Dáil Éireann

31/Mar/1999

Prelude

Request to move Adjournment of Dáil under Standing Order 31.

Order of Business.

Estimates for Public Services 1999: Referral to Select Committees.

Supplementary Estimates, 1999: Leave to Introduce.

Estimates for Public Services, 1999.

Estimates for Public Services, 1999. - Vote 6: Office of the Minister for Finance (Supplementary).

Estimates for Public Services, 1999. - Vote 8: Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (Supplementary).

Estimates for Public Services, 1999. - Vote 30: Marine and Natural Resources (Supplementary).

Estimates for Public Services, 1999. - Vote 33: Health and Children (Supplementary).

Estimates for Public Services, 1999. - Vote 34: Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Supplementary).

Estimates for Public Services, 1999. - Vote 42: Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Supplementary).

Electoral Act, 1997, Order 1999, and the European Parliament Election (Reimbursement of Expenses) Regulations, 1999: Motion.

Irish Sports Council Bill, 1998: Report Stage.

Ceisteanna–Questions.

Ceisteanna–Questions. - Official Engagements.

Ceisteanna–Questions. - Departmental Staff.

Ceisteanna–Questions. - Computer Programmes.

Ceisteanna–Questions. - Northern Ireland Issues.

Priority Questions. - Rail Network.

Priority Questions. - Telecom Éireann Flotation.

Priority Questions. - Light Rail Project.

Other Questions. - CIE Property Portfolio.

Other Questions. - North-South Co-operation.

Adjournment Debate Matters.

Irish Sports Council Bill, 1998: Report Stage (Resumed).

Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill, 1998 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage (Resumed).

Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill, 1998 [ Seanad ] : Referral to Select Committee.

Private Members' Business. - Activity Centres (Young Persons' Water Safety) Bill, 1998: Second Stage (Resumed).

Adjournment Debate. - Disadvantaged Areas Scheme.

Adjournment Debate. - Decentralisation Programme.

Adjournment Debate. - Building Industry Employees.

Security of Tenure.

Written Answers. - Committee on Human Rights.

Written Answers. - Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust.

Written Answers. - Aer Rianta.

Written Answers. - Convention on Nuclear Safety.

Written Answers. - Aviation Accidents.

Written Answers. - Telecom Éireann Board.

Written Answers. - Airport Charges.

Written Answers. - Radon Gas Levels.

Written Answers. - Regional Airports.

Written Answers. - Electricity Generation.

Written Answers. - Rail Services.

Written Answers. - Telecom Éireann Staff.

Written Answers. - Case Against BNFL.

Written Answers. - Road and Rail Transport.

Written Answers. - Radioactive Waste.

Written Answers. - Industrial Disputes.

Written Answers. - Electricity Generation.

Written Answers. - Cablelink Sale.

Written Answers. - Duty Free Sales.

Written Answers. - Radioactive Waste.

Written Answers. - Telecommunications Regulations.

Written Answers. - Public Transport Fares.

Written Answers. - Wheelchair Accessible Buses.

Written Answers. - Natural Gas Grid.

Written Answers. - Television Reception.

Written Answers. - Gas Supplies.

Written Answers. - Nuclear Plants.

Written Answers. - Light Rail Project.

Written Answers. - Airport Facilities.

Written Answers. - Public Safety.

Written Answers. - Millennium Projects.

Written Answers. - Labour Inspectorate.

Written Answers. - IMPACT Voting Procedures.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Illegal Fishing.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Public Transport Policy.

Written Answers. - Telecom Éireann Flotation.

Written Answers. - TEAM-FLS.

Written Answers. - Public Transport.

Written Answers. - Telecommunications Regulation.

Written Answers. - Telecom Éireann Board.

Written Answers. - Electricity Generation.

Written Answers. - Rail Safety.

Written Answers. - Energy Needs.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Retirement Scheme.

Written Answers. - Schools Building Projects.

Written Answers. - Army Barracks.

Written Answers. - Civil Defence Funding.

Written Answers. - Red Cross Funding.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Farm Retirement Scheme.

Written Answers. - Departmental Offices.

Written Answers. - Motor Vehicle Imports.

Written Answers. - Hospital Services.

Written Answers. - Orthodontic Services.

Written Answers. - Medical Cards.

Written Answers. - MRSA Infection.

Written Answers. - Meningitis Incidence.

Written Answers. - Vaccination Programme.

Written Answers. - Long-Term Illness Scheme.

Written Answers. - Orthodontic Services.

Written Answers. - Ardee Castle Refurbishment.

Written Answers. - Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Written Answers. - Library Projects.

Written Answers. - Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Written Answers. - Housing Grants.

Written Answers. - Oil Storage Tanks.

Written Answers. - Urban Renewal Schemes.

Written Answers. - Driving Tests.

Written Answers. - Grant Aid.

Written Answers. - Compensation Claims.

Written Answers. - James Joyce Centre.

Written Answers. - Arts Council.

Written Answers. - Refugee Services.

Written Answers. - Succession Rights.

Written Answers. - Probation and Welfare Service.

Written Answers. - Visa Applications.

Written Answers. - Liquor Licensing Laws.

Written Answers. - Teachers' Salaries.

Written Answers. - School Transport.

Written Answers. - Educational Projects.

Written Answers. - Remedial Services.

Written Answers. - Schools Building Projects.

Written Answers. - Teacher Training.

Written Answers. - Special Educational Needs.

Written Answers. - Early School Leavers.

Written Answers. - Oileán Thoraigh.

Written Answers. - School Lands.

Written Answers. - Vocational Education Committees.

Written Answers. - Schools Building Projects.

Written Answers. - School Transport.

Written Answers. - Institutes of Technology.

Written Answers. - Higher Education Awards.

Written Answers. - Schools Refurbishment.

[1] 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 notice of motion under Standing Order 31 from Deputy John Gormley. I call on Deputy Gormley to state the matter of which he has given notice.

Mr. Gormley:  I wish to raise under Standing Order 31 the following issue of urgent public importance. I request that the business of the House be suspended to allow time for a debate on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in 1974 in the light of new evidence that there may have been RUC collusion, and I ask the Minister to give real consideration to a public inquiry into the matter.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Having considered the matter fully, I do not consider it to be one contemplated by Standing Order 31. Therefore, I cannot grant leave to move the motion.

The Tánaiste:  It is proposed to take No. 8, [2] motion re Referral of Estimates for Public Services (1999) to Select Committees; No. a6, motion re: Leave to Introduce Supplementary Estimates [Votes 6, 8, 30, 33, 34 and 42] and subject, to the agreement of No. a6, to take the Supplementary Estimates [Votes 6, 8, 30, 33, 34 and 42]; No. 9, motion re Electoral Act, 1997, Order 1999, and the European Parliament Election (Reimbursement of Expenses) Regulations, 1999; No. 31, Irish Sports Council Bill, 1998 – Order for Report and Report and Final Stages; No. 30, Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill, 1998 [Seanad] – Second Stage (resumed).

It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that: (1) No. 8 shall be decided without debate; (2) No. a6 (Leave to Introduce Supplementary Estimates [Votes 6, 8, 30, 33, 34 and 42]) shall be decided without debate and, subject to the agreement of No. a6, the Supplementary Estimates [Votes 6, 8, 30, 33, 34 and 42] shall be moved together and decided without debate by one question which shall be put from the Chair and any division demanded on No. a6 or the Supplementary Estimates shall be taken forthwith; (3) The proceedings on No. 9, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a con[3] clusion after 30 minutes and speeches shall be confined to the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government and the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party whose speeches shall not exceed 10 minutes in each case; and (4) The Dáil, on its rising on Thursday, 1 April 1999, shall adjourn until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 20 April 1999.

Private Members' Business shall be No. 53, Activity Centres (Young Persons' Water Safety) Bill, 1998 (resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are four proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 8 agreed to?

Mrs. Owen:  Before we agree to that business, will the Tánaiste give a commitment to the House that before the Dáil adjourns tomorrow for the Easter recess the Minister for Justice will come to the House with a report of his investigation—

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is out of order. When we get to the proposals currently before the House, the Deputy may raise that matter.

Mrs. Owen:  We are dealing with the proposals.

An Ceann Comhairle:  This is a specific proposal about the referral of Estimates. I will allow the Deputy to ask a question when we come to the appropriate time.

Mrs. Owen:  The Chair is putting the Order of Business.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We are on a proposal to refer Estimates.

Mrs. Owen:  I am not agreeing to it on the basis—

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will have to put the question if the Deputy is not agreeing to it.

Mrs. Owen:  I want to explain.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I have explained to the Deputy that when the proposals are agreed to I will allow her to ask her question.

Mr. Noonan:  On a point of order, I understand that what the Deputy Leader of Fine Gael is suggesting is that there will be a vote if we cannot get a commitment from the Tánaiste but not if we do get a commitment. If she could put the point, we could get on in an orderly fashion.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The question before the House is about the referral of Estimates.

Mrs. Owen:  I will not agree to it without a vote unless I get a commitment from the Tánaiste on this matter.

[4]An Ceann Comhairle:  I will have to put the question.

Mrs. Owen:  I might not want to press it. The Tánaiste wants to reply. I do not want to be disorderly. It is important that I get a commitment.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We have to have proper order in the House. Will the Deputy resume her seat while the Chair is on his feet?

Mrs. Owen:  The Chair is not allowing me to explain why I want to challenge the order.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will not allow the Deputy to be out of order. What is happening is against Standing Orders and the Deputy should resume her seat.

Mrs. Owen:  I will resume my seat. Could I have one minute?

Mr. Howlin:  On a point of order, to be helpful—

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Howlin on a point of order.

