two public bodies and every other public body? In my experience, the bodies to whom such requests will be addressed are exempt. It is arbitrary to have one rule for two bodies in the public sector and a different rule for all others as it could be challenged on constitutional grounds on the basis of discrimination.

Section 19 enshrines and entrenches the principle of Cabinet confidentiality as enunciated in the Hamilton case. Despite vociferous criticism by members of the Labour Party and repeated promises, one of which was stated in the programme for Government, to sweep away that doctrine or substantially water it down, it remains firmly in place. I wish to put specific points regarding section 19 to the Minister of State, which I hope she will address.

As I understand it, section 19 provides that matters before Government, for example, Government memoranda, aide memoires, written advice to Ministers, etc., will be released only when the decision to which they relate has been made public. Alternatively, such documents will be released when more than five years have elapsed after the relevant Government decision was made. There will not be too many requests for those documents. However, in cases where requests are made public in the immediate aftermath of a new Government, such documents can be released only if they contain “factual information”. This is excessively restrictive. Surely documents which contain analysis, interpretation or evaluation of purely factual material should also be accessible. In addition, there is no valid reason that projections based on factual information should not be accessible. The same applies to expert advice. There is no valid reason that documents incorporating both types of material — purely factual material and information relating to its interpretation, evaluation, etc. — should not be released, at least in edited form.

Under the heads of the Bill originally put forward by the Minister of State to the Select Committee [283] on Legislation and Security, there was what was known as the “whistleblower's charter”, which attempted to exempt public servants from legal liability for releasing information in certain types of cases. This provision was hopelessly restrictive and has been wisely removed and replaced by section 45. However, this is not the appropriate place to enter into detail on the exact provisions of that curious section. Any attempt to provide a whistleblower's charter should be very clear and specific in its intent. It should also communicate to public servants the circumstances in which they would be justified in releasing information. The opposite is the case in section 45 which is deliberately vague. I believe the reasoning behind this is to allow the threat of prosecution to continue to hang like the sword of Damocles over the heads of unfortunate potential wrongdoers. That section must be substantially amended, otherwise it is mere window dressing aimed at giving the illusion that a whistleblower's charter which will have some worth and effect in practice will be introduced.

As already stated, section 25 will substantially diminish the value of this legislation. In essence it provides that if a Minister issues a certificate to the effect that certain information is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, such information cannot be disclosed. A certificate will remain in effect for two years after which the Minister has total discretion to renew it. Apparently, the Minister is not obliged to account to anyone for the decision to either issue such a certificate or renew it. He or she can merely do so, under the legislation as it now stands, on the prompting of the head of a Department. A certificate can be issued in respect of all matters referred to in sections 23 and 24.

No one could deny that sections 23 and 24 contain a wide range of potential candidates for certificates. For example, section 23 refers to anything which may prejudice or impair the prevention, detection or investigation of offences; the enforcement of, compliance with or administration of any law; lawful methods, systems, plans or procedures for ensuring the safety of the public; the fairness of criminal proceedings in a court; security of penal institutions, etc. Under subsection (3) it is stated that subsection (1) does not apply to a record if it “discloses that an investigation for the purpose of the enforcement of any law, or anything done in the course of such an investigation....is not authorised by law or contravenes any law”. Section 24 deals with matters relating to the security, defence and international relations of the State, matters relating to Northern Ireland information that passed through intelligence channels, communications between Ministers and diplomatic personages, etc.

These matters are wide-ranging and broadly defined. There is no provision to appeal a Minister's decision. An aggrieved party can challenge the decision to issue a certificate in the High Court on a point of law but this is a very limited form of appeal. The unfortunate applicant has [284] very little chance of success in making such an appeal. The information Commissioner has no power to review a decision of a Minister to black out information by the issuing of a certificate. However, for the purposes of optics, a review procedure will be put in place whereby the Cabinet can review a Minister's decision to issue a certificate. It does not take much imagination to assess the likely effectiveness and success of such reviews. It is not clear who will initiate a review, how it will be initiated, what procedures will be followed or whether written representations can be submitted. The Bill merely makes provision for a review by a Minister's colleagues for his or her decision to black out certain information at the prompting of a head of a Department who is, presumably, responsible to the Minister.

The general proposed appeals procedure in the legislation is fatally flawed. In the first instance, an appeal must be made to the public body which originally refused the request for information. If that body persists in its refusal, a citizen can appeal to the Information Commissioner. I am not suggesting that the commissioner will not be independent in the exercise of his or her duties but the office will be filled by a civil servant appointed by the Government. Apparently, the Information Commissioner has wide powers to hear appeals, summon witnesses, etc. It is not clear whether he or she is obliged to state the reasons for his or her decision. Will the Minister of State provide clarification on this matter?

One would naturally expect that a citizen should have the right to appeal the decision of the Information Commissioner to the courts. Unfortunately that is not the case. If the commissioner upholds the decision to refuse access to information, a citizen can only challenge that decision in the High Court on a point of law. Effectively, this means that, in 99 per cent of cases, the courts are precluded from overruling the decision to refuse information and may do so only in exceptional cases where the Information Commissioner has erred in law. On the basis of the facts, a High Court judge may be of the opinion that the information requested should be released but that will not matter. The applicant will be obliged to convince the court that the commissioner's decision was biased or totally contrary to the principles of natural justice. The proposal to confine a citizen's right of appeal to the courts except on a point of law is an effective denial of access to the courts. It is almost inconceivable that freedom of information legislation should specifically prevent the courts from considering a right to refuse information on its merits.

There are various other provisions scattered throughout the Bill which allow the bureaucracy to limit and deny access to information. I ask the Minister of State to consider these escape clauses before Committee Stage. There are sufficient exemptions and escape clauses which are vague and imprecise enough to enable the legislation to be rendered ineffective. A much more radical [285] approach is needed, otherwise there is a grave danger that, despite this minimalist attempt, secrecy and obfuscation will continue to flourish. Whose interests will be served by that?

Dr. Woods:  While I am glad this Bill has been improved somewhat in its progress through Committee Stage in the Seanad, its provisions remain deeply flawed and thoroughly inadequate. On careful examination, which I strongly recommend to citizens and the media alike, it turns out to be little more than a window-dressing exercise in freedom of information. Without doubt it is a cleverly, carefully drafted Bill creating the impression of greater freedom of information while advancing that cause in only the slightest degree. It is a thin pretence at action designed to camouflage the Government's internal confusion and inability to agree on anything of substance or any resolute plan of action. Its timing was no accident. Along with its fiasco of proposed reform of the courts, on which the Government was obliged to do a U-turn within a matter of weeks, this Bill was rushed into the public arena in a desperate attempt to distract attention from the Lowry affair. Despite all the bluster and hype which surrounded its introduction, it is little more than a damp squib, another fine example of the mountain being in labour and bringing forth a mouse.

The combination of the many exceptions in this Bill, coupled with the fact that ministerial decisions or those taken by heads of public bodies under sections 8 and 10 cannot be overturned by the Information Commissioner, means the public will have access only to such information as those heads permit and no more. In other words, the Minister will retain control over what information will be made available.

On the coming into office of this Government the Taoiseach, in a grandiose gesture in this House, declared he would conduct Government business as though behind a pane of glass. What an empty promise that was since no Government in my time has equalled the secretivenes of this one. This Government appears to be obsessed with endeavouring to curtain over every aspect of its activities. Far from providing openness in its activities, it has established a reputation for secrecy that owes more to the former political traditions of Eastern Europe than to modern Ireland. Its current proposals are grossly inadequate and fail totally to deliver on its promises.

This Bill's main failures fall under seven headings, the first being its failure to repeal the Official Secrets Act, 1963. Yet the Taoiseach remains silent on that issue day after day. It is obvious he wants to put its repeal in abeyance so that it cannot influence this Bill, yet its repeal is essential, since it constitutes the bulwark of the secrecy culture. Without its abolition that culture will continue. That Act must be signed by all civil servants, committing them to obeying its provisions to the letter at pain of criminal prosecution and dismissal. It requires them to regard [286] everything as secret unless the Minister directs otherwise. In practice, this places extraordinary power and control in the hands of the Secretary of the Department, leading to management through fear and the inhibition of progressive, pro-active staff. The presumption that everything is required to be secret unless proved to the contrary is the single greatest obstacle to openness under this Government.

We listened to the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Avril Doyle, talk about management and development of the public service, pointing out that it is time for change in public administration, referring to a whole series of new public service management strategies to be announced in the Bill to be introduced shortly. None of that can take place unless the Official Secrets Act, 1963, belonging to another age, is repealed. Its provisions are totally inconsistent with the very concept of freedom of information. The simultaneous maintenance of that Act and the introduction of a freedom of information culture is complete nonsense. There is general agreement, in official reports, academic commentaries and in the report of the review of the Official Secrets Act, 1963, just published, that it has outlived its usefulness and is inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution and with the important principles of good Government, about which the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, spoke. It is important that staff be given the opportunity to flourish and develop within the public service, which cannot happen as long as the Official Secrets Act remains on the Statute Book.

How many bodies does the Government need to persuade it that the Official Secrets Act, 1963 must be abolished? Its clinging to that relic of the past reveals everything about this Government's real attitude to freedom of information. If the Official Secrets Act, 1963 is not repealed civil servants will remain obliged, on pain of prosecution, to keep everything secret unless otherwise specifically directed. How can anybody claim that the secrecy culture can be meaningfully reduced much less abolished while the provisions of the Official Secrets Act continue to cast the shadow of prosecution over every civil servant from the highest to the lowest?

The Government must explain to Members of this House why it proposes to retain the Official Secrets Act, 1963 while continuing the charade of a Freedom of Information Bill, a question it has consistently refused to answer and ducked on every occasion since the publication of this Bill. This Bill preserves the culture of secrecy. It does not reverse the presumption of secrecy, as it states and as its proposers claim, which is an attempt to mislead. The Bill does not reverse that presumption of secrecy. It can be taken to be reversed only when the onus of proof is placed on the official side to satisfy the Information Commissioner that it is in the national interest that the information in question should remain confidential, whereas this Bill provides that it will [287] be the citizen who will have to apply to the Information Commissioner. This means that, whenever a citizen cannot apply or, for whatever reason, is afraid to apply, the information remains secret. Therefore, the presumption of secrecy is not overturned.

The Bill proposes that, whenever a person is refused information by a public body, he or she will have a right of appeal to the Information Commissioner. That procedure is the wrong way round. If the presumption of secrecy is to be removed, it is the official body, not the applicant, who should have to appeal to the Information Commissioner.

This Bill carefully preserves the secrecy culture on which this Government thrives while trying to create the impression it is doing the opposite. In practice, there will be no effective appeal since this Bill fails to provide any effective appeal to the information Commissioner on a decision taken personally by a head of a public body to refuse to disclose the information in question.

Section 34, in which there is a glaring deficiency, sets out the jurisdiction of the information commissioner from which decisions under section 8 are omitted. This extraordinary omission leaves immense power to refuse information in the hands of a public body. It is inconsistent with any real freedom of information regime. The information applies to information held by some 120 public bodies. The exemptions are contained in sections 19 to 32 and range from law enforcement, public safety, security and defence to the extraordinarily wide exemptions provided for in sections 20 and 21 which apply to all the public bodies concerned. These sections taken together enable the head of any one of the 120 public bodies to refuse to disclose any information where the record sought contains information relating to “the deliberative processes” or the functions of management “of the public body concerned” and where the head of that public body is of the opinion that disclosure would be contrary to the public interest. Notwithstanding the exceptions to this general provision in section 20(2), these wide-ranging exemptions are designed to prevent the public from having access to the information which forms the real basis for decision-making in the public service and, as such, are to be condemned.

What concerns me even more are the procedural deficiencies in enforcing the right to information which, when taken together, could result in the purpose of the Bill being frustrated by the head of any one of the 120 public bodies. This arises from the failure to provide an effective appeal to the information commissioner from a decision taken by a head of a public body under section 8. The practical result of the omission in section 34 is that it is open to every head of the 120 bodies to select the information they wish to keep undisclosed and to reserve to themselves the decision on any request from the public for disclosure. The decision to refuse disclosure under [288] section 8 could not then be reviewed or overturned by the information commissioner.

The extent of the powers of the information commissioner in relation to a decision taken by a head of a public body under section 8, is to direct under section 35 a full or better statement of the reasons for a refusal where he is of the opinion that the statement of reasons for refusal is inadequate or where the public interest has been relied on as a ground for refusal. In the absence of a power to review or overturn the decision of the head of the public body concerned, the remedy of a better statement of the reasons for refusal is of little or no value and contributes nothing to openness.

Whether the omission of these decisions from the review of the information commissioner is a genuine mistake or a calculated attempt to deceive the public about the true nature and extent of information provided by the Bill or an effort by the old order to preserve itself is a matter for speculation. Since the publication of the Bill I have warned repeatedly about this anomaly. I have heard much bluster and waffle from Ministers and advisers but no satisfactory answer.

The Bill provides for the suppression of information where the relevant Minister considers it is in the national interest. However, the Bill does not define the national interest. It is left to the relevant Minister to decide that. The decision will not be reviewable by the information commissioner or by any other independent body. The Bill, therefore, gives the green light to any Minister to suppress information because he or she claims it is in the national interest. This provision in section 25 makes a nonsense of the entire concept of freedom of information. It is freedom of information unless the Government thinks you should not know. The failure to define the national interest calls into question the genuine commitment of the Government to freedom of information.

The Bill does not attempt to define official information despite the claim that its purpose is to provide a right of access to official information. This omission is extraordinary and calls into question the Government's commitment to real freedom of information.

Section 25 provides that the Minister may issue secrecy certificates preventing the release of information that he or she thinks should remain hidden. The information commissioner will have no power to review this decision. The only review that will take place will be by the Minister's colleagues. In the hands of a Government as obsessed with secrecy as this one, we could expect secrecy certificates to be issued like confetti were the Bill to become law. It is clear the idea behind the Bill is to create the illusion of freedom of information while retaining the ability to hide anything it wishes. Had this secretive Government the opportunity to work under its own proposed freedom of information regime it could be expected to maintain its iron curtain of secrecy.

[289] Section 28 provides that the Minister may, by regulations, provide for the release of personal data. This is not a satisfactory balance of individual rights and national interests. The circumstances in which such personal data can be released should be set out to ensure personal confidentiality is protected. It is extraordinary that the Bill, which is scrupulous about protecting the Minister's right to hide public information, is extremely careless about protecting the individual citizen and his or her right to the protection of personal data. The Bill does not provide for a new era of openness. The Government came to office promising a new era of openness, transparency and accountability. It has established a reputation for being more secretive than any of its recent predecessors. Its proposals, as it prepares to leave office, are grossly inadequate and fail to deliver on its promises.

The Bill provides for the ministerial power to prevent the release of any information it wants kept secret without independent scrutiny. Its proposal is inconsistent with the freedom of information regime. In the hands of the Government, whose commitment to openness, transparency and accountability is utterly and clearly discredited, it is a charter for secrecy. The combination of the many exceptions in the Bill, together with the fact that the decisions of a Minister or other head of a public body, under sections 8 and 10, cannot be overturned by the information commissioner, means that the public will only have access to such information as these heads permit and no more. In other words the Minister will retain control over what information will be made available.

When enacted, the Freedom of Information Bill will be the conclusion of many years campaigning for such a new regime and, if flawed, it will be a long time before the flaws are rectified. Therefore it demands the most careful and detailed scrutiny. Its panic striken presentation as a diversionary tactic during the Lowry affair — I am sure the Minister is not happy with that event or the attempt to distract from the Bill — lost much of its publicity on that day. It is a deplorable and cynical breach of faith for those who campaigned for the Bill for so long. The many wild and groundless claims of Government spokespersons cannot be relied on. All citizens and the media would be well advised to closely examine the Bill.

The freedom of information structure which will hold sway for the foreseeable future lies before us in the Bill. It does not meet with the clear political consensus in favour of freedom of information for all and it will be a great disappointment to many people that it fails to deliver on the promises of openness and transparency. It is important legislation, especially when taken in conjunction with the developments towards a modern, outgoing, active public service which is not constrained by an all-embracing Official Secrets Act and clearly has the ability to serve this country in a much better and more open way, [290] without fear of its citizens' participation. I ask the Minister to look carefully at the Bill on Committee Stage and to see whether it is possible to repeal the Official Secrets Act either in parallel or in conjunction with this Bill.

Mr. Kenneally:  I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. As my colleagues Deputy Woods and Deputy McDaid said, there is a definite lack of openness, transparency and accountability in this Government. They came into power with a great fanfare but, in this Bill as on so many other occasions, the pane of glass has been removed and openness has flown out the window. The presumptions in this Bill should be in favour of rather than against disclosure and the onus should be on public authorities to prove their case, rather than the other way around, as a citizen may not have the wherewithal to seek legal representation, etc. for an appeal. That is another step away from openness.

This Government has produced the Hogan, Coveney and Lowry affairs as well as other affairs outside this House which I will not mention. The former Minister, Deputy Lowry, portrayed himself as Steve Silvermint, the cool clean hero. None of us realised what a murky past he had until it emerged subsequently. It was rich for someone like him to clean up people on this side of the House when he knew what he would have to face in the future.

By their nature, civil servants are secretive people, local and public authorities are secretive bodies, and they want to retain as much of this secrecy as possible. It has been a bugbear of mine that the executives of local authorities tend to keep as much information from the members as possible. Whether one loves or loathes them, they represent and are accountable to the people but faceless civil servants, local authorities and health boards are not. There must be more transparency in that area also. Those bodies have restrained the Minister from going as far as she would have liked. It is undoubtedly a watered-down version of what we expected and the veil of secrecy remains. One should also note that we have some excellent civil servants and county managers but this is a culture shock for them.

The Freedom of Information Bill has come through the process I have outlined but at the end of this process we do not necessarily see the passion which the Minister and her officials feel about this topic, we see a classic compromise. I do not blame the Minister or her officials but there is a series of mandarins and officials who must be dealt with in this legislative process. The Bill promises a great deal but it is in danger of delivering much less. It is somewhat confused and may be too little, too late. It is not the radical Bill which I expected and which had been promised in many press briefings over the last few years. Many aspects are conservative and constrained. However, every Bill has a positive side and it does give a good foundation to put much-needed administrative reform on the Statute Book. If the [291] Minister is interested and willing to listen to what is said in this House, real administrative reform can be put in place, which will benefit Irish people and politics in the long run.

As our spokesperson, Deputy McDaid, said the central premise of the Fianna Fáil position is the repeal of the Official Secrets Act because unless and until that is done there will be no legal basis for the Minister's claim that the presumption on official information is for disclosure. The Minister probably agrees with me that this Act should be consigned to the shredder. It is ludicrous legislation which presumes everything is secret. It is unworkable because it is breached every day. It is nonsense to keep it on the Statute Book. I am pleased there is a commitment to its reform. I am not sure it will be easy to write off but it must be examined in the future.

Fianna Fáil is committed to real openness in the administrative system. We will assist the passage of the Bill and will seek its speedy enactment. Moreover, when it is enacted we will seek to ensure its provisions are brought into immediate effect in all areas of public administration. However, this party's co-operation in that regard will not be given freely. We should show more courage than the Bill does in a number of areas, because we are not encumbered by the consideration which the Minister and her Department must bring to the legislative process. We should recognise that only good can come from allowing the light of public scrutiny to fall on other areas of public administration. It illuminates good practices and decision and people can be assured they receive the type of administration we all want and where bad administrative practices, poor decision making or individual injustice are illuminated, corrective measures can be taken. In both cases people are the real beneficiaries.

There must be a period of education to inform people that they can go into public service bodies to see that public life is not operated on the basis of nudges and winks, who you know rather than what you know, family connections, etc., but on the merits of a case. I agree that those provisions are necessary but simplicity would be better than complexity, which leads to a loss of understanding. I fear the public will see these complexities as exclusive rather than inclusive. The purpose of the Bill is to protect citizens' rights but its complexity could frustrate that aim.

The Minister of State said a purpose of the Bill was to make freedom of information a right. If a citizen has a right, he or she should not have to cite the Act conferring it. There should be an automatic assumption that when the Bill is enacted, the right to freedom of information applies to everybody and that every public servant will vindicate that right and will be apprised of his or her legal responsibilities. Our administrative code does not impose legal responsibility on individual civil servants but we must educate public servants that as soon as a person asks a question he or she has a right to information [292] which should flow freely and without impediment.

Sometimes we know something is wrong but we do not know what question to ask. We have had examples of this in the House. Anything that constrains the flow of information could frustrate the purpose of the legislation.

Dr. Woods:  Government Deputies should hear some of this discussion. They seem to have no interest in freedom of information.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

Mr. Kenneally:  Civil servants are often slow to impart knowledge. Recently a constitute of mine went into the free legal aid office in Waterford to ask for assistance in relation to a criminal case. Such offices do not provide assistance in such a matter and he should have gone to the Circuit Court or District Court. However, the staff in the office knew that but did not impart this information to him. I subsequently put down a question on this issue to the Minister for Equality and Law Reform and he replied that all staff in free legal aid offices have been told to provide whatever information is necessary in such instances. This man did not get the right information because he did not ask the right question. I hope this problem will be tackled by the Government to ensure that civil servants will give out the information required regardless of whether the right question is asked, although this may be a culture shock for some people.

There is a fear that the legislation will be so complex that there will be a 12 months' delay between the date it becomes law and the date it becomes operable. I accept that in Departments and offices with major administrative decision making processes, such as the Departments of Social Welfare and Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the Revenue Commissioners, time will be required to put the necessary systems in place. However, the public service has had two years to work on the concept of freedom of information and is aware of the commitment of the Government, its predecessor and the Houses of the Oireachtas on this issue. Public administrators have had ample time to make preparations.

The Bill will not be implemented immediately in respect of local authorities and health boards, which is a fundamental error. I am reminded of an incident I read about in the newspaper recently where a county councillor in Wicklow took legal action against his county manager in the High Court to get information. Such information should be available to county councillors and public representatives. We are living in the dark ages with some of our current practices. County councillors and the general public have a right of access to information from local Government.

There is no compelling argument for not applying the full rigour of this legislation to local authorities, [293] county councils, urban councils, corporations, town commissioners and vocational education committees at the outset. In recent years there has been an unacceptable propensity within the managerial and executive ranks of councils to deny access of information to the public and councillors. The latter cannot fulfil their democratic responsibilities if they do not have access to the information they require. We must ensure access to information at least where public representatives are concerned. We have allowed the openness of local government to be eroded. Members are continually kept in the dark when trying to get information from management. The democratic process would benefit if the Minister of State included local authorities from day one.

The full rigours of the law should also apply to health boards. There is far too much secrecy about the way the health service is administered and irreparable damage has been done. I am sure the Minister, like myself, receives many representations from people unhappy with the way they or a relative have been treated in the administration of the health system. There is supposed to be a charter of patients' rights but this does not work because there is no culture of openness in health administration. From the day people start attending medical college they seem to be imbued with a degree of arrogance. There is no tradition of openness — with notable exceptions — in that profession or in the health service.

When the Ombudsman legislation was introduced, the health authorities were excluded. When we finally included them in the Ombudsman's remit we excluded clinical judgment. Some years ago a person who had been involved in a traffic accident was diagnosed by the staff in a hospital with which I am well acquainted as having a broken leg and put into traction for a certain period. However, it was only before he was discharged that they discovered his other leg was also broken. I am not suggesting professionals in the medical field should be second-guessed but clinical judgment is frequently based on guess-work. The term “clinical judgment” is a fancy word for guess-work as in some cases medical professionals do not know what is wrong with a patient. While we must accept this, if we exclude all those in medical administration from the provisions of the Bill, the Ombudsman Act and other reforming legislation we will do people an injustice. I would like health boards to be included from day one and do not believe the sky will fall in if we include them.

There is no reason State sponsored bodies should not also be included from day one as they, particularly non-commercial ones, are in a privileged position, are budget driven and, to a large extent, set their own targets. They are not subject to scrutiny by the Minister, questioning by the Houses of the Oireachtas on daily executive activities or to Adjournment debates. We have created a huge number of non-commercial State sponsored bodies because we want to exclude [294] areas of public administration from the constraints of ministerial responsibility. I accept that, however, we have not put in place a system whereby the public can oversee the activities of these bodies. For example, we excluded them from the overseeing activities of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Commercial State-sponsored Bodies — this was a crazy decision by the Houses of the Oireachtas — and from the operations of the Ombudsman. We are effectively excluding them from the operation of this Bill for three years. No one could argue in favour of this proposal.

Ms E. Fitzgerald:  The period is 18 months.

Mr. Kenneally:  I agree with Deputy Woods that the Government is obsessed with secrecy. I hope the Minister gives consideration to the points made by speakers on this side of the House. She will not be able to take into account the views of the Government parties as no Government Deputy has come into the House to articulate them. This is an indication of their interest in the Bill. I hope she will take on board our points and amend the Bill accordingly on Committee and Report Stages.

Mr. Killeen:  Failtím roimh an Bille cé go gcreidim go bhfuil teideal cuíosach ait air. Tá gá leis an mBille gan dabht mar tá traidisiún láidir rúndatachta sa seirbhís phoiblí, sna boird sláinte, sna comhairlí chontae agus go ginearálta ar fud an tseirbhís. Níl fhios agam an bhfuaireamar ó na Breatnaigh é. De gnáth cuirimid an milleán orthu siúd faoi rudaí mar seo.

Tá an méid sin eisceachtaí sa Bhille nach mbéinn ag súil leis an oiread sin dul chun cinn dá thoradh ach is tosach é agus tosach maith leath na hoibre.

Having listened to the debate with interest, I wonder where the ethos of secrecy in the public service and many other bodies comes from. Some people tend to blame the Official Secrets Act, 1963, but this may only have been adopted as a cover under which to operate. I strongly suspect this ethos developed long before the enactment of this Act and may have been developed for good reasons in some instances. However, we are not disposed in this debate to considering good reasons for the development of this practice in the public service and there is general agreement that it must be eliminated.

The Official Secrets Act has come under sustained attack in recent years, with one Dáil committee strongly recommending its repeal. I wonder if more progress could have been made in this area under the cover of this legislation. It probably would have been very difficult to introduce a Bill which achieved the aims of this legislation and also repealed the Official Secrets Act. However, it would be a great pity if we were to conclude this is as far as the Oireachtas can go in terms of repealing that Act.

[295] The provisions governing the confidential status of documents in the 1963 Act were very broad. I strongly suspect that these provisions were interpreted to the widest extent possible in many cases. This is the background against which the Minister introduced this Bill. I have some doubts about whether the Bill will achieve what it sets out to do but it is required in general terms and I support it.

I support the Minister's attempts to introduce innovative legislation. For example, she attempted to ensure ethics in public office and openness and transparency in the workings of Government, etc. She will probably say I am not being very objective but her attempts may not, of necessity, have been very successful. While I support her campaign, I am worried it is going nowhere and troops are rallying in opposition to it. I do not see any of them on the Government benches but some interests are opposed to the direction in which the Minister is heading. There is a temptation to believe we are deluding the public and engaging in a PR exercise which is not likely to go anywhere.

The way in which parliamentary questions are dealt with was referred to. Deputy O'Donnell referred to a frequent reply she receives, that the information is not readily available and it would cost too much to procure it. The information requested may be regarded by the Department as trivial but it is extremely important to Deputies in following up matters. In some cases questions are ruled out of order because the Minister is not regarded as being responsible for the matters raised. This almost always applies in the case of commercial semi-State bodies whose operations in many instances impinge much more deeply and fundamentally on the State and the lives of citizens than the actions of the Government. It would be unfortunate if Ministers were seen to be hiding behind a semi-State body and effectively ducking an issue of great public importance and removing the right of the public to democracy in the operation of the State.

On a number of occasions last year I raised the way in which the Government contract is awarded for the air and sea rescue service based in Shannon. At that time one company was in possession of the contract, a new company from the UK was bidding for it and a third company based in Shannon was interested in securing it. One of the requirements for awarding the contract is that the equipment would have to be in place by 28 February last. The Shannon based company knew it could not meet this requirement. It also knew that because there was only one supplier of the equipment in the world market the only company which could meet this requirement was the one in possession of the contract.

The British company undertook to provide the equipment, slightly underbid the other two companies and secured the contract. However, the equipment was not in place by 28 February. This [296] has clear implications for the quality of the service provided by the air and sea rescue service and the way in which Government contracts are awarded. No one can say the Department was not aware of this difficulty as Deputies, including me, had referred to it in the House. This is an example of the refusal to accept certain information and the stubborn continuation of the wrong course of action. Something similar happened in relation to the contract for the additional Government jet for the European Presidency. Some of the same companies were involved. Coincidentally, the same company was successful despite the fact that it did not meet the requirements as specified in the contract documents.

A consequence of such procedures in the public service is people reach the inevitable conclusion that what used to be referred to as a golden circle by those in Government when in Opposition is still in operation. The Bill will have to address that. It will also have to establish for the citizen who is an interested observer or participant in the particular process that his or her case is being treated fairly and that the Government, Departments, semi-State bodies and local authorities operate above board and are open to scrutiny. That is an enormous task and it is even more difficult in the context of the traditions which have built up.

I was interested in the way this legislation might parallel the Data Protection Act, 1988 and the work of the Data Protection Commissioner. I would not have known that existed were I not in receipt of correspondence from the aforementioned person to the effect that if I did not pay £20 or £50 and complete a form I would be in trouble. Having made some inquiries, I discovered that legislation, even though it refers to personal data, only applies to material held on computer, not to manual files. That is strong legislation which is almost nine years old. It appears the commissioner is vigorously pursuing this area with some success. The type of complaints made to the commissioner under the Act are interesting. Many of them were in relation to Departments, semi-State agencies, health boards and county councils.

Some of the terms in the 1988 Act do not mean what we would normally assume them to mean in every day conversation. “Data” does not include material on manual file but only that on computer. “Personal information” does not mean what we would normally assume it to mean, it is something quite specific. I wonder if there are terms used in this Bill that are slightly or perhaps radically different from what we would assume them to be. The Minister might address that when replying. The 1988 Act establishes similar rights for the citizen including the right of access, correction, deletion and complaint. Those principles appear to be contained in this legislation. I hope that is the case, particularly in view of the role of the Data Protection Commissioner.

[297] Reference was made to section 6(4), which was changed radically from that in the Bill as initiated to what is under consideration tonight. I have examined it closely — I do not know what took place in the Seanad — but I wonder if the change achieves much. Does it make the Bill stronger? The Minister was obviously satisfied it did in view of the fact that she tabled some of the amendments or, alternatively, accepted amendments. The section appears to be inherently weak and a little imprecise.

Section 10, which in some respects is an extraordinary one, provides for refusal to grant a request on administrative grounds. A wide list of grounds is given and perhaps the Minister might refer to that when replying. It appears that virtually any grounds can be used by a head to whom a request has been made. If the record concerned does not exist, that obviously would be reasonable grounds for refusing to grant the request, but subparagraph (a) which states “cannot be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain its whereabouts have been taken” is very broad. Subparagraph (e) states: if “the request is, in the opinion of the head, frivolous or vexatious”. I have no doubt such requests will be made, and such an exclusion may be necessary, but I am sure some heads would welcome the opportunity to use the provisions of subparagraph (e) as an escape, despite the fact that their foremost consideration might be slightly or substantially different.

One of the objectives we hope to achieve is that, under the ethos of the State, information would be more readily available as is the case in the EU in Brussels. Information is couched in such language that it is almost impossible to interpret. It is written in English but the jargon makes it almost impossible to understand.

I am concerned that the citizen's right to have confidential information protected is not adequately covered in the Bill. It appears to be covered in section 28, but I would like to be convinced that section is adequate to deal with what is required. An enormous amount of sensitive information about individuals is held by health boards in particular but also by county councils and Departments. If a TD's computer records are sufficiently sensitive to warrant the letters which emanate from the Data Protection Commissioner, the information held by some public bodies should be protected so that it would not go into the public domain or fall into the hands of somebody who did not have a right to it.

I am concerned also about the huge administrative burden on county councils with which they are barely coping. Section 10 might come into play in this regard. I refer in particular to the planning sections of a number of councils which, because of the amount of building work, etc. taking place, are already drastically over-extended. That is one of the areas in which many queries arise, where the “who you know” comes into play and where some openness is needed. It is also an area where the nature of the planning file is so [298] complicated that it is difficult for the individual with a genuine interest in it to wade through and extrapolate the information of interest to them. There is also a risk from a local authority point of view because unless it has sufficient staff to oversee the examination of the file by the interested citizen, documents might disappear or be taken in error. That security risk may imply the provision of a greater level of staff to deal with the public's right to information. The right to information in this area is fundamentally important if this type of Bill is to work.

We should face up to the fact that if the Bill does work, many people will be disappointed. They want to believe there is some magic inner circle in the political system where various clandestine operations take place. They are encouraged in that belief by what passes for debate in this House and the exchanges between Government and Opposition Members, regardless of who might be in either position. People believe that to such an extent it may not be possible to change their minds but, if it were possible, it would cause them great disappointment because they take pleasure in thinking such hookery and crookery goes on. Only those of us working in the grey area of politics realise how boring it is and that there is little factual basis for what is said about that area.

Against that background, it will take a long time for this legislation to work sufficiently well for people to believe it is working. There will be people who genuinely want access to information who will doubt whether it is adequately provided for under this Act or any other Acts that refer to information in one way or another. If it fails to gain public confidence, or if it is found to contain provisions that make it impossible to get information, it will be a failure by being seen not to work.

In the context of tonight's debate, one has to wonder how much Government commitment there is to this Bill. The major party in Government sent in one speaker and the smallest party sent in none. The Bill seems to have been presented as a time filler rather than as serious legislation. The Government parties have failed to grasp the opportunity to create and support a level of openness in the operation of the public service and in the running of the State which is urgently needed. It is a great pity that that has not been adverted to by more people and that there is not more support for this Bill. It is strange that most of the support for the Bill is coming from the Opposition benches and that Opposition Deputies have taken the trouble to go through it to find out what the issues are and to call on their experience of dealing with people who have problems in this area to suggest amendments for the next Stage and also suggest to the Minister that there are areas which need further examination.

In the course of channel-hopping, I happened to come across the broadcast of the debate in the Seanad when an eloquent Senator from Wicklow, Senator Roche, was making his contribution. He [299] referred to the Wicklow case, to which a number of other Deputies have referred tonight, where an elected member of Wicklow County Council was unable to get fundamental information and was forced to go to court to get it. It is extraordinary that under any system of democracy a member could be pushed to that point. One would have thought that common sense would have prevailed and that the county manager and other officials would have made the information available. It ought to be available and there ought to be no question about it.

I recall a request for information being made when I was chairman of Clare County Council and the information being made available to me as chairman. I sat at a table with all the documents in front of me and the interested councillor read what he wanted to read. I remember thinking that it was the most ridiculous waste of my time and an extraordinary procedure for the council to have to undertake to make this information available to an elected member, who happened to be from my own electoral area and from a different party and who ought to have been entitled to the information as of right. I had no interest whatever in the information in question which was not relevant to anything I had a particular interest in. It seemed an extraordinary negation of democracy that that procedure should have been called into play. If I, as chairman, had said I had no time or had not been bothered, the councillor would not have been able to get the information except through the means employed by the Wicklow county councillor. That implies an extraordinary weakness in the system of local government and in the position held by an elected councillor, paralleled by the situation here in relation to parliamentary questions when over the past ten years Ministers in several Governments have either not had information made available to them within their own Departments or have chosen to present to the House a sanitised version or a version economical with the truth, creating far greater difficulties than would have had to be faced had they allowed the unvarnished truth into the public domain. In most cases this probably would have raised no hackles whatever and would have aroused virtually no interest.

That is how we have proceeded, and that is why a Bill like this is necessary. I suspect it is also the reason this Bill is convoluted, long-winded and, perhaps, less effective than it might be were it not coming from the tradition from which it comes. I suspect that if the Minister of State and three or four Deputies had written the Bill, it would be a lot shorter, much more direct and would contain fewer exceptions, and that the exceptions that are included would be copperfastened to a greater degree than they are, particularly the kind of provision in section 28.

