Request to move Adjournment of Dáil under Standing Order 31.
Visit by US Delegation.
Order of Business.
Ministerial Rota for Parliamentary Questions: Motion.
Message from Seanad.
Estimates for Public Services, 1998: Report of Select Committee.
Child Trafficking and Pornography Bill, 1997: Report and Final Stages.
Amendment No. 24 not moved.
Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill, 1998: Committee and Remaining Stages.
Criminal Justice (No. 2) Bill, 1997 [ Seanad ]: Second Stage.
Ceisteanna — Questions.
Priority Questions. - Road Safety.
Priority Questions. - Taxi Regulations.
Other Questions. - Playground Facilities.
Other Questions. - School Bus Safety.
Other Questions. - Community and Enterprise Groups.
Other Questions. - Rented Housing Sector.
Other Questions. - Road Safety.
Other Questions. - Retail Sector Development.
Other Questions. - Waste Management Directive.
Adjournment Debate Matters.
Criminal Justice (No. 2) Bill, 1997 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).
Adjournment Debate. - EU Funding.
Adjournment Debate. - Care of the Elderly.
Adjournment Debate. - Hospital Closures.
Written Answers. - Strategic Policy Committees.
Written Answers. - Waste Disposal.
Written Answers. - Environmental Policy.
Written Answers. - Litter Pollution.
Written Answers. - Vehicle Testing.
Written Answers. - Electoral Register.
Written Answers. - Litter Pollution.
Written Answers. - Environmental Policy.
Written Answers. - Waste Management.
Written Answers. - Sustainable Development Strategy.
Written Answers. - Water and Sewerage Schemes.
Written Answers. - Payments to Councillors.
Written Answers. - Water and Sewerage Schemes.
Written Answers. - Housing Sites.
Written Answers. - Referenda Campaigns.
Written Answers. - Water Safety.
Written Answers. - Waste Management.
Written Answers. - House Prices.
Written Answers. - Local Authority Housing.
Written Answers. - Rented Housing Sector.
Written Answers. - Urban Renewal Schemes.
Written Answers. - CO2 Emissions.
Written Answers. - Local Government Elections.
Written Answers. - Fire Stations.
Written Answers. - Construction Industry Review.
Written Answers. - Local Authority Housing.
Written Answers. - Research Funding.
Written Answers. - Rail Network.
Written Answers. - Agricultural Exports.
Written Answers. - Grant Payments.
Written Answers. - Farm Retirement Scheme.
Written Answers. - Grant Payments.
Written Answers. - Crop Losses.
Written Answers. - Garda Stations.
Written Answers. - Tax Allowances.
Written Answers. - Tax Reliefs.
Written Answers. - EU Funding.
Written Answers. - Psychiatric Services.
Written Answers. - Foreign Adoptions.
Written Answers. - Motorised Transport Grant.
Written Answers. - Hospital Waiting Lists.
Written Answers. - Hospital Services.
Written Answers. - Traffic Management.
Written Answers. - Roads Funding.
Written Answers. - Litter Pollution.
Written Answers. - Driving Instructor Register.
Written Answers. - Housing Grants.
Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.
Written Answers. - Inland Waterways.
Written Answers. - European Firearms Pass.
Written Answers. - Small Claims Court.
Written Answers. - Prison Psychological Service.
Written Answers. - Sports Capital Programme.
Written Answers. - Teaching Posts.
Written Answers. - Third Level Teaching Posts.
Written Answers. - Institutes of Technology.
Written Answers. - Early Childhood Education.
Written Answers. - School Staffing.
Written Answers. - Special Educational Needs.
Written Answers. - School Staffing.
Written Answers. - Schools Building Projects.
Written Answers. - Grant Applications.
Written Answers. - Schools Refurbishment.
Written Answers. - Physical Education Facilities.
Chuaigh an Ceann Comhairle i gceannas ar 10.30 a.m.
An Ceann Comhairle: Before coming to the Order of Business I propose to deal with a number of related notices under Standing Order 31 from Deputies Upton and Jim Higgins. I propose to call on the Deputies in the order in which they submitted their notice to my office. I call first on Deputy Upton to state the matter of which he has given notice to me.
Dr. Upton: I wish to move the Adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 on a specific and important matter of public interest, the threat to public order and safety caused by further threatened action by members of the Garda Síochána and the measures the Government will take to ensure a settlement to the dispute.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): I seek the Adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss the following important matter requiring urgent consideration, namely, the threat to the security of the State and to public safety posed by the withdrawal next week of the services of the gardaí who are members of the Garda Representative Association, the further escalation of the position brought about by the decision of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors not to provide emergency policing cover as on 1 May and the need for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to outline to the Dáil the emergency security measures to be put in place to cope with the matter.
An Ceann Comhairle: Having considered the matters fully, I do not consider them to be contemplated by Standing Order 31 and, therefore, I cannot grant leave to move the motions.
An Ceann Comhairle: Before proceeding further I take the opportunity to extend a very warm welcome to Dáil Éireann to the United States Secretary of State for Commerce, William Daly, the Mayor of Boston, Thomas M. Menino  and their party who are here today in the Distinguished Visitors Gallery. On my own behalf and on behalf of the Members of Dáil Éireann, I extend to you a most sincere welcome to our country. I hope you will find your visit to Ireland interesting, successful and to our mutual benefit.
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. 19b, motion on ministerial rota for parliamentary questions, No. 21, Child Trafficking and Pornography Bill, 1997, Order for Report and Report and Final Stages, No. 7, Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill, 1998, Committee and Remaining Stages, and No. 2, Criminal Justice (No. 2) Bill, 1997 [Seanad], Second Stage. It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 19b shall be decided without debate; Report and Final Stages of No. 21 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 11.30 a.m. 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, Equality and Law Reform; the proceedings on Committee and Remaining Stages of No. 7, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 1.30 p.m. today 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, Equality and Law Reform.
An Ceann Comhairle: Is the proposal for dealing with No. 19b agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 21 agreed? Is the proposal for dealing with No. 7 agreed? Agreed.
Mrs. Owen: Will the Taoiseach say whether the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will come into the House to reassure the country there will be full security cover in the event that the gardaí proceed to take the actions they have indicated they will take? What proposals has the Government to ensure full cover, given that sergeants and inspectors have indicated they will not provide cover similar to that provided on the day of the blue flu? This is a grave matter. What is the Government doing to ensure the gardaí come back to the talks table?
Mr. Quinn: I accept, Sir, you are giving us some latitude in this respect.
An Ceann Comhairle: A little.
Mr. Quinn: Is the Taoiseach aware of the widespread concern expressed in the public domain about the Garda dispute? What contingency plans are being made by the Government to deal with this matter? While answering that question, which I hope will be full in its content, will the Taoiseach indicate what contingency  steps are being taken to ensure the Tour de France commencement, which many people have worked hard to achieve, will not be disrupted?
Proinsias De Rossa: Will the Taoiseach indicate when the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will shake off his lethargy on this issue? This problem is not new, it has been ongoing for some time. The action proposed by the gardaí has been signalled for many months, yet no action has been taken by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in seeking to bring the dispute to an end. I heard the Minister say on radio this morning that he is willing to consider the appointment of an independent arbitrator between himself and the Garda. Has he taken steps since that interview to approach the gardaí with a view to having an arbitrator appointed?
The Taoiseach: Like everybody else, the Government is concerned about an escalation of the dispute which has been ongoing for some time. In the event that there is an escalation of the dispute, the operational measures the Garda Commissioner will take will be discussed, as on the previous occasion, with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I hope we will not reach such a stage of disruption. In recent months the Government set up the Brennan committee and negotiated successfully until, unfortunately, the talks broke down because the gardaí and the GRA left them. The Government would like to be able to continue those negotiations because we believe they are the basis for making progress.
The only way to resolve an industrial dispute is through negotiation to determine the areas on which there can be compromise. In this case, there can be compromise on some areas but not on others. The Government cannot breach the public service agreement, which the gardaí would like us to do. That would open up claims for the public service and ruin the consensus that has been reached and the prospect of having future agreements. That avenue is not open to us, but the Minister has been at pains to outline to the gardaí, at every level, including at conferences, sending messages to them and by way of statements in the House and in the media, that there are other avenues through which the dispute can be resolved.
I thank the Deputies for raising this matter and I urge the gardaí to go back to the negotiating table where we can try to resolve the dispute either through the Brennan committee or some other way. The Government is prepared to discuss the matter. We have no reason to have a disagreement with the gardaí. We want to find a reasonable and equitable resolution to the dispute and we will continue to do everything possible to achieve that.
An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot have a debate on the matter. I will allow short questions from the three leaders.
Mrs. Owen: The Taoiseach did not refer to my request to him to tell the House the arrangements that will be put in place if the gardaí proceed to carry out their actions. Action is threatened for next Saturday. What discussions are taking place regarding the security of the State. We are likely to face—
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is making a long statement. She should obey the Chair.
Mrs. Owen: Criminals will know gardaí are not on duty and we could have a free for all starting next Saturday.
Mr. Quinn: Does the Taoiseach agree that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is hopelessly compromised on this matter because of the outrageous pre-election undertakings and promises he made to the gardaí, that he must now sideline this compromised Minister and give that responsibility to somebody else? That is part of the problem in Government.
Mr. Cowen: Deputy Quinn is engaging in political mischief.
Mr. Yates: Deputy Cowen is hoist with his own petard.
Mr. Cowen: Deputy Quinn is playing games.
Mr. Yates: The chickens have come home to roost.
An Ceann Comhairle: Order, please. Deputy De Rossa for a brief question.
Mr. Rabbitte: The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform would be better off with the Army deafness issue. That would be up his alley.
Proinsias De Rossa: It is obvious that whatever the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has done has been ineffective. Does the Taoiseach agree it is time he stepped in to resolve this problem and, if the Minister has not appointed an independent arbitrator to resolve the dispute, will the Taoiseach do so today?
The Taoiseach: I addressed Deputy Owen's question, but I will do so again. Those are operational matters. The Garda Commissioner has been talking to the regional superintendents on this matter and, as before, the Minister will be consulted. While there is no need to repeat what I have already stated, the Brennan group is carrying out its work, but the Minister has made it  clear if that is not an acceptable way to deal with the problem, he is prepared to consider another way. I do not know of any dispute that was resolved without the people concerned sitting down together to negotiate. Mr. Brennan is well qualified to deal with this issue, but if that group is not satisfactory, some other way can be found. It is only by sitting down together that the matter will be resolved. The Government and the Garda group must sit down together to discuss the matter and the Government is prepared to do that. This is what we have been requesting.
Mr. Quinn: Will the Taoiseach meet them?
The Taoiseach: It is a matter for the Government.
Mrs. Owen: At what stage is the Bill to encourage the multiple use of masts? In December last the Taoiseach indicated the legislation would be published by the middle of this year. I assume the Minister for the Environment and Local Government is preparing the legislation. He has issued a document from his Department with confusing information about the multiple use of masts. Where is the legislation that was promised on 4 December?
Mr. Dempsey: Deputy Howlin issued those guidelines when he was in Government and Deputy Owen was also in Government at the time.
The Taoiseach: The Minister for Public Enterprise is dealing with the legislation on sharing masts and it will be ready in November.
Mrs. Owen: So it has slipped.
Mr. Quinn: The House will rise on 3 July, but will sit in committee in July and September. Will the Minster, in consultation with the Whips, prepare a schedule of the committee meetings that will take place during July and September so that Deputies can plan their work and the media can plan its coverage of the important work of committees during those months?
The Taoiseach: That is a valid request. The House will rise on 3 July, but a large amount of work will be undertaken during July and September. I will ask the Government Whip to schedule the workload for the completion of Estimates and other Bills that will be taken during that time.
Proinsias De Rossa: What legislative measures are required for the implementation of the Amsterdam Treaty passed by the people a few weeks ago? Will the Taoiseach take the opportunity at the summit in Cardiff this weekend to persuade our partners in the European Union to ensure voluntary organisations, who work with the homeless and the poor, are not deprived of  European funding, as announced yesterday by the Finnish Commissioner for budgets.
The Taoiseach: The Second Stage of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill was taken in the Seanad last week. That must be passed before we formally ratify the Amsterdam Treaty. I have not got any details on the second issue the Deputy raised, but I will examine the matter.
Proinsias De Rossa: A case was taken by Britain against Commissioner Flynn's action in making money available.
An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot debate the matter now.
Proinsias De Rossa: This is an important matter.
An Ceann Comhairle: If that is the case, it should be dealt with in the correct way.
Proinsias De Rossa: Money for voluntary organisations has been stopped by the Commission. These organisations will have to close down their operations if this funding is not made available. I urge the Minister to raise the matter at the summit this weekend to ensure the funding is made available to those organisations.
The Taoiseach: I am not aware of the issue, but I will check the details and consult the Deputy.
Ms Fitzgerald: The Minister for Defence has been threatening the Defence Forces with cut-backs, but the basic legislation to allow for the restructuring of the Defence Forces, which was due on 1 January, is not yet in place. What is the delay in bringing forward the legislation? When will the Price Waterhouse report on the future of the Air Corps and the Navy be published? There is serious discontent within those forces about the delay in publishing that report.
An Ceann Comhairle: Only the Deputy's first question is relevant.
The Taoiseach: There is no question of threats to economies affecting recruitment or equipment; I do not know where the Deputy got that idea. The Defence (Amendment) Bill is before the Government at present.
Mr. Kenny: Article 3A of Directive 9736 of the EC deals with continued access for viewers to coverage of free to air television of events of major cultural importance and must be transposed into law. On 5 February the Minister indicated that this Bill would be published before the broadcasting Bill. Is that still the case and, if so, when will it be introduced? In November 1997 the Minister said she would be in a position to publish the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill before mid-1998. In December 1997 she said she hoped to publish it by March. It is now almost mid-1998.  Will the Taoiseach give me an idea when the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill will be published?
A number of appeals are pending in regard to special areas of conservation designation and the Minister said she hoped to be in a position to notify the EU of these resolutions by April 1998. Last week she announced the establishment of an appeals board and local liaison committees and said they were in the process of being formed. When will we be in a position to notify the European Union of the appeal resolutions in respect of SAC designations? I ask this because Deputy Donal Carey and I are bursting with enthusiasm for legislation from An tAire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta, Gaeltachta agus Oileán into which we can get our teeth.
The Taoiseach: I hope the Deputy has a better chance of seeing legislation from this Minister than the last one in that Department.
Mr. Stagg: The Taoiseach is lucky he is not here.
Mr. Rabbitte: There will be a lot of questions as Gaeilge for that one.
The Taoiseach: The same questions have been asked for years. As I told Deputy Quinn last week, the broadcasting Bill and the television coverage of major sporting events Bill will, I hope, be published together in the autumn. The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill will be published during the summer recess. If I understand the Deputy's question, the other matter does not require legislation.
Mr. Rabbitte: Does the Government contemplate legislation to put the scheme for the insurance ombudsman on a statutory basis? Does the Taoiseach intend to take any action on the matter or does he stand four square behind the Minister responsible who says everything is hunky dory?
Mrs. O'Rourke: Deputy Rabbitte got a good editorial out of it.
The Taoiseach: The Minister of State comprehensively answered that in recent days and I have nothing to add.
Mr. Farrelly: Two months ago the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform told us he would introduce legislation to license the security industry. The Taoiseach informed us it would be introduced quickly. In view of the amount of air coverage the problem of doormen is getting, when will the Bill be introduced?
The Taoiseach: As I said recently, a detailed examination of the matter is under way and has not been completed. If it requires legislation, we will have a date for it. The examination is not  complete and I will ask the Minister involved to inform the Deputy when it will be complete.
Mr. Farrelly: The Taoiseach informed us that legislation would be introduced.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy may raise the matter in another way.
Mr. R. Bruton: I am not sure if an industry Bill has been promised, but it would be appropriate for the House to acknowledge the retirement of Kieran McGowan who, as leader of the IDA, provided great leadership of that organisation. He has been very dedicated in his service and has inspired confidence in the many companies which have invested here. I hope his retirement is successful and prosperous.
The Taoiseach: The Industrial Development (Enterprise Ireland) Bill, 1998, is before the House and I am sure it will be taken next week when Members will have the opportunity to speak. Kieran McGowan will be with us until November. Everyone in this House, in business and in employment will appreciate his huge contribution for over nine years.
I would like to put a brief matter on the record of the House. A Ceann Comhairle, during the recent debates on political contributions to Ray Burke, the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and I told you and Members of the House that Deputy Dermot Ahern's reports of his meetings with Mr. Murphy had been forwarded to the tribunal. That is indeed the case now but it transpired that it was not accurate when I stated it. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, had sent the statements to our lawyers on 20 April and 22 May to forward them to the tribunal. The party lawyers had, however, sought a discovery order from the tribunal in order to afford protection to the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern. This caused some delay and the statement was not finally forwarded to the tribunal until Monday last.
Mr. Rabbitte: I would like to be associated with the tributes to Kieran McGowan. His contribution has been immense and he has made a considerable patriotic contribution to the welfare of the country.
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. S. Brennan): I move:
That, notwithstanding anything in the Resolution of the Dáil of 26th June, 1997, setting out the rota in which Questions to members of the Government are to be asked, Questions for oral answer, following those next set down to the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, shall be set down to Ministers in the following temporary sequence:
 Minister for Education and Science
Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform
whereupon the sequence established by the Resolution of 26th June, 1997, shall continue with Questions to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
Question put and agreed to.
An Ceann Comhairle: Seanad Éireann has passed the Merchant Shipping (Miscellaneous) Provisions Bill, 1997, without amendment.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Select Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine has completed its consideration of Vote 31, Agriculture and Food, the Revised Estimate for the year ending 31 December 1998.
An Ceann Comhairle: Amendment No. 2 is an alternative to amendment No. 1, amendments Nos. 7, 8 and 10 are related and amendments Nos. 9 and 11 are consequential. Amendments Nos. 1, 2, 7 to 11, inclusive, may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): I move amendment No. 1:
In page 3, to delete lines 21 to 24 and substitute the following:
(b) any tape, computer disk or other thing on which any such representation is recorded;”.
These are technical drafting amendments. Amendment No. 1 is similar to amendment No. 2 in the name of Deputy Upton and proposes to delete paragraph (b) of the definition of audio representation. That paragraph, which refers to a copy of the various types of representation described in paragraph (a), is inappropriate since the latter are not something tangible and one cannot, therefore, take a copy of them. The remaining amendments simply change the drafting of paragraph (c) to accord with what is already in paragraph (a).
Amendment Nos. 7 to 11 are drafting changes to the definition of visual representation. On Committee Stage Deputy Upton and I tabled amendments to cater for the concept of a copy of any accompanying sound and the effect of those is on paragraph (d) of the definition. The parliamentary  draftsman has since advised that the whole of paragraph (d) would benefit from removal and that in its place the reference to accompanying sound should be inserted into paragraphs (a) and (c) respectively. Amendments Nos. 7 and 10 do just that.
Amendment No. 8 changes the words “a copy” to read “any copy” in paragraph (b). It is designed to convey the fact that not all the visual representations in paragraph (a) can actually be copied. As in the case of certain audio representations, certain visual representations, such as film or video representations, have intangible elements in them and are, therefore, incapable of being copied while others, such as photographs, being physical and tangible, may be copied. These amendments arose from changes made to the definitions on Committee Stage. They are purely drafting amendments and do not change the substance of the definitions. I hope they will be acceptable to the House.
Dr. Upton: Yes, the Minister is correct. I am happy to accept the alterations made which are purely technical.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 2 not moved.
An Ceann Comhairle: We come to amendment No. 3. Amendment No. 4 is cognate. I suggest, therefore, that amendments Nos. 3 and 4 be taken together.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I move amendment No. 3:
In page 3, line 28, before “relates” to insert “, in the case of a document,”.
These amendments are essentially drafting changes. They make it clear that the term “relates” in paragraphs (i) and (ii) of the definition of visual representation applies only in the case of a document as distinct from, in the case of images, pictures. This was always the intention but it will now be more precisely provided for by the addition of the words “in the case of a document”. The parliamentary draftsman has advised that the word “shows” which appears before the word “relates” in paragraphs (i) and (ii), respectively, necessitates the reason for this qualification.
There is an additional and important point that clearly it is desirable to have as much clarity and precision as possible when dealing with criminal law offences. I commend the amendments to the House.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I move amendment No. 4:
In page 3, line 31, before “relates” to insert “, in the case of a document,”.
Amendment agreed to.
An Ceann Comhairle: We come to amendment No. 5. Amendment No. 6 is an alternative. I suggest that amendments Nos. 5 and 6 be taken together.
Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 5.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I move amendment No. 5:
In page 4, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:
“(I) any book or periodical publication which has been examined by the Censorship of Publications Board and in respect of which a prohibition order under the Censorship of Publications Acts, 1929 to 1967, is not for the time being in force,”.
The effect of my amendment is to exempt from the definition of “child pornography” any book or periodical publication which has been examined by the Censorship of Publications Board, and in respect of which a prohibition order under the Censorship of Publications Acts is not for the time being in force. My amendment differs only slightly from that in the name of Deputy Upton, mainly in that it refers to a prohibition order for the time being in force. This is the terminology used in the Censorship of Publications Acts and is, therefore, preferable, from a drafting point of view. I hope it is acceptable.
Dr. Upton: The amendment is acceptable. I am happy that the Minister has accommodated the points we sought to make in the amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 6 not moved.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I move amendment No. 7:
In page 4, line 33, after “representation” to insert “, any accompanying sound”.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I move amendment No. 8:
In page 4, line 35, to delete “a” and substitute “any”.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I move amendment No. 9:
In page 4, line 35, after “document,” to insert “and”.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I move amendment No. 10:
In page 4, line 37, to delete “is recorded, and” and substitute “and any accompanying sound are recorded.”.
 Amendment agreed to.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I move amendment No. 11:
In page 4, to delete line 38.
Amendment agreed to.
Dr. Upton: I move amendment No. 12:
In page 5, line 20, to delete “such a child” and substitute “a child for such a purpose”.
This amendment is designed to achieve two functions to improve the drafting of the Bill and to ensure that someone who innocently provides accommodation is not caught within the terms of the Bill.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I am happy to accept this amendment. I thank Deputy Upton for identifying an ambiguity in the wording which his amendment corrects.
Amendment agreed to.
An Ceann Comhairle: : We come to amendment No. 13. Amendment No. 14 is an alternative. I suggest we discuss amendments Nos. 13 and 14 together.
Dr. Upton: I move amendment No. 13:
In page 5, line 31, to delete “a term not exceeding 14 years” and substitute “life”.
The purpose of this amendment, as indicated on Second Stage, is to increase the penalties for child kidnapping for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): We are talking about the trafficking of children, the taking of children, their abduction and their usage for sexual exploitation. One has only to read the daily descriptions in the newspapers of court cases to learn that unfortunately, in the past number of years, the number of cases of child abuse which has come to light has been extraordinary by any standard. The big question is whether it was always going on, whether it was undetected or if the recent surge is a new phenomenon. The important point is that cases are being detected, that the perpetrators are being brought to justice and that heavy sentences are being handed down. I hope the heavy sentences will act as a definite deterrent to any kind of abuse or exploitation of children. It seems to be the only way to deal with it. From the point of view of the abduction of children and their usage for sexual exploitation purposes, this is something we have not managed to detect or uncover on an organised basis. However, we have seen in other jurisdictions, particularly in the Continent, cases of children being abducted and on the missing list for some considerable period. There has been a sorry saga of missing bodies, mutilated, being concealed under floor boards and in cupboards or back gardens. Where such an offence has happened there is a definite possibility of similar offences here.
 In view of the recent publicity in relation to sexual offences, we have to set down in the clearest possible terms the maximum penalties from the point of view of deterring such people in engaging in the exploitation or the abduction of children for sexual purposes. We are asking that the term be 20 years but not necessarily 20 years. It is not the same as a mandatory minimum sentence which will come into effect, if the Minister has his way in relation to the Criminal Justice Bill, which will be before the House in the afternoon. We are asking that the term not exceed 20 years, in other words that the court will have absolute discretion in relation to exercising its jurisdiction to decide the term. The term could be any number of years, up to a maximum of 20.
Mr. O'Donoghue: The offence in section 3(1) of trafficking children across international borders for the purpose of their sexual exploitation carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The ingredient in that offence which warrants such a severe penalty is the fact that in the commission of the offence, children are moved across international borders away from their own communities and separated from their own culture and language. The offence in section 3(2) of taking, detaining or otherwise using children for the purpose of their sexual exploitation lacks the international cross-border aspects of the section 3(1) offence. Accordingly, it warrants a lesser penalty, proportionate to the lesser, albeit still serious, nature of the offence.
In the Bill as initiated section 3(2) offences carried a penalty of up to ten years' imprisonment. On Committee Stage this was increased to 14 years by way of amendment in my name agreed by the committee.
Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 in the names of Deputies Upton and Higgins, respectively, which have been retabled for Report Stage propose to increase the penalty of 14 years to life and 20 years respectively. As I pointed out on Committee Stage, a 20 year prison sentence is, equally, if not more punitive than a life sentence since, in practice the average amount of time a lifer spends in prison can be well under 20 years. On that view the result of the Deputies' amendments would be, effectively, to subject all the offences in section 3 to one and the same penalty. The difficulty with that approach is that it fails to take account of the fact that there is a distinction between the offences. Section 3(1) offences are without doubt of a more serious nature since they involve taking children out of their own country and into what will be, in all likelihood, a completely different environment and culture. The severity of these sentences is rightly reflected in a punishment of life imprisonment. To subject the section 3(2) offences to a similar penalty would not take due account of the differences between the two subsections.
Section 17 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act, 1997, which makes it an offence to take or detain a child to remove him or her  from the lawful control of any person having such control, carries a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment. In the committee, I doubled that penalty where the taking or detaining is for the purpose of a child's sexual exploitation. That is as far as I can go.
I appreciate the Deputy's desire to put in place the severest penalties for what are horrific offences but we, as legislators, cannot close our eyes to the fact that there is a distinction between the offences in section 3. The principle of proportionality of punishment must be applied. I am satisfied the existing penalty differential is consonant with that principle.
When Ireland's first report to the United Nations committee on the rights of the child was being considered in Geneva last January, one member of the committee, while commending us on our pioneering legislation on the sexual exploitation of children, was somewhat shocked to hear that the penalties provided for in this Bill ranged as high as life imprisonment. While I do not have any difficulty defending the one penalty of life imprisonment I am providing for, I would suggest that the comment of the committee member should give us cause for some thought. In all the circumstances, I hope the House will appreciate that I am not in a position to agree these amendments.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 14 not moved.
Dr. Upton: I move amendment No. 15:
In page 5, line 41, after “child,” to insert “uses the child, or”.
The purpose of this amendment is to extend the offence to cover a case where the child's custodian engages in sexual exploitation rather than simply allows it to happen.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I am rather surprised that Deputy Upton is moving this amendment since its effect has already been incorporated into the Bill under an amendment in my name taken on Committee Stage. The result of my committee amendment is the new section 3(2)(b) of the Bill which makes it an offence for any person to use a child for the purpose of his or her sexual exploitation. My amendment was an alternative to this amendment which Deputy Upton tabled but did not move on Committee Stage.
As I explained in committee, the difficulty I had with Deputy Upton's amendment was that it would extend the scope of section 4 beyond the persons having the custody, charge or care of a child allowing the child to be used for the production of child pornography. This is something we were advised against when drafting the Bill to avoid overlap with other sections. Instead, I opted to extend section 3(2) to include the offence of “using”, thus the new section 3(2) offence is now applied to persons who take or  detain a child for the purpose of his or her sexual exploitation, to persons who use a child for the purpose of his or her sexual exploitation and to persons who organise or facilitate such taking, detaining or use. In so doing, I cast the net more widely than amendment No. 15 because, first, sexual exploitation has the wide meaning assigned to it by section 3(3) and includes much more besides the production of child pornography and, second, the “using” offence now applies to any person, regardless of whether he or she has custody, charge or care of the child.
I am confident, therefore, that the Bill as it stands ensures that the use of children for their sexual exploitation or in the making of child pornography is fully catered for. Accordingly, I fail to see the need for this amendment which, though not moved in committee, was nevertheless enshrined in the Bill in a wider format by way of alternative amendments I brought forward on Committee Stage.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
An Ceann Comhairle: We now come to amendment No. 16. Amendment No. 17 is an alternative, No. 19 is cognate and No. 20 is an alternative to No. 19. It is proposed that we take amendments Nos. 16, 17, 19 and 20 together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I move amendment No. 16:
In page 5, line 44, to delete “10 years” and substitute “14 years”.
In committee I undertook to re-examine whether the maximum prison penalties in sections 4 and 5 should be increased. I now propose to increase both penalties from ten to 14 years. Fourteen years is consistent with the penalty attaching to the section 3(2) offence of taking or detaining a child for the purpose of his or her sexual exploitation. Deputy Higgins is proposing that the sections 4 and 5 penalties be increased to 20 and 25 years respectively.
I do not intend to get into what I would describe as a competitive exercise of proposing the most severe penalty. The principle of proportionality of sentence must be preserved. Section 4 is based on a provision in the Children Act, 1908, which makes it an offence for a person who has the custody, charge or care of a girl to cause or encourage the seduction, prostitution or unlawful carnal knowledge of that girl. The maximum term of imprisonment in the 1908 Act is two years. The breach of trust involved in the offence in section 4 is no greater than that in the 1908 Act offence.
While I readily agree that two years is not adequate in the 1908 Act, a seven fold increase to 14 years under this Bill is adequate. In the circumstances, I cannot accept Deputy Higgins's amendments. I do not want a situation to develop where a person allowing or causing an offence to  occur is penalised further than a person who actually carries out the abuse.
I have a similar difficulty with Deputy Higgins's amendment No. 19 which proposes to increase the section 5 penalty from 14 to 25 years. Twenty-five years is, for all practicable purposes, likely to be greater than a life sentence. It would also be completely out of line with penalties for the same offences in other countries. In Canada, for example, the maximum penalty for child pornography offences is ten years. In the United Kingdom, under their Protection of Children Act, 1978, the maximum penalty is just three years.
In proposing to increase the sections 4 and 5 penalties from ten to 14 years, I am going as far as I can go in accordance with the requirement for proportionality of punishment. I hope my amendments will be accepted.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 17 not moved.
An Ceann Comhairle: We now come to amendment No. 18. Amendments Nos. 21 and 23 are related so the proposal is that we discuss Nos. 18, 21 and 23 together, by agreement.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I move amendment No. 18:
In page 6, line 13, to delete “section 6(2)” and substitute “sections 6(2) and 6(3)”.
The effect of these amendments would be to extend to section 5 the defence in section 6(3) of possession of child pornography for bona fide research purposes. Such a defence was inserted in section 6 on Committee Stage. There is no logical reason it should not also cover the offences in section 5.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I move amendment No. 19:
In page 6, line 32, to delete “10 years” and substitute “14 years”.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 20 not moved.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I move amendment No. 21:
In page 6, lines 37 and 38, to delete “subsection (2)” and substitute “subsections (2) and (3)”.
Amendment agreed to.
Dr. Upton: I move amendment No. 22:
In page 7, line 6, after “or” to insert “where he or she proves that the possession was for another lawful and reasonable purpose, or”.
The Minister has broadly dealt with the concerns behind this amendment and, accordingly, I do not wish to press it.
 Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. O'Donoghue: I move amendment No. 23:
In page 7, line 10, after “under” to insert “section 5(1) or”.
Amendment agreed to.
Dr. Upton: I move amendment No. 25:
In page 8, after line 45, to insert the following:
“11.—The Sexual Offences (Jurisdiction) Act, 1996, is hereby amended in the Schedule thereto by the insertion of the following paragraphs after paragraph 9:
‘10. Section 3 of the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act, 1998.
11. Section 4 of the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act, 1998.’.”.
On Committee Stage the Minister indicated he was inclined to consider this amendment favourably, although he put in an escape clause in that he gave no commitment. I hope he has considered it. The purpose is to broaden the scope of the Bill and allow proceedings to be taken against Irish nationals or residents who contravene sections 3 and 4 of the Bill by committing an offence against a child in another country. I look forward to the Minister's response.
Mr. O'Donoghue: Deputy Upton will recall my modest boast that the Sexual Offences (Jurisdiction) Act, 1996, was a Private Members' Bill which I introduced in Opposition on behalf of myself, Deputy Eoin Ryan and the Fianna Fáil Party.
Deputy Upton is concerned with that Act in his amendment. On Committee Stage, I asked him to resubmit his amendment on Report Stage so that there would be more opportunity to consider its feasibility. My initial reaction was that the Long Title to the Sexual Offences (Jurisdiction) Act, 1996, appeared to rule out the offences under sections 3 and 4 of this Bill. The Long Title refers to sexual acts involving children done by citizens. The offences contained in sections 3 and 4 of this Bill, namely trafficking and taking a child for the purposes of sexual exploitation and allowing a child to be used for the production of child pornography, are of a more indirect nature. In that regard, they are also different from the offences of the type listed in the Schedule to the 1996 Act.
Having examined the matter further, I am happy to tell the House I can accept the amendment.  I can do so because the wording of the relevant section of the 1996 Act is broader than that contained in the Long Title in that it refers to a person doing an act against or involving a child. That wording is broad enough to encompass sections 3 and 4 of the Bill. Accordingly, the precise wording of section 2 of the 1996 Act makes Deputy Upton's amendment feasible.
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue and I hope he accepts that I am not just modest but generous as well. He can now speak of his contribution to this legislation with his accustomed modesty.
Dr. Upton: I concur with the points the Minister has made. I thought he was going to say he was perfect but I am glad he restrained himself at the last minute. I thank him for his remarks.
Amendment agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments and passed.
Dr. Upton: I move amendment No. 1:
In page 3, line 11, to delete “amended” where it secondly occurs and substitute “inserted”.