Mrs. Owen:  That is unfair to me. I wanted to explain why I will not agree to the Order of Business.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is unfair to the Chair. Will the Deputy resume her seat?

Mrs. Owen:  Will the Chair not allow me to speak before Deputy Howlin?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should resume her seat. The question before the House is about the referral of Estimates.

Mrs. Owen:  I want to challenge that, and I want to give the reason.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot deal with other matters until we have dealt with the proposals.

Mrs. Owen:  There are many precedents where a Member of the Opposition challenged the Order of Business in the absence of agreement from the Government.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Tánaiste has indicated that she wishes to speak. I will allow her to do so, but it is not to be taken as a precedent. Deputy Howlin, on a point of order.

Mr. Howlin:  The Minister of State made a commitment last night and it would be helpful to the ordering of business today if the timeframe of that commitment were explained in advance of a decision on the referral of this Estimate. It is a reasonable proposal.

[5]An Ceann Comhairle:  I am calling on the Tánaiste.

Mrs. Owen:  Can I come in again? The Chair did not allow me to make the point I wanted to make. That is unfair to me.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy has made that point a number of times.

Mrs. Owen:  I did not make that point a number of times.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call on the Tánaiste to make a brief comment on the matter.

Mrs. Owen:  I want to protest. I want to be orderly—

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy has been totally disorderly.

Mrs. Owen:  I have not been disorderly. I want to hear from the Tánaiste.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy continues to be disorderly.

Mrs. Owen:  I am not and that is grossly unfair to the Opposition parties.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will ask the Tánaiste to make a brief comment.

Mrs. Owen:  The Tánaiste is trying to hide somebody.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy has been completely out of order.

Mrs. Owen:  I have not.

An Ceann Comhairle:  You certainly have been out of order.

The Tánaiste:  There is considerable disquiet and concern, both inside and outside this House, about what appears to be the unusual procedures followed in this case. The Government shares that concern. As Deputies are aware, the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform indicated last night that the Minister for Justice is carrying out an inquiry. The Attorney General has spoken to the Chief Justice and the Judiciary is making an inquiry. We hope those inquiries can be brought to a conclusion very quickly. It is important that they should be. As soon as they are, the Minister will come to the House to make a statement and take questions. I cannot say whether that will be today or tomorrow because I do not know at this stage when the inquiries will be concluded. We hope they can be concluded before the Dáil resumes tomorrow.

Mr. Howlin:  May I ask one question?

[6]An Ceann Comhairle:  When the Tánaiste has finished.

The Tánaiste:  As the Deputy knows, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is in Northern Ireland at the moment. It is his intention to speak with the Opposition spokespersons for justice today, if possible. If the inquiry is completed we will have a discussion in the House either today or tomorrow, but as quickly as possible. That is what the Government wants and I know that is what the House and everybody else wants to see as regards this matter.

Mrs. Owen:  It is essential that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform comes into the House before the Dáil adjourns, even if, as the Tánaiste says, his inquiries are not fully complete. The country is talking about the situation. We have the Cahirciveen connection, we have judges involved, we have all sorts of things that are undermining the judicial process.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot have statements, Deputy. The Deputy continues to be disorderly. She should not continue.

Mrs. Owen:  I want the Minister to come in tomorrow before the House adjourns.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Tánaiste has replied to that matter.

Mrs. Owen:  When I was Minister I came into the House to make a statement within 24 hours. I did not hide behind a junior Minister.

Mr. D. Ahern:  That is a very unfair thing to say. The Deputy knows the Minister is in Northern Ireland.

Mrs. Owen:  The Minister should make a statement.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should resume her seat. We cannot have arguments on the matter. Please allow the Tánaiste to respond.

The Tánaiste:  What Deputy Owen said is very serious. As she knows, there is a clear separation in our Constitution between the Judiciary, the Executive and the Oireachtas.

Mr. Noonan:  There should be.

The Tánaiste:  Yes. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has no involvement whatever in this matter. As soon as the Government became aware of it a few weeks ago, the Attorney General spoke to the Chief Justice. I want to assure the Deputy—

Mr. Noonan:  Is the Tánaiste sure of that?

The Tánaiste:  Yes, I am.

[7]Mrs. Owen:  One of the judges was appointed very soon afterwards.

The Tánaiste:  Deputy Owen is making very serious allegations and I honestly do not believe she should.

Mr. M. Smith:  The Deputy is making accusations with nothing to back them up. That is what keeps her over there. She is accusing people without any evidence.

Mrs. Owen:  It never shocked the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should resume her seat now or I will have no option but to suspend the sitting. I will suspend the sitting if the Deputy is not orderly.

Mrs. Owen:  Is that what the Minister is saying?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is continuing to speak in defiance of the Chair.

Mr. Howlin:  During last night's debate I requested the Government to ask the Attorney General to seek that the file of the DPP in this case would be laid before the House. The sworn affidavits would have been public had the judicial [8] review taken place last week. It would allay many of the fears if that file was laid before the House. Has that request been considered by the Government? Will the Government make that request of the DPP to allay fears and the charges that are being laid?

The Tánaiste:  I do not know if it has been. I was certainly not aware of the requests because I was not here last night, but I will convey the Deputy's wishes to the Attorney General.

Mr. Noonan:  Has the Tánaiste seen that file?

The Tánaiste:  No, I have not. I will communicate with the Deputy shortly after the Order of Business.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I am now putting the question on the proposal for dealing with No. 8. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mrs. Owen:  I am not finished and it is not good enough.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal for dealing with No. a6 agreed?

Mrs. Owen:  No. On a point of order—

Question put.

Ahern, Dermot.
Ahern, Michael.
Ahern, Noel.
Ardagh, Seán.
Aylward, Liam.
Blaney, Harry.
Brady, Johnny.
Brady, Martin.
Brennan, Matt.
Brennan, Séamus.
Briscoe, Ben.
Browne, John (Wexford).
Byrne, Hugh.
Callely, Ivor.
Carey, Pat.
Collins, Michael.
Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
Coughlan, Mary.
Cowen, Brian.
Cullen, Martin.
Davern, Noel.
de Valera, Síle.
Dempsey, Noel.
Dennehy, John.
Doherty, Seán.
Ellis, John.
Fahey, Frank.
Fleming, Seán.
Flood, Chris.
Foley, Denis.
Fox, Mildred.
Gildea, Thomas.
Harney, Mary.
Haughey, Seán.
Healy-Rae, Jackie.
Jacob, Joe.
Keaveney, Cecilia.
Kelleher, Billy.
Kenneally, Brendan.
Killeen, Tony.
Kirk, Séamus.
Kitt, Michael.
Kitt, Tom.
Lawlor, Liam.
Lenihan, Brian.
Lenihan, Conor.
McCreevy, Charlie.
McDaid, James.
McGennis, Marian.
Martin, Micheál.
Moffatt, Thomas.
Molloy, Robert.
Moloney, John.
Moynihan, Michael.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
O'Dea, Willie.
O'Flynn, Noel.
O'Hanlon, Rory.
O'Keeffe, Ned.
O'Malley, Desmond.
O'Rourke, Mary.
Power, Seán.
Roche, Dick.
Ryan, Eoin.
Smith, Brendan.
Smith, Michael.
Treacy, Noel.
Wade, Eddie.
Wallace, Dan.
Walsh, Joe.
Woods, Michael. Wright, G. V.[9]

Níl

Ahearn, Theresa.
Allen, Bernard.
Barnes, Monica.
Barrett, Seán.
Bell, Michael.
Boylan, Andrew.
Bradford, Paul.
Broughan, Thomas.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Burke, Ulick.
Clune, Deirdre.
Connaughton, Paul.
Cosgrave, Michael.
Coveney, Simon.
Crawford, Seymour.
Creed, Michael.
Currie, Austin.
D'Arcy, Michael.
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Deasy, Austin.
Deenihan, Jimmy.
Dukes, Alan.
Durkan, Bernard.
Ferris, Michael.
Finucane, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Frances.
Flanagan, Charles.
Hayes, Brian.
Higgins, Jim.
Higgins, Michael.
Hogan, Philip.
[10] Howlin, Brendan.
Kenny, Enda.
McCormack, Pádraic.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
McGrath, Paul.
McManus, Liz.
Mitchell, Gay.
Mitchell, Olivia.
Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
Naughten, Denis.
Neville, Dan.
Noonan, Michael.
O'Keeffe, Jim.
O'Shea, Brian.
O'Sullivan, Jan.
Owen, Nora.
Penrose, William.
Perry, John.
Quinn, Ruairí.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Ring, Michael.
Ryan, Seán.
Sargent, Trevor.
Shatter, Alan.
Sheehan, Patrick.
Shortall, Róisín.
Stagg, Emmet.
Stanton, David.
Timmins, Billy.
Wall, Jack.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Barrett and Stagg.

Question declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal for dealing with No. a6 agreed to?

Mr. Quinn:  No. a6 to be taken without debate, includes the Estimates for the Tanaiste's Department. I draw her attention to the fact that there was a picket on the building site of the new Leinster House offices this morning and allegations were made that workers were being forced to work on the site in breach of statutory regulations. Since we cannot have a debate on this Estimate, I ask the Tánaiste, through the Health and Safety Authority and other related agencies, to undertake an inquiry into this matter.

The Tánaiste:  I undertake to do that.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 9 agreed? Agreed.

Is the proposal for dealing with the adjournment of the Dáil on Thursday agreed?