The appointment of an information commissioner is central to the success of the Bill. We will not know, until we see it in action, whether [300] it will work well. If the exceptions are so strong that they undermine the role of the commissioner, the worthy attempt to bring in this legislation and make it effective will have failed, and that would be a great pity. Certain records are exempted. I am not sure, from reading the Bill, whether the commissioner will have any say in relation to the exempted records, particularly where a Minister or a Government decides that they are exempted records. From my reading of the Bill I would have to conclude that the commissioner has no role in relation to those documents. On the basis of the history of the operation of the 1963 Act, it seems a pity that somebody in as independent a role as the commissioner would not have access to some form of adjudication in relation to the decision of a Minister or Government on exempted material, because such exemption is usually absolute. If I am right, this is a very great weakness in the Bill and something which, more than anything else in the Bill, would undermine it.

I take the opportunity to wish the Bill well, to hope it is successful and that a little more openness will prevail.

Mr. B. O'Keeffe:  In the case of any Bill, it is important that its provisions be adhered to and that there be no loopholes through which people can evade their responsibilities. I fear greatly for the effectiveness of this Bill. In the case of the contracts that RTÉ negotiated with the people who present their programmes, the efforts by a committee of this House to glean information about those contracts were unsuccessful. Will that type of information be available to a committee of this House under this Bill? That is questionable. In such circumstances can RTÉ continue to negotiate confidential contracts, or will the information be available to whoever is in authority?

As a member of the Committee of Public Accounts I would remind the Minister how often we come across difficult situations where confidential settlements have been made by Ministers. One remembers a settlement made with a journalist, but when the Committee of Public Accounts tried to establish the facts surrounding that settlement it was told that the Comptroller and Auditor General could have a look to ensure that there was proper accountability but that we had no right to names or to information about the confidential terms of the payment. I would refer the Minister to the recent payments made to hepatitis C victims. When I put down a question, at the request of the individual, to the Minister for Health asking how much was paid to the individual and tried to establish if legal fees were paid to the solicitors of that individual as a result of a settlement, I could not get that information on the basis that it was a confidential settlement. That man paid his own private legal fees to his solicitor, with the possibility that the solicitor had been paid by the State as well.

Debate adjourned.

[301]Kathleen Lynch:  I appreciate the opportunity to raise this matter on the Adjournment. There is not a parent, pupil or teacher who could not tell a tale of unmanageable children, of bullying or truancy. It is estimated that as many as 27 per cent of all school-going children are affected by bullying, actively or passively. Much work has already been done within schools to counter the problem, but much remains to be done. All too often both the victims and perpetrators end up outside the school system, albeit for very different reasons. The victim may simply absent him or herself, while the perpetrator may well end up being suspended or expelled. Bullying is just one form of bad behaviour, albeit a common one. Many badly behaved children have no particular target, they are just generally disruptive and difficult to manage.

Currently the only method of dealing with badly behaved children is to suspend or expel them, a method which serves neither the child, his or her family, or the wider community. Many children, especially if they have behavioural problems, are unable to find alternative accommodation in other schools and receive little or no support or treatment for their problems. I am especially concerned at the practice of so-called “roll-over suspensions”, where a child is given an infinite number of consecutive suspensions but not actually expelled. This practice effectively precludes the parents from making alternative arrangements and leaves the child in an educational limbo. Suspension and expulsion are not solutions, they simply remove the child from one environment, the school, and place him or her in another environment, all too often the streets.

It is unacceptable that society should off-load children with behavioural problems in this way. It is not only unacceptable, it is short-sighted. All the available evidence, including the most recent NESF report on early school leavers, shows that people without qualifications are, in the best case scenario, likely to drift into long-term unemployment and, in the worst case scenario, into a life of petty criminality. The NESF report provides a statistical basis for the link between educational disadvantage and other forms of social and economic disadvantage, a link which Democratic Left has highlighted for some time. That disadvantage is as real for children actively excluded from the school system on foot of bad behaviour as for those who simply drop out. Indeed, it can be argued that bad behaviour may be a result of disadvantage.

Some 46 per cent of 15 to 24 year olds without qualifications are unemployed, and are likely to stay unemployed. That statistic alone should convince us to do everything possible to keep children within the school system. The problem of children who simply fade out of the educational [302] system needs to be addressed through measures such as the promised School Attendance Bill. I hope the Department will lose no time in bringing forward this vital legislation and it will be supported by adequate resources and personnel. I would also like to see a system whereby principals are obliged to report to the Department of Education or their local education board the absence of any pupil for more than ten consecutive school days, or more than 15 days in total, in any given school year.

We also need to devise a system whereby the Department of Education is notified of all children who are expelled, suspended or otherwise excluded from school, to ensure they are targeted by other educational services such as Youthreach and, where possible, to ensure their reintegration into the school system. The only way of reintegrating such children into the education system may be to establish what I would call schools of last resort, half way houses between conventional schools which are unable to control badly behaved children and detention schools which imply a criminal sanction. This option should be examined together with the appointment of teacher-counsellors and trained youth workers in each education region to cater for severely disruptive pupils.

We cannot possibly deal with early school leavers if we do not know where they are or how many are involved. I call on the Minister to ensure the suspension or expulsion of children from the school system is immediately reported to the Department of Education.

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise and Employment (Ms E. Fitzgerald):  As a member of the National Economic and Social Forum I played a large part in preparing the report on early school leavers, to which the Deputy referred. Under the Rules for National Schools no pupil shall be struck off the rolls for breaches of discipline without the prior consent of the patron and unless alternative arrangements are made for the enrolment of the pupil at another suitable school.

At second level the managerial authorities of each school are responsible for ensuring that a fair and efficient code of behaviour, encompassing rules, sanctions and procedures, is drawn up and applied in the school. In 1990 and 1991, the Department of Education issued to all schools Guidelines Towards a Positive Policy for School Behaviour and Discipline together with A Suggested Code of Behaviour and Discipline. The guidelines do not include a system of reporting suspensions to the Department. Within these guidelines, individual boards are given discretion to work out specific details of their policy on school discipline. The guidelines lay considerable stress on the use of suspension only after every effort at rehabilitation has failed and every other sanction has been exhausted. Circumstances vary from school to school and it is only those intimately involved with a particular school who can [303] draw up the detail of a code of discipline appropriate for that school.

A review of the guidelines has commenced. The Minister has requested the partners in education to make submissions on the current guidelines. The review will be carried out in consultation with the partners in education and will be influenced by the conclusions of a research project currently being undertaken with support from the Department of Education. In cases where parents feel aggrieved with a decision to expel a student, they may bring the matter to the attention of the Department which arranges for appropriate investigation. The Department, through a process of consultation with the schools and through its inspectorate, endeavours to assist in the reinstatement of the pupil in the school or, alternatively, placing him or her in another school.

In more difficult cases the Department's psychological service is available to assess pupils to determine the nature and extent of any special needs with a view to having them addressed in the most appropriate manner. Programmes such as Youth Encounter Projects and Youthreach are designed to cater for pupils whose needs can best be dealt with outside the mainstream school system. The School Attendance-Truancy Report, published in April 1994, addressed the question of suspensions and expulsions from schools. Subsequent to the publication of this report, a task force was established within the Department to examine submissions on the report and to consider and make recommendations on future action required to address the problems of truancy at primary and second level, including recommendations for the amendment of the School Attendance Acts. In the context of updating the school attendance legislation, the establishment of a system whereby the proposed education boards are notified of any pupil expelled from school is one of the issues currently being considered.

The Deputy will be aware that the recently published Education Bill includes a provision for the establishment of an appeals procedure which can be invoked by either the parents of students or the students themselves. This provision enables the establishment, for the first time ever, of an appeals mechanism for parents and students on serious issues, including expulsion, which materially affect the education of a student.

Mr. Molloy:  Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Ceann Comhairle as ucht cead a thabhairt dom an cheist phráinneach seo a ardú anocht. Nuair a d'ardaigh mé an cheist seo cheana ar an athló Dé Máirt an 21 Samhain 1995 chuir mé in iúl don Aire agus don Dáil go raibh imní ar fhoireann na scoile, ar na daltaí agus ar na tuismitheoirí [304] maidir leis na háiseanna atá curtha ar fáil don scoil seo. Ba ábhar iontais a laghad obair feabhsúcháin a rinneadh ar na háiseanna le níos mó ná fiche bliain anuas.

Chuir mé in iúl an oíche sin nach raibh an spás nó an treallamh sa scoil sásúil chun freastal ar na scoláirí go háirithe ó tháinig méadú mór ar líon na scoláirí atá ag freastal ar an scoil. Tá suas le 450 dalta ann anois. Thug mé liosta fada de na rudaí a bhí in easnamh sa scoil agus ní dóigh liom gur gá é sin a dhéanamh arís anocht mar tá gach eolas i dtuarascáil na Dála ón oíche sin. Shoiléirigh mé go raibh sé riachtanach ath-chóiriú práinneach a dhéanamh ar an Chlochar agus ar an sean-scoil agus go raibh gá le seomraí breise. D'iarr mé ar an Aire an oíche sin airgead speisialta a chur ar fáil i Meastacháin 1996 chun athchóiriú iomlán a dhéanamh. Tá mé ag iarraidh a fháil amach ón Aire anocht cad a thárla ó shin mar níl aon mhór-oibreacha déanta sa scoil fós.

Táimid beagnach ceathrú bealaigh tríd an bhliain airgeadais seo agus níl aon scéala faighte ag na múinteoirí fós nó ag na tuismitheoirí nó ag an mBord Bainistíochta go bhfuil an obair ceadaithe ag an Roinn. D'admhaigh an tAire i 1995 go raibh dhá iarratas ón scoil chuimsitheach faoi bhráid na Roinne — ceann acu chun scoil a dhéanamh den Chlochar agus an ceann eile chun oibreacha deisiúcháin a dhéanamh ar an scoil féin. Dúirt sí gur cheart don scoil a cuid riachtanas ó thaobh treallaimh nua a chur in iúl do rannóg troscán agus treallamh na Roinne agus go ndéanfaí an t-iarratas a mheas.

Dúirt sí go raibh beirt oifigeach ón Roinn chun cuairt a thabhairt ar an scoil agus iarracht a dhéanamh teacht ar réiteach sásúil. Dúirt sí go raibh tuarascáil chuimsitheach ailtireachta agus innealtóireachta maidir le gnéithe áirithe an Chlochair á cur le chéile agus go mbeadh an tuarascáil sin ar fáil i gceann cúpla seachtain ina dhiaidh sin. Dúirt an tAire chomh maith gur mhaith léi a dheimhniú domsa go mbeadh ar chumas na Roinne moltaí a chur faoi bhráid Scoil Chuimsitheach An Cheathrú Rua chun na háiseanna a fheabhsú chomh luath is a bheadh an tuarascail ó na hailtirí agus na hinnealtóirí ar fáil. Beidh mé ag súil le freagra dearfach anocht faoin scoil seo i mo dháilcheantar. Tá gach tuarascáil a bheadh ag teastáil curtha ar fáil don Roinn. Táimid ag fanacht anois ar dheimhniú an Aire go dtabharfar cead dul ár aghaidh leis an obair agus go bhfuil airgead curtha ar fáil aici i Meastacháin Airgeadais 1997 chun an obair a thosú.

Tá an taoide ag casadh. Ní chuirfear suas lena leithéid níos faide. Beidh ceartanna oideachais á éileamh ag an bPáirtí Daonlathach do na scoileanna sa Ghaeltacht. Tá faillí déanta ag an Roinn Oideachais ar dhaltaí agus ar mhúinteoirí Scoil Chuimsitheach An Cheathú Rua le fada an lá agus tá mé ag impí ar an Aire anocht na háiseanna sa Cheathrú Rua a chur ar chomh-chéim leis na scoileanna galánta in a dáilcheantar féin.

Ms E. Fitzgerald:  I dtús báire, ba mhaith liom gearrchuntas a thabhairt ar chúlra an cháis seo.

[305] Osclaíodh Scoil Chuimsitheach an Cheathrú Rua sa bhliain 1966. Tá rollacháin ceithre céad daichead's a ceathair (444) dalta ag an scoil faoi láthair. Mar chóiríocht tá príomhfhoirgeamh trí urlár ag an scoil, comh maith le roinnt ranganna sa chlochar trasna an bhóthair uaithi.

Sa bhliain 1994, chaith mo Roinn timpeall seachtó míle punt (£70,000.00) ar fheabhsúcháin don chóras teasa, don soilsiú éigeandála agus don chóras aláraim dóiteáin. I dtús 1995, caitheadh timpeall £34,000.00 breise ar an gcóras teasa.

Is iad seo a leanas na gnóthaí atá faoi mhachnamh faoi láthair ag Rannóg Foirgníochta na Roinne — soláthar chóiríocht bhreise don scoil agus feabhsúcháin a dhéanamh ar an gcóiríocht atá ann.

Cheana féin, tá oifigigh ón Roinn tar éis cuairt a thabhairt ar an scoil chun an réiteach is sásúla ar a riachtanais chóiríochta a aimsiú.

Beidh cruinniú ann amárach maidir leis an gceist seo le Bord Bainistíochta na Scoile.

Nuair a bheidh deireadh leis an bpróiseas pleanála, braithigh cúrsaí tógala ar achmhainní caipitil a bheith ar fáil.

Mr. T. Foxe:  I appreciate the time to say a few words on a topic which is important to the farming community, 48 young agricultural science graduates and 12 young environmental science graduates. Two weeks ago those 60 people took a planning course in Ennis under the aegis of the rural environmental protection scheme.

Over the past few years the European Union, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and others have become very conscious of the environment. As a result the REPS was introduced. Under that scheme farmers follow a plan for a five year period during which they clear up the lake shores and rivers on their lands, trim hedges and so on. More importantly, they must provide accommodation for their stock as well as for fodder, effluent and slurry and there is a definite upper limit to the amount of fertiliser and lime that can be spread on their land. Each year during the five year period the farmer receives a bonus for his work in this regard, but as the cost of providing the accommodation could be between £20,000 and £45,000, the bonus is well earned. The down side of REPS is that a farmer may not carry more than one livestock unit per one and a quarter acres of land, thus reducing meat production. While this may be acceptable to those in the well fed part of the world, those who are starving would not hold a similar view.

Those are the tasks of the people who draw up REPS plans. Irrespective of how highly qualified a graduate is, I accept that he or she would require in-service training for two or three months to be able to carry out those tasks, but we are talking about highly intelligent agricultural and environmental scientists. Until two years ago those who completed the course in Ennis were deemed planners under the REPS [306] and could open planning agencies. However, those who have just completed the course were told they would have to spend a further two years doing in-service training. A planner with his or her own agency would be eligible to give 20 hour courses to young farmers. These courses are relatively lucrative and it is a shame that such highly qualified people are debarred from holding them.

The Minister is a practical individual, so I appeal to him to review the terms under which these planners are granted full planning permission and the authority to open their own agencies.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Deenihan):  I am glad Deputy Foxe raised this matter because it provides me with an opportunity to clarify a number of issues which have arisen in recent weeks. My Department approves planners and planning agencies whose function it is to draw up five year plans for farmers based on the Department's agri-environmental specifications and the scheme conditions. Planners have a pivotal role in setting out the practices to be followed by the farmer to ensure that the objectives of the scheme are achieved.

I have for some time been concerned to upgrade the procedures relating to approved REPS planners in light of experience in the operation of REPS over the past two to three years. Existing approved planners are being subjected to increased scrutiny, while the experience of newly approved planners will be established over a period. Following completion of a two year period of satisfactory REPS planning, or the submission to my Department of 50 satisfactory plans, newly approved planners will be registered as approved REPS planning agencies. At that stage, as well as preparing REPS plans, they will be authorised to oversee their preparation by being permitted to operate as REPS planning agencies.

I will outline the improved arrangements for new REPS planners, put in place in conjunction with a REPS appreciation course held in Ennis from 19 to 21 February. Each individual will be listed as an approved planner after three plans have been completed to the satisfaction of the Department. The three plans submitted by each will be individually checked and responded to by the Department. Each of these three plans must be officially approved by the Department and following such approval, each planner will be included in the Department's list of approved planners.

After two years of satisfactory planning a planner may be registered as an approved planning agency, following formal application to the Department. Alternatively, such approval may be given if 50 plans have been submitted to the satisfaction of the Department. Planners may advertise for business when they have been approved by the Department following the submission of a satisfactory third plan. An approved planner may, [307] working with another approved planner, run a REPS 20 hour education course subject to the conditions laid down for running such courses. Planners are required to inform my Department without delay if they become unable to comply with their undertakings or fulfil all or any of the requirements listed for the purposes of REPS.

In addition to the 60 new planners trained last month, we already have 246 private planning agencies, many of which employ several planners. Additionally, Teagasc employs 351 planners. There is, therefore, no scarcity of REPS planners. I am not aware of any farmers having difficulties in getting access to planners to enable them to participate in REPS. Nonetheless, it is my Department's intention to have another REPS appreciation course before June of this year, after which we expect to add up to 50 more planners to our approved list of planners.

In the circumstances it is clear that my Department's approach to the approval of new REPS planners is fair and equitable. Equally importantly, it will ensure that farmers will have access to an increased pool of fully qualified planners who, after a reasonable period acting alone under the supervision of my Department, can be registered as a planning agency.

Mr. S. Kenny:  Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for allowing me the opportunity to raise this important issue and I thank the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Deenihan, for coming into the House to reply.

The fishing industry in Howth in my constituency is a vital part of the local economy and the employment it generates is a significant part of the workforce, both directly through sea fishing and indirectly through fish sales, processing and ancillary services. A number of fishing boats from Howth are exclusively engaged in whelk fishing at the Codling Bank in the Irish Sea. The Codling Bank comprises 63 acres of seabed, which is a vital nursery for shellfish. Whelk fishing at the Codling Bank had an estimated commercial value of £4 million in 1995, the last year for which figures are available from the Department of the Marine.

My concern and the concern of the fishing industry in my constituency has been raised by the application by Bray Urban District Council to the Minister for the Marine for a licence to extract 250,000 cubic metres of gravel from the shellfish nursery at the Codling Bank to replenish the beach at Bray. One does not need to be a marine scientist to understand the serious adverse effect of extraction on marine life, shellfish and employment in the fishing community which depends on shellfish and whelk fishing, in particular. If whelk fishing is wiped out, the boats which fish for whelk would have to fish for cod and [308] mackerel and this would depress the overall catch for boats now fishing for cod and mackerel.

I want to refer to the Codling Bank gravel extraction environmental impact statement which was prepared for Bray Urban District Council by Irish Hydrodata Limited and the Aquatic Services Unit in the Department of Zoology at University College, Cork. The statement lists the various fishing interests which were approached for their views. The omission of the Howth Fishermen's Association from this consultation process has caused outrage in Howth among fishermen who depend on whelk fishing for their livelihood. They feel it is unacceptable that the Codling Bank nursery for bottom dwelling fish and shellfish should be disturbed.

There are other apparent defects in the environment impact statement. It overlooks, for example, the existence of live coral in the area of the Codling Bank. During the proposed excavation work, the dispersal of the plume would, in the opinion of the fishermen, travel a greater distance than stated in the environmental impact statement. According to the fishermen, the suggestion to fish the area prior to dredging is also non-viable.

There are many alternative sources of gravel on land in the Wicklow area which could be used to deal with coastal erosion rather than ruining the Codling Bank seabed. I ask the Minister to take into account the concerns expressed when dealing with the licence, which should not be granted.

Mr. Deenihan:  Planning has been under way for a number of years to tackle the severe erosion and overtopping problem at Bray promenade, County Wicklow. The protection scheme designed for Bray involves the provision of a renourished beach and certain rock structures to aid the retention of the nourishment. As part of the design process it was necessary to identify a suitable type of beach nourishment for the protection scheme and a suitable source for that nourishment. The codling bank has been proposed.

In order to extract such nourishment material, it is necessary to obtain the appropriate licences under the foreshore Acts. Therefore, Bray Urban District Council has lodged an application with the Minister for the Marine for the extraction of up to 250,000 cubic metres of shingle from the codling bank. As per section 13A of the Foreshore Act, 1993, and the Foreshore (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations, 1990, an environmental impact statement has been prepared in respect of the proposed extraction. In accordance with the regulations the environmental impact statement was advertised and made available to the public who were invited to make submissions to the Department of the Marine by 23 February 1997.

Objections to the granting of a licence were received from four bodies/individuals, including the Howth Fishermen's Association. These objections [309] have been relayed to Bray Urban District Council for comment. On receipt of these comments, the matter will be further considered by the appropriate experts within the Department of the Marine who will then convey their views to the Minister. The Minister does not yet have a view on Bray Urban District Council's application for an extraction licence. I can confirm that [310] the Minister will take account of all submissions made to him under the statutory consultation process relating to this application and the environmental impact statement in coming to a decision.

The Dáil adjourned at 11.05 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 12 March 1997.

[311]

  22.  Mr. Hyland    asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform    the number of disabled people employed in the public service; if he has satisfied himself with the level of recruitment of disabled people by the public service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6660/97]

  30.  Mr. O'Malley    asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform    the funding which will be made available to the Council for the Status of People with Disabilities; the staffing arrangements, if any, which have been agreed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6661/97]

Minister for Equality and Law Reform (Mr. Taylor):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 22 and 30 together.

The monitoring committee on the employment of people with disabilities, which operated on foot of the provisions of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work, carried out a survey to determine the position at end-December 1995 in relation to the employment of people with disabilities in the public service. I understand that the survey determined that there were 2,654 people with disabilities employed in the public service at that time. This represented 1.49 per cent of the total number employed. Work remains to be done to achieve the 3 per cent quota already reached in the Civil Service. My Department has engaged in consultations with the Departments of Finance, Health and Environment to ensure that human resource managers in bodies under their control are aware of the Government's commitment to reaching the 3 per cent quota and to ensure that every effort is made to reach it as soon as possible. An officer of my Department also served on the monitoring committee.

Partnership 2000 for inclusion, employment and competitiveness provides that the 3 per cent quota will be met in the public service during the period of the partnership. In this regard, the following measures will be undertaken: responsibility for meeting the target will be assigned to a senior executive in each health board, local authority, vocational education committee and State-sponsored body; a co-ordinated strategy will be put in place including, the preparation and active promotion of codes of practice on the employment of people with disabilities, similar to existing codes in the Civil Service and the ESB; the maintenance of proper records of employment of people with disabilities, subject to the requirement of confidentiality and privacy; and the identification of suitable employment opportunities, targets and specific timescales.

The recommendations of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities in relation to work and training, including those relating to [312] employment in the public service, are being considered by the interdepartmental task force which I established to draw up a plan of action on the rights of people with disabilities. The plan of action is due to be submitted to Government around mid-year. I am providing £300,000 to fund the interim Council for the Status of People with Disabilities in 1997.

I understand that the national board of the interim council has been elected and arrangements are being completed jointly by the ad-hoc establishment group and the national board for the handover of responsibility for the interim council to the national board. It is intended that this work will be completed by the end of the month. The question of staffing arrangements is a matter for the interim council. I have no function in this regard.

  23.  Miss Harney    asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform    the reason it is necessary to reopen deeds of separation where couples have agreed their circumstances and have no need to do so; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6648/97]

Minister for Equality and Law Reform (Mr. Taylor):  I assume the Deputy is referring to separation agreements that may be in question in the context of divorce proceedings instituted under the Family Law (Divorce) Act, 1996.

The Deputy will appreciate that among the criteria laid down in Article 41.3.2º of the Constitution and approved by the people in the divorce referendum in November 1995 is the requirement that before a decree of divorce can be granted, a court must be satisfied that proper provision having regard to the circumstances exists or will be made for the spouses and any children of either or both of them. Section 5 (1) (c) of the Family Law (Divorce) Act, 1996 gives legislative effect to this constitutional requirement.

In granting a decree of divorce and in deciding whether or not to make an ancillary order in favour of a spouse or any dependent children, it is important that the power of the court to ensure that there is an equitable distribution of income and property in favour of the parties concerned, in line with the requirements of Article 41.3.2º of the Constitution, is not restricted by any deed of separation which may have been entered into between those parties before divorce proceedings are instituted. It would, of course, be open to parties to such proceedings, where agreement exists between them, to seek to have the terms of any existing deed of separation reflected in any ancillary orders made by the court on their behalf.

Accordingly, when farming the Bill that led to the Act of 1996, I made provision in section 20 (3) that a court must, in deciding whether to make certain ancillary orders and in determining the provisions of such orders, have regard to the terms of any separation agreement which has [313] been entered into by the spouses and is still in force. I do not accept, as the Deputy seems to infer, that there will be a necessity for the court to re-open separation agreements in all cases. Clearly, where the parties are in full agreement on the terms of their separation, the reasonable assumption must be that the court will have no difficulty in giving due recognition to the wishes of the parties concerned.

  24.  Mr. Collins    asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform    the proposals, if any, he has to reform, modernise and modify the law of property in Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6655/97]

Minister for Equality and Law Reform (Mr. Taylor):  The Deputy will appreciate that the legislative priorities of my Department — the Employment Equality Bill, the Equal Status Bill, the Children Bill, and a Family Law Bill — are as announced by the Chief Whip in the Government's programme of legislation for the current session. However, I can say that when current priorities are disposed of it would be my Department's intention, in line with its programme of work, to continue with its systematic review and reform of our laws in relation to property.

In the course of various legislative measures I have taken the opportunity to introduce reform of our property laws. In the Family Law Act, 1995, I initiated updating of the powers of the court to make property adjustment orders in support of parties to separation proceedings and I made provision for the court for the first time to make such orders in cases where the parties concerned have a foreign decree of divorce or separation that is entitled to recognition in the State. Property includes property, real and personal, and in the latter sense I should like to mention in particular the pension adjustment orders which I have provided for in the Act of 1995. Property adjustment, including pension adjustment orders, are now also a feature of our divorce laws based on provisions which I initiated in the Family Law (Divorce) Act, 1996.

The wide-ranging Family Law Act, 1995 implemented a recommendation of the Law Reform Commission concerning a time limit after which conveyances could not be declared void under the Family Home Protection Act, 1976. The Act of 1995 also repealed and re-enacted with amendments provisions in the Married Women's Status Act, 1957 giving the courts power to determine disputes between spouses in relation to property and it clarified the law in relation to the property of engaged couples as provided for in legislation of 1981. The Powers of Attorney Act, 1996 introduced reform of our property laws taking into account the report of the Law Reform Commission on enduring powers of attorney. That report was one of a series on land law and conveyancing law.

[314] Notwithstanding the demands of other areas of the law on staff in the Department, I am satisfied that considerable progress has already been made to date in my Department on reforming our property laws. In future legislative proposals regarding property law, close consideration will be given to the other proposals in this area made by the Law Reform Commission.

  25.  Mr. Davern    asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform    the submissions, if any, he has made to the all-party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution; and, if so, if he will give details of these submissions. [6657/97]

Minister for Equality and Law Reform (Mr. Taylor):  My Department has made no submissions to the all-party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution.

  27.  Miss Quill    asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform    the response, if any, he has made to those fathers who have been denied access to their children after separation and grandparents who are not permitted to see their grandchildren; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6662/97]

Minister for Equality and Law Reform (Mr. Taylor):  Any father who is in dispute about custody or access to his child may apply to the court under section 11 of the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964 for its direction on the matter. The Act provides that in deciding such issues the court must regard the welfare of the child as the first and paramount consideration. That important criterion, which is common to many other jurisdictions, is a matter which falls to be dealt with by the court in the context of all of the circumstances of each case. Such orders may be varied by the court if it is in the best interests of the child that a variation order be made. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the application of that law in particular cases.

My understanding is that section 11 may be broad enough to allow the court to make access orders in favour of grandparents but that the power is not clearcut. The position appears to be that any such orders must be sought on the basis of application being made by one of the parents. The section cannot be activated by anyone else. Any such orders must be made in the best interests of the child concerned. While provision to allow grandparents to apply in their own right to the court for access to a child appears desirable, the constitutional rights of the parents may make for some difficulties in framing appropriate legislative provisions.

Various representations have been made to my Department concerning the position of separated parents and grandparents. I undertook to give consideration to those representations in the context [315] of preparation of the Children Bill which is in the final stages of being drafted. That Bill, among other matters, aims at updating certain aspects of the law on guardianship.

  28.  Ms Keogh    asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform    if he will appoint a person within his Department to monitor progress on the implementation of the recommendations of the task force on the travelling community; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6643/97]

  29.  Mr. Clohessy    asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform    the discussions, if any, he has had with the Department of Education on the recommendations of the task force on the travelling community; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6647/97]

  98.  Mr. Flood    asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform    the proposals, if any, he has to co-ordinate the provision of services to travellers within the various public sector institutions that provide services of an essential nature to the travelling community; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6849/97]

Minister for Equality and Law Reform (Mr. Taylor):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 28, 29 and 98 together.

As I have said in reply to previous Dáil Questions, most recently on 19 February, I continue to maintain an active interest in the process of implementing the recommendations in the report of the task force on the travelling community but members of the Government are answerable for those aspects of the report which are in their respective areas of responsibility.

[316] It is not the practice to disclose the content of interdepartmental discussions. If a Deputy wishes to seek information about how the Department of Education is implementing the recommendations of the task force, his appropriate course of action is to table a question to that Minister.

The appropriate co-ordination of service provision to travellers is primarily a matter for the Departments and agencies responsible for those services. I retain an interest in seeing that such co-ordination occurs and maintain contact with my colleagues in this regard, as appropriate.

  31.  Mr. Callely    asked the Taoiseach    the percentage of the workforce that is unemployed in the Dublin region; the comparison figures for the national average and the EU average; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6619/97]

The Taoiseach:  The unemployment rate for the Dublin region in April 1996 was 12.3 per cent, compared with a national average of 11.9 per cent. Both of these figures are based on the labour force survey ILO classification of employment and unemployment, which is the standard for international comparisons. The corresponding average unemployment rate for the EU, 15 countries, in April 1996 was 10.9 per cent.

  32.  Mr. Callely    asked the Taoiseach    the number on the live register for each month of the years from 1993 to 1996; a breakdown of such figures on a county basis; and if he will indicate the city or county that has the largest number of people on the live register. [6617/97]

The Taoiseach:  The numbers on the live register in each month of the years 1993 to 1996 are set out in the following table:

1993 1994 1995 1996
January 302,178 297,001 281,681 287,997
February 299,531 293,453 280,522 286,770
March 297,134 290,590 276,583 281,260
April 294,618 284,509 275,997 281,322
May 289,929 277,063 269,019 274,811
June 293,133 278,399 276,104 282,897
July 297,666 283,715 280,191 288,375
August 297,272 282,964 281,065 287,598
September 289,901 276,511 276,235 278,741
October 286,185 272,654 275,677 267,586
November 286,707 271,916 274,705 263,305
December 297,089 280,183 285,423 270,156

Dublin, which also has the highest population, has the highest number of live register claimants. The full county breakdown of the live register figures from January 1993 to December 1996 is set out in the following table:

[317][318] Number of persons on the Live Register in each county, January 1993-December 1996

County Carlow

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 3,971 3,954 3,930 4,040 4,057 4,187 4,103 4,101 3,913 3,853 3,788 3,992
1994 3,940 4,002 3,956 3,914 3,764 3,821 4,103 3,781 3,722 3,538 3,514 3,691
1995 3,656 3,758 3,601 3,742 3,624 3,763 3,901 3,854 3,575 3,573 3,533 3,661
1996 3,816 3,844 3,874 3,872 3,774 3,989 4,032 3,987 3,688 3,453 3,381 3,576

County Dublin

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 95,928 96,127 96,143 95,439 93,865 95,118 97,047 96,931 94,522 93,012 92,070 93,849
1994 94,759 93,991 93,368 92,840 90,875 91,983 94,688 95,048 92,298 90,780 89,615 91,473
1995 91,078 91,477 90,413 90,476 88,996 91,844 92,719 92,903 90,857 89,698 88,663 91,569
1996 92,177 91,507 89,853 90,030 88,564 90,942 92,438 91,971 88,764 84,493 81,879 83,549

County Kildare

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 9,618 9,499 9,149 9,011 9,102 9,179 9,215 9,038 8,776 8,532 8,351 8,911
1994 9,111 8,923 8,786 8,471 8,392 8,465 8,693 8,488 8,200 8,132 8,145 8,562
1995 8,569 8,437 8,264 8,233 8,166 8,492 8,600 8,605 8,350 8,270 7,992 8,387
1996 8,703 8,624 8,460 8,386 8,097 8,427 8,514 8,456 8,147 7,651 7,416 7,864

County Kilkenny

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 4,462 4,378 4,338 4,300 4,171 4,255 4,274 4,460 4,264 4,187 4,255 4,420
1994 4,389 4,313 4,112 4,032 3,902 3,964 4,009 4,003 4,042 3,918 3,886 4,031
1995 4,098 4,144 4,060 4,066 3,986 4,060 4,066 4,073 4,010 4,011 4,004 4,160
1996 4,211 4,207 4,084 4,087 3,964 4,146 4,281 4,305 4,147 3,950 3,867 3,963

County Laoighis

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 3,748 3,775 3,730 3,744 3,669 3,726 3,697 3,667 3,561 3,499 3,500 3,807
1994 3,815 3,714 3,561 3,404 3,396 3,345 3,259 3,143 3,068 3,100 3,238 3,277
1995 3,359 3,345 3,253 3,280 3,129 3,199 3,197 3,174 3,172 3,155 3,095 3,320
1996 3,459 3,387 3,317 3,329 3,210 3,305 3,277 3,205 3,097 3,047 3,059 3,196

County Longford

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 2,716 2,684 2,591 2,556 2,532 2,580 2,627 2,638 2,490 2,416 2,381 2,542
1994 2,466 2,489 2,505 2,523 2,319 2,269 2,540 2,528 2,454 2,192 2,239 2,305
1995 2,364 2,335 2,303 2,327 2,289 2,490 2,517 2,538 2,422 2,356 2,293 2,356
1996 2,379 2,482 2,366 2,577 2,320 2,411 2,667 2,506 2,479 2,400 2,357 2,409

County Louth

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 11,265 11,161 11,257 11,295 11,240 11,033 11,230 10,909 10,681 10,476 10,408 11,187
1994 11,040 11,058 10,978 10,526 9,890 10,026 10,235 9,970 10,409 10,135 10,090 10,425
1995 10,632 10,568 10,459 10,507 10,137 10,281 10,524 10,349 10,113 9,934 9,883 10,173
1996 10,321 10,522 10,442 10,492 10,173 10,286 10,528 10,568 10,287 10,053 9,946 10,116

[319][320] County Meath

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 5,090 4,974 4,959 4,839 4,745 4,787 4,797 4,772 4,605 4,542 4,547 4,742
1994 4,835 4,783 4,680 4,334 4,195 4,198 4,309 4,281 3,968 3,894 3,825 3,855
1995 3,961 3,996 3,873 3,830 3,665 3,691 3,731 3,793 4,064 4,049 3,973 4,067
1996 4,161 4,201 4,156 4,133 4,078 4,180 4,346 4,326 4,157 3,921 3,878 3,953

County Offaly

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 5,039 4,930 4,949 4,833 4,679 4,833 4,827 4,761 4,539 4,565 4,626 4,840
1994 4,905 4,854 4,744 4,585 4,451 4,277 4,414 4,385 4,357 4,276 4,306 4,342
1995 4,392 4,329 4,274 3,955 3,797 3,831 3,860 3,899 3,855 3,819 3,867 3,967
1996 4,136 4,044 4,109 4,053 4,027 4,009 3,982 4,069 3,986 3,769 3,708 3,648

County Westmeath

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 5,061 4,937 4,937 4,859 4,795 4,851 4,755 4,781 4,733 4,673 4,693 4,902
1994 4,839 4,663 4,558 4,308 4,268 4,238 4,312 4,379 4,324 4,334 4,278 4,553
1995 4,418 4,394 4,378 4,694 4,493 4,652 4,820 4,764 4,816 4,808 4,941 4,212
1996 5,197 5,112 5,054 5,020 4,721 4,948 4,970 5,065 4,896 4,704 4,679 4,785