The point of the amendment is an essentially technical one. The issue may have arisen because the Department has had to perform a rushed job and it seems it has got it wrong. The Minister denied yesterday that he is repealing his legislation of last month but that is precisely what he is doing. Last month's Act amended the 1921 legislation by inserting an entirely new provision, section 1A, which outlined the circumstances under which the terms of reference of a tribunal could be amended. Today's Bill substitutes a new version of that section. It is a replacement of the section the Minister introduced in his legislation of only a few weeks ago. At the time he was warned his package would be ineffective. It is incorrect to say, therefore, that the 1921 Act is being amended by the substitution of section 1A as amended by last month's Act. Section 1A was inserted in the original legislation last month and is now being replaced by the provisions of this new Bill.
Mr. O'Donoghue: What Deputy Upton has said is not related to the amendment tabled and I reject everything he has said. I have explained that this Bill is an amendment to the previous legislation, not repealing legislation. The happy news is that this is only a drafting amendment which proposes the substitution of the word “inserted” for the word “amended” before the words “by the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Act, 1998” in section 1 of the  Bill. Despite the inaccuracy of Deputy Upton's comments, I propose to accept the amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
An Ceann Comhairle: Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are related and may be taken together.
Dr. Upton: I move amendment No. 2:
In page 3, to delete lines 21 to 25 and substitute the following:
“(a) the tribunal consents to the proposed amendment following consultations between the tribunal and—
(i) the Attorney General on behalf of the Minister, and
(ii) the authorised representatives of any group, recognised for the time being under the standing orders of either House of the Oireachtas, which has sought to enter into such consultations with the tribunal on the question as to whether such an amendment should be made.”.
This is a fundamental amendment in that it is at the core of the process. It sets out to broaden the consultation process by allowing the various parties in the Dáil to become involved in the process to a greater extent than is proposed by the Minister.
Mr. O'Donoghue: Under the Bill as it stands, both Houses would be in a position to resolve that the terms of reference of a tribunal be amended where the tribunal consents to the amendment or requests it. Where it consents to the amendment, the Bill stipulates that the consent must follow on consultation between the tribunal and the Attorney General on behalf of the Minister. The responsibility of the Minister would be to make an order incorporating the new terms of reference and designating the tribunal whose terms of reference were changed. It is normal and proper for the Attorney General to act as the facilitator or channel of communication in this way and the Bill gives statutory expression to that role in the delicate context of the matter of amending the terms of reference of sitting tribunals of inquiry.
Amendment No. 2 seeks to provide that the consent of the tribunal must follow on consultation with what are described as:
the authorised representatives of any group, recognised for the time being under the standing orders of either House of the Oireachtas, which has sought to enter into such consultations with the tribunal on the question as to whether such an amendment should be made
In effect, the amendment seeks to provide as a condition of a tribunal's consent to any changes  in its terms of reference, that it must have engaged in consultations with representatives of political groups, including their legal advisers, where those groups have sought to enter into such consultations.
This amendment could lead to an undesirable situation whereby a tribunal is confronted with opposing views and would be expected to arbitrate on those views. The appropriate venue for debate on the issues involved in any proposal to amend the terms of reference of a tribunal is the Houses of the Oireachtas and not the tribunal, whose functions were never intended to deal with such matters. To say the least, the amendment would constitute and unwieldy intrusion into the operation of a tribunal and could create considerable confusion for a tribunal.
The exercise involved in formulating appropriate terms of reference and having them agreed in both Houses can be difficult. The amendment would permit a multitude of authorised representatives of any group to conduct separate and distinct consultations with a tribunal. Inevitably, in some cases this would lead to conflicts of proposals for amended terms of reference, delays in agreeing the terms of reference and expose the tribunal to unending representations and correspondence. This would deflect the tribunal from its purpose. I am satisfied the amendment is ill-conceived and unacceptable and I have no basis for supporting it.
Amendment No. 3 appears to assume the Bill does not cater for the circumstance in which a proposal for amending the terms of reference might come from the Opposition. Any such assumption is incorrect. As I indicated in my Second Stage speech, the Bill is concerned with tribunals of inquiry to which the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, is applied. Section 1 of that Act requires that prior to the making of a ministerial order which applies to the Act, both Houses must have resolved that it is expedient that a tribunal be established for inquiring into a definite matter of urgent public importance.
The Bill provides that the ministerial order shall be amended pursuant to a resolution of both Houses, subject to certain conditions which I have outlined. There is nothing in the Bill or the 1921 Act, as amended, that prohibits the Oireachtas from resolving by way of acceptance of the terms of an Opposition motion, or where the Government joins in the motion, amending the terms of reference of a tribunal. However, the principle of the consent of the tribunal to changes in its terms of reference, the need for which is acknowledged in both amendments, needs to be borne in mind.
Because of the fundamental importance of that consent, it is reasonable to assume that the Houses, under their working arrangements, would arrange in suitable cases through the relevant Minister and the Attorney General for the necessary consultations to be engaged in with the tribunal to seek its consent. There are precedents for the Attorney General working in this way and, in the circumstances, I do not consider that  there is need to amend the Bill to cover the point at issue. For these reasons I will not accept either amendment.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): What is amusing about the Minister's response is the clarity and definite tones in which he speaks. On 26 March 1998 and 1 April 1998 we made our second stab at getting a Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Bill right. We had the original Bill, the No. 2 Bill and now the No. 3 Bill. When it came to proposing reasonable amendments, the Minister pointed out, particularly in his summation on Second Stage, that the only way of amending the terms of reference of an established tribunal was if a request came from the tribunal. That was in the wake of the request from Mr. Justice Flood to lift the deadline of 20 June 1985 to allow his investigations to be more retrospective.
The Minister stated:
Anybody who went to Mr. Justice Moriarty, or to any other judge in charge of a tribunal, and asked him if he felt the terms of reference of his tribunal should be amended might be considered by many to be interfering with the judicial independence of the Chairperson of the tribunal. If any member of the Government did that, legitimate questions would be asked in the House
I proposed an amendment to the effect that the Government, with the consent of the tribunal, has requested the amendment. That is what this Bill is doing. Had we done so at the time, Mr. Justice Flood's investigations would be up and running. However, at the time the Minister did not have the magnanimity to accept the spirit of what was on offer from this side of the House.
In his Second Stage speech yesterday, the Minister said that while the content of what was proposed was reasonable, the problem was that there was no mechanism to enable it to happen. On Committee or Report Stage we could easily have inserted the mechanism to ensure that everything would be procedurally correct to enable the tribunal to have its terms of reference amended if the Government felt there was a case for requesting a further extension of those terms. However, that amendment was turned down.
Another amendment was also definitively turned down by the Minister. Amending the terms of a tribunal can be done in three ways: first, at the behest of the tribunal, second, subject to a request from the Government, and, third, if the Houses of the Oireachtas, with the consent of the tribunal, have requested the amendment. I made the point in vain on Committee and Report Stages that the Houses are the initiating agency which give powers to the tribunal by way of legislation and by deciding or amending the terms of reference. We vest the tribunal with its powers.
I reiterate what I said on the last occasion we discussed the merits of this amendment. It is right and proper that the Dáil, as the elected assembly of the people, should have the right to decide. It  is unlikely that it would invoke that right because if the Government does not want to accede to the will of the Oireachtas it is most unlikely to happen. However, there is nothing wrong procedurally or in principle with inserting into the Bill the principle that if the Houses of the Oireachtas decide by resolution that they wish to amend the terms of reference of a tribunal then that power should exist.
On the last occasion the Minister made a meal of who was going to be the conduit. There would be nothing to prohibit the Ceann Comhairle and the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad notifying the chairperson of the tribunal — there would be no horse trading, no bartering, no ultimatum, no attempt to put a gun to the tribunal's head, to interfere with its procedures or prejudice its independence — that the Houses of the Oireachtas had decided by a majority vote to pass a resolution to extend and amend its terms of reference. It is most unlikely such a provision would be invoked. If the Government does not want it to happen, it will not. Despite the Minister's allegation on the last occasion that this would constitute an unwarranted interference with the work of the tribunal, there is no reason to believe such an amendment would not be accepted as it would be in accordance with best democratic principles.
What issues were considered in the discussions between the Attorney General and the chairpersons of the tribunals, Mr. Justice Moriarty and Mr. Justice Flood, in deciding which was the most appropriate to consider the matter?
Mr. O'Donoghue: This legislation preserves the principle of consent to ensure the independence and integrity of the tribunal are maintained and respected. Under Deputy Upton's amendment various groups would be able to seek an amendment of the tribunal's terms of reference. This means that, in all probability, the tribunal would have to arbitrate. This would not be desirable.
Under the legislation the Oireachtas is empowered to make a resolution provided the tribunal, having been approached by the Attorney General on behalf of the Minister, consents to it. There is a good reason for this, the consultative process will take place prior to the resolution being presented in the Oireachtas. It would be futile for the Oireachtas to pass a resolution to amend terms of reference if it were to transpire the tribunal would not consent to it.
Deputy Higgins referred to what I said during the debate on the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment)(No. 1) Bill, l998. I said then that approaches to the tribunal from whatever source would be an undesirable development. It is not something I favour. This legislation relates to exceptional circumstances. I do not envisage approaches being made to the tribunal by the Attorney General on behalf of the Minister except in the most exceptional circumstances. I also said that the mechanism being presented by the Opposition appeared to be fatally flawed in the same way that the mechanism being  presented in Deputy Upton's amendment is fatally flawed for the simple reason that it would ultimately result in the tribunal arbitrating on wholly different arguments.
Yesterday, Deputies Higgins and Upton made much of what they considered to be the virtuous manner in which they had tabled amendments which I said were unworkable. They made the argument that there was no need for legislation, despite the fact that the performance of the rainbow coalition Government in relation to the McCracken Tribunal casts doubt on it. In the absence of legislation a resolution passed by the Oireachtas to change the terms of reference would, in all probability, be struck down. This would have extremely serious consequences for the tribunal. I would describe this as the minimalist approach and it is not one the Government is adopting.
I have been at pains to point out that the Attorney General was extremely careful in approaching the chairpersons of the tribunals for the obvious reason that I have advanced time and again in the House, the importance of maintaining the integrity and independence of the tribunals. I have every confidence that the chairpersons of the tribunals would insist on this and that the Attorney General would not have it otherwise.
Deputy Higgins asked what issues were considered in the consultations between the Attorney General and Mr. Justice Moriarty and Mr. Justice Flood. A considerable amount has been made of the consultations between the Attorney General and Mr. Justice Moriarty and Mr. Justice Flood. I want to make it perfectly clear, and it is important that I do so, that the approach the Attorney General made to those two honourable judges was purely to establish whether either would be willing or in a position to accede to an amendment of their terms of reference.
The Leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Quinn, stated during the debate in this House on 3 June last, that he wrote to the chairmen of both tribunals regarding the consultations which took place between the Attorney General and Mr. Justice Moriarty and Mr. Justice Flood. In a joint reply the chairmen confirmed they had been contacted by the Attorney General and were satisfied those approaches by him were in the course of the proper discharge of his functions. They also confirmed the Attorney General did not advance any specific proposal to alter the terms of reference of the tribunals.
It must be clear from what I said that approaches of this nature should and could occur only in exceptional circumstances. I do not believe Deputies can be serious in making a proposal or assertion that any group of whatever hue could approach the chairperson of a tribunal and seek to amend its terms of reference when such groups may have little conception or understanding of the constitutional position and the necessity  to maintain and uphold, at all times, due process. In general terms the reservations I expressed are correct. These are exceptional circumstances and only in those circumstances could an approach be justified. The amendment tabled by Deputy Upton would be fraught with danger and, in the final analysis, could lead only to complete confusion and possibly utter chaos. I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.
Dr. Upton: When the Minister was speaking on the earlier Bill there was no mention of exceptional circumstances being grounds for someone approaching the tribunal. At that time there was certainty, but times have changed and the Minister is modulating the story. We now have a proviso, an exclusion clause, which relates to exceptional circumstances. The certainty and sweeping generalities, which the Minister set out earlier, have been modified by exceptional circumstances, which have not been defined.
Regarding what the Minister said about the generality of what I am proposing, he spoke in terms of any group of whatever hue approaching the tribunal. That is an extraordinary interpretation of what I am proposing. I am talking about Members of the Oireachtas, our colleagues who were elected by the people, who were described by the Minister as people of whatever hue. I assume those who were elected by the people are responsible, sensible, understand the Constitution and are committed to upholding due process. I would like the Minister to set out the grounds as to why that is not the case and why I should not make that assumption. The amendment refers to authorised representatives of any group recognised for the time being under the Standing Orders of the Houses of the Oireachtas. We are talking about political parties, groups of political parties or groups of politicians. Our colleagues were described by the Minister in terms of any group of whatever hue and all that is attached to that. That is insulting to Members on this side and Members on the Government side if they wish to categorise themselves under that heading. The amendment is balanced. We are talking about a group of two or more Members who were elected by the public. It is valid to assume our colleagues and those who would be part of such groups would behave in a responsible manner. I believe they understand the Constitution and, if they do not, they would get whatever advice is needed before they dash off to the tribunal. I have no doubt they would uphold due process.
I can understand the Minister has to go on like this and that he is editing as he proceeds. This is a roll over job. Changes and modifications have been made and the Minister has forgotten what he said earlier. We had resonating certainty when the Minister was on this side of the House and a good deal of that remained when he moved to the other side. When he spoke on his earlier Bill there were sweeping generalities and now he has referred to exceptional circumstances. Perhaps he  would give us some idea of the scope of those exceptional circumstances.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): It is important to emphasise we are not trying to foist on the tribunal, against its will, any additional terms of reference, any change or any obligations without its consent. Built into the principle of what Deputy Upton is advancing and what I am proposing is the consent of the tribunal. The two fundamental principles of consultation and consent are built into it. As Deputy Upton said, to describe in disparaging terms groups of parliamentarians elected here as groups of any hue or persuasion is unfair and ungenerous on the part of the Minister.
I hope we will not have to come back here to deal with a tribunals of inquiry (evidence) (amendment) (No. 4) Bill. We should provide for every contingency and duly acknowledge the right of Members to advance a resolution to advocate a change in the terms of reference and bring it to the attention of the chairman of a tribunal. That should be considered by the Minister. In addition to the tribunal having the right to seek a change in its terms of reference and the Government having the right to seek to make a change to them, we are proposing that the Oireachtas, collectively, by virtue of a majority vote in this and the other House, should be able to recommend that the terms of reference of a tribunal be amended without any obligation on it to accept such amendment and without applying any pressure on it other than requesting it to accede to the majority will of both Houses of the Oireachtas.
Mr. O'Donoghue: What the Deputy is proposing is for the most part contained in the Bill. Deputies Upton and O'Higgins take offence at my saying that a group of any hue could go to the tribunal. However, this is the reality of the amendment being put forward. As a colleague once said, the tragedy is that it is true. Every group has a hue and a group without one could be described as a hue without a group.
Deputy Upton referred to rolling over. At times when I hear Deputy Upton commenting on the legislation, I feel we are rolling over only because he is tickling me. There is no doubt about there being exceptional circumstances, something I have outlined on several occasions. The circumstances are so exceptional that Deputy Higgins is referring to the possibility of having a No. 4 Bill as if this was the third enactment. However, the Opposition's No. 2 Private Members' Bill was introduced between Bills Nos. 1 and 3. Therefore, even though the title of the Bill is the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill, it is only the second Bill.
Deputy Upton has been converted to the view that the consent of the tribunal should be obtained in the context of the Bill. He had no such concerns when the first Bill was being discussed. He simply wanted to provide for a change  in the terms of reference whether the tribunal liked it or not. At that time I decried his attempt to amend the legislation on the basis that it would not work. Whilst he has at least come to the conclusion that the tribunal should consent to a change in its terms of reference, he has now decided that any group recognised under the Standing Orders of the House should be allowed go to the tribunal to amend its terms of reference. He says this provision would only refer to a political party. However, I take it the Houses of the Oireachtas recognise more groups than political parties.
Deputy Upton is not proposing what is contained in the amendment but what he interprets the amendment to mean. In these circumstances he should have constructed the amendment to ensure we all knew precisely what he meant so that if his amendment was accepted everybody would know where they stood. On his own interpretation of his amendment, nobody but he would understand it. This is an extraordinary position. Even if he is infallible, he should share his understanding with us.
Regarding Deputy Higgins's amendment, I repeat what I said earlier and cannot add further to that position. This legislation is not repealing legislation but provides for a specific circumstance. In the final analysis the issue is under the control of the Oireachtas because, following consultation, the resolution has to be passed by the Houses. It cannot be passed anywhere else. Therefore, there is no question of a negation of the democratic process.
The Bill amends legislation due to exceptional circumstances which have arisen and which could not have been foreseen. I do not accept what the Opposition has been saying. The legislation is reasonable and the amendments should be rejected.
Amendment put and declared lost.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): I move amendment No. 3:
In page 3, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:
“(b) the Houses of the Oireachtas with the consent of the tribunal have requested the amendment, or”.
Amendment put and declared lost.
Dr. Upton: I move amendment No. 4:
In page 3, to delete lines 28 to 35 and substitute the following:
“(2) A tribunal—
(a) shall not request an amendment under subsection (1) where, but
(b) shall consent to an amendment under that subsection unless, it is satisfied that such amendment would prejudice the  legal rights of a person who has co-operated with or provided information to the tribunal under its terms of reference.”.
The Bill as drafted envisages that a tribunal may consent to or request a change in its terms of reference. In other words, even if both Houses of the Oireachtas made a request the tribunal might refuse to consent to it. The Bill leaves it completely up to the tribunal to decide the grounds on which it may refuse such a request. Section 1(2) provides that “without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1)” a tribunal should not consent to a change if it would prejudice the legal rights of a third party. The expression “without prejudice to the generality” means that any other argument which happens to appeal to the tribunal as a ground for refusing to consent to changes in its terms of reference is also valid. The amendment seeks to confine the grounds which a tribunal might raise for refusing to agree to a change in its terms of reference solely to the risk of prejudice to the legal rights of parties before it. Perhaps the Minister will let us know if there are other reasons why a tribunal might be justified in refusing to comply with a resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas.
Mr. O'Donoghue: Under the existing provisions of the Bill a tribunal must not consent to a request to change its terms of reference where it is satisfied that such change would prejudice the legal rights of a person who has co-operated with or provided information to the tribunal under its terms of reference. Deputy Upton's amendment purports to substitute that provision with a provision that would require a tribunal not to request a change in its terms of reference where it is satisfied that such amendment would prejudice the legal rights of a person who has co-operated with and provided information to the tribunal under its terms of reference and to consent to the amendment unless it is satisfied that the legal rights of persons would be prejudiced. The effect of the amendment would be to compel a sitting tribunal to agree to a change in its terms of reference in cases where the rights of persons before it would not be prejudiced.
The amendment is strange and oblivious to the reality that exists in relation to sitting tribunals. The reality is that a tribunal in operation is seized of extremely onerous duties placed on it by existing terms of reference. It may have already published its terms of reference in newspapers, sought information, considered whether information supplied is within its terms of reference, considered requests for representations and taken evidence. If may, for example, have advanced to a crucial point in its deliberations and be nearing completion of its work. Clearly these considerations, amongst others, may lead a tribunal to the conclusion that it should not agree to a change in its terms of reference. It is entirely wrong to impose amended terms of reference on a sitting tribunal without it having a say in the matter. I  am satisfied a tribunal in such circumstances is best placed to say whether amended terms of reference are acceptable. The principle of consent is fundamental to the Bill. The amendment seeks to remove this principle and I propose, therefore, to reject it.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Amendment No. 5, in the name of Deputy Upton, has been ruled out of order as it is outside the scope of the Bill.
Amendment No. 5 not moved.
Section 1, as amended, agreed to.
Amendment No. 6 not moved.
Dr. Upton: I move amendment No. 7:
In page 4, after line 9, to insert the following subsection:
“(3) The Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Act, 1998, is hereby repealed.”.
This amendment effectively calls on the Minister to accept that this legislation could have been better. The Minister should repeal last month's Bill once this Bill is passed, as effectively nothing will remain of it.
Mr. O'Donoghue: Long ago, bicycle races known as “round the houses” races used to take place. We seem to have returned to our starting point, at least in Deputy Upton's eyes. The Deputy's amendment has obviously been tabled for mischievous reasons as it makes no sense. Amendment No. 7 purports to repeal the 1998 Act. Amendment No. 6, which has been withdrawn, is consequential on acceptance of amendment No. 7. The amendments are not necessary. If they were acceptable, which they are not, a further amendment would be necessary in the case of the collective citation referred to section 2 (2). In any event, Deputy Upton is attempting to convey the impression that the provisions of the 1998 (No. 1) Act are being repealed.
The Bill currently before the House provides for the re-enactment, with amendment, of the provisions of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Act, 1998. The 1998 Act inserts a new section 1A into the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921. The new section provides that an instrument which appoints a tribunal shall be amended pursuant to a resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas, subject to the conditions in which the tribunal has requested the amendment and that it is satisfied such an amendment would not prejudice the legal rights of any person who has co-operated with, or provided information to, the tribunal under its terms of reference. The Bill before the House extends the provisions inserted in the 1921 Act by the Tribunals  of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Act, 1998, providing additionally that an instrument which appoints a tribunal shall, pursuant to a resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas, be amended by a Minister of the Government where the tribunal consents to the proposed amendment and following consultation between the tribunal and the Attorney General on behalf of the Minister.
Deputy Upton appeared to have undergone an earlier conversion to the principle that the tribunal would consent to the amendment of the terms of reference. In a later amendment, he appeared to have a sudden reconversion to his original position that the principle of consent should be abandoned. In a final, desperate throw of the dice, the Deputy then decided that the 1998 Act, as enacted, should be repealed in its entirety. The Deputy believes in consent; he does not believe in consent. He believes in the legislation; he does not believe in the legislation. It is very difficult to know precisely where the Deputy stands. In any event, there are no circumstances under which I could accept his amendment.
It is quite clear that if Deputy Upton's amendments were accepted, legislation would exist on the Statute Book which would amount to saying “whatever you're having yourself”. That would not make any sense. I cannot accept the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 2 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported, with amendment, and passed.
Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): This Bill clearly represents major criminal law reform. I have been heartened since its introduction by the high level of public support for the measures in it. Under its main provisions persons trafficking in drugs to the value of £10,000 or more will face mandatory minimum sentences of ten years; trials will take place more quickly through the abolition of preliminary examinations; courts will automatically initiate an inquiry into the assets of people convicted of drug trafficking offences with a view to confiscating those assets; the Garda will have to spend less time in court through extending the type of evidence which can be given by certificate; and, the rules relating to a court taking into account guilty pleas are being placed on a clear statutory basis.
While this Bill forms only part of a major programme of criminal law reform being undertaken  by this Government, it is, nevertheless, clear practical evidence of the Government's policy of zero tolerance towards crime, particularly, but not exclusively, drug trafficking. The Bill contains a series of strong measures which are, regrettably, necessary as a response to those who inflict such harm on our community.
I do not pretend that the answer to our community's drug problem lies exclusively in criminal justice measures. Demand reduction, particularly in the context of social exclusion, must be addressed. The Government recognises this as a priority and is taking action on a wide range of fronts. However, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I have particular responsibility in relation to the supply side of the drugs problem and it is incumbent on me to bring forward measures which will disrupt, to the greatest extent possible, those who engage in the deadly trade of drug trafficking.
I wish to make some general comments on the main provisions of the Bill before going into more detail about the sections. I first wish to mention one issue not included in the Bill as drafted but which I hope to address by way of amendment on Committee Stage.
The House will be aware that the report of the steering group on the efficiency and effectiveness of the Garda Síochána contained a number of recommendations for changes in our criminal law, some of which would be fundamental. The group recognised in its report that there would be a need for an assessment of the constitutional and European Convention on Human Rights implications of their proposals. In this context, earlier this year I established an expert group to examine the recommendations for criminal law reform contained in the Garda SMI report. The group has made significant progress and I hope to have its final report at the end of this month. It will form the basis for the preparation of a new major Criminal Justice Bill.
It was represented to me that one recommendation of the SMI group needed to be dealt with as a matter of urgency and, if at all possible, in the Bill before the House. The recommendation related to the need for a procedure whereby a person in custody on remand or serving a sentence can be arrested or detained and the crime investigated as if he or she were not already in custody. I asked the expert group to look at this recommendation first and it has given me its proposals for change to address this issue. I hope to move an amendment on Committee State which will give effect to the group's proposals.
The Bill amends the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977, through the addition of a new offence of possession of drugs with a value of £10,000 or more with intent to supply. It provides for a minimum penalty of ten years' imprisonment to be imposed where a person is convicted of the offence. This will apply automatically subject to certain limited exceptions relating to the interests of justice. A court will be able to take into account, for example, the fact that a person pleaded  guilty or materially assisted the Garda Síochána in the investigation of the offence.
While the normal statutory remission will apply to persons sentenced for the new offence, the Bill prohibits granting temporary release except for grave humanitarian reasons and any such release can only be for the limited duration necessitated by those reasons. Where the court is satisfied that a person convicted of the offence was addicted to drugs and that addiction was a substantial factor in the commission of the offence, it may list the sentence for review after not less than half the sentence has been served.
At present, subject to certain exceptions, a person facing trial on indictment has a right to a preliminary examination in the District Court, although the accused can waive that right. At the preliminary examination stage the District Court can decide that the accused has no case to answer, although in practice this rarely happens. The procedures surrounding preliminary examinations can be cumbersome, particularly when depositions have to be taken from witnesses.
I am concerned that in some cases the procedure might be used as no more than a delaying tactic by people charged with serious offences. While preliminary examinations have existed in one form or another since the 17th century, developments in the law and practice have undermined the rationale behind them. In particular, the fact that a person cannot be tried on indictment without the involvement of the Director of Public Prosecutions deals sufficiently with the question of an independent element being involved in a person being tried on indictment.
In the circumstances, and particularly in the context of reducing delays in bringing persons to trial, the Bill abolishes preliminary examinations. As a necessary safeguard, it provides for a new procedure under which an accused who is to be tried on indictment may apply to the trial court before the trial is commenced to dismiss the charge or charges on the basis that the prosecution case is insufficient to support a conviction by a jury.
Under the Criminal Justice Act, 1994, where a person is convicted on indictment the court can determine whether the offender has benefited from the offence and can make an order confiscating money to the value of any such benefit. This process can, at present, only be initiated on the application of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Bill changes this by providing that on conviction for a drug trafficking offence the court will automatically determine whether the offender has benefited — unless the court is satisfied that the amount which might be recovered would not be sufficient to justify the making of a determination — with a view to making a confiscation order.
Under current legislation the Garda Síochána can give certain procedural evidence to a court by way of a certificate, for example, evidence of making an arrest. The Bill extends this to cover  evidence in relation to the custody of evidence and should help to reduce the amount of time which gardaí have to spend in court, freeing them for duty in the community.
At present, the rules governing the consideration by the courts of guilty pleas are contained in case law. The Bill places the rules governing guilty pleas on a clear statutory basis. It is clearly in the public interest to encourage persons who are guilty of offences to so plead at as early a stage as possible. Under the provisions of the Bill, a court will take into account the stage in the proceedings for the offence at which the offender indicated his or her intention to plead guilty and the circumstances in which this indication was given.
The Law Reform Commission, in its report on sentencing, identified confusion which had arisen about the law in relation to whether a maximum penalty could be imposed in a case where a person pleaded guilty. Circumstances can arise where, notwithstanding a plea of guilty, the nature of an offence can be such that the maximum penalty should be available to the courts when sentencing. For the removal of any doubt there might be about this issue, the Bill contains a provision to this effect.
I will now deal in detail with the sections of the Bill. Part I contains standard provisions providing for certain necessary definitions, commencement provisions and the payment of expenses arising under the legislation. With regard to the commencement provisions, section 2(2) provides that the Bill, other than sections 30 to 35, will come into operation by order or orders to be made by the Minister.
Sections 30 to 35 will come into operation on the passing of the Bill without the need for a commencement order. These sections deal with technical amendments in relation to our extradition legislation, the removal of the requirement for nomination of judges for the purposes of the Extradition Act, 1965 and the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996, a numbering defect in the Criminal Justice Act, 1984 and the abolition of the “year and a day” rule. Each of these sections could be considered to be stand alone provisions for which no time lapse is either necessary or desirable before they are brought into force and, in those circumstances, it was decided that they will come into force when the legislation is enacted.
Part II provides for the new drug related offence. Section 4 inserts a new section — section 15A — into the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977, and creates a new offence related to the possession of drugs with a value of £10,000 or more for the purpose of sale or supply. The section provides that the value of any seized drugs may be ascertained by permitting evidence to be heard of the market value of the drugs concerned. By “market value” is meant the price the drug would be expected to fetch on the market for the unlawful sale or supply of controlled drugs. Such evidence may be given by a member of the Garda Síochána or an  officer of customs and excise who the court is satisfied has knowledge of the unlawful sale or supply of controlled drugs.
I am providing, in section 5 of the Bill, that a person convicted of the new offence of having drugs with a value of £10,000 or more will incur a penalty commensurate with the gravity of that crime. The mechanism to achieve this is through an amendment of the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977, so that a person found guilty of the new drug related offence will be liable to imprisonment for up to life, and, at the court's discretion, to an unlimited fine. However, in view of the unique nature of the trade in illegal drugs, the great misery inflicted on so many people by those who deal in that deadly trade and to demonstrate — as I believe we must — our commitment as legislators to do all we can to rid us of this scourge, I have provided that in such cases the court must specify that the minimum period of imprisonment to be served upon conviction for the offence shall be at least 10 years. This is undoubtedly a harsh punishment but I am satisfied that it is warranted and proportional. It should send an unequivocal message to those engaged in the illegal drugs trade, and to those who might be tempted to engage in it, that we are serious about doing all we can to eradicate this blight.
A court will be entitled to depart from the requirement to impose the minimum period set down in the section only in exceptional and specific cases where it would otherwise be unjust in all the circumstances to impose the minimum ten years sentence. In this regard the factors which the court may consider relevant include whether the person pleaded guilty, taking account of the stage at which such an intention was indicated and the circumstances surrounding the indication, and whether the person materially assisted the investigation of the offence. I think everyone would agree that any person who seeks mitigation of sentence on account of a guilty plea should be required to demonstrate that the plea represented a genuine willingness to assist the Garda and the courts and was not simply a recognition of the fact that the case against that person was so overwhelming as to leave no prospect of him or her mounting any kind of credible defence.
While thus giving the courts the power to depart from the obligation to impose the minimum 10 years penalty in certain very limited circumstances, I am determined that those who receive such a sentence will know that for them the prison door will not revolve. To this end, the power conferred on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform under the Criminal Justice Act, 1951, to commute or remit a punishment will not be exercisable in those cases until the minimum period specified by the court has been served. Furthermore, while normal statutory remission will apply, the power to grant temporary release to a person serving a term of imprisonment will not be exercised during the currency of such a sentence unless for grave reasons of a humanitarian nature and any release granted on  that basis will only be of such limited duration as is justified by that reason.
The Bill attempts to make a distinction between those who are cynically involved in the drugs trade for profit and those who because of a problem with addiction have become caught up in it. While I emphasise that feeding a habit is no excuse for engaging in this trade, it would be futile not to recognise the part which addiction can play. Therefore, the section gives a court the power, when imposing sentence on a person convicted of the new drug related offence, to inquire whether the person was addicted to drugs at the time of the offence and, if satisfied that he or she was addicted and that this fact was a substantial factor leading to the commission of the offence, it may list the sentence for review after half of the mandatory period specified by it has expired.
When the review takes place the court may, having regard to any matters it considers appropriate, suspend the remainder of the sentence on any conditions it considers fit. I believe this provision is appropriate and just but I should make it clear that even where these mitigating circumstances arise the persons involved will still face a long period of imprisonment.
Because of the very serious nature of the new drug related offence the section specifically rules out summary disposal of the matter following a plea of guilty.
Section 6 of the Bill provides for an amendment of the defence provisions contained in section 29 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977, so that a person charged with the new drug related offence can rebut the presumption that possession of a controlled drug with a value of £10,000 or more was for the purpose of sale or supply, by showing that at the time such possession was lawful by virtue of regulations made under section 4 the 1977 Act. Section 7 of the Bill amends the definition of “drug trafficking offence” contained in section 3(1) of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994, to include the new drug related offence.
I move on now to Part III of the Bill. This deals with the abolition of preliminary hearings. I have already explained the thinking behind this. The House will appreciate that it is necessary in making this change to put in place a new legislative substructure dealing with criminal procedure and this accounts for the relatively complex and technical nature of the provisions contained in Part III of the Bill. These proposals to abolish preliminary examinations involve amendment or repeal of a number of sections of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967, and consequential amendments to a number of other enactments.
Section 8 of the Bill amends the 1967 Act by substituting a new section for section 4 to define who is the prosecutor for the purposes of the Act. Thus, it is provided that the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Attorney General, a person prosecuting at the suit of either, or a person authorised by law to prosecute the offence may be the prosecutor.
 Section 9 inserts a new Part into the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967 — to be referred to as Part 1A and consisting of sections 4A to 4Q. Section 4A provides that where a person is charged with an indictable offence before the District Court he or she will be sent forward for trial, unless the matter is to be tried summarily or the case is being dealt with under section 13 of the 1967 Act, which sets out the procedure where an accused pleads guilty in the District Court to an indictable offence, or where the accused is unfit to plead. The section also provides that an accused will not be sent forward for trial unless the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Attorney General gives consent.
Under section 4B, where an accused is sent forward for trial, he or she must be served with a book of evidence which essentially contains details of the case against the accused. Among the documents which make up the book of evidence are a statement of the charges against the accused, a copy of any sworn information in writing upon which the proceedings were initiated, a list of witnesses and a list of any exhibits. The book is to be served within 42 days of the accused being sent forward. This period may be extended by the trial court where there is good reason and where it is in the interests of justice to do so. Further extensions are also possible. If the court refuses an extension, the proceedings will be struck out. However, this of itself will not prejudice the institution of any future proceedings against the accused by the prosecutor.