Mrs. Owen:  It is not agreed. I ask the Tánaiste, before we agree to the adjournment of the Dáil tomorrow, to give an assurance to the House that the Minister for Justice will come to the House tomorrow and give us whatever information he now has following his inquiry into the irregularities which occurred in a case on 12 November 1998, given that the Dáil is about to adjourn and it will be, at the earliest, 20 April when the House meets again. By that time serious damage will have been done to our judicial process. We want to know what the Minister's role, the judges' role and the registrar's role were in this affair.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle:  I allowed the Deputy to ask a short question.

Mrs. Owen:  With respect, sir—

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should respect the Chair, for a change.

Mrs. Owen:  One of the people mentioned in this irregularity is someone who was appointed by this Government as a member—

An Ceann Comhairle:  I have allowed the Deputy to ask a question. The Deputy is now, once again, out of order. The Deputy has asked a question.

Mrs. Owen:  I did not get an answer. Why did I not get an answer? Why will the Tánaiste not tell us if the Minister will come to the House tomorrow? I do not know what is going on on the Government side of the House. When I was Minister for Justice—

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Roche:  When Deputy Owen was Minister [11] for Justice a judge wrote to her twice and the letters disappeared.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal for deal[12] ing with the adjournment of the Dáil on Thursday agreed?

Mrs. Owen:  No.

Question put.

Ahern, Dermot.
Ahern, Michael.
Ahern, Noel.
Ardagh, Seán.
Aylward, Liam.
Blaney, Harry.
Brady, Johnny.
Brady, Martin.
Brennan, Matt.
Brennan, Séamus.
Briscoe, Ben.
Browne, John (Wexford).
Byrne, Hugh.
Callely, Ivor.
Carey, Pat.
Collins, Michael.
Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
Coughlan, Mary.
Cowen, Brian.
Cullen, Martin.
Davern, Noel.
de Valera, Síle.
Dempsey, Noel.
Dennehy, John.
Doherty, Seán.
Ellis, John.
Fahey, Frank.
Fleming, Seán.
Flood, Chris.
Foley, Denis.
Fox, Mildred.
Gildea, Thomas.
Harney, Mary.
Haughey, Seán.
Healy-Rae, Jackie.
Jacob, Joe.
Keaveney, Cecilia.
Kelleher, Billy.
Kenneally, Brendan.
Killeen, Tony.
Kirk, Séamus.
Kitt, Michael.
Kitt, Tom.
Lawlor, Liam.
Lenihan, Brian.
Lenihan, Conor.
McCreevy, Charlie.
McDaid, James.
McGennis, Marian.
Martin, Micheál.
Moffatt, Thomas.
Molloy, Robert.
Moloney, John.
Moynihan, Michael.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
O'Dea, Willie.
O'Flynn, Noel.
O'Hanlon, Rory.
O'Keeffe, Batt.
O'Keeffe, Ned.
O'Kennedy, Michael.
O'Malley, Desmond.
O'Rourke, Mary.
Power, Seán.
Reynolds, Albert.
Roche, Dick.
Ryan, Eoin.
Smith, Brendan.
Smith, Michael.
Treacy, Noel.
Wade, Eddie.
Wallace, Dan.
Walsh, Joe.
Woods, Michael.
Wright, G. V.

Níl

Ahearn, Theresa.
Allen, Bernard.
Barnes, Monica.
Barrett, Seán.
Bell, Michael.
Boylan, Andrew.
Bradford, Paul.
Broughan, Thomas.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Burke, Ulick.
Clune, Deirdre.
Connaughton, Paul.
Cosgrave, Michael.
Coveney, Simon.
Crawford, Seymour.
Creed, Michael.
Currie, Austin.
D'Arcy, Michael.
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Deasy, Austin.
Deenihan, Jimmy.
Dukes, Alan.
Durkan, Bernard.
Farrelly, John.
Ferris, Michael.
Finucane, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Frances.
Flanagan, Charles.
Gregory, Tony.
Hayes, Brian.
Higgins, Jim.
Higgins, Michael.
Hogan, Philip.
Howlin, Brendan.
Kenny, Enda.
McCormack, Pádraic.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
McGrath, Paul.
McManus, Liz.
Mitchell, Gay.
Mitchell, Olivia.
Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
Naughten, Denis.
Neville, Dan.
Noonan, Michael.
O'Keeffe, Jim.
O'Shea, Brian.
O'Sullivan, Jan.
Owen, Nora.
Penrose, William. Perry, John.[13]

Níl–continued

Quinn, Ruairí.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Ring, Michael.
Ryan, Seán.
Sargent, Trevor.
Shatter, Alan.
[14] Sheehan, Patrick.
Shortall, Róisín.
Stagg, Emmet.
Stanton, David.
Timmins, Billy.
Wall, Jack.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Barrett and Stagg.

Question declared carried.

Mrs. Owen:  Will the Tánaiste arrange with the Whips for time for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to make a report to the House before we break for the Easter recess on at least the elements of this case which are relevant to his civil servants in the courts system and any details he can give us about the inquiry thus far so that we do not have to wait until 24 or 25 April for his report, which was promised in the Dáil last night? The Minister is responsible for the courts system and the civil servants. The civil servants have not yet been transferred to the new courts service, so the Minister should be able to call the county registrar to discover how this case came to be listed. He did not give that information to the House last night. Will he come before the House before we adjourn for Easter, to give the information he has?

Mr. Rabbitte:  The Tánaiste's position, that the Minister should be allowed time to investigate, is reasonable. However, this family are constituents of hers and mine and I raised this issue with the Minister at the beginning of February.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should confine himself to questions.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Has the Minister not been in possession of information about this case since then? Is that not adequate time to come before the House to make a statement on this important matter?

The Tánaiste:  I am familiar with the case because, as Deputy Rabbitte knows, the family have been in touch with me. I said earlier that there was widespread concern, inside and outside this House, about what appear to be unusual procedures in this matter. The Government wants the two inquiries concluded as quickly as possible. The gardaí are carrying out an inquiry for the Minister and the President of the Circuit Court is conducting one for the Judiciary. I will talk to the Minister, who is in Northern Ireland. Deputy Owen and Deputy Rabbitte made reasonable requests about the matters which he could bring to the House's attention, should he have that information, and I will get back to the Deputies.

Mrs. Owen:  The gardaí have no responsibility for the actions of the Minister's civil servants. The Minister can ask his officials in the courts system how this case was put on the list when there was no review date. We do not need the gardaí for that.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We are now proceeding to debate the matter, which we cannot do.

Mr. Howlin:  Lest we forget the request I made earlier, which the Tánaiste seemed to accept, the easiest way to get quickly to the full truth would be for the DPP's file, including sworn affidavits from all involved, to be put into the public domain. I would like that done today, if the Tánaiste could arrange it. This would address the concerns expressed by people inside and outside this House.

The Tánaiste:  I have already given the Deputy an undertaking. As soon as the Order of Business is finished I will speak to the Attorney General to see if that is possible.

Mr. Currie:  On promised legislation, will the Government make a statement before the recess about the IRA's promises concerning the bodies of the disappeared, particularly in view of the IRA's continuing cruelty in denying responsibility for at least seven bodies—

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is making a statement. Will he ask a question?

Mr. Currie:  I will. In an effort to end, at long last, the anguish of the relatives of the disappeared, will the Tánaiste confirm that a statement will be made to the House on this matter, in light of the IRA's denial of responsibility for seven bodies and its refusal to give relatives necessary information regarding the nine bodies for which it has accepted responsibility, to enable them to find those bodies?

The Tánaiste:  As I said to the Deputy yesterday, we are glad that at long last, after 27 years in many cases, people who were brutally murdered will have their bodies identified with a view to allowing their loved ones to give them a Christian burial, if that is their wish. Deputy Quinn asked me yesterday about the nature of the legislation proposed, which will be similar to that for decommissioning and will come before the House after Easter. I do not think it is good practice for Ministers, Governments or Deputies to respond to statements from the IRA and other sources of that kind and I am not certain it would be helpful. The statement to the effect that the bodies would [15] be identified should be honoured so that the families have the opportunity to bury their loved ones, as they so desperately require.

Mr. Currie:  When will we see the legislation?

The Tánaiste:  It will not be available until after Easter.

Mr. Currie:  Will the Government make a statement of its intentions, before the recess?

The Tánaiste:  The Minister made a statement. Other than what I am saying now, that we will introduce legislation along the lines of the decommissioning legislation, there is nothing more to say.

Mr. Currie:  It is important that there be a statement in the House because the republican movement is getting away with a con trick on this matter.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is now making a statement.

Mr. Stanton:  Does the Government propose to introduce legislation, as other European and world states have done, to limit possible litigation resulting from Year 2000 computer and other systems failure?

The Tánaiste:  No legislation is promised and I am not sure what legislation has been promised in other countries. This matter has been raised in the House on many occasions, including Question Time last week. The Government has an active awareness programme on Year 2000 problems. If the Deputy wants me to be more specific—

Mr. Dukes:  The Government has its own Y2K problem – it will self-destruct next year.

Mr. Quinn:  On promised legislation, I draw the Tánaiste's attention to the National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Bill, which refers to the national claims agency. The list of promised legislation advises that the Bill is not expected to be published until late 1999 which means, given current practice, that it will not be published until the middle of next year. In view of the critical importance of this legislation, which has been delayed, will the Tánaiste undertake to establish its exact status and let me know tomorrow?

The Tánaiste:  I can tell the Deputy now. The proposals on that matter are currently on the Government agenda and will be dealt with at our first meeting after Easter. We must look at the NTMA's role in the context of EMU and the single currency and in that light there are proposals before the Government. We hope to give the Deputy more information when the House resumes after Easter.

[16]Mr. Quinn:  I trust the proposals are not to terminate the existence of the NTMA, which might be the wish of some people in Upper Merrion Street.