County Wexford

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 9,541 9,512 9,394 9,208 9,105 9,204 9,340 9,638 9,275 9,356 9,397 9,716
1994 9,612 9,543 9,499 9,229 8,805 8,884 8,952 8,880 9,072 8,850 8,946 9,317
1995 9,314 9,201 9,016 9,813 8,620 8,751 8,794 8,834 8,783 9,048 8,973 9,221
1996 9,363 9,457 9,252 9,216 9,005 9,198 9,184 9,170 9,326 8,944 8,960 9,157

County Wicklow

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 8,747 8,828 8,689 8,567 8,439 8,430 8,729 8,621 8,395 8,380 8,267 8,409
1994 8,360 8,357 8,291 8,093 7,912 7,925 7,998 8,059 7,606 7,549 7,435 7,613
1995 7,741 7,685 7,554 7,530 7,400 7,522 7,655 7,734 7,416 7,471 7,485 7,729
1996 7,815 7,820 7,884 7,909 7,653 7,909 8,122 8,115 7,913 7,488 7,351 7,573

County Clare

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 6,198 6,058 5,961 5,941 5,652 5,639 5,775 5,853 5,873 6,094 6,247 6,209
1994 6,250 6,025 5,913 5,742 5,567 5,452 5,403 5,350 5,314 5,432 5,528 5,639
1995 5,759 5,716 5,717 5,543 5,336 5,253 5,398 5,458 5,401 5,404 5,572 5,684
1996 5,811 5,755 5,646 5,487 5,333 5,426 5,528 5,636 5,437 5,376 5,418 5,338

County Cork

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 32,182 31,505 31,523 31,076 30,833 31,241 31,763 31,193 30,623 29,907 30,405 31,572
1994 31,532 31,517 31,382 31,127 30,150 30,752 30,848 30,785 30,287 29,979 29,825 31,093
1995 31,470 31,195 30,909 30,738 30,170 30,789 30,921 30,884 30,543 30,475 30,266 31,651
1996 32,214 32,695 31,983 31,984 31,239 32,172 32,549 32,283 31,793 30,362 29,968 30,945

[321][322] County Kerry

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 10,373 10,215 9,859 9,505 9,072 8,857 8,828 8,902 8,605 9,091 9,447 10,102
1994 9,907 9,577 9,305 8,700 8,309 7,964 8,074 8,096 8,129 8,489 8,828 9,337
1995 9,506 9,452 9,146 8,751 8,277 8,320 8,757 8,812 8,684 9,104 9,549 10,227
1996 10,316 10,120 9,707 9,456 8,915 8,988 9,142 9,462 9,251 9,447 9,731 10,247

County Limerick

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 14,258 14,101 13,690 13,714 13,414 13,519 13,872 13,919 13,708 13,600 13,533 13,604
1994 13,407 13,380 13,193 12,882 12,592 12,290 12,583 12,589 12,370 12,078 12,047 12,085
1995 12,623 12,442 12,107 12,189 11,725 11,910 12,125 12,473 12,054 12,049 12,167 12,832
1996 12,899 12,669 12,279 12,307 12,047 12,449 12,840 13,047 12,330 11,781 11,526 11,879

County Tipperary

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 11,030 10,905 10,702 10,625 10,642 10,718 10,811 10,974 10,587 10,644 10,559 11,296
1994 11,190 11,106 10,818 10,547 10,249 10,121 9,892 9,954 9,371 9,148 9,038 9,623
1995 9,734 9,757 9,567 9,584 9,247 9,474 9,633 9,594 9,402 9,405 9,093 9,598
1996 9,595 9,356 9,136 9,216 8,808 9,083 9,444 9,198 8,813 8,439 8,514 8,849

County Waterford

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 8,881 8,692 8,620 8,465 8,313 8,495 8,707 8,587 8,290 8,182 8,411 8,896
1994 8,667 8,474 8,571 8,382 8,057 8,198 8,436 8,454 8,117 7,970 8,203 8,604
1995 8,498 8,321 8,236 8,140 7,864 8,188 8,377 8,350 8,177 8,249 8,381 8,773
1996 8,621 8,482 8,335 8,293 8,184 8,386 8,518 8,500 8,184 7,915 7,908 8,105

County Galway

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 15,610 15,472 15,167 15,076 14,757 14,982 15,286 15,610 15,691 15,288 15,525 16,021
1994 16,287 16,121 15,809 15,528 15,245 15,199 15,357 15,347 14,922 14,801 14,795 15,050
1995 15,225 15,077 14,709 14,663 14,013 14,600 14,774 14,957 15,057 15,325 15,547 15,890
1996 15,896 15,741 15,469 15,459 15,298 15,676 16,103 16,049 15,538 15,113 14,586 14,594

County Leitrim

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 1,925 1,847 1,804 1,829 1,784 1,805 1,916 1,854 1,828 1,743 1,744 1,845
1994 1,889 1,877 1,846 1,806 1,724 1,806 1,898 1,914 1,860 1,783 1,793 1,837
1995 1,840 1,821 1,766 1,784 1,753 1,828 1,860 1,900 1,842 1,855 1,793 1,841
1996 1,842 1,829 1,804 1,786 1,820 1,937 2,110 2,047 1,935 1,782 1,780 1,864

County Mayo

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 10,104 9,961 9,831 9,885 9,548 9,749 9,838 10,078 9,755 9,758 9,658 10,081
1994 10,080 9,820 9,700 8,735 9,165 9,219 9,287 9,252 9,122 9,317 9,248 9,463
1995 9,625 9,598 9,508 9,514 9,219 9,312 9,542 9,728 9,631 9,649 9,641 10,009
1996 10,001 9,896 9,687 9,757 9,618 9,908 10,007 10,133 9,873 9,571 9,465 9,808

[323][324] County Roscommon

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 2,236 2,204 2,206 2,178 2,199 2,221 2,311 2,284 2,153 2,093 2,045 2,230
1994 2,171 2,157 2,102 1,992 1,927 1,972 2,026 1,999 1,890 1,878 1,886 1,969
1995 1,980 1,893 1,858 1,886 1,812 1,978 2,016 1,975 1,965 1,896 1,919 1,982
1996 1,966 1,954 1,985 1,997 1,942 2,035 2,060 2,112 2,009 2,001 2,001 2,108

County Sligo

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 3,744 3,780 3,696 3,617 3,519 3,740 3,723 3,751 3,557 3,514 3,485 3,579
1994 3,535 3,455 3,407 3,304 3,271 3,414 3,580 3,590 3,423 3,369 3,373 3,377
1995 3,401 3,437 3,428 3,403 3,346 3,532 3,564 3,601 3,452 3,475 3,506 3,636
1996 3,742 3,703 3,544 3,496 3,498 3,810 3,855 3,809 3,590 3,404 3,377 3,467

County Cavan

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 3,305 3,362 3,240 3,265 3,199 3,174 3,198 3,151 3,077 2,947 3,019 3,221
1994 3,165 3,083 3,053 2,832 2,802 2,731 2,820 2,797 2,746 2,676 2,654 2,829
1995 2,888 3,016 2,942 2,963 2,878 2,834 2,912 3,018 2,912 2,871 2,827 2,879
1996 2,910 2,881 2,818 2,794 2,670 2,798 2,860 2,914 2,809 2,684 2,681 2,693

County Donegal

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 13,431 13,018 13,172 13,180 13,031 13,107 13,234 13,110 12,889 12,393 12,921 13,420
1994 13,250 12,681 13,095 12,860 12,666 12,655 12,943 12,576 12,242 11,902 12,108 12,569
1995 12,282 11,850 11,936 12,072 11,865 12,205 12,552 12,359 12,308 12,394 12,438 13,127
1996 12,913 12,957 12,563 12,761 12,584 12,921 13,393 13,051 12,784 12,469 12,473 12,981

County Monaghan

Year Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.
1993 3,715 3,652 3,597 3,571 3,567 3,703 3,763 3,689 3,511 3,440 3,425 3,696
1994 3,600 3,490 3,348 3,213 3,170 3,231 3,321 3,316 3,198 3,134 3,073 3,264
1995 3,268 3,278 3,306 3,314 3,212 3,315 3,376 3,436 3,373 3,334 3,304 3,472
1996 3,533 3,525 3,453 3,425 3,359 3,558 3,625 3,614 3,508 3,369 3,396 3,475

  33.  Mr. Callely    asked the Taoiseach    the issues that are currently under consideration for referenda; the basis on which an issue receives consideration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6618/97]

The Taoiseach:  As I have informed the House on a number of occasions the Government is committed to initiating a Constitution amendment Bill on Cabinet confidentiality. Work is proceeding on its drafting, having regard to the constitutional, legal and administrative issues which I outlined to the House in reply to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 3 and 4 on 15 October, 1996.

The all-party committee on the Constitution is reviewing the Constitution. On receipt and consideration of their report other issues may arise for consideration.

  34.  Ms O'Donnell    asked the Taoiseach    if he will publish reports and documents (details supplied) referred to in the recently published consultant's report of the office of the Chief State Solicitor entitled, Organisation and Management Review, published in November 1996. [6706/97]

The Taoiseach:  The position regarding the publication of the various reports and documents referred to in the Deloitte & Touche organisation amd management review of the office of the Chief State Solicitor is as follows:

(1) Office of the Attorney General — Law Office Management Review, by S. Mayso

This document was an internal consultancy study. It has already been distributed to staff and relevant staff associations. I have arranged for the laying of this report before both Houses of the [325] Oireachtas and I will make a copy available to any Member who so requests.

(2) Report of an Examination of the administration of Chief State Solicitor's Office in Relation to Personal Injury Claims by Jim McCormack

This was an advisory report on office strategy in regard to the handing of personal injury claims and it would not be appropriate to have it published.

(3) Framework Draft of Strategic Management Initiative Submission to Co-Ordinating Group of Secretaries from the Office of the Attorney General

This was an internal working document which has fed into the office's overall strategic management initiative. Arrangements for publication of the statement of strategy for the Attorney General's office, including the Chief State Solicitor's Office are being made at the moment.

(4) Office of the Chief State Solicitor — Strategic IT Plan by Central IT Services

This is a rolling plan intended for internal office use in the development of comprehensive information technology systems. Its publication is not considered appropriate.

(5) Chief State Solicitor's Office — Feasibility Study by Brady, Stanley O'Connell Associates Architects.

This architectural study was commissioned by the Office of Public Works on behalf of the Chief State Solicitor. It deals with the existing building and proposals for its refurbishment and extension. I see little merit in having it published, it would, in any event, be inappropriate, for reasons of security, to publish detailed plans of any State law office.

(6) Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions — Structures, Procedures, Resources Initial Assessment by Grant Thornton Consulting

This report was laid before the House of the Oireachtas in July 1996.

[326]

  35.  Mr. Jacob    asked the Taoiseach    whether his attention has been drawn to the availability throughout the Civil Service and to Members of the Oireachtas of the Government's Telecommunications Network Directory on computer within an on-line Lotus Notes database; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that a large number of the documents contained within this database are now incorrect; the names and contact numbers of the persons in his Department who are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the portion of this database which relates to his Department, both in terms of content and replication to the CMOD master copy of the database; the date on which that portion of the database which relates to his Department was last updated; if he will ensure that the database is accurately maintained in future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6789/97]

The Taoiseach:  The GTN network directory to which the Deputy refers was developed and is centrally co-ordinated by the centre for management and organisation development, CMOD, Department of Finance. It is available to all users of my Department's computer network.

Entries relating to this Department are frequently updated by the personnel and management services division of this Department. Any necessary changes are made within a week, to ensure the accuracy of the system.

In addition, my Department's entries are replicated on a daily basis to the CMOD master version.

  36.  Mr. Gallagher (Donegal South-West)    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will give details of the number of Irish prisoners serving sentences in British prisons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6719/97]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring):  According to the British Home Office there are currently approximately 680 Irish prisoners in British jails of whom about 515 are serving sentences and the remainder, about 165, are being held on remand.

  37.  Mr. R. Burke    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs    the progress of preparations for the forthcoming Malta conference in the framework of the Barcelona process; and if he will give details of the agenda for the conference. [6591/97]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring):  Preparations for the follow-up conference to the Barcelona ministerial meeting which inaugurated the Euro-Mediterranean partnership are being conducted in accordance with the follow-up provisions of the Barcelona declaration, by the Euro-Mediterranean Committee for the Barcelona process. The committee meets at senior official level and comprises the European Union Troika, including, at present, a representative from Ireland, and one representative of each of the Union's 12 Mediterranean partners. In the context of preparations for the Malta ministerial meeting, the committee takes stock of and evaluates the follow-up to the Barcelona process and all its components and updates the work programme agreed at Barcelona.

As foreseen in the Barcelona declaration, the Euro-Mediterranean committee for the Barcelona process has met regularly and preparations for the Malta ministerial meeting are now at an advanced stage. At its most recent meeting on 24 and 25 February, the General Affairs Council of the European Union heard a report from the [327] Presidency and the European Commission on the preparations and organization of the Malta meeting. The GAC, also, reiterated the Union's commitment to the establishment of a network of bilateral association agreements with its Mediterranean partners. In this connection the GAC welcomed the signature of the Interim Association Agreement with the PLO and underlined its determination to conclude the negotiations with Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon as soon as possible.

While the precise agenda for the meeting has yet to be set, the meeting at Malta will take stock of progress in Euro-Mediterranean partnership and will set priorities for the future. It is anticipated that Ministers for Foreign Affairs will adopt conclusions which reflect their wish to see the balanced development of the partnership through the gradual implementation of all three chapters of the Barcelona declaration, i.e. the political and security partnership, the economic and financial partnership, and the partnership in social, cultural and human affairs. The importance which the Council of Ministers attached to the Malta meeting in this context was underlined at the meeting of the General Affairs Council referred to.

  38.  Mr. R. Burke    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs    the progress, if any, of the negotiations with South Africa on its accession to the Lomé Convention and the trade and co-operation agreement. [6592/97]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring):  In June 1995 the EU Council of Ministers mandated the Commission to negotiate a long-term relationship with South Africa. This relationship is to be built on two complementary elements: a Bilateral Trade and Cooperation Agreement with South Africa and a Protocol to provide for qualified accession by South Africa to the Lomé IV Convention.

The Mid-Term Review of the Fourth Lomé Convention, signed in Mauritius in November 1995, introduced provisions to facilitate South Africa's accession to the Convention. Under the revised Convention, South Africa can formally accede to the Convention, without further ratification by the states party to it, if the terms of accession are agreed prior to the entry into force of the agreement amending the Convention. Accession by South Africa requires the approval of the ACP-EC Council of Ministers.

Ireland fully supports the accession of South Africa to the Lomé IV Convention.

Negotiations between the European Commission and South Africa on the Protocol of accession recently concluded. I am confident that every effort will be made to ensure that the Protocol can be presented for approval to the next meeting of the ACP-EC Council of Ministers in [328] Luxembourg in April, thus facilitating the early accession of South Africa to Lomé IV.

The EU's negotiating mandate for a Trade and Cooperation Agreement was formally presented to the South African authorities on 29 March 1996. A first meeting between the two sides took place in June 1996 and some progress was made on non-trade aspects such as economic and industrial co-operation, education, research, and technology. South Africa formally responded to the EU's negotiating mandate in January. In February the two sides agreed a tentative timetable and agenda for the next phase of negotiations up to July which includes six negotiating sessions on the Bilateral Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

  39.  Mr. R. Burke    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs    the precise role and mandate of the UN special envoy to Zaire, Mr. Sahnoun; the progress of preparations for the Nairobi meeting in mid-March; the steps, if any, being taken to prepare a Great Lakes Conference as suggested before 1 January 1997, in view of recent rebel advances in eastern Zaire which have raised the prospect of a renewed refugee crisis; and if he will inform Dáil Éireann of the Government's and the EU's reaction to a statement made by members of the European Parliament claiming that there is no coherent and co-ordinated European policy towards the African Great Lakes region and which called on the international community to intervene militarily in the region to establish safe corridors for humanitarian aid. [6593/97]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring):  As stated in my written reply to the Deputy's previous Question No. 82 of 25 February, the Government and our EU partners are gravely concerned about the spreading military conflict in Eastern Zaire, which is increasing political tensions and aggravating the acute humanitarian situation in the Great Lakes Region.

In that reply, I also gave a full statement of the five principles upon which the EU has based its call on all parties to seek a political solution to the problems of Eastern Zaire and the region. These principles are the basis of the EU's coordinated and highly focused policy in relation to the Great Lakes Region as agreed among partners and set out in the Declaration made by the Presidency on 17 February. The concerns of the Union are also being made known directly to the relevant Governments of the Great Lakes Region by our designated Special Envoy, Mr. Aldo Ajello, who has been engaged in intensive diplomatic efforts throughout the region. In pursuing its concerns, the Union is working closely with the Joint United Nations and Organisation of African Unity Special Representative to the region, Mr. Mohammed Sahnoun, whose fivepoint peace plan has been adopted unaimously by [329] the UN Security Council in Resolution 1097 of 18 February. The five elements of this plan are:

— Immediate cessation of hostilities.

— Withdrawal of all external forces/mercenaries.

— Reaffirmation of respect for national sovereignty/integrity of Zaire and other States of the Great Lakes Region.

— Protection and security for all refugees and displaced persons and facilitation of access to humanitarian assistance.

— Rapid peaceful settlement of crisis through dialogue, electoral process and convening of an international conference on peace, security and development in the Great Lakes Region.

In appointing Special Representative Sahnoun, UN Secretary-General Annan has requested him to use his good offices to promote peaceful settlements of the various conflicts in the region, with special reference initially to the situations in Eastern Zaire and Burundi; to prepare an international conference on peace, security and development in the region, as endorsed by the Security Council; to use his good offices to help preserve the unity and territorial integrity of Zaire and to help restore the country's national institutions, including through support for the electoral process.

Special Representative Sahnoun is working closely with the Governments in the region and other parties. He also has a co-ordinating role in relation to the UN's Humanitarian co-ordinators at both regional and national level. As evident from my reply of 25 February, the principles which guide the current approach of the Government and our European partners complement and underpin Mr. Sahnoun's plan and mandate.

The current efforts of the international community are aimed at the early acceptance and implementation of the Sahnoun peace plan beginning with an immediate cessation of hostilities. The Government of Zaire declared its acceptance of the plan on 5 March. In its statement of Friday, 7 March the Security Council has called on the rebel side to do likewise with an immediate cessation of hostilities, as has the EU in its parallel Presidency Declaration of that date. In addition the Council has expressed its concern about the effect which the continued fighting is having on the refugees and inhabitants of the region and has called on all parties to allow access by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and humanitarian agencies to guarantee the safety of refugees and displaced persons as well as UN and humanitarian aid workers. The possibility of an international mechanism to monitor a ceasefire is under active consideration by the UN Secretary General.

At the same time, the ongoing peace-making efforts of regional leaders and of President Mandela continue. Along with our European partners, the Government welcomes the initiative of President Moi of Kenya to convene another [330] regional meeting in Nairobi on 19 March and the initiative of the Organisation of African Unity to organise a summit on the Great Lakes Region before the end of this month. The Government will continue to make every appropriate effort in concert with our EU partners for the effective co-ordination and success of these initiatives.

  40.  Mr. R. Burke    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs    the outcome of the Ministerial meetings of the structured dialogue with Cyprus on 21 February 1997; and the progress, if any, being made to resolve the situation in Cyprus. [6594/97]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring):  The 18th meeting of the EU-Cyprus Association Council was held in the margins of the General Affairs Council of 21 February 1997. The Council dealt with issues of economic co-operation relating to Cyprus's application for accession to the European Union. The Association Council is held at regular intervals and forms part of the ongoing co-operation framework between the European Union and Cyprus.

It is customary on the occasion of such an Association Council for a structural political dialogue to take place on issues of common interest between the EU and Cyprus. However, this did not prove possible on this occasion, as agreement was not reached by all EU member states on the political statement to be delivered within the framework of the structured dialogue on one of the agenda items, the political situation in Cyprus.

The European Union believes that the prospect of accession by Cyprus to the Union provides both the opportunity and incentive for both communities on the island to enter into serious political negotiations and to achieve serious progress towards a comprehensive political settlement during 1997. The objective, shared by all partners in the European Union, is to see an early resumption of direct talks between the leadership of both communities on the island, with the aim of reaching an overall political settlement of the Cyprus question.

Ireland, and its partners in the European Union, together with the Commission, are making considerable efforts to convince both communities, and in particular the Turkish-Cypriot community that they have everything to gain and nothing to lose through the accession of a unified Cyprus to the European Union. To this end, Commissioner Van den Broek, accompanied by Presidency officials, including the Special Representative of the Presidency-in-Office, Ambassador Heaslip, visited Cyprus earlier this month to hold talks with political leaders from both communities on the island.

In addition to the efforts of the European Union, various interested parties have also taken initiatives to promote progress towards a settlement. [331] These initiatives are intended to be complementary to, and supportive of, the efforts of the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, Professor Han Sung Joo, in acknowledgment of the leading role to be played by the United Nations in the process of achieving an overall solution. It is further recognised that any eventual solution should fall within the parameters of existing UN resolutions and decisions on the Cyprus question.

Whilst these efforts will continue and intensify in the months ahead, it must be recognised that they can only succeed if the leadership of both communities, who have a primary responsibility for securing a solution, make serious efforts to move at an early date to direct negotiations leading to a final and comprehensive settlement to this longstanding problem.

  41.  Mr. R. Burke    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will give details of the Government's and the EU's reaction to a statement made on 21 February 1997 by five human rights organisations which claimed that a draft amendment to the EU Treaty discussed in the Intergovernmental Conference over the right to asylum would violate the obligations of member states in terms of international treaties. [6595/97]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring):  The Intergovernmental Conference which opened in March 1996 is considering possible amendments to the EU Treaties. It is open to any member state to table proposals for treaty changes at the Intergovernmental Conference. However, any Treaty changes must be agreed unanimously.

One member state has tabled a proposal designed to ensure that no member state shall agree to process an application for asylum or refugee status submitted by a national of another member state.

The Irish Presidency's outline draft Treaty, which was accepted by the Dublin European Council in December as a good basis for the further work of the conference, does not contain a suggested draft Treaty amendment in this area. It does however recall the important proposal which had been tabled and which should be considered further by the conference.

The Dublin European Council asked the Intergovernmental Conference “to develop the important proposal to amend the Treaties to establish it as a clear principle that no citizen of a member state of the union may apply for asylum in another member state, taking into account international Treaties”.

The proposal is now receiving detailed consideration at the conference. Ireland's position is that we very much understand the concerns which led to the tabling of the proposal. At the same [332] time, we consider, like other member states, that it gives rise to a number of complex legal and other questions such as those identified by the organisations referred to by the Deputy.

These questions, including the compatibility of the proposal with existing international obligations, will need to be fully examined before the proposal can be taken further.

The Intergovernmental Conference has not reached the stage of definitive agreement on the various issues which it is considering. Negotiations are continuing under the Dutch Presidency and the conference remains set to conclude in Amsterdam in June.

  42.  Mr. R. Burke    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will give details of the Government's and the EU's response to a recent Human Rights Watch statement which criticised the EU for omitting human rights issues from the agenda of the recent EU and Gulf Co-operation Council ministerial meeting; and the steps, if any, being taken by Ireland as a member of the EU Troika to address this issue. [6596/97]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring):  I attended the most recent meeting of the Co-operation Council between the EU and the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) in Doha on 17 February, which discussed a range of political and economic issues of common interest to both sides. The European Union raised a number of human rights issues, and this is reflected in the joint communiqué which was issued following the meeting.

In the joint communiqué, the Gulf Co-operation Council Ministers, while noting the diversity of systems of values, joined EU Ministers in reiterating their continuing commitment to the promotion of human rights and recalled the commitment of all states, expressed at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, to the principle that all human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent. There was a more extensive discussion of Human Rights than at previous meetings of the EU-Gulf Co-operation Council.

As a matter of course, the European Union raises the issue of human rights in the Gulf in its speech to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and at the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly. The Government fully supports the principle that human rights should be a central consideration in relations between the EU and Third Countries. The European Union will continue to raise the issue of human rights obligations in its political dialogue with Third Countries, including with the members of the Gulf Co-operation Council.

  43.  Mr. R. Burke    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will inform Dáil

[333] Éireann of the outcome of the EU Troika meeting with the US Under-Secretary of State for Human Rights, John Shattuck, in Brussels on 21 February 1997 which was to discuss, among other issues, the question of the UN resolution on human rights in China; whether the Government supports the resolution; and the progress, if any, made in gaining the united support of the EU for the resolution. [6597/97]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring):  I refer to my reply to Question No. 52 of 13 February in which I set out the policy of Ireland and our EU partners on human rights in China and on the possibility of a resolution on the matter at the annual session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

In the meantime, the matter was discussed further at the meeting of the General Affairs Council on 24 February. The Council reaffirmed its willingness to pursue a dialogue with China on human rights, aimed at encouraging respect for international human rights norms. The Council expressed the hope that there would be rapid progress in this regard, following several contacts which had taken place recently with the Chinese authorities, particularly on the part of the EU and the US. The council also encouraged the Presidency to pursue and intensify, in close co-operation with other interested parties, consultations and preparatory work already under way towards the possible tabling of a draft resolution on China at the Commission on Human Rights. A final decision in this regard will be taken in light of any further relevant developments.

Discussions with the United States are an essential part of the consultation process signalled by the General Affairs Council at its meeting on 24 February. Ireland, together with our EU partners, will continue to liaise closely with the US and other interested parties in arriving at a final decision on the matter.

While I can confirm that a meeting took place between the EU Troika and the US on 21 February, the Deputy will be aware that it is not normal practice to report on the detail of such Troika consultations, which are conducted on a confidential basis. From public statements made by representatives of the US Administration in recent weeks, it will be clear that the views of the US in regard to the possible tabling of a draft resolution at the Commission on Human Rights are broadly similar to those of the Union.

  44.  Mr. R. Burke    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will inform Dáil Éireann of the outcome of the mid-February EU and ASEAN ministerial meeting in Singapore; the extent to which the situation in Burma was discussed at the meeting and the progress, if any, made in this regard; and the outcome of the EU Troika meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister, Quichien, held in conjunction with the EU and ASEAN meeting which focused exclusively on questions concerning human rights in China. [6598/97]

[334]Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring):  As regards the outcome of the EUASEAN ministerial meeting held in Singapore on 13-14 February, I would refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 80 of 25 February indicating that Ministers had a productive and wideranging exchange of views on a number of political, security, economic and other issues at the meeting. The discussions took place in an atmosphere of mutual confidence and understanding in the spirit of the previous meeting in Karlsruhe on 22-23 September 1994; and Ministers reiterated that ASEAN remains a cornerstone of the EU's dialogue with the Asian region. As the Deputy will be aware, a copy of the joint declaration adopted at the meeting has been placed in the Oireachtas Library.

In relation to Burma, the Deputy will be aware from my reply to Question No. 48 of 19 February that I participated in a lengthy and frank discussion at lunch on the situation in Burma at the EU-ASEAN meeting. This exchange of views is acknowledged in the joint declaration. The concerns of European Ministers regarding the situation in Burma were conveyed to the ASEAN side in great detail.

Prior to this discussion, which lasted for some two hours, the Presidency reiterated, in the formal EU statement, the concern of the European Union in relation to the continuing human rights violations in Burma. The EU called upon the SLORC immediately and unconditionally to release all political prisoners and to embark upon a process of national reconciliation and democratic reform, respecting the aspirations of the Burmese people as expressed in the elections of May 1990. To this end, the EU also called upon the SLORC to enter into a meaningful dialogue with pro-democracy groups in general and with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in particular as well as with representatives of various ethnic groups.

In relation to the EU Troika meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, I can confirm that almost the entire meeting was given over to an exchange of views on human rights issues. This allowed for a broad discussion on areas of immediate importance to the EU including the question of a resolution on China at the forthcoming session on the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

In addition, the EU side expressed its regret that China had not agreed to a new date for an EU-China meeting within the framework of the Human Rights dialogue initiated in 1995 and highlighted European interest in resuming such a dialogue. The EU also repeated its call that China become party to the UN Covenant on civil and political rights as well as that on economic, social and cultural rights.

We sought the release of political prisoners in need of medical treatment and the agreement of China to facilitate prison visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Since the meeting, there have been indications that the Chinese authorities are considering, in [335] particular, the issue of prison visits and the question of adherence to the two UN covenants which I have mentioned.

  45.  Mr. R. Burke    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will give details of the Government's and the EU's response to the request made by the Aboriginal Northern Land Council that a human rights clause be included in the EU and Australia agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6599/97]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring):  I am aware that on 17 February, the chairman of the Northern Land Council, a statutory authority established in Australia's northern territory sent a human rights dossier to the representative of the European Commission in Canberra in the context of ongoing discussions concerning a proposed EC-Australia Framework Trade and Co-operation Agreement.

Over recent years, the European Union has progressively expanded the scope of provisions relating to respect for human rights in agreements with third countries. In May 1995 Council decided that all subsequent agreements of this nature should contain a suspension mechanism to be used in the event of non-observance of essential aspects of the agreements, particularly human rights.

Ireland supports the negotiating directives for the EC-Australia Framework Trade and Co-operation Agreement approved by the General Affairs Council on 21 April 1996 which stipulate that common respect for democratic principles and basic human rights will constitute an essential element of the Agreement.

Discussions between the European Commission and the Australian authorities aimed at concluding an EC-Australia Framework Trade and Co-operation Agreement are ongoing. The question of a human rights clause is among the issues being discussed. Ireland hopes that these negotiations will produce an outcome which is satisfactory to both parties.

  46.  Mr. R. Burke    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs    the steps, if any, being taken by the EU and the Government, particularly as a member of the EU Troika, to defuse the dangerous situation which has erupted in Albania. [6601/97]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring):  The Government, along with its partners in the European Union, is gravely concerned at the situation in Albania. The President of the Council of Ministers of the Union, Foreign Minister [336] Van Mierlo of the Netherlands, travelled to Albania on 8 March to convey directly the concerns of the European Union at recent developments. The European Union, whilst recognising the need for the restoration of law and order in Albania, considers it imperative that the state of emergency should be lifted as soon as possible. Minister Van Mierlo emphasised that the implementation of the state of emergency should not affect the observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedoms of expression and information.

The EU has also urged all political forces in Albania to come together in a responsible manner to resolve the present crisis, and to establish a government that enjoys the broad-based support of the Albanian people. The European Union believes that through a process of national reconciliation, a consensus-based government can reach agreement on measures that will lead to a political resolution of the current crisis.

The European Union will continue to lend its support and encouragement for the establishment of full democracy in Albania. In this regard, it fully supports the efforts of the OSCE, and its essential role in achieving a peaceful reconciliation in Albania. The European Union has welcomed the mission of the personal representative to Albania of the OSCE Chairman in Office, former Chancellor Vranitsky of Austria. Members of the EU Troika, including Ireland, formed part of the OSCE delegation which met with President Berisha on 9 March 1997, and urged him to take positive measures to involve all political forces in the search for a political solution.

The European Union also welcomes the efforts of the Council of Europe to contribute to the strengthening of democracy in Albania.

Following the visits of Foreign Minister Van Mierlo, and the OSCE delegation headed by Mr. Vranitsky, it is reported that President Berisha of Albania has reached agreement with the other political parties on a programme of measures which include the establishment of a government of national reconciliation and the holding of parliamentary elections by June. The European Union will continue to encourage the full implementation of these positive steps towards overcoming this crisis.

Ireland will continue to support actively the efforts of the Union to encourage early progress towards a political solution, as well as the provision of appropriate assistance measures to Albania, for example, through the Community PHARE programme. We will also consider positively any proposals for the provision of necessary humanitarian aid, as well as further measures to help Albania — once the political and economic conditions are right.

[337]

  47.  Mr. R. Burke    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will give details of the Government's and the EU's response to the Israeli decision to build homes for settlers in Arab east Jerusalem; and the steps, if any, being taken by the Government as a member of the EU Troika to resolve the situation and advance the Middle-Eastern peace process. [6602/97]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring):  In the Dáil on 26 February, the Taoiseach expressed concern about the decision which was expected to be taken later that day by the Israeli cabinet to proceed with the construction of the new housing units at Jabal Abu Ghneim-Har Homa. Following the announcement of the decision, the Tánaiste issued a statement which set out the Government's position on settlements in detail. The statement reaffirmed that settlements in the occupied territories contravene international law and are a major obstacle to peace, and stressed that East Jerusalem is subject to the principles set out in UN Security Council Resolution 242, notably the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force. The statement further noted that the EU does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem. The Tánaiste called on Israel to reconsider its decision to proceed with the construction of these new housing units.

Prior to the official announcement, the Troika of EU representatives in Tel Aviv met with a senior official of the Israeli Foreign Ministry on 24 February to express the deep concern of the European Union that an extension of settlements in the Jerusalem area would hamper the peace process. The Troika underlined the Union's wish that the parties to the peace process should refrain from actions which would change the status quo on the ground and which prejudge the outcome of the permanent status negotiations, which are due to resume on 17 March.

Following the announcement, the President of the Council of Ministers issued a statement on behalf of the European Union. The statement deplored the decision of the Israeli Government to approve the construction plans, and called on Israel to refrain from measures that have an eroding effect on the confidence necessary for further implementation of the existing Israeli-Palestinian agreements. The statement also reaffirmed the Union's view, as set out most recently in the declaration adopted by the European Council in Dublin in December, that settlements in the occupied territories contravene international law and are a major obstacle to peace.

On 7 March, the four European Union partners which are members of the United Nations Security Council tabled a draft resolution, expressing deep concern at the construction of a settlement at Jabal Abu Ghneim-Har Homa. The draft resolution called on Israel to refrain from all actions which pre-empt the permanent status negotiations and — as the occupying power — to abide by its legal obligations and responsibilities under the Geneva Convention of 1949 relative to the protection of civilians in time of war, which is applicable to all territories occupied by Israel [338] since 1967. The draft resolution also called on all parties to continue their negotiations within the Middle East peace process on its agreed basis, and the timely implementation of the agreements reached. The draft resolution, however, was vetoed by the United States.

Ireland, along with its partners in the European Union will continue to encourage all parties to advance the Middle East peace process, and not to take any action which would prejudge the outcome of the permanent status negotiations, including the issue of the Status of Jerusalem.

  48.  Mr. R. Burke    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will give details of the Government's and the EU's response to the earthquake in northern Iran which is estimated to have killed or injured over 3,600 people and left a further 40,000 people homeless. [6603/97]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring):  The Government has expressed its condolences to the Iranian authorities regarding the recent earthquake in Ardebil Province, northern Iran which I understand has killed almost 1,000 people, injured a further 2,600 and left hundreds of thousands homeless. The Iranian Government has requested assistance from the international community to provide emergency relief supplies for those people who have been left homeless and vulnerable by the disaster.

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the Government has approved a grant of £25,000 to provide emergency relief supplies to those most affected by this disaster. The grant will be disbursed through the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which has an excellent track record of providing effective and much needed emergency relief in these type of crisis situations.

I understand that the European Union, through the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) is considering the most appropriate response to the disaster and is likely to reach a decision on providing emergency relief funding within the next few days. Other donor nations have also responded swiftly to the request for international assistance, including Norway, Denmark and the United States.

[339]

  49.  Mr. Jacob    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs    whether his attention has been drawn to the availability throughout the Civil Service and to Members of the Oireachtas of the Government's Telecommunications Network Directory on computer within an on-line Lotus Notes database; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that a large number of the documents contained within this database are now incorrect; the names and contact numbers of the persons in his Department who are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the portion of this database which relates to his Department, both in terms of content and replication to the CMOD master copy of the database; the date on which that portion of the database which relates to his Department was last updated; if he will ensure that the database is accurately maintained in future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6784/97]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring):  The computer based GTN directory referred to by the Deputy is available on a limited basis within my Department. Details for the GTN directory were supplied to CMOD at its request at the time the database was established in 1995. My Department is in ongoing discussions with CMOD on the technical aspects of the issue.