Provision is made in section 4C for additional documents, such as a list of further witnesses and their statements, any further evidence of witnesses already notified, copies of any depositions and a list of further exhibits, to be served on the accused after service of the book of evidence. Under section 4D the accused is given the right to inspect all exhibits forming part of the evidence against him or her. Under the current procedures a District Court judge may decide, having conducted a preliminary examination, to discharge the accused person if he or she is of the opinion that the evidence does not disclose a sufficient case to put him or her on trial. The new procedures being introduced here will oblige the judge to send the accused person forward for trial where he or she is charged with an indictable offence, subject to the exceptions already mentioned. As a necessary safeguard these procedures provide a means for an accused person to seek to have the court of trial dismiss the charges after the service of the book of evidence. Paragraph 4E provides accordingly. Where the court decides to dismiss the charges because it appears to it that there is not a sufficient case to put the accused on trial the prosecutor may, within 21 days, appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal, which may either affirm the decision or quash it, thus allowing the trial to proceed.
Provision is made in paragraph 4F for the taking of sworn depositions by a judge of the District  Court where the judge is satisfied that it would be in the interests of justice to do so. The deposition will be taken in the presence of the judge and the accused person, who will be informed of the circumstances in which it may be admitted as evidence. The deposition will be recorded and read over to the deponent who will then sign it. It will also be signed by the judge. It should be noted that the present procedure that depositions must be taken down in writing is not being followed. Instead the paragraph provides for depositions to be recorded, which is more in keeping with present day realities.
Under paragraph 4G, these depositions may be admitted in evidence at the accused person's trial in certain circumstances, for example where the deponent is dead or unable to attend the trial to give evidence and where the deposition was taken in the presence of the accused person and he or she had the opportunity to cross-examine the deponent. The trial judge can decide not to admit the deposition where he or she is of the opinion that it would not be in the interests of justice to do so.
Paragraph 4H makes provision for an accused to obtain legal aid in all proceedings under this Part of the Bill, including proceedings for the taking of depositions.
In line with current procedures which apply under the Criminal Justice Act, 1997, paragraph 4L makes provision for relevant proceedings to be held otherwise than in public where the court is satisfied, because of the nature or circumstances of the case, or otherwise in the interests of justice, that it is desirable that the public be excluded from the court. Similarly, paragraph 4J places a bar on the publication or broadcast of information about such proceedings, apart from certain basic facts about the case. At the request of the accused person, the judge may permit more information to be published concerning proceedings for the dismissal of a charge. These restrictions will not affect the operation of any other enactment which provides for stricter controls on reporting or which allows a court to authorise publication of certain information.
Paragraphs 4K and 4L of the Bill are concerned with witness orders and witness summonses respectively. They give the trial court the power to issue a witness order and a witness summons requiring the attendance in court of the person to whom it is directed to give evidence and to produce documents or any other thing specified in the order. Any person who disobeys a witness order or a witness summons without just cause will be guilty of contempt of court.
To cater for those situations where, after the accused person has been sent forward for trial, it is sought to amend the indictment paragraphs 4M, 4N and 40 provide appropriate mechanisms. Paragraph 4M permits alternative charges or additional charges to be laid against an accused person and for the indictment to be amended accordingly. Paragraph 4N allows the indictment, with the consent of the accused person, to be  amended to include counts which are unrelated to the original charge. Paragraph 4O allows the court to correct a defect in the charge unless it considers that this would result in injustice.
Paragraph 4P provides a procedure for the Circuit Court to transfer a case to the Central Criminal Court in cases where the accused is subsequently returned for trial to the Central Criminal Court on another charge related to the first charge. Both cases may thus be tried together.
To save on the time of gardaí and prison officers who must accompany accused persons held on remand to court from the prison, the Bill provides, in paragraph 4Q, that the person may be remanded to appear at a court which is near to the prison in which he or she is being held. That court may further remand the accused in custody or on bail.
Arising out of the changes in criminal procedure which I have just outlined, section 10 of the Bill provides for a number of other amendments to the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967. It substitutes a new title for Part II of the Act, which will now relate to guilty pleas and other matters; formerly it related to the preliminary examination of indictable offences in the District Court. It will also repeal sections 5 to 12 and sections 14 to 18 of the Act, concerning procedures related to the preliminary examination. Section 13 of the 1967 Act, however, is simply being amended to provide that where an accused person wishes to plead guilty in the District Court that court may, subject to the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Attorney General, deal with the offence summarily or, if the accused signs a plea of guilty, send him or her forward for sentence to the court to which he or she would otherwise have been sent forward for trial. The accused person will not, however, be sent forward for sentence in such circumstances without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Another amendment to section 13 will provide that in a case where the accused person withdraws a written plea of guilty, having been sent forward for sentence on that plea, the court will treat the withdrawal as if the person had pleaded not guilty, and the prosecutor will then be required to serve the book of evidence on him or her, with the appropriate time for the service of documents being deemed to run from the date that the not guilty plea is entered.
Because of the number of other Acts which contain provisions related to the preliminary examination procedure, a number of amendments are required to those Acts as a result of the new procedures. Therefore, sections 11 to 22 provide for the necessary amendments. It is not necessary for me to detail them here.
For the sake of continuity it is provided in section 23 that the preliminary examination procedure will continue to apply to cases commenced before the procedures in the Bill come into operation.
Part IV contains a number of amendments to  the Criminal Justice Act, 1994 relating to confiscation orders. Section 24 amends section 4 of the 1994 Act to require a court, following a conviction for a drug trafficking offence, to determine whether the convicted person has benefited from drug trafficking. At present, such a determination is made only on the application of the Director of Public Prosecutions. If the court feels the amount of money which might be recovered under a confiscation order would not be sufficient to justify it making such a determination it can decline to do so.
Sections 25, 26 and 27 amend, respectively, sections 7, 10 and 11 of the 1994 Act and are consequential to the change being made to section 4. These cover situations dealing with the reassessment of whether a defendant has benefited from drug trafficking, statements relevant to the making of confiscation orders and the provision of information by the defendant.
Part 5 of the Bill is concerned with the treatment by the courts of guilty pleas by defendants and the use of certificate evidence in criminal cases. Section 28 addresses the issue of the weight which is to be given to a guilty plea made by an accused person. It provides that a court, in deciding the sentence to impose on a person who has pleaded guilty to an offence, will, if appropriate, take into account the stage in the proceedings at which the person indicated an intention to plead guilty and the circumstances in which the indication was given. The court may still impose the maximum permissible penalty for the offence, in spite of a guilty plea, where it is satisfied there are exceptional circumstances relating to the offence which warrant such a penalty. This should clarify a situation where, as I mentioned earlier, the Law Reform Commission has identified a degree of confusion which exists at present. The provision does not apply to an offence where a mandatory penalty is provided for.
Section 29 is designed to achieve further savings in the time which gardaí need to attend court to give straightforward evidence relating to custody of exhibits. It allows this type of evidence to be given by certificate by a member of the Garda Síochána. This provision should also save court time. In this context the provision expands on those contained in section 6 of the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1997, which allows for the use of certificate evidence by the gardaí in certain circumstances. While these provisions have generally been working well, it has been suggested to me that certain technical adjustments might be desirable and I am considering bringing forward an amendment on Committee Stage to deal with this matter.
Part 6 of the Bill deals with extradition and other matters. It contains technical amendments to our extradition law dealing with certification of offences which are considered desirable following discussions between the Attorneys General in this jurisdiction and in the UK. Sections 30 and 31 contain technical amendments in the legislation dealing with extradition between this country and  Northern Ireland and Scotland. They provide that for the purposes of Part III of the Extradition Act, 1965, an offence punishable under the law of Northern Ireland or Scotland by imprisonment for a maximum period of at least six months and triable either summarily or on indictment shall be treated as an indictable offence or summary offence on the basis of a certificate issued by the appropriate authority in each jurisdiction. They also provide for the acceptance of such certificate as evidence of the matters so certified.
The purpose of section 32 is to remove the requirement for the nomination of judges of the District Court in the Dublin metropolitan district for the purposes of hearing extradition applications. Because of difficulties which arose during 1997 in relation to the nomination of judges under the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996, it was felt that a related issue under the Extradition (Amendment) Act, 1994, should also be addressed. The 1994 Act provides that judges of the District Court assigned to the Dublin metropolitan district and nominated by the President of the District Court for the purposes of the Extradition Act, 1965, will have jurisdiction to hear extradition matters. It was considered appropriate, therefore, to delete the nomination requirement for extradition purposes, which is being done in section 32.
Section 33 corrects a numbering defect which arose out of an earlier amendment to section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, relating to detention of persons under the Act. Section 2(b) of the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1997, substituted two new subsections for subsection (5) of section 4 of the 1984 Act. The way this was done, however, involved substituting new subsections (5) and (6) for the old subsection (5), but there was already a subsection (6) so the net effect was that section 4 of the 1984 Act then had two subsections numbered (6). The purpose of section 33 is to renumber the subsections involved as (5) and (5A).
Section 34 removes the requirement that a judge of the District Court must be nominated by the President of the District Court before he or she can exercise power under the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996, in connection with the authorisation of the detention of persons. Difficulties arose during 1997 in relation to the nomination of judges for the purposes of the 1996 Act. Under the Act periods of detention have to be approved by a judge of the District Court or a judge of the Circuit Court. A judge of the District Court was, however, defined in the Act as “the President of the District Court and any other judge of the District Court nominated for the purposes of this Act by the President of the District Court.” Section 34 deletes this definition from section 1 of the 1996 Act so that all district judges will be empowered to exercise and authorise such detentions.
The purpose of section 35 is to abolish a common law rule of long standing. The effect of the  rule is that for a prosecution for murder or man-slaughter to be maintained, the death of the victim must take place within a year and a day of the wrong done by the accused. The rule was justified on the ground that the further in time from the act that death occurred, the more difficult it was to establish with certainty that the death was caused by the act rather than by some other factor. It was also justified on the ground that a person should not be left under an indefinite risk of prosecution. The rule is now an anachronism, as there is much greater medical certainty in establishing the cause of death. Modern life support systems enable very seriously injured persons to be kept alive for much longer periods and in such cases it would be very wrong that prolongation of the life of the victim should prevent prosecution of the killer for murder or man-slaughter if the victim subsequently dies. The rule has not been an issue in any case here, except perhaps in the BTSB case. There were a number of recent cases in England in which the rule prevented a prosecution for murder which led to demands for its abolition. The rule was abolished in England in 1996.
It will be abundantly clear from what I said that this Bill contains a wide range of desirable and important reforms of our criminal law. I look forward to the debate on this measure and I commend the Bill to the House.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): This is probably the most flawed and unnecessary legislation to come before the House for many years. This was to be the Minister's magnum opus, his antidote to crime, the manifestation of zero tolerance in sorting out criminals once and for all. In his opening comments, the Minister said he received wide support for the Bill. I scan the newspapers regularly and read comments of observers, criminologists and the general public, but I see little support for the Bill. A former official of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Dr. Paul O'Mahony, now recognised as a top criminologist, in The Irish Times of Friday, 21 November, shortly after publication of the Bill, said in an article headed, “Justice Bill salvo wide of the mark”:
The new Criminal Justice Bill is the first salvo by the Minister for Justice, Mr. John O'Donoghue, in his promised war against crime. Crime was prioritised in all the political parties in the last general election and Mr. O'Donoghue's vague and over-hyped notion of zero tolerance was, arguably, Fianna Fáil's trump card, ensuring its narrow victory.
From Dr. O'Mahony's assessment of the Bill, which he undertakes forensically, it is the red card and thumbs down. It represents an attempt by the Minister to enact into law his wish-list of reforms, a list he compiled during his last few months in Opposition as spokesperson on Justice. Having largely dozed his way through the Dáil up to that time, he suddenly worked himself into a  frenzy. With an eye to the alarming developments politically in Kerry South, he set about convincing everyone who cared to listen — many did not — that the country was on the verge of collapse into an irretrievable state of crime and lawlessness and that only he in office could provide salvation.
The Minister advocated a policy of zero tolerance, but even before the election he was forced to admit that this did not really mean zero tolerance. Otherwise the peccadilloes of some of his colleagues would have landed him in severe trouble, in which some of them have found themselves in the interim. Instead zero tolerance was to mean whatever the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue said it meant, depending on whether there was a full moon or how Deputy Healy-Rae was feeling.
Some months ago the most amusing advertisement on RTE was a promotion for “Questions and Answers”. It showed an excerpt from a previous episode of the programme. It showed the Government Chief Whip, Deputy Brennan, and Fianna Fáil's psychiatrist, Dr. Patricia Casey, explaining the meaning of zero tolerance by repeating the mantra “it's a concept”. In the meantime, another great Fianna Fáil promise, mandatory reporting of child abuse, also turned out to be a concept and, worse still, no two members of the Government seem to agree on what this concept means.
We now have the third plank of the Minister's crime package before us, mandatory sentencing. It is only when one reads the Bill and listens to the Minister one realises that, true to form, mandatory sentencing does not mean mandatory sentencing. I suppose we should pity the Taoiseach, with the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, wired to the moon and Deputy Albert Reynolds wired to the moonies. It is difficult to know on what the Government, not to mention its largest party, is focusing.
There are five parts to the Bill, all of which are misguided. The first two provisions are the worst. The Bill proposes to introduce a new offence of possessing a controlled drug to the value of £10,000 or more. The object of introducing this offence becomes apparent in section 5 which provides that a person convicted of the offence shall be sentenced to ten years in prison. That would be a mandatory sentence were it not for the proviso that the court is not obliged to impose a sentence of ten years' imprisonment if it is satisfied there are exceptional and specific circumstances attaching to the offence or the offender. A guilty plea may also be taken into account to mitigate punishment. Thus, what has been introduced is a presumptive sentencing scheme rather than mandatory sentencing.
We should be grateful the Minister, advised no doubt by his officials, had the sense not to introduce outright mandatory sentencing. That would probably have been unconstitutional as the High Court and Supreme Court held that sentences must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the personal circumstances of the  offender. There can be no guarantee the emasculated version of mandatory sentencing presented in the Bill is constitutional either.
There are two problems with this aspect of the Bill. The Minister has not presented a shred of evidence to the House to show that existing sentencing arrangements are unsatisfactory. What are the current sentencing patterns for offences involving the possession of controlled drugs with intent to supply? Where are the statistics in that regard? They are in the Minister's office, but he resolutely refuses to publish them. A statistical report on the prison system has not been published for the past five years. All the evidence shows the courts punish severely for drug offences, and rightly so. The judges presiding over the courts, who listen to both sides of the argument and see the victims, are best placed to know the appropriate levels of punishment.
The Court of Criminal Appeal recently stated that the motivation of a person selling drugs is an important factor and that a person who deals in drugs in a cold, calculated fashion, solely to make a profit, deserves heavier punishment than a person who sells drugs to finance his or her own addiction or because of some other hardship. In that case the court upheld a sentence of nine years for drug pushing. Can the Minister furnish the House with solid statistical information to prove this measure is needed?
Remission and early release powers are to be severely circumscribed in the case of prisoners sentenced under the relevant sections of the Bill. What will that do for the prison population? Does it mean more prisoners than ever will be granted early release while persons sentenced under the Bill are held unnecessarily in prison? This problem may not arise until some time in the future, but the Minister is creating a potential minefield for his successors in terms of managing the prison population.
The most unsatisfactory aspect of the legislation is the arbitrary way in which a person can be convicted of the new offence. All that has to be proved is that he or she was in possession of £10,000 worth of controlled drugs and the value is to be assessed by police evidence. This is a ridiculous way of computing the seriousness of the offence. The value of drugs can vary greatly from one part of the country to another. For all we know, it may vary greatly from one part of this city to another. Surely the most valid way to approach the matter would be to make the commission of the offence dependent on the possession of a certain quantity of drugs. This would have involved setting out in a schedule to the Bill the quantities of the various kinds of drugs a person would have to possess before an offence was committed, but that would have been troublesome and too much bother for the quick-fix methods favoured by the Minister. A ten year sentence for the possession of £10,000 worth of drugs is fine from the point of view of sound bites, but if sound bites and clichés solved crime, it would have been solved a long time ago. The  Minister is introducing an impractical measure laden with difficulties.
Fundamental justice and fairness, as required by the Constitution, is also at stake. To deprive a citizen of his or her liberty for one minute, not to mention a year or several years, longer than is absolutely necessary is a serious infringement of the Constitution which provides that no one shall be deprived of his or her liberty save in accordance with law. The Supreme Court, when dealing with this article of the Constitution, has held that the mere enactment by the Oireachtas of a law allowing for the deprivation of liberty will not necessarily render that law constitutional. Such a law must not, in the words of the Supreme Court, stoop so low as to disregard the fundamental norms of the Constitution. Such laws, in other words, must be fair and non-discriminatory. Is the Minister seriously telling the House the arbitrary scheme he proposes to introduce here, by making the commission of an offence dependent on the monetary value members of gardaí or the customs service happen to ascribe to a quantity of drugs, is in harmony with the Constitution? Is this the kind of advice he is getting from the Attorney General?
In Part III, the Minister sets about abolishing one of the central elements of our criminal justice system, the preliminary examination of indictable offences in the District Court. This has been a long standing hobby horse of the Minister. He tried to accomplish it in the past by tabling an amendment to this effect to the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill when it was going through the Oireachtas. In response to this attempt the then Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen, very reasonably referred the matter to the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure. In February 1997, the committee responded by issuing its 24th interim report entitled Preliminary Examination of Indictable Offences. Membership of the committee consisted of the now retired but then senior member of the Supreme Court, Mr Justice John Blayney, Mr Justice Robert Barr of the High Court, the late President of the Circuit Court, Judge Frank Spain, the President of the District Court, Judge Peter Smithwick, a senior counsel, a junior counsel, two solicitors and three other members. That was a prestigious committee by any standards. Its main recommendation stated that the preliminary examination system does not significantly delay the criminal process and remains an important safeguard for an accused person. It should not, therefore, be abolished, but this is what the Minister proposes to do. I assure him we will oppose this misguided provision on Committee and Report stages.
The committee, however, made valuable recommendations as regards taking depositions and other matters. The sole basis on which the Minister now proposes to abolish the preliminary examination is that a high percentage of those who undergo such an examination are sent forward for trial. In only a small number of cases  is information refused, but this is the nub of the problem.
The preliminary examination provides a valuable filtering device to ensure that persons are not put on trial with all that it entails unless there is credible evidence against them. The majority of defendants may be sent forward for trial but it is the few who are not about whom we should worry. This is a clear case where the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
The Minister is once more showing his utter contempt for the constitutional rights of accused persons. It is simply not good enough to say that if people are not guilty, they should not be tried. Suppose a person is sent forward for trial on very scanty evidence. That trial may last several days or, as we saw recently, several weeks. Even if that person is acquitted, how can he or she ever hope to regain their innocence in the eyes of the community or the general public? The trial process, not to mention its consequences, is a very severe punishment and a traumatic experience.
I also make the point in relation to the abolition of preliminary trial that an important constitutional right is the right of a person to bring their own case — the right of the common person to take a prosecution. At present any person can take a case on indictment against another and this has been enshrined in law. The private person can mount a prosecution where the DPP will not do so, and I have experience of this. Such a person then presents his or her evidence to the preliminary hearing and the District Justice decides if there is enough evidence to send this person forward for trial. If there is enough evidence, the DPP must take over the running of the case, although he can decide not to do so.
By abolishing the preliminary trial, we are infringing on a fundamental right of an individual to bring his or her own case where the DPP decides there is no case and to have it prosecuted subsequently by the DPP. There are a number of celebrated cases, particularly overseas, which have succeeded and people have been able to extract their own justice in the courts by virtue of this right. This right will be abolished if we do away with the preliminary trial procedure. There must be considerable alarm at that decision.
From the point of view of the State and its interest in a case, the Minister will acknowledge that time and time again the period between the preliminary trial and the hearing of the case proper has afforded the State an invaluable opportunity to ensure the book of evidence is correct. To go into the court with a flawed book of evidence can be a fatal procedure from the point of view of the State's handling of a case.
Section 28 provides that the maximum sentence prescribed for an offence can be imposed even if the defendant pleads guilty. It is not clear why the Minister has seen fit to introduce this measure, although one High Court judge, Judge Carney, has delivered several judgments advocating this change. There are, however, strong arguments against it. The criminal justice system  depends to a great extent on a significant number of defendants pleading guilty. If they did not, then the courts would clog up very quickly. For that reason, the courts have always been disposed to give some credit for a guilty plea whatever the defendant's motivation for pleading guilty. If defendants believe they have nothing to gain from pleading guilty, they may decide to opt for trial as they are constitutionally entitled to do. There is always the possibility that they will be acquitted or that a jury will fail to agree as we saw recently after two very protracted trials. This leads to a new trial. The system will suffer as a result.
One of the major advantages of a guilty plea, particularly in the case of sexual offences, is that it saves the victim from the trauma of having to give evidence. I welcome the provision in section 28(1) which allows a court to vary the amount of credit given for a guilty plea depending on when it was entered. It can greatly help a victim to know at an early stage that she or he will not have to give evidence in a contested trial. This provision is more or less in line with the existing Supreme Court case law and should provide a valuable inducement to plead guilty at an early stage.
Unfortunately, what the Minister has given with one hand, he has taken away with the other. It would be much better if he left well enough alone by providing a reasonable inducement to people to plead guilty in appropriate cases rather than going further and taking away the certainty that a discount will always be given. The problem the Minister is trying to address comes from the Supreme Court judgment of some years ago in which it was held that it was wrong in principle to impose the maximum sentence when the defendant had pleaded guilty. The court's reasoning was based on the principle that I mentioned, namely the interests of the victim. I earnestly request the Minister to rethink the wisdom of allowing section 28(2) to stand, although I fully support section 28(1).
The Minister is in charge of a prison system which is in chaos. The reason is that over the previous seven to eight years, particularly from 1987 to 1994, not a single prison space was provided. We all readily acknowledge the tragedy of the death of Veronica Guerin as being the trigger which focused everyone's attention on taking a tough stand, particularly against the managers of crime and the drug barons. Thankfully, as a result of the raft of legislation brought in by the previous Government, supported by the then Opposition, criminals are on the run. Their baronies are in tatters and they are now the subject of court proceedings in this country or overseas. As a result, the courts are dealing effectively with the issue of drugs.
It is thanks to the prison programme brought in by the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Owen, that 800 prison places are being brought on stream. The majority of those prison spaces are now a reality or will be shortly made available.  That should relieve the chronic overcrowding which is part of daily life in Mountjoy Jail.
There is a need for an imaginative approach to crime and punishment. I urge the Minister that there is a strong case for looking at alternatives to prison from the point of view of economy as well as social policy. As he knows full well, the annual turnover in prisons is 10,000 and the prison capacity is approximately 2,300 to 2,400.
Situations have arisen where people have been arraigned by the Garda Síochána for trivial offences. A patrol car with three gardaí or a taxi with two gardaí and a taxidriver has taken them to Mountjoy Jail where they have been clocked in and given a meal. Often they arrive back home before the Garda patrol car or the taxi. That is a daily occurrence. In such a situation, it is obvious that there is a need to look at viable and realistic alternatives.
Imprisonment should be the punishment for crimes of violence, crimes against the person or serious crimes against property. Jailing people for trivial offences is not good policy. The system is demeaned by virtue of the fact that many people are treated as if they have committed a criminal offence when the offence is the non-payment of a small fine or a civil debt. For the offence of non-payment of civil debts, contempt or non-payment of fines, almost 2,500 people annually go through the prison system with all the costly para-phernalia that involves. It includes arrest, transportation, clocking in at prison, keeping the person — in the case of non-payment of fines — for a few hours or a few days, sending them to another place of detention and eventually release. Is it any wonder our prison system is over-crowded and is a costly failure? I mentioned previously the work of criminologists, in particular Dr. Paul O'Mahony, who carried out a study of Mountjoy Prison. His figures speak for themselves. Apart from indicting the antiquated conditions he stressed that prison, as a deterrent or as an instrument for rehabilitation, is not working. Nine out of ten prisoners surveyed — this was a reasonably comprehensive examination of the prison population — had started their criminal career in Dublin city and had already been to St. Patrick's Institution. As stated time and again by prison officers, instead of prisons being places of deterrent or rehabilitation they have become universities of crime.
The issue of sex offenders will loom in the not too distant future. There are approximately 300 people in jail for committing sex offences; many of these are paedophiles, only ten of whom are receiving treatment. This is totally inadequate. Where there is a mass influx there will be a mass exodus. Within a short period, the Minister has recently grudgingly given the figures in relation to releasees, there will be wholesale releases of people who committed sex offences and paedophiles leaving prison without having received treatment or therapy.
Where the State has failed in its obligation to provide for adequate treatment and therapy for  sex offenders and where such a sex offender reoffends on release, it could leave itself open to fairly substantial claims by the victims of those people. If somebody leaves prison, having been untreated and received no therapy, and reoffends there is a clear dereliction of duty on the part of the State. From the point of view of advancing the excuse, apart from the small number of places and the services available for such therapy and treatment, that people must volunteer, there should be no volunteering involved, it should not be optional. Where people have committed serious sex offences against innocent victims — children whose childhood is destroyed, their lives wrecked, children who have been traumatised and will receive psychiatric care for the rest of their lives — treatment should be mandatory. There should be no “ifs”, “buts” or “maybes” about it, it should be mandatory and across the board. The scant manner in which we have dealt with this matter in terms of the low number of people receiving treatment, plus the optional aspect, leaves the State open to substantial claims in future.
Little has been done in terms of a systematic analysis or the link between crime and poverty. To get to the root of crime we need a crossdimensional interdepartmental system. There is obviously a link between crime and poverty. Some 80 per cent of crime in this city is committed in six identifiable postal districts, yet these are the districts that have not received anything by way of adequate resources to help solve unemployment problems, social dilemmas, etc. It is obvious there is huge potential for addressing crime if tackled on a systematic, cross-dimensional interdepartmental basis. Education is the key.
On the matter of the Minister leaking in advance certain statistics to support his contention that crime is on the wane, he should look again at crime against women in particular, and rape. At a time when punitive sentences are being handed down and there is a huge concentration the media and the newspapers on the daily occurrences in the courts, where people have been rightly arraigned and prosecuted for sex offences, it is obvious that the message is not getting across that the deterrents are not sufficient and that a systematic system is not in place for dealing with crime against women in particular, and rape.
The 40 per cent reported increase in rape cases is frightening by any standard. Something substantial will have to be done in the not too distant future to tackle this problem. I am disappointed with the Criminal Justice Bill. It is a manifestation of the Minister's “zero tolerance” thinking. It is strong in a number of areas — sending out a knee jerk reaction, thus far and no further — mandatory minimum sentencing, penalties, etc., but from the point of view of effectiveness in dealing with crime and criminals, it has neither the thrust nor the direction to solve the problem.
Dr. Upton: I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill which I oppose on the grounds that it does not present a real solution to crime. This proposed legislation is fundamentally flawed and in some cases involving serious crime, could prove useless.
The Minister for Justice is attempting to rush this Bill through the Oireachtas as a populist response to crime and to send a message to the people that, however weakly, his “zero tolerance” slogan still stands.
The Bill is based on the belief that crime can be tackled exclusively through legislation. It contains some decisive proposals, particularly in relation to mandatory sentencing. This proposal was rejected by the Law Reform Commission, when it was up for consideration by that body in July.
In opposing the Bill, I am not saying crime should not be tackled in an effective fashion. I want crime to be dealt with in a resolute and determined way which would put criminals out of business but in so doing we must tackle with equal vigour the social conditions which give rise to criminal activity. Part II of the Bill contains a provision for mandatory ten year sentences for drug trafficking in relation to so-called street value of over £10,000. This provision is completely out of kilter with the Law Reform Commission's report on sentencing which recommends the abolition of mandatory sentencing. On the point made by Deputy Higgins in regard to drugs valued at £10,000, he is correct when he suggests that the amount of drugs as well, as the value, should be taken into account. He eloquently pointed out how value can change from one circumstance to another, from time to time and from one location to another. Sentencing policy needs to be addressed but not in the manner proposed in the Bill. Unsupervised and early release of prisoners, which are often damaging to the community and the offender, should be ended. With regard to the probation service, which is under increased and consistent strain extra resources should be provided.
I support the recommendations expressed by the Law Reform Commission in regard to sentencing policy. Prison sentences should be used only as a last resort with community services orders being used to the greatest possible extent. Also in keeping with the recommendations of the commission, a centrally located criminal justice database should be created for the compilation and dissemination of statistics relevant to sentencing. Only in the case of murder should mandatory sentences be retained. I do not see how the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform can seriously justify how a threat of a ten year mandatory sentence would put an end to the drug barons. His proposals will do little to solve the problems caused by drugs in society.
To reinforce my strongly held views, I draw the Minister's attention to a reply he furnished to me following submission of a parliamentary question on sentencing of convicted persons under the Misuse of Drugs Act. The Minister stated that  Garda records show that up to 13 May 1998 there have been 50 convictions for indictable offences committed under the 1996 Misuse of Drugs Act, and that four of these convictions were in respect of drugs recorded as having a value exceeding £10,000.
These statistics appear to be the latest available from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. On this basis alone, I question the reasoning behind the proposals. Perhaps the Minister thinks it will give the impression that he is exercising a zero tolerance policy. I refute that. Putting four people behind bars for ten years will not solve the drugs problem.
No doubt the Minister reads the letters page in The Irish Times from time to time; if he does not, I am sure it is brought to his attention. I want to refer to a letter written by the Church of Ireland Chaplain at Mountjoy Prison, Reverned Patrick Semple, in which he expressed the opinion that some trafficking offences may warrant a sentence of ten years while others may warrant an even longer sentence. He went on to state that, equally, in the case of young persons without a criminal record who may be lured into carrying a bag filled with drugs through Dublin Airport, a ten year sentence would be disastrous. He suggested it is appropriate to leave sentencing to judges who, from years of experience in the courts dealing with offenders, can discern between first-time offenders, who may be quite naive, and hardened dealers who get rich from trading in drugs. The attempt the Minister made to draw that distinction is worthwhile. The Reverend Semple added that prison is supposed to be about rehabilitation as well as punishment. In his view, a ten year sentence would be more likely to destroy some offenders than rehabilitate them. While prison has to be a deterrent, and for some people there is no alternative to prison, we must not lose sight of the objective of rehabilitation being a function of prison. There is great scope for improvement in that area.
The existing Misuse of Drugs Act draws a distinction between cannabis and hard drugs, with offences involving cannabis drawing lesser penalties. Under the Bill, there is no distinction in relation to cannabis. While I am by no means making a case for the abuse of cannabis, it is worthwhile drawing some distinction between cannabis and heroin, particularly in relation to the social problems attached to the abuse of both substances.
The Labour Party has put forward an alternative and more substantial case than that put forward by the Minister for the fast-tracking of major drug offenders. Under this proposal, the trials of such offenders would take place within 60 days of their arrest. We suggest that the prosecution of drugs-related offences, and action related to evictions of local authority tenants and so on, should be given priority in the prosecution service. We have called for deadlines for forensic reports, DPP directions and the preparation of books of evidence and hearings. Under such a  fast-track policy, trials in regard to certain types of serious offences should take place within 60 days of arrest. To allow this operate effectively the necessary support services, including the Garda Forensic Unit, needs to be upgraded.
Instead of attempting to push through this legislation I urge the Minister to take cognisance of the proposals I have outlined. I cannot identify how the Minister's proposal will take the fear out of communities which are torn apart from the ravages of drugs. Can the Minister tell me how this Bill will put an end to the recent spate of shootings in Fatima Mansions in my constituency in the south inner city? Those incidents are taking place in an area which has experienced a terrible drugs problem over the years.
The Minister should concentrate to a far greater extent on these type of problems which are festering in certain parts of Dublin. Little effective action has been taken to resolve them. The problem manifests itself in these disturbing events such as those that occurred last weekend when people fired guns for whatever purpose.
I emphasise to the Minister my grave concern and that of the people living in these communities about this problem. I am sure that holds true for the other public representatives in the area. I urge the Minister to give his attention to this problem. I acknowledge he took the time to visit the area and meet people living there, but I hope he will provide the necessary additional resources for the gardaí in the area to allow them deal effectively with this problem. I pay tribute to the gardaí working in the area. They have worked above and beyond the call of duty to deal with this problem but, unfortunately, they do not have sufficient resources in relation to manpower and so on. I hope the Minister gives his attention to that matter.
The people in these communities are living in desperation. I receive representations and telephone calls from constituents, particularly the elderly and the young, who are terrified to walk around their area. The Minister must deal with this problem because it has gone on for an unacceptably long period.
This problem is more complex than simply the security aspect. It relates also to agencies such as the local authorities in respect of what they can do to deal with this problem. I hope they turn their attention to creating an environment which militates against the type of activity that is taking place. That can be done in a variety of ways such as an increase in security and the use of modern technology. The concierge concept might be considered also. I ask the Minister to consult his colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, and the local authorities about this problem.
I disagree with the approach taken in the Bill and urge the Minister to listen to the views put forward by the Opposition. They are well-founded and have the support of prominent people working in the criminal justice system and in criminology as well as those studying the effectiveness  of the various strategies which can be used.
I subscribe to the slogan of my colleagues in the UK Labour Party that there is a need to be tough on crime and on the causes of crime. In so doing, however, we need to be rational. There is little point in sounding tough if we do not take action. We must work on the basis of reality, assess the strategies which have been utilised and then move on. We should learn from our mistakes and make improvements but to do that it is essential to know the types of strategies that give particular results, but the level of statistical information in relation to the courts system is appalling. We are groping in the dark looking for solutions and it is that paucity of information which, to some extent, facilitates the Minister in providing the type of solution he has brought forward today.