Mr. Dukes:  Another Y2K problem.

The Tánaiste:  The current and previous Ministers for Finance have their own views on this, which is not the same as that of their officials, and I am conscious of the different perspectives.

Mr. Quinn:  The NTMA is one of the great successes of the State.

The Tánaiste:  We want to ensure it is equally successful in the future.

Mr. Finucane:  Before St. Patrick's Day I raised on the Adjournment the case to clear the name of Mr. William Geary, who lives in New York. When will the Cabinet discuss this matter? A Cabinet decision is required.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

Mr. Finucane:  The man is 100 years old and time is of the essence. Why is the Cabinet procrastinating about making a decision? The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister for Defence have promised to look at the case.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Does the Minister of State, Deputy Brennan, know about the case? Could we refer it to the National Millennium Commission?

Mr. Dukes:  No, we want something done about it.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Did the Tánaiste decide to transfer the Rosenbluth teleservices factory from Tralee to Killarney at the behest of Deputy Healy-Rae? He gave a long interview saying this was the case.

The Tánaiste:  I have been briefed about the ongoing debate on this matter on Radio Kerry. I assure the Deputy that Rosenbluth, which is the world's largest travel management company, did not look at a facility in Tralee. That was never on its agenda.

Mr. Quinn:  Did Deputy Healy-Rae get it wrong?

The Tánaiste:  More industry has been located in Tralee during the term of this Government than that of its predecessor.

Mr. Stagg:  I doubt that.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot discuss industry on the Order of Business.

[17]Mrs. Owen:  I return to the legislation about which I questioned the Tánaiste yesterday and my colleague, Deputy Currie, asked about today. Is the Tánaiste aware that if this legislation is not introduced precipitously, the people whose relatives are going to be produced now cannot proceed to—

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot discuss the matter now. The Deputy is again out of order. She can ask only about the timing of legislation.

Mrs. Owen:  Does the Tánaiste think this legislation will need to be introduced during the recess? We need to know that before we adjourn. Otherwise we are subjecting the relatives to wait until the legislation is in order—

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is continuing to be out of order and should attempt to be in order.

Mrs. Owen:  It is a valid question.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is in order to ask only about promised legislation. The question was asked yesterday and today and now the Deputy is asking for a third time.

Mrs. Owen:  Is the Tánaiste aware that if there is a delay in passing the legislation it will lead to further distress for the relatives?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Does the Tánaiste wish to respond on the timing of the legislation?

The Tánaiste:  Clearly, this is a sensitive issue and the Government wants to introduce the legislation as a matter of priority, but it cannot be done during the recess. Given that it is primary legislation, it cannot be done by regulation. It will be introduced as a matter of urgency.

Mr. Currie:  We would be prepared to come back to put through that legislation.

The Tánaiste:  We are aware of the sensitivities of the issue.

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  I move:

That the Estimates for Public Services for the service of the year ending 31st December, 1999, be referred to Select Committees pursuant to Standing Order 145(3) and paragraph (1)(a)(ii) of each Committee's Orders of Reference.

Question put and agreed to.

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  I move:

That leave be given by the Dáil to introduce the following Supplementary Estimates for the service of the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1999:

Vote 6 – Office of the Minister for Finance.

Vote 8 – Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Vote 30 – Marine and Natural Resources.

Vote 33 – Health and Children.

Vote 34 – Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Vote 42 – Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands.

Question put and agreed to.

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  I move the following Supplementary Estimates:

That a supplementary sum not exceeding £1,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment in the year ending 31 December 1999 for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Finance, including the Paymaster-General's Office, and for payment of certain grants and grants-in-aid.

That a supplementary sum not exceeding £1,000,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment in the year ending 31 December 1999 for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

That a supplementary sum not exceeding £91,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment in the year ending 31 December 1999 for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, including certain services administered by that Office, and [18][19] for payment of certain grants and sundry grants-in-aid.

That a supplementary sum not exceeding £200,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment in the year ending 31 December 1999 for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Health and Children (including Oifig an Ard-Chláraitheora), and certain services administered by that Office, including grants to Health Boards and miscellaneous grants.

That a supplementary sum not exceeding £3,848,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment in the year ending 31 December 1999 for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, including certain services administered by that Office, for payment of certain subsidies, grants and for payment of certain grants under cash-limited schemes.

That a supplementary sum not exceeding £471,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment in the year ending on the 31 December 1999 for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands for certain services administered by that Office, including certain grants and grants-in-aid.

Votes put and agreed to.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy):  I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the Electoral Act, 1997 (Section 33) Order, 1999, and the European Parliament Election (Reimbursement of Expenses) Regulations, 1999, copies of which, in draft, were laid before Dáil Éireann on 24th February, 1999.

I thank the House for agreeing to take both motions together. The draft regulations and draft order are directly related.

The draft order and draft regulations are laid before the House in accordance with section 33 (3) of the Electoral Act, 1997, in the case of the draft order and section 21, (3) of the same Act in the case of the draft regulations. The Act pro[20] vides that, where an order or regulations are proposed to be made, a draft of each shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and the order or regulations shall not be made until resolutions approving the drafts have been passed by each House.

In relation to the limitation of European election expenses, section 33 of the Electoral Act, 1997, as amended by the Electoral (Amendment) Act, 1998, provides that the aggregate of election expenses which may be incurred by or on behalf of a candidate in connection with his or her candidature at a European election shall not exceed the relevant amount specified for the constituency by the Minister by order. Section 33 of the 1997 Act commenced on 1 January 1998 but it requires the draft order under discussion to be agreed by both Houses of the Oireachtas before it is operative.

Before deciding on the amount to be specified, a number of possible scenarios for determining an expenditure limit were examined. Regard was had to the amounts included in the Electoral Bill, 1994, when it was published. These provisions were subsequently omitted on Committee Stage at the Select Committee on Finance and General Affairs in March and April of 1997. The amounts then specified would have provided the following expenditure limits per candidate if the political party expenditure was divided equally among its candidates in a constituency: in a three seater, £210,000 for one candidate; £135,000 per candidate if there were two candidates and £100,000 per candidate if there were three candidates; and in a four seater, £230,000 for one candidate; £155,000 per candidate if there were two candidates and £130,000 per candidate if there were three candidates.

Two other methods were examined before a decision on the amount to be specified was taken. In the first, the population ratio between Dáil and European constituencies was applied to the expenditure limits set for Dáil elections in the Electoral Act, 1997. The results, based on a mathematical correlation, were £142,660 in a three seater and £191,420 in a four seater.

An alternative calculation based on the number of Dáil constituencies in each European Parliament constituency resulted in expenditure limits per candidate of £139,000 for a three seater and £188,000 for a four seater.

In summary, the foregoing analysis suggested the following range of possible expenditure limits for three and four seat constituencies for one candidate: three seater – £139,000 to £210,000; and four seater – £188,000 to £230,000.

The draft order before the House proposes that the limit for election expenditure by candidates in the European elections in 1999 should be £140,000 per candidate in each constituency. It is not proposed to set different amounts for the three seat and four seat constituencies. As Deputies are aware the Munster and the Leinster and Dublin constituencies have four members each, while Connacht-Ulster has three members. [21] The £150,000 is inclusive of a candidate's political party expenditure.

Under the Electoral Act, 1997, a political party which authenticates a candidate must appoint a national agent and each candidate must appoint an election agent. The national agent and the election agent will be responsible for furnishing an election expenses statement after the election to the Public Offices Commission. It will be a matter for these officials to ensure any expenditure relating to the European election which is incurred in connection with the local election being held on the same day is accounted for by them. Any other party official, branch or candidate at a local election will have to inform the national agent and-or the election agent at the European election of their intention to incur expenditure in connection with the European election and obtain the agent's authority. It is an offence under the Electoral Act, 1997, for any person to incur election expenses or make a payment, advance or deposit in respect of such expenses at a European election on behalf of a political party or candidate without the authorisation of either the national agent or election agent.

There is no reason there should be problems in accounting for expenditure at the European or local election, but there will no doubt be extra administrative work in keeping records, etc. The following persons in particular will have responsibilities at the elections: the national agent for a political party at the European election, the election agent for a candidate at the European election, the national agent of a political party at the local election, the designated person of a political party at the local election and the candidate at the local election.

It will be the responsibility of these persons to keep records, to furnish election expenses statements, including statutory declaration, that the statements are to the best of the person's knowledge and belief correct in every material respect and that he or she has taken all reasonable action to be satisfied as to the accuracy of the statements.

In relation to election expenditure, the definition of election expenses at the European election will be the same as at a Dáil election. The period for the purpose of disclosing expenditure will be the period between the date of the Minister's polling day order, which I expect will be made not later than 7 May, and polling day. In addition, any election expenditure incurred before the polling day order for use during the election period must be disclosed in the election expenses statement to the Public Offices Commission. I understand the commission will shortly issue guidelines for political parties and candidates.

Turning to reimbursement of expenses, section 21 of the Electoral Act, 1997, as amended by the Electoral (Amendment) Act, 1998, provides that the Minister may make regulations providing for the reimbursement of election expenses of candi[22] dates at a European election and may make provisions corresponding to the provisions relating to the reimbursement of election expenses of candidates at a Dáil election, subject to any modification appearing to the Minister to be appropriate.

The 1997 Act provides for the reimbursement of a candidate's actual election expenses for a Dáil election up to a maximum of £5,000, if a candidate's votes exceed one quarter of the quota. In deciding on the maximum amount to be reimbursed, regard was had to the ratio of recoupment to expenditure limits set for a Dáil election. These ratios are 36 per cent, 29 per cent and 25 per cent for a three, four or five seat constituency. The draft regulations propose that the maximum amount to be reimbursed at the European election is £30,000 or 20 per cent of the expenditure limit. The cost, based on the number of candidates who exceeded one quarter of the quota at the 1994 European elections, will be approximately £1 million. I commend the draft order and the draft regulations to the House.