  50.  Dr. McDaid    asked the Minister for Finance    the plans, if any, he has to address the serious gender imbalance in the higher Civil Service. [6868/97]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn):  I am committed to a policy of equality of opportunity for all Civil Service staff. In this context, I am, naturally, anxious to see a better gender balance at senior levels in the Civil Service and every effort is and has been made to ensure that there are no barriers, hidden or otherwise, preventing women from progressing to the highest positions. I believe that significant progress has been made in this direction. A very welcome development has been the appointment in 1995 of the first woman Secretary to a Government Department since 1959. In addition, three women were appointed to Assistant Secretary level positions in 1995, two in 1996 and four in 1997 to date, bringing to 19 the number of women at and above Assistant Secretary level, compared with seven five years ago.

While the Civil Service has been to the forefront among Irish employers in relation to gender equality matters, with a stated policy and guidelines in place since 1986, the human resource management implementation group has been asked specifically to address the issue of equality of opportunity for men and women in the Civil Service in the context of their development of the recommendation made in “Delivering Better Government”.

  51.  Mr. Cowen    asked the Minister for Finance    if a drain (details supplied) in County Offaly can be deepened in order to deal with the flooding taking place on lands affected by the current state of the drain; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6480/97]

[340]Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Coveney):  The Brosna catchment drainage scheme was completed and conferred benefit on about 86,200 acres of land in 1995. Scheduled channel C10/2 (B) of this scheme provides outfall for parts of the townlands of Ardan, Puttaghan and Derrynagall.

In recent years statutory drainage maintenance was carried out on this channel in 1993, 1994, 1995 and in the last weeks of February 1997. The works included both channel excavation and weed control and maintained the channel in proper repair and effective condition as required by legislation.

  52.  Mr. E. O'Keeffe    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will consider a change in revenue rules on tax treatment of leases in view of the change in issue 24 of tax briefing, issued in December 1996; and if his attention has been drawn to the concern among agricultural contractors, plant hire and haulage contractors in this regard. [6481/97]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn):  I have been advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the article in issue 24 of Revenue's tax briefing to which the Deputy's query refers was issued in response to complaints from tax practitioners that, without clear guidelines from Revenue, they were unsure as to the correct income tax or corporation tax treatment applicable to finance leases. Where incorrect tax treatment had been applied by practitioners and was uncovered in a Revenue audit, the necessary tax adjustments usually gave rise to an additional charge to tax. Such unforeseen liabilities could cause cashflow problems for traders.

Recent issues of Revenue's tax briefing set out in detail the tax treatment applicable to finance leases of assets used for the purpose of a trade or profession. The guidelines as stated in issue 24 of Revenue's tax briefing, dated December 1996, represent a clarification of the correct treatment and not a change. These guidelines are based on long established principles of accounting and taxation.

Following the publication of the guidelines, it was represented to the Revenue Commissioners by interested persons, including the parties mentioned in the Deputy's question, that many traders entered into transactions on the understanding that a particular tax treatment would apply and that they were unaware that this treatment was incorrect. The Revenue Commissioners have now accepted that a strict application of the correct treatment, as outlined in the article, to leasing transactions which took place prior to December 1996 could seriously affect a trader's cashflow.

Transitional measures aimed at avoiding hardship in these cases have accordingly been discussed with interested parties. In general, these [341] transitional measures will allow traders to account for finance leases taken out on or before 31 December 1996 on a payment basis, i.e. the status quo, and they will also allow traders to spread the taxation of rental rebates over a number of years. A summary information leaflet, which will contain details of these transitional measures, is being finalised in conjunction with interested parties and it will be issued by the Revenue Commissioners in the very near future.

  53.  Mr. Aylward    asked the Minister for Finance    the way in which the Government nominates persons to dispose of cars fragmented under the car scrappage scheme; where the debris is finally discarded; the evidence, if any, he has that all of the cars are in fact scrapped; and the way in which a person is appointed as an agent to dispose of cars under this scheme. [6483/97]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn):  I am informed by the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, who administer the car scrappage scheme, that persons wishing to scrap motor vehicles under the scheme must be approved by them for that purpose. At the commencement of the scheme, the commissioners invited applications in the national press for persons seeking approval. Applications received were considered having regard to:

— the geographical location of the premises,

— whether the applicant was already involved in scrapping cars on a large scale and had fixed crushing equipment in place for that purpose.

Six plants were approved originally on this basis. Subsequently, approval was granted to four additional plants to cater for the high demand for the service under the scheme.

The ten approved plants are subject to control by the Revenue Commissioners, are visited on a regular basis and records, books and scrappage certificates are examined. These certificates must be issued by approved persons in respect of each vehicle scrapped by them. The essential requirement of the car scrappage scheme is that the engine and chassis of each vehicle must be destroyed beyond use, thus ensuring that the scrapped vehicle cannot be reconstituted and used again. While the Revenue Commissioners have no function with regard to the ultimate destination of the scrapped material, I understand that it goes for recycling and that minor parts are sold to used car dismantlers.

[342]

  54.  Ms Keogh    asked the Minister for Finance    when the current contract to operate the national lottery system ends; the way in which the contract was awarded on the last occasion; the procedures which will be followed when the contract is next awarded; whether other companies or organisations can apply for the contract in future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6493/97]

  55.  Ms Keogh    asked the Minister for Finance    the profits accruing to An Post from its operation of the national lottery in each of the years from 1994 to 1996; if he has satisfied himself with the level of profit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6494/97]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 54 and 55 together.

The current licence under which the An Post National Lottery Company operates the national lottery ends on 31 March 2000. It came into effect on 1 January 1994 and replaced the earlier licence which was granted for a period of ten years from October 1986.

As the player base for the national lottery continues to grow rapidly, the company concluded that substantial investment in upgraded technology was required to enhance game support services to players, inter alia by facilitating improved on-line access via terminals. Accordingly, following a public competitive tendering process, the National Lottery Company requested ministerial approval for contractual arrangements which would deliver improved technology on the most competitive terms. In order to maximise the gains under the terms negotiated, and in recognition of the need for continuity in responding to challenges in the market place arising, for example, from the introduction of the UK lottery, the Minister for Finance agreed, following consultation with the Attorney General, to issue the fresh licence referred to above. The licence provides for maximum gains from the investment in new technology by the National Lottery Company and a better return to the National Lottery Beneficiary Fund.

The grant of a licence to operate the national lottery is subject to the provisions set out in section 3 of the National Lottery Act, 1986. The arrangements which will apply after 31 March 2000 will be decided closer to that date. It has not been the practice to disclose commercially sensitive information such as the fee payable to An Post in respect of the national lottery. It would be particularly inappropriate to do so at this stage lest it influence the conduct of parties who would have an interest in the position when the existing licence to operate the national lottery expires.

  56.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Finance    the plans, if any, his Department has to introduce a tax on silage wrap to subvent the cost of recycling this product; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6554/97]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn):  I would like to inform the Deputy that I have no plans to introduce a tax on silage wrap.

[343]

  57.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Finance    the plans, if any, his Department has to decentralise a section of a Government Department to County Leitrim. [6578/97]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn):  I have no plans at present to decentralise a section of a Government Department to County Leitrim.

  58.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Finance    the special measures, if any, his Department will introduce such as tax incentives for the provision of industrial buildings for renting to incoming industry in view of the fact that there are no uncommitted industrial buildings available to IDA Ireland or Forbairt in County Leitrim. [6579/97]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn):  There are a number of measures in operation to promote the supply of industrial buildings in areas of particular need, including the discretionary provision by IDA Ireland of rent guarantees for up to two years and the inclusion of advanced factories under the business expansion scheme. The introduction of additional tax incentives for the provision of industrial buildings, such as accelerated capital allowances or special rent allowances, would involve a reversal of or departure from business tax policy of recent years, the central focus of which has been to reduce the standard corporation tax rate and to facilitate this by providing a wide corporate tax base. This policy has resulted in a progressive reduction in the standard rate from 50 per cent in 1988 to 36 per cent in this year's budget with a reduced rate of 28 per cent on the first £50,000 of annual profits.

I am informed that there is no evidence to suggest there is an overall shortage of industrial premises in the country at present. While from time to time the existing supply of advance factories in a particular area may be fully allocated, IDA Ireland is satisfied that neither foreign nor indigenous industrial investment is being hampered at present by problems regarding the provision of industrial buildings. I understand that two recent job announcements in County Leitrim were facilitated by the provision of advance factories and that two further facilities in the county are as yet unoccupied. However, if the Deputy has particular concerns about the availability of suitable premises in the county for potential new projects, I suggest that he raise the matter with the relevant industrial agency or the local authority.

  59.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Finance    the costs of allowing case V rental income losses to be offset against other income in the same way as other businesses. [6580/97]

[344]Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the information requested by the Deputy is not readily available. Information from tax returns is not recorded in such a way that it would be possible to identify losses relating to rental income. To obtain the information it would be necessary to identify the cases and extract the information manually. Such an exercise could be carried out only at a disproportionate cost.

  60.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Finance    the cost of allowing capital gains tax rollover relief to the providers of private rented accommodation. [6581/97]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the information requested by the Deputy is not readily available. Information from tax returns is not recorded in such a way that it would be possible to identify the capital gains tax payable by the providers of private rented accommodation. To obtain the information it would be necessary to identify the cases and extract the information manually. Such an exercise could be carried out only at a disproportionate cost.

  61.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Finance,    further to his reply to Parliamentary Question No. 59 of 3 December 1996, the outcome of the inspection of the site; and the reason no clean-up has been carried out. [6632/97]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Coveney):  Subsequent to my reply of 3 December 1996, column 599 of the Official Report, the site was inspected and a clean-up carried out. Pending a decision on the future of the property the condition of the site will be monitored on a regular basis and further work will be undertaken as necessary.

  62.  Mr. Foley    asked the Minister for Finance    when Ballyheigue and Fenit, County Kerry, will receive designation status under the pilot renewal scheme for traditional seaside resorts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6680/97]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn):  The pilot renewal scheme for traditional seaside resorts commenced on 1 July 1995 for a three year period. It is in operation in 15 seaside resorts around the country. As I have said on many occasions, until this pilot scheme is firmly established and evaluated, it would seem inappropriate to consider including any additional resorts.

[345][346]

  63.  Mr. Foley    asked the Minister for Finance    the projects in north Kerry assisted by the Office of Public Works in 1995 and 1996; the amount allocated to each project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6681/97]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Coveney):  

Premises and Department Works including costs Funding
Listowel Garda Station Conversion — Refurbishment of Married Quarters Office of Public Works
Contract placed February 1995
Cost £277,000
Tralee Garda Station Improvement Works Department of Justice
Contract placed November 1995
Cost £14,626.84
Various Departments — Tralee Government Offices Provision of Security fencing
Contract placed November 1995
Office of Public Works
Cost £20,716
Revenue Commissioners, Tralee Provision of Disabled Toilet Revenue Commissioners
Contract placed August 1995
Cost £8,806.24
Lease of Tralee Custom House to Kerry School of Music Consideration of £100,000 payable in 5 yearly instalments of £20,000. The lease was granted under specific sanction of the Department of Finance.
Temporary use of former Garda Barracks in Ardfert granted to Ardfert Community Playschool in 1996. Licence fee of £100 paid for use of former Barracks
Revenue Commissioners, Tralee Draughtproofing of Lobby, Garage, Bicycle Shed, toilets etc. Contract placed November. Cost £77,195.50 Department
Tralee Garda Station Emergency Lighting. Contract placed 1996. Cost £7,542.17 D/Justice
General Lighting. Contract placed 1996. Cost £11,744.30 D/Justice
St. Brendan's Cathedral, Ardfert, Co. Kerry Conservation work, structural underpinning. Work commenced September 1995 and was completed in December 1995. Cost £150,000. OPW
Drainage
OPW had no new project in North Kerry in 1995-96 apart from the statutory obligation for maintenance works in the Feale and Main Catchment Drainage Schemes carried out many years ago, under the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945. The maintenance of the schemes, as well as channel maintenance, included works involving substantial use of rock armouring and other measures on esturine embankments. Approximate sum expended on maintenance in:—
1995—£442,000
1996—£432,000
OPW

  64.  Miss M. Wallace    asked the Minister for Finance    if all child payments by the Department of Social Welfare are tax free and thereby not included in any family tax assessment, including child benefits and child dependant payments; and if the carer's allowance is tax free and thereby not included on any family tax assessment basis. [6688/97]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the child dependant additions paid with most Social Welfare payments are subject to taxation where the basic payment is liable to taxation. However, as part of the introduction of taxation of unemployment benefit, disability benefit and injury benefit, the child dependant additions payable with these benefits have been exempt from tax since 6 April 1995.

Where the Social Welfare basic payment is not liable to taxation neither, of course, are the child dependant additions, e.g. unemployment assistance, supplementary welfare allowance. Child benefit and also family income supplement, which varies with family size and employment income [347] level, are not subject to taxation. I am also informed that the carer's allowance is taxable.

  65.  Mr. Aylward    asked the Minister for Finance    the reason his reply to Parliamentary Question No. 87 of 25 February 1997 by Deputy Aylward did not allude to the fact that proposals were already approved by the Office of Public Works to dredge the river Nore to alleviate future flooding at John's Quay, Kilkenny, and that a wall is to be built at John's Quay; and if he will make a statement on the reason this information was not included in the reply. [6766/97]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Coveney):  I can confirm that the information given in my reply to the Deputy's parliamentary question of 25 February 1997 is the factual position and that no definitive programme of works for alleviating the flooding in Kilkenny has been approved by the Office of Public Works.

  66.  Miss M. Wallace    asked the Minister for Finance    the tax allowances which are available to a family of a husband, wife and three dependant children with an income of £30,000 and two children in third level education, who do not qualify for maintenance grants; if such a family is entitled to any tax allowances for the cost of the accommodation for the third level students who are 190 miles away from home or for the cost of travel to and from college at a cost of £50 per week and £100 per week for accommodation; the medical or other allowances, if any, which are available to this family; his views on whether families like this are the new poor in spite of an income of £30,000 which is derived from weekend and night work to struggle to pay for education and to make ends meet and in view of the fact that this type of family cannot afford to change their car which is needed for work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6767/97]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn):  A family in the circumstances described by the Deputy qualifies for the same tax allowances as other tax-payers, i.e. personal allowances, PAYE allowance, mortgage interest relief, as appropriate. Tax relief is also available in respect of medical insurance and unreimbursed medical expenses in excess of £200 incurred by the taxpayer and his or her dependants, including dependent children.

In addition, a taxpayer who pays tuition fees on behalf of his or her child to an approved college in respect of an approved full-time undergraduate course of at least two academic years duration may claim tax relief at the standard rate on these fees up to a maximum of £2,500 per year. Tax relief is not available in respect of the cost of students' travel and accommodation. Where students are in publicly funded institutions, pursuing [348] full-time undergraduate courses of at least two years duration, they can, of course, avail of the free fees initiative introduced in the 1995 budget. I would also point out that a family with an income of £30,000 will benefit significantly from the tax improvements I introduced in the budget.

  67.  Mr. D. Ahern    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has brought in the necessary changes in relation to the remuneration of revenue sheriffs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6768/97]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn):  In January of this year I agreed the proposal for a new remuneration package for the sheriffs and this proposal was put to the sheriffs on 24 February 1997 by the Revenue Commissioners at my request. I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the terms of the proposal have been agreed by all the sheriffs. Details of the proposal will be announced as soon as the necessary sheriffs' fees order has been drawn up by the Department of Justice. It is expected that this revised sheriffs' fees order will be in place within the next couple of months.

In addition, I am pleased to say that the revised operational guidelines for the sheriffs' operation, in relation to revenue work, have also been agreed by the sheriffs to coincide with changes to their remuneration. These include an arrangement whereby all interest earned on moneys held by the sheriffs on behalf of the Revenue Commissioners will accrue to the Exchequer.

  68.  Mr. Creed    asked the Minister for Finance    the financial incentives, if any, available towards the purchase of a suitably modified vehicle for the disabled. [6769/97]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn):  Tax concessions are provided for certain disabled persons under the disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations, 1994. The reliefs include: the repayment of Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT) on specially constructed or adapted vehicles; the repayment of VAT on these vehicles, including VAT on the cost of adaptation; the repayment of excise duty on fuel used in a qualifying vehicle on which VRT has been repaid; and the grant of exemption from road tax on a qualifying vehicle.

Full details of the circumstances in which these reliefs may be claimed are contained in the relevant public notices which are available from any Vehicle Registration Office or from the Central Repayments Office, Monaghan. Attention is, however, drawn to the fact that it is not sufficient for a vehicle to be modified, the applicant for relief must also qualify.

[349]

  69.  Mr. Jacob    asked the Minister for Finance    whether his attention has been drawn to the availability throughout the Civil Service and to Members of the Oireachtas of the Government's Telecommunications Network Directory on computer within an on-line Lotus Notes database; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that a large number of the documents contained within this database are now incorrect; the names and contact numbers of the persons in his Department who are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the portion of this database which relates to his Department, both in terms of content and replication to the CMOD master copy of the database; the date on which that portion of the database which relates to his Department was last updated; if he will ensure that the database is accurately maintained in future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6783/97]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn):  The GTN on-line directory service, which was developed by the centre for management and organisation development (CMOD) of my Department, was introduced in late 1995. It operates on the basis of participating Departments and offices being responsible for the currency of their entries. While this directory service is available as a Lotus Notes database to all Departments, at this stage, 15 Government Departments and offices and the President's establishment avail of it. The on-line directory service also provides an efficient method of collecting material for the printed version of the GTN directory which is circulated to all Departments.

Difficulties of a technical nature have arisen with four of the 15 Departments availing of the service which has affected the replication of their information to the central copy of the directory in CMOD. These have been resolved in the case of two Departments, and new procedures are being implemented in the other two Departments to ensure a smooth transfer of information to CMOD.

With regard to my own Department, the use of the Lotus Notes product is currently being extended which will make it possible from May 1997 to maintain the on-line GTN directory for the Department up to date.

  70.  Mr. E. O'Keeffe    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will have arrangements made to update the tax free allowance of a person (details supplied) in County Cork to include tax relief in respect of a house reconstruction loan. [6839/97]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the inspector of taxes has no record of a claim for tax relief on a house reconstruction loan having been received from the taxpayer. The matter will be [350] dealt with when the necessary information is supplied to the inspector.

  71.  Mr. Browne (Wexford)    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will expedite the payment of a tax refund to a person (details supplied) in County Wexford. [6886/97]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that a certificate of tax-free allowances issued to the taxpayer on 10 March 1997. Any overpaid income tax will be repaid by her employer.

  72.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Health    his views on whether it is right and in the public interest not to have enshrined in Irish and European law the principle that all genetically modified foods be properly labelled as such. [6709/97]

  73.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Health    his views on genetically modified foods; and his views on whether it is in the long-term interests of the consumer and the farmer to introduce a radical new technique into farming when the consequences in the medium and long-term are so unclear. [6712/97]

Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,:  Limerick East): I propose to take Questions Nos. 72 and 73 together.

I wish to inform the Deputy that, in addition to existing EU legislation relating to the deliberate release — field trials — and placing on the market of genetically modified organisms — which, in Ireland, is the responsibility of my colleague the Minister for the Environment — the European Parliament and Council recently adopted Regulation (EC) No. 258/97 on novel foods and novel food ingredients. Genetically modified foods come within the scope of “novel foods”, as set out in Article 1.2 of that Regulation.

The Novel Foods Regulation is due to come into effect in all member states in mid-May of this year. My Department has assumed responsibility for its implementation in this country.

The regulation provides that novel foods and novel food ingredients must undergo a safety assessment and be officially approved/authorised before being placed on the market. Thus, the regulation, which is an internal market measure, ensures that common rules and procedures in relation to novel foods and ingredients will apply across all member states of the European Union. I believe the controls now available under the EU legislation will provide protection for both consumers and producers but I will be keeping the matter under continuing review.

In relation to his specific points on the labelling of novel foods, I refer the Deputy to article 8 of the Regulation. Essentially, there must be specific labelling to inform the consumer of any characteristic [351] or food property, e.g. composition, nutritional value, nutritional effects, intended use of the food, which renders a novel food or novel food ingredient no longer equivalent to an existing food or food ingredient. There must also be specific labelling to advise the consumer of the presence in the novel food or novel food ingredient of:

—material which is not present in an existing equivalent foodstuff and which may have implications for the health of certain sections of the population;

—material which is not present in an existing equivalent foodstuff and which gives rise to ethical concerns; or

—an organism genetically modified by techniques of genetic modification.

I wish to point out that the labelling requirements for novel foods as prescribed by the above mentioned EU regulation are additional to the general food labelling provisions which are the responsibility of my colleague the Minister for Enterprise and Employment.

The new Novel Food Regulation will harmonise the rules which apply in the various member states in relation to the novel foods issue and my Department is participating in discussions at EU level concerning the practicalities of the implementation process.

  74.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Health    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo is not receiving home help despite his general practitioner confirming his need for this service. [6472/97]

Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,:  Limerick East): As the Deputy is aware, the administration of the home help scheme in County Mayo is the responsibility of the Western Health Board. I am having the case raised by the Deputy investigated and I have asked the board to respond directly to him with their findings.

  75.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Health    if his Department will accede to the request of the North-Western Health Board to have Crohns disease included on the list of long-term illnesses for which people will be entitled to medical cards. [6590/97]

Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,:  Limerick East): The Department has recently received correspondence from the North-Western Health Board recommending that Crohns disease be included on the list of long-term illness conditions. The long-term illness scheme entitles persons who suffer from certain illnesses to free drugs and medicines which are prescribed in [352] respect of a particular illness. This scheme has not been extended since 1975 and there are no plans to expand the number of illnesses covered by the scheme, having regard to the fact that the needs of individuals with significant or ongoing medical expenses are met by a range of other schemes which provide assistance towards the cost of prescribed drugs and medicines.

Where an individual or a family is subjected to a significant level of ongoing expenditure on medical expenses, such as general practitioner fees or prescribed drugs due to a long-term medical condition, these expenses may be reckoned in determining eligibility for a medical card. Eligibility for a medical card is solely a matter for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board to decide. The drug cost subsidisation scheme caters for people who do not have a medical card or a long-term illness book and are certified as having a medical condition with a regular and ongoing requirement for prescribed drugs and medicines. Persons who qualify for inclusion in this scheme will not have to spend more than £32 in any month on prescribed medication.

Under the drugs refund scheme which covers expenditure by the whole family, any expenditure on prescribed medication above £90 in a calendar quarter is refunded by the health board.

I am satisfied that appropriate and comprehensive support is being provided by the State through the existing range of schemes for people with long-term medical conditions.

My Department has replied to this effect to the North-Western Health Board.

  76.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Health    his views on the opinion that indicative drug prescribing by doctors is an action of responsibility for the proper health care of a patient to secure a remunerative advantage, either personally or in respect of a department or unit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6615/97]

Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,:  Limerick East): I presume the Deputy is referring to the indicative drug target (IDT) scheme which was introduced for general practitioners in the general medical services (GMS) scheme on 1 January 1993, following the review of the scheme in 1992 by the Department, the health boards, the Irish Medical Organisation, and the Irish College of General Practitioners.

In the course of the review mentioned above, it was agreed by all sides that medicines were not always prescribed in the most effective manner and that there was significant potential for an improvement in prescribing practice leading to better patient care and better use of the available resources in the development of general practice. Accordingly, each doctor was encouraged to examine his-her existing prescribing practices with a view to availing of opportunities to make [353] prescribing more effective and less costly for all his-her patients. To assist in this process, doctors were provided with indicative drug targets, for patients on their panels, which had been constructed on the basis of average prescribing costs weighted by age and sex criteria.

As an incentive to doctors, the IDT scheme provided that a portion of the savings effected would be made available to the individual doctor for practice development projects which received the prior approval of the relevant health board. The balance of the savings made is allocated to the relevant health board for investment in general practice projects within the board's area.

At every stage during the process of reaching agreement on the IDT scheme and in the subsequent implementation of that agreement, all the parties to the review mentioned above clearly understood and accepted that it was the duty and obligation of doctors, individually and collectively, to provide the most appropriate management and to optimally utilise the available resources for patient care. It was and is similarly understood and accepted that the right of the doctor to prescribe for the patient as he-she considers necessary, remains in place.

I am satisfied therefore, that the IDT scheme places the utmost importance on patient care from the viewpoint of safe, rational and cost effective prescribing. It is important to point out that the IDT scheme does not provide the general practitioner with a personal remunerative advantage, rather it provides a means for investment in his-her own practice in the first instance and for other practices in the health board's area. Such investment is to the advantage of all patients of general practitioners.

  77.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Health    the steps, if any, he has taken to ensure that the Government appointees to the Adoption Board are representative of those most affected, namely adoptees, birth parents and adopting parents. [6633/97]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Mr. Currie):  The term of office of the present Adoption Board, which was appointed by the previous Government, is due to expire on 29 January 1998.

The appropriateness of providing for representation by the three principal parties to the adoption process will be borne in mind in the context of the appointment of the next board.

  78.  Mr. Foley    asked the Minister for Health    if he has satisfied himself that the staffing levels are adequate to meet the demand in Tralee General Hospital, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6674/97]

[354]Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,:  Limerick East): The Southern Health Board is responsible for the management of services at Tralee General Hospital, County Kerry. The board has advised me that staffing levels in Tralee General Hospital are adequate to meet the demands placed on the hospital.

Additional resources have been made available by my Department over the past three years to develop further the services which the hospital provides to its catchment area. These developments have included the establishment of a satellite dialysis unit and an ENT service. During the current year resources have been made available which will provide for the establishment of a Department of Medicine for the elderly, a CT scanning service and for additional resources to be provided in the Hospital's Accident and Emergency Department.

  79.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Health    whether a person (details supplied) in County Donegal with a disabled child, who has had a telephone installed free of charge, is expected to pay a standing charge; if so, whether such a charge is applicable to all regions in the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6682/97]

Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,:  Limerick East): There is no scheme for installation of telephones or the payment of rental in such cases. I understand that the North-Western Health Board paid for installation of a telephone because of the particular circumstances of this case.

As it is for the board to determine whether to pay the ongoing cost of the telephone rental, I have referred the Deputy's question to the chief executive officer of the board with a request that he reply directly to the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

  80.  Mr. O'Malley    asked the Minister for Health    the reason the Mid-Western Health Board has not paid six nurses in County Limerick the damages awarded to them by the Limerick Circuit Court on 4 December 1996, in their action against that health board; and when the plaintiffs will be paid the amounts to which they are entitled under the court ruling. [6713/97]

Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,:  Limerick East): A settlement between the solicitors representing the Mid-Western Health Board and the six plaintiffs, who are nurses or former nurses at St. Nessan's Orthopaedic Hospital, Croom, was reached on 4 December 1996. This involved the payment by the Mid-Western Health Board of £7,500 to each within one month.

The delay which was encountered in implementing the terms of this settlement arose from a query in relation to the deduction of [355] income tax. This matter had to be referred to the Revenue Commissioners by the board for a decision.

A reply has now been received by the Mid-Western Health Board from the Revenue Commissioners and payments for the individuals concerned have since been processed and are due to be paid this week. The Mid-Western Health Board's solicitor kept the plaintiffs' solicitor informed of developments throughout.

  81.  Mr. M. Kitt    asked the Minister for Health    if radiotherapy in the western region could be included in the National Cancer Strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6714/97]

Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,:  Limerick East): Radiotherapy services are currently available in St. Luke' Hospital, Dublin and in Cork University Hospital. Due to the nature and very high cost of radiotherapy it is necessary to confine the resources available for the service to a limited number of locations.

When preparing the national cancer strategy, which I published in November, I carefully considered the question of locating a third radiotherapy centre in the western region. The expert advice available to me was that there must be a sufficient volume of patients for the service to maintain the high level of medical and technical expertise needed for such a high-technology unit. Unfortunately, the provision of a radiotherapy service in the western region would not appear to be appropriate at the moment on demographic grounds, but there are, of course, other considerations which would have to be taken into account.

However, the national cancer strategy concludes that there may be scope for developing radiotherapy services in Galway at a future stage. It indicates that: “The case for it will be kept under review in light of demographic trends, costs and expert advice.”

I am conscious of the need to ensure that there are adequate provisions for radiotherapy centres so that they can meet the demand placed on them. With this in mind I have made funding available for significant development projects in the two existing centres — St. Luke's Hospital and Cork University Hospital.

I will keep the question of locating a radiotherapy service in the western region under review. I would, however, point out to the Deputy that it would not be feasible to contemplate commencing the service until the major capital project to upgrade certain aspects of the hospital has been completed. The contract for this project is being signed later this week.

[356]

  82.  Mr. D. Ahern    asked the Minister for Health    the current position regarding a proposal by the North-Eastern Health Board to provide a rapid response team in respect of the drugs problem and young people at risk in the greater Dundalk area of County Louth; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6718/97]

Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,:  Limerick East): Following Government decisions of 20 February 1996 on measures to reduce the demand for drugs the North-Eastern Health Board published a detailed service plan in April 1996 aimed at combating the drug problem in the north eastern area. Included in this plan was the proposal for the establishment of rapid response teams. Each team would include: a team leader with particular expertise in working with vulnerable children and adults; a youth leader with strong community links; a social worker dedicated to supporting families; a specialist teacher with a track record of involvement in this area; an input from the child and adolescent services and adult mental services and assessment and treatment counselling services.

During 1996 my Department allocated £100,000 to the board to allow it commence with the implementation of its service plan to address drug misuse. This sum allowed for the establishment of a rapid response team and for the recruitment of five additional staff. This team works mainly in the Drogheda-south Meath area. The staff have been deployed to these areas because a significant drug misuse problem had been identified there. A further £60,000 has been allocated to the board in 1997 for continued expansion of its drugs services and discussions are currently taking place with my Department on further developments.

  83.  Mr. Jacob    asked the Minister for Health    whether his attention has been drawn to the availability throughout the Civil Service and to Members of the Oireachtas of the Government's Telecommunications Network Directory on computer within an on-line Lotus Notes database; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that a large number of the documents contained within this database are now incorrect; the names and contact numbers of the persons in his Department who are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the portion of this database which relates to his Department, both in terms of content and replication to the CMOD master copy of the database; the data on which that portion of the database which relates to his Department was last updated; if he will ensure that the database is accurately maintained in future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6785/97]

Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,:  Limerick East): The Lotus Notes Government Telecommunications Network telephone directory has been used within my Department since early 1996. The database is also used by other Lotus [357] Notes applications within the Department. At present only the records relevant to departmental staff are updated regularly for use within the Department. My Department does not at present replicate this database with CMOD as errors occurred while copying the database last summer. These errors, if continued would have seriously compromised the integrity of other databases within the Department. In order to surmount these difficulties it has been decided to separate out the Department of Health phone list and the CMOD composite list into two different databases. This work has begun in my Department and it is intended to resume replication when it is complete.

The responsibility for updating and maintaining the database with regard to Department of Health records only rests with the Corporate Services Division of the Department.

  84.  Éamon Ó Cuív    asked the Minister for Health    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that there is a long waiting list of people in the Galway area who have applied for aids and appliances to the Western Health Board; if he intends providing further finance to clear this backlog in view of the major difficulty that the lack of aids and appliances is causing people; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6815/97]

Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,:  Limerick East): Between 1993 and 1996, additional revenue funding totalling £6 million has been provided for the development of services for people with physical and sensory disabilities, including the provision of aids and appliances.

The provision of aids and appliances in the Galway area is a matter for the Western Health Board. In 1995 and 1996, the board allocated £133,000 towards the provision of aids and appliances and equipment for services for people with disabilities, including a tracking system to enable a more efficient and effective use of existing appliances. One million pounds has been provided this year for the development of services for people with disabilities. The Western Health Board will discuss with its co-ordinating committee on physical handicap services the priorities for the allocation of its share of this additional funding, including the provision of aids and appliances.

[358]

  85.  Mr. E. O'Keeffe    asked the Minister for Health    if he will make the necessary funding available from his Department or from the national lottery funds to set up a special workshop to benefit a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if his attention has been drawn to the fact that many of those who could work in this workshop are already attending a workshop in Cork city and are away from their families at night. [6825/97]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Mr. O'Shea):  Additional funding of £12 million has been provided in 1997 for services to persons with a mental handicap. Two million pounds is being used to meet identified needs in existing services. The remaining £10 million is being used to put in place new services, including additional day care services.

Details of the precise services to be put in place in each health board region and the individuals who will benefit from these services will be agreed by the regional mental handicap co-ordinating committees in line with the priority needs which have been identified for each region. The Southern Health Board is currently finalising a five year plan for the development of services in conjunction with the voluntary mental handicap service providers in the region. Future service development in counties Cork and Kerry will be considered in the context of this plan.

I intend to write to the Deputy with further information about the individual referred to in his question.

  86.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Health    his views on the availability of funding for an organisation (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6831/97]

Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,:  Limerick East): Funding for voluntary organisations involved in the provision of HIV-AIDS services in the North-Western Health Board is a matter for the North-Western Health Board in the first instance.

The organisation in question, which runs a telephone helpline service, received a grant of £5,000 in 1995, which was increased to 10,000 in 1996.

Further funding for this organisation in 1997 is being considered in the context of the board's overall plan for HIV and AIDS services and my Department will be in contact with the board shortly on this matter.

  87.  D'fhiafraigh Éamon Ó Cuív    den Aire Sláinte    an bhfuil sé sásta cead a thabhairt do Bhord Sláinte an Iarthair Oifigeach Leasa Pobail lán-aimsireach a cheapadh d'Oileáin Árann; agus go n-íocfar liúntas Oileánda leis an duine sin, de bharr go bhfuil ar an Oifigeach Leasa Pobail freastal ar thrí Oileán éagsúlá agus dul le haghaidh traenála ar an mór-thír, agus de bharr líon na gcuairteoirí a théann go hÁrainn gach bliain; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [6832/97]

Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,:  Limerick East): Sa pholasaí láithreach fostaíochta don tseirbhís sláinte tá riachtanais na seirbhíse agus [359] ceapachán foirne de réir na riachtanas sin mar chúram sa chéad áit ar an údarás fostaíochta atá i gceist ag cur san áireamh na dteorainneacha buigéide agus fostaíochta atá i bhfeidhm. Dá bhrí sin, tá ceapachán oifigeach leasa pobail laistigh de Bhórd Sláinte an Iarthair mar chúram ar an mbórd sin.

Tá fiosrúcháin déanta leis an mBórd Sláinte faoi na hábhair atá luaite ag an dTeachta agus deir an Bórd go bhfuil oifigeach leasa pobail fostaithe faoi láthair ar bhonn seast, páirt-aimseartha ar na hOileáin Arainn. Chuir an bórd in iúl freisin nach n-éilíonn an méid oibre ceapachán oifigeach leasa pobail lán-aimseartha do na hoileáin.

Ba mhaith liom cur in iúl freisin gur thug mo Roinn ceadú chun an liúntas oileánda a íoc don duine atá sa phost ar bhonn pro rata in Aibreán 1996.

  88.  Ms Keogh    asked the Minister for Health    the number of people with Cystic Fibrosis who have had heart and lung transplants in each of the years 1985, 1990, 1994 and 1996; and where the surgery was performed. [6842/97]

  89.  Ms Keogh    asked the Minister for Health    the cost to the State of heart and lung transplants for Cystic Fibrosis sufferers in each of the years 1985, 1990, 1994 and 1996; and the separate spending on accompanying family members for travel and accommodation. [6843/97]

  91.  Ms Keogh    asked the Minister for Health    the number of Cystic Fibrosis sufferers in Ireland in each of the years 1985, 1990, 1994 and 1996. [6845/97]

Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,:  Limerick East): I propose to take Questions Nos. 88, 89 and 91 together.

The information requested is not readily available. I have sought this information from the health boards and the major hospitals and I will forward it to the Deputy as soon as it becomes available.

  90.  Ms Keogh    asked the Minister for Health    if he will provide a heart and lung transplant unit in an Irish hospital; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6844/97]

Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,:  Limerick East): The Mater Hospital has submitted an outline preliminary proposal for a lung and heart-lung transplantation programme. The cost of the proposal from the Mater Hospital which would include additional cardiac surgery is: capital cost, £2.6 million; revenue cost, £2.4 million per annum.

This would involve the employment of an [360] additional 45 staff. In addition, the Mater Hospital has informed my Department that it considers that it would be uneconomic to initiate a lung and heart-lung transplantation programme on its own without incorporating extra open heart surgery.

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 bears this out.