The Minister must invest in serious research into the causes of crime, the solutions to the problem and the treatment of offenders. Research should be carried out also on the value of certain sentencing strategies and the effects of prison. Indeed, the Minister could go further by investing in research to determine the most effective way to manage prisons.
The problems in Mountjoy are dismal. The extent of the drugs problem in the prison, which has been allowed to fester over the years, is a terrifying indictment of the whole system. It is crying out for reform, yet it seems impossible for anything effective to be done. I know the Minister has good intentions and that has been borne out in debates on Question Time. However, not enough is being done and that must be addressed.
Prison should provide people with an opportunity for rehabilitation so that, when they leave, they will be motivated to move away from crime. What usually happens is that they are potentially worse when they leave prison because it has worsened their attitude to crime. As Deputy Jim Higgins said, prison is for many people a centre of advanced education in crime in which they become more effective because it offers them the opportunity to discuss and test new ideas for crime. That should not be the case. When the Minister makes tough sounding noises, they should be underpinned by effective measures but that has not happened.
Some parts of the Bill are worthwhile, especially the abolition of the year and a day rule which is important as it will ensure the difficulties experienced in dealing with the Blood Transfusion Service Board scandal will be surmounted and not experienced again.
Regarding the policy of being tough on crime, in many ways the most effective measure taken in dealing with the drugs problem and drug barons has had little to do with the criminal justice system. The Criminal Assets Bureau was set up by my colleague, Deputy Quinn, when Minister for Finance. It is a financial measure which has been exceptionally effective and the outcome  has been that a large number of the key players in the drugs trade in Dublin are on the run. Either they have had to leave the country or they are in serious difficulty with the law. This measure did not come from the then Department of Justice. There are lessons to be learned from this. We need to think laterally about these problems rather than devising tough-sounding solutions which are often ineffective.
There is a need for greater enlightenment in the management of prisons. Deputy Higgins introduced a worthwhile Bill dealing with the punishment of people who default on fines. I calculate that the equivalent of £1.5 million worth of prison space is spent keeping these people in jail because they will not pay their fines or because they are in contempt of court. Such a system is years out of date. The simple way to solve it is to take the money from them through the courts, thus freeing up more prison spaces. It is a basic management technique and I do not accept the various objections and difficulties the Minister has made or highlighted as regards the matter.
The Bill should be opposed for two fundamental reasons. The first relates to civil liberties and rights. It is fair to say that for every right there is an obligation. In the past, there has been too much emphasis on rights and not enough on corresponding duties and obligations. Nonetheless, we should not lose sight of the fact that rights are important. It is just that obligations and duties must be attached to them if society is to work in a civilised manner.
The other reason the Bill should be rejected is that it is to a large extent a public relations exercise. The motivation for it seems to emanate from concepts derived from advertising in that it wishes to give a certain impression although it is seen to be otherwise when examined in detail. The Bill imposes mandatory sentences to which I am opposed but there is a series of exceptions which undermine the thrust of the Bill. It is essentially a PR exercise and will not solve the problem. That is a pity because there is a huge problem which needs to be addressed in a tough, single-minded and determined manner involving more than just prison.
Mr. Briscoe: I welcome the Bill and I am surprised to hear my colleague, Deputy Upton, with whom I have attended many meetings, arguing against the Bill and stating that it is only window dressing. Anything which strengthens the law is welcome.
I have made many pleas since the 1970s for a strengthening of the law to deal with these problems. I said in the 1970s and almost every time I spoke on a justice Bill in the House that the hooligans of the 1970s would be the gunmen of the 1980s and 1990s and that, if we did not tackle these problems, we would be later forced to introduce draconian legislation which no one wants. However, the latter course has become necessary.
A ten year mandatory sentence for anyone found in possession of £10,000 worth of drugs,  subject to certain conditions, is a strong deterrent. Will the Minister clarify that it is not ten years less time off for good behaviour? It is important it should not be and that the message is sent out to everyone in Ireland and beyond. Anyone caught bringing drugs into this country should also be locked up for ten years instead of being repatriated to their own country from where they can enter Ireland at another stage. It might be that the new way to claim asylum would be to import drugs so as to spend time in Irish prisons. I hope that does not happen.
We are still in a state of confusion. Deputy Upton and I were at a meeting in our constituency on Tuesday at which people stated the crime problem still exists. People sentenced to six months to a year are released after a few months because there is a problem with overcrowding in prisons. The Minister is waiting to sign the Bill arising from the referendum to prohibit the courts from granting bail in certain cases. Progress will be made once the legislation is in place and sufficient prison places are made available. The sooner the better.
I agree with people who argue that those convicted of white collar crime should be placed in open prisons rather than locked up in high security prisons. Those who commit crimes against the person are most in need of incarceration. There was a dreadful case in my constituency last week where two young girls were battered by a man with a stick with nails in it because he wanted to rob them. He is willing to do anything to feed his drugs habit. Fortunately the girls were able to describe him to the gardaí. He was between 14 and 16 years of age with blonde hair and the gardaí knew who they were looking for. They found him and I hope he will not be out again in a short time to inflict the same terror and bodily harm. Drug addicts are out of control when seeking money for a fix. The only way to control them is to keep them locked up.
I am delighted that under the Bill it will be sufficient for the Garda to produce a certificate in court. This will keep gardaí out of the courts and on the streets where they should be. I have been pleading for years for us to follow the English example where inspectors present court cases on behalf of constables. This is preferable to the situation here where a garda must attend court for each prosecution which means that every time a criminal is caught another garda is taken off the beat. We want the gardaí on the streets where it matters.
I would like to see a higher concentration of gardaí on the streets at night. There are three shifts and there is a tendency to put as many gardaí on the early shift as on the late shift so the numbers are evenly divided. However, crime is lower between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. than between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.
No country has a perfect prison service. We deplore that drugs are taken in Mountjoy prison. However, the authorities feel there will be a riot if prisoners do not get their drugs so they turn a  blind eye to the drug taking. I have no evidence of this but the drugs are getting through. This underlines the need for drug treatment services in the prison. I am not sure if the methadone programme is operating, but if it is prisoners should be forced to take the methadone at the clinic rather than being allowed to take it back to their cells where they might sell it on. I hear objections from people to the sale of methadone obtained on prescription. The Department of Health and Children is to take action to stop this, by for instance limiting the number of prescriptions which certain chemists and doctors can issue each week.
All of these people are contributing to the crime wave and the only way we will solve it is by locking up the addicts. I am heartbroken trying to establish facilities in my constituency to rehabilitate and educate people on treatment programmes. There has been a great deal of resistance. People agree that something must be done about this, but not in their areas. The same problem is faced when trying to house travellers — there is always somewhere else more appropriate.
In Crumlin the Salesian Fathers were willing to make rooms available for youngsters on treatment programmes. The youngsters were not to be treated at the house which was to be used to run education programmes and teach communication skills to prepare them for life after drugs. People are still trying to get on to programmes.
In the meantime, there is no use in saying that we cannot do anything about this problem. We cannot deal with one problem without tackling the other. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is responsible for law and order. It is his job to lock up the criminals and those who are terrorising people and making life a misery for old people. In the shorter evenings people are terrified of syringe attacks. No matter how often we introduce legislation there is always some way around it. The main priority must be to build more prison places. We have to have places in which to lock up criminals so that they will no longer be a danger to the community.
The Minister said that if a person pleaded guilty this would be taken into consideration in the context of the ten year mandatory sentence. I do not know whether this can be inserted into a Bill. We cannot tell the Judiciary how to interpret the law. We make the laws and they interpret them. We must compose legislation in such a way that the Judiciary can interpret it to reflect the spirit of what we are trying to achieve. The law must be copperfastened so that someone cannot plead guilty at the last moment when it is obvious he will be found guilty.
We must also guard against the scenario in which someone with a record may argue when arrested for possession of drugs that the drugs were planted. A garda anxious to make an arrest may seek a quick confession and suggest to the individual that if he confesses the Garda will go easy or that he may not receive the mandatory ten year sentence. In such a scenario the individual  may consider that if he or she argues innocence he or she may still go to jail for ten years. We have to be careful that no temptation is placed before people. We do not want a situation such as the plea bargaining system in the US.
The Minister must urgently address the length of time it takes to assess the strength of drugs. When drugs are confiscated they are sent to a laboratory for analysis which can take six months or longer. In the meantime, the individual is allowed out on the streets until the gardaí have the results of the tests. This needs to be addressed urgently.
We are depending on too many other things to fall into place. We are depending on the Departments of Health and Children, Education and Science and Justice, Equality and Law Reform. However, the function of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is to protect people from drug pushers and addicts. It is pitiful to see someone addicted to drugs unable to be responsible for his behaviour and who cannot help himself. He has to get his next fix and does not care how this is done or who he murders. However, the first priority must be the protection of the public.
The Minister stated that the gardaí will spend less time in court through extending the type of evidence which can be given by certificate. Will this apply to all prosecutions or only to those relating to drugs? If the certificate is in place of an inspector in court to present the case, who will present the certificate? Will there be a maximum number of names which can be on a certificate? Will there be one certificate for each person or can a number of accused be on the one certificate? I would like some clarification.
When a person is brought before the District Court the arresting garda should not have to be present. However, gardaí are not disposed to change the system as it would interfere with their overtime. They often have to attend court on their days off. The Minister has given an assurance that there will not be a loss of income as gardaí are needed on the streets. While the strength of a Garda station may be 24, only four or five gardaí may be on duty at any one time when annual leave and sick leave are taken into account. This is unhelpful.
Video cameras can be a huge asset to the Garda Síochána. I have asked that they be installed on the bridge in Dolphins Barn where there is much drugs dealing. This would make the work of the Garda Síochána easier.
I welcome the Bill. Anything that contributes to a reduction in crime has to be welcomed.
Ms McManus: It is important to look at the intention behind this Bill as well as at what it sets out to do. It constitutes the last vestiges of the zero tolerance hype to create a reputation for the Minister. The zero tolerance concept lifted him into office and it collapsed just as rapidly when he was faced with ministerial responsibility, a  different matter to talking about it. What the Minister has delivered so far is the antithesis of zero tolerance. He has delivered a major crisis in policing and the possible breakdown of law and order. In coming days we will face a vista of police strikes and criminal lawlessness in which the security supports we take for granted will be seriously undermined. It is a scenario that is not only unacceptable but also unprecedented. No Minister has ever managed — it only took him a few months — to create such a truly awful and potentially dangerous shambles. The sole cause of this mess is a Minister who promised too much in Opposition and could not deliver in Government.
The Criminal Justice (No. 2) Bill is a fig leaf designed to disguise the Minister's failure to produce anything of substance to back up his rhetoric. It is all about saving face and precious little about saving communities from the ravages of drug barons. It is also, at least in part, bad law. It contains two major changes that give cause for grave concern. It creates a new offence of having controlled drugs with a market or street value of £10,000 or more for supply and prescribes a minimum penalty of ten years imprisonment. The abolition of the procedure for preliminary examination of indictable offences in the District Court also gives cause for concern.
Section 4 creates the new offence relating to the possession of drugs worth £10,000 or more for the purposes of supply. It relates to all controlled drugs, ranging from what is considered to be the relatively harmless cannabis to ecstasy and heroin. Much larger quantities of cannabis are regularly seized by the Garda Síochána and have hitherto attracted much lower sentences. In one case five persons were arrested with a cannabis haul of £3 million. If the five were convicted and given sentences commensurate with the proposal in this Bill, they would get a sentence of 600 years each.
Cannabis is generally regarded as a soft drug. It is illegal and should remain so but it is not the same as heroin and cocaine which are killer drugs and are continuing to destroy the lives and health of many young people who are entitled to our protection. The way to protect them is not to introduce hamfisted, crudely designed legislation which nobody supports except the Minister and the Government. I have not heard any significant support for this measure from any other quarter. The majority of comment has been critical and opposed to it.
The use of the criterion of market value is arbitrary and unreliable. It is a rough and ready concept which has been criticised in English courts and is viewed with unease by many legal practitioners here. It is stating the obvious that since the market is illegal there is not a proper way of assessing the value or does the Minister intend to institute an index by which customs officers and gardaí can check prices on the drug market daily? Perhaps this information could be read out after the news so that we would know if there was any overcharging on the streets. Unless some index is  retained this provision will, inevitably, be open to abuse.
Under this provision a garda or customs officer could, in effect, determine what sentence an accused person would get. That has all kinds of attendant dangers of bias, inconsistency or even corruption. Gardaí to whom I have spoken do not want to be put in this position. This measure, in effect, interferes with the separation of the Judiciary and the legislator in a way that can at best be described as questionable. The legislator lays down the definitions of crime and the parameters on how to punish crime but the courts must be free to make judgments on a case by case basis. This measure, literally, erodes the basis of our judicial system.
Only in the case of murder is there a mandatory life penalty. This reflects society's abhorrence of the taking of another's life, although, ironically, even in this instance a life sentence is more flexible than that proposed in the minimum sentencing arrangement in this Bill. If the Minister gets his way, how can he justify a lesser penalty for the offence of rape or sexual offences against children? Where can the line be drawn or will we see the Minister continue down this track as he, inevitably, becomes more beleaguered and needs some new measure to try to salvage his tattered reputation? Why should drug dealing be singled out and not the raping of women and children or, as we have seen, the horrific raping of toddlers?
Children are mentioned in the Bill. Mandatory sentences, of their nature, cannot make allowances for the variety of circumstances which surround each offence. The Bill attempts to take account of this by providing that the minimum penalty will not apply to children or young persons or where the court is satisfied that there are exceptional and specific circumstances that would make it unjust. It specifies two circumstances which may be taken into account — where the accused has pleaded guilty or where he or she has assisted the Garda Síochána. The Bill proposes that where the accused was an addict at the time of the offence the minimum sentence may be reviewed and, possibly, suspended after five years.
The word “exceptional” can be taken in two ways — that it makes a nonsense of the principle of mandatory sentencing or that the non-imposition of the mandatory minimum term is intended to be a rare occurrence. We have to understand what is happening in the courts. Many cases before them involve drug couriers who have become involved in that activity due to family pressures, family ties to drug dealers, blackmail or threats that fall short of duress. Others are pawns of the real drug dealers who will not be convicted under this legislation. We should be clear about that. The runners and the couriers, who are the pawns, will be hit. Others were unaware of the amount of drugs they carried. At present such factors are taken into account by the courts, but this Bill will remove that degree of  flexibility and discretion which is the hallmark of a good judicial system. It will also inevitably have the effect of filling up our prisons unnecessarily. Can it be that the Minister, who has so effectively caused havoc in the police service, is now intending to cause more havoc in an already overcrowded prison service? He seems intent on trying to get more people into prison instead of trying to ensure as many as possible stay out of it.
Other speakers referred to the situation in the prison service. It is important to refer to it because it is an important aspect of the Bill. We should pause to reflect on what prisons could do because there is much emphasis on the negatives in prison. The negatives are very real and endemic. We are familiar with what is happening in our appalling prison service. However, a prison service could rehabilitate prisoners. It could be responsible for people being better rather than worse individuals when they leave it. It could offer people on their release a new life, new opportunities and give them a second chance to make a go of things and stick to the straight and narrow. When we consider the work of organisations such as PACE, which try to offer people a second chance, one can see very clearly where the money should be spent. It should be spent on the probation and welfare service and voluntary organisations that are working with prisoners to try to draw them away from a life of crime and to ensure there is a future for them. The majority of people who end up in prison are unemployed, poor, male and have little or no education or prospects. Those are the problems we much recognise and address. Dealing with the problems that face those who end up in prison would offer the best solution.
The Minister is not satisfied simply with mandatory sentencing. He sets out in the Bill to prevent any commutation of the minimum sentence or temporary release of prisoners convicted under this legislation, except for grave humanitarian reasons. I question the constitutionality of that section as it may be found to discriminate unfairly against this class of prisoner. It is unreasonable to fetter the Minister and prison authorities in this way.
It is revealing of a paucity in the Minister's approach that he has used the extent of drug abuse in our communities as an excuse to present this Bill and to go down this road, which is not garnering the support of a substantial proportion of the population outside of the Government. Anyone who knows the situation on the ground appreciates that what is required to have a real impact in combating drugs is an integrated and effective approach on a number of fronts. This Bill is not part of that strategy, if the Government has such a strategy. The rainbow Government devised a strategy which proved its worth in connecting the good people in local communities who felt isolated in the fight to combat drugs with the powers, influence and resources of the Government.
This Bill is so far off the mark that it may well  result in the most extraordinary outcome whereby more people will be convicted when drugs are scarce and, therefore, more costly than when drugs are plentiful and cheap. We have seen that over and over again in Dublin. When there is a flood of drugs on the market drugs can become so cheap that I have heard young people say it is cheaper to get ecstasy than it is to get drunk. In those circumstances there will probably be fewer convictions and more drugs being carried by couriers who will not come under the provisions of this legislation. That shows up the idiocy at the heart of this Bill. When drugs are rampant it is likely the number of convictions will drop and inevitably people will be able to carry a greater quantity of drugs and not come under the provisions of this legislation compared to when there is a scarcity of drugs and people will come under its provisions at an earlier point.
Other Deputies referred to the issue of drugs in our community. However, efforts are being made to tackle the problem. One aspect of the strategy to tackle it which has proved its worth over and over again is the provision of treatment centres. I know of young people who have come through them and have been able to finally kick the habit. Others have not and they will be dependent on methadone for a long time, if not all their lives. Methadone stabilises their condition and takes them out of the criminal world and the fact they can avail of that type of treatment does tremendous good. The Minister would be much better employed advising his Deputies and his public representatives in local authorities to stop putting the fear of God in communities who are afraid to accept the provision of treatment centres. They should start to lead the way by ensuring that every community that requires it has an adequate number of them. I am proud of the fact that there are three treatment centres in Bray. We are probably ahead of the posse in many ways, but it was not an easy achievement and we did not get the help and support of Deputies who now sit on the Government benches. I hear reports all the time about how Fianna Fáil, in particular, has been unhelpful and has attempted in many ways to block the provision of treatment centres, which are an essential part of the battle against drugs, in other communities.
If we could cut off the demand for drugs, we would be able to reduce the supply. We all know that no matter how many people are sent to prison, as long as there are big profits to be made in the drugs trade there will always be somebody to take the place of the courier or drug baron. There will always be someone who wants to make money out of the suffering and death of our young people. We have to deal with the demand and face the fact that for many of our young people life is so bleak that taking drugs is an attractive option. If the Minister and his colleagues could do that, we would all express our gratitude. That would be a better approach than having a Bill that is nonsensical in its approach  and is being used to shore-up the reputation of a Minister who has proved himself to be incapable of dealing with issues on his doorstep which he has singly failed to address and, in many ways, when one considers the Garda Síochána dispute, made worse.
Mr. Lawlor: I thought this Bill would have been welcomed by Members on all sides of the House because it is a draconian but sincere attempt to tackle a problem about which all right minded citizens are concerned and on which they have repeatedly stressed the need for action. The Minister has taken some tough and difficult decisions in the Bill.
Like many Members I have experience of dealing with the drugs problem. I fully agree with rehabilitation and treatment centres as means of dealing with the problems which have arisen. The Bill is endeavouring to cut off the source of drugs and provide long periods of imprisonment for drug barons and godfathers irrespective of the legal or financial resources they may have and the delaying tactics they may bring to bear. It provides for all that is necessary in the complex business of getting a successful prosecution.
How often have residents associations and concerned parents invited Deputies to meetings and told us, for example, of a person coming to a particular place every Thursday at 4 o'clock or to a housing estate to sell drugs? Such activities are reported to the Garda who are attempting to deal with the problem. However, getting evidence at that level is complex and difficult. Under this legislation drug barons and those they employ to ply their vicious trade will know that if caught with drugs with a value of £10,000 or more they will receive a mandatory sentence of ten years. It is a draconian but necessary measure and I hope all Members will support what the Minister is attempting to achieve.
The Minister has recognised the possibility of unfortunate cases where people, through addiction, find themselves caught, accused and sentenced by providing for a halving of the sentence based on medical evidence and various other reports which can be made available to the court. Therefore, while it is a draconian measure, it includes a human dimension and understanding.
There are inadequate resources to address the major problem which exists. On the one hand we have to deal with the cutting off of supply while on the other hand the problem of addiction and getting people off drugs has to be dealt with. There is urgent need for a large detoxification facility to allow people be placed in care and go through the necessary traumatic process, be it through the taking of methadone or another method, to try to clear their addiction. In my constituency I have been involved in a number of such rehabilitation centres where computers and other assistance has been provided through support from various commercial organisations to help those in the Eastern Health Board and the voluntary sector carry out their very laudable  work. These centres take under their wing people with addiction who visit the centres, take their dose of methadone under supervision, live with the continuing temptation and try to end their addiction. It is a difficult process for those afflicted with this curse.
We can see the trauma, pain and hurt in parents' faces on speaking with them at meetings as they explain how their son or daughter is addicted to drugs. Once people start using drugs the barons or godfathers get them to act as sales agents. This is how the vicious chain is formed. We must address the source of the problem. Together with other measures taken by this and previous Governments and the work of the Criminal Assets Bureau, this Bill is an attempt to deal with the source of supply. We must follow the money trail and the ill gotten gains accumulated by the drug barons in banks both here and abroad. There is no speedier way of tackling the problem. The international banking system is endeavouring to co-operate and the issue of movement of funds is now a responsibility of bankers in the context of drug trafficking and laundering of money.
The signal being sent out from the House is that anybody found trafficking in drugs with a value of £10,000 or more will serve a minimum sentence of ten years and perhaps longer. I listened to Deputy McManus and would have thought this Bill was in the making under the previous Government. Every Government has been conscious of the drugs problem and the difficulties it is wreaking on communities throughout the country. I was surprised when the issue was discussed at a meeting of our parliamentary party to hear that Deputies from rural areas, such as that represented by Deputy McCormack, had the same concerns and were experiencing the same difficulties which we thought were unique to large urban areas. It is an evil activity running through the veins of the country and tough measures are necessary to get on top of the problem.
I believe, not simply because I am on this side of the House, that what is being done is dramatic and drastic as it takes away many individual rights and discretion from the courts by setting down in mandatory form exactly what should be done with people convicted of this very serious crime. The Minister should be commended for doing this. All the agencies attempting to tackle this problem will say these measures are necessary and that the supply must be cut off.
In recent years some of the successful high profile convictions both here and in the UK have indicated to drug barons that they cannot have their wicked way or continue to smuggle drugs into the country and distribute them among our young people. The Bill amends the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1997, and some other Acts which deal with the potential of the Minister to remit sentences. The Minister is giving away his existing discretion to further  strengthen the provisions and show that he and the Government mean business when it comes to dealing with these people.
The Bill is overdue and is well thought out. It comprehensively deals with the issues which arise and I sincerely hope it will receive a speedy passage through the House and become law so the Garda and the courts can use it in tackling this curse in society, particularly among young people who unfortunately succumb to the temptation of trying out drugs.
I disagree with Deputy McManus who wants to differentiate between cannabis, heroin, etc. She may have a theoretically valid point, but in practice the availability of soft drugs tragically leads to the taking of hard drugs. Drugs are the heart of the problem irrespective of type and the Minister is right not to make an exception. Seizure of drugs with a value of £10,000 or more will result in the full rigours of the Bill being applied, including a ten year mandatory sentence.
Deputy Jim Higgins made some valid points and I have no doubt that on Committee Stage the Minister will consider them in some detail. The Minister has already suggested he will be tabling a number of amendments. The Bill will be a very worthwhile instrument for the Garda and the courts.
Mr. Dukes: Two questions, which I had nominated for priority, were transferred from the Department of the Environment and Local Government to other Departments. I disagree with one of the transfers but I will not argue about it. I simply wish to point out I was not informed of these transfers until the deadline for the nomination of priority questions had passed. I am aware the Ceann Comhairle's Office does not decide transfers but it does rule on the issue of timing.
I was informed that if I had nominated two questions as substitute priorities, these could have been printed on the Order Paper as long as the transfer of the others had occurred prior to printing the Order Paper. Because I did not nominate two substitutes, the questions could not have been replaced even if I had telephoned the Ceann Comhairle's Office before the Order Paper was printed. I believe that is a totally unintentional aspect of our system and I ask the Ceann Comhairle, as chairman of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, to see whether steps can be taken to rectify the matter. Deputies have been seriously discommoded in the House on a number of occasions because of time delays.
An Ceann Comhairle: My office will consider the matter.
1. Ms Clune asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government his views on the recent survey published by the EU statistics office in Luxembourg which found that Ireland has some of the most dangerous roads in the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13883/98]
2. Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the progress, if any, to date in the road safety initiative launched in 1997; the number and dates of meetings held by the steering group; the proposals, if any, implemented by the group to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13884/98]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): I propose to take Question Nos. 1 and 2 together. The recently published Eurostat survey is based on an assessment of road accident data in the European Union for the seven year period 1989 to 1995. During that period, road fatalities in Ireland decreased by 5 per cent, a rate somewhat behind the EU average for the period. At 121 road deaths per million people in 1995, Ireland was close to the EU average of 119.
The Eurostat survey does not provide comparative information on road fatalities in relation to vehicle travel. By reference to this parameter, Ireland ranks joint fourth best among EU member states from whom information is available. I regard the new survey as valuable in bringing wider EU experiences of road safety into focus and in highlighting the superior road safety performances of some of our EU partners. Comparisons with such countries challenge us to learn from their approaches and to move towards an improved level of road safety in Ireland for which there is strong public and political demand.
In response to this demand, the Government is already committed to publishing and implementing a national road safety strategy. This will support a more systematic, intensive and co-ordinated approach to all aspects of road safety. The high level group on road safety was mandated late in 1997 to prepare this strategy. The group and a specially constituted subgroup met on five occasions between November 1997 and February 1998 to prepare a framework and set directions for the strategy. Detailed drafting of the strategy, with further supporting research, was then remitted to my Department subject to final clearance by the high level group. The group will meet shortly to finalise the strategy, following which I will present it to Government and publish it.
Pending finalisation of the strategy, action by the road safety agencies is being stepped up. A substantially increased grant has been provided by my Department to the National Safety Council  in 1998 for the purpose of improving road safety and promoting road accident prevention. Garda enforcement of road traffic law continues to be given a high priority under the direction of the National Traffic Policy Bureau and through the implementation of Operation Lifesaver. The National Roads Authority has increased its provision in 1998 for its low cost safety measures programme and for other measures directly related to road safety. I also welcome the fact that road fatalities countrywide to end May 1998 show a decrease of some 10 per cent on the corresponding period in 1997.
Ms Clune: I welcome the Minister's acknowledgement that road safety in this country leaves a great deal to be desired when compared to some of our EU partners, particularly the UK, whose record of road fatalities is very low. In 1995, there were 121 deaths per million in road accidents in Ireland. Last year, 453 people were killed on our roads. Since I tabled this question, there were a further four deaths in my constituency in Cork. One must consider the hardship and heartache involved for the families concerned in every case in which people are killed or seriously injured.
The Department of the Environment and Local Government could do a great deal to improve the standards of our roads, road signage and speed reduction. Speed is one of the major killers on our roads. Alcohol also has an effect on road safety. From my own observations, the number of people who do not wear safety belts is quite high and that is also a contributory factor. Has the Minister any specific proposals to improve road standards, signage and increase people's awareness of speed limits? Could speed limits be reduced in built-up areas such as housing estates to 15 or 20 mph? Numerous representations have been made to me in regard to this problem. I would like the Minister to introduce some concrete proposals which would lead to a reduction in the ever increasing level of road fatalities as there is a great deal of public concern about this issue.
Mr. Dempsey: I accept the Deputy's comments in regard to the heartache involved for those who are bereaved through road fatalities, especially when a number of members of the same family are killed or seriously injured.
The Department is constantly striving to improve, through improved allocations, the funding available to local authorities and the National Roads Authority to improve road standards. During a previous question time, the issues of signage and road improvements were dealt with in some detail. The NRA has increased the amount of funding available for the improvement of so-called black spots on national roads.
The other points raised by the Deputy basically relate to enforcement of the law which is a matter for the Garda. The Garda are contributing in a vigorous manner to the high level group on road  safety. It is statistically proven that the use of seat belts considerably reduces the level of road injuries and fatalities. The figure for wearing seat belts in front seats is approximately 60 per cent in Ireland. That is relatively low in comparison to the rest of Europe. The best rate in Europe is 95 per cent while the average is 85 per cent. Ireland is 25 per cent below the norm.
In 1997, approximately 6,535 samples were analysed by the medical bureau. The samples were taken from people who were stopped by the Garda under section 49 of the Road Traffic Act. Of these samples, 93 per cent were found to be at, or above, the legal limit and approximately 62 per cent were over the legal limit. The gardaí usually form an opinion that something is wrong with somebody's driving before they stop a car but the fact that 93 per cent of people stopped had blood alcohol levels above the limit is staggering.
Mr. Howlin: Although these questions have been taken together, they deal with separate matters. One refers to the situation in 1995 and the survey by EUROSTAT while the second refers to a specific initiative announced by the Taoiseach and the Minister last year to deal with an unacceptable increase, particularly in 1997, in the number of road deaths. I asked for the number and dates of meetings held by the high level steering group, not the sub-groups.
It is unacceptable that we have had to wait so long for the group's report. Urgency and anxiety was expressed by all Members of the House when this matter was raised on the Order of Business and it is not good enough that a report has not been produced and action has not been taken on the initiative to date. When will the report be available for debate and implementation? Has the Minister received any interim proposals from the steering group to date?
Mr. Dempsey: I have not received an interim report although the Minister of State with responsibility in this area maintains close contact with the group. There were five meetings between the high level group and the specially constituted sub-group. The high level group met on 17 November 1997 to set out parameters for deciding what proposals would be considered and so forth. It also met on 13 February 1998. Between those dates the specially constituted sub-group met on 21 November and 1 and 12 December 1997. It met to gather information and to develop the framework for the strategy to assess and analyse the submissions it received from the various elements that constituted the high level group.
At the meeting on 13 February it was agreed that when all the information was compiled and the analyses and assessments completed, it would be brought together by the Department to progress the drafting of a strategy based on the work of the sub-group, the submissions that had been  received and the general approach that had previously been agreed by the high level group.
With regard to the date of publication of the report, the task is within weeks of completion. The process also involved a number of bilateral discussions with bodies such as the Department, the Garda Síochána, the transport authorities, the National Road Authority and representative organisations. The report will be published shortly.
An Ceann Comhairle: We have exceeded the time limit for this question. There is a strict time limit on Priority Questions.
Mr. Howlin: There was injury time at the beginning.
An Ceann Comhairle: I have taken that into account. The new rule is strictly applied and I cannot make an exception.
Mr. Howlin: Can I ask one brief supplementary?
An Ceann Comhairle: No, we must proceed to Question No. 3.
Mr. Howlin: That is most unsatisfactory. I asked a Priority Question and I am only permitted one supplementary.
An Ceann Comhairle: I can only operate the new rule which is that six minutes are allocated per priority question. We have spent almost 14 minutes on this question.
Mr. Howlin: That means the Minister can give a long reply and not have to answer any supplementaries.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Minister's initial reply is confined to two minutes. It was four minutes in this case because two questions were taken together. That is the new rule laid down by the House.
Mr. Howlin: It is most unsatisfactory.
3. Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government if he will amend the taxi and hackney regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13885/98]
Mr. Dempsey: The scope and operation of the regulations relating to taxis and hackneys is kept under regular review by the Department.
The Road Traffic (Public Service Vehicles) (Amendment) Regulations, 1995 established a comprehensive revised framework for the licensing and operation of taxis and hackneys, on the basis of a substantial devolution of policy and control franchises to local authorities. More recent amendments have changed certain criteria  for the assessment of applications for new taxi and wheelchair accessible taxi licences and amplified and clarified the specification for wheelchair accessible taxis.
Following concerns recently expressed in the Dáil and Seanad, my Department will consult the Garda Commissioner and trade interests on the need to amend a provision of the public service regulations requiring applicants for PSV driver licences to undertake that their driving services will be available for at least 40 hours in each week. I intend to determine this issue shortly and to address other aspects of PSV regulation as the need arises.
Mr. Howlin: The Faber report analysed the provision of taxis and hackneys nationwide and recommended deregulated entry into the market within a ten year period. It also recommended a number of other comprehensive changes. Has the Minister reflected on the report and does he favour deregulation? Is he in favour of the other changes proposed or is he satisfied with the current provision of taxis, particularly in Dublin?
Mr. Dempsey: I have not studied the Faber report in detail. I am aware of its recommendations but the issue of taxi licenses is now a devolved function. The Dublin Taxi Forum and the local authorities in Dublin have not endorsed the report yet and it would be premature of me to make any views known at this stage. I should allow consideration of the report by the relevant authorities to continue.
Mr. Howlin: I am surprised the Minister does not have a view on the report or on the simple issue of whether there are sufficient taxis in Dublin. The mechanism to address that issue is open to debate but the Minister could address the net point.
Ms O. Mitchell: It is not open to debate. It is a matter for local authorities.
Mr. Howlin: The regulations are ultimately a matter for the Minister. Deregulation would require a change in the law, which is not a matter for the local authorities.
Mr. Dukes: Welcome to the world of deregulation.
Mr. Howlin: I do not advocate deregulation because I do not believe it is the correct course of action.
Mr. Dukes: Deputy Stagg takes a different view.
Mr. Howlin: However, there are not enough taxis in Dublin and the mechanism to deal with that should be outlined by the Minister. It has not been to date but I hope it will be in due course.