Mr. Dukes:  Given the body of legislation which exists in this and similar areas, the draft order and regulations were inevitable. However, although legislation puts limits on the expenditure of candidates and parties in general elections and the draft order and regulations contain proposals regarding limits on expenditure in European elections, the substantial legislation dealing with expenditure on local elections does not set any limits. People are required to account for their expenditure and candidates in local elections are required to account for donations they receive but, as the law stands, one could spend £1 million on seeking a local authority seat if one wished. Few people would be that stupid but there is no limit on the amount of expenditure in which a candidate may engage for a local election. This is difficult to understand if limits can be imposed in general and European elections. I listened to the debate on the other measure closely, but I have not yet found a convincing reason for not acting in the same way for local elections.

The arbitrary nature of this matter needs to be pointed out. It is an arbitrary system. The Minister said a number of comparisons were made to the provisions in general elections and that this produced a range of figures which could be used as limits for the expenditure per candidate in European elections. However, the original basis on which the comparison was made is arbitrary. While the process of examining the range which it would produce for European elections and fixing a figure within it appears reasonable, it is arbitrary.

I do not know whether any research has been done on what candidates spend during European elections. I suspect that none has been done and since the obligations to make declarations did not exist up to now, nobody knows how much it would be reasonable for a candidate to spend during a European election. I was a candidate in [23] the first direct election to the European Parliament 20 years ago and I have no idea how much money I spent. I have even less of an idea, if that is possible, how much money the party spent in the constituency in which I stood at the time.

We must accept that any limits fixed are entirely arbitrary. We have no grounds for claiming that there is wisdom behind fixing the figure of £150,000. My party will run two candidates in each of the four European constituencies. This means the party will run eight candidates and with a limit of £150,000 per candidate, the party would be limited to spending £1.2 million on the European election. I suspect the party's expenditure will be less than that. In practical terms I am not sure whether the measures will achieve any real function in the context of levelling the playing field or ensuring that people do not go wild on election expenditure by bombarding constituents and potential voters with material which they might otherwise prefer not to receive.

The order and regulations are what the French classically call un coup d'épée dans l'eau– one goes out and beats the sea with one's sword – in that they will make no difference to what happens. Given all that is happening now, I cannot conceive parties spending money on a scale greater than is provided for in the measures even if there were no regulations. Although it is politically incorrect to state, I suspect we are engaging in an exercise which is entirely cosmetic. It is being done in the name of a concern which is valid but which carries a certain type of political prurience to an absurd level.

All the parties and candidates will face the problem of deciding where the division between expenditure by a candidate and expenditure by the party arises. In the original legislation, the breakdown was set at 50-50 between the candidate and the party.

Proinsias De Rossa:  That was the maximum.

Mr. Dukes:  It was a maximum of 50 per cent by the candidate. This has been removed and it will now be up to each candidate and party to work out their salvation between them. This will cause problems. One of the most onerous duties a party can now ask one of its members or supporters to perform is to act as the accounting agent for a local, general or European election. I asked a good friend of mine who does not reside in my constituency to be our accounting agent for general elections. He good humouredly took up the job, but there are times when I feel extremely guilty for asking him to undertake such an onerous task.

There will be difficulties within parties in accounting for items in the manner provided for in the draft order and regulations. The Minister said that any other party official, branch or candidate at a local election will have to inform the national agent and-or the election agent at the European election of their intention to incur [24] expenditure in connection with the European election and obtain the agent's authority. That is carrying the search for perfection to an absurd length. If candidates in a local election produce canvassing cards or election literature which mentions the names of the European candidates, as will be demanded, are they supposed to allocate a proportion of their expenditure on that to the European election, knowing that it does not make a whit of difference once they decide to produce the literature to add a small amount of text? This is absurd. The order and regulation rest on the absurd proposition that this distinction can be made and that it means something.

The Minister said that among the people who will have particular responsibilities at the European election are the candidates in the local election. How will that be enforced? It is entirely unfair on candidates at local elections who have their own concerns. The Public Offices Commission will be required to look at election expenditure incurred before the polling day order for use during the election period. The draft order and regulations will be passed, but what do the members of the Public Offices Commission know about the process of running elections? I cannot imagine that they know anything about what it is like to run an election at any level or to be a candidate, an activist or an accounting officer for these elections.

It is proposed in the draft regulations that the maximum amount to be reimbursed at the European election is £30,000 per candidate under the conditions set out. That is 20 per cent of the maximum expenditure. In Dáil elections the ratios are 36 per cent, 29 per cent and 25 per cent for three, four and five seat constituencies. Why is it less than any of those in the European election? Why should it not be the same or more? No reason has been given for this.

A figure of 20 per cent looks reasonable but, although I will not oppose either Bill, both are part of the extreme expression of a culture which has been carried to absurd lengths. They are entirely arbitrary and will cause great inconvenience to many people in the electoral process. They will not make the slightest difference to the way in which the election is run.

Proinsias De Rossa:  The decision taken in the Electoral Act, 1997, introduced by Deputy Howlin, to impose limits on the amounts candidates may spend in seeking election to the European Parliament and the Dáil was a welcome development which was generally acknowledged as a move towards a fairer and more democratic electoral system. It was clearly intended to level the playing field and to prevent a situation where some candidates would effectively buy their way into the Dáil or the European Parliament. It was also an acknowledgment that the intense competition for seats was encouraging a situation where some of the expenditure in elections had become wasteful and unnecessary.

[25] The decision to impose spending limits and provide for the payment out of public funds of some of the expenditure incurred by candidates was also an acknowledgement that it is far more preferable to have election campaigns partly funded by the Exchequer than by secret donations from contributors who may expect a favour in return. If anyone had any doubt about the wisdom of the provisions of the Electoral Act providing for disclosure of donations, limits on expenditure and refund of certain expenses, they must surely have been dispelled by the disclosures emanating from the Flood and Moriarty tribunals.

The expenditure limit of £150,000 imposed in this order for European candidates is unduly large. Many candidates will not be in a position to raise that amount of money, let alone spend it. In Dublin it is the equivalent of £12,500 per Dáil constituency.

The provision for a refund of expenditure of up to £30,000 is reasonable, despite the fact that it is a lower proportion of the expenditure limit than for Dáil elections. It will have the effect of constraining expenditure, particularly for those candidates who are inclined to go beyond their means. It is important to stress that this money will not simply be handed over to candidates. Details of the expenditure incurred will have to be given and certified by the Public Offices Commission before a refund is paid.

It is unfortunate that, if the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, has his way, this will be the last occasion on which the Dáil will be asked to approve orders limiting expenditure for European or Dáil elections. The statement made by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government in the Seanad earlier this month that he intends to avail of the next electoral Bill to abolish spending limits for all elections is an astonishing development which indicates that Fianna Fáil has learned nothing from the events being examined by the two tribunals of inquiry. This is a retrograde and dangerous step which will increase public cynicism about the political process and will increase the influence of the corporate sector in the political process.

The Local Elections (Disclosure of Donations and Expenditure) Bill, which was published last month, provides no limit on the amount a candidate may spend at a local election. That seems extraordinary. The Minister suggested at the time that the reason for this was that to impose such a limit would be costly and bureaucratic. However, based on the Minister's comments in the Seanad during the debate on this Bill, it now appears it is just part of a wider strategy which has as its objective the abolition of spending limits for all elections, including Dáil and European contests.

The Minister made his intentions clear during the debate on the local elections Bill in the Seanad. My colleague, Senator Gallagher, put it to him that if the basis for not putting a cap on spending for local elections was that it would be costly and bureaucratic, this would also apply to [26] Oireachtas and European elections. He asked “Why does the Minister not get rid of it altogether?”. The Minister responded “I will in the next electoral Bill.” This raises questions about the seriousness of repeated pledges by the Taoiseach to introduce new procedures to guarantee political integrity.

Abolishing the existing limits for Dáil and European elections will lead to an increase in the level of spending, much of which will be wasteful. Ultimately it will be of benefit to the parties which can raise most money and inevitably it will lead to greater interdependence between politics and the corporate sector. Is this what Fianna Fáil wants? Indeed, is this what the Progressive Democrats Party wants?

Acting Chairman (Mr. Briscoe):  There is no provision for the Minister to reply to this motion.

Mr. Dukes:  There is no conceivable reply.

Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman:  Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are cognate to amendment No. 1 and amendment No. 4 is related, therefore they shall be taken together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. O'Shea:  I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, line 16, after “physical” to insert “or mental”.

These amendments seek to extend to other sports the stewardship of the Irish Sports Council. Competitive sport, as the Bill stands, means all forms of physical activity. We wish to amend that meaning to include mental activity. In the same definition we seek to amend the phrase “aimed at expressing or improving physical fitness” to “aimed at expressing or improving physical or mental fitness”. In the definition of recreational sport we want to include mental as well as physical activity. The phrase that appears later in the definition, that the aim of recreational sport is expressing and improving physical fitness and mental well-being, would be changed to physical or mental fitness or well-being.

The rationale behind these amendments is that sports like chess or bridge would be included in the remit of the sports council and that the two terms “competitive sport” and “recreational sport” would be changed to provide for sports of the nature I have described.

Mr. Allen:  These amendments were put down to deal specifically with the problems we all face in making decisions regarding sports like contract bridge and chess. I expressed the reservation previously that, under the current definition of sport, when the time comes for the sports council to make the decision regarding the recognition of contract bridge and other games like chess, its [27] hands will be tied somewhat and it will be unable to recognise contract bridge as a recreational activity.