I am aware of the difficulties being experienced by patients requiring lung or heart-lung transplants. I am considering the issues involved with a view to alleviating the difficulties for these patients, both in the short and long-term. In the light of the experience gained in establishing the liver transplant programme, it is likely that a phased approach will be adopted, recognising the need to build expertise and to create a programme that is viable in terms of the outcomes for patients.

  92.  Mr. B. Smith    asked the Minister for Health    the proposals, if any, he has to provide additional convalescent care facilities in Cavan and Monaghan in view of the large increase in the number of patients receiving treatment in the Cavan and Monaghan hospital group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6884/97]

Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,:  Limerick East): As the Deputy will be aware, the provision of convalescent care facilities in Cavan and Monaghan is a matter for the North-Eastern Health Board.

I understand from the board that convalescent beds are currently provided in all existing units for the elderly within the Cavan-Monaghan area and that they are satisfied that the number of beds available meets requirements. The board recently submitted plans for the development of two new units for the elderly in Ballyconnell and Virginia to my Department which are intended to replace existing older accommodation. These units will also include convalescent beds. The plans are presently under consideration in my Department.

  93.  Mr. M. Kitt    asked the Minister for Health    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that hospital building developments in the Western Health Board area have been mentioned as possible projects for review to achieve savings for nurses' pay; and if he will give details of the current position. [6885/97]

Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,:  Limerick East): I am aware of recent media speculation [361] that a building project in University College Hospital Galway might not proceed. However, I am pleased to confirm that the project will proceed as announced by me on 5 February 1997.

  94.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Health    the reason for the delay in the provision of orthodontist treatment for a person (details supplied) in Dublin 10. [6926/97]

Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan,:  Limerick East): As the provision of orthodontic treatment to eligible persons in Dublin 10 is the statutory responsibility of the Eastern Health Board, I have asked the chief executive officer of the Eastern Health Board to investigate the position in relation to this case and to reply to the Deputy directly as a matter of urgency.

  95.  Mr. R. Burke    asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform    the content of the Irish working programme for the European Year Against Racism; and whether the Government and the EU support proposals to organise a policy reflection conference involving non-Governmental organisations across the 15 member states and a campaign to outlaw racism and xenophobia under the terms of a new EU Treaty. [6600/97]

Minister for Equality and Law Reform (Mr. Taylor):  I am sending the Deputy the Framework Programme for European Year Against Racism drawn up by the national co-ordinating committee together with a list of events planned at present by organisations participating in the year. I will also place copies of these documents in the library for the information of Deputies.

Ireland supports the inclusion of provisions in the revised EU Treaties to deal with racism. As the Deputy may know, such provisions were contained in the general outline for a draft revision of the Treaties prepared by the Irish Presidency last year.

I am not aware of the conference to which the Deputy refers.

  96.  Ms Keogh    asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that people are on waiting lists for mediation services for up to nine months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6847/97]

Minister for Equality and Law Reform (Mr. Taylor):  I have taken steps to ensure that the staffing situation in the Family Mediation Servicie is put on a proper footing in order that the problems attaching to the long waiting times for appointments with the Family Mediation Service can be resolved and that appropriate staffing structures are put in place to enable the Family [362] Mediation Service to develop and expand into a nationwide service capable of providing quality mediation. With the appointment of suitably experienced and qualified mediators to the new positions of area mediation co-ordinator in Dublin and Limerick it is now possible to proceed with the recruitment of mediators at those locations. As Deputies will be aware the positions have been advertised and the selection process will take place soon. These appointments, when coupled with the proposed private mediators schemes, should enable the Family Mediation Service significantly to reduce the current waiting times for an initial appointment with a mediator.

  97.  Mr. Jacob    asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform    whether his attention has been drawn to the availability throughout the Civil Service and to Members of the Oireachtas of the Government's Telecommunications Network Directory on computer within an on-line Lotus Notes database; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that a large number of the documents contained within this database are now incorrect; the names and contact numbers of the persons in his Department who are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the portion of this database which relates to his Department, both in terms of content and replication to the CMOD master copy of the database; the date on which that portion of the database which relates to his Department was last updated; if he will ensure that the database is accurately maintained in future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6782/97]

Minister for Equality and Law Reform (Mr. Taylor):  My Department is connected to the Government Telecommunications Network Directory (GTN) facility. Personnel changes occurring within my Department are recorded on the database as they occur. The section of the GTN directory relating to my Department was last updated on 6 March 1997.

  100.  Miss Harney    asked the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht    if his attention has been drawn to an application for funding from the Barrow Arts Centre Development Group, County Carlow, for the development of an arts centre; his views on this proposal; and when a decision will be made regarding the application. [6518/97]

Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (Mr. M. Higgins):  An application has been received by my Department under phase II of the cultural development incentives scheme 1994-99 in respect of the Barrow Arts Centre, County Carlow. I have taken decisions as to the allocation, in principle, of grant assistance to a number [363] of these applications. The application in respect of the Barrow Arts Centre project has not been successful at this stage.

However, in anticipation of the possibility that some of the applications which have received offers, in principle, of grant assistance under phases I and II of the scheme not going ahead within the timescale of the current round of Structural Funds, I am drawing up a stand-by list of projects that may be considered for assistance in due course in this eventuality. I hope to be in a position to make my decisions on the projects to be included in that list in the very near future.

  101.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht    the schemes funded by his Department under the arts and culture section in counties Leitrim and Sligo in the years from 1994 to 1996; and if he will give details of the projects and the amount given to each scheme in each year. [6587/97]

Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (Mr. M. Higgins):  During the period 1994-96, I allocated a sum of £344,400, from funds at my disposal under the INTERREG II Ireland-Northern Ireland programme towards the development of the Hawkswell Theatre element of the Sligo tourism and cultural centre.

However, the Deputy will be aware that the main source of public funds for the arts is An Comhairle Ealaíon. Details of funding allocated by An Comhairle is published in its annual report.

  102.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht    when funds will be provided by his Department for the restoration of the old courthouse, that is the former county council offices at Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim in view of the fact that his Department objected to the proposals for the site by Leitrim County Council. [6588/97]

Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (Mr. M. Higgins):  In September 1994, in response to a newspaper report that Carrick-on-Shannon courthouse was in danger of destruction because of plans by Leitrim County Council to demolish it and build new civic offices on the site, I called on the county council to consult and take the advice of the then National Heritage Council before coming to any decision on the matter.

In October 1994, the then Minister for the Environment, Deputy Michael Smith, informed the county council that he would be reluctant to approve its proposals for the domolition of the building and the construction of new civic offices on the site in view of the building's significant architectural merit. He indicated to the council that if it was not possible to provide modern office accommodation to meet the council's [364] requirements within the fabric of the courthouse building (if restored), he would favourably consider a proposal for a new building on a green field site elsewhere. He asked the council to simultaneously explore options for alternative cultural-heritage or other uses for the courthouse.

As I stated in my reply to Question No. 100 of 6 February 1996, the council informed me it had been advised that the former courthouse would not be suitable for restoration for use as civic offices but would be suitable for use as an interpretative centre-museum, and that it had, therefore, decided to proceed with the provision of new civic offices at another location. It requested that consideration be given to the Office of Public Works taking over the courthouse for development as an interpretative centre, with particular reference to interpretation of the Shannon-Erne navigation. In August 1995 I wrote to Leitrim County Council, informing it that the Heritage Service of my Department already owned waterfront property upstream and downstream of Carrick-on-Shannon bridge, as well as premises in Rooskey where there was ample space for development, and stating that the best option for the preservation of the building was to keep it in active use as a courthouse. Subsequently, I was informed by the Minister for Justice that the cost of restoration of the building for continued use as a courthouse would substantially exceed the cost of constructing a new courthouse and was therefore not a viable option. I understand that the county council is currently discussing with the Heritage Council the question of the future use of the building.

An application has been received by my Department under phase II of the cultural development incentives scheme, (CDIS) 1994-99, for the development of the building as an integrated arts and culture centre. I have taken decisions as to the allocation, in principle, of grant assistance in respect of a number of applications received under phase II off the CDIS. The application in respect of the Carrick-on-Shannon arts and culture centre project has not been successful at this stage.

However, in anticipation of the possibility that some of the applications which have received offers, in principle, of grant assistance under phases I and II of the CDIS will not go ahead within the timescale of the current round of Structural Funds, I am drawing up a stand-by list of projects which may be considered for assistance in due course in this eventuality. I hope to be in a position to make my decision on the projects to be included in that list in the very near future.

[365]

  103.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht    when the exchange of programming availability regarding the British Broadcasting Corporation in the south and RTE in the north will be ready; if he will give details of the current progress on this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6589/97]

Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (Mr. M. Higgins):  I assume that the Deputy is referring to the attempts to bring about improvements to the reception of RTE television and Teilifís na Gaeilge in Northern Ireland. The Deputy is aware, I am sure, that UK television services are available throughout the country by means of off-air reception, cable and MMDS.

On this basis, I refer the Deputy to my replies to previous questions on this matter, in particular, my reply to Question No. 88 of 19 December 1996, columns 758 to 759 of the Official Report for that day refers. As I stated on that day, the UK Secretary of State for National Heritage has informed that, subject to the resolution of certain practical and financial issues, she is favourable to the proposed increase on a phased basis in the power northwards at the Clermont Carn transmitter site in County Louth.

The work is ongoing on these matters involving officials of my Department, the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications, RTE and their UK counterparts and I am hopeful of an early successful outcome.

  104.  Mr. Foley    asked the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht    the townlands, if any, in County Kerry which have been designated as special areas of conservation. [6675/97]

Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (Mr. M. Higgins):  I am arranging to have the list of sites for designation as special areas of conservation in County Kerry, together with maps indicating the location, forwarded to the Deputy by the National Parks and Wildlife Service of my Department.

  105.  Miss de Valera    asked the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht    his views on whether the International Union for Conservation and Nature has a silent policy or philosophy on the question of hunting in protected areas, including national parks. [6755/97]

Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (Mr. M. Higgins):  In establishing Ireland's national parks, Irish Governments, on the advice of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), have adopted the criteria set down by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, (IUCN), the World Conservation Union for National Parks.

A national park is defined by the IUCN as a “natural area of land and-or sea, designated to (a) protect the ecological integrity of one or more ecosystems for present and future generations, (b) to exclude exploitation or occupation inimical to the purposes of designation of the area and (c) provide a foundation for spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational and visitor opportunities, [366] all of which must be environmentally and culturally compatible.”

It is my view — as it has been the view of successive Irish Governments — that hunting or sport shooting are incompatible with these three objectives. Hunting or sport shooting are, therefore, not permitted in Irish national parks and I do not propose to alter this approach. I am advised by the NPWS that most managers of IUCN category II protected areas — national parks — support this prohibition.

In a recent letter to the NPWS the IUCN confirm that “IUCN provides technical background and experience on protected areas and many other environmental issues, but it is up to each country to decide how to apply them.” The letter also goes on to state that “if hunting is against some of the objectives of the national parks in Ireland, the provision of forbidding hunting is absolutely valid.”

  106.  Mr. Jacob    asked the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht    whether his attention has been drawn to the availability throughout the Civil Service and to Members of the Oireachtas of the Government's Telecommunications Network Directory on computer within an on-line Lotus Notes database; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that a large number of the documents contained within this database are now incorrect; the names and contact numbers of the persons in his Department who are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the portion of this database which relates to his Department, both in terms of content and replication to the CMOD master copy of the database; the date on which that portion of the database which relates to his Department was last updated; if he will ensure that the database is accurately maintained in future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6777/97]

Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (Mr. M. Higgins):  My Department is among those included in the Government Telecommunications Network Directory, and is also on the database referred to by the Deputy. I am not aware of any complaints relating to the accuracy of my Department's entry on the database.

The Deputy will be aware that my Department has recently expanded to incorporate staff of the Heritage Service and support staff. For the moment at least, these staff have retained their Office of Public Works GTN contact numbers as they are still based in the same building as before, and are serviced by the Office of Public Works switchboard.

The GTN data for my Department is updated regularly. The vast majority of the information currently accessible on the database in respect of my staff based in my offices at Dún Aimhigín Mespil Road Dublin 4 and Na Forbacha, Contae [367] na Gaillimhe is accurate and the entries are presently being updated.

Mr. Rónán O Scolaí of the personnel section of my Department is responsible for maintaining my Department's portion of the database.

  107.  Mr. O'Leary    asked the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht    if he will have arrangements made to carry out repair work to the ruin of the old church in the grounds of Kilcummin old cemetery in the parish of Kilcummin near Killarney, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6838/97]

Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (Mr. M. Higgins):  Kilcummin old cemetery is the responsibility of Kerry County Council and the question of carrying out work there is a matter for that authority.

  108.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for the Environment    if he will accede to the Green Party, Comhaontas Glas, call for an oral hearing on the proposed field trials of genetically modified sugar beet in spring 1997 in counties Carlow, Kilkenny and Cork in view of the public concern over the proposed introduction of genetically modified foods to Ireland and Irish agriculture. [6708/97]

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin):  The determination of notifications for consent to conduct field trials of genetically modified plants is a matter for the Environmental Protection Agency under the provisions of the Genetically Modified Organisms Regulations, 1994. The regulations, having regard to Council Directive 90/220/EEC on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms, provide inter alia, for public notice to be given of all proposed field trials and for written representations from any person or body to be taken into consideration by the Environmental Protection Agency in determining notifications. There is no provision for oral hearings in such cases.

[368]

  109.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for the Environment    his views on the statement made by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency that incineration is not seen as recycling; and his views on the position of leading environmentalists that long-term and dedicated programmes of recycling save more energy in the long-term than waste-to-energy incineration. [6858/97]

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin):  The Waste Management Act, 1996, consistently with EU legislation, classifies as a recovery activity the use of waste principally as a fuel or other means to generate energy.

A recent EU Council Resolution on the review of the Community Waste Management Strategy emphasises the need for promoting waste recovery, in particular by re-use, recycling, composting and recovering energy from waste. The resolution recognises, as regards recovery operations, that the choice of option in any particular case must have regard to environmental and economic effects. It considers that at present, until scientific and technological progress is made and life-cycle analyses are further developed, reuse and material recovery should be considered preferable where and in so far as they are the best environmental options.

  110.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for the Environment    the percentage of domestic municipal waste collected in Dublin which is recycled. [6860/97]

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin):  The National Waste Database Report 1995, published by the Environmental Protection Agency, indicates that in 1995 the national recycling rate for household waste was 4.3 per cent. The report does not disaggregate this figure in relation to particular areas. Detailed information in relation to Dublin is likely to be published following completion of the waste management strategy study currently being carried out on behalf of the Dublin local authorities.

  111.  Mr. Molloy    asked the Minister for the Environment    the names, addresses and organisations they represent, of the members of the monitoring committee for the Operational Programme for Transport, 1994-99. [6889/97]

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin):  The monitoring committee established for the Operational Programme for Transport 1994-99 is composed of representatives of Departments, implementing agencies, the social partners and the European Union. The individual members, their addresses and the organisations they represent are as follows:

[369][370]Members and Addresses Organisation
Mr. J.P. Farrelly (Chairperson),
Department of the Environment,
O'Connell Bridge House,
D'Olier Street,
Dublin 2.
Mr. K. Ring, Department of the Environment
Department of the Environment,
O'Connell Bridge House,
D'Olier Street,
Dublin 2.
Mr. J. Fearon, Department of Transport, Energy and Communications
Department of Transport, Energy and Communications,
Setanta Centre,
Nassau Street,
Dublin 2.
Mr. M. Daly,
Department of the Marine, Department of Marine
Leeson Lane,
Dublin 2.
Mr. R. Rackley, Department of Enterprise and Employment
Department of Enterprise and Employment,
Kildare Street,
Dublin 2.
Mr. J. Larkin, Department of Tourism and Trade
Department of Tourism and Trade,
Kildare Street,
Dublin 2.
Mr. T. Ryan, Department of Finance
Department of Finance,
73-79 Lower Mount Street,
Dublin 2.
Mr. P. Ring, Department of Finance
Department of Finance,
73-79 Lower Mount Street,
Dublin 2.
Mr. M. Tobin, National Roads Authority
National Roads Authority,
St. Martins House,
Waterloo Road,
Ballsbridge,
Dublin 4.
Mr. F. Cruise, Aer Rianta
Aer Rianta,
Dublin Airport,
County Dublin.
Dr. R. Byrne, CIE
CIE,
Heuston Station,
Dublin 8.
Cllr. B. Coffey, Dublin Regional Authority
Dublin Regional Authority,
11 Parnell Square,
Dublin 1.
Mr. W. Soffe, County and City Managers Association
Fingal County Council,
2-3 Parnell Square,
Dublin 1.
Mr. J. O'Flynn, County and City Engineers Association
Waterford County Council,
Arus Brugha,
Dungarvan,
County Waterford.
Mr. P.J. Howard, Irish Port Authorities Association
207 Ballyroan Road,
Rathfarnham,
Dublin 16.
[371][372]Mr. J. Kenna, IBEC
Confederation House,
Kildare Street,
Dublin 2.
Mr. G. Hennessy, The Construction Industry Federation
Federation House,
Canal Road,
Dublin 6.
Ms J. Carmichael, Irish Congress of Trade Unions
19 Raglan Road,
Dublin 4.
Mr. G. Maguire, Irish Farmers Association
Ballygarvan,
Gusserane,
New Ross,
County Wexford.
Dr. C. O'Loan, Directorate-General for Regional Policy and Cohesion European Commission
European Commission,
Rue de la Loi 200,
B-1049 Brussels,
Belgium.
Mr. B. Smith, Directorate-General for Regional Policy and Cohesion European Commission
European Commission,
Rue de la Loi 200,
B-1049 Brussels,
Belgium.
Mr. J. Patricio-Dias, Directorate-General for Transport European Commission
European Commission,
200 rue de la Loi,
B-1049 Brussels,
Belgium.
Mr. R. Power, European Investment Bank
European Investment Bank,
100, Boulevard Konrad Adenauer,
L2950 Luxembourg.
Mr. P. Hopkins (Secretary),
Department of the Environment,
O'Connell Bridge House,
D'Olier Street,
Dublin 2.

  112.  Mr. Killeen    asked the Minister for the Environment    if tenders have been sought for Lisdoonvarna water and sewerage schemes, County Clare, if works will commence in 1997; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7138/97]

  132.  Miss de Valera    asked the Minister for the Environment    the current position regarding the north Clare sewerage scheme; whether this matter is a priority of his; and the proposed timescale for the implementation of the plans. [6735/97]

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 112 and 132 together.

Stage 1 of the Burren and north Clare water services plan, which includes a proposal for improved water and sewage treatment facilities for Lisdoonvarna, was submitted to the European Commission for Cohesion Fund assistance in November 1994. My Department is in contact with the Commission on an ongoing basis in an effort to secure Cohesion Funding and has written to the Commission pointing out the importance of these high priority projects.

A revised preliminary report for the Lisdoonvarna sewerage scheme, with revised contract documents for the Lisdoonvarna water supply scheme, are being examined in my Department with a view to an early decision on both. The two schemes have been included in my Department's water and sewerage services work programme to be advanced through planning — design in 1997. However, pending a decision on Cohesion Funding, I cannot say when construction will commence.

  113.  Mr. D. Ahern    asked the Minister for the Environment    if it is possible for estates around the country to have their area declared a smokeless zone; the assistance, if any, his Department or the relevant local authority can give in this respect. [5084/97]

[373]Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin):  Part IV of the Air Pollution Act, 1987, provided for the designation by individual local authorities of special control areas, subject to confirmation by the Minister for the Environment. However, the policy was adopted in 1990 of applying coal bans by means of a prohibition on the marketing, sale and distribution of coal within specified areas. This approach is based on regulations under section 53 of the Air Pollution Act, 1987, made by the Minister for the Environment to whom local authorities are, of course, free to make representations, based on local environmental conditions. These arrangements, in practice, supersede the designation of special control areas by local authorities under the 1987 Act.

  114.  Mr. Nolan    asked the Minister for the Environment    when the South-Eastern Health Board will be notified of their allocation for housing aid for the elderly for 1997. [6473/97]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Ms McManus):  An initial allocation of £300,000 for 1997 was recently notified to the South-Eastern Health Board who, under the aegis of my Department, administer the scheme of special housing aid for the elderly.

  115.  Mr. E. O'Keeffe    asked the Minister for the Environment    if he will make the necessary funding available to extend the water supply in an area (details supplied) in County Cork; and if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a major development is being held up due to lack of supply. [6487/97]

  130.  Mr. Mulvihill    asked the Minister for the Environment    when he will give approval and funding to the application with his Department for major improvements to the public water supply in Midleton, County Cork, to serve the town, its environs and Ballinacurra village, where the lack of a proper water supply is hampering potential developers in the area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6733/97]

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 115 and 130 together.

The Midleton element of the Cobh-Midleton-Carrigtwohill water supply scheme will serve Ballinacurra. Contract documents for the scheme have been submitted to my Department but, given the high level of commitments under the water and sewerage programme, I cannot say when it may be possible to approve them.

[374]

  116.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for the Environment    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be paid a thatching grant in view of the fact that he applied some time ago. [6488/97]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Ms McManus):  A grant cannot be allowed in this case as, contrary to a condition of the scheme, work had commenced prior to an inspection of the house.

  117.  Mr. N. Treacy    asked the Minister for the Environment    the reason a grant has not been paid to a person (details supplied) in County Galway; the date on which this grant will issue; the amount to issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6496/97]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Ms McManus):  Essential additional documentation was requested from the applicant in October 1996 and is still awaited.

  118.  Mr. Dempsey    asked the Minister for the Environment    the measures, if any, he will take to warn and remind foreign visitors to this country that we drive on the left-hand side of the road in view of the number of accidents over the past few years. [6497/97]

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin):  Last September, I introduced a new multi-lingual road traffic sign to warn drivers of the requirement to drive on the left-hand side of the road. Details of the sign are set out in a comprehensive new traffic signs manual which I published last December and a copy of which is available in the Oireachtas Library. The erection of the new sign at appropriate locations is a matter for the individual road authorities.

The National Safety Council's information leaflet for tourists provides information on rules of the road, in three languages, including clear advice that all traffic must drive on the left.

  119.  Mr. S. Brennan    asked the Minister for the Environment    if he intends that the provisions of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1996, will apply to all local authority tenants, whether housed or occupying other units of local authority accommodation, including permanent and transient halting sites; if he will confirm receipt of two letters on this subject dated 2 February and 11 February 1997 from a person (details supplied) in Dublin 14 who has not received a reply; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6519/97]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Ms McManus):  The primary purpose of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) [375] Bill, 1996, is to provide for a range of measures to assist local authorities in addressing problems arising on their housing estates from drug dealing and related serious anti-social behaviour. The provisions in the Bill will apply to travellers who are tenants of local authority housing, whether standard housing or group housing, in the same way as to any other tenant.

I believe that the issue of applying, in the case of travellers halting sites, similar measures to those in the Housing Bill should be considered in the context of the legislation being prepared arising from the National Strategy on Traveller Accommodation. Replies to this effect are issuing to the letters referred to.

  120.  Mr. Hilliard    asked the Minister for the Environment    the amendments, if any, to the five year restoration improvement programme payments to Meath County Council for the years 1998 and 1999; and if the payments will remain at £2,394,000 minimum for the remaining two years of the programme. [6559/97]

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin):  Due to the increase in their restoration improvement grant allocation this year to £3.279 million, Meath County Council will be in a position to undertake nearly 40 per cent of the value of its 1998 restoration programme improvement schemes in 1997, in addition to all the 1997 schemes included in its multi-annual programme. The allocations to the council for 1998 and 1999 will be decided in the light of the overall level of resources available and the results of the consultancy study on the extent of the backlog of deficiencies in the regional and local road network which is expected to be completed shortly.

  121.  Mr. O'Malley    asked the Minister for the Environment    if he will grant the necessary financial support for the commencement of the Garryspillane and Mitchelstown group water scheme in County Limerick; and when work on the scheme is likely to commence. [6560/97]

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin):  As already announced, responsibility for the administration of the group schemes programme is being devolved to the local authorities, subject to existing commitments on foot of approvals [376] issued by my Department. Where schemes have not yet been approved, including the Garryspillane-Michelstown scheme, it will in future be a matter for the local authorities to decide grant applications.

  122.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for the Environment    when he will provide funds to Leitrim County Council for the extension of the county library at Ballinamore. [6561/97]

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin):  A sketch design and cost plan proposal for a branch library and library headquarters in Ballinamore has been received in my Department and is being considered. However, having regard to the high level of demand for funding for library proposals generally, it is not possible to indicate when the proposal may be approved.

  123.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for the Environment    when initial approval for the preparation of contract documents for an extension to a water scheme (details supplied) in County Mayo will be forthcoming in view of the fact that the water at present breaches drinking water regulations. [6562/97]

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin):  Mayo County Council submitted a proposal to my Department for an extension of the Achill regional water supply scheme, to Tonragee-Owenduff. However, under the recently announced arrangements for the devolution of responsibility for group and small public water and sewerage schemes, it will in future be a matter for local authorities, within their capital allocations, to decide priorities locally in relation to schemes costing less than £250,000, such as the scheme referred to. I will be notifying individual local authorities shortly of their allocations for 1997.

  124.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for the Environment    the number of people being tested in each driving centre in County Donegal per week; the current backlog; the expected wait between application and test; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6676/97]

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin):  Information requested is as follows:

Test Centre Average number of persons tested per week (1996) Total number of applicants awaiting tests at 3 March 1997 Number of applicants with test appointments Number of applicants not wishing to be tested at present Number of weeks between application and test
Buncrana 17 287 49 69 21
Donegal 27 571 129 131 22
Letterkenny 36 830 190 208 22

[377] Applicants who indicate a need for an early test because of employment or other considerations are accommodated. Currently, approximately 40 per cent of those who apply for an early test are tested within five weeks and all such applicants are tested within eight weeks.

  125.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for the Environment    the help, if any, which will be given to county councils to help them deal with water quality in their local authority area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6677/97]

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin):  I refer to the reply to Question No. 146 of 4 February 1997.

  126.  Mr. S. Brennan    asked the Minister for the Environment    if he will allocate funds for the section of the Green Route from Ballinteer Road to Grange Wood, or for any other part of that road; whether the construction of that link road to the Southern Cross Motorway will be funded through the National Roads Authority or by direct grant to Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council; his views on whether the construction of this road is an integral part of the ancillary roads required for the Southern Cross Route to be effective; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6679/97]

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin):  Overall responsibility for the planning and design of the Southern Cross Route, and the allocation of funds to finance its construction, including any necessary ancillary links, is a matter for the National Roads Authority. I have no proposals to allocate non-national road grants to finance works associated with the route.

  127.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for the Environment    the countries which have an agreement with Ireland to make their driving licences recognised and applicable here. [6700/97]

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin):  European Union Directive 91/439/EEC requires that driving licences issued by member states should be mutually recognised. In addition, Japan, South Africa, Australia, Isle of Man, Jersey, Norway and Switzerland are recognised states for the purpose of driving licence exchange — without the need to pass a driving test under the terms of Article 29 (6) of the Road Traffic (Licensing of Drivers) Regulations, 1989.

Under the terms of the Mechanically Propelled Vechicles (International Circulation) Order, 1992, a visitor to this country, holding a valid driving licence issued in any country in the world, is legally [378] entitled to drive for up to 12 months on the basis of that licence.

  128.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Minister for the Environment    when the Edenderry-Enfield Road will be upgraded in view of the fact that it will be of major advantage to attract new industry into east Offaly which is very important. [6729/97]

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin):  There are no current proposals before my Department for reclassification of the route in question. A lengthy and comprehensive review of the national road system was brought to a conclusion in July 1994 with the making of the Roads Act, 1993 (Declaration of National Roads) Order, 1994. I do not propose to make any major changes in the national road network in the near future. Traffic patterns will, however, continue to be monitored in order to identify any long-term changes which might have implications for the classified system.

  129.  Mr. Haughey    asked the Minister for the Environment    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that young cyclists using footpaths are becoming increasingly dangerous for elderly pedestrians in particular; if he will make it mandatory for all bikes to be fitted with bells; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6732/97]

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin):  The road traffic general by-laws provide that a driver, including a cyclist, shall not drive wholly or partly along a footway. An exception to this requirement is where a cycle track is provided on part of a footway, in which case, cyclists must only use the cycle track.

The Road Traffic (Construction, Equipment and Use of Vehicles) Regulations, 1963, provide that every pedal cycle, while used in a public place, shall be fitted with a bell. The only exception to this requirement is a cycle constructed or adapted for use as a racing cycle.

The enforcement of the general by-laws and the regulations is a matter for the Garda Síochána.

  131.  Mr. Dempsey    asked the Minister for the Environment    if he will approve as a matter of urgency the Kylebroughlan, Moycullen group water scheme, County Galway, in view of the fact that water from some wells in the area are unfit for human consumption and the scheme has had approval since 1991. [6734/97]

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin):  As already announced, responsibility for the administration of the group schemes programme is being devolved to the local authorities, subject [379] to existing commitments on foot of approvals issued by my Department. Where schemes have not yet been approved, including the Kylebroughlan scheme, it will in future be a matter for the local authorities to decide grant applications.

  133.  Mr. R. Burke    asked the Minister for the Environment    if his attention has been drawn to the ongoing problem with and danger in the remaining 20 homes in the Bath Road area of Balbriggan which still have prefabricated chimneys that were provided by the local authority; and if he will agree to the provision of a lump sum of approximately £2,000 per house to enable the residents to remove such chimneys and provide solid fuel or gas fire. [6736/97]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Ms McManus):  An application for funding under the remedial works scheme in respect of these houses is under examination in my Department and a decision on its eligibility will be notified to the county council as soon as possible.

  134.  Mr. Bell    asked the Minister for the Environment    when a new house grant will be paid to persons (details supplied) in County Louth. [6737/97]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Ms McManus):  There is no record of the receipt of an application for a new house grant from the persons named at the address given. There is, however, an application from persons of the same names with a slightly different address; in that case, the grant has recently been paid.

  135.  Mr. Jacob    asked the Minister for the Environment    whether his attention has been drawn to the availability throughout the Civil Service and to Members of the Oireachtas of the Government's Telecommunications Network Directory on computer within an on-line Lotus Notes Database; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that a large number of the documents contained within this database are now incorrect; the names and contact numbers of the persons in his Department who are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the Portion of this database which relates to his Department, both in terms of content and replication to the CMOD master copy of the database; the date on which that portion of the database which relates to his Department was last updated; if he will ensure that the database is accurately maintained in future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6781/97]

[380]Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin):  Lotus Notes is not widely used in my Department and no on-line connection to the database containing the Government Telecommunications Network Directory has been established. Information for the purposes of the database referred to is supplied by my Department to CMOD on request.

  136.  Mr. B. Smith    asked the Minister for the Environment    the funding, if any, which will be allocated in 1997 for the upgrading of group water schemes in County Cavan: the schemes which will be assisted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6887/97]

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin):  As already announced, a total capital provision of £15 million is to be made available by way of block grants to local authorities in 1997 in respect of a devolved programme comprising: the existing group water and sewerage grant scheme; the new multi-annual programme for the take-over and upgrading by local authorities of existing group water and sewerage schemes; and small public water and sewerage schemes (costing less than £250,000).

Allocations to individual local authorities have not yet been made but I intend to do so as soon a possible.

  137.  Mr. D. Ahern    asked the Minister for Education    the plans, if any, she has to extend the school psychological service to the north-east to assist children with educational difficulties; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6558/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  There is a school-based psychological service provided by my Department to all second-level schools in all regions of the country. Parents may access this service through the second level school attended by an individual pupil. Psychologists serving second level schools carry out assessments and advise on the needs of children with educational difficulties as the resources of time and personnel allow.

The psychological service provided by my Department to primary schools is only available to schools serving disadvantaged areas in the cities of Dublin, Cork and Limerick. This service to primary schools has not been extended to the north-east as yet.

In general, responsibility for arranging for the psychological assessment of children in national schools, where such is deemed necessary, is a matter for the regional health boards through the appropriate director of community care. Parents [381] may access this service through the school medical service or the family doctor.

When it becomes possible to have further expansion of the Department of Education's psychological service, the needs of children and of schools in the north-east and in other areas, will be borne in mind. It will be some time before the psychological service from my Department will be in a position to take over all responsibility for psychological assessments for educational purposes from the health authorities.

  138.  Mr. Nolan    asked the Minister for Education    the amount of recreational grant given to each county under the recreational grants scheme for 1995. [6699/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  I would refer the Deputy to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 64 and 71 answered on 24 October 1996 which contained the information requested by the Deputy.

  139.  Mr. Martin    asked the Minister for Education    whether funding has been made available to St. Mary's school, Rochestown, County Cork, for the installation of a new heating system; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7176/97]

  159.  Miss Quill    asked the Minister for Education    if she will sanction the replacement of the electrical and heating systems at St. Mary's school, Rochestown, County Cork; and if so, when this sanction will be given. [6701/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 139 and 159 together. I am pleased to inform the House that I am now in a position to provide funds towards the cost of upgrading the electrical and heating systems at St. Mary's school, Rochestown. The school management has been advised that tenders may now be invited.

  140.  Dr. Moffatt    asked the Minister for Education    when she will sanction proceeding to tender on an extension to a school (details supplied) in County Mayo in view of the fact that this project was initially approved in 1991. [6936/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  My Department is currently considering the cost plan for the proposed extension at the school referred to by the Deputy. When this stage is completed satisfactorily, my Department will be advising the school management to apply for planning permission.

[382] A decision on the timing of the tender process will be taken in light of the existing contractual commitments on the primary school building programme when the project is ready for tender.

At this point, I am unable to indicate when construction will commence or a likely completion date.

  141.  Mr. O'Leary    asked the Minister for Education    if she will provide a grant towards funding the cost of a community hall at Anabla national school, Kilcummin, Killarney, County Kerry. [6464/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  My Department is not in a position to provide grant-aid towards the cost of a community hall an Anabla national school, Kilcummin, Killarney, County Kerry.

While I am anxious to extend the provision of general purpose facilities in primary schools, resources are strictly limited and the priority must remain the provision of essential classroom accommodation and the elimination of existing sub-standard classrooms.

  142.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Education    whether additional remedial teaching hours will be provided for children (details supplied) in County Mayo in view of the fact that they are finding it difficult to manage and are behind the other students in writing and reading skills. [6465/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  I understand that the local schools' inspector has recently carried out a review of the remedial teaching service in the area in question. This has resulted in the children mentioned by the Deputy receiving a service from a remedial teacher. In addition, the school has devised an individual educational programme to cater for the special needs of the children in question.

My capacity to make additional remedial support available to primary schools in any given year is governed by resource availability in that year. I am not in a position at present to make additional remedial teachers available to primary schools.

I will continue to review needs in this area and consider how best these needs can be addressed within available resources. The needs of the children in question will be considered in this context.

  143.  Mr. Bradford    asked the Minister for Education    when new indoor toilets will be provided and the roof of the existing hallway damp-proofed and coated at a school (details supplied) in County Cork; and whether plans for these improvement works have been prepared. [6466/97]

[383]Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  The plans for the improvement works to the sanitary facilities at the school referred to by the Deputy are currently in preparation and will be completed shortly. It is expected that the works will commence during the summer holidays.

Due to the current level of contractual commitments on the primary school capital programme, I am unable to sanction grant-aid towards the other works requested by the school.

  144.  Mr. Molloy    asked the Minister for Education    whether a person (details supplied) in County Galway, who has been allocated equipment (details supplied) by her Department to assist with her leaving certificate studies, will be allowed to retain the equipment if she is successful in obtaining a place at University College Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6468/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  A grant for the purchase of this equipment was made in accordance with the provisions of the scheme of grants towards the purchase of equipment for pupils with a disability.

The second level school attended by the student in question applied for and was allocated a grant towards the purchase of this equipment under the scheme. I understand that the student in question now has the use of such equipment. The equipment is the property of her school.

In the event that the student secures a place on an approved third level course, her needs will be considered sympathetically under a special provision for third level colleges for the purchase of equipment for the use of pupils with a disability.

My Department has discussed this case with the student's current school. I understand that in the event that she secures a place, her school will be prepared to consider sympathetically any request from the student to borrow the equipment, pending the consideration of her case under the third level scheme.