With regard to public service vehicle drivers'  licences, the Minister will be aware that a number of people, particularly in rural areas, are currently deprived of such licences because of rigid interpretation of long existing regulations. I urge the Minister to make a decision on this matter. Perhaps he will give the timeframe for the decision now. It would give comfort to people to know that the decision will be made within a certain period. Currently they are unable to carry on their part-time businesses because licences that were available heretofore are now being refused.
Mr. Dempsey: I cannot give a strict timetable on this matter because a number of consultations, particularly with the Garda Síochána, are ongoing. I understand the points the Deputy made, particularly on rural areas. That problem needs to be addressed and I will do so as sympathetically as possible.
4. Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the guidelines, if any, his Department has issued to local authorities on the standards and materials used in the construction of children's playgrounds; if funding is available from his Department to upgrade playgrounds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13749/98]
Mr. Dempsey: Under the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1994, local authorities are empowered to provide, operate and maintain parks, open spaces and amenities, including children's playgrounds, for amenity and recreational purposes. It is a matter for local authorities in constructing and upgrading playgrounds to have regard to the various relevant standards applying to construction, equipment and materials.
The provision or upgrading of appropriate limited facilities such as open spaces, recreation facilities, amenity areas etc., may be funded from my Department's capital allocations where the work is undertaken in conjunction with the provision of new housing or the refurbishment of existing housing under the remedial works scheme.
Mr. Howlin: Does the Minister acknowledge that children are in serious danger because of unsuitable surfaces in playgrounds? Many local authorities do not have the resources to replace those surfaces with more expensive but safer ones. Will the Minister issue clear guidelines to local authorities on minimum standards for playground surfaces and provide finance to make dangerous surfaces safe? Some playgrounds are surfaced with tarmacadam or stones. Children are being seriously injured. In many instances, local authorities must choose to close down such playgrounds or try to get resources to make them  safe. This merits the attention of the Minister who must ensure there are national guidelines — which are issued for less important matters — and funding so that children have a safe play area, particularly during the summer.
Mr. Dempsey: There are international standards for outdoor play equipment and this is the responsibility of local authorities when they provide play areas. It would be irresponsible of them not to do so. I do not need to spell out to local authorities that they should observe the highest possible standards. There are international as well as national guidelines.
I have no plans to provide specific funding for playgrounds in local authority areas. However, the fact that local authorities will receive around £128 million extra in funding from 1 January 1999 will give them sufficient leeway to provide funding for playgrounds.
Mr. Howlin: I will not rise to the Minister's comment about additional funding. The Minister knows that sum is an illusion rather than a reality. Whatever additional money local authorities receive, there are many calls on it. I appeal to the Minister to address this issue. I am not concerned with equipment but with play surfaces. Many of the older playground in housing estates and parks are dangerous for children. The Minister should be proactive in this matter in order to avoid serious injury to children. Will he issue national guidelines to bring the attention of local authorities to this matter and provide some modest funding over a period as a signal of his intention that children should have safe areas in which to play?
Mr. Dempsey: Local authorities should not continue to provide play areas if they are not safe. It is the responsibility of local authorities to provide safe play areas. In deference to the Deputy, perhaps the next time I issue a letter to local authorities I will remind them to observe the international guidelines and to provide the highest possible standards. I will not provide funding for playgrounds. It is a matter for each local authority within its own resources to provide safe play areas if they decide they are necessary.
As regards play areas on housing estates, the areas to which the Deputy referred to are older estates. Under the remedial works scheme it is possible to provide some limited funding and those cases will be judged on their merit.
Ms O. Mitchell: Many local authorities are removing play areas throughout the country because of the difficulty in insuring children using these facilities. It is a pity that insurance can only be acquired where such facilities are supervised. This can only be done in regional rather than local play areas. Will the Minister consider a nationally co-ordinated insurance scheme for local authorities? This would perhaps provide a  better deal than is available to each individual local authority.
Mr. Dempsey: As in many other areas, there is a major problem of insurance cost in this area. The Deputy rightly said that a number of local authorities will not continue to provide playgrounds because of insurance costs and liability claims. I would like if there was some way to avoid filling the coffers of insurance companies and if the compensation culture was not so prevalent. However, it is and we must face that.
Mr. Howlin: A number of public bodies are owned by insurance companies.
Mr. Dempsey: I will discuss the matter with them to see if they can come up with a national scheme which may reduce the cost to individual local authorities. I will get back to the Deputy when I get a response on that.
5. Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government when he will publish his review of school bus safety; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13863/98]
27. Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the plans, if any, he has to introduce new safety measures for school buses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13864/98]
Mr. Dempsey: I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 and 27 together.
In line with its overall responsibility for road safety, my Department has been reviewing a wide range of issues relating to bus safety against the background of national and EU concerns. The key policy requirement is to preserve and enhance the good road safety record of the bus fleet in general and our school bus fleet in particular.
An important background to this task is provided by Directive 96/36/EC under which member states will be allowed from 1 October 1999 to require the fitting of seat belts in all seating positions of certain new buses. The adoption of this requirement, which will be considered, would inter alia involve phasing out the present three for two rule which applies to school buses. I intend that a position on this matter, which will involve consultation with a range of interests, will be finalised well in advance of the implementation date for the directive.
Ireland is also actively supporting the preparation of a draft EU directive to address bus safety and construction standards on a wider basis.
Mr. Naughten: What discussions has the Minister or the Minister of State with responsibility  for safety, had with the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy O'Dea, who is bringing proposals to Cabinet in relation to upgrading the school transport fleet before the autumn for inclusion in next year's bus service?
Mr. Howlin: They will have to go to Limerick to meet him.
Mr. Dempsey: There have been ongoing contacts between the Department of Education and Science and the Department of the Environment and Local Government since 1993. I cannot give the Deputy details of meetings, but there have been communications in both directions over that period.
Mr. Dukes: It is obviously a dynamic process.
Mr. Dempsey: It started in 1993 so none of us can claim to have been too dynamic. There are ongoing contacts. We have expressed our views on a number of safety matters relating to school buses to the Minister and the Department of Education and Science, and they will be taken into account.
Mr. Naughten: Neither the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy O'Dea, nor the Minister of State at the Minister's Department have met to discuss this important issue. There have been a number of tragedies on roads over the past 12 months, since the Government came into office and the two Ministers have not sat down face to face to discuss the issue. It is blatant disregard for school-children.
The Minister mentioned the 3:2 seating ratio and the introduction of seat belts. Is it his intention to introduce a 2:2 seating ratio and to introduce safety belts on school buses? The Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science said that he has no intention of changing the current rule whereby 17 and 18 year old students on school buses have to squeeze three into two seats. Does the Minister agree this is ludicrous and that it is not possible to fit three young people, with sports bags, schoolbooks, etc. into two seats?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I ask Members to ask questions to elicit information from the Minister and not to make speeches, in fairness to other Members who have submitted questions. We have been doing very well on questions in the past week. We do not want to drift back to where we only answer four or five questions a day. I ask Members to respect the order of Question Time.
Mr. Naughten: Does the Minister not agree that students now have to stand or sit on the floor of school buses. Will he reconsider the Government's decision?
Mr. Dempsey: I do not know to what decision of Government the Deputy is referring. I stated clearly in the original answer that the background to ongoing discussions and the concerns being expressed is provided by Directive 96/36EC under which member states will be allowed, from 1 October 1999 to require the fitting of seat belts in all seats of certain new buses. The adoption of this requirement, which will be considered, would, inter alia, involve phasing out the present 3:2 rule which applies to school buses, and Ireland supports that position. As I do not have the information before me, I cannot tell the Deputy how often the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy O'Dea, and Minister of State at my Department, Deputy Molloy, have met face to face on this matter. However, there are ongoing contacts, the most recent of which was about three weeks ago.
Mr. Naughten: The Minister should tell Deputy O'Dea who does not seem to be aware of it.
6. Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government if the proposals for the establishment by the local authorities of community and enterprise groups have now been reactivated; if not, when they will be reactivated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13766/98]
Mr. Dempsey: It is my intention to have in place, by the end of 1999, an integrated approach to local government and local development, with an emphasis on participation and partnership. The Government has established a task force representative of the relevant Government Departments, which I am chairing, to develop an appropriate framework. The community and enterprise group approach is one of the ways of achieving closer alignment which will be examined in this context. However, whatever approach is adopted will have regard to partnership principles which underlie the community and enterprise group approach and which were outlined in the previous Government's Better Local Government White Paper.
Ms O. Mitchell: I am surprised by the answer that the community and enterprise approach is one of the ways of achieving integration. The Minister must be aware that the current situation is unsatisfactory and cannot be allowed to continue. There is a great deal of duplication.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy should ask a question.
Ms O. Mitchell: I am just setting the background. Is the Minister aware that not only is there duplication but suspicion and competition which is wasteful of resources? I understand the Minister is aware that local authorities are ready for change and want integration but there is still  a great deal of suspicion on the part of the other agencies involved. If we want to make progress it seems the only way is to appoint the directors of the community and enterprise groups. Will the Minister agree that they are the catalyst necessary to make progress towards the integration of local authorities, community enterprise groups and other agencies? On a related matter, is it not time also to introduce information systems which would be available to both groups to help in the process of integration? Could those measures be put in place fairly quickly?
Mr. Dempsey: The Deputy asked whether I was still committed to the community and enterprise group approach. I do not wish to be evasive, but we are in the process of deciding the best way to bring them together. The task force will make that decision. The essential principles are based on partnership and participation. It was unrealistic to expect that this would happen at local level without a wider national framework in place. The task force is attempting to get co-ordination at national level and translate that into effective action at a local level to overcome problems of duplication and lack of co-ordination at local level. There is suspicion, and my predecessor was aware of it also, in local development that local government is trying to take over, and some work needs to be done in that area to allay fears. The task force will have the job of over-coming that suspicion. I have no doubt that local authorities have proved, with their ready adaptation to the SPC system that they are ready for this type of change. I hope local development will also change. Currently we have 38 area partnerships, 36 Leader II groups, 35 county and city enterprise boards, drugs task forces, community groups, supported by the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs. County strategy groups were meant to pull all this together, but they do not seem to be working. There is a need for rationalisation and that is what we want to do, not in the spirit of local Government or any other body taking over or dominating but in the spirit of working in partnership so that we can come up with the best possible arrangements at local level to effect what we all want, and include people rather than exclude them.
Mr. Dukes: When does the Minister expect that all this consideration might come to a conclusion? Could he speculate on whether, if the final conclusion of all this consideration is that we do not go ahead with the community and enterprise groups as originally proposed, he will take steps to encourage local authorities to include community and enterprise groups on the strategic planning committees?
Mr. Dempsey: The Deputy has made a good point. That is already happening in the case of the strategic policy committees. The concept of the community and enterprise group was that it would not have the same composition as the strategic  policy committees. Because community development and enterprise development are involved there will be a balance of public representatives, the community voluntary sector and other players. In answer to the second part of the question, it is hoped that some of these groups will participate in the strategic policy committees. The community and enterprise group was meant to be a separate group, and that may be the case, subject to the talks that will take place.
On when the discussions will conclude, the task force has been given three months to report to the Cabinet. During that time there will be discussions within the task force and, simultaneously — this is necessary under Partnership 2000 — discussions will take place with representatives of the four pillars of Partnership 2000. We hope those discussions and consultations will be finished and the report ready for the first Cabinet meeting in September.
Mr. Howlin: Will the Minister accept that the concept of partnership between local development groups and local authorities envisaged in a programme for change by local government is an important concept to be preserved, that there are local authorities that believe the objective of the exercise is for them to take over the funding and structures of local development groups? Initial discussion of the programme, for which I was responsible, was usually confined to local authorities. Does the Minister accept there is need to include in a structured way, not through the task force but by the Minister directly, local development groups to assure them of their uniqueness and their place in the new structures that will emerge?
Mr. Dempsey: I accept the Deputy's point. In the past 12 months the Minister of State, Deputy Flood, has had responsibility for local development, partnerships, ADMs, the drugs task force and so on. He undertook to consult with all these groups and has done so.
Mr. Howlin: The Minister should have that role because he is seen by local groups as predator on behalf of local authorities.
Mr. Dempsey: I hope I am not seen in that light. The Minister of State, Deputy Flood, has conducted wide-ranging consultations with every group and I will meet representatives of the various groups. I accept the Deputy's point about misconceptions in terms of takeover and so on. I agree with the Deputy this is about partnership and participation. That is the spirit of the local government document and the spirit in which we are approaching it. I have no doubt we will receive the same generosity from local development groups.
7. Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government if effective safe-guards for tenants exist within the 1992 charter for rented housing; the plans, if any, he has to review the charter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13854/98]
Mr. Dempsey: In recent years a range of statutory measures have been put in place which constitute a charter for rented housing. These include: the extension to four weeks of the minimum period for notices to quit residential tenancies under the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1992; the prohibition under the 1992 Act on the seizure of a tenant's goods by a landlord as a means of enforcing payment of rent; the mandatory provision of rent books to tenants in accordance with the Housing (Rent Books) Regulations, 1993; the introduction of minimum standards for rented accommodation under the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations, 1993; and the requirement to register certain rented accommodation in accordance with the Housing (Registration of Rented Houses) Regulations, 1996. Local authorities, who are responsible for enforcement of the regulations are regularly urged by my Department to take all steps open to them to secure compliance with their provisions.
In addition, the terms of the lease or other tenancy agreement under which the tenancies are held, in conjunction with the landlord and tenant code, determine the rights of tenants in private rented accommodation and the protection available to them. The code of legislation which governs the relationship between tenant and landlord is the responsibility of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I am satisfied the measures taken by my Department, coupled with the landlord and tenant legislation, provide a reasonably effective level of protection and safeguards for tenants.
Mr. Hayes: How many prosecutions have been taken against landlords for failing to enforce standards in the private rented sector since enactment of the law in 1992?
Mr. Dempsey: That is a specific question on which I do not have the information, but I will get it for the Deputy. In 1997 local authorities carried out 3,846 inspections in connection with standards regulations and 2,526 investigations in connection with rent books. The bulk of those were in the Dublin area.
Mr. Hayes: The Minister said he is satisfied with the provisions of the 1992 Act. How can he justify satisfaction on the basis of a report in the latest housing statistics bulletin that only 26,713 households have been registered by landlords under the housing regulations of 1996?
Mr. Dempsey: Court cases are pending on registration and some people probably have not registered for that reason. The 1991 census figures  reveal that 81,771 dwellings were rented, either privately furnished or unfurnished. In addition, 21,622 were occupied rent free and there was no information on a further 9,000 dwellings. The precise data on the number of houses to which the registration regulations apply are not available because certain rented dwellings are exempt from the requirements for a variety of reasons — for example, a house let by a resident landlord where there is not more than one rented dwelling within the house, voluntary housing which is rented, houses let to certain relatives of landlords and houses let for temporary convenience are exempt. That could mean a sizeable number of the 81,000 dwellings are not subject to the regulations.
Mr. Dukes: On the basis of the statistics the Minister has given on inspections relating to standards and the issue of rent books, given the total number of rented premises, will he agree inspection of premises in regard to standards and the issue of rent books to tenants is the exception rather than the rule? Will he agree, even in the substantial number of cases where health boards provide rent supplements, inspection in regard to standards and the issue of rent books is the exception rather than the rule? Will he agree, therefore, local authorities have failed completely to carry out their obligations under the legislation? Will he agree it is time to reconsider this matter?
Mr. Dempsey: I do not agree with the Deputy because it is not the practice to inspect every house or place under any regime where regulations apply. For example, the Revenue Commissioners use a figure considerably less than 10 per cent as a random sample to gauge whether regulations on self-assessment are being complied with. A figure of almost 4,000 inspections in connection with the standard regulations and 2,500 in connection with rent books is a reasonable level of inspection.
Mr. Hayes: There have been no prosecutions.
Mr. Dukes: In what proportion of those cases were rent books issued to tenants?
Mr. Dempsey: I do not have that statistic. The rate of investigation and inspection is reasonable, unless it is decided to inspect all dwellings. Spot checks to establish the level of compliance is the way all regulations are policed. Local authorities can derive an income from this and I am sure if possible they will increase the levels. I am not aware of any major difficulty.
Mr. Dukes: Will the Minister inform himself on at least one issue? In what proportion of the cases inspected were tenants issued with rent books? If he finds — as I am sure he will — the issue of rent books is the exception rather than the rule, will he rethink the matter to determine if there is a better way to afford the kind of protection to  tenants the law sets out to give them, but is not being given in practice?
Mr. Hayes: Will the Minister clarify if a case has been taken against the Minister and the Department by a group of landlords on the basis of the registration fee? Is it also the case that his Department has not submitted a defence to the courts on that case? Will he clarify this matter as it is directly related to the issue in the question?
Mr. Dempsey: I will certainly investigate the matter raised by Deputy Dukes, but I am not aware that there is a significant level of non-compliance. Under the current system, if a large number of people do not comply with the regulations, the local authorities can take steps to address the matter. I will check the rate of compliance and if it is not satisfactory I will take up the matter with the local authority concerned.
A District Court case was taken against a local urban district council in regard to the regulations. I understand the case put forward by the landlords was upheld in that the regulations, as drawn up by the then Minister of State, Deputy McManus, did not allow for a fine for non-compliance. I understand that may be the subject of an appeal. It is being kept under review in the Department so that we know the action that needs to be taken.
8. Proinsias De Rossa asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government if he has received the report of the high level group on road safety; when the report will be published; when he expects to bring proposals to Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13773/98]
Mr. Dempsey: I refer to the reply to Priority Questions Nos. 1 and 2 on today's Order Paper, which we discussed earlier.
Mr. Naughten: Is the Minister aware that up to 10 per cent road accidents involve foreign drivers? Will he provide funding to county councils to erect signs to warn foreign drivers that they must drive on the left hand side of the road? Will he also clarify if regulations were issued to county councils on the design of signs, but funding was not provided? Has the Minister advised the car rental industry to provide warning devices in cars to highlight that foreign drivers must drive on the left side of the road?
Mr. Dempsey: Responsibility for providing signs on national roads rests with the National Roads Authority and in the case of non-national roads it rests with the local authority. A multilingual road traffic sign was introduced in 1996 to warn drivers of the requirement to drive on the left side of the road. This was designed for use mainly at exits from ports, airports and in areas of high tourist amenity. I saw some of those signs  on a recent visit to Wexford, in Galway and elsewhere. The roads authority is responsible for the provision of those signs and funding comes out of the general funding for roads. From the information available to me, County Cork, Killarney, the Dublin to Wexford road and Dublin Airport are particularly well signposted in that regard.
I specifically raised this matter at a meeting with city and county managers last week and asked them to ensure these signs are erected in sufficient quantities as quickly as possible. I am aware of one or two tragic accidents caused by tourists driving on the wrong side of the road. In addition, the National Safety Council circulates an information leaflet on traffic rules for tourists in English, French and German. While this includes various information, it emphasises the importance of driving on the left side of the road. There is ongoing contact with the Automobile Association to ensure it also gets the message across to drivers.
Mr. Howlin: The Minister informed the House that the high level group on road safety last met on 13 February. In the context of the genuine concern expressed in the House about this matter, is he concerned that the high level group on road safety has not met for four months?
Mr. Dempsey: It would be unfair to give the impression that nothing has been done since the high level group met on 13 February. As I explained in reply to earlier questions on this matter, it was agreed at that meeting that when the Department considered all submissions on the matter, it would progress the drafting of a strategy based on the work of the high level group and the sub-level group. That task is nearly completed. I am satisfied that work is continuing to finalise this and I would prefer if the job was done well rather than quickly. It is worth noting that in tandem with what is being done by that strategy, group Operation Lifesaver continues. There has been a 50 per cent increase in the money provided for the National Safety Council, extra money has been provided for national and non-national roads and the NRA has made more money available than ever before for improving black spots on national roads. It would be unfair to the high level group to give the impression that nothing is happening. I expect the report within a matter of weeks.
Mr. Naughten: I accept the Minister's position on the NRA providing funding in locations where there is a large number of tourists, but is he aware there are only two signs on the two main roads to the west, the roads to Galway and Westport? One sign is provided by the NRA and the other by a family as a result of a tragedy. Is the Minister aware that in the past three years there have been four deaths and six people have received serious injuries within three miles of my home as a result of foreign drivers who were at fault? Why can we  not provide signs in areas through which tourists pass? What discussions has the Department had with the car rental industry on providing warning signs? The car rental industry is not inclined to provide these signs and to take the initiative on this matter.
Ms O. Mitchell: What are the Minister's intentions as regards the introduction of a maximum speed limit of 15 to 20 miles per hour in residential areas? I raised this question before by way of a parliamentary question and the Minister referred to traffic calming measures being undertaken. Traffic calming measures are not changing driver attitudes but are costing much money and are extremely contentious in local areas. The entire urban area seems to be covered by mini pyramids. The obvious way to proceed is to provide for a lower maximum speed limit in residential areas given the speed of drivers in urban areas.
Mr. Dempsey: Car hire companies are cooperating with the Department, the AA and the National Safety Council in the efforts to get the message on driving on the left side of the road across. The National Safety Council developed a multi-lingual dashboard sticker which reminds tourists to drive on the left and to wear a seat belt. That sticker continues to be distributed by car hire companies and I understand they may also be distributing the leaflet to which I referred earlier.
I take Deputy Mitchell's point on reducing speed limits and on ramps. If people will not slow down even when they see ramps or children, will they slow down if they see a sign which says 15 miles per hour? I very much doubt it. Unfortunately, we are dealing with people's attitudes and it seems to be impossible to get the message across to them. Reducing speed limits to 15 or 30 miles per hour would mean more people breaking the law. It is better to have a realistic speed limit and try to ensure its enforcement rather than reducing the speed limit by so much that everybody will disregard it. That is what will happen if we reduce the limit to those low levels, desirable as it would be.
Very often we are talking about reducing speed limits in residential areas yet the people driving at 30 or 40 miles per hour are the residents of the area in which they know there are children. This has more to do with changing attitudes than speed limits. People will have to take this matter more seriously. It is a little like litter—
Ms O. Mitchell: Changing legislation changes attitudes.
Mr. Dempsey: I am not sure it would in this case.
9. Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the plans, if any, he has to introduce legislation governing the licensing, size and organisation of hypermarkets in line with our EU partners in France, Italy and elsewhere. [12118/98]
28. Mr. Perry asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the Government's position on the imminent threat of British multiple retail outlets to set up hypermarkets in Ireland; if he will define the difference between a superstore and a hypermarket; if his attention has been drawn to the implications of this particular type of development; the plans, if any, he has to control hypermarkets; the plans, if any, the Government has to cap the size of stores as in the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12082/98]
Mr. Dempsey: I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 28 together.
Having fully considered the implications for proper planning and development of further large scale retail shopping development, I instructed my Department to make arrangements for carrying out a study on all the implications of such development with a view to preparing planning guidelines. The preparation of the guidelines will involve a comprehensive study of the wide range of planning issues involved in large scale retail developments having regard to Irish circumstances. I hope to publish a draft of such guidelines for public consultation before the end of the year.
Pending completion of the study and the preparation of the guidelines, I made a policy directive under the planning Acts on 9 June stating that planning permission should not be granted for a supermarket, the retail floor space of which exceeds 3,000 square metres. The directive also restates in a strengthened form the considerations, already contained in the 1982 policy directive, which must be applied to all other large scale shopping developments by planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála. I have also made regulations providing that a change of use of any shopping premises that results in a supermarket exceeding 3,000 square metres shall not be exempted development.
I am satisfied the directive and the regulations will ensure, as an immediate interim measure, that the principles of proper planning and development are upheld by planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála in relation to such development pending the coming into effect of the proposed guidelines.
Mr. Howlin: I welcome the policy directive from the Minister. I believe he was nudged by a number of people but I am glad he acted on this matter. I look forward to the publication of the draft guidelines before the end of the year. Does the directive he has signed apply to applications  currently before local authorities or to those on which local authorities have already made a determination and on which an appeal to An Bord Pleanála has been made?
Mr. Dempsey: Section 7 of the 1982 planning Act requires local authorities to have regard to general policy directives issued by the Minister. Obviously, the local authorities and An Bord Pleanála must have regard to what the directive states. There would have to be compelling reasons for a local authority or An Bord Pleanála to ignore that directive from the Minister.
Mr. Howlin: I understand the impact of the directive but does it apply to applications which have been determined by a local authority and are currently before An Bord Pleanála? Is it binding on An Bord Pleanála in those circumstances?
Mr. Dempsey: An Bord Pleanála must have regard to it.
Mr. Howlin: Even if it predates the directive.
Mr. Dempsey: It is still current in the system and it must have regard to it.
Mr. Dukes: Like Deputy Howlin, I welcome the directive the Minister gave, although it was a pity the Minister of State was not in a position to tell me what was in it on the night it was issued. Does the Minister have any reason to believe the provisions of the current directive will be more vigorously applied than those of the last directive issued? Will he clarify whether the retail area specification he has made applies to a supermarket, whether it is a stand alone supermarket development or part of a larger shopping complex which includes shopping units other than supermarkets?
Mr. Dempsey: I confirm that the threshold of 3,000 square metres relates to the retail floor space and excludes storage space. It is the area to which customers have access, where they do their shopping. There were arguments for including gross space, increasing the 3,000 square metres to gross and for making it net space. However, I came down in favour of the 3,000 square metres which refers specifically to retail floor space, where people do their shopping.
The short answer to the Deputy's other question is that I do not know how well or how much regard local authorities or, indeed, An Bord Pleanála had to the 1982 directive, except to say that the average size of supermarkets is 30,000 square feet. An Bord Pleanála has refused planning permission for a number of shopping developments. I do not know whether the directive was responsible for this or if there were other reasons. Whereas the 1982 directive was a general directive and An Bord Pleanála was told to take into account possible broader effects which the provision of these facilities might have, this directive  states a specific floor area above which it should not grant planning permission. The major difference is that this directive is specific.
Mr. Dukes: Will the Minister confirm if the floor area specification applies to a supermarket whether the development in question is a supermarket simpliciter or part of a retail development that includes other retail units?
Mr. Dempsey: The limit is 3,000 square feet in either case.
Mr. Lawlor: My supplementary question is partly related to the point made by Deputy Dukes. In my constituency a town centre is under construction and scheduled to open. From the planners' point of view it was to measure 350,000 square feet as part of the original satellite town centre concept. In a compromise a cap of 250,000 was put on it. The planners in south Dublin in their wisdom have decided in a draft written statement to remove that cap. Is that applicable to a satellite town centre complex as against the other out-of-town protections, about which we have all been concerned? There is a uniqueness about trying to provide a full higher order of town centre facilities as against the protection of smaller towns.
Mr. Dempsey: The directive applies to any kind of development where the retail floor space exceeds 3,000 square metres. We are talking about supermarkets. The definition given in the dictionary for supermarket is a large, mainly self-retail store selling food and other household goods. If, as part of the town centre, there is a supermarket that exceeds 3,000 square metres the directive applies to it and the local authority or An Bord Pleánala will have to judge the application accordingly.
Mr. Lawlor: Has the planning manager discretion to make a judgment? If so, this is probably unique. Cork may face the same type of problem where large centres are proposed or are under construction. Is it a directive that the manager and his executive staff will make the decision on?
Mr. Dempsey: No, this is a directive. They will have to have regard to it. The general meaning of “have regard to it” is that they cannot ignore it. It is as blunt as that. They do not have a choice. The directive does not apply to centres under construction, it applies only to those which are planned or going through the planning process.
Ms O. Mitchell: My question may have been partially answered. I am sure the Minister is aware his directive has caused consternation throughout the country for those who have lodged applications with the planning authorities. I welcome the fact that the study is proceeding and we need guidelines to prevent projects in inappropriate locations. There are some locations which are clearly sustainable where the projects  will serve large centres of population and are in accordance with sustainable commuting patterns. Is such a moratorium appropriate in those areas? Will the Minister make a copy of the directive available to Deputies, please?
Mr. Dempsey: Certainly, I thought that would have been done with the press release but I will arrange for that to be done for the Deputy. I am not sure my directive has caused consternation around the country. I may have caused consternation in certain quarters. I would prefer to cause that type of consternation now rather than in three, four or five years from now when nothing could be done about it. Deputy Howlin said earlier that I was nudged in this direction. The Deputy will recall that at the opening of the Blanchardstown town centre when I was Opposition, I made a statement expressing concern at the continuing opening of these centres on the periphery of cities and towns. Deputy Dukes will be aware of it. I am conscious of this in my own constituency where more and more people are being sucked away from provincial towns to do their shopping in hypermarkets and superstores. The effects of this can be seen on the Continent. We wanted a breathing space to allow us to study it in more detail so that it would not be a case of closing the door after the horse has bolted. In general people have welcomed the directive and I welcome the support of all sides of the House. I look forward to receiving submissions from people who agree and disagree with it in due course.
10. Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the implications, if any, for Ireland of the directive on the landfill of waste which was discussed by the Environment Council in March 1998; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13745/98]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. D. Wallace): The Environment Council reached agreement at its meeting on 23 March 1998 on the adoption of a common position on the proposed directive on the landfill of waste.
The main elements of the proposal are fully consistent with existing legislation and Government policy in relation to waste management, including, in particular, the commitment in our policy document “Our Environment, Our Future” to a 50 per cent reduction in household waste going to landfill within 15 years.
The proposed directive provides, among other things, for the making of national strategies aimed at a phased reduction over a 15-year period of the biodegradable or organic fraction of municipal solid waste going to landfill; a requirement that municipal solid waste must be treated before being disposed of to landfill; requirements  related to the permitting and operational control of landfills; an obligation on all landfill operators to apply charges which reflect the full cost of development, operation and aftercare of the landfill; and general technical requirements for the construction of landfills.
The operational and technical requirements provided for in the proposed directive have been anticipated by the comprehensive waste licensing system operated by the EPA under the Waste Management Act, 1996. Licensing will ensure that high standards of environmental protection apply in respect of all landfill activities.
Accordingly, the most significant new elements of the proposal for Ireland are those relating to the reduction of biodegradable waste being disposed of to landfill, and the treatment of all waste before landfill. Good progress is already being made in relation to the development of composting of organic wastes, and I consider that current initiatives will generally be adequate to meet the initial biodegradable waste reduction target anticipated under the proposed directive. Further measures will be required to meet the medium and long-term diversion targets. For this purpose, I will be encouraging local authorities to consider all suitable alternatives to landfill in the context of the development of their waste management plans.
Mr. Howlin: I am glad the Waste Management Act brought in by the Minister was so good that it envisaged all the requirements of the new waste landfill directive. Has the Minister of State had any discussions with the Minister for Public Enterprise on the pilot incineration programme for foul waste that was to take place in Monaghan — the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will have an interest in this — and which I understand will not now go ahead. Will the funds available for the pilot alternative energy programmes for incineration be allocated to any other project? Has the Minister of State had any discussions with the Department of Public Enterprise on that matter?
Mr. Dukes: May I take it from the Minister of State's reply that this draft directive sets out to deal with any proposals for the dumping of sewage sludge and that all such activity will have to conform to the prior treatment the Minister mentioned in relation to organic, household and municipal waste?
Ms Clune: My question is related. Will the Minister of State clarify the type of waste it is proposed to divert from landfill? He mentioned 50 per cent of the biodegradable fraction of household waste and the biodegradable fraction of municipal waste. What does the Minister of State classify as municipal waste? Is all commercial and industrial waste currently deposited in landfill? We seem to be talking about two different figures.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: A question please, Deputy.
Ms Clune: Obviously municipal waste would have a much higher volume. Will the Minister clarify that aspect?
Mr. Hayes: The Waste Management Act introduced by Deputy Howlin in 1997 established a voluntary code for industry in terms of increasing recyclability. Will the Minister of State comment on the success to date of the REPAK initiative piloted under the Waste Management Act, 1996?
Mr. D. Wallace: There is an ongoing study of alternative landfills in the north east area.
Mr. Howlin: Is there money for it?
Mr. D. Wallace: The study is continuing and we will give it favourable consideration.
We have been ahead of the EU in our approach to the question of landfill. As the former Minister rightly said, the waste licensing system operated by the EPA under the Waste Management Act, 1996, ensures that high standards of environmental protection apply to all significant waste disposal activities, including landfills. The licensing system commenced on 1 May 1997 in relation to all new and certain existing landfills. It is being extended on a phased basis and will apply to all existing landfill activities before 1 March 1999.
We must examine the way we dispose of our domestic and commercial waste. We are committed to targets for the phased reduction of biodegradable municipal and solid waste going to landfill. The proposed directive would require a reduction of up to 65 per cent in the amount of biodegradable waste sent to landfill. If one assumes the proposed directive will come into operation in the year 2000, the phased targets proposed would require that the amount of biodegradable municipal waste being landfill would not exceed 75 per cent of the 1995 level by the year 2005, 50 per cent by the year 2008 and 35 per cent by the year 2016.
A point was raised about alternatives to landfill. Studies have been carried out on this matter and it is currently being examined by consultants who will report back later in the year. The overall position will then be examined in the context of alternatives to landfill. We cannot continue with the old ways. We have made progress and I am confident that as a result of the approach we are taking we will make the necessary input into this area and comply with the proposed EU directives which will not come into operation for at least three years.