We have all made the case over the years for the recognition of contract bridge and I will not delay the House by repeating the arguments made on Committee Stage. The Minister indicated on Committee Stage that he would consider the matter and come back to us on Report Stage. At that time there was an expectation that he might make an announcement on funding for contract bridge before Report Stage. This issue is about funding of facilities and the association so that it can run its affairs in an efficient and effective manner. I expected an announcement from the Minister at this stage recognising contract bridge for funding purposes. Will he indicate the current state of play? Has he made a decision regarding funding and what are his thoughts on the mechanisms for recognising contract bridge as a sport? Will he agree that the sports council will find it difficult, if not impossible, to recognise contract bridge as a recreational activity if the Minister does not accept the amendments tabled by Deputy O'Shea?

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  The Deputies are aware of my determination to recognise bridge; I understand almost every Deputy and Senator has had representations on the issue of contract bridge. It is a matter of funding but, unfortunately, I have to draw the line between sport as a physical activity and sport as a mental activity. I know where the Deputies are coming from on this issue but it must be remembered that this has already been tried in the United States, New Zealand and a number of other areas. They had to draw back from using definitions of this nature in the United States.

I recognise the benefits of chess and bridge but if I use this type of definition I will open up a Pandora's box. I have nothing against tiddlywinks or other activities like that but we cannot have everybody looking for resources. Deputies can rest assured I will examine the area of bridge. When the sports council is set up I will ask it to examine this issue as a matter of priority to see what it can do in terms of its remit. If it is unable to recognise chess and bridge, I will bring the matter back to my own Department and recognise it under the recreational section which has been set up and which will require resources. One way or another I am determined to recognise bridge as a recreational activity.

It is not proposed to accept the amendments which aim to have competitive and recreational sport based on mental or physical activity. The definitions of recreational and competitive sport in the Bill are derived and extracted from the only official European definition set out in the Council of Europe Sports Charter. I cannot change that definition. It is widely recognised that there are difficulties in defining sport due to its [28] dynamic and changing nature. Those difficulties are reflected by the variety and number of definitions of sport which exists internationally. The definitions in the Council of Europe sports charter, that used in the legislation establishing New Zealand's Hillary commission for sports, fitness and leisure, and those which have been proposed by eminent north American sports experts all share the fundamental principle that sport is based on some form of physical activity, physical prowess or the use of physical skills, hand-eye co-ordination, speed, agility, dexterity, grace, suppleness, strength, endurance, etc.

The definitions in the Bill are underpinned by this principle and I do not propose to change that position. The current definitions provide a clear framework for the council to carry out its functions in an effective and focused manner while providing enough flexibility to allow the council provide assistance and support across an ever-broadening and evolving sporting sector. The recognition of individual activities as sports will be a matter for the sports council in the context of the definitions. I will ask the council to examine this issue, which was included in my party's manifesto, as a priority. I have had representations from various bodies and my Department is determined to examine the question of bridge, in the first instance, but I cannot dilute the definition of sport. Physical activity can be measured but we cannot measure a mental activity and therefore I have to oppose the definition in the Deputy's amendment.

Bridge is a well recognised activity with 35,000 members. It is a well structured organisation which takes part in provincial and international events, but I cannot allow the definition of sport to be diluted. I will examine the issue when the sports council is formally established following the enactment of this legislation.

Mr. O'Shea:  I compliment the Minister for seriously addressing the issue. I am not unsympathetic to the view that if we extend definitions we might open up a Pandora's box. If I understood the Minister correctly he said he would ask the sports council, when it is set up, to address the issue of funding for contract bridge in the context of interpreting the legislation and, failing that, he will recognise bridge under the recreational provisions of his Department and funding can be made available through that channel. If the basic needs of the sport can be met either through legislation or the process the Minister has outlined, I would not have a problem with it. In the circumstances, I will not press the amendments. I accept the undertaking given by the Minister.

Mr. Allen:  I am concerned at the developing attitude to sport in the Department. I detect an over-emphasis on elite sport. Funding for some national organisations is being cut, as a line is being drawn between high-performance, competitive sport and recreational activities.

[29] Deputy McDaid is Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation. Prior to the election Fianna Fáil made promises about the recognition of contract bridge. Those promises should only have been given after consideration of all the implications. Thousands of people who pursue contract bridge as a sport or recreational activity will be extremely disappointed that promises made to them are not being fulfilled. On Committee Stage the Minster gave a commitment to look at funding but this has not been done. He has a responsibility to recognise that contract bridge is recreational and, as such, should be funded.

Are there applications for funding towards the development of facilities for contract bridge under the capital grants scheme? Will the Minister consider those applications as his Department has responsibility for sport and recreation? I am concerned that the Minister and the sports council are drawing a line between elite sport, competitive sport and recreational activities. That is wrong because the life blood of sport involves participation and voluntary effort. It is not solely about elite sportspeople.

Dr. McDaid:  Deputy O'Shea must be aware that it has been a priority to try to get the Bill to this stage. It takes time and manpower to do so and we have been concentrating on getting the Bill through.

We have already done some work and had a number of meetings about contract bridge and we know the pitfalls from the experience in other countries. This will be a priority with the sports council under the current definition. If it is unable to work with that I will bring the issue back to the Department and use the manpower available to try to deal with bridge at that time. Recreation comes within my portfolio and that is the section in which I want to include bridge. I assure the Deputy that the issue of bridge will be looked at by the Department.

Another amendment deals with Deputy Allen's comments about the emphasis on elite sportspeople. His comments are untrue. We have dealt with the issue of elite sportspeople and provided them with funding. They know how much they are due and it is untrue to suggest there is an emphasis on the high performance area as opposed to other areas of sport or recreational activities.

I am not sure about capital grants. The Department is processing 1,880 applications received for capital grants this session. I cannot say whether there is an application for contract bridge. However, such an application would be considered if it was for a capital grant.

Mr. Allen:  Is the Minister saying that such an application will not be disqualified?

Mr. O'Shea:  As Minister of State in the Department of Health, I introduced environmental regulations about smoking. Bridge sessions were one of the locations at which I banned [30] smoking. I received a letter from a lady with severe respiratory problems thanking me as, for the first time in many years, she had been able to enjoy a night out. There can be physical health aspects to these activities. However, I accept the sincerity of the Minister's commitment in terms of meeting the needs of contract bridge. I will not press these amendments.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 2 to 5, inclusive, not moved.

Acting Chairman:  Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 are related to amendment No. 6 and may be taken together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. O'Shea:  I move amendment No. 6:

In page 5, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:

“(a) to exercise the functions of the Minister in relation to the disbursement of National Lottery funds,”.

The disbursement of national lottery funds has been a vexed question and there is no perfect way of handling this issue. There would be a greater perception of impartiality and fairness if funds were disbursed by the new Irish Sports Council as distinct from the political route. However, I present one caveat in the context of the arts brief which I also hold. I am precluded from asking questions about the activities of the Arts Council. If the Minister accepts this amendment there must also be a measure of real accountability to the House for whatever happens as a result. There are varying views on how these moneys should be disbursed. This amendment provides the best route in terms of fairness and the perception of fairness. It gives an important new function to the statutory Irish Sports Council when established.

There has never been a greater need for young people, particularly those from disadvantaged areas, to be involved in organised sporting activities. Young people gain much discipline and a level of achievement from such activities. Their achievements do not have to be high performance but the perception that one is doing well can raise self-esteem. Much anti-social activity results from the fact that young people have no self-esteem. This funding is particularly important. There should always be discrimination in favour of the less well off in society in order to bring them into the mainstream. This can be done through a vehicle which in the first instance provides discipline but, more importantly, self-respect.

I look forward to hearing the Minister's views on this amendment. If the allocation of lottery funds for sport and recreation grants is removed from the political arena, the negative views which are sometimes expressed about the allocation of these funds will no longer be heard. Ultimately, everybody would wish that these funds, which [31] like all funds are limited, would not only be allocated in the fairest possible way but also would be seen to be allocated in that manner.

Mr. Allen:  I wish to discuss my amendments. There is a public perception that these decisions are made on the basis of political influence rather than need or the strength of individual applications. That perception is damaging to lottery funding of sport. I was aware of this during my term as Minister of State.

When the national strategy was being formulated I asked that the issue of both capital and revenue funding be examined. When it was published in February 1997, the strategy made certain recommendations, the most important of which was the establishment of a statutory sports council, which is the objective of this Bill. There was also an assumption that the funding of organisations, both capital and revenue, should be the responsibility of the new sports council.

The Minister initiated a review of the capital fund scheme. He promised that I would receive a report on the review but I did not. I put down a number of parliamentary questions on this matter but they were sidestepped. When I asked if the review of the capital scheme would be published, the answer I received effectively said nothing. I am still waiting for a copy of the review.

The Minister is due to make decisions in the next two months on the capital scheme for 1999. I understood that these decisions would be frozen until the review report was published and debated in the Dáil but obviously that will not happen. I ask the Minister to publish the review and to allow a debate in the House. It is an important report, particularly in view of the vast amounts of money allocated to clubs under the scheme.

A strong case has been made for positive discrimination in favour of clubs in disadvantaged areas and clubs which promote less well known or less well organised sports. Clubs for the stronger sports can make a professional case on their own behalf; they know what pressure points to press to get the maximum results. Less well organised sports can sometimes lose out.

It is important that Members see the report of the review group and that they have an opportunity to discuss it before major decisions are made. I am extremely disappointed that despite being Opposition spokesperson on this issue, I have been denied an opportunity to see it.