  145.  Ms O'Donnell    asked the Minister for Education    the reason for the delay in issuing a decision in the application by a school (details supplied) in County Dublin for a grant towards the cost of extending and refurbishing the school in view of the fact that this application was submitted to her Department in July 1995. [6540/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  My Department had difficulty in assessing the scale of the project requirement at the school referred to by the Deputy. Following examination of enrolment projections for the school, and detailed examination of the existing building by professional staff, it was decided that the project was too large to be dealt with under the grant scheme. [384] The project will be considered for inclusion in a future capital programme.

  146.  Mr. D. Ahern    asked the Minister for Education    if she has made a decision regarding the urgent need for extra staffing at a school (details supplied) in County Louth; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6541/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  My Department is awaiting the submission of further relevant details from the authorities of the school in question. As soon as those details have been received and considered a decision will be conveyed to the school authorities. The Deputy will be notified of the decision in due course.

  147.  Mr. Molloy    asked the Minister for Education    if she has received an application for the Swimworld Project, Renmore, County Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6542/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  I can confirm that my Department has received an application for grant assistance from Swimworld Ltd. The application is one of over 1,000 applications in hand seeking funding under the sports capital programme.

Only a limited number of swimming pool projects have been funded under the programme. However, this application will be considered when decisions are being made on grant allocations and in the context of the funds available for allocation this year.

  148.  Mr. Molloy    asked the Minister for Education    if she has received an application for grant assistance under the recreational facilities scheme for the construction of a cub and scout unit at Renmore, County Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6543/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  I can confirm that my Department has received an application for grant assistance from the 13th Galway CBSI, Renmore. The application is one of over one thousand applications on hand seeking funding under the sports capital programme.

The application will be considered when decisions are being made on grant allocations and in the context of the funds available for allocation this year.

[385]

  149.  Mr. T. Kitt    asked the Minister for Education    the measures, if any, she intends to take to resolve the anomaly which exists whereby mature students applying for third level grants from their home address are classified as dependent and their parent's income is taken into account whereas if they apply independently from their college address it is probable they will be assessed for the adjacent rate of grant payment only. [6544/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  Under the 1996 higher education grant scheme, independent mature students are defined to be mature students who are not ordinarily resident at home with their parents. Their entitlement to a grant is assessed without reference to either their parents' income or address.

The address of independent mature students for the purpose of determining the rate of grant payable is their residence for the purpose of attending college. If this address is within 15 miles of the college, the adjacent rate of grant is payable. If the address is more than 15 miles from the college, the non-adjacent rate of grant is payable.

Prior to the 1995-96 academic year, the normal residence of independent mature students was their address in the previous October. The non-adjacent rate of maintenance grant was payable where the students's normal residence was more than 15 miles from the college being attended. There is however provision within the scheme for local authorities to review the rate of grant payable where there is a change in the student's normal residence. This provision effectively allowed local authorities to award an adjacent rate of grant if the student's residence for the purpose of attending college was with in 15 miles of the college.

The 1995 scheme standardised the approach to be adopted by local authorities. Furthermore, where independent mature students can produce evidence that they are maintaining a residence other than their address while attending college and the non-college residence is more than 15 miles from the college, provision was made to allow local authorities to regard that address as the normal residence and to award a non-adjacent maintenance grant.

To award the non-adjacent rate to independent mature students irrespective of their address would in effect involve creating a new category within the grant scheme. This would in turn be likely to lead to demands that this category be applied to all students. Such a course would involve additional expenditure of about £11 million per annum.

  150.  Mr. O'Malley    asked the Minister for Education    if she will appoint a remedial teacher to a school (details supplied) in County Limerick which first applied for this post in 1988 and where it is estimated that 15 per cent of the pupils need remedial help. [6545/97]

[386]

  166.  Mr. H. Byrne    asked the Minister for Education    if her attention has been drawn to the necessity for a remedial teacher to service national schools (details supplied) in County Wexford; if she will have arrangements made to provide this service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6759/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 150 and 166 together.

Remedial teacher posts are allocated to schools on the basis of priority of need as determined by my Department following the collection and analysis of data from schools, by my Department's inspectorate. The allocation of such posts is also subject to resource availability in any given year.

I am not in a position at present to allocate additional remedial teachers to primary schools. Since my appointments as Minister for Education, I have allocated an additional 241 remedial teachers to the primary sector. A total of 1,188 remedial teachers are now in place and the percentage of pupils who have access to a remedial service has increased from 77 per cent to 87 per cent.

However, as Minister for Education, I have to consider how best to deploy available resources across a wide range of special needs. I have to determine priorities and try to allocate resources to best effect.

In the current year, I have adopted a particular focus on children who suffer from educational disadvantage and have sought to target resources into these area in an effort to break the cycle of disadvantage. As part of this approach, I recently launched a major new initiative aimed at bringing special targeted assistance to children in selected urban and rural areas who suffer serious educational disadvantage.

I am satisfied that since my appointment as Minister for Education I have achieved substantial advances across the entire spectrum of special needs, including the remedial area. It is my intention to continue this process.

When I am next in a position to extend the remediation service, the needs of the schools in question will receive every consideration.

  151.  Mr. Haughey    asked the Minister for Education    if parents of children attending fourth class in a school (details supplied) in Dublin 9 have been in touch with her Department regarding the situation whereby their children have had three teachers so far this academic year; if she will intervene to ensure that a permanent part-time teacher is appointed for the remainder of the academic year 1996-97; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6546/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  I am aware that officials of my Department have had some contact from parents of pupils attending the school to which the Deputy refers concerning the high turnover of substitute teachers at the school.

The appointment of staff to primary schools is [387] a matter for the board of management of schools. Accordingly, disquiet among parents in this matter should be brought to the attention of the school's board of management in the first instance.

  152.  Mr. Kenneally    asked the Minister for Education    if she will provide a resource teacher to be shared between schools (details supplied) in County Waterford in view of the fact that these schools have an above average number of children with various disabilities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6548/97]

  153.  Mr. Kenneally    asked the Minister for Education    if she will approve a school (details supplied) in County Waterford for disadvantaged status in view of the social conditions that prevail in the area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6549/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 152 and 153 together.

I am not in a position at present to allocate a resource teacher to the schools in question. My capacity to allocate such posts in any given year is dependent on resource availability in that year. Ten resource teacher posts were recently allocated by my Department to schools in the primary sector. These posts were allocated on the basis of priority of need following the collection and analysis of data from primary schools by my Department's primary inspectorate.

The special educational needs of pupils attending the schools mentioned by the Deputy will be considered in the context of any future allocation of resource teacher posts.

I have no plans at present to extend disadvantaged area status to additional primary schools.

Detailed studies of educational disadvantage conducted by the Combat Poverty Agency and the Education Research Centre concluded that disadvantaged area supports should be confined to 16 per cent of the school-going population. The studies noted that the disadvantaged area scheme already extends to more than 17 per cent of pupils.

In line with the findings of these studies, I recently launched the “Breaking the Cycle” initiative which seeks to target a special package of supports on selected urban and rural schools which have been identified as suffering serious levels of educational disadvantage. The schools in question were selected by the Education Research Centre on the basis of priority of need as reflected under a range of criteria devised by the centre.

In the event of additional resources becoming available for special needs areas, the needs of the schools in question will be considered.

[388]

  154.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Education    when the school bus for students in the Killeen area of Louisburgh, County Mayo will be provided. [6551/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  The school bus requested by the Deputy for pupils in the Killeen area of Louisburgh, County Mayo, was advertised by Bus Éireann on 29 January 1997. One tender was received to provide an additional bus. This tender, together with an alternative proposed from Bus Éireann to improve existing services in the area are being considered by my Department. The Deputy will be advised of the outcome in due course.

  155.  Mr. Nealon    asked the Minister for Education    if her attention has been drawn to the fact that in Carraroe national school, County Sligo, the only accommodation for one teacher and her class of 30 children of seven to eight year olds is the assembly hall; that as a result, most of the activities carried on previously in the assembly hall had to be cancelled, that on Mondays, when the physical education classes in the assembly hall cannot be cancelled, the class of 30 children has to move continuously all day bringing bags, coats and lunch boxes with them from classroom to classroom with the consequent disruption in those classrooms for other teachers and other classes; that the heating in the assembly hall is inadequate for a classroom; the steps, if any, which are being taken to provide an extra classroom in Carraroe national school in view of this continuous disruption for the class and the teacher; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6635/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  My Department is aware of the accommodation difficulties being experienced at Carraroe national school, County Sligo. Due to budgetary constraints, it is not possible to provide grant-aid towards the cost of additional accommodation at the school at this time. However, the accommodation needs of the school will be considered in the light of future capital allocations.

  156.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Education    whether the files in her Department relating to children placed in the old industrial and reformatory schools do not include the files of people subsequently adopted; the estimated final number of files in this regard; the steps, if any, she has taken or proposes to take to ensure such files are available to those they directly relate to; and if she will give details of the old industrial and reformatory schools involved. [6636/97]

[389]Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  The files in my Department's possession relating to children placed in the old industrial and reformatory schools contain a small number of references to cases involving adoption. Of the over 30,000 records examined to date, less than 30 contain reference to adoption.

My Department is currently examining the issue of access to the data. The Deputy will appreciate that great sensitivity is required in the handling of this matter.

A list of the schools in question is follows.

(*Indicates school currently in operation in 1997)

Cork

St. Aloysius, Clonakilty

St. Colman's Rushbrook, Cobh

Our Lady of Mercy, Kinsale

St. Patrick's, Upton

St. Joseph's, Mallow

St. Joseph's, Passage West

Fishery Ind. School, Baltimore

St. Finbarr's, Sunday's Well, Marymount

St. Joseph's, Greenmount

Dublin

St. Anne's, Booterstown

St. Vincent's, Goldenbridge

Carriglea Park, Dún Laoghaire

Artane School, Dublin 5.

St. Anne's, Kilmacud

*St. Laurence's, Finglas

Scoil Ard Mhuire, Lusk

*Trinity House, Lusk

St. Joseph's, Whitehall, Drumcondra

St. Mary's, Lakeland

*Oberstown Girls Remand and Ass. Centre

*Oberstown Boys Centre, Lusk

Cavan

St. Joseph's, Cavan

Clare

Our Lady's, Ennis

Donegal

St. Martha's, Bundoran

Galway

St. Joseph's, Clifden

St. Brigid's, Loughrea

St. Joseph's, Ballinasloe

Aisling and Loyola, Renmore, Lenaboy

St. Joseph's, Salthill

Letterfrack

Kerry

Liosomine, Killarney

St. Joseph's, Tralee

Nazereth, Tralee

Kilkenny

St. Patrick's, Kilkenny

St. Joseph's, Kilkenny

Louth

St. Vincent's, Drogheda

St. Joseph's, Dundalk

Limerick

St. George's, Limerick

St. Vincent's, Limerick

St. Joseph's, Glin

St. Joseph's, Limerick

[390]Longford

Our Lady of Succour, Newtownforbes

Mayo

St. Columba's, Westport

Offaly

St. Conleth's, Daingean

St. John's, Birr

Roscommon

St. Francis Xavier, Ballaghaderreen

Sligo

Benada Abbey, Ballymoate

St. Laurence's Convent of Mercy, Sligo

Tipperary

*St. Joseph's, Clonmel

St. Augustine's, Templemore

St. Francis, Cashel

St. Bernard's, Fethard, Dundrum

Waterford

St. Michael's, Cappoquin

Mayfield-Gracepark Training Centre

Westmeath

Mount Carmel, Moate

St. Joseph's, Summershill, Athlone

Wexford

St. Aidan's, Newross

St. Michael's, Wexford

Wicklow

St. Kyran's, Rathdrum

  157.  Mr. Kirk    asked the Minister for Education    if she will reconsider the decision not to include the building project of the De La Salle College, Dundalk, County Louth, in the 1997 post primary school programme in view of the severe accommodation problem in the college; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6637/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  The funding for the post-primary school capital programme has been allocated and the building programme for 1997 has been finalised.

Unfortunately, due to the limited resources available and the large number of projects on hand, it was not found possible to make funding available for the extension project at De La Salle College, Dundalk, County Louth.

However, this project will continue to be reviewed in light of available resources and competing priorities.

  158.  Mr. Martin    asked the Minister for Education    if she will grant a higher diploma allowance to a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [6687/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  The teacher concerned was awarded the educational woodwork teachers certificate of the Department [391] in 1969 following completion of a three year course at the School of Furniture, Cork.

The current qualification allowance structure for teachers derives from agreement reached at the Conciliation Council for Teachers. The terms of the relevant agreement are set out in Agreed Report No. 1 of 1969. However, this report made no provision for the award of any qualification allowance to non-graduate teachers. This situation was catered for under the terms of Department Circular 51/74 which provided for the payment of a primary degree allowance, at pass or honours level as appropriate, subject to the attainment of certain marks in specified subjects.

The teacher concerned is eligible for, and in receipt of, a pass primary degree allowance.

There is no provision for the award of a higher diploma in education allowance to holders of three year concurrent non-graduate qualifications such as that held by the teacher in question.

  160.  Miss Quill    asked the Minister for Education    if she will sanction a shared home-school-community liaison teacher under the scheme for disadvantaged areas for schools (details supplied); and if so, when approval will be given. [6702/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  I am not in a position at present to extend the home-school-community liaison scheme to additional primary schools.

My capacity to allocate additional resources to this scheme in any year is determined by resource availability and the level of competing demands from other special needs areas. I have to establish priorities and determine how best to deploy available resources across a wide range of special needs.

In the current school year, I have adopted a particular focus on areas of educational disadvantage and have targeted available resources on these areas through the Breaking the Cycle initiative.

The needs of the schools in question will be considered in the context of any future development of the home-school-community liaison scheme which may be undertaken.

  161.  Mr. O'Malley    asked the Minister for Education    if she will sanction the erection of nine classrooms, a remedial room and ancillary works for Scoil Íde national school, Corbally, County Limerick, in view of the fact that prefabricated classrooms there are nearly 30 years old and in very poor condition; and if so, if construction work will commence in 1997. [6703/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  The architectural service of my Department is currently preparing the tender documentation for [392] the proposed extension at Scoil Ide, Corbally, County Limerick. A decision on the timing of the tender process will be taken in the light of the existing contractual commitments on the primary school building programme when the project is ready for tender. At this point, I am unable to indicate when construction will commence.

  162.  Mr. E. Byrne    asked the Minister for Education    the anticipated timespan to complete the physical education hall projects for St. Mac Dara's community college, Dublin 6W, from the planning and tender stages to work completion; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6704/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  Provision has been made in the 1997 Capital Programme for the construction of a physical education hall at St. Mac Dara's community college. The present position is that the architectural planning of the project is proceeding and the planning and building unit of my Department is examining the outline sketch scheme. When the scheme has been found to be satisfactory, the project will proceed to the next stage of planning which is the developed sketch scheme.

At this stage, it is not possible to indicate when the planning will be completed or when construction will commence. However the project will continue to be accorded a high priority in my Department and every effort will be made to ensure that the planning of the project is completed as quickly as possible with a view to inviting tenders immediately.

  163.  Mr. Martin    asked the Minister for Education    if she will award a higher education grant and free fees to a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [6705/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  Officials of my Department have been in contact with the local authorities and vocational education committees for both Cork city and county regarding this case and have been advised that there is no record of an application for student support from the student in question in respect of the 1996-97 academic year.

  164.  Mr. E. Ryan    asked the Minister for Education    the number of educational psychologists who are employed to assess children in the Dublin area; and whether they assess both primary and secondary level schools. [6757/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  Of the 36 psychologists employed by my Department at present, 18 work in schools in Dublin city and county. Of these, eight are working in second-level schools, nine are in primary schools, and one psychologist works in both primary and post-primary [393] schools. There are also two senior psychologists employed in a supervisory capacity who are based in Dublin.

These psychologists are available, as resources allow, to assess pupils at both levels. At second-level, all schools have a psychologist assigned to them. At primary level, the Department of Education's service is only available to schools serving disadvantaged areas. In addition, the pilot service established in 1990 in West Tallaght-Clondalkin has been continued as a permanent service.

In addition to the Department of Education's service, the city of Dublin vocational education committee employs four psychologists, one of whom is at senior level, for schools within its scheme and County Dublin vocational committee employs two psychologists for a similar purpose. Psychological services are also provided by the health authorities. For children in national schools, it is the responsibility of the appropriate regional health board director of community care to arrange for psychological intervention where such is deemed necessary. These services are provided in clinical and other settings by the regional health boards. They are also provided by voluntary bodies supported by the health authorities. Information on numbers of clinical psychologists who are working with school pupils would be a matter for the Department of Health.

  165.  Mr. E. Ryan    asked the Minister for Education    whether there is a secondary level section for special education in her Department. [6758/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  There is no separate secondary level special education section in my Department.

Where special needs children are concerned, the nature and severity of the disability, rather than the chronological age of the child, is the key factor in determining the educational response. In some cases, special needs children are capable of being accommodated in ordinary primary or second level schools, with the help if necessary of remedial teachers, resource teachers or visiting teachers.

In cases involving more serious disabilities, placement in a special school or special class attached to an ordinary first or second level school, may be the most appropriate response. The special schools and special classes can cater for children from four to 18 years of age.

My Department's special education section plays the pivotal role in the development and delivery of special education services. Where appropriate, the special education section liaises with other sections in the Department at primary and post-primary level to ensure an effective and efficient delivery of special support services.

In the context of the measures outlined in the White Paper on Education, my Department is [394] currently reviewing its overall approach to the delivery of special education services.

  167.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Education,    further to her reply to Parliamentary Question No. 221 of 25 February 1997, if she will fund a replacement teacher for the teacher seconded to the special project in view of the fact that the school is currently paying a replacement teacher from its own scarce resources; and if the necessary funds will be made available in view of the fact that the Office of Public Works has passed the security work referred to as a matter of urgency. [6760/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  My Department sanctioned the secondment of a teacher on a recoupment basis to the educational support project. I am not aware of an application having been received from any source to alter the status of the secondment from recoupment basis to non recoupment. However, if the managerial authorities of the school in question wish to submit such an application, it will be examined carefully.

My Department has received a report on the security works required at the school. The matter of providing funding towards the cost of this work will be considered in the context of future capital allocation.

  168.  Miss M. Wallace    asked the Minister for Education    if a third level student living 190 miles from home can qualify for a grant in her own right in view of the fact that her parents who put her through first year of college cannot afford to put her through second year and in view of the fact that they have a second family member starting college in September 1997; the family income of £30,000 excludes them from a maintenance grant and the accommodation and travel costs of two students of £150 each per week would be prohibitive; and the way in which this student can be helped to continue in college. [6761/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  Under the terms of the third level student support schemes, a candidate's reckonable income for the purposes of the award of a grant is the candidate's gross income from all sources and that of her-his parents or guardians, where applicable. Where the candidate's reckonable income exceeds the income limits set down in the relevant third level student support scheme no grant aid is awarded.

In 1994 I provided a discretionary budget so as to set up a hardship fund with the third level institutions to assist students who are experiencing short-term financial difficulties. Students who experience such difficulties should contact the student counsellor in her-his college to apply for assistance from the fund.

[395]

  169.  Mr. D. Ahern    asked the Minister for Education    if she is aware of the urgent need to facilitate a person (details supplied) in County Louth who has a special need regarding speech but who is not in a position to avail of the early start programme in view of her age; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6762/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  I understand that the child in question is enroled in the early start unit at Redeemer girls's school, Dundalk, for the current school year.

The question of the child's admission to the special language unit at St. Joseph's national school, Dundalk, is due to be considered at the unit's next management group meeting in May.

I understand that in the event of the unit being unable to admit the child from 1 September next, the authorities at Redeemer girl's school have confirmed their agreement to accommodate her at their school.

  170.  Mr. Dempsey    asked the Minister for Education    the plans, if any, she has to provide sufficient funds in the primary sector to allow each school to provide music as a subject; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6763/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  I have no plans at present to introduce a specific grant to assist schools in the teaching of music.

As the Deputy may be aware, music is an integral part of the primary school curriculum and is taught to all pupils in this context. Any costs arising are met from the capitation grant.

In this regard I should point out that I have secured substantial increases in the capitation grant since taking up office as Minister for Education. The rate of grant has increased from £28 per pupil in 1992 to £45 per pupil in 1997.

  171.  Mrs. T. Ahearn    asked the Minister for Education    when free fees will be extended to students in the College of Surgeons; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6764/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  Under the free fees initiative, the State meets the tuition fees of eligible students who are attending full-time undergraduate courses, which must generally be of at least two years duration, at approved colleges. Over 28,000 students benefited under the initiative in 1995-96 at a cost to the Exchequer of £54.5 million in 1996. The costs associated with the initiative have been offset by the savings from the abolition of regressive covenant tax relief.

I have no plans to extend the scope of the free fees initiative to include the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI). Indeed, the RCSI has [396] written to my Department stating that while the college will be part of the CAO system of entry from the commencement of the 1997-98 academic year, it does not wish to be considered for inclusion in the free fees initiative at present. Any extension of the free fees initiative would have to be considered in the light of overall resource constraints. In this regard, I would point out that tax relief is available at the standard rate, on fees paid to the RCSI in accordance with the provisions contained in section 6 of the Finance Act, 1995.

  172.  Mr. L. Fitzgerald    asked the Minister for Education    if she will take the necessary steps to ensure that students can appeal marks awarded at State Examinations and can in future be represented by the relevant subject teacher at the appeal hearing; her view on whether the current system is lacking in transparency and is one of the few appeals systems where the appellant has no right to be represented; her views on whether the Price Waterhouse report failed to address this issue satisfactorily; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6765/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  The leaving certificate appeals system has recently been the subject of a detailed review by Price Waterhouse. This is the first such review of our appeals system and it comprehensively addresses a range of issues, including some raised by the Deputy, in a balanced and considered manner. The appeals system has been described by Price Waterhouse as essentially sound. While cautioning against superficial or quick-fix solutions to perceived shortcomings, the consultant's report sets out a range of potential enhancements which are currently the subject of ongoing consultations with the education partners.

  173.  Mr. Jacob    asked the Minister for Education    if her attention has been drawn to the hardship and disadvantages being experienced by both teachers and pupils due to the lengthy delay in proceeding with the new primary school at Brittas Bay, County Wicklow; and if she will, as a matter of urgency, ensure that measures are taken to expedite the process in order that building work can commence. [6775/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  I am aware of the need for a new primary school building for Brittas Bay, County Wicklow. The current position on the project is that contract documents will be ready in about one month's time. At that stage, a decision on the timing of the tender and contract process will be taken in the light of available funding.

[397]

  174.  Mr. Jacob    asked the Minister for Education    whether her attention has been drawn to the availability throughout the Civil Service and to Members of the Oireachtas of the Government's Telecommunications Network Directory on computer within an on-line Lotus Notes database; if her attention has further been drawn to the fact that a large number of the documents contained within this database are now incorrect; the names and contact numbers of the persons in her Department who are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the portion of this database which relates to her Department, both in terms of content and replication to the CMOD master copy of the database; the date on which that portion of the database which relates to her Department was last updated; if she will ensure that the database is accurately maintained in future; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6779/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  I wish to inform the Deputy that GTN Directory details relating to staff in my Department were last updated on 10 March 1997. The electronic mail element of the directory is currently undergoing revision

Matters relating to content within the database are handled by personnel section — contact number 7106 2131. Replication to CMOD master copy is managed by the information technology unit at 7106 2250.

  175.  Miss M. Wallace    asked the Minister for Education    if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the ownership of St. Michael's Diocesan School, Trim, County Meath, is to be transferred from the Diocese of Meath to her Department, to be completed by 10 March 1997; and when the design team will be appointed to draw up the plans. [6793/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  The St. Michael's Diocesan School, Trim, County Meath is being transferred to my Department.

Arrangements are currently being made to appoint a design team and the prior indicative notice has already been inserted in the Official Journal of the European Communities for the consultants in respect of the proposed new community school.

  176.  Miss Coughlan    asked the Minister for Education    if physiotherapy courses are grantaided in United Kingdom universities; if not, when this will be introduced; and if it will be retrospective; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6827/97]

[398]Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  The schemes of student support provide for the extension of means tested maintenance grants in the 1996-97 academic year to students following fulltime undergraduate courses of at least two years duration in an EU member state. The course must be followed in a university or third level institution which is maintained or assisted by recurrent grants from public funds. The following courses are excluded: postgraduate courses; courses in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine which are subject to a Higher Education Authority quota on places — and teacher training including those leading to the award of Bachelor of Education also subject to quota; courses in colleges of further and higher education; courses in colleges akin to private commercial colleges in Ireland and courses provided in colleges in Britain which are offered in a private commercial third level college in Ireland and which are validated by that British college.

Students pursuing courses such as physiotherapy courses which satisfy the above criteria may apply to their local authority — vocational education committee to have their eligibility for grant-aid assessed.

  177.  Mr. O'Leary    asked the Minister for Education    if she will give an approximate start-up date for the construction of the new Gaelscoil Faitleann in Killarney, County Kerry. [6828/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  The current position in respect of the project is that planning permission has been received and application for fire certificate will be made shortly. The preparation of contract documentation is also proceeding.

At present, I am not in a position to give a realistic start-up date for the reconstruction of the proposed new school.

  178.  Mr. B. O'Keeffe    asked the Minister for Education    when she will provide funding for a school (details supplied) in County Cork in view of the fact that the Southern Health Board has already condemned the toilet facilities available. [6829/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  Due to the current level of contractual commitments on the primary school capital programme, I am not in a position at present to provide funding towards improving the sanitary facilities at the school referred to by the Deputy.

The matter will be considered in the context of future capital allocations.

[399]

  179.  Mr. R. Burke    asked the Minister for Education    if her attention has been drawn to the serious dissatisfaction with the level of grants provided for the purchase of equipment necessary for the education of children attending St. Teresa's primary school and other schools in the Balbriggan area, County Dublin; and if she will approve disadvantaged status for St. Teresa's primary school, County Dublin. [6921/97]

Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach):  The day-to-day running costs of primary schools, including the costs of purchasing general equipment, are funded by means of the capitation grant scheme and the contribution from local sources.

The level of capitation funding has increased significantly in recent years. In 1992, the grant per pupil was £28. For the current school year, the rate of grant is £45.

I am satisfied that the increased level of capitation grant achieved in recent years provides practical confirmation of my commitment to the primary school sector. It is my intention to continue to review needs in this area.

Where more specialised equipment is required to meet the needs of children with disabilities, my Department can make special funding available. If any of the schools in question have such a need they should make application to the special education section of my Department.

  180.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Justice    her views on the need for an abortion referendum; whether a simple yes or no referendum will be put; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6614/97]

  182.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Justice    her views on the general public's desire to be given an opportunity by way of referendum to address the issue of abortion; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6955/97]

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 180 and 182 together.

The Government has no plans in this regard. This position is the same as that outlined by my predecessor in the Department of Justice in response to PQ No. 147 of 29 June 1993. I should add that the complex issues which arise in this area were among the matters examined by the Constitution review group whose report is now being considered by the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution.

  181.  Mr. Haughey    asked the Minister for Justice    if she will ensure that the Chief State Solicitor's office responds to queries put to it by the Department of Justice promptly regarding an application by a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary for a business permit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6707/97]

[400]Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen):  In accordance with well established policy, I do not propose to comment on the details of a specific case. The applicant will be advised of the outcome of his application in due course.

  183.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Justice    if she will expedite registration of lands in the Land Registry office for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo in view of the fact that this person is undergoing hardship as a result of the delay. [6470/97]

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen):  As I informed the Deputy in my reply to this parliamentary question of 5 February, there was no delay in this case and the dealing was completed on 15 October 1996.

  184.  Miss Harney    asked the Minister for Justice    the reason a person (details supplied) has not been repatriated to Britain in view of the fact that the British Home Office has finalised all appropriate paperwork and has accepted this prisoner; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6471/97]

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen):  The person referred to in the question has applied for a transfer to the United Kingdom under the terms of the Transfer of Sentenced Persons Act, 1995. The UK authorities recently responded to the application. However, a legal issue has since arisen in this case and this has been referred to the Attorney General for advice. When this advice has been received, I expect to be in a position to make a final decision on the person's application.

  185.  Mr. D. Ahern    asked the Minister for Justice    if she has agreed new levels of pay and conditions with coroners; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6563/97]

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen):  Detailed pay discussions with coroners are currently being finalised and I expect agreement shortly on an advised remuneration package.

I do not have a sole function in relation to the conditions of employment of coroners as they are appointed by local authorities and recruitment is handled by the Local Appointments Commission. I am not aware, however, of any issue arising in this area.

  186.  Mr. Creed    asked the Minister for Justice    if she will expedite a dealing with the Land Registry for a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [6564/97]

[401]Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen):  I am informed by the Registrar of Titles that this dealing refers to an application under section 49 (i.e. acquisition of title by virtue of long possession) of the Registration of Title Act, 1964 which was lodged on 25 October 1996. I understand that this case is associated with another application on which a query has been raised and a reply is awaited from applicant's solicitor. The matter cannot proceed until the query raised has been satisfactorily discharged. It is not possible, therefore, to estimate a completion time at this stage.

  187.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Justice    when she intends to complete her review of the licensing laws. [6565/97]

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen):  A review of the liquor licensing laws is not taking place in my Department. The Select Committee on Legislation and Security and the Competition Authority are, however, currently reviewing those laws. The reviews are independent of my Department and I cannot give an indication of when they will be completed.

When the reports of the reviews are published any recommendations they may make in relation to the liquor licensing laws will be given detailed consideration in my Department.

  188.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Justice    when her Department will provide funds for the refurbishment of the courthouse at Manorhamilton, County Leitrim. [6566/97]

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen):  A consultant architect has been appointed to prepare plans for the refurbishment of Manorhamilton courthouse and he has prepared an initial report. This report is under consideration.

  189.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Justice    when her Department will provide funds for the refurbishment of the courthouse at Ballinamore, County Leitrim. [6567/97]

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen):  A consultant architect was appointed to prepare plans for the refurbishment of Ballinamore courthouse. These plans which provide for a joint venture between my Department and the local authority to house both court and library facilities are currently under consideration.

  190.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Justice    if her Department will expedite a dealing for a person (details supplied) in County Sligo. [6568/97]

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen):  The Deputy will recall putting down questions on 15 October [402] 1996 and 4 December 1996 in relation to this case, which refers to an application under section 49, i.e. acquisition of title by virtue of long possession, of the Registration of Title Act, 1964 which was lodged on 25 August 1995. I am informed by the Registrar of Titles that the most recent queries issued to the lodging solicitors on 2 January 1997. Replies dated 24 January 1997 have been received and the case is awaiting further examination. I understand that due to their complicated nature, applications under section 49 take some time to process and it is not possible to estimate a completion time at this stage.

  191.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Justice    if she will expedite the registration of lands for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo as the delay is causing financial hardship. [6569/97]

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen):  I am informed by the Registrar of Titles that this dealing was completed on 30 March 1995.

  192.  Mr. Bree    asked the Minister for Justice    if the Land Registry has registered the application of a person (details supplied) in County Sligo; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6626/97]

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen):  I am informed by the Registrar of Titles that this dealing refers to an application under section 49, i.e. acquisition of title by virtue of long possession, of the Registration of Title Act, 1964 which was lodged on 17 October 1995. Queries were issued to the lodging solicitor on 28 May 1996 and replies are awaited. The matter cannot proceed until the queries raised are satisfactorily discharged. It is not possible, therefore, to estimate a completion time at this stage.

  193.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Justice    the number of times section 64 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994, has been utilised to date. [6627/97]

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that they have utilised section 64 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994 on nine occasions to date.

  194.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Justice    if all agency representatives of the Criminal Assets Bureau were party to the decision to pursue the course of action taken in a recent court case (details supplied). [6628/97]

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that in order for the bureau to function effectively, it is not appropriate to comment on individual cases.

[403]

  195.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Justice    the files, if any, under her control regarding adopted or fostered people. [6629/97]

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen):  There are files in my Department arising from its responsibility for dealing with policy and administrative matters relating to adoption prior to the transfer of such responsibilities to the Department of Health in 1983.

A number of these files contain a certain amount of information which was obtained on the understanding that confidentiality would be maintained.

  196.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Justice    her views on the importance of combating the grave and serious crime problem in Dublin; the measures, if any, she has taken to create a feeling of greater security in Dublin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6717/97]

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen):  Since becoming Minister for Justice, I have announced a series of measures to tackle crime, both immediate and long term. As the Deputy will be aware, I have on many occasions outlined in the Dáil the wideranging measures that have been taken to combat crime including legislation, increased resources for the Garda, more prison spaces, anti-crime initiatives such as CCTV, youth diversion projects etc. As regards the current position in Dublin, I am informed by the Garda authorities that due to the anti-drugs initiative, Operation Dochas, together with other Garda operations, there is a marked downward trend in crime in the Dublin area.

  197.  Mr. Gallagher (Donegal South-West)    asked the Minister for Justice    if she will give details of the number of Irish prisoners who have applied for transfer to Ireland under the European Convention for the Transfer of Sentenced Persons; the progress, if any, which has been made in each case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6719/97]

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen):  A total of 140 persons who are serving sentences in the United Kingdom have applied or expressed an interest in transferring into this jurisdiction to date under the Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons. Fifty-nine applications have been formally transmitted by the UK authorities. Additional applications will be forwarded in due course. The status of the applications transmitted to date is set out in the following tabular statement.

[404]Number of formal applications received 59
Number of applications withdrawn 1
Number of applications refused by the Minister 2
Number of applications consented to by the Minister 21
Number of applicants since transferred back to the State 8
Number of applications resolved without transfer (e.g. died, escaped, released, etc.) 6
Number of applications still under examination (i.e. almost ready for submission to the Minister; with the Chief State Solicitor's Office; referred back to the Home Office for additional information or the Department is querying a particular aspect of the application). 29

  198.  Mr. R. Burke    asked the Minister for Justice    if she will arrange for the provision of a Garda sub-station in the Portrane and Donabate area of County Dublin in view of the increased population of this area. [6720/97]

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen):  The Garda authorities have informed me that their position in relation to the provision of a Garda sub-station at Donabate-Portrane remains as stated in my reply to the Deputy's Question No. 188 of 6 February 1996 that, is, that the Garda authorities are not convinced that the opening of a new Garda station at Portrane-Donabate is justified given the fact that apart from the capital cost involved, it would absorb personnel which could be better used on outdoor patrol duties.

They will, however, continue to keep the policing arrangements in Donabate-Portrane under continual review and adjustments will be made as necessary.

  199.  Mr. Jacob    asked the Minister for Justice    whether her attention has been drawn to the availability throughout the Civil Service and to Members of the Oireachtas of the Government's Telecommunications Network Directory on computer within an on-line Lotus Notes database; if her attention has further been drawn to the fact that a large number of the documents contained within this database are now incorrect; the names and contact numbers of the persons in her Department who are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the portion of this database which relates to her Department, both in terms of content and replication to the CMOD master copy of the database; the date on which that portion of the database which relates to her Department was last updated; if she will ensure that the database is accurately maintained in future; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6786/97]

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen):  I am aware of this useful facility and am glad to say that my [405] Department's GTN Directory numbers are accurate and are continuously updated on a weekly basis by the Organisation Division in my Department. Organisation Division can be contacted at 6028208, extension 8212.

  200.  Éamon Ó Cuív    asked the Minister for Justice    when an application for registration of a possessory title in respect of persons (details supplied) in County Galway, which has been lodged with the Land Registry since 1993, will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6814/97]

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen):  I am informed by the Registrar of Titles that this dealing refers to an application for First Registration which was lodged on 8 June 1993. There are a number of difficult issues to be resolved in this application including the nature of the title involved and the interests of the State in the foreshore. It is not, therefore, possible to estimate a completion date at this stage.

  201.  Mr. Cowen    asked the Minister for Justice    the reason there is approximately an 11 month delay in having judgement marked in the Circuit Court Office in Dublin; her views on whether the delay is totally unacceptable since in many cases the judgment details will be totally out of date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6836/97]

Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen):  I am informed that there is currently a delay of between nine and 11 months in having judgments marked in the Dublin Circuit Court Office.