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 Brian Lenihan — the issue of special education needs for autistic children and, in particular, the future of Beechpark Special School, Stillorgan, County Dublin; (2) Deputy McCormack — the proposed erection of a transmission mast by Esat Digifone at a site in a Garda station in Maam, County Galway, in close proximity to a national school and the concern this is causing for the parents, teachers and pupils in the area; (3) Deputy Lawlor — the possibilities for increasing the pressure on the new regime in Indonesia in vindicating the basic human rights of the people of East Timor, now that President Suharto has departed; (4) Deputy McGinley — the urgent need to have residential care facilities for the elderly on Arranmore Island, County Donegal; (5) Deputy Brendan Smith — the need to retain Objective I status for the Border region in the European Union Structural Funds arrangements post-1999; (6) Deputy Timmins — the failure of the Government to join Partnership for Peace; (7) Deputy Gilmore — the case of a ten year old child (details supplied) who has been unable to attend a school since last November because her parents have been unable to obtain a suitable placing for her; (8) Deputy Rabbitte — the current position of the various investigations established by or on behalf of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment into the activities of National Irish Bank and related companies and whether any additional investigations are contemplated; (9) Deputy Broughan — an géarghá atá ann le meánscoil nua lánGhaelach in Oirthuaisceart Bhaile Átha Cliath; (10) Deputy Naughten — the need to provide additional funding for voluntary youth organisations; (11) Deputy Quinn — the urgent matter of the closure of the Adelaide Hospital and the Children's Hospital at Harcourt Street and the need to reconsider the decision to shut down the Meath Hospital as it will have serious consequences for people living in the inner city; (12) Deputy Dukes — the threatened closure of the Curragh swimming pool in the Curragh Camp, County Kildare; (13) Deputy Finucane — the need to outline the attempts that have been made to find replacement industries for both Newcastle West and Kilmallock following the closure on 15 December 1995 with the loss of 107 jobs; (14) Deputy De Rossa — the need to reverse the decision to impose a 6.25 per cent reduction in the teacher allocation to Coláiste Eoin, Finglas, especially in the light of the increase in pupil intake this year and the consequences of the reduction for education in the Finglas area; (15) Deputy McDowell — the introduction of Civil Service Circular 7/98; (16) Deputy Fitzgerald — the need to clarify current developments in relation to the Meath Hospital and services that will be available in the  future in the inner city area pending the opening of Tallaght Hospital; (17) Deputy Stanton — the need to ensure that the new building to be constructed to accommodate Walsterstown National School will be a four classroom building in order to meet present and projected requirements; (18) Deputy Shatter — the need to discuss the Dickensian conditions in the newly opened Riverbank Circuit Family Court; (19) Deputy Moloney — the need to designate Portlaoise as a centre for further decentralisation of Government offices; (20) Deputy Upton — the need to address the serious defects in the science and technology programme for the third level sector; (21) Deputy O'Shea — the need to review the national school capitation system so that it does not discriminate against schools where special needs children are fully integrated into the mainstream school system; (22) Deputy Sargent — the need for the immediate implementation of interim quotas for razorfish stocks off the east coast based on a total allowable catch which should be defined on an interim basis by the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources.
The matters raised by Deputies Brendan Smith, McGinley, Quinn and Fitzgerald have been selected for discussion.
Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Mr. Lawlor: The Bill will be widely welcomed across the community. This problem is of major concern to parents, public representatives, the Garda authorities and the courts. No one has been spared the curse of the drugs problem.
We must address the two main aspects of this tragic problem — prevention and cure. The Minister has brought forward a Bill which will go a long way towards meeting the prevention requirements. Anybody found dealing in drugs with a monetary value of more than £10,000 can expect a ten year prison sentence from the courts without remission other than the discretion the Minister has built into the Bill to cover those unfortunate people who are addicted to drugs.
That is the tragic aspect of this problem. The drug barons get young people hooked on drugs and then use them to sell the drugs which they do willingly to feed their habit. That is all part of the web of crime affecting communities.
In introducing the Bill, the Minister recognises the serious nature of the situation. At a recent parliamentary party meeting I was surprised that many rural colleagues were able to speak of firsthand experiences of crime in their constituencies. When representing an urban constituency, one tends to believe that urban areas bear the brunt of the problem. However, it appears that, due to increased Garda activity, additional information  being submitted and people being prepared to address the problem, crime is being pushed into other regions.
The additional cost of the drugs problem to communities and the country is now reaching substantial proportions. Money which is badly needed in many other areas is now being directed towards this serious problem. Like many Deputies, I have attended numerous meetings of concerned parents and communities objecting to the location in their areas of health centres and clinics which dispense methadone. There is a crisis in this area. Deputy McManus drew a distinction between soft and hard drugs and suggested it was not acceptable that people were treated in the same way if they were caught with £10,000 worth of cannabis as if they were caught with £10,000 worth of heroin or other hard drugs. My simple philosophy is that soft drugs lead to hard drugs and that they are all a plague on our houses. The Minister is correct in deciding to deal with it in the manner he has.
The Minister's area of responsibility is at the coalface of this problem but it also involves the Department of Health and Children and the health boards. The Minister of State, Deputy Flood, is also involved as he is responsible for disbursing large sums of money in the area. There is a need for cohesion in tackling the drugs problem. The Minister has already made massive strides and it has become obvious, nationally and internationally, that the country is no longer a safe haven for people engaged in this vile trade. There has been tremendous success in this area through the use of the Criminal Assets Bureau which has resulted in the freezing of bank accounts and a recognition that Ireland is no longer a country where drugs can be sold and money laundered without hindrance. Mr. John Gilligan lived in my revised constituency and I have hands-on experience in local housing estates of the crisis which this trade has caused.
It is to be hoped that communities opposed to the provision of facilities catering for those affected will see that the Oireachtas is prepared to tackle the problem. It is also to be hoped that it will give them a willingness to see that we are, by the medium of this Bill, doing what has to be done as regards prevention. I hope it is passed speedily, signed into law as quickly as is practicable and brought into effect.
One of the most dangerous aspects of the Garda Síochána's work is dealing with these people who have vast sums of money available and who can afford to invest in their vile trade. That is not to speak of the risks individual gardaí have had to take in terms of obtaining evidence and bringing such people to court. Community gardaí also take risks in working with communities to wean people off drugs. Such people have an addiction and a need for treatment but they are also the local sales people for the drugs barons. Therein lies the need for the integrated approach to try to tackle the problem.
The Eastern Health Board is trying to disperse  treatment facilities by setting up smaller units throughout my constituency so that no community is afflicted by large numbers of young people gathering to collect their prescribed methadone and causing problems. The local communities in which the rare facilities are located must carry an unfair burden in terms of an influx of young and mostly male addicts endeavouring to kick the habit but who are in need of treatment. The other communities in which the more dispersed services are to be located naturally object. Public representatives should give a lead on this.
The methadone maintenance programme provides a legalised drug to those who have been taking illegal drugs. A final cure is a serious and complex matter. For those willing to undergo a cure, residential detoxification facilities are urgently needed but they are costly. There are many demands on the Government's limited resources, such as the Minister arguing for money for more prison spaces and the Minister for Health and Children seeking money for more beds, etc. Having spoken to those involved in the Coolmine Therapeutic Unit, the Clondalkin Against Drugs group and other bodies, it seems that detoxification facilities are the eventual requirement to adequately tackle and break the cycle of drug addiction. I hope that, as part of an overall integrated plan, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister for Health and Children ensure there is prevention and cure. That is the challenge facing us. I hope the Bill is passed quickly and becomes a landmark decision in tackling and preventing the availability of drugs.
Mr. McCormack: I wish to share my time with Deputy Ulick Burke.
Acting Chairman (Mr. Browne, Carlow-Kilkenny): : Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. McCormack: I do not share Deputy Lawlor's optimism about the Bill. While its provisions generally are an inadequate response to crime I welcome some sections. The ten year jail sentence for those caught in possession of drugs to the value of £10,000 is welcome and, as Deputy Lawlor stated, it sends out the proper signal that we now have a policy of getting tough with criminals involved in drug activity. The provision to seize the assets of those involved in drugs trafficking is also welcome, although I believe it was introduced by the previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is operating and helping to control the scourge of drug dealing.
I am sure the Minister is aware of the growing concern in many communities about the rise in crime. Many communities in cities, towns and rural areas live in fear and anxiety as a result of the rising levels of crime in their areas. Among the crimes committed are car thefts, burglaries and petty crime, some of which is drug related. The Minister in Opposition raised the hopes of  many harassed people with the promise of zero tolerance. Unfortunately, he has failed to live up to those promises and has failed in his responsibilities to act correctly in the matter. Although sections of it are welcome, I do not believe the Bill is the answer to the problem facing communities.
When he was in Opposition, the Minister was not slow to blame the then Minister for Justice for the rising crime figures. We had passionate outbursts from the Minister on a daily basis condemning the former Minister and stating what should be done. The boot is now on the other foot and we have a lamb, not a lion, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Elderly people are afraid to go to bed at night. There has been a disturbing increase in criminal activity in Galway city. The stealing and burning of cars has become far too common and there has been an alarming increase in break-ins to shops and houses. The Minister is aware of the grave concern on the west side of the city. Concerned residents have called a number of public meetings which I attended at which they expressed anger and frustration at what is happening. Deputy Jim Higgins recently met with representatives of residents associations on the west side of the city and I accompanied a residents' deputation to see the Minister. However, all our pleas are falling on deaf ears.
The chief superintendent in Galway applied for an extra 24 gardaí for the city but his strong case has been ignored. A sergeant and three gardaí were transferred to the division on 3 April but this is an inadequate response. The Minister will cite figures showing that the levels of crime are decreasing but that is not the position on the ground. The level of crime is greatly increasing. There may be a danger that people are not reporting crimes as they see no point in doing so when there are not enough gardaí to deal with the cases and no one will be apprehended. I advise people to continue to report crime as the number of gardaí allocated to an area is often based on the crime statistics.
The Minister will state that the deployment of extra gardaí is a matter for the Garda Commissioner and I accept this view. However, the legitimate application by the chief superintendent in Galway has been ignored. He would not apply for these gardaí if they were not required.
When compared with Garda numbers in similar sized cities, the numbers in Galway are very inadequate. The reply to a parliamentary question on 25 March showed that Limerick, which is similar in size to Galway, has 245 gardaí compared to 132 in Galway. Galway is one of the fastest growing cities in Europe and it has suffered a rise in crime because there are not sufficient gardaí to compensate for the population increase. The city has a population of over 55,000. In addition, there are 12,000 students in the two third level colleges. We are entering the tourist season during which the population will exceed 90,000. There is a need for more gardaí in Galway  city. We need more community gardaí on the beat. I appeal to the Commissioner to accede to the chief superintendent's request for the immediate deployment of the additional 24 gardaí.
The Minister should look again at the valid requests made for a substation on the west side of Galway. In a letter to me the Minister stated:
With regard to the request for a Garda substation in Newcastle, local Garda management believe that the establishment of a substation would not enhance the Garda service in the area or be cost-effective. They believe that a large amount of personnel would be engaged in public office duty to keep the proposed substation open on a 24-hour basis.
The Minister believes that those members would be better employed on outdoor duties. I accept that gardaí should be deployed outdoors but I do not accept that there is no need for a substation on the vast housing estates to the west of the city. I accept that gardaí would be more usefully used on beat duties.
I recently spent a day in court in Galway on a civil case. During the day there were 30 or 40 uniformed gardaí waiting as witnesses. Some of the cases were not called and the gardaí were simply waiting around. This is a waste of valuable manpower. There is a better way of handling this situation. Perhaps there should be station clerks or one garda who presents evidence in court. It is a terrible waste of manpower if 20, 30 or 40 gardaí are waiting for cases to be called at every Circuit and District Court sitting.
I appeal to the Minister to introduce more community gardaí. The way to cure crime is to prevent it. If enough gardaí are on the beat crime will be prevented. It is completely inadequate to have one community garda on the vast housing estates west of Galway city. How can one garda patrol such an area? The original concept of rural and urban policing was based on the fact that the garda in the community knew the people and what was going on. This placed him in a position to detect or prevent crime. We should return to that principle of more gardaí on the beat, especially in Galway city.
In the long-term placing gardaí on the beat would be more cost-effective than dealing with the present level of crime or filling prisons and remand centres with criminals. It would also avoid the humiliation for the gardaí and the community of seeing people sentenced for petty crimes back on the streets within a few days of sentencing.
Mr. U. Burke: I welcome this opportunity to contribute to the debate on Second Stage of this Bill. The Bill proposes to introduce strong measures against those who deal in and abuse drugs and, as a result, cause such misery within families and, in particular, to young people. Despite everything that has been said and written,  what is lacking is a comprehensive research programme, similar to those in place in countries where the problem is much more serious, covering every aspect, including the effects of drug abuse and addiction and drug related crime. Yesterday the vast sums spent by Departments on consultancies were published. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform spent least.
There are other Departments and agencies ploughing a lonely furrow. The activities of the Departments of Health and Children, Education and Science and Justice, Equality and Law Reform should be co-ordinated to confront the huge problems in society.
The Minister should include in the Bill heavy penalties to be imposed on the owners or licensees of licensed premises, discos and night-clubs who allow their premises to be used by drug peddlers. Research indicates — a garda connected in any way with the drugs unit will confirm this — that in the greatest proportion of cases young people are introduced, perhaps through peer pressure or intentionally, to the drug culture at these premises or at parties. The Minister who is responsible for the issuing of licences has to take action. If owners and licensees were penalised, they would ensure drugs were not readily available at their premises.
If a proper drugs awareness programme was introduced in primary and second level schools, vast savings would accrue to the Exchequer in the areas of health and legal costs. Were it not for the determination of and the initiatives taken by enthusiastic individual teachers at national, second and perhaps third level, school principals, boards of management and parents associations, there would be no structure in place. Vast sums have been spent on technology in our schools. If some of this was diverted to fund the introduction of a structured rather than piecemeal or hit and miss programme, we could achieve great results in tackling the problem.
Most crime in rural areas is drug related. As Deputy McCormack said, there is a serious problem in the west from Kerry to Donegal. Those who have been driven into a life of crime in urban areas are travelling to rural areas to feed their habit. There are limits to what people involved in well organised community alert schemes can do in co-operation with the Garda Síochána. They have a different culture to those involved in community protection groups in housing estates in urban areas.
Do we have a secret service and, if so, what is its function and to whom does it report? In rural areas certain individuals, who may have a criminal record, for some reason, as a result of gossip or otherwise, have been identified as being members of a secret service. They do a great disservice to people involved in community alert schemes who are feeling the pinch. Does such a service exist and, if so, why?
While the Bill has some positive features, there is a lack of cohesion and co-ordination. When a drug trafficker is brought before the courts, it is  wrong that somebody in the background can plead for leniency by the judge when the Garda are trying to get a conviction. Where will this confusion end? I am not casting any reflection on judges at various levels, but there is no consistency in the way such cases are dealt with in court. It all depends on whether a person brought before a court has someone who will state that resources are available to provide counselling for him or her. That person will be treated more leniently than the person who does not have anyone to make a similar plea for him or her. This is a major area that needs to be addressed.
Mr. Killeen: This is a major criminal justice Bill. While one welcomes it as a response to dealing with the problem in this area, as time passes one must be concerned that we need to introduce rafts of legislation to deal with criminal justice problems. Approximately 22 Acts are referred to or amended by various provisions in this Bill. It is another statutory attack on drug trafficking and related ills. There is a need to display the determination of the Government and the Oireachtas directly to fight the drugs menace. I welcome this legislation in that context and I commend the Minister for his efforts in bringing it before the House. Previous Ministers over a number of years have struggled manfully to meet the challenges posed by various criminal activities, most of which appear to relate to the drug culture.
There are inherent dangers in putting huge volumes of legislation before the House. Some of the Bills are very extensive. There are 35 sections in this Bill and it has a considerable number of pages. It puts a tremendous workload on Deputies. It also puts pressure on committee members, particularly Opposition spokespersons who have fewer resources available to them than Government members. There is also considerable pressure on Government resources in terms of legal expertise, parliamentary draftspersons and research back-up, but the research facilities available to backbenchers are woefully inadequate. This will all lead to major cock-ups and, undoubtedly, major expenditure by the State in various areas in the not too distant future.
This Act is part of a major programme of criminal law reform. One must acknowledge the work of the steering group on the efficiency and effectiveness of the Garda Síochána, some of whose work will be reflected in the Bill. The Minister indicated it will be reflected in an amendment he will table on Committee Stage. We must also acknowledge the work of the expert group whose report is expected later this month. I understand it will form the basis for the preparation of a major piece of criminal justice law.
One wonders if a justice consolidation Bill, similar to last year's consolidation Bill in the finance area, might be introduced. If such a large Bill were introduced, I do not know if it would make life easier or more difficult for those involved in amending legislation as it is difficult to find provisions in such Bills. There is a case for  introducing consolidating legislation which would make the work of those fighting crime easier. It would provide them with a better opportunity to fight those who, because of the resources that become available to them through crime, are able to mount challenges at all levels, sometimes successfully.
There is a need for many approaches to tackle crime other than criminal justice measures. It can be approached through education and combating social exclusion and disadvantage. I commend the Minister of State on her work in that area. However, I cannot help but suspect there is no serious commitment in any party or arm of the State to approach problems of that nature from that perspective. One has only to glance at the level of funding available for primary education and the type of resources available to early school leavers, which fortunately are improving as time passes. One must consider, with some concern, what was said at the teacher conferences at Easter when a substantial number of teachers complained of a level of unruliness and indiscipline in the classroom which they said was making their job impossible. If that is part of a trend, it bodes ill for the future and it will cost many hours of deliberation and planning to deal with it in the criminal justice area, probably the most expensive way it could be dealt with.
I commend the anti-drugs initiatives introduced by the Minister of State, Deputy Flood, but they are confined to too narrow an area. Confining activities of that nature to pilot schemes does not acknowledge the extent of the problem. Some of those initiatives should be introduced in rural areas, certainly in the smaller rural towns where the problem is far more widespread than is acknowledged. The drug menace, particularly in small rural towns, could be dealt with relatively easily because of the smaller numbers involved. If it were addressed at this stage, it could be dealt with more cheaply and effectively than in five or ten years' time when the supply network would be so sophisticated, so well armed and so well able to deal with whatever the State could throw at it that it would be impossible to break down.
There is very little political capital to be made from calling for preventive measures. Nobody commends us for calling for more money for education at primary or any other level and nobody commends the efforts of those involved with early school leavers. There is no political capital to be made from making provision at that level, but everyone understands there is political capital to be made for providing more prison spaces, recruiting more gardaí and mounting more direct attacks on crime by the criminal justice system. That is an expensive way to approach the problem and in the long term it ensures the generation coming up will present an even greater problem in the not too distant future.
I welcome the fact that the Minister has provided for minimum mandatory sentences for people found carrying drugs to the value of £10,000 or more by way of amendment to the  Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977. There has been a perception that sentencing policy for some of these people has been somewhat lenient. The message we are sending in this Bill is welcome.
The Minister was correct to dispense with the preliminary examination in the District Court, which it appears was being used more and more widely to delay proceedings rather than to enhance the justice system. There is a new safeguard procedure provided which will probably be regarded as an attack on civil liberties. On balance, the change in this instance is a good and positive one.
I also welcome the provision of a confiscation order which will come into effect automatically unless the court believes it would involve the acquisition of items of too little in value. The issue of the proceeds of crime being held by family members of convicted criminals and drug dealers has not been adequately addressed in previous legislation. It might not have been considered appropriate in this Bill, but it needs to be tightened up considerably by way of amendment of the Criminal Assets Bureau's regulations or otherwise.
Too little notice has been taken of attacks on State forensic scientists and social welfare officers by the likes of Martin Cahill. One wonders to what extent intimidation of that nature could still be perpetrated and to what extent the arms of the State are in a position to combat it. One also worries about the effects of the film portraying that gentleman's life which, it appears from what one reads, glamorises crime to a very undesirable extent.
The Minister has also provided that Garda evidence can be used on a much more widespread basis by means of certificate. This will undoubtedly lead to better use of Garda time and is welcome.
I am concerned by the escalating Garda dispute and I call for a cooling off period and a genuine engagement in dialogue towards resolution of the problem. There is an onus on some of those not party to the dispute to declare their commitment to facilitate a solution and ensure there is not a knock-on effect on public service pay. I am very concerned by the message the ongoing impasse is sending to those involved in criminal behaviour and those concerned by it.
I welcome the statutory basis for guilty pleas rather than relying on case law as has been the practice to date. People who follow legislation closely in the House are frequently surprised by the extent to which case law in this area and practice heretofore in legislation has been accepted as the basis for law. There are many instances where legislation does not provide a statutory basis for many major activities.
One must be concerned by the provision of treatment for addicts in prison and mitigation in relation to their prison sentences if they offer for treatment. There is a presumption that virtually all drug addicts would offer for treatment if it was  available. However, I understand a recent survey in Mountjoy prison found that slightly less than half of those with a serious or less than serious drug problem were prepared to opt for treatment if it was available. The most advantageous political response in terms of political kudos is always to call for a lock up of these people. However, is it cheaper and more effective and does it in the long run address the problem? There is a certain lack of confidence in the alternatives which have not been properly probed or researched, something alluded to by Deputy Burke. Alternatives do not appear to have a high level of credibility among politicians and others involved in this area.
There is a constant argument in relation to crimes committed by drug addicts as to whether there should be further movement towards treatment or even more rigorous imposition of penalties. Everywhere in the western world has struggled with the concept of drug addiction as a mitigation for crimes concerning drug dealing. There is a growing realisation that throwing offenders into institutions frequently maintains or reinforces the habit and ensures the continuation of the market in which drug dealers make their ill-gotten gains.
Studies in the US on the effects of drugs on crime statistics indicate that in comparison to non-drug using offenders, severe drug users tend to commit 15 times as many robberies, 20 times as many burglaries and ten times as many thefts. There are no comparable statistics available for Ireland, though some figures are available from the Garda which reflect an approximate trend. It is clear from the studies that active drug use accelerates crime by a factor of between four and six, with the crime content being at least as violent and frequently more so when compared to non-drug user counterparts. The US studies were mainly of heroin users, though some were of crack cocaine users for whom there were similar statistics. One American expert said that empirical studies of the association between drug use and crime provide an appreciation of the enormous impact drug abuse has on crime. Indeed extensive research on the relationship between drug abuse and crime provides convincing evidence that relatively few severe substance abusers are responsible for an extraordinary proportion of crime.
Mr. B. Smith: I am glad of the opportunity to raise this very important issue about which public representatives in the six southern Border counties are concerned. The retention of Objective I status for the period 2000-06 for the Border region is essential if regional imbalance and disparities  in economic performance are to be eliminated. The case for Objective I status is economically and politically justifiable. The infrastructural deficit suffered by the Border region must be addressed. This will only be achieved through the drawing down of the maximum level of Structural Funds.
Structural Funds exercise the minds of public representatives and bodies in the region. At recent meetings in Belfast, Derry and Omagh of the sub-committee of the British-Irish Parliamentary body we learned that this issue is one of key concern for public representatives in the six northern Border counties.
Last Thursday the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, launched the Border regional report, “The Border Region after 1999: The Case for Special Status”. It outlines in a comprehensive manner the numerous valid and cogent arguments for the retention of Objective One status and has been submitted to the Department of Finance. I trust the Minister and Government will be afforded the opportunity of studying it. It outlines the poor performance of the region in socio-economic terms and articulates the region's unique status in the Irish and EU context.
It must be accepted that the prolonged Northern troubles had a devastating effect on the economy of Border counties and the seemingly intractable situation inhibited the normal pace of economic growth and development in the region. The Border created an economic divide, with towns being cut off from their natural hinterland and rural areas being cut off from their natural towns. The area suffered from security problems and from a general lack of development in social and economic terms.
In 1997, 14.7 per cent of the labour force in the Border region was unemployed. This was the highest unemployment rate recorded in any region and well above the national average of 11.8 per cent. Fortunately, employment in the country increased in the period 1993-7 and unemployment fell. However, the Border region's performance again lagged behind that of other regions which meant that fewer new jobs were created and the reduction in unemployment was lower than anywhere else in the country.
Urbanisation is a feature of economic growth and again the Border region is hindered in its potential development due to its largely rural nature. As a region it was unable to achieve the full benefit of Objective I status which the country has enjoyed to date because of the political difficulties in the North.
The region looks forward to the implementation of the British-Irish Agreement. The ongoing peace process must be underpinned by large-scale investment in infrastructure, inward investment and the creation of employment. Now is the time to redress the economic difficulties the region has suffered over a period of almost 30 years.
For the future, the region faces new opportunities  arising from the peace process but it also faces a new challenge in being on the exchange rate front-line when Ireland enters EMU without the UK. The region has benefited from Structural Fund expenditure, funds which were successfully negotiated in 1989 and 1992 by Fianna Fáil Governments. However, the Border region did not achieve the success rate the rest of the country did.
The report by the Border Authority clearly outlines why the region should retain full Objective I status. The region is clearly below the 75 per cent of European GDP threshold which determines eligibility for Objective I status; it continues to be remote and peripheral in EU terms; it has a very special status regarding the historic political and economic opportunities arising from the peace process.
I repeat my call to the Government to favourably examine the merits of the case advanced by the Border Authority. I, and my colleague, Deputy O'Hanlon, lend our full support to those arguments. I wish to see our region achieve its potential in economic and social terms and that can only be achieved by large scale and early investment in our roads, water and sewerage services, industrial buildings and telecommunications. The region will only enjoy an increase in employment and a halt to rural depopulation when such investment occurs.
Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Cullen): I thank Deputy Smith for raising this important issue to which I will respond in some detail to inform him and the House of the Government's current position. I will outline some of the background to the issue of Structural Funds in the next round. Ireland is currently treated, for Structural Fund purposes, as one single region which receives Objective I funding. Objective I funding channels support to the most disadvantaged regions of the Union which are lagging behind economically. The criterion for this eligibility is a per capita income in GDP terms of below 75 per cent of the Community average. Ireland's GDP per capita now well exceeds this figure. As a single region, Ireland will no longer qualify for full Objective I status after 1999.
The European Commission's Agenda 2000 proposals recognised it would be undesirable for a region which had been receiving assistance to be suddenly cut off from that assistance. This would create a shock to the economy which could threaten progress already made. The Government had been lobbying for this, considering some arrangement was essential to avoid such an economic shock.
In Agenda 2000, the Commission proposed that regions like Ireland which were graduating from Objective I status would be given transition status. Starting out in the next round with full Objective I treatment, there will be a gradual reduction in support levels until, by the year 2006,  lower levels of funding, based on Objective II funding, will be reached.
This idea of transition has been designed by the Commission to ease the way out of full Objective I status. However, difficult negotiations lie ahead in the Council of Ministers and Ireland will have to strive to secure its interests. It should be noted that even if all of Ireland were to qualify for Objective I status under the next round, our current levels of prosperity and substantially improved employment figures would act to reduce our share in the next round vis-a-vis the current round. It is necessary to emphasise that the benefits associated with Objective I funding in Ireland in the current round will not be matched by the level of transfers likely to be associated with Objective I status next time out. The funding intensity enjoyed by Ireland at the moment is unlikely to be enjoyed by Objective I regions after 1999.
We are now facing a situation where the impressive performance of the economy means we cannot expect the same level of Community assistance in the next round. We need to maximise the effectiveness of future Community assistance and ensure our most pressing investment needs are addressed. Among the issues which need to be tackled is the situation of those parts of Ireland still lagging behind. The Government is conscious that the prosperity which has been achieved in recent years has not applied uniformly throughout the country and is committed to addressing this problem. In particular, the regions of the Border, the west and the midlands currently have a per capita GDP of less than 75 per cent of the EU average and are likely to be below 75 per cent for the reference period to be used for the next round.
In this context, one possible strategy to address the development requirements of those parts of Ireland might be to propose a regionalisation approach to the next round of Structural Funding. Under a regionalisation approach, the existing single region of Ireland could be reconstituted as two new regions, of which one could consist of those parts of the country whose per capita GDP is below 75 per cent of the EU average. If such an approach were proposed and accepted by the Commission, the region with a per capita income below 75 per cent of the EU average would qualify for full Objective I status, while the rest of the country would be a transition region covered by Objective I funding.
I emphasise that we cannot unilaterally adopt a regionalisation approach. In the first instance, the proposal for new regions would have to be put to EUROSTAT, the Commission's statistical service, whose approval on statistical and other grounds would be necessary. It would then be for the European Commission as a whole to decide on the matter. It must be said that indications to date as to the likely response to this option are not positive. The Commission has made it clear it could not support proposals to change the current  regional map basis for Objective I status which were not adequately based in terms of regional administration. In addition, it is clear the Commission fears the precedent effect of such a proposal.
The Government is committed, in the Action Programme for the Millennium to those regions, including the Border region, which are lagging behind. It remains to be seen whether this commitment can best be met by a regionalisation approach or by an approach where the best possible terms are secured for Ireland as a single region in transition. In this context, the Government has not ruled out pursuit of a regionalisation approach. The matter is receiving detailed consideration and has been raised with the Commission at political and official levels. A decision on the issue will be made at the appropriate moment.
The Government is also conscious of the circumstances affecting the Border region which has had to cope with the spill-over effects of the troubles in the North for three decades. However, the British-Irish Agreement provides us with the means of achieving lasting peace and stability. The overwhelming endorsement of the Agreement by the people, North and South, shows clearly and emphatically that people want peace, they want accommodation and they want to work together for the benefit of people, North and South, and for the benefit of people on the islands of Ireland and Britain. This Agreement will bring real, tangible benefits and, in making the Agreement a reality, those areas that suffered over the years from the effects of violence have most to gain from a peaceful future.
The European Community has made a generous and substantial contribution to economic and social development in Northern Ireland and in the Border region in the South. In this context, it is pleasing to note that President Santer has spoken of finding new creative ways of availing of the fresh opportunities the Agreement will bring. The General Affairs Council, consisting of the Community's foreign ministers, noted the contribution made by Community assistance in promoting the prospects for peace and agreed the Community should continue to play an active role. The European Parliament has also called for consideration of how the Agreement can be supported in practical terms. We warmly welcome the ongoing support from our partners and will examine with them the options for continuing support.
Peripherality is a significant issue facing Ireland and the border counties. At an informal Council of regional development Ministers earlier this week in Glasgow, I emphasised to my European colleagues the problems of peripherality for those regions on the Atlantic seaboard of the Community. The challenge facing these peripheral parts of the Community was noted and appreciated by our European partners.
The Government's objective in the negotiations on the next round of Structural Funding  will be to achieve the best possible result for Ireland as a whole. The Government will also assess the overall package in the context of how it will address our substantial infrastructural backlogs; our human resource problems and, the needs of those parts of the country, including the Border Region, whose development is still lagging behind.
Many of you will be aware that preparations are currently under way for the development of a national development plan for the investment of Structural and Cohesion Funds in the period 2000-6. The Minister for Finance has issued invitations to Government Departments, the social partners and regional authorities, including of course, the Border regional authority, to make submissions to him for investment priorities which they would like to propose for inclusion in the national development plan for 2000-06.
The report, “The Border Region After 1999 — The Case for Special Status”, which was launched last week, is a valuable contribution to the debate on planning for the next round of Structural Funds. As a precursor to the Border regional authority's full submission on the next national development plan, it provides food for thought about what the region's status ought to be and about its possible share of Structural and Cohesion funds in the next round.
Mr. McGinley: Arranmore Island, with a population of over 600, is the most populated island off the Donegal coast and the second most populated island in the country. There are two primary schools on Arranmore which are about to be amalgamated, a secondary school under the auspices of Donegal VEC, a resident priest, doctor and nurse. There is also a daily efficient and regular ferry service from Burtonport and a progressive island co-operative, Comharchumann Oileán Árainn Mhór. Of all the Donegal islands one could say that Arranmore has the highest number of essential services.
A day centre for the elderly was established on the island some years ago and is providing an excellent service for its senior citizens. However, one necessary facility is absent, a community nursing unit to provide full-time care for those who need it and respite breaks for people looking after elderly relations.
In a recent report on developing health services on the islands, the North-Western Health Board, in relation to Arranmore, stated: “there is a need to provide a facility for elderly persons requiring nursing care”. This objective is understandable when one analyses the demographic trends on Arranmore. There are 141 persons over the age of 65 living on the island, 40 of whom are over 80 years. There are 38 persons over the age of 65 living alone, more than ten of whom are either housebound or bedbound, living alone or with another elderly relative. A further three people  under the age of 65 are in that same situation. These facts are more than adequate to prove the need for a community nursing unit.
Island people throughout the world become particularly attached to their island homes, especially as they grow older. The magical lure of the surrounding seas is almost an essential element of their lives. To transfer them from their island environment to nursing units on the mainland is almost cruel. They are being removed from lifelong friends, acquaintances and family to a foreign and, to them, often friendless environment. This leads to feelings of isolation. Visits from family and friends become sporadic and intermittent due to travel difficulties and there is ample evidence that such an unacceptable solution shortens their lives. The senior citizens of Arranmore Island are entitled to nursing care facilities on their island where they can maintain contact with their own environment and lifelong friends.
Institutions such as the Church, the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands and others have already recognised that essential services should be provided for Arranmore people on their island home. It is now the turn of the Department of Health and Children to act. The islanders and particularly their co-operative have not been idle. An imaginative and viable development plan has been prepared and costed to meet the requirement of a nursing unit. A straightforward extension to the existing day care centre, providing eight beds, would be adequate to meet the need that exists. The estimated cost of the plan is just in excess of £70,000, a small and reasonable price for such a necessary facility.
There are up to eight trained nurses on the island, with experience at home and abroad, who would be able and willing to provide the nursing care necessary for the new unit. Island people have a reputation for kindness and concern for their elderly. The provision of an eight bed unit as an extension to the day centre would harness that kindness and concern and would provide the ultimate in care for those who need it in their final days on Arranmore Island.
I ask the Minister of State to provide the necessary resources to the North-Western Health Board so this facility can be provided as soon as possible.
Dr. Moffatt: I thank Deputy McGinley for raising this matter. “The Years Ahead — A Policy for the Elderly”, which was published in 1988, provides a framework for the development of health, personal social services and housing to assist older people. The cornerstone of policy towards older people recommended in the report is to support them at home in dignity and independence and, when this is no longer possible, to ensure that ill and dependent older people have access to the highest quality hospital and residential care when they require it. The report outlined  what needed to be done to achieve these objectives.