When an independent sports council is being established, it should have powers to finance organisations through annual grants and to fund capital projects. According to the Minister, there are almost 1,900 projects awaiting funding. They could probably consume about £600 million but there is only approximately £10 million available. One would have to be Solomon in all his glory to keep everybody happy. The legislation for the establishment of the sports council is seriously flawed if the council will not have the power to [32] allocate both capital and annual funding. If the Minister insists on retaining the power to allocate capital grants, the powers and status of the sports council will be substantially weakened. As a result, the legislation is seriously flawed. It does not reflect the sentiments of the Treacy report of February 1997.

Successive Ministers have tried to operate the scheme as fairly as possible. There are huge pressures on any Minister when making decisions about funding. The decision of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands to give power to the Arts Council to allocate funding was the correct one. Deputy O'Shea raised the valid point that questions cannot be asked in the House about those grants. However, if an executive and chairman are appointed to a council, it means we believe they will behave in a fair manner and if we delegate responsibilities we should allow them to exercise them.

I ask the Minister to consider accepting the amendments. They are vital if the sports council is to have the necessary status and adequate power to administer sport. I am concerned that the plan should set out parameters for the spending of capital grants. There should be emphasis on facilities at national, regional and local level.

I put down a parliamentary question last week about the funding that would be required to bring our swimming pools up to date. The figures quoted in the reply were horrific. A key decision of principle must be made by the Minister and the sports council about the spending of capital funds. Should funding be committed to upgrading community pools which are in need of refurbishment and upgrading or should it all be put in one basket to build the super 50-metre pool? Can the Minister do both?

The lifeblood of sport is at community and local level. If facilities are not adequate at local level, sport will not develop and prosper. I know what I would do in this situation but I anxious to hear the Minister's view on the priority of the refurbishment and upgrading of local swimming pools as against the development of a 50-metre pool.

Dr. McDaid:  I wonder if Deputies' words will come back to haunt them in the future. This is enabling legislation. I have made no definitive decision with regard to whether the sports council will take over responsibility for the sports capital programme. This is enabling legislation. If I were to accept the Deputies' amendments, effectively, I would tie the hands of a future Government. The legislation provides for the Minister of the day to make the allocation. If Deputy O'Shea or Deputy Allen were to hold my position at some time in the future, the legislation would allow them to make that decision, but I have not made a decision on this matter.

I have the greatest respect for Deputies who have been elected as public representatives. Most Deputies, Senators and other public representatives are involved at some level in committees [33] that consider the sports, community centres and other issues and, therefore, they are the better judges of what is needed in a particular area. A future Government can decide to hand over such power to the new sports council. Legislation was not required for similar power to be handed over to the Arts Council. The Minister of the day made an order to that effect. A future Minister can make an order to do that in this case, but I have not made any decision on the new sports council taking over responsibility for this area. Many Deputies and Senators have better knowledge of what is needed in their communities as they were elected on these issues. They know about these needs because they care about what is happening in their communities and are members of various committees. I am reluctant to hand over responsibility for this area to the new sports council particularly at this stage, but the legislation enables a future Minister to do so.

Deputy Allen has raised the issue of disadvantaged areas. This year I refused to give funding to the GAA, the IRFU and the FAI, unless provision for disadvantaged areas was included in their strategy documents.

Mr. Allen:  The Minister gave £20 million pounds last year.

Dr. McDaid:  That was a separate matter.

Mr. Naughten:  A total of £20 million was allocated.

Mr. Allen:  Bertie gave the GAA £20 million.

Dr. McDaid:  I agreed with my ministerial colleague, Deputy McCreevy, when he did that. It was a fantastic way for the GAA to proceed. It will have a state of the art stadium for those who participate in our national games. A total of 800,000 people are part of that organisation.

Mr. Allen:  The Minister should not have said he did not give any money this year when £20 million was allocated to the GAA.

Dr. McDaid:  Those organisations, including the IRFU and the FAI, were told that they would not receive any funding unless they included plans for making progress in disadvantaged areas in their strategy documents. All of them put forward excellent plans for including areas of disadvantage in their plans.

A total of 1,880 applications for lottery funding amounting to £214 million were submitted. We were able to allocate between £8 million and £10 million this year.

I fully understand the position regarding swimming pools. Some of them are in an appalling condition and the one in Roscommon was perhaps in the worst condition. I told Deputy Naughten we would look after it and we have done so.

[34]

Mr. Naughten:  No money have yet been allocated for it.

Dr. McDaid:  I have secured permission for the contract for this work to go to tender and I intend to keep my word on this. I have also had discussions with my ministerial colleague, Deputy McCreevy, on the issue of swimming pools. I hope to take this matter in hand in the not too distant future. Deputy Allen will be aware that up until now responsibility for this area lay with the Department of the Environment and Local Government. It was allocated only a very small budget for this work and on the basis of that funding we would not have been able to meet the needs in this area. My Department has responsibility for this area now and we are looking into this.

This is enabling legislation and any future Government can decide to pass power for this area to the sports council, in the way power was passed over to the Arts Council. Deputies and Senators have all been involved in one way or another in different community projects and sports. I cannot accept the amendment because it would tie the hands of any future Government.

Mr. O'Shea:  I accept this is enabling legislation and that the Minister of the day will have the power to hand over the function of the allocation of lottery funding to the new sports council. That goes a fair way towards meeting the objective of my amendment. If that function were handed over to the new sports council, I take it that would not preclude Deputies and Senators from vouching for organisations or providing additional information or other factors by way of representation that would strengthen the case of the organisation? I understand that avenue of representation would not be closed to Members of the Oireachtas. I understand the Arts Council welcomes representations. I accept the Minister's argument. Given that the powers my amendment seeks to ensure are included in the Bill, are contained it, I am willing to withdraw my amendment.

Dr. McDaid:  A decision has not been made on this yet. As successive Governments continue to invest more money in sport, I have not decided against the idea that a certain percentage of the national lottery funding should be given initially to the new sports council to ensure that a certain percentage of funding should be allocated for strategic projects. I have toyed with that idea in the past. We could give a percentage of such funding to the new sports council for allocation and see how it is managed. This is in its infancy at this stage.

I promised to make the sports capital review report available. It will be available in approximately two weeks' time.

[35]Mr. Allen:  In two weeks' time? I could have that under the Freedom of Information Act, if I wanted it.

Dr. McDaid:  Even if we were pursuing that report today, I would still not be able to accept these amendments. I intend to pass a copy of this report to the Deputies when it is available to enable them to consider its contents. I passed the report to the Select Committee. This area should be discussed at the Select Committee. Many of the views expressed by the Deputies may not be the views expressed by other members of their parties. When the report is published, I will arrange for it to be given to the Deputies to enable them discuss it at the select committee.

Mr. Allen:  I am amazed the Minister said the report will be published in two weeks' time. The review group's report was presented here last November or December. A question was tabled on it, but it was ignored. I was told at a committee meeting held two weeks' ago that it would be sent to me. If I exerted my rights as a citizen under the Freedom of Information Act, I am sure I could have obtained a copy of it by now. What is in it that is so secret?

Dr. McDaid:  It is with the printer. I agreed on Committee Stage to publish the report.

Mr. Allen:  The Minister said then that he was surprised he had not made it available and that it would be supplied to us. I thought we would have it the following day. The record will show that the Minister gave us that assurance. I do not want to make a big deal out of it now. When we get it in two weeks' time, I hope we will be able to have a debate on it.

The Minister did not answer my question on his priorities in regard to swimming pools. Will he opt for a 50-metre pool or are there sufficient finances to build a 50-metre pool and to fund the refurbishment of pools throughout the country? I am sure that is referred to in the report. If we had it, at least we could have addressed that issue today. The Minister did not respond to that point. Expensive projects give the Minister a high profile, but spending £10 million or £20 million on high profile projects when some clubs do not even have running water with which players can wash themselves after a match is scandalous. The sooner a list of priorities for allocating capital is drawn up the better. I ask that that be addressed in the review.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Browne,:  Carlow-Kilkenny): Amendment No. 8 is an alternative to amendment No. 7. Amendment No. 9 is related. Amendment No. 10 is an alternative to amendment No. 9 and amendment No. 11 is related. Is [36] it agreed to take amendments Nos. 7 to 11, inclusive, together? Agreed.

Dr. McDaid:  I move amendment No. 7:

In page 5, line 16, to delete “competitive sport” and substitute “either or both competitive sport and recreational sport”.

I am pleased to answer some of the concerns expressed on Second and Committee Stages. Amendments Nos. 7, 9 and 11 aim to address any perception that the council will focus unduly on competitive sport with recreational sport being seen as the poor relation. I assure the House that my aim is to present a balanced Bill which will enable the council to carry out its role fully across all sport, taking account of participation and organisational levels.

While I consider that the council's function as outlined in section 6(1)(b) provides the necessary scope to enable the council to promulgate guidelines and codes of practice, amendment No. 7 makes this more explicit by extending the council's function as outlined in section 6(1)(c) to include recreational sport in order to underline again the importance of high standards throughout all sport. The current definitions of competitive and recreational sport are all-encompassing and implicitly include children's sport.

Amendment No. 9 relates to section 6(1)(e) and gives equal weight to competitive and recreational sport in relation to initiating and encouraging research. The aim is to ensure that the council retains the power to decide what research is most appropriate in the context of the dynamic environment in which sport now takes place, having regard to its own resources, strategic plan and national policy priorities. I consider that the proposed wording of the amendment will have this effect.

Amendment No. 11 arises as a consequence of the parliamentary draftsman's advice regarding amendments Nos. 7 and 9 and in order to maintain consistency throughout this critical section.