I am concerned that there should be any delay in the processing of cases and I have arranged that the staff in the Dublin Circuit Court Office will be deployed on overtime and also during the upcoming court vacation period commencing on 21 March, to tackle the arrears of judgments to be marked. I am informed that it is not true to say that due to delays, judgment details will be out of date. This will not be the case so long as an [406] affidavit of debt has been lodged with the Circuit Court Office, and this is part of the normal process, within 14 days of the swearing thereof.

I am also informed that if any litigant is experiencing exceptional difficulties due to a delay in having a judgment marked and his solicitor makes representations to the County Registrar, the County Registrar will endeavour to mark judgment in such a case.

  202.  Mr. Shatter    asked the Minister for Social Welfare    the number of persons in receipt of lone parent's allowance, deserted wife's benefit and deserted wife's allowance on 31 December 1996. [6463/97]

Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa):  The information requested by the Deputy is contained in the following table.

Scheme Recipients at 31 December 1996.
Lone Parent's Allowances
—Unmarried Parent 37,506
—Separated Spouse 11,268
—Widowed 1,685
—Prisoners Spouse 98
Total 50,557
Deserted Wife's Benefit 14,738
Deserted Wife's Allowance 2,138

  203.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Social Welfare    the percentage of social welfare recipients with an address in the Dublin region; if he will give a breakdown on a county basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6616/97]

Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa):  The information requested by the Deputy in respect of weekly social welfare recipients is contained in the following table. The table also includes a population breakdown by county for comparative purposes.

This table does not include the 497,252 monthly child benefit payments of which 143,609 or 29 per cent are payable to families with an address in Dublin city and county.

County Social Welfare Recipients. Percentage Social Welfare Recipients Total Population in County Percentage of Total Population
% %
Carlow 10,809 1.25 41,616 1.15
Cavan 12,314 1.42 52,903 1.46
Clare 19,912 2.30 93,914 2.59
Cork 96,591 11.13 420,346 11.61
Donegal 38,278 4.41 129,435 3.57
Dublin 244,175 28.15 1,056,666 29.18
Galway 44,465 5.13 188,598 5.21
Kerry 32,137 3.70 125,863 3.48
Kildare 23,412 2.70 134,881 3.72
Kilkenny 14,094 1.62 75,155 2.08
[407][408]Laois 10,771 1.24 52,798 1.46
Leitrim 7,871 0.91 25,032 0.69
Limerick 38,747 4.47 165,017 4.56
Longford 8,498 0.98 30,138 0.83
Louth 27,120 3.13 92,163 2.55
Mayo 33,720 3.89 111,395 3.08
Meath 17,655 2.03 109,371 3.02
Monaghan 12,508 1.44 51,266 1.42
Offaly 12,949 1.49 59,080 1.63
Roscommon 11,730 1.35 51,881 1.43
Sligo 13,613 1.57 55,645 1.54
Tipperary 31,634 3.64 133,308 3.68
Waterford 23,018 2.65 94,597 2.61
Westmeath 15,336 1.77 63,236 1.75
Wexford 26,418 3.05 104,314 2.88
Wicklow 22,417 2.58 102,417 2.83
Other 17,365 2.00
Total 867,557 100.00 3,621,035 100.00

Note: Excludes Supplementary Welfare Allowance which is administered by the Health Boards. A county breakdown of the recipients of this payment is not available.

  204.  Miss M. Wallace    asked the Minister for Social Welfare    if he will review the files of a person (details supplied) in County Meath who has disabilities and who has an income from his Department which over the past three years has been cut back due to insistence by the Department of Finance that these payments are now liable for tax in view of the fact that this pensioner has no other income. [6689/97]

Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa):  The person concerned is in receipt of the maximum disablement pension of £88.20 per week for life in respect of an assessment of 100 per cent disablement. In addition he receives an invalidity pension of £81.40 per week, i.e., £66.20 personal rate plus half rate child dependant increase of £15.20 in respect of his two children. His wife is in receipt of £80.70 carer's allowance in respect of him, i.e., £67.50 personal rate plus half rate child dependant increase of £13.20 for two children.

The current household income from my Department less child benefit comes to £250.30 weekly. This represents an increase of £22.05 over the past three years and the 1997 budget improvements adds a further £9 to this from June of this year. In addition he has a free travel pass, electricity allowance and telephone rental allowance and his wife receives child benefit in respect of their two children.

The person concerned and his wife are in receipt of maximum entitlement under social welfare legislation.

  205.  Mr. Nolan    asked the Minister for Social Welfare    the number on the live register by county on 1 February 1996, and 1 February 1997; and these numbers as a percentage of the workforce in each county. [6697/97]

Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa):  The number of persons on the live register in each county on 26 January 1996 and on 31 January 1997 is contained in Table 1.

Two estimates of the labour force are compiled by the Central Statistics Office from responses given in the annual Labour Force Survey conducted in April/May each year. As labour force data are not published by the Central Statistics Office on a county basis and because the Labour Force Survey does not relate to the dates specified by the Deputy, the live register data as a percentage of the workforce requested by the Deputy are not available.

Labour force data are published in respect of the eight regional authorities. Tables 2 and 3 show the two estimates of the workforce in each of these regions, including the number and percentage of those who were unemployed, as found in the April 1996 labour force survey.

[409] Table 1: Area Analysis of Persons on the Live Register

Region & County 26/1/1996 31/1/1997
Border
Cavan 2,910 2,720
Donegal 12,913 12,670
Monaghan 3,533 3,521
Louth 10,321 10,165
Leitrim 1,842 1,853
Sligo 3,742 3,468
Dublin
Dublin 92,177 82,969
Mid-East
Kildare 8,703 7,534
Wicklow 7,815 7,671
Meath 4,161 4,048
Midland
Laoighis 3,459 3,245
Longford 2,379 2,367
Offaly 4,136 3,729
Westmeath 5,197 4,785
Mid-West
Clare 5,811 5,449
Limerick 12,899 12,286
Tipperary-North 3,473 3,084
South-East
Tipperary-South 6,122 5,610
Carlow 3,816 3,535
Kilkenny 4,211 3,923
Waterford 8,621 7,860
Wexford 9,363 9,092
South-West
Cork 32,214 30,712
Kerry 10,316 10,263
West
Galway 15,896 14,548
Mayo 10,001 9,669
Roscommon 1,966 2,114
Total 287,997 268,890

Source: CSO Live Register Monthly Area Analysis — 31 January 1997

Table 2: Labour Force and Unemployment on a Labour Force Survey basis, classified by Principal Economic Status* and Region

Region Unemployed Labour Force** % Unemployment
Border 25,500 157,200 16.2
Dublin 65,200 473,800 13.8
Mid-East 14,300 142,000 10.1
Midland 7,900 78,000 10.1
Mid-West 12,400 121,500 10.2
South-East 20,700 152,900 13.5
South-West 26,700 215,000 12.4
West 17,100 134,700 12.7
Total 189,800* 1,475,200 12.9

*The total published by the CSO is 189,900. The difference is due to rounding.

†PES estimate classifies people according to the individual respondent's own assessment of what is termed his or her usual “Principal Economic Status” (PES). This classification is based on the response given to the question “What is your usual situation with regard to employment?”

[410] **Refers to the total at work and unemployed (PES). Source: CSO Labour Force Survey 1996 — Table 27

Table 3: Unemployment by Region on a Labour Force Survey basis, classified by ILO economic status** and Region

Region Unemployed Labour Force** % Unemployment
Border 24,300 160,100 15.2
Dublin 58,600 477,400 12.3
Mid-East 15,000 145,100 10.3
Midland 7,600 79,200 9.6
Mid-West 11,200 124,000 9.0
South-East 19,200 153,100 12.5
South-West 25,600 217,900 11.7
West 16,100 137,600 11.7
Total 177,600 1,494,400 11.9

*ILO estimate classifies people according to criteria adopted by the International Labour Office (ILO) which operates under the aegis of the United Nations. Under these criteria, a person is unemployed if, during the week before the survey, they were:

— without work in the previous week

— currently available for work and

— had taken specific steps to find work in the preceding 4 weeks.

**Refers to the total of those at work and unemployed (ILO).

Source: CSO Labour Force Survey 1996 — Table 29a

  206.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Social Welfare    when the result of a medical examination for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be available; and his entitlements to benefit as a result of this examination. [6698/97]

Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa):  The person concerned is currently in receipt of unemployment assistance and has claimed disability allowance.

He was examined by a medical assessor of the Department on 18 February 1997. The result of this examination was that he did not satisfy the medical criteria for receipt of disability allowance. He is being advised accordingly and of his right of appeal.

  207.  Mr. D. Ahern    asked the Minister for Social Welfare    the change, if any, to the future of local social welfare offices; whether any of these offices are to be closed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6727/97]

Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa):  I am assuming for the purposes of this reply that the Deputy is referring to social welfare branch offices.

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Questions Nos. 33 and 88 on Wednesday, 27 November 1996, Question No. 464 on Wednesday, 22 January [411] 1997 and Question No. 111 on Wednesday, 12 February 1997. The position as outlined on those occasions is unchanged.

  208.  Mr. Jacob    asked the Minister for Social Welfare    whether his attention has been drawn to the availability throughout the Civil Service and to Members of the Oireachtas of the Government's Telecommunications Network Directory on computer within an on-line Lotus Notes database; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that a large number of the documents contained within this database are now incorrect; the names and contact numbers of the persons in his Department who are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the portion of this database which relates to his Department, both in terms of content and replication to the CMOD master copy of the database; the date on which that portion of the database which relates to his Department was last updated; if he will ensure that the database is accurately maintained in future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6788/97]

Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa):  I am aware that a Government Telecommunications Network (GTN) Directory is available in electronic and printed format.

A detailed listing of all Department of Social Welfare staff who are contactable on the GTN is given to CMOD on an annual basis for inclusion in their published directory.

This arrangement is working satisfactorily and the Department is not aware of any specific problems of the nature referred to by the Deputy. However, I am arranging for my Department to keep the matter under review with the CMOD of the Department of Finance.

  209.  Mr. Kenneally    asked the Minister for Social Welfare    the reason those in receipt of lone parent's allowance are treated more generously than those on unemployment assistance in respect of means-testing when they take up employment or go on a FÁS programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6872/97]

Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa):  A necessary feature of the social welfare system is that it must be flexible enough to respond adequately to the differing needs of the various categories of social welfare recipients. The different methods of assessing earnings as between the various payment schemes reflect specific policies being pursued by my Department, which are aimed at targeting particular groups of recipients for special attention, for example, family income supplement for people working who have dependent children, revised arrangements or unemployment assistance for [412] part-time workers, retention of adult dependant allowances for people whose spouse is working, in certain circumstances, retention of child dependant allowances for people who are working, in certain circumstances, and the back-towork allowance scheme for long-term unemployed people taking up work.

In the case of the one-parent family payment (OFP) the unemployment assistance schemes are not directly comparable. While title to unemployment assistance is based on the claimant being unemployed, OFP addresses the contingency of lone parenthood and title is not based on the employment status of the claimant. Research has clearly shown that lone parent families are vulnerable to poverty and social exclusion, and the OFP is designed as an income support mechanism to take into account the special needs and requirements of persons parenting alone and maintaining a household.

It is also aimed at facilitating lone parents to return to the workforce by providing positive support so that, over time, they can become less reliant on social welfare payments for their income needs. This is the rationale behind disregarding a lone parent's earnings up to £6,000 a year for means purposes.

On the other hand, earnings disregards applying to other social assistance schemes are designed to achieve different objectives. The method of assessing earnings for unemployment assistance (UA) purposes is now simplified so that where a person works for up to three days a week, earnings are now assessed at 60 per cent. This is designed to improve the incentive for unemployed people to take up casual and parttime work opportunities. A further improvement in relation to earnings disregards, which I am introducing in this year's Social Welfare Bill, is that where the spouse of an UA recipient is working and earning over £60 a week, an adult dependant allowance will continue to be paid on the UA claim, at a reducing rate, until the spouse's earnings exceed £90 a week. At present, the adult dependant allowance is withdrawn once earnings exceed £60 a week.

I am satisfied, therefore, that in the best interests of social welfare recipients generally the system needs to retain a degree of flexibility to respond effectively to the differing needs of those who depend on it, and that this is best achieved by specific policies geared towards tackling the particular needs of various groups of recipients.

  210.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Social Welfare    the findings of the Taxing Master of the High Court on 29 January 1997 on the party-party costs in regard to equality payments. [6924/97]

Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa):  It is assumed that the findings referred to by the Deputy relate to the case of Byrne, Boytim [413] lan & Delahunty v. the Minister for Social Welfare and the Attorney General, generally known as the Stokes Case, which was listed before the Taxing Master on 23, 24, 27, 28 and 29 January 1997 but was not finally completed until 3 February 1997.

My Department has been advised by the Chief State Solicitor's office that the Taxing Master made his findings on the basis of two bills of costs, the first involving 2,907 plaintiffs in 15 proceedings and the second involving 696 plaintiffs in eight proceedings.

The first bill of costs including Revenue Commissioners, stamp duty on the taxation was £2,435,431.21. The Taxing Master reduced this claim by £989,083.13 leaving a balance of £1.446 million made up of £1.128 million professional fees and the balance of £.318 million to cover VAT, postage and incidental costs.

The total amount claimed on the second bill of costs, including Revenue Commissioners stamp duty on the taxation was £666,716.65. The Taxing Master reduced this by £.210 million leaving a balance £456,051.30, made up of professional fees £.353 million and the balance of £.102 million to cover VAT, postage and incidental costs.

With the agreement of my Department and on the advice of the Office of the Attorney General, the Chief State Solicitor's office are raising objections to the Taxing Master's findings in so far as they concern solicitor's and counsel's fees and the matter is currently under appeal to the Taxing Master.

  211.  Mr. Foley    asked the Minister for Tourism and Trade    the number of visitors to Ireland on walking holidays over the past 10 years. [6684/97]

Minister for Tourism and Trade (Mr. E. Kenny):  The promotion of specialist activity holidays such as walking is an operational matter for Bord Fáilte. Details of the number and characteristics of overseas tourists who pursue such activities here are generally drawn from the board's annual survey of overseas travellers and are presented in its publication entitled “Perspectives on Tourism Activities".

  212.  Mr. Foley    asked the Minister for Tourism and Trade    the measures, if any, he has taken to develop further tourism business from the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland; if he will give details of the marketing initiatives, if any, planned for 1997; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6685/97]

Minister for Tourism and Trade (Mr. E. Kenny):  Overall responsibility for the promotion and marketing of tourism, including the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland markets, rests with Bord Fáilte.

Against a background of strong economic [414] growth and improving access transport, I am advised by Bord Fáilte that the British market to Ireland is targeted to grow by 8 per cent in visitor numbers and 10 per cent in revenue in 1997. The Overseas Tourism Marketing initiative will again this year be supporting a major television and press media campaign closely integrated with the Bord Fáilte co-operative campaign which prominently features the roll-out of the new Tourism Brand Ireland.

With a wide range of competitive air fares and improving surface access, short breaks are also popular, particularly out of peak season and this sector presents good opportunities for growth not only to Dublin but to other city destinations throughout the country.

In addition to the foregoing, a comprehensive promotional campaign under the domestic tourism marketing initiative was launched in February 1997 to increase the frequency and incidence of holidays in the home market. This campaign features, as part of its strategy, comprehensive advertising in Northern Ireland.

  213.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Tourism and Trade    the supports, if any, available for the development of walking holiday routes; the supports, if any, available for the development of associated varied accommodation in respect of such walks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6739/97]

Minister for Tourism and Trade (Mr. E. Kenny):  The Operational Programme for Tourism 1994-9 includes a provision whereby assistance will be provided for the continued development of inter alia, walking holiday routes and the extension and upgrading of the existing range of such routes in association with Cospóir, the National Sports Council.

On a limited basis, the programme also includes provision to assist investment in a small number of market segments where existing specialist accommodation quality is deficient, including, caravan and camping park facilities; upgrading and improving existing buildings for hostel or other specialist accommodation and associated facilities on branded walking routes; and provision of new and improved accommodation at approved outdoor pursuits centres in remote areas currently without appropriate accommodation.

In general, in keeping with the overall strategy in the programme, support is aimed primarily at the enhancement of existing investment rather than supporting new development and all accommodation supported must be registered or approved, as appropriate.

At this point, funds provided under the programme for tourism development projects are generally over-subscribed and, specifically, those available for specialist accommodation related developments are fully committed. These and other aspects of the programme's operations are being considered fully in the context of the current [415] mid-term evaluation of the programme. I am not in a position at this stage to anticipate the findings of this review.

Other EU funded programmes such as the Programme for Agriculture, Rural Development and Forestry and the Leader II Programme administered by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the Local Urban and Rural Development Programme provide support for smaller tourism initiatives. In the Border counties assistance may also be available under the IFI and INTERREG Programmes and the Programme for Peace and Reconciliation, again on a limited basis. This includes limited provision for accommodation projects, including, in some cases, guesthouses and bed and breakfast establishments, on a basis compatible with that in the Operational Programme for Tourism.

  214.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Tourism and Trade    the number and type of tourist projects which have been supported by county under the various tourism programmes in each of the years from 1994 to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6740/97]

Minister for Tourism and Trade (Mr. E. Kenny):  Under the Operational Programme for Tourism, 1994-9, £369 million is being made available from the European Union as grant-aid for tourist related projects. Grants under the Product Development and Marketing Sub-Programmes of the Operational Programme are approved by independent management boards established under the programme. Details of grants for individual projects are contained in the annual reports of the management boards, the latest of which covers the period to end December 1995 and copies of which were laid before each House of the Oireachtas. The 1996 annual reports are under preparation at present.

The natural-cultural tourism sub-programme of the operational programme is administered by the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. Assistance for tourism initiatives is also provided from other EU Programmes such as the programme for agriculture, rural development and forestry which has an agri-tourism scheme and the Leader II programme, both administered by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, and the local urban and rural development programme, administered by the Department of the Taoiseach. Provision for tourism projects is also made in a number of other Community initiatives such as the INTERREG II programmes, both Northern Ireland and Maritime, and the special programme for peace and reconciliation which are administered by the Department of Finance. Details of projects supported under these programmes are available from the lead Departments.

The International Fund for Ireland also provides [416] grant assistance for tourism projects in the Border counties. Details of projects approved are available from the fund's secretariat at the Department of Foreign Affairs.

  215.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Tourism and Trade    his views on the resort status pilot programme currently in progress; his views on the value of expanding this scheme into areas currently under-achieving in terms of tourism in counties such as Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6741/97]

Minister for Tourism and Trade (Mr. E. Kenny):  The pilot tax relief scheme for certain resort areas was introduced in the Finance Act, 1995 and operates for a three year period from 1 July 1995. The purpose of the scheme is to renew and update the tourist amenities and facilities in the areas designated. The 15 areas designated, including Bundoran, County Donegal, were selected in order to give an even spread around the coast of designated resort areas.

Reports received to date suggest that the scheme has been successful in attracting a significant level of investment. However, preliminary findings also suggest some variance of the level of overall investment between the designated areas and in terms of the tourism project type supported. Circumstances such as the long lead in time for capital projects, the planning process etc. inhabit the regional tourism authorities ability to establish an exact breakdown of investment at this stage.

However, from time to time, I have consulted with the Minister for Finance, who has primary responsibility for the scheme, about the possibility of extending it but we have agreed not to make any changes to its scope or to designate any new areas until the present three year pilot period has elapsed and a full evaluation has been completed. At this point it is simply too early to say what the outcome of the evaluation could be.

  216.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Tourism and Trade    the plans, if any, for the development of promotions, such as the Celtic Flame promotion, to include more of the country with an emphasis on areas that need such help most; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6743/97]

Minister for Tourism and Trade (Mr. E. Kenny):  As I indicated in reply to a question on 26 November 1996, the Tourism Council considered the terms for a special seasonability programme for spring of this year. The approach taken was that the events under the programme, which is essentially a pump priming exercise to test the off-season impact of such a festival, should take place in four cities initially, namely, Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway.

[417] The reason for this was, as the Celtic Flame Festival is a new festival, designed to broaden the appeal of the country to visitors in the off-season leading up to St. Patrick's Day celebrations, the four locations selected were perceived by the Tourism Council to have the ability to best cope with tourists at that time of year and provide a good pilot basis for testing the concept. In particular, the availability of accommodation, the general infrastructure required by visitors and the availability of suitable venues to accommodate the expected numbers to the concerts were major considerations.

The results of this year's venture should help establish the viability of other venues participating in the festival, should it succeed in its aim of generating off-peak business, in future years.

  217.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Tourism and Trade    if research will be carried out by his Department to monitor the effects of the broken ceasefire on Border regions. [6745/97]

Minister for Tourism and Trade (Mr. E. Kenny):  Bord Fáilte, as the national tourism marketing organisation, is responsible for carrying out ongoing research and analysis in relation to regional distribution of visitor numbers.

While such research monitors the regional performance of overseas tourism, tourism from Northern Ireland and domestic tourism, including those regions incorporating the Border counties, Bord Fáilte advise that final data in relation to 1996 regional performance is not yet available.

  218.  Mr. Jacob    asked the Minister for Tourism and Trade    whether his attention has been drawn to the availability throughout the Civil Service and to Members of the Oireachtas of the Government's Telecommunications Network Directory on computer within an on-line Lotus Notes database; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that a large number of the documents contained within this database are now incorrect; the names and contact numbers of the persons in his Department who are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the portion of this database which relates to his Department, both in terms of content and replication to the CMOD master copy of the database; the date on which that portion of the database which relates to his Department was last updated; if he will ensure that the database is accurately maintained in future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6790/97]

Minister for Tourism and Trade (Mr. E. Kenny):  A working communications link has recently been established between my Department and CMOD. This will be used as soon as possible to download the current version of the Government Telecommunications Network [418] Directory to my Department and also to subsequently update the directory.

Thereafter, I will ensure that all information in relation to my Department is kept up to date.

  219.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment    the plans, if any, his Government has to reduce the number of unemployed in County Leitrim which now stands at 13.7 per cent. [6570/97]

  220.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment    the plans, if any, his Government has to reduce the number of unemployed in County Sligo where the rate stands at 14.8 per cent. [6571/97]

  224.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment    the measures, if any, his Department has put in place to encourage foreign industries to set up in County Leitrim. [6583/97]

Minister for Tourism and Trade (Mr. E. Kenny):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 219, 220 and 224 together.

Considerable efforts continue to be made by the agencies for which I have responsibility, both in generating the maximum level of new employment by encouraging both foreign and indigenous enterprise to set up in both counties and by other measures administered by FÁS, such as the community employment scheme, which directly address unemployment needs in the area.

In 1996, over 441 persons in Sligo and 222 in Leitrim participated in FÁS-run training courses. In addition, in 1996 1,062 persons participated in FÁS schemes in Sligo, with 611 participating in Leitrim.

The county enterprise boards in both counties are also actively involved in effectively complementing the work of the State agencies such as FÁS and Forbairt, by promoting the development of indigenous small and micro-enterprise potential and stimulating economic activity at local level. In 1996, enterprises assisted by the two respective enterprise boards created 68 full-time and 45 part-time new jobs in Sligo; in Leitrim 55 such full-time jobs were created.

The following tables show provisional numbers of new jobs, based on the Forfás Employment Survey, which were created in IDA and Forbairt assisted companies in Sligo and Leitrim from 1994 to 1996:

IDA

New Jobs 1994 1995 1996
Sligo 182 147 142
Leitrim 10 11 26

[419] Forbairt

New Jobs 1994 1995 1996
Sligo 6 3 1
Leitrim 10 37

Forbairt only assists those overseas industries in the food and natural resources sectors. About 110 people are now employed in Forbairt client companies in these sectors in counties Sligo and Leitrim. Significant developments under way in the two counties include the construction of the Masonite plant in County Leitrim. In June it is planned to start production of door skins on the first production line with the second production line due to be in production by early 1998.

Over the past six months the company has recruited in excess of 100 employees who have undergone training in the US and in Ireland. Total employment now stands at 156 people and it is likely to rise to its target of 330 by early 1998.

On 24 February, I announced that two new investments by overseas companies, with the support of IDA Ireland, will create 100 new jobs in County Leitrim. Lilly Industries which will create 12 new jobs in Ballinamore, County Leitrim, is a major supplier of building products coatings to Masonite in the US. Its County Leitrim plant is a direct response to a request from Masonite to establish an operation close to its new Irish facility for the supply of white paper and a clear coat product. In addition, Westmark of Germany, a manufacturer of mechanical kitchen aids, will create 88 new jobs in Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim.

Industrial land and buildings are also being developed at the Finiskilin estate in Sligo and this, together with other vacant building space in the county, will be aggressively promoted this year with the objective of attracting new investment.

I have again recently reinforced and emphasised with the industrial development agencies Government policy on the regional distribution of employment opportunities. There are, however, limitations to the extent to which that policy can be enforced nationally in relation to inward investment projects. In the final analysis, individual foreign investors themselves decide on the particular locations which best suit their own range of requirements. The strategy being undertaken by the industrial development agencies to ensure the best possible regional spread of new employment opportunities is fully informed by the need to anticipate and meet the requirements of potential investors.

  221.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment    the legislation, if any, being prepared to deal with the spiralling cost of motor insurance for older drivers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6678/97]

[420]Minister for Enterprise and Employment (Mr. R. Bruton):  The Deputy may recall that the Minister for Commerce, Science and Technology answered questions in relation to the subject matter of the present question on 4 and 11 February 1997. The Minister also addressed the House in some detail as recently as 6 March 1997 regarding the issue of motor insurance costs for young and more experienced drivers. On each occasion the Minister has outlined initiatives being pursued in this area following recommendations contained in the recent Deloitte and Touche consultancy report on insurance costs.

The Minister is closely monitoring the above initiatives and measures with a view to ensuring that any savings accruing will be reflected in more favourable motor insurance premiums for all drivers.

  222.  Mr. Power    asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment    the reason separated people, who receive a maintenance allowance from their spouse, are not eligible to take part in a community employment scheme or a FAS course, while people who receive a social welfare payment, such as separated wife's, lone parent's or prisoner's wife's allowance, can do so in view of the fact that the maintenance allowance can often be less than the social welfare payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6532/97]

  223.  Mr. S. Brennan    asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment    his views on the unforseen anomaly in the community employment scheme where persons in receipt of deserted wife's benefit are not eligible whereas recipients of the lone parent allowance are; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6582/97]

Minister for Enterprise and Employment (Mr. R. Bruton):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 222 and 223 together.

Limited resources do not make it possible to provide Community Employment (CE) for all long-term unemployed people. It is necessary, therefore, to target the programme at those most in need, such as persons in receipt of an unemployment compensation payment or persons in receipt of certain means tested social welfare payments. In line with this both men and women married or single who fulfil any of the following eligibility criteria can participate on CE:

CE Part-Time Integration Option

— 21 years or age or over and on unemployment benefit, unemployment assistance or one-parent family payment for at least 12 months.

— Special categories such as those referred by the NRB, or travellers on the live register, or on one-parent family payment for at least 12 months.

CE Part-Time Job Option

[421]— 35 years of age or over and in receipt of unemployment assistance, unemployment benefit or one-parent family payment for three years or longer.

— Special categories such as those referred by the NRB who are aged 35 or over, or travellers who are on the live register or on one-parent family payment for at least 12 months.

In addition, persons with children who are in receipt of deserted wife's benefit or survivor's contributory pension can apply to transfer to one-parent family payment in order to become eligible to participate in CE. Also married unemployed people can swop their social welfare entitlement in order to qualify for participation on the programme. In this way, a married person who meets the eligibility criteria can transfer entitlement to his or her spouse, who is unemployed but not on the live register, in order for that person to qualify for participation on CE.

These eligibility criteria only came into effect last year following a detailed review of CE and in response to the recommendations of the task force on long-term unemployment. They were designed to target the programme at those priority groups already referred to. I have no plans at present to widen the eligibility criteria. However, I do of course keep all programmes under constant scrutiny in so far as their objectives and effectiveness are concerned.

With regard to FÁS mainstream training-specific skills training programmes I would point out that all unemployed people, including women in receipt of deserted wife's benefit or persons in receipt of a survivor's contributory pension, are eligible to participate in these programmes. Also from time to time FÁS offer return-to-work courses for women who wish to return to the workforce.

  225.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment    if he will ask the peace and reconciliation fund to make funds available to Forbairt for the provision of two advance factories of 25,000 square feet each at Manorhamilton, County Leitrim. [6584/97]

Minister for Enterprise and Employment (Mr. R. Bruton):  I understand that funding for the provision of advance factories in the southern Border counties does not fall within the ambit of the special support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation. It would, therefore, not be appropriate for me to seek the funding requested by the Deputy. Furthermore, Forbairt has no responsibility for the provision of advance factory space. Responsibility for same has, since January 1996, rested with IDA Ireland.

Current policy in relation to the provision of factory space is that it will, in future, be provided by the private sector. IDA Ireland will promote [422] all advance factory space provided by the private sector and will, in addition, encourage the private sector to provide advance factories in selected locations.

IDA Ireland seeks to ensure that the supply of advance factories in any area matches the demand. This ensures that factories are not vacant for long periods and that private investors receive a return on their investments.

I understand that there are two advance factories, each of 11,000 sq. ft., in County Leitrim at present. They are located at Drumshambo and Rooskey. Both are currently reserved for projects. There are also two vacant units of 3,160 sq. ft. each in Manorhamilton.

Two projects have recently been announced for other advance factories in Carrick-on-Shannon and Ballinamore.

  226.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment    the action, if any, he proposes to take to have the price of new cars reduced in view of the strengthening of the Irish pound by approximately 20 per cent against the major European currencies. [6585/97]

Minister for Enterprise and Employment (Mr. R. Bruton):  I would draw the attention of the Deputy to the fact that motor vehicles were exempted from detailed price control on the recommendation of the former National Prices Commission in April 1975.

Principal among the reasons for this exemption was the intense competition for market share, in part based on prices and partly on the technical design and performance of the various categories of motor vehicles. In the meantime there is no evidence that competition in the marketplace has declined, particularly in view now of the large diversity of suppliers and the multiplicity of car models on offer to consumers.

  227.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment    his views on the need to promote jobs in the Dublin region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6619/97]

Minister for Enterprise and Employment (Mr. R. Bruton):  Dublin and the east region generally have been very successful in securing a large proportion of inward investment projects over the last number of years. The record rate of growth for 1996 recently reported by IDA Ireland, in terms of its national performance, is due very substantially to the exceptional capability of the east region to attract so high a proportion of mobile investment.

Job creation performance by Forbairt companies has also been exceptional, resulting in a 1996 cumulative net gain in job numbers in IDA Ireland and Forbairt assisted companies in the Dublin region of 5,841.

[423] Furthermore, CEB's in the Dublin region have since their establishment approved almost 700 projects which have resulted in the creation of over 1,000 full time jobs. Overall, the Labour Force Survey shows that in the year to April 1996, employment in Dublin grew by a record 26,200 or 7 per cent on the previous year. I am confident that Dublin will continue this strong performance in 1997 and beyond.

Notwithstanding these successes, there is a need to continue impacting on high unemployment and its concentration in certain parts of Dublin. A recent announcement that the Local Employment Service will be established in four additional locations, with three of them in Dublin-Clondalkin, Blanchardstown and Ballyfermot, reflect my determination to tackle this problem.

  228.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment    the number of jobs created and lost in County Donegal from January 1996 to date; the net job gain for the period; the areas in which job creation was achieved; the agencies involved in the successful ventures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6749/97]

Minister for Enterprise and Employment (Mr. R. Bruton):  The following tables show job gains, job losses and net change for IDA and Forbairt companies in County Donegal. The figures are taken from the Forfás employment survey. This is carried out in October each year so statistics for 1997 are unavailable.

1996

Gains Losses Net Change
Forbairt 273 –312 –39
IDA 129 –427 –298

The County Enterprise Board created 67 full time and 23 part-time jobs in Donegal in 1996. Job loss figures are not available. Notwithstanding these disappointing results, there were a number of positive developments in Donegal during 1996 as follows:

IDA Ireland appointed a development manager to work with a select number of companies in the North West/Donegal region with a view to expanding their existing operations;

On the greenfield investment side, IDA Ireland continues to market Donegal to overseas companies, with a number of small vacant buildings and industrial sites in various locations including Buncrana, Carndonagh, Moville, Ballyshannon and Letterkenny being promoted for overseas investment;

In 1996, IDA agreed with Donegal County Council to develop a Business Park in Letterkenny. Work on this initiative has been ongoing and a full planning application will shortly be submitted to the council. As soon as [424] planning permission and services have been put in place, work will commence on the park which will include the construction of a 25,000 sq. ft. advance building. This will enhance the area's attractiveness to potential investors and will assist IDA in marketing the area to potential overseas clients.

The recently announced greater focus by IDA on smaller regional centres should help to ensure that these developments in Donegal are exploited to the maximum.

  229.  Mr. Jacob    asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment    whether his attention has been drawn to the availability throughout the Civil Service and to Members of the Oireachtas of the Government's Telecommunications Network Directory on computer within an on-line Lotus Notes database; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that a large number of the documents contained within this database are now incorrect; the names and contact numbers of the persons in his Department who are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the portion of this database which relates to his Department, both in terms of content and replication to the CMOD master copy of the database; the date on which that portion of the database which relates to his Department was last updated; if he will ensure that the database is accurately maintained in future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6780/97]

Minister for Enterprise and Employment (Mr. R. Bruton):  The GTN Directory was one of the first databases to be made available when Lotus Notes was distributed throughout my Department early in 1996. The Department's internal telephone directory is maintained in a Lotus Notes database and the data is regularly copied to the GTN Directory.

I understand that, due to technical problems with the replication between my Department's Lotus Notes server and the Lotus Notes server in CMOD, the scheduled daily replication had not taken place for a period commencing in October 1996. However, these problems have been rectified and the scheduled replication has since resumed. The information in relation to my Department is now up-to-date.

In order to ensure the accuracy of my Department's entry in the GTN Directory, I have requested that changes to the internal telephone directory be reflected immediately in the GTN Directory database. I have also requested that the replication of this database with the CMOD master copy be more closely monitored in future to prevent a recurrence of the problem referred to above.

[425]

  230.  Mr. Cowen    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    if a person (details supplied) in County Offaly has been granted a slaughtering licence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6484/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  The slaughterhouse mentioned by the Deputy was granted an abattoir licence on 25 February 1997.

  232.  Miss Harney    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    the reason the herd book for the Irish Angus Cattle Society is administered by his Department. [6509/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  Up to 1967 breeders of pedigree Angus Cattle in Ireland had to register their calves in the herd book operated by the Aberdeen Angus Cattle Society in Scotland. This arrangement was not regarded as adequate to meet the needs of the Irish breeds. They made representations to the Minister to assist them in establishing their own independent Irish Angus Herd Book and this request was acceded to subject to the costs of the service being recouped to the Department.

The secretariat for the Irish Angus Cattle Society is provided by the Department on a self-financing basis.

  233.  Mr. Finucane    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    when a first year REP scheme payment will be made to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6512/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  The applicant has been approved and payment will issue shortly.

  235.  Mr. McGinley    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    when a REP payment will be made to a person (details supplied) in County Donegal. [6572/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  Under the REP scheme a random 5 per cent prepayment check of applications is carried out. This check is a detailed assessment of all aspects of the plan and includes an on-farm inspection.

A check has been carried out on the applicant's agri-environmental plan. All the documentation involved is not in order. The applicant and her planner have been so informed.

When the documentation is in order the application will be processed.

[426]

  236.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    when his Department will be in a position to declare the new super severely handicapped areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6573/97]

  239.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    the areas of County Leitrim that will be designated as super severely handicapped. [6576/97]

  240.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    the areas of County Sligo that will be designated as super severely handicapped. [6577/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 236, 239 and 240 together.

A submission to establish a new category of Extremely Disadvantaged Areas in Ireland was transmitted to the EU Commission on 3 October 1996, and was formally presented to the Commission on 9 October 1996.

The Commission is carrying out a technical examination of the submission, involving discussions with my Department. Until this process has been completed, it is not possible to say for certain which areas will be approved for reclassification as extremely disadvantaged. It would not, therefore, be appropriate to comment on the inclusion or otherwise of specific areas in the submission prior to final approval being received from the Commission.