The National Council on Ageing and Older People recently published a review of “The Years Ahead”. This review provides us with a comprehensive evaluation of the extent to which the recommendations of “The Years Ahead” have been implemented and points to areas where a reorientation of policy might be required. This valuable document will help us in shaping future policy on services for older people. I will endeavour to deal with some of the service shortcomings for older people identified in the national council's report over the next few years.
In this connection, we have put over £7 million additional funding into health services for older people in the current year. This will provide, among other things, staffing for new and existing community nursing units and expansion of community services to improve support for older people in their homes. Funding has also been provided for the establishment of specialist services for older people with mental health problems.
In addition, a capital programme for older people is close to completion. The programme will involve a significant increase in the level of resources that were previously available. It is the intention that this investment will accelerate the provision of extended care facilities, including community nursing units and day care facilities for older people throughout the country, as well as enhancing existing services.
The provision of health services to the residents of Arranmore Island is a matter in the first instance for the North-Western Health Board. The board currently provides the following physical and service infrastructure on Arranmore: a modern well equipped health centre whose accommodation includes day rooms, kitchen, surgery, doctor's surgery, dental surgery, consulting room and accommodation for visiting health professionals; an ambulance which provides day centre transport; full-time general practitioner service and full-time public health nursing. In addition a dental clinic is held weekly and a home help service provides in the region of 330 hours service per month.
Incorporated in the health centre is the Arranmore day centre which is run by the Arranmore Social Services Committee in co-operation with the North-Western Health Board. The board provides the majority of its funding. The day centre is open during the week and caters for approximately 80 older people. The services provided are transport, meals and laundry, social activities, GP and public health nurse services, baths, information and advice, library facilities and other health services.
The board carried out a review of services on the islands last year with emphasis on consulting the island population themselves. A small group, under the chairmanship of the matron of Dungloe Hospital was established by the board to look at practical ways of improving health provision.
 The board recognises there is a gap in the services in relation to a system of long-term care on the island. However, the board considers it would not be viable to build a high support nursing unit for older people on Arranmore. The board is examining a number of systems of high support care to maintain older people at home. The support would be higher than provided in the boards' other rural communities where such a client group would have more immediate access to a local community nursing unit.
The priority of the North Western Health Board in so far as capital developments on services for older people is concerned, is the provision of a community nursing unit at Killybegs. The Deputy will be pleased to know that this project is now going ahead. Nevertheless, given the cost effectiveness of the unit proposed by the Deputy, we should again look at the provision of services for the elderly on the island.
Mr. Quinn: The Meath Hospital provides an essential service for a large community which is growing in population. The original plans, made over 20 years ago, to decentralise hospital services from the city centre were predicated on an assumption that the population levels would fall during that time. The experience has been to the contrary and it is projected that the inner city population will increase rather than stabilise.
The community in the vicinity of the Meath Hospital are mainly over the average age and in need of regular hospital service which the Meath Hospital provides. It is planned that the hospital will close on 21 June and all its facilities will be transferred to Tallaght Hospital. The local community and the four TDs in the area are opposed to this plan. We support the Eastern Health Board proposal to lease the medical facility for at least one year, with the intention of purchasing it outright from the charitable trust that will be established following the transfer of medical activities to Tallaght.
On behalf of my constituency, I ask the Department of Health and Children to ensure that the Eastern Health Board is given the necessary level of adequate resources to enable it to provide the range of services it considers, having made a medical assessment of the needs of the community, to be required on an ongoing basis in that medical facility.
This matter has taken on a new sense of urgency following reports in today's Evening Herald which indicate that the Tallaght Hospital complex is not completed and will not be ready on 21 June to take on the functions currently provided by the Meath Hospital. I ask the Minister to look at this as a matter of urgency. There is already a shortage of between 70 and 100 beds in the new regional hospital in Tallaght.
My colleague, Deputy Fitzgerald will elaborate on this matter. The four Deputies who represent this constituency, including Deputy Ryan, are  committed to the maintenance of the Meath Hospital medical complex as a local hospital providing the same range of services to a predominantly elderly community who would be physically incapable of travelling to St. James's Hospital or Tallaght Hospital. The GPs in the area must be facilitated so that they can improve their range of services. We must ensure that the medical facility for a growing population is maintained and that the Meath Hospital continues to survive as a health board hospital with State funding, after 21 June.
Ms Fitzgerald: There is huge concern among the population of the south inner city about the closure of these hospitals. There is an urgent need to review the hospital requirements of this area and to implement an information campaign so that patients and the population are clear about their future care. There has been a huge population increase in this area. The medical and hospital care needs of the population must be reassessed. Current plans are out of date and do not meet the needs of the area.
This is particularly important in the light of reports that the Meath Hospital will close next week and Tallaght Hospital will not open until 21 June. There is a need in the area for services and residential care for the elderly, primary care units, and services for children. What are the plans for the Meath hospital and services in the area? The hospital must be bought by the Eastern Health Board so that it will be a resource for the area. If the site is lost, it will be a disaster for the area and the medical and hospital care needs of the people living there.
I welcome what the Eastern Health Board has done. I ask the Minister to tell us that the Department of Health and Children supports that decision. There is widespread uncertainty about future appointments, under whose care patients will be and where they will attend. Tallaght presents enormous transport difficulties for the people living in this area. The chief executive officer of Tallaght Hospital has warned GPs, in a letter reported in today's Evening Herald, that there will be interruptions to services before and after the opening of the new hospital. What services will be put in place to deal with this?
There is a danger that Dublin hospitals will face a crisis next week when two emergency departments shut down. These will not be replaced until Tallaght Hospital is up and running. The Meath Hospital must remain open to offer services to the local community. A major review of the hospital care needs of Dublin, particularly the south inner city, must be initiated.
People attending these hospitals, as well as the general population, are concerned. The decision to close the hospitals was taken many years ago. I welcome the opening of Tallaght Hospital, which is desperately needed. However, the impact of the closure must be urgently examined. There is a large elderly population in this area and the number of children under the age of 15  years is among the highest in the Eastern Health Board area. I am concerned about the impact of these closures on families in the area who will not have acceptable and easy access to medical and emergency services for themselves and their families.
If we are serious about the rejuvenation of the city centre and young families returning to live in the area, we must have this medical care. I ask the Minister to outline the plans for the Meath Hospital. It is important this site is retained so there can be an ongoing assessment of how best the needs of the population can be met.
Dr. Moffatt: I am grateful to the Deputies for giving me this opportunity to clarify the situation regarding the closure of the Adelaide, Meath and National Children's Hospitals and the opening of the new hospital in Tallaght.
As the Deputies will no doubt be aware, 21 June 1998 was set last year by the board of the Adelaide and Meath Hospital, Dublin, incorporating the National Children's Hospital as the opening date of the new hospital in Tallaght. Since agreement was reached on the development of the new hospital in Tallaght, it has always been understood that the three constituent hospitals would close when the new hospital is opened. The obvious major concern for people in the area is the continued provision of accident and emergency services. The Eastern Health Board has been involved in a major exercise of mapping the geographical patterns of patient flows into accident and emergency Departments, the purpose of which is to provide information and make recommendations on the requirements of the south inner city area for accident and emergency ambulance purposes.
The factors which determine levels of attendances at accident and emergency departments are complex and difficult to predict, and it is likely that clearer patterns will emerge in the six to nine months following the new hospital's opening. The shift in the pattern of accident and emergency attendances, including paediatric attendances, will be carefully monitored by the Eastern Health Board and any subsequent recommendations will be fully considered in the Department.
What is clear is that when the new hospital at Tallaght opens, it will greatly relieve the pressures on St. James's Hospital and will generate capacity in St. James's and in St. Vincent's Hospital, Elm Park.
More than 20,000 accident and emergency attendances at St. James's come from areas which will be served by the new hospital at Tallaght. This is greater than the existing accident and emergency attendances from the inner city areas at the Meath Hospital. A similar situation exists with regard to outpatient attendances.
I am satisfied that St. James's, which is a fine modern hospital, will be able to meet the acute hospital needs of the south inner city following the opening of the hospital in Tallaght.
As Deputies will be aware, the Adelaide, the  Meath and the National Children's Hospitals are voluntary hospitals and as such have full ownership of their sites. When the services transfer to Tallaght, the hospital sites will be sold as the premises will no longer function as acute hospitals.
The plans for the closure of the hospitals and the transfer of services are as follows: The Adelaide Hospital started winding down activity on 25 May and is scheduled to close tomorrow, 12 June, when all remaining patients will transfer to the Meath Hospital; the National Children's Hospital, Harcourt Street, started winding down activities on 7 June and will close on 21 June when all remaining patients — approximately 12 — will transfer to Tallaght; the Meath Hospital started winding down activity on 29 May and will close on 21 June when all remaining acute patients will transfer to Tallaght. Approximately 30 patients who do not require acute hospital services will remain in the Meath Hospital under the care of the Eastern Health Board; acute psychiatric facilities currently provided at St. Loman's Hospital will transfer to the new hospital at Tallaght as soon as possible after 21 June.
My Department, together with the Eastern Health Board and the hospitals concerned, has been examining the broader health service needs of the south inner city catchment population following the transfer of the acute hospital services to Tallaght. The Eastern Health Board's Working Group on the South Inner City Primary Care Needs Assessment identified the problems likely to arise following the relocation of existing services to Tallaght. It recommended the establishment of a primary care centre and the enhancement of general practice and community services in the south inner city, with the primary care centre acting as a central focus for the organisation and delivery of services encompassing the full range of health care and administrative needs for primary care services in the area. The Eastern Health Board is currently examining a number of options for the provision of these services including the possibility of acquiring the Meath Hospital campus.
Apart from the need for a primary care unit, it is accepted that there is an immediate need to enhance general practice facilities in the area to enable general practitioners, especially those in the immediate vicinity of the Meath Hospital, to fill the vacuum created by the absence of the accident  and emergency facility at the Meath Hospital. The cost of such improvements is estimated at a minimum at £500,000 and developments are taking place in this area.
The Eastern Health Board has also identified the need to provide secondary rehabilitation, extended care and day hospital facilities for older people living in the area surrounding the Meath Hospital. The possibility of acquiring the Meath Hospital campus for these and other primary care services is being examined by the Eastern Health Board.
In addition, the Eastern Health Board is providing a range of services for older people in the south inner city. A 25 bed community nursing unit which has respite, extended care and day care facilities, is operating at Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital. A 50 bed community nursing unit which provides similar services is located at the South Circular Road and will be officially opened on Monday next. In addition, St. Monica's, a 40 bed long-stay unit at Belvedere Place in the north inner city has come on stream. The Eastern Health Board is also developing proposals to provide secondary rehabilitation, extended care and day hospital facilities for older people living in the area surrounding the Meath Hospital.
Agreement has recently been reached between the board of management of the new hospital at Tallaght, the Eastern Health Board and the Department of Health and Children which will involve the Eastern Health Board providing and managing, in an inner city location, a 60 bed extended care facility for mainly older patients who have been medically assessed as in need of long-term care or who have completed the acute phase of their medical treatment but require convalescent type care before being discharged home. This facility is additional to existing services in the city. Thirty-five of these beds will be available in the Meath Hospital on 21 June to cater for such patients who would otherwise transfer to Tallaght. These beds will be available until August 1999.
While I can understand people's apprehension at the transfer of the Adelaide, Meath and National Children's Hospitals to Tallaght, I can assure Deputies that the Eastern Health Board and St. James's Hospital will ensure that the needs of the locality are met.
The Dáil adjourned at 5.30 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 16 June 1998.
11. Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the directions, if any, he has given regarding the involvement of community groups in the context of the setting up of strategic policy committees by the local authorities. [13767/98]
32. Mr. Dukes asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the progress, if any, made by the local authorities in relation to the setting up of strategic policy committees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13765/98]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 and 32 together.
Strategic policy committees are in the process of being introduced by county and city local authorities. I understand the majority of county and city local authorities have adopted SPC schemes and that many of them have invited groups to come forward for inclusion in the SPC process. Guidelines on the establishment and operation of SPCs were prepared by a broadly based working group, which included councillors, local authority managers and others. These guidelines issued in November 1997.
In February 1998, I held a national seminar day on the establishment of SPCs, attended by city and county councillors and senior city and county officials. The proceedings of this day were published in my Department's document Focus on Strategic Policy Committees: Update March 1998. Both the guidelines and the focus document are in the Dáil library.
These detailed guidelines set out a list of six sectors which should be represented in each local authority's SPC configuration. The community-voluntary-disadvantaged interests were designated as a sector in their own right. Given the broad spectrum of interests and the diversity of the organisations within this sector, the guidelines recognised that the mechanism for the selection of representatives would require special consideration. They therefore advised authorities to consult with the county strategy group and bodies such as the community platform and community workers' co-operative in relation to devising the selection process.
At a recent meeting with the county and city managers I stressed the need for flexibility regarding timescales and criteria in relation to the community-voluntary-disadvantaged sector.
12. Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the regulations, if any, he proposes to make regarding the dumping of sewage sludge in landfill sites; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13768/98]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. D. Wallace): I do not consider there is a need at present for any additional regulations in relation to the landfilling of sewage sludge.
The waste licensing system operated by the EPA under the Waste Management Act, 1996 will ensure that high standards of environmental protection apply in respect of all landfill activities. A waste licence must specify the types, nature, composition and quantity of waste which may be disposed of at the facility involved and impose appropriate requirements to avoid environmental pollution. In this context, it is a matter for the EPA to determine the extent, if any, to which sewage sludge may be disposed of at any particular facility and the conditions to apply to such disposal.
My Department has appointed consultants to assist local authorities in the preparation of comprehensive regional sludge management plans. The consultants are required to prepare an inventory of non-hazardous sludges in Ireland; research international practice on the landspreading of treated sludges or biosolids; prepare a code of good agricultural practice on the landspreading of biosolids; and prepare a guidance document for the preparation of sludge management plans.
This work is due to be completed by end-August 1998.
The management of sewage sludges and other sludges will also be addressed in local authority waste management plans under the Waste Management Act, 1996.
13. Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government if the Government will designate the year 2000 as a green year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12033/98]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): I have no plans to designate any particular year as a green year. The process of building a more environmentally sustainable society is an ongoing one. It is my intention to pursue the progressive integration of environmental objectives into all areas of public policy so that the greening of our society will have a constant and growing focus.
14. Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the plans, if any, he has to ban the use of plastic bags in shops and supermarkets; if he has considered placing a tax on plastic bags; the strategy, if any, he has to eliminate or reduce plastic bag use; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13740/98]
19. Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government when he will impose a charge on the issuing of plastic bags in retail outlets in line with regulations provided for in the Waste Management Act, 1996, in view of the failure of the voluntary code to reduce this form of waste and litter. [13861/98]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. D. Wallace): I propose to take Questions Nos. 14 and 19 together.
Plastic bags are a particular contributor to litter pollution, and they have not so far been effectively tackled by local authorities using the powers available to them under the Litter Pollution Act, l997. While I have no plans at present to ban such bags, I recognise the need for increased efforts by local authorities, business and the public to eliminate this form of litter pollution.
There are a number of options to address the use of plastic bags. A taxation approach has been raised by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government with the Minister for Finance in the context of pursuing environmental tax options. We are examining the issues involved in applying such a tax. The range of powers available to me under the Waste Management Act, l996, also include various possibilities in respect of waste prevention including mandatory charges and prohibitions. On the wider issue of litter pollution, of which plastic bags form a significant part, I intend to introduce an independent monitoring mechanism which will systematically quantify the extent and composition of litter. I will use its findings to assist local authorities to promote more responsible behaviour in areas particularly affected, and to help in determining what further measures are necessary to deal with particular forms of behaviour, including the use of plastic bags.
15. Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the schedule for the implementation of the EU Directive 96/96 EC on roadworthiness testing of private cars over four years old; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13747/98]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): It is intended to introduce car testing as early as practicable next year. Testing will be carried out at dedicated test centres under the control of a contractor to be appointed on a national basis. An EU wide competitive tendering process is now under way in my Department with a view to selecting the contractor by autumn 1998. Further details of start up arrangements will depend on the particular proposals of the selected contractor, including the ability to mobilise promptly the network of test centres and other resources.
16. Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the total number of voters on the electoral register who are disqualified from voting in constitutional referenda; the reasons for disqualification; the plans, if any, he has to introduce legislation which would extend voting rights to this particular category; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13855/98]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): Article 47.3 of the Constitution provides that the right to vote at a referendum shall be confined to citizens of Ireland who are entitled to vote at a Dáil election. The question of whether an amendment of the Constitution in relation to this aspect would be desirable might best be considered, in the first instance, by the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution.
The number of electors entitled to vote at a referendum included in the 1998-9 register of electors, which was published on 2 February 1998 and which will be in force for the period from 15 February 1998 to 14 February 1999, is 2,747,088.
In addition, a total of 34,949 non-Irish citizens are included in the register and are eligible to vote at a Dáil, European or local election. I understand from provisional figures provided to my Department by registration authorities, that a further 9,445 electors were added to the current register of electors by way of the supplements which were published in connection with the recent Dáil by-elections and referenda. As the figures do not give a breakdown between the various categories of poll at which electors included in the supplement are entitled to vote, it is not possible to indicate how many of these electors are not eligible to vote at a referendum.
17. Mr. Callely asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government his views on the problems associated with graffiti and litter; the arrangements, if any, in place to address these issues; the proposals, if any, he has to improve the situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13866/98]
61. Mr. Callely asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the level of support his Department gives to residents and residents' associations to enhance and encourage them to keep their areas clean; the initiatives, if any, he will introduce in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13887/98]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. D. Wallace): I propose to take Questions Nos. 17 and 61 together.
Enforcement of the Litter Pollution Act, 1997,  which includes provisions to deal with graffiti, is a matter for the local authorities.
This week I announced a series of measures as part of an anti-litter programme to support strengthened local authority action on litter this year. These measures include: establishing an ongoing monitoring regime to assist and review local authority enforcement action and help in identifying and eliminating litter blackspots; co-funding selected local authority public education and awareness initiatives in blackspot areas; stepping up the promotion of anti-litter awareness among young people, in co-operation with the Department of Education and Science and through a new schools information programme being developed by ENFO; providing financial support for An Taisce project — National Spring Clean 1999 — a multi-sectoral initiative to raise public awareness and participation in anti-litter initiatives at local level, which will include a central role for local authorities and meeting all local authority managers to reinforce the need for strong action to tackle the litter pollution problem.
As organisers of the Tidy Towns Competition, my Department has also encouraged towns and villages to participate, and to offer advice on how communities can improve their local environment. In addition, the Department has sought support for these centres by contacting the regional tourism authorities, local authorities, LEADER groups, partnership companies and other local bodies and has received many indications of willingness to support the tidy towns effort.
With a clear recognition of the litter problem, the necessary legislation in place and additional resources becoming available to local authorities next year with the establishment of the local government fund, the onus is now on local authorities to tackle litter pollution in a more focused and effective way, and support the measures my Department is taking through the Tidy Towns Competition to improve local environments.
18. Ms Clune asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government if he will make a statement on the forthcoming ministerial conference in Aarhus outlining his preparation for the conference; and the actions, if any, that will be taken at the conference. [13868/98]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): The fourth ministerial conference in the Environment for Europe process will take place in Aarhus from 23-25 June. The Environment for Europe process was initiated in 1991 to foster co-operation on environmental protection matters among all European countries and, in particular, to promote the strengthening of environmental policy in central and eastern Europe.
 The main items on the agenda for the con-ference will be: environmental problems in countries in transition, in particular in newly independent states, NIS, including the financing of environmental investments; the second Assessment of the European Environment Agency on the State of the European environment; adoption and signature of a convention on Access to Information and Public Participation in Environmental Decision-Making; adoption and signature of protocols on control of emissions of heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants; implementation of a Pan-European Biodiversity and Landscape Strategy; European Energy Conservation Initiative and programme for the phase out of leaded petrol.
Subject to Government approval, I intend to sign three legal instruments at the conference: the Convention on Access to Environmental Information and Public Participation in Environmental decision making and two protocols to the Geneva Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution — the protocol on Heavy Metals — and the protocol on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
20. Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the resources, if any, he will provide for the implementation of regulations under the Waste Management Act, 1996; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13769/98]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. D. Wallace): The Local Government Act, 1998, provides a statutory basis for a new funding system for local government. This new system, which will come into operation on 1 January 1999 involves the establishment of a local government fund which will provide significant additional resources for local authorities to enable them better to carry out their wide range of functions, including the implementation and enforcement of waste management and other environmental legislation. I have no plans separately to provide specific resources for the implementation of waste management regulations, as the Waste Management Act, 1996, and the regulations, contain a range of provisions to allow local authorities to recoup or offset costs.
21. Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the progress, if any, made to date in implementing the national sustainable development strategy; the structures, if any, he has put in place to advance the strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13741/98]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): I refer the Deputy to the reply to Question No. 62 of 3 February  1998. Implementation of a range of measures necessary to progress to a more environmentally sustainable society is ongoing. This work is building, in a sharper and more focused way, on the analysis contained in the national strategy and the structures it outlined to support sustainable development. I am finalising arrangements for the establishment of the National Environment Partnership Forum. I believe the forum will be influential in further advancing the national agenda for sustainable development, at the core of which will be maximum participation by, and consultation with, sectoral interests, the social partners and NGOs.
I have now re-launched the Green Network of Government Departments, with senior representation, to deepen cross-Departmental commitment to the integration of environmental considerations into other sectors, and develop appropriate mechanisms in this regard including, in particular, a system for the eco-auditing of policies as provided for in An Action Programme for the Millennium. The designation of task managers, as provided for in Sustainable Development: A Strategy for Ireland, will also be an important mechanism in furthering national strategies for sustainable development.
22. Mr. Higgins (Mayo) asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the proposals, if any, his Department has approved for new water and sewerage schemes for Bohola, County Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13862/98]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): The water supply to the village of Bohola and its rural hinterland is provided from a privately sourced group water scheme which serves around 450 houses and associated farms. Group water scheme capital grants of £440,000 have been approved for the upgrading of the scheme which includes the provision of new water filtration and disinfection facilities. My Department has been advised by Mayo County Council, the local authority responsible for the administration of the grant scheme in County Mayo, that tenders for the work are awaited from the group's consulting engineer and that members' contributions are now being collected. Work is expected to commence once these matters have been finalised.
In relation to sewerage, Mayo County Council submitted in 1994 a preliminary report for a proposed new sewerage scheme for Bohola, costing an estimated £500,000. However, given the existing level of commitments under the water and sewerage services investment programme I cannot say when it may be possible to approve this proposal. The Government has provided substantially increased funds for the provision of water and waste water infrastructure, as is evidenced by  the extensive water and sewerage investment programme for 1998 which I announced last February. This programme provides for capital expenditure of almost £185 million on water and sewerage projects throughout the country, and represents an increase of over 13 per cent on 1997 expenditure and 50 per cent on the 1996 figure.
The investment programme includes no fewer than 15 schemes in County Mayo, with an estimated overall value of £65 million. In addition, an allocation of £789,000 was made to the council in respect of its rural water programme, and schemes with an estimated value of £2.47 million have been approved under the serviced land initiative.
23. Mr. Wall asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the terms of the gratuity payments to be offered to councillors under the terms of the Local Government Act, 1998; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13744/98]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): Details of the terms of the gratuity payable to councillors who retire before the next local elections will be set out in a scheme to be made under the Local Government Act, 1998, which will be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. Work is progressing on the drafting of the scheme and I hope to publish it soon.
24. Mr. Callely asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the progress, if any, made to improve water supplies to meet the increasing demands; the progress, if any, made to eliminate leakage and improve conservation; the total supplies available in the reservoirs to serve the Dublin area; the identified supplies required; the schemes awaiting approval by his Department for the Dublin area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13865/98]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): A major investment programme to upgrade and extend public and private water supplies is under way. Since the start of the National Development Plan in 1994, over £217 million has been expended on this programme. The 1998 water and sewerage services investment programme, which I announced at the start of February, and which provided for an overall increase in spending for 1998 of 13 per cent over 1997 and as much as 50 per cent over the 1996 figure, will allow for further substantial improvements in public and group water supplies. Outputs achieved under the investment programme are given in the annual report on the programme published by my Department.
Major studies have been carried out in recent years into the water supply requirements for the  Dublin region, and Galway and Waterford cities. Studies are under way for Cork and Limerick cities and a number of other towns and counties across the country. My Department has received Cohesion Funding to undertake a national water audit entailing the collection and analysis of data for each of the medium to large public water supplies which have not yet been the subject of a study, to assess the adequacy of existing systems for each area served, and to make recommendations as to the appropriate approach for improving inadequate supplies. I will be appointing consultants shortly to undertake this study. In the case of private group water supplies, local authorities will be developing, in partnership with the private group scheme sector, strategic rural water plans which will contain, as one of their elements, an examination of future demands and a recommendation as to how these should best be met.
The implementation of water conservation measures is one of my Department's key strategies for ensuring an adequate supply of good quality water to all users. In September 1996, my Department issued a circular on policy in relation to water conservation to all local authorities. The circular included a comprehensive guidance manual prepared by consultants on ways to reduce leakage and invited local authorities to submit proposals in this area. On foot of the proposals received by my Department, the 1998 investment programme includes 14 water conservation schemes at an estimated cost of £50 million, including a major ongoing scheme for the Dublin region. The scheme for the Dublin region, costing £32 million, is based on the findings of the greater Dublin water supply strategic study carried out in 1995. That study indicated that the overall capacity of the major reservoirs serving the Dublin region is 1.2 million cubic metres. Water schemes costing over £10 million will commence construction this year in the greater Dublin area, while the total cost of schemes to continue construction this year is over £60 million. The total cost of schemes to advance through planning in the greater Dublin area in 1998 is over £30 million. My Department's priorities for future investment in water supplies to serve the Dublin region will be guided by the strategy set out in the strategic study, a copy of which is available in the Oireachtas Library.
25. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the total amount of land held by the local authorities and available for housing purposes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13848/98]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): The results of a survey carried out by my Department in 1997 indicated, on the basis of information supplied by local authorities, that they held approximately 3,400 acres of zoned serviced land available for  residential purposes. Some authorities, however, have a relatively greater supply of land than others. Indeed, a local authority may have sufficient land in the aggregate but may be short of land at a location where there is a particular need. It is primarily a matter for each local authority to ensure that they have sufficient land for their ongoing housing programmes.
The report of the Strategic Review Committee on the Construction Industry Building Our Future Together — June, 1997 — recommended, inter alia, that all local authorities should compile and publish data on serviced land in both public and private ownership in their areas. This recommendation is to be implemented annually from 1998 and my Department will be writing to local authorities in the matter.
26. Proinsias De Rossa asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the plans, if any, he has to bring forward proposals to deal with the difficulties regarding the restrictions placed on the role politicians can play in referenda campaigns because of the interpretation of the McKenna judgment; if a constitutional amendment is being considered in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12039/98]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 322 on 26 May, 1998.
29. Ms McManus asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government if he has satisfied himself with the adequacy of lifesaving and safety measures provided by local authorities at frequently used beaches; the review, if any, he is considering of these measures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13772/98]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): Following the recent tragic drowning accident at Strandhill, the National Safety Council was asked to carry out a detailed review of issues related to safety on beaches.
Local authorities will be giving their input to this review, which I expect to be completed by October next.
In the context of examining any measures that could be taken to reduce the likelihood of future, similar accidents a comprehensive report on the accident was sought from Sligo Council. When the report is received the National Safety Council will be asked to examine it and to provide its observations.
I have also arranged for a review to be carried out of the existing organisation of water safety, with a view to strengthening and reorganising it.
30. Ms Clune asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the date on which he will make a policy statement on waste management; whether this statement will incorporate concrete proposals on waste incineration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13867/98]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. D. Wallace): I expect that the policy statement on waste management, now in preparation, will be substantially completed in the next month, and will be published as soon as possible thereafter.
Government policy in this area is based on a commitment to the waste hierarchy, prioritising first the prevention and minimisation of waste; second, recovery, and third, environmentally sustainable disposal. A comprehensive review of waste management strategies is being carried out at present by all local authorities for purposes of the development of waste management plans under the Waste Management Act, 1996. The proposed statement will support and further inform the making of waste management plans by local authorities, addressing the factors and practical considerations which are relevant to the achievement of Government policy objectives for waste. In particular, the statement will emphasise the need to bring about a major reduction in the quantity of waste disposed to landfill and the related need to consider the suitability of all available alternatives to landfill, including thermal treatment options.
It is not intended, nor is it the function of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, to bring forward concrete proposals for particular waste management facilities as part of the statement.
31. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the discussions, if any, he has had with the Irish Home Builders Association, as promised in Dáil Éireann on 12 May 1998, arising from the case where a builder sought to increase the price of a house by £36,000, or 28 per cent, to a couple who believed they had a valid agreement; if so, the outcome of these discussions; the plans, if any, he has to deal with the practice of gazumping by some builders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13774/98]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): The consultants' report An Economic Assessment of Recent House Price Developments recommended a written voluntary code of practice as the most effective means of limiting undesirable practices, such as gazumping, by some house builders and suggested that the professional representative body of home builders could play a positive role in this  regard. Arising from this, the matter has been formally raised with the Irish Home Builders Association and I am glad to say that the association has responded positively by confirming that they have now agreed to establish a voluntary code of practice.
The measures which have been taken to dampen house price increases, and to remove distortions in the housing market, as set out in the Government's Action on House Prices, will also help to remove the conditions in which practices such as gazumping can take place.
33. Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the number of persons on waiting lists for local authority housing at the latest date for which figures are available; the comparative figures for the equivalent dates in 1996 and 1997; the steps, if any, he is taking to reduce waiting lists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13776/98]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): Local authorities carried out an assessment of housing needs at 29 March 1996. Details of the assessment for each local authority were published in the 1996 Housing Statistics Bulletin, copies of which are available in the Oireachtas Library. The next assessment of housing needs will be carried out by local authorities in March 1999 and the results will provide the basis for the future planning of the Government's response to social housing needs.
An Action Plan for the Millennium sets out the Government's commitment to a continuing house construction programme by local authorities and voluntary groups. A programme of 3,900 housing 'starts' and acquisitions has been notified to local authorities for 1998. These, together with output from the complementary social housing measures and vacancies occurring in the existing local authority housing stock, will enable some 10,000 households to be catered for in 1998. Recent improvements in the terms of the social housing schemes are expected to increase housing output from these measures.
34. Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government if he has satisfied himself that there will be an adequate supply of rental accommodation available at reasonable prices for those who require same; and, if not, the measures, if any, he has to fill the expected shortage of this accommodation. [13856/98]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): The consultants' report, “An Economic Assessment of Recent House Price Developments”, concluded that there was evidence that there has been an increase and greater diversification in the rented  housing sector in recent years with both demand and supply currently strong. The consultants also found evidence that changing patterns of housing demand are sufficient to support a growing and more diversified rented sector. The measures to boost housing supply generally, contained in the Government's “Action on House Prices”, will help in this regard. The overall package of measures is designed to dampen house price increases which, together with anticipated further reductions in interest rates, should also have a positive impact on the supply and cost of housing for renting.
35. Mr. Higgins (Mayo) asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government if he has received a submission from Mayo County Council in relation to an application by Ballyhaunis, Charlestown, Claremorris, Kiltimagh, Knock and Swinford, under the integrated area plan in the context of the new urban renewal scheme; when a decision will be made on the submission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13859/98]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): In the context of the arrangements made in preparation for a new urban renewal scheme, Mayo County Council has made a submission to my Department in respect of six east Mayo towns comprising Ballyhaunis, Charlestown, Claremorris, Kiltimagh, Knock and Swinford.
Guidelines for that scheme made it clear that local authorities were expected, in selecting areas for the preparation of integrated area plans, to give priority to urban areas with the highest concentrations of physical decay and socio-economic disadvantage. The extent to which any case made by a local authority meets the criteria for the new scheme is undergoing examination by a broadly based expert advisory panel which I established last year to assess all of the plans submitted and provide advice in relation to proposals for the application of urban renewal tax incentives.
Until such time as plans have been examined by the panel and considered further in the light of the panel's advice, it will not be possible to say which towns are likely to be included in the new scheme.
36. Mr. Bell asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government if the Government has an agreed programme of action to achieve the Irish target for CO2 emissions; if he will give details of this programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13742/98]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): Details of actions undertaken by Ireland to meet its objective of limiting the increase in its CO2 emissions to 20  per cent above 1990 levels by the year 2000, as part of the overall stabilisation of emissions at 1990 levels by the European Union as a whole under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, FCCC, are set out in Ireland's first and second national communications under the FCCC, copies of which are available in the Oireachtas Library. The target which may apply in the post 2000 period, within the target for the EU as a whole under the Kyoto Protocol, has not yet been determined.
37. Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government when the next local government elections will be held; the steps, if any, he will take in advance of those elections to address the huge disparity between the councillor to elector ratio in parts of Dublin and in other parts of the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13777/98]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): The next local elections will be held on Friday, 11 June 1999.
In February 1998 I established two boundary committees to review electoral areas in local authorities in the Dublin area and in local authorities outside Dublin. The boundary committees are required to issue their reports not later than 1 July next. The terms of reference of the committees require that each committee ensure a reasonable relationship between the 1996 population figures and representation within each local authority.
There are no constitutional or statutory requirements relating to equality of representation between local authorities. Each local authority operates within its own administrative area and the main priority is that the relevant council has sufficient members to carry out its functions effectively.
38. Mr. B. Smith asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the need to provide a new fire station at Dowra, County Cavan; the stage of planning of this project; the likely date for the invitation of tenders and the commencement of construction work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13870/98]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): Contract documents in respect of this fire station project are with my Department at present. I cannot say at this stage when the proposal may be allowed to go to tender stage having regard to the capital available and the current level of demand under the fire services capital programme.
39. Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the action, if any, he has taken to date to implement the recommendations of the strategic review of the construction industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13748/98]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): The Report of the Strategic Review Committee on the Construction Industry — Building Our Future Together — was published in June 1997. The report recommended the establishment of a broadly representative forum for the construction industry to oversee detailed implementation of the 86 recommendations contained in the report. I established the forum in October 1997 under the chairmanship of Mr. Joe Moran, the former chief executive of the ESB. In addition to the Chairman, the forum comprises 16 members who are representative of private and public sector clients of the construction industry, contractors, trade unions, the building professions and building material manufacturers.
The 86 recommendations involved are to be implemented, broadly in accordance with a timetable incorporated in chapter 6 of the strategic review committee's report, over the period 1997 to 2001. Some of the recommendations have already been implemented or are being implemented on ongoing basis. A substantial package of recommendations are due to be implemented from the autumn of this year.
In accordance with a commitment in Partnership 2000, the forum will publish an annual progress report on implementation, starting in December 1998.
40. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the total number of persons registered as being on the housing list for each of the past eight years; the number of houses built by the various local authorities in each of these years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13847/98]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): Statutory assessments of housing need were carried out by local authorities in 1989, 1991, 1993 and 1996. The details were published in my Department's annual housing statistics bulletins for those years, copies of which are available in the Oireachtas Library. It is intended that the next assessment of housing needs will be carried out by local authorities in March 1999.
Details of the number of houses completed or acquired by local authorities are also available in the annual housing statistics bulletins.
41. Mrs. T. Ahearn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of postgraduate research projects approved by Forbairt for third level colleges for each of the years from 1990 to date. [13927/98]
Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Treacy): Research Scholarships — The numbers of individual postgraduates approved for funding each year through Forbairt under the postgraduate research scholarships programme are as follows:
|Research Scholarship (PhC)||171||158||184||210||166||153||159||159||–|
With regard to 1998, the closing date for receipt of applications from PhD scholars is 10 July 1998. It is expected that those applications which are eligible for support will be submitted to the September meeting of the National Research Support Fund Board for consideration.
In the case of industrial scholarships (MSc), the application period is from June to October. It is expected that applications will be submitted for consideration to the National Research Support Fund Board commencing in August 1998.
In regard to numbers of research projects, the following table illustrates numbers approved for funding each year under the basic, strategic and applied research grants schemes. It should be noted that these figures relate to projects in which research is generally carried out by postgraduates.
In relation to basic research, I am examining a number of options with a view to securing additional funding for new projects in 1998. The number of projects approved in 1998 under the strategic research grants scheme reflects the decision of the National Research Support Fund Board to support larger projects having a greater critical mass. The level of project approvals under each of the applied research programmes is expected to increase in the last quarter of the year.
It is not possible to provide details as to the number of postgraduate researchers supported through these projects. However, it is generally the case that 60 per cent of the cost of projects relates to human resources.
|Basic Research Grants Scheme||15||32||34||43||60||83||105||126||–|
|Strategic Research Grants Scheme||10||13||17||–||28||35||37||49||33|
|Applied Research Grants Scheme — Universities||41||39||27||28||7||24||68||52||27|
|Applied Research Grants Scheme —||74||49||108||24||70||31||49||93||20|
|Regional Technical Colleges|
42. Mr. Dukes asked the Minister for Public Enterprise if, arising from the additional funding being transferred to the Operational Programme for Transport following the mid-term review of Community Structural Funds, she will propose the provision in the Programme to extend the Iarnrod Éireann Arrow commuter rail service to Portlaoise, County Laois, and to refurbish and reopen the railway station at Monasterevin, County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13897/98]
Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke): I have no statutory function in relation to these matters which are operational issues for Iarnród Éireann.
During statements in the House on the Luas light rail project on 4 June last I gave details of alternative projects prepared in consultation with CIE which have been put forward for consideration for possible EU assistance when the light rail funding is being reallocated. A key consideration in selecting these projects was that they had to be contractually committed by end 1999 and completed by 2001 at the latest.
The projects mentioned by the Deputy are not included in the list of alternative projects.
43. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of new non-EU markets opened up for Irish agricultural products in each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13724/98]
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh): This country has exported agricultural products to a wide range of non-EU markets over many years. Information is not readily available in the precise form sought by the Deputy.
The number of new markets or existing markets where new product was introduced is as follows:
|1996||1997||1998 (to date)|
An important feature of our agricultural trade is the protection of existing markets.
44. Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he will have the problems resolved in relation to an area aid application for a person (details supplied) in County Sligo and have his beef premium payment released; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13900/98]
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh): Maps issued to the person named on 6 May 1998 requesting that he outline all of his land on the maps to facilitate digitising. These maps have not yet been returned and consequently the area aid application cannot be processed further.
I have arranged for an additional set of blank townland maps to issue to the herdowner concerned. These should be completed and returned immediately to the area aid unit as payments due in respect of special beef premium cannot issue until the digitising process is completed.
45. Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress, if any, on an application made in 1997 for the farm retirement scheme for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; if the problems encountered can be overcome by the Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13901/98]
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh): The land originally offered as enlargement by the transferee for the purposes of establishing eligibility for the early retirement from farming pension was the subject of a transfer from the transferor after 30 July 1992 and was therefore ineligible. The transferee was advised accordingly and processing of the application was delayed until alternative lands were offered as enlargement.
The matter of enlargement has now been resolved and subject to establishing the pension status with the Department Social, Community and Family Affairs payment of the early retirement pension will be made. In this instance payment of the early retirement pension will be retrospective to 2 January 1998, the date of valid application.
46. Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when a person (details supplied) in County Cork will be paid his 1997 sheep headage grants in view of the fact that he has forwarded all required maps and information to the area aid section of the Department. [13902/98]
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh): The area aid unit issued maps to the person concerned in order to ascertain the exact location of the lands detailed on his application form. These maps were returned and received in the area aid unit on 4 June 1998 and have been digitised. However, part of one of the applicant's land parcels is also being claimed by another herdowner. The area aid unit is in the process of determining which herdowner has entitlement to the disputed area.
47. Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the further weather aid compensation, if any, he intends to extend to Waterford grain growers following the devastation of their crops of the 1997 harvest (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13942/98]
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh): The scheme of assistance for weather related crop losses, 1997, provided assistance for growers of arable crops whose viability was seriously threatened by crop losses arising from the severe weather conditions in 1997. I have no plans to provide additional compensation for other grain growers not eligible under the scheme.
48. Mr. Higgins (Dublin West) asked the Minister for Finance if he will instruct the Office of Public Works to enter into discussions with the ABLE group in Blanchardstown, Dublin 15, with a view to that group taking possession of the old garda station in Blanchardstown upon its evacuation to be used for community based adult education and, in particular, for literacy improvement services which ABLE provides in the community. [13770/98]
Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Cullen): It is anticipated that the new Garda station in Blanchardstown will be occupied towards the end of the year. The possibility of using the existing station to accommodate another Government service is being examined. If the property is eventually surplus to requirements, it will be disposed of in accordance with Government procurement regulations Surplus property is normally disposed of through public competition. It is, however, possible, where circumstances justify it, to deal directly with a tenant or purchaser, subject to the approval of the Minister for Finance. In such cases, a property is normally expected to achieve market value as determined by professional valuers.
I have had inquiries from two organisations,  including ABLE, which are interested in using the existing Garda station for community purposes once it is vacated. The Commissioners of Public Works will be prepared to meet representatives of these groups to discuss their interest, if the property proves surplus to requirements and is being disposed of.
49. Mr. Yates asked the Minister for Finance if he will clarify the situation in relation to the availability of the additional 50 per cent tax free allowance for people whose spouse dies; the eligibility criteria and benefits of this allowance; whether it is of the same benefit depending on the time of year that a partner dies, that is, if a partner dies just before the end of the tax year, is the full allowance granted in that tax year or in subsequent tax years; and the proposals, if any, he has to amend this allowance. [13896/98]
Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy): Under tax legislation, a person whose spouse dies is entitled to a special widowed person's tax-free allowance in the year of assessment in which the spouse dies. Eligibility for the special allowance is confined to the year of assessment in which a person is widowed. In tax law a year of assessment, or tax year, begins on 6 April.
The special widowed person's allowance in the tax year of bereavement is currently £6,300, equivalent to the allowance for a married couple. Otherwise the tax free allowance for a widowed person is £3,650.
The main purpose of the special allowance is to ensure the tax free allowances available to a family are maintained and not reduced during a tax year in which one of the spouses dies. The value of the allowance is the same irrespective of when in the tax year the spouse dies. The special allowance cannot be carried forward into subsequent years of assessment irrespective of the date in the year of assessment on which the deceased spouse dies.
The extent to which a widowed person may benefit from the special allowance depends on the particular circumstances of individuals.
50. Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Finance further to Parliamentary Question No. 74 of 13 May 1998, the basis on which rebates of excise duty were given to Bus Éireann in relation to hydrocarbon oil; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13921/98]
Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy): The Office of the Revenue Commissioners has advised me that repayments of excise duty paid on hydrocarbon, heavy, oils used in the provision of passenger road services may be claimed under the provisions of paragraph 12 (11) of the Imposition of Duties (No 221) (Excise Duties) Order, 1975, SI No 307 of 1975. The requirements for  claiming repayments are that the operator must be a licensee under the passenger licence granted under section 11 of the Road Transport Act, 1932 in respect of the passenger road service within the meaning of section 2 of that Act or must be exempted from the application of section 7 of that Act; the excise duty on hydrocarbon oils imposed by paragraph 12 (1) of SI No. 307 of 1975 must have been paid on the oil used for combustion in the engine of a mechanically propelled vehicle in providing the service.
Section 7 of the Road Transport Act, 1932 created an offence for operating an unlicensed passenger road service; section 24 of the Transport Act, 1958 provided an exemption for CIE from the application of section 7.
While excise duty rebates are given to Bus Éireann, the office of the Revenue Commissioners must respect the confidentiality of its dealings with the public and companies. The general question as to whether repayments of excise duty may be allowed in respect of journeys to and from garages is the subject of an appeal hearing under section 105 of the Finance Act, 1995. In the circumstances, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further on the issue.
51. Mr. B. Smith asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the need for increased investment in the Border region and the need to retain Objective 1 Status in EU Structural Funding after 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13932/98]
Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy): The Government has consistently supported all initiatives aimed at promoting economic regeneration in the Border counties and the Deputy can be assured that we will be making all reasonable efforts to ensure this region benefits from any additional funds that may become available on foot of the Agreement reached in the northern multiparty talks.
The Border region is already receiving special financial assistance under various programmes related to its situation. These programmes include INTERREG, which provides over £100 million for the region in both EU and domestic funding over the six years from 1994 to 1999, the peace programme, which has provision for approximately £83 million in EU and domestic funds for the Border region for the years 1995 to 1998, and the International Fund for Ireland, which should see a further £21 million in funds being available for the Border region in 1999.
The range of activities I outlined indicates the Government is actively pursuing the economic regeneration of the Border counties, and should demonstrate that we are committed to ensuring that the maximum possible benefit is realised both from these programmes and from the settlement that has now been reached in Northern Ireland.
 As regards Structural Funds, the eligibility criterion for Objective 1 status is for a region to have a per capita GDP of below 75 per cent of the EU average. Ireland, currently treated as a single region for Structural Fund purposes, now well exceeds this eligibility figure and will no longer qualify for full Objective 1 status after 1999.
However, the Government is conscious that the recent prosperity achieved by Ireland has not applied uniformly throughout the country. Certain regions have not done as well as the rest of the country in terms of indicators applying at the more localised level in particular, the regions of the Border, the west and the midlands currently have a per capita GDP of less than 75 per cent of the EU average.
In this context one possible strategy to address the development needs of these regions including the Border counties, is to pursue a regionalisation approach to the next round of structural funding, whereby the country would be divided into two new regions of which one, comprising the Border, the west and the midlands regions, would qualify for Objective 1 status.
Ireland cannot unilaterally adopt a regionalisation approach. It would be for the European Commission as a whole to approve a regionalisation approach. It has to be said that indications to date as to the likely response to this option are not positive.
I would, however, reiterate the Government's commitment in the Action Plan for the Millennium to those regions of the country, including the Border region, whose development is lagging behind. It remains to be seen whether this commitment can be best met by a regionalisation approach or by an approach where the best possible terms are secured for Ireland as a single region in transition. This matter is receiving detailed consideration and has been raised with the Commission at political and official levels.
52. Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will give consideration to the tender submitted in 1996 for the provision of an acute psychiatric unit at St. Luke's Hospital, Kilkenny, in view of the urgency of the development and the positive multiplier effect such an investment will have on the development of medical services in Kilkenny and the region and the fact that the South Eastern Health Board is at an advanced stage of negotiation with one contractor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13909/98]
Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen): The South-Eastern Health Board is responsible for the delivery of health services, including mental health services, in its catchment area. I have made enquiries of the board in relation to the provision of the acute psychiatric unit at St Luke's Hospital, Kilkenny and I understand that,  in view of the time which has elapsed since receipt of the original tenders, the Board is now proposing to readvertise for contractors for the project.
53. Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Health and Children if, in relation to cases where parents wish to adopt a child from another country, he will clarify the way in which a child is selected for adoption; the information given in relation to the child to the prospective adoptive parents; whether this can be done prior to an approval by the Adoption Board of the couple; whether there is a procedure whereby, as in Irish adoptions, a society or adoption board can provide information, including background information, regarding the child for the prospective adoptive parents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13912/98]
Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. Fahey): The selection of a child for adoption, the information given in relation to the child to the prospective adoptive parents and the provision of background information on the child are all matters to be dealt with by the adoption authorities of the country in which the adoption is effected in accordance with that country's adoption law and procedure and such procedures vary from place to place.
No Irish resident can apply to effect a foreign adoption without first of all obtaining a declaration of suitability and eligibility from the Adoption Board.
54. Mr. Aylward asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will review the application by a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny in respect of his son who is Down's syndrome for a motorised transport grant under section 59(1) of the Health Act, 1970, and in view of the circumstances in this case as outlined on several occasions to his Department and the South Eastern Health Board. [13913/98]
Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen): The assessment of entitlement to a motorised transport grant in any individual case is a matter for the relevant health board. I have, however, referred the Deputy's question to the chief executive officer, South Eastern Health Board with a request that he examine the application for a motorised transport grant. I have requested him to let me know the outcome of this case. As soon as details are received I will correspond directly with the Deputy.
55. Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of people on the waiting list for ear, nose and throat operations, hip replacement and general surgery for each of the years from 1996 to date. [13922/98]
Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen): The information requested by the Deputy is set out in the following table. December 1997 is the latest date for which final validated figures are available.
|December 1996||December 1997|
|Ear, Nose and Throat||5,291||7,138|
I have provided a total of £12 million to address hospital waiting lists in 1998. This brings to £70 million the total resources committed to the reduction of hospital waiting lists since the current initiative commenced in 1993. It represents a 50 per cent increase over the funding made available last year for waiting list work.
In order to maximise the effectiveness of the waiting list initiative, I recently announced a review group consisting of clinicians and managers to consider the net effect of the current waiting list initiative on waiting lists and waiting times; any incentive effects of the waiting list initiative on participating hospitals in relation to their activity and treatment schedules; the extent to which hospitals can consistently and accurately validate their waiting lists; and the adequacy of existing information systems to permit routine evaluation of the waiting list initiative.
I have asked the review group to report to me by the end of June so that its recommendations can be taken into account for the Estimates process in 1999 and subsequent years.
56. Mr. J. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children if his attention has been drawn to a proposal for the private provision of a mobile MRI scanner unit; if he will consider this proposal; his views on whether a mobile scanner unit would be very cost effective and eliminate the need to transfer patients to Dublin hospitals for this service and similar services as mammography and other diagnostic procedures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13923/98]
57. Mr. J. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of MRI scans undertaken in 1997 in each health board area and in private hospitals not under the control of health boards. [13924/98]
58. Mr. J. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children the names and locations of all hospitals who have MRI scanners and have applied to him for approval to acquire MRI scanners. [13925/98]
Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen): I propose to take Questions Nos. 56, 57 and 58 together.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) facilities in the public hospital sector are available at Beaumont Hospital. Private MRI facilities are also available at the Mater Private Hospital, St. Vincent's Private Hospital and the Blackrock Clinic, Dublin. There is also a privately owned MRI facility located on the campus of Cork University Hospital which provides a service on a contract basis to the public hospital.
Figures relating to the number of MRI scans carried out in the public sector in 1997 are not routinely collected by my Department. However, I have asked the chief executive officers at Beaumont and Cork University Hospitals to forward this information to the Deputy directly, as a matter of urgency. My Department has no function in relation to private hospitals.
The Department has been aware of the need to monitor and evaluate overall MRI requirements in the public hospital service. Accordingly, an expert study of the existing arrangements for the provision in MR1 facilities nationwide and likely future demand in this area was commissioned from Professor David-Banta, an international expert in health technology assessment. Professor Banta's findings were announced last year. He identified the need to develop MR1 facilities at University College Hospital, Galway, St. James's Hospital and the new Tallaght Hospital, with the Galway location as the top priority. All three hospitals have submitted applications to my Department for the development of MR1 facilities. A timescale of three years was envisaged for the programme of enhancement for MR1 facilities at the three sites. As soon as the WI programme is completed on the basis of these recommendations the need for future MRI facilities can be examined.
I am not aware of any proposals having been submitted to my Department in relation to a mobile MR1 scanner. The Department would have to evaluate such a proposal in the context of the capacity of this facility to meet identifiable need, its ability to enable examinations to be carried out to the highest quality control parameters, appropriateness of use and cost effectiveness criteria. These factors having been considered, it would then be appropriate to make judgments as to its future role, if any, in the provision of MR1 scanning facilities in this country.
59. Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the power, if any, he has to prohibit South Dublin County Council taking steps to divert heavy traffic into a residential area (details supplied); and, if so, if he will exercise this power in view of the concerns of the local residents as set out in a petition to the county manager. [13718/98]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy): : The power to provide road signs is assigned to road authorities by section 95 of the Road Traffic Act, 1961, as amended by section 37 of the Road Traffic Act, 1994.
While the Minister for the Environment and Local Government specifies the design of roads signs to be used by road authorities and issues general advice about the engineering and positioning of such signs, the Minister has no function in determining the deployment of road signs in particular circumstances or in reviewing decisions of road authorities in relation to this deployment.
60. Mr. Cosgrave asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the funding, if any, available to Fingal County Council and Dublin Corporation to carry out the construction of the roadway at Grange Road, Grange Abbey, Baldoyle, Dublin 13; the funding, if any, he has made available for the widening of the bridge over the main Dublin to Belfast railway line in the area; the amount of funding made available for this project; when work will commence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13886/98]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): Dublin Corporation, which by agreement with Fingal County Council is acting as lead authority for the R809 Grange Road, Baldoyle, has been allocated £1 million in 1998 for this project under the EU cofinanced grants scheme. This allocation also includes provision for the widening of the bridge over the main Dublin to Belfast railway line and for traffic calming measures.
I understand the corporation intends inviting tenders for the project in the near future and that it is anticipated that work will commence in August/September of this year.
62. Mr. Callely asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the number of people prosecuted under the Litter Pollution Act, 1997, in the Dublin area; the most common prosecution and the actual offence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13888/98]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. D. Wallace): Figures for the number of prosecutions under the Litter Pollution Act, 1997, in the Dublin area based on annual statistical returns submitted by the relevant local authorities are available in the Oireachtas Library. Details of the types of offences to which the prosecutions relate are not available to my Department.
63. Ms O'Sullivan asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the plans, if any, he has to introduce regulations under section 18 of the Road Traffic Act, 1968, for the mandatory registration of driving instructors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13910/98]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy): A voluntary scheme of registration of driving instructors, the Driving Instructor Register of Ireland Limited, has been established jointly by two national associations representing motor schools and driving instructors in association with the Irish Insurance Federation and with financial assistance from my Department and the federation. The scheme aims to raise the standard of driving instruction and, by extension, the standard of driving generally and provides for reduced car insurance premiums for drivers, including young drivers, who complete a course of instruction with a qualified instructor. The progress of this scheme will be monitored and kept under review for a period of time before contemplating any more formal regulation of driving instruction.
64. Ms O'Sullivan asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the reason the essential repairs grant is not available in urban areas; the plans, if any, he has to expand the scheme to these areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13911/98]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy): Prior to the making of the Housing (Disabled Persons and Essential Repairs Grants) Regulations, 1993, essential repairs grants were confined to houses located within a county health district. The 1993 regulations redefined the circumstances under which essential repairs grants are payable. Effectively, such grants may be paid in respect of a house in any area subject to the following conditions: the occupier must be approved for local authority housing; the house cannot be made fit for human habitation, in all respects, at a reasonable cost but the repairs proposed will prolong the useful life of the house; and, there would be no continuing demand for local authority housing at the location of the house in respect of which the grant is sought.
Generally speaking, I would expect that only a small number of cases in built-up areas could comply with these conditions. However, where an essential repairs grant cannot be paid for a house, because there is a continuing demand for local authority housing, it would be open to the local authority concerned to consider the use of the scheme of improvement works in lieu of local authority housing, if the requirements of that scheme are fulfilled.
 I am, in the context of the Government's “An Action Programme for the Millennium”, examining possible options to extend the range of measures currently available to assist low income households in securing necessary improvement works to their housing, including the essential repairs grants scheme. Pending completion of this examination and decisions arising from it, I do not propose to comment on the possible outcome.
65. Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if he will introduce a procedure whereby Irish citizens who have pensions in the United Kingdom could qualify for free travel if they return on an extended visit to Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13908/98]
Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): The free travel scheme is available to all people living in Ireland aged 66 years or over, and also to certain people with disabilities under that age who are in receipt of certain welfare type payments. The scheme provides free travel, primarily at off-peak periods, to eligible people on the main public and private transport services. At the end of last January, about 505,000 people qualified for free travel at an annual cost of £33 million.
The scheme was extended in 1995 to cover cross-Border travel only, between Ireland and Northern Ireland. It is available to passholders in Ireland, their spouses or companions in the case of people holding companion passes, and to Northern Ireland concession travel passholders. The scheme does not apply to either sea or air routes between this country and Great Britain.
The free travel scheme, as in the case of other social welfare schemes in Ireland, is available to all eligible persons who are resident in Ireland, irrespective of nationality. The possibility of extending the free travel scheme to Irish citizens who are not residents would involve additional costs which could only be considered in a budgetary context. There are also likely to be implications for other EU nationals which would have to be examined.
66. Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands if she will instruct the Office of Public Works to survey the waterways between the Grand Canal aqueduct over the Morell at Straffan, County Kildare, and the out-fall of these to the Liffey; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13903/98]
67. Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands if she will instruct the Office of Public Works to take the necessary action to prevent the Grand Canal from overflowing at the aqueduct over the Morell at Straffan, County Kildare, and at Hazelhatch, Celbridge, which has resulted in large scale flooding and damage to property, including one house being demolished; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13904/98]
Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera): Tógfaidh mé Ceisteanna Uimh. 66 agus Uimh. 67 le chéile.
Responsibility for the care and management of the Grand Canal rests with my Department under the Canals Act, 1986. I have no responsibility for the Office of Public Works which has statutory powers to undertake works for the relief of localised flooding under the Arterial Drainage (Amendment) Act, 1995.
The overflow on the south bank of the Grand Canal east of the Morrell River Aqueduct feeds into a back drain which runs parallel to the towpath and flows back into the Grand Canal below the 14th lock at Devonshire Bridge. There is no discharge of surplus water into the Morrell River.
The overflow on the north bank of the canal east of Hazelhatch Bridge, known as Behan's overflow, feeds into a back drain which runs parallel to the towpath and flows into the Shinkeen Stream at a point 500 metres to the west of Behans's overflow. This system of canal water management has been successfully operating for over 200 years.
68. Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason his Department has refused to include a .22 single shot target pistol on the EU firearms pass of a person (details supplied) in County Wexford; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that, as a result of this refusal, he cannot secure a temporary permit for the firearm which he needs in order to participate in a competition in Spain in June 1998; the steps, if any, he will take to ensure that he can participate in this competition; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13914/98]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): The European Firearms Pass is a document which is issued on request by the authorities of a member state to its own nationals, on which is entered details of the firearm of firearms possessed and used by the holder of the pass. The policy since 1972 in this country has been to issue certificates for certain firearms only, namely, crossbows, shotguns, unrifled airguns and rifles up to .22 inches except in the case of deer hunting and competitive target shooting when bolt action rifles up to .270 may be licensed.
The firearm referred to by the Deputy cannot be licensed in this country therefore, and a person may not legally possess it. It follows that details of such a firearm cannot be entered on a European Firearms Pass. I am aware of the difficulties experienced by the person referred to by the  Deputy. However, I understand that he has made alternative arrangements to meet the situation.
69. Mr. Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on whether the limit for the hearing of cases in the small claims court is too low at £600 with reference to the cost to the consumer of day to day items; his views on whether it is reasonable to raise the limit to £1,000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13915/98]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): The limit for small claims was last reviewed and increased under the District Courts rules from £500 to £600 on 22 January, 1996.
My Department is currently undertaking a review of the present limit. This review will include reviewing all available information to establish if the existing limit is sufficient and if not, what that limit should be. If this review finds that the limit should be increased, I will request the District Court Rules Committee to examine the matter with a view to making the necessary rules.
The Deputy might also wish to note that the recently passed Arbitration (International Commercial) Act now brings travel companies which were not previously within ambit of the small claims procedure into the procedure. This will be taken into account as part of the review.
70. Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the prisons and places of detention where a psychological service is provided to inmates; the number of hours worked by psychologists in each prison; the number of psychologists employed in each facility; the prisons, if any, from which psychological services have been withdrawn recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13916/98]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): A psychological service is available to inmates in all prisons and places of detention. There are seven psychologists employed by the Department's clinical psychological service dealing exclusively with the prison system. All are headquarters staff and attend at different institutions in response to perceived needs.
In order to respond to changing and increasing demands on the service it has been necessary to change the way in which it is provided in some institutions. This has led to a movement away from a regular attendance in these institutions to a demand orientated one. The number of hours during which psychologists attend at the different institutions varies from week to week.
71. Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the status of an application for National Lottery funding by St. Bridget's Secondary School, Goresbridge, County Kilkenny; if this application can be processed urgently in view of the indication from the school management that the future of the school is under threat; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13891/98]
Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid): An application for funding under the sports capital programme was received from the school in January 1997.
The 1998 grants under the programme were recently allocated and all available funds have now been committed to a number of projects around the country. The school was advised in April 1998 that it is not among the projects approved for grant aid in 1998.
The sports capital programme is currently under review. Accordingly, no further applications are being invited until the review is completed and I am in a position to publicise details of the new schemes.
72. Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will appoint an additional teacher to Marymount national school, the Rower, County Kilkenny, in view of the fact that an error occurred in September 1997 which understated the enrolment figures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13890/98]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): An inspector from my Department has been asked to visit Marymount national school to clarify the enrolment at the school in September, 1997.
As soon as the inspector's report is received, the staffing allocation at the school for the 1998-9 school year will be determined and the board of management informed accordingly.
73. Ms Cooper-Flynn asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of legal cases being taken by women academic staff against University College Dublin in connection with the issue of promotion of women; and the number of cases taken by women for this reason in the past ten years. [13892/98]
74. Ms Cooper-Flynn asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of women who hold professorships or associate professorships in the faculties of psychology, political philosophy, law and medicine in University College Dublin; and the number who held these positions in the past ten years. [13893/98]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): I propose to take Questions Nos. 73 and 74 together.
The National University of Ireland, Dublin is an autonomous institution and the questions raised by the Deputy are a matter for that institution. However, I have arranged for the information to be sent directly to the Deputy by the university.
75. Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will give details of the development of the Institute of Technology in Blanchardstown, Dublin 15, and, in particular, the plans to commence recruitment and the phasing of the project. [13894/98]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): An establishment board has been appointed to complete strategic planning for a new institute of technology in Blanchardstown and to make arrangements for the commencement of courses. The board has met on two occasions. Course development is under way and the board is continuing its strategic planning. A further announcement will be made when final decisions have been taken on completion of the planning process.
The plans being developed by the board are consistent with commencement of full-time third level courses in the institute in September 1999.
A site for a permanent campus has been identified. This is part of a parcel of land to be developed as a business and technology park by the IDA and Fingal County Council. Proposals for the infrastructural development and landscaping of the site are at advanced stage. The first phase of the capital development of the institute will have a capacity of the order of 900 full time third level students.
76. Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will grant recognition to the Steiner pre-school and primary school system; if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties being experienced by parents of children attending these schools in trying to maintain them without State support; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13895/98]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): The position generally regarding early childhood education is that the National Forum on Early Childhood Education was held last March, in Dublin Castle. The report from the forum is expected shortly and I will then proceed to produce a White Paper in the matter.
There are two Steiner primary schools in operation, Cooleenbridge school in County Clare and the Dublin Rudolf Steiner school. Both schools applied for recognition and following consideration of the application my predecessor decided,  in February 1995, to refuse to grant recognition to the schools. This refusal is now the subject of judicial review proceedings. As the question of recognition will be the subject of a High Court action later in the year, I do not propose to make further comment at this stage.
77. Mr. Farrelly asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the pupil to teacher ratio in a school (details supplied) in County Meath where class sizes are now larger than they were in 1971; if he will provide the finance for remedial teachers, resource teachers and guidance counsellors to alleviate the problems experienced due to lack of funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13917/98]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): The teacher allocation to the school in question for the current school year includes ex-quota allocations in respect of guidance and remedial together with a concessionary allocation to cater for curricular and special needs within the school.
The actual teacher pupil ratio in the school is approximately 16.8:1.
I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that there are many competing demands for increased funding in all sectors of education. These demands are considered within the overall budgetary constraints. Unfortunately, in current circumstances it is not possible to allocate additional ex-quota resource posts to second level schools. However, the position will be kept under review and the position of this school will be considered when next it is possible to allocate additional resource posts.
78. Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will re-examine the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny and the submission made on his behalf with a view to providing assistance or funding towards his special educational needs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13920/98]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): I have examined this case in response to previous representations, and officials of my Department have met with a parent of the person in question. I am asking the vocational education committee and FÁS to examine what options can be combined to assist in this case.
79. Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Education and Science the position in relation to Scoil Náisiúnta Bhriochain, Gort Mór, Rosmuc, Countae na Gaillimhe (details supplied), which is a one teacher school and which had been in expectation of benefiting under his commitment in relation to one teacher schools. [13926/98]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): An Action Programme for the Millennium contains a commitment to give primary education a clear priority in allocating resources. In this context, the programme specifically states that one teacher schools with ten or more pupils will receive a second teacher.
In the context of finalising staffing arrangements for primary schools for the 1998-99 school year, I am examining a range of options with a view to identifying the most appropriate way to fulfil the Government's commitments to one teacher schools as outlined in An Action Programme for the Millennium.
80. Mr. Bradford asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will intervene to allow the retention of the third assistant teacher at Ballyhooly national school, County Cork, where there is a projected enrolment of 91 pupils for September 1998; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the loss of a teacher would result in two of the school classrooms being in breach of the maximum class guidelines; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that the school has a special needs pupil; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13928/98]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): The third teaching post at Ballyhooley national school will be lost at the end of the current school year because the enrolment at the school declined from 94 pupils in September, 1996 to 82 pupils in September, 1997. A minimum enrolment of 87 was required in order to retain the third teaching post.
If the school enrolment increases substantially in September the school management authority should contact my officials with a view to reviewing the matter.
81. Mr. Bradford asked the Minister for Education and Science when work will commence on the building of the new Gaelscoil Thomás Dáibhís, Mallow, County Cork. [13929/98]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): Architectural planning of the new school building for Gaelscoil Thomáis Dháibhís in Mallow is well advanced. However, as tenders are not yet invited, it is too soon for me to give a date for commencement of construction. I can assure the Deputy that my Department is making every effort to expedite the process.
82. Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will confirm receipt of an application for funding for the Father McGrath Community Centre; when a decision is likely to be made on the application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13935/98]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): My Department does not appear to have received the application referred to by the Deputy.
83. Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress, if any, made in relation to an application for funding by Donaguire Boys National School, Castlecomer, County Kilkenny; if the Office of Public Works has completed its report on the proposed works; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13936/98]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): The manager of Donaguire Boys National School, Castlecomer, County Kilkenny, has applied to my Department for grant assistance towards the cost of a range of improvement works at the school.
On receipt of the application my Department's building unit requested the Office of Public Works to furnish a report on the proposed works. This report has been received in the building unit in the past week and is currently being examined. As soon as the examination process is completed a decision will be taken on the application.
84. Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Education and Science if he has received the report from the Office of Public Works in relation to a bus pull-in, staff car park and safety entrance at Clinstown National School; and, if so, when a decision will be made in relation to funding the project. [13937/98]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): My Department has received a report from the Office of Public Works regarding the provision of a bus pull-in, staff car park and safety entrance at Clinstown National School.
The Deputy will be pleased to learn that my Department has approved grant assistance for this project.
85. Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will review the application by Ormond College, Kilkenny, to have emergency repairs and maintenance carried out in view of the fact that all information requested by the Department has been submitted and the school management is anxious to progress immediately in the interest of safety; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13940/98]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): The current situation regarding the application from Ormonde College, Kilkenny to have emergency repairs and maintenance carried out at the college is that, following a recent meeting with representatives of Kilkenny VEC, officials in my Department's Building Unit are awaiting the submission of further details regarding the necessary works.
The Deputy can be assured that this project will be dealt with as expeditiously as possible when the required information is to hand.
86. Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will have arrangements made for an immediate inspection of the Loreto secondary school, Grange Road, Kilkenny, to determine the needs of the school in relation to a gym and extra classroom facilities in view of the overcrowding and the poor facilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13941/98]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): An application from the Loreto secondary school, Grange Road, Kilkenny for a PE hall has been received in my Department.
I have arranged that an official from the Post Primary Building Unit of my Department will visit the school.
As a result of my recent visit to the school and my discussions with the school principal an application form for additional classroom accommodation has been sent to the school.
When the completed application has been returned to my Department the needs of the school will be determined.