I expect that discussions with the Commission on extremely disadvantaged areas will commence in the near future. However, since the proposal envisages additional payment to farmers in the new areas, the implementation of the measures will not involve a separate application from farmers but rather a “top-up” on the normal application in respect of the relevant schemes.

  241.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    the total moneys paid out to discharge the costs and expenses of the beef tribunal; the basis for such costs; and if he will give details of the approval for such payments. [6610/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  The total cost to date of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the beef processing industry is £13,388,516.23, of which the following amounts have been paid in legal fees:

— £5,838,505.86 in respect of legal costs awarded by the Taxing Master;

— £1,777,104.60 in respect of the legal fees of the State Legal Team; and

— £1,865,476.80 in respect of the legal fees of the Tribunal Legal Team.

The remaining costs arose from the provision of premises, photocopying, stationery, printing [427] costs, stenographer fees, consultancy fees and witness expenses.

The legal costs awarded by the Taxing Master are a result of Cost Orders dated 29 July 1994 made by the Chairman of the Tribunal in accordance with Section 2 (b) of the Tribunal of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921 and Section 6 (1) of Tribunal of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Act, 1979.

The approval for other payments made by the Tribunal was given by Government decision of 21 May 1991 that the cost of the inquiry would be met from the Vote of the Department of Agriculture and Food.

  242.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    the progress, if any, of the review of controls on forestry development and effectiveness of planning controls; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6611/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  The review has been completed and the provisions in relation to forestry development, planning permission and environmental impact assessment (EIA) were amended by the Minister for the Environment by regulations in April 1996. The regulations provided for a reduction in the threshold for planning permission and EIA for initial afforestation from 200 hectares to 70 hectares and a new provision whereby this threshold applies to add-on afforestation by an individual owner within a three year period.

  243.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    the marketing strategy and programmes which include food promotion and market development within the restaurant sector; if he has satisfied himself with the opportunities for input by the personnel involved in this sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6612/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  I would draw the Deputy's attention to my reply to his Question No. 40 of Wednesday, 5 February 1997, which dealt comprehensively with these matters.

  244.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    the proposals, if any, to market Irish food and drink products at home and abroad; the support for the private sector in such developments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6613/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  An Bord Bia has statutory responsibility [428] for promoting, assisting and developing the marketing of Irish food, drink and livestock. Its Market Development Strategy 1995-1999 is the framework for the delivery of a comprehensive market development programme for Irish food and drinks covering both the home and export markets. The strategy is implemented through annual programmes which take account of ongoing developments in the food industry and encompass all aspects of food promotion and market development with appropriate focus on target markets and market segments.

Support for the private sector is provided directly through financial assistance programmes for individual companies and indirectly through a wide range of market related activities and services. Responsibility for promoting and developing the marketing of edible horticultural produce on the home market is vested in An Bord Glas which operates similar programmes and services.

  245.  Mr. Jacob    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    if he will establish a district veterinary office in east Wicklow, even on a part-time basis, in view of the availability of a suitable office as Ashford Mart and the fact that this facility is urgently required and has long been sought by the local farming community. [6620/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  My Department's district office currently located in Agriculture House, Kildare Street serves farmers in Dublin and east Wicklow. In the context of the implementation of the Charter of Rights for Farmers, to facilitate and benefit farmers in the region in question, it has been decided to relocate this office to a site more convenient for all concerned.

In this regard my Department, in conjunction with the Office of Public Works, is presently examining the suitability of an office in Tallaght. This area would be much more convenient for farmers in north and south County Dublin and east Wicklow than the present location of the office in Dublin city centre. If our accommodation requirements in terms of space and car parking facilities can be adequately met it is hoped that a new office will be opened in Tallaght later this year. In the meantime it would not be practical or economical to relocate the office on a temporary basis in any other area in the district.

  246.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    the contagious diseases in farm livestock which have been detected in the State since the Single European Act became operative; the number in each case; and the steps, if any, being taken to eliminate or curtail this problem. [6671/97]

[429]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 conditions for such trade, e.g. — Council Directive 64/432 on trade in cattle and pigs; 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 relevant directive. Except where otherwise prescribed by the directive in question, I am unable to apply additional health guarantees to such trade.

As it is not always possible to apportion the blame for an outbreak of contagious disease in a herd or flock to imported or domestic animals, statistics of the type referred to by the Deputy are not maintained by my Department. However, a small number of outbreaks of mycoplasma bovis, Johnes disease and warble fly infestation discovered in herds have been attributed by the veterinary services of my Department to imported animals. Voluntary codes of practice which set out additional health requirements in relation to the import of the major livestock groups are in place and I have on many previous occasions exhorted livestock importers to adhere strictly to the provisions of these codes.

  247.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    if he will initiate a pesticide reduction programme which would reduce the amount of harmful pesticides in the environment while at the same time reducing farmers' dependence on them and assisting them in changing to a more organic and sustainable system of food production. [6711/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  Pesticide usage in Ireland is low by European standards. Plant diseases, weeds and pests in agricultural crops are controlled by good husbandry practices, better technology, improved varieties of seeds, biological methods of control and plant protection products. In the case of plant protection products the regulatory system in this country ensures that no unacceptable influence on the environment should occur in terms of contamination of soil, water and air and effects on non-target species.

My Department's policy as regards the marketing of and use of pesticides embraces the concept of reducing the amounts used to the minimum necessary to achieve the desired effect. Financial support is already available to encourage farmers to convert to organic production — the rural environment protection scheme contains a supplementary measure which provides generous extra payments to REPS farmers in organic production, and the Department's operational programme for agriculture, rural development and forestry, 1994-99 contains a scheme of aid for the [430] development of the organic farming sector. Aid is available under this programme for capital investment and for marketing/promotion projects.

  248.  Éamon Ó Cuív    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    the grants, if any, available to farmers for the provision of housing for horses. [6772/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  The scheme of grant aid for investments in alternative farm enterprises which operated under the operational programme for agriculture, rural development and forestry was closed for new applications on 4 October 1996. There is no scheme open to applications at this time.

  249.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    the reason his Department is not following up on its instruction to planning agencies for the rural environment protection scheme to involve the services of an environmental scientist in view of the fact that all Teagasc REP scheme reports and the majority of private agency REP scheme plans do not include wildlife and habitat reports which are required by environmental specialists, and in view of the fact that this is to the detriment of the REP scheme in respect of the chances of renewal of the scheme later by the EU and especially to the detriment of the environment in the degraded commonages of the western uplands, many of them in proposed national heritage areas. [6774/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  All REPS planning agencies approved by my Department are required to have access to the services of an environmentalist to assist in the preparation of REPS plans in appropriate cases. Checks are carried out by my Department to ensure that REPS plans are prepared in accordance with this requirement and the Department's agri-environmental specifications. These specifications set out,inter alia, the procedures for the identification and retention of wildlife habitats. There is provision for severe penalties (which have been applied) in respect of non-compliance with the REPS specifications on the retention of wildlife habitats. The REPS specifications are designed to protect and enhance the rural environment and I am satisfied that their implementation will ensure the continuation of agri-environmental measures such as REPS.

[431]

  250.  Mr. Jacob    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    whether his attention has been drawn to the availability throughout the Civil Service and to Members of the Oireachtas of the Government's Telecommunications Network Directory on computer within an on-line Lotus Notes database; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that a large number of the documents contained within this database are now incorrect; the names and contact numbers of the persons in his Department who are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the portion of this database which relates to his Department, both in terms of content and replication to the CMOD master copy of the database; the date on which that portion of the database which relates to his Department was last updated; if he will ensure that the database is accurately maintained in future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6776/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  Because of changes in the deployment of staff since publication of the Government Telecommunications Network Directory in January of last year, there are inaccuracies in the database as it relates to my Department. To deal with these deficiencies the establishment and maintenance of an electronic version of the Government Telecommunications Network Directory within a central on-line Lotus Notes database in so far as it relates to my Department is being pursued at present.

  251.  Mr. Dempsey    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    if he will supply a copy of the control of farmyard pollution application of a person (details supplied) in County Meath as a matter of urgency. [6795/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  I am not in a position to supply the information requested by the Deputy without the written consent of the applicant.

  252.  Mrs. T. Ahearn    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    the reason the Slievenamon area of County Tipperary is not classified as severely disadvantaged; if a review is planned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6833/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  A number of conditions had to apply when the Appeals Panel were considering areas for reclassification as more severely handicapped. One of these was that if an area did not join onto an existing or proposed more severely handicapped area, then it must form part of a block of at least 15,000 hectares in extent, all of which must satisfy the basic conditions relating to income and land quality, before the panel could consider it for reclassification. The EU Commission require non-contiguous areas to be a [432] reasonably large size before they can be considered for inclusion.

An appeal was received from a Slievenamon group, in respect of seven townlands covering three district electoral divisions in this area. The total area appealed amounted to some 2,500 hectares. As this area is not adjacent to an existing more severely handicapped area, and since the total area appealed was well below the minimum area of 15,000 hectares required for such island areas, the Appeals Panel had no option but to omit this area from their considerations.

The disadvantaged areas now extend over some 75 per cent of the land area of the State, and more severely handicapped areas account for almost 79 per cent of all disadvantaged areas. Given these figures, I believe that the EU Commission would not be receptive to any further demands for changes to Ireland's less favoured areas, apart from some small amendments resulting from genuine omissions from the areas approved in 1995 and 1996.

  253.  Mr. E. O'Keeffe    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Cork received only 50 per cent of his CAP grant under the forestry scheme. [6834/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  On the basis of the information supplied by the applicant, payment was made at the non-farmer rate under the CAP premium scheme on 24 September last. There is no change in the position as set out in the replies to similar questions on 20 November 1996 and 23 January 1997.

  254.  Mr. Cowen    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    if a tuberculosis eradication project in east Offaly has been completed and published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6835/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  Although the east Offaly badger project is ongoing, the primary element is largely completed. A report is in the course of preparation and should be available later in the year.

  255.  Mr. Kenneally    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    the effect the proposed introduction of a register of grain growers will have on the existing status of eligible land; the way this will be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6871/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  I am at present seeking changes to Council Regulation (EC) No. 1765/92 governing the support system for producers of certain arable crops, which [433] would permit full or partial protection of existing producers from penalties in the event of the national base area being exceeded. If approved, the details of the new arrangements will be drawn up in consultation with the EU Commission. These arrangements will have no implications for the eligibility status of arable land.

  256.  Mr. B. Smith    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    if his attention has been drawn to the widespread and deep concern in County Cavan and surrounding areas regarding the operation of the Diseases of Animals (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) (Specified Risk Material) Order, 1997 in Monery, County Cavan; and if he has satisfied himself that the facilities in Monery are capable of destroying prions which will inevitably be present in this specific risk material. [6881/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  The dedicated plant in County Cavan was approved by me on 20 February following a comprehensive inspection as to the suitability of the facility to deal with the rendering of specified offal material. This plant does not accept or process BSE material.

  257.  Mr. J. Walsh    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    if his attention has been drawn to the imminent threat of an additional penalty on milk producers arising out of their butterfat quota and the uncertainty this is creating for milk producers at present; and if he will seek a modification of the regulation to allow the use of the past year's butterfat in the current year. [6902/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  The revised estimated average butterfat content of milk deliveries at the end of January 1997 is on a par with the national butterfat reference level, which, when calculated over the same period, stands at 35.850 grams/kg. Therefore, careful management of the butterfat situation by products which have already exceeded their deliveries and butterfat quota between now and the end of March is necessary in order to avoid exceeding this reference level. Teagasc or co-operative personnel should be consulted for specialist advice in this regard. The suggested modification to the regulation has been ruled out by the EU Commission.

[434]

  258.  Mr. J. Walsh    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    if his attention has been drawn to the slow progress being made in bringing dairy farms up to EU standard under Directive 92/46; the number of farmers who have been approved by the Department inspectorate in each county; and when all registrations will be completed. [6903/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  Work on the inspection of dairy farms to determine their compliance with the structural standards set out in the Directive 92/46/EEC is ongoing and progressing at a statisfactory rate. To date, out of over 15,000 on-farm inspections, some 3,700 farms have had their registration officially confirmed. Figures are not complied on a county basis. For the purposes of the directive, all existing dairy farms were initially deemed registered and are now subject to inspection.

  259.  Mr. J. Walsh    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    if his attention has been drawn to the hardship caused to smaller milk producers by the withdrawal of the dairy hygiene grant scheme; and if he will restore this necessary measure to improve food quality. [6904/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  The scheme for the upgrading of dairying facilities was launched in the autumn of 1994 and was open to all dairy farmers who had a milk quota of less than 45,000 gallons. Due to the level of applications received, and in the light of the level of funds available, it was necessary to suspend the scheme for new applications with effect from 4 October 1996. As indicated in Partnership 2000 it is the Government's intention to reintroduce the scheme on a priority basis if additional funds become available at the mid-term review of structural funds.

  260.  Mr. J. Walsh    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    if his attention has been drawn to the lack of progress in improving the control of farmyard pollution; and if he will restore the grant scheme for this purpose to improve the environment. [6906/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  Over the last ten years my Department has assisted some 40,000 farmers under the various on-farm investment schemes towards the development of quality structures with a view to reducing the level of pollution arising from farmyard wastes. To date the gross investment has been in excess of £800 million of which some £299 million has come from the National Exchequer and EU funds.

Since 1989 all investment schemes are aimed at providing the necessary structures to ensure that the storage capacity on farms is adequate. In addition my Department in conjunction with the [435] Department of the Environment has recently agreed the nitrates code of practice. Furthermore, we now have over 23,000 farmers participating in the REP scheme. This represents a further contribution of £100 million per annum which will assist participant farmers to put the necessary investments in place to minimise the risk of pollution.

In addition provision was made in the budget for improved capital allowances, as provided for in Partnership 2000, for a targeted and monitored measure to support investment by farmers in necessary pollution control measures. As agreed in Partnership 2000, it is the Government's intention to reintroduce the scheme on a priority basis if additional funds become available at the mid-term review of structural funds.

  261.  Mr. J. Walsh    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    the input, if any, he has made at EU level to ensure that Irish dairy farmers retain milk quotas indefinitely after the next GATT and World Trade Organisation agreement. [6907/97]

  262.  Mr. J. Walsh    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    the policies, if any, he has submitted to the EU to enable young dairy farmers to obtain milk quotas after the next GATT and World Trade Organisation agreement. [6908/97]

  263.  Mr. J. Walsh    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    the policies, if any, he has advocated to the EU to enable Irish milk producers to maintain the capital value of their milk quotas after the next GATT and World Trade Organisation agreement. [6910/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 261, 262 and 263 together.

The existing EU milk quota regime is scheduled to last until the year 2000. The EU Commission has indicated its intention to come forward this year with its analysis of likely future developments in the dairy sector and with policy options for the future. It is my intention that, in the negotiations which will take place on the future of the EU milk regime, the best interests of Irish dairy farmers (including both young farmers and existing quota holders) and of the industry generally will be taken fully into account. In this context my Department has been consulting with the industry about the most suitable options for this country.

  264.  Mr. J. Walsh    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    his views on reports about scrapping installation aid for young farmers; and if he will confirm that this beneficial scheme will be maintained. [6912/97]

[436]Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  The scheme of installation aid for young farmers is being continued but, in common with all other schemes, it will be examined in the context of the mid term review of the structural funds this year. As agreed in Partnership 2000 consultation is taking place with the farm organisations with a view to deciding on the priority to be attached to the scheme in the context of that review.

  265.  Mr. J. Walsh    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    the policies, if any, he will propose to the EU to facilitate the use of dormant milk quotas by new entrant younger farmers. [6913/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  I assume the Deputy is referring to the reallocation of unused quotas. I recently announced the details of the 1997 milk quota restructuring scheme. In this context I have increased the amount of the restructured milk pool which must be set aside for new entrants to dairying. The definition of new entrants under the scheme has been expanded to include young produces who have acquired small quotas in recent years. I have also asked the Milk Quota Appeals Tribunal to address the situation of these recently entered small scale producers in so far as possible within the current year. The broader issue of providing quota to new entrants is an ongoing matter of discussion within the milk quota review group and I have accepted that group's recommendation in relation to this category for the coming year.

  266.  Mr. J. Walsh    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    the total loss to sheep farmers due to the cut of £6.60 in ewe premia; and the steps, if any, he will take to restore the full premium. [6917/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  The level of ewe premium in any year is determined by the average prices paid in the EU market for that year. During 1996, both the EU and Irish market prices for lamb were at record levels from March onwards, due to buoyant consumer demand. Irish lamb producers who sold their lambs in 1996 benefited from prices about 21 per cent better than those available in the previous year. The premium is designed to compensate producers for poor market returns and so in a year of good prices the premium paid is inevitably lower. Overall, however, the combination of market prices and premium in 1996 resulted in a significant improvement in returns to producers compared to 1995.

[437]

  267.  Mr. J. Walsh    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry    the measures he proposes to take to resist the EU Agriculture Commissioner's proposal to cut arable aid payments to grain growers. [6919/97]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates):  I opposed the EU Commission's proposal last year to cut arable aid payments in the context of the beef crisis. It is my intention to resist also the reduction in arable aid to grain growers which has recently been proposed.

  268.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications    the advances, if any, to encouraging companies to reinvest in the air link from Dublin to Derry to increase tourist access to the extreme north of the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6742/97]

Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications (Mr. Dukes):  Under European Union Single Market rules in the air transport sector, all licensed EU air carriers are free to provide services on any international route within the community without Government control. However, the question as to whether an airline wishes to inaugurate services or to withdraw services on a particular route is, of course, entirely a matter for the airline to decide on the basis of its own commercial judgment. I am not aware of any proposals at present to inaugurate a new service on the Derry/Dublin route.

The Deputy will be aware, however, that in order to improve access to the regions from abroad through the network of air services operating to and from Dublin, my Department has introduced a programme of essential air services in accordance with EU Council Regulation 2408/92. This programme, which covers services between four regional airports—Kerry, Galway, Sligo and Donegal and Dublin — is designed to guarantee a minimum level of air services to the regions. In this regard the Deputy may be aware that on 5 July 1996 my predecessor approved the award of a contract to EI Air Exports Limited for the operation of a scheduled Dublin/Donegal/Dublin passenger air service under the essential air services programme. The service commenced on 16 Auguest.

  269.  Mr. Nealon    asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications    if his plans for the extension of the natural gas pipeline to the west will include Sligo town; the cost benefit analysis, if any, which has been carried out in respect of such an extension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6479/97]

[438]

  272.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications    if an application has been made for EU funding for the extension of the natural gas grid; and the areas covered by this application. [6556/97]

  273.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications    the plans, if any, his Department has to extend the natural gas grid to counties Sligo, Leitrim, Donegal, Mayo and Roscommon. [6557/97]

  275.  Mr. Foley    asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications    if he will have arrangements made with An Bord Gáis to extend the natural gas grid to north Kerry. [6683/97]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications (Mr. Stagg):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 269, 272, 273 and 275 together.

I am anxious that other areas of the country should have the same choice of energy sources as those now served by the gas network. Accordingly, I asked Bord Gáis to carry out a detailed investigation of the possibility of a major extension of the network. I am considering the board's report on the study and I am having discussions with Bord Gáis in that regard. No application has been made for EU funding for this purpose. No funds have been allocated for gas network extensions under the 1994-99 economic infrastructure operational programme. EU funding for energy projects under the trans-European energy networks programme are provided mainly for preparatory and feasibility studies and in only exceptional circumstances would the European Commission consider applications for such funding for investment costs.

  270.  Mr. O'Dea    asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a company (details supplied) has recently increased its charges for transmission of the multi-channel television signal by over 50 per cent; if this increase has been sanctioned by his Department; if not, the action, if any, he will take; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6520/97]

Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications (Mr. Dukes):  I am not aware that the company concerned has increased its charges by the level suggested by the Deputy. I do know that the company has recently increased the annual rental charge for its basic MMDS service from £170 to £179 which amounts to an increase of 5.3 per cent. With the exception of the ending of a special introductory discount for some of its premium services I am not aware of any other increases applied by this company recently.

In any event the Deputy should be aware that, unlike the statutory provisions which apply to cable relay charges, increases to the annual rental [439] charge for MMDS services do not require my prior approval. However, under the regulations which govern MMDS I may investigate the charges being applied by a licensee in respect of the service being provided. Up to now I have not had cause to carry out any such investigation.

  271.  Mr. Molloy    asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications    if he will give details of how equipment seized from illegal deflector groups will be dealt with; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6552/97]

Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications (Mr. Dukes):  I would refer the Deputy to my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 26 of 5 December 1996 in relation to the seizure of unlicensed equipment from the operators of deflector systems. As I said to the House on that occasion I am taking legal advice on the question of the ultimate disposal of the equipment.

  274.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications    the steps, if any, he has taken to make a submission to the British Department of the Environment regarding the Nirex memorandum on the economics of the rock characterisation facility commissioned by Friends of the Earth; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6639/97]

  279.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications    the progress, if any, the Irish Government has made in examining the way a legal challenge can be made to stop the development of an underground coastal dump by the United Kingdom company, Nirex Limited, near Sellafield. [6862/97]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications (Mr. Stagg):  I propose to answer Questions Nos. 274 and 279 together.

I refer the Deputies to my answer to Questions Nos. 39, 40 and 42 of 12 February 1997. In the light of additional information that has recently come to hand concerning Nirex's proposal for the construction of an underground rock characterisation facility near Sellafield, the UK Department of the Environment decided in February last that it would be appropriate to provide parties who appeared at the public planning inquiry in Cumbria with the opportunity to submit their observations.

This latest documentation confirms my concerns over the negative implications of the proposal as regards environmental protection of the Irish Sea and reinforces my view that plans for the development of an RCF in the Sellafield area should now be abandoned. My Department have [440] examined this additional information and a comprehensive submission was forwarded by me to the UK authorities last week.

The Deputies will be aware that yesterday in London I highlighted publicly my concerns and objections. I have arranged for a copy of my submission to be sent to the Deputies. As I understand it the results of this consultation process will eventually be considered by the UK Secretary of State for the Environment when he adjudicates on the appeal taken by UK Nirex against the refusal of planning permission for the construction of the facility. In the meantime, I am considering, in consultion with the Attorney General, what future options are available to me at EU and international level in the event of the grant of planning permission for the repository.

  276.  Mr. Jacob    asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications    whether his attention has been drawn to the availability throughout the Civil Service and to Members of the Oireachtas of the Government's Telecommunications Network Directory on computer within an on-line Lotus Notes database; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that a large number of the documents contained within this database are now incorrect; the names and contact numbers of the persons in his Department who are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the portion of this database which relates to his Department, both in terms of content and replication to the CMOD master copy of the database; the date on which that portion of the database which relates to his Department was last updated; if he will ensure that the database is accurately maintained in future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6791/97]

Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications (Mr. Dukes):  The last update of my Department's details on the Government Telecommunications Network (GTN) Directory was carried out on Friday, 7 March, 1997. The personnel unit of the Department has responsibility for maintaining staff details relating to my Department while the information technology (IT) unit has responsibility for ensuring that these details are replicated to the CMOD master database.

The names and contact numbers of persons in the personnel unit, all of whom will be able to assist with inquiries in relation to the staff details, are contained in the directory. Likewise contact-details of persons in the IT unit, who will be able to assist with inquiries in relation to the replication of the database, are also contained in the directory. I have been assured by my officials that the details for my Department on the GTN directory are regularly updated.

[441]

  277.  Éamon Ó Cuív    asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications    whether he has received an application from a company (details supplied) to operate tour buses in Galway city in 1997; if so, when a decision will be made on this application; the number of buses to which the application applied; whether any condition will attach to the licence, requiring the operator to provide an all-year round service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6813/97]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications (Mr. Stagg):  My Department has received no application to operate services in Galway in 1997 from the company named by the Deputy. If any such application is received, it will be considered strictly in accordance with the terms of the Road Transport Act, 1932 and appropriate conditions will be attached.

  278.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications    the plans, if any, he has to meet with public representatives from Dublin North in view of the various representations made on behalf of many dependants in respect of public transport in this, the fastest growing area of population in Ireland. [6861/97]

Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications (Mr. Dukes):  I have invited Oireachtas Members from Dublin north to meet me on Wednesday, 20 March to discuss the operation of public transport services in north Dublin.

  280.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Defence    the plans, if any, he has to introduce subsistence allowance and shift allowance for members of the Defence Forces involved in Border BSE duty in line with gardaí who work with them. [6586/97]

Minister for Defence (Mr. Barrett):  In addition to basic pay, personnel serving in Border units are in receipt of a Border duty allowance of £50.07 per week in the case of officers and £44.91 per week in the case of non-commissioned officers and privates. A military service allowance is also payable to all members of the Permanent Defence Force up to and including the rank of colonel to compensate personnel for the special conditions associated with military life, such as the unsocial hours of duty, being subject to transfers and a requirement to serve in all conditions. The current rate in the case of officers is £2,091 per annum, and in the case of non-commissioned officers and privates is £40.08 per week (£2,091 p.a.), with the exception of privates with less than 3 years' service who receive £14.43 per week. These allowances are paid, irrespective of the actual hours worked, on a continuous basis, including periods of annual leave, sick leave, etc. The rates of remuneration of the Permanent Defence Force, including military service allowance and Border duty allowance, were determined [442] by the Gleeson Commission in 1990. The commission expressly stated its conclusion that military duties were clearly in a distinctive category and that it would not be appropriate to fix military pay on the basis of a direct comparison with the pay of gardaí.

The provisions governing the payment of subsistence allowance to Defence Forces personnel are provided for in Defence Force Regulations. A shift allowance is not payable to members of the Permanent Defence Force. Under the Defence (Amendment) Act 1990, the payment of allowances comes within the scope of representation of the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association and may be processed through the conciliation and arbitration scheme for the Permanent Defence Force which was established in agreement with the association. The question of the payment of allowances to personnel involved with the BSE-related operations in Border areas has been raised by the association under the terms of the conciliation and arbitration scheme. Under the terms of the scheme, as agreed with the association, discussions on claims which are being processed are confidential. You will appreciate, therefore, that as the matter is under active consideration at present it would not be appropriate for me to comment further at this time.

  281.  Mr. Jacob    asked the Minister for Defence    whether his attention has been drawn to the availability throughout the Civil Service and to Members of the Oireachtas of the Government's Telecommunications Network Directory on computer within an on-line Lotus Notes database; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that a large number of the documents contained within this database are now incorrect; the names and contact numbers of the persons in his Department who are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the portion of this database which relates to his Department, both in terms of content and replication to the CMOD master copy of the database; the date on which that portion of the database which relates to his Department was last updated; if he will ensure that the database is accurately maintained in future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6778/97]

Minister for Defence (Mr. Barrett):  I am aware of the availability of the GTN database to members of the Oireachtas and the Government. In this connection, I am advised by my Department that the database in so far as my Department is concerned is accurate and up-to-date. I am informed also that the database in relation to my Department is updated on a daily basis.

[443]

  282.  Miss de Valera    asked the Minister for the Marine    his views on whether there has been a downgrading in the West Coast Search and Rescue Service off Shannon since 1 January 1997. [6474/97]

  283.  Miss de Valera    asked the Minister for the Marine    his views on whether it is satisfactory that the service for the west coast search and rescue supplied by Bond at Shannon is restricted in its missions in view of the fact that it is not equipped with an auto-hover which was to be in place by 28 February 1997; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6475/97]

  284.  Miss de Valera    asked the Minister for the Marine    if he intends to invoke the penalty clause in relation to the West Coast Search and Rescue Service which Bond was allowed to introduce if it could not meet the performance required of having the contract helicopter in operation by 28 February 1997. [6476/97]

Minister for the Marine (Mr. Barrett):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 282, 283 and 284 together.

I announced on 2 Auguest 1996 that the Government had approved the award of a contract to Bond Helicopters (Ireland) Ltd., for the provision of a marine emergency helicopter including search and rescue based at Shannon Airport. The contract commenced on 1 January 1997, on the expiry of the previous contract with Irish Helicopters Ltd., and is for a minimum period of two and a half years with an option to extend for up to five years. Bond advised my Department on 20 February 1997, in accordance with their contractual obligations, that the fully compliant helicopter with auto-hover, which was to be delivered to Shannon by 28 February 1997, was now expected to be in service by the middle to end of March 1997. The delay in the delivery of this helicopter arose from an electrial design fault identified during a recently completed independent quality check. Adverse weather conditions have also hampered flight testing. The fault has since been remedied and flight testing has resumed. The Bond helicopter development programme, which commenced after the contract award in Auguest 1996 and has been the subject of close monitoring and regular review by the Department, was fully on schedule up to this recent development.

A fully serviceable marine emergency helicopter is already in permanent operation by Bond from Shannon. This helicopter has been providing marine emergency response since 1 January 1997 and has carried out nine successful rescue missions to date. It has rescued or assisted 19 people including the rescue in extreme weather conditions of 13 fishermen from a fishing vessel, which caught fire at a location 150 miles off the coast of Galway, on 1 March 1997. It has all the features of a fully compliant helicopter, with the exception of an auto-hover system. The absence of an auto-hover makes winching from a small [444] vessel at night difficult but not impossible. Otherwise the helicopter is fully equipped for 24 hours marine emergency response. Bond have made available, with effect from 1 March 1977, a second helicopter to improve the capabilities of the existing helicopter at night time and in bad weather conditions. Crews and specialist lighting devices have been provided to support the operation of two helicopters on a rescue mission.

The question of what penalty, if any, will be imposed on Bond for failing to provide a fully compliant helicopter by 28 February 1997 is under active consideration at present. Since 1 January 1997 Bond has been providing a satisfactory search and rescue service which will be underpinned by the early entry into service of an autohover equipped helicopter. My Department will continue to monitor developments very closely and will review all matters relating to the service, including contractual obligations, on a week to week basis.

  285.  Mr. S. Kenny    asked the Minister for the Marine    his views on the proposal by Bray Urban District Council to dredge the Codling Bank for gravel to upgrade the beach at Bray; the research, if any, undertaken by his Department on this proposal; if his attention has been drawn to the concern expressed by the Howth Fishermen's Association regarding the extinction of shellfish on the seabed of the Codling Bank if the proposed dredging is approved. [6477/97]

Minister for the Marine (Mr. Barrett):  I do not yet have a view in relation to the application by Bray UDC for the foreshore licence for extraction of shingle from the Codling Bank for the purposes of beach nourishment on the north beach at Bray. I will take account of all submissions to me under the statutory consultation process relating to the application and the environmental impact statement in coming to a decision.

  286.  Mr. Martin    asked the Minister for the Marine    the reason he decided to shorten the draft salmon fishing season; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6516/97]

  287.  Mr. Martin    asked the Minister for the Marine    whether he intends to compensate draft fishermen in view of his decision to shorten their season, cutting their salaries as a result. [6517/97]

Minister for the Marine (Mr. Barrett):  I propose to answer Questions Nos. 286 and 287 together.

The new conservation regulations introduced for the 1997 season in respect of salmon and trout conservation complete the first phase of implementing the recommendations of the salmon management task force. There has been, at [445] home and abroad, general acceptance that the measures introduced for 1997 are necessary to halt the decline in salmon stocks. The measures contain compensatory gains as well as losses for the draft net sector in the interest of optimising the resource itself.

In view of expressed concerns about the specific and localised impact on the draft net fishery of the new conservation measures, it has been decided not to restrict these tidally dependent fisheries to daylight hours only. The weekend close period has also been staggered between the drift and draft net fisheries which will allow the draft netsmen one clear day each week when there is no drift net activity.

In addition to actively encouraging a local catchment management approach to cater for specific needs in each area, the overall concerns and needs of the draft net fishermen and others engaged in the estuarial salmon fishery are currently being assessed from all perspectives and further consultations are under way on the matter.

All legitimate salmon interests, including draft netsmen, will benefit from the survival and recovery of salmon stocks which is the underlying objective of the new conservation measures. The question of financial compensation for the introduction of enhanced management strategies, which are of themselves designed to maximise the returns from the salmon fishery, is not under consideration.

  288.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for the Marine    the current position in relation to the cost being charged on the lease of the foreshore at Buncrana, County Donegal; the reason for the inequity in pricing compared to similar areas in the immediate locality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6673/97]

Minister for the Marine (Mr. Barrett):  A lease of foreshore in respect of a slipway at Buncrana, County Donegal, was offered to Donegal County Council on 15 July 1996. The rent for the foreshore site which was assessed by the Valuation Office was disputed by the local authority. In the light of representations made, the Valuation Office has been asked to reconsider the matter and I understand that a valuer will be visiting the site shortly and discussing the situation with Donegal County Council with a view to reaching agreement on the rent.

[446]

  289.  Mrs. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for the Marine    if he will give details of a leasing arrangement made with a private developer on the Dingle boatyard site, County Kerry; whether any transfer of this lease will be subject to ministerial approval; if he will give assurances to the people of Dingle that no further leasing arrangements will be made by his Department with any private individual; if his attention has been drawn to the widespread concern of the Dingle people to any development on this site other than projects that would enhance the fishing industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6746/97]

Minister for the Marine (Mr. Barrett):  The Dingle boatyard site was originally the subject of a 99 year lease which commenced in 1948 and was subject to an annual rent of £1. Ministerial consent was given in 1993 to a set of arrangements which in effect involved the transfer of this site from the previous beneficial owners to Dingle Harbour Developments Ltd. I am aware that concerns have been expressed regarding the proposed development of the site and my Department has been actively engaged in efforts to progress matters on a satisfactory basis.

  290.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for the Marine    the proposals, if any, there are for the mid-term review of the operational programme; if he has met with the consultants who are conducting the review; if not, when he will meet them; if he has made a case for the reallocation of resources as part of the review process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6747/97]

Minister for the Marine (Mr. Barrett):  The mid-term evaluation of the fisheries operational programme, 1994-1999, is being undertaken by the external evaluators for the programme, INDECON — International Economic Consultants. This evaluation will feed into the overall mid-term review of the Community Support Framework (CSF). During the evaluation process INDECON have consulted regularly with the Department, the EU Commission, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Údarás na Gaeltachta, Forbairt, the Marine Institute and representatives of the fishing industry. The evaluation report has also been considered at a formal meeting of the operational programme monitoring committee. The report, together with the views of the monitoring committee, will feed into, and inform, the overall evaluation of the Community Support Framework currently under way. The case for the allocation of additional resources to the fisheries operational programme in the CSF review process will continue to be pursued over coming months and is being fully informed by the findings of the evaluation report.

  291.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for the Marine    the current position in relation to the implementation of the recommendation on safety from the review which has now been published for about a year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6748/97]

[447]Minister for the Marine (Mr. Barrett):  A new national strategy on fishing vessel safety is currently being finalised in the Department of the Marine. I hope to shortly, be in a position to announce details of the measures to be taken to implement this new policy which will draw on the recommendations and objectives of the review group. The proposed new strategy will aim to achieve fundamental improvements in the safety culture and standards of the sea fishing sector with the objective of avoiding, as far as possible, fishing vessel accidents and especially the loss of life at sea.

The Deputy will be aware that a number of the review group's recommendations are already being implemented, particularly in relation to training, safety awareness and on-shore radio communications. I was pleased to see that my colleague, the Minister for Social Welfare, recently announced that share fishermen will, in future, qualify for full PRSI. The absence of mandatory social insurance cover for fishermen was identified by the review group as the cause of many trained deckhands leaving the fishing fleet.

[448]

  292.  Mr. Jacob    asked the Minister for the Marine    whether his attention has been drawn to the availability throughout the Civil Service and to Members of the Oireachtas of the Government's Telecommunications Network Directory on computer within an on-line Lotus Notes database; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that a large number of the documents contained within this database are now incorrect; the names and contact numbers of the persons in his Department who are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the portion of this database which relates to his Department, both in terms of content and replication to the CMOD master copy of the database; the date on which that portion of the database which relates to his Department was last updated; if he will ensure that the database is accurately maintained in future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6787/97]

Minister for the Marine (Mr. Barrett):  I am aware of the availability of the Government Telecommunications Network Directory which has been in existence since late 1995. I understand that a number of entries relating to the Department of the Marine are now out of date and I am glad to be able to inform the Deputy that this is currently being rectified.