Mr. Allen:  I made the case on Second Stage and again on Committee Stage in relation to these. I welcome the Minister's acceptance of the principles and fully accept the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 8 not moved.

Dr. McDaid:  I move amendment No. 9:

In page 5, to delete lines 19 to 21 and substitute the following:

“(e)where the Council considers it appropriate to do so, to initiate and encourage research concerning either or both competitive sport and recreational sport,”.

Amendment agreed to.

[37] Amendment No. 10 not moved.

Dr. McDaid:  I move amendment No. 11:

In page 5, to delete lines 22 to 24 and substitute the following:

“(f) where the Council considers it appropriate to do so, to facilitate research and disseminate information concerning either or both competitive sport and recreational sport, and”.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Naughten:  I move amendment No. 12:

In page 5, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:

“(h)to develop strategies to ensure that housing developments provide adequate sport and recreational facilities.”.

I discussed this with the Minister on Committee Stage. It is something about which I feel very strongly. There is an amount of housing development going on throughout the country but provision of adequate facilities for young people is totally neglected. In my electoral area, where I will be canvassing in respect of the local elections next June, 1,000 houses have been built. The county council sold off lots to private developers and developed local authority houses, but there is not even a soccer pitch in that locality. It is morally wrong that the county council can sell half acre sites at £100,000 but is not willing to put some of that money into developing facilities in the area. If a dispute arises in that locality of Monksland in south Roscommon, I cannot hold a meeting in my own county because there is no facility. I have to go to County Westmeath. If we decide in the morning to develop a soccer pitch in the locality, we could not hold a meeting within County Roscommon to discuss it because there are no facilities.

Throughout the country substantial areas of land are being developed. With the increase in housing density, developers are developing every piece of spare ground without providing for the needs of young people when they get to six, seven, and eight years of age. This has led to vandalism, even in some very well established areas because young people have nothing to do.

It is crucially important to make provision for this in the planning process. The sports council has a role to play in ensuring that this is done. If proper provision is not made, there will be problems in the future. I see problems in my own area, a rapidly growing area within a rural county, similar to those in many areas throughout the country. There has been an increase in housing density which the Minister for the Environment and Local Government envisages will exacerbate the problem. It is crucially important that we look logically at this and ensure that developers put money back into the areas they are developing. They are not doing that at the moment. They are [38] bleeding the people dry who are buying the houses and then doing a runner.

In the planning and development Bill which is before the House, we are trying to combat developers who do a runner without putting in basic facilities like public lighting, walls and so on. It is crucially important to ensure that they provide for green areas, play areas and basic facilities so that communities can prosper and develop in the years to come. Currently there are two applications before the Minister for lottery funding for facilities which should have been provided a long time ago. One is from Roscommon County Council and the other is from a soccer club. Young people are abusing aerosols, young people of ten, 11 and 12 who have serious alcohol problems are falling around drunk at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. and congregating in alleyways because they have nothing else to do.

There are youth organisations which are eager to develop projects and facilities for those young people, but they have no place to locate and no funding. This type of situation has occurred under the jurisdiction of Roscommon County Council and it is happening throughout the country under other county councils which may not have the same direct control. It is crucially important for the sports council to have a co-ordinating role in this regard. I ask the Minister to accept the amendment.

Mr. Allen:  Last Monday night I attended a community association meeting in an inner city area of Cork. We received the usual demands for open space and facilities for young people for all the social reasons we hear about so often. It was quite impossible to meet those demands because there simply is no open space available. The local authority in Cork has allowed every available space to be built upon and as a result young people have nowhere to go.

As I have said often in the past, sport and recreation are the greatest preventative elements in the fight against crime and drugs. If young people are given an opportunity to become involved in sport and other recreational pursuits it will be far easier to protect them from crime and drugs. Money spent on sport and recreation saves millions of pounds annually in the prison and health services.

The recent Bacon report proposing increased housing density on available land is anti-sport and anti-recreation. At some stage it may help house purchasers, although I doubt that because I believe profits from higher density housing will go into the pockets of speculators and developers. The consumer will lose out again. There is also a danger that sporting organisations and young people will lose out because every available space will be built upon. Builders will pursue the principle of maximum housing density per acre.

During my time as Minister of State, some local authorities had the audacity to demand funding from organisations for land that was available. Clubs in the constituency of the Acting Chair[39] man, Deputy Browne, Carlow-Kilkenny, sought funding and received it. However, the local authority then demanded moneys for available land, which was scandalous. Local authorities have a responsibility to mix housing and industrial developments with recreational facilities. Apart from a number of notable exceptions in Dublin and Cork, they are not living up to their responsibilities.

The Minister should ensure that the spirit of this amendment is met so that the sports council will co-ordinate different local statutory bodies and Departments in providing as much land as possible for recreational purposes. The usual token half acre in a vast housing estate of 300 or 400 houses is no longer sufficient. Without great investment, that token half acre is usually unusable because it may be on a slope.

Mr. Naughten:  Unless it is given over.

Mr. Allen:  That is why it is put aside. They meet the token principle of providing a bit of open space but often that space is the focus for anti-social behaviour. Therefore, there is a need for a co-ordinated and organised approach to this matter. The Local Government Development Bill should be the vehicle for implementing this principle. At the same time, however, this amendment is important as regards getting the whole principle off the ground.

Mr. O'Shea:  I support the amendment. The initial words in the amendment, “develop strategies”, provide the key to what we are discussing. These issues need to be addressed, even in relation to playground areas already provided by local authorities, adjoining council estates. Insurance has become a huge problem concerning the operation of these areas. If accidents occur on moving facilities, such as swings and roundabouts, insurance premia rise. I am not quite sure how to address that problem but if, for instance, the facilities provided do not involve movement per se, then imagination can achieve a great deal.

There has been no period during my lifetime when sport and recreation have been more important than now. The idea of developing strategies, as is proposed here, involves a number of Departments. If the sports council takes a leading role and comes up with an overall plan, and even if that plan indicates what Departments other than the parent Department need to do to bring this concept to fruition, then let it be done. In this context, the concept is one of bringing sport and recreation to everybody.

Deputy Allen and I served on the task force on drug abuse. We devoted much time and discussion to methods of rehabilitation, which is going to one extreme. However, many children can be diverted away from anti-social behaviour of all kinds if there is a structure there for them. Sport and recreational facilities must be provided [40] and in many cases responsibility for that will rest with the local authority. It is very important to take care of such facilities and see that they are used in an equitable and useful way.

The concept is a good one and concerns the quality of life and proper planning. I accept the thrust of the amendment in that the new sports council can play a valuable role in focusing on this problem by introducing strategies that will over time make worthwhile provision for such facilities on a countrywide basis.

Dr. McDaid:  The Deputies have made a very good case and I could not agree more with their sentiments. I accept what they are saying but if the proposed amendment is beyond the scope of the Bill I will have to ask the Acting Chairman for a ruling. The Deputy is asking me to involve a small body like the sports council in practically every local authority's plans for housing estates. I know what the Deputy is trying to do but I cannot accept the amendment on that basis because it would mean that the sports council would become involved in planning.

Mr. Allen:  That is the principle.

Mr. Naughten:  The key words are “develop strategies”.

Dr. McDaid:  We would all agree with what the Deputy is saying but surely the place for this is in the new Planning Act. The amendment ought to be tabled at that stage. A more appropriate mechanism for addressing the Deputy's concerns is through the Planning Acts. As the Deputy mentioned, the Department of the Environment and Local Government is currently preparing a Bill, which it is intended to publish in the middle of this year, to revise and consolidate the Planning Acts. As part of that process the Department is examining the provision of community facilities, including sport and recreational facilities, as part of the planning process.

The Irish Sports Council Bill already gives the sports council the power to co-operate with, advise and provide assistance to any person or body, including a public authority, in respect of any matter related to the performance of the sports council's functions. Sections 6(b) states that the functions of the Council shall be–

. . . to develop strategies for increasing participation in recreational sport and to co-ordinate their implementation by all bodies (including public authorities and publicly funded bodies) involved in promoting recreational sport and providing recreational facilities,

Section 7(2)(a) states:

. . . to co-operate with, advise and, subject to the criteria, terms and conditions established under section 8, provide assistance (including financial assistance) to any person or body [41] (including a public authority) in respect of any matter related to performance of the Council's functions as it thinks desirable.

I ask the Deputy to reconsider this amendment. I know what he is trying to do, but this is not necessarily the function of the Sports Council and would be unduly burdensome for that body. It would be an excellent amendment for the new Planning Act to be debated later this year.

Mr. Naughten:  If I table this amendment for the new Planning Act, I will be told by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government that this is not his role and that it is a matter for the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation.

The Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation has an opportunity, now to accept this amendment. We are talking about developing strategies not about the sports council looking through every planning application. People will not have to send their planning applications to that body for its opinion, and it will not be extremely burdensome for the council. We are talking about developing strategies and someone must have a co-ordinating role in relation to the various bodies involved in the planning process. Who would be better than the sports council? That is the body with an interest in this matter. The Minister cited sections 6 and 7, but the former section relates to participation, not to a co-ordinating role in the planning area. Section 7 has no connection with this amendment. It is crucially important that the sports council should have a role in this matter, as it has the expertise to implement guidelines that should have been implemented years ago.

Deputy O'Shea mentioned insurance liability. Many local authorities are not developing facilities because of insurance liability, yet there has been an onus on the same bodies to develop facilities over the years, and now they are neglecting young people. In years to come the sports council and the Minister's Department will have [42] a greater role to play in combating drug abuse because this amendment will not be accepted.

This is a way to combat a huge and growing problem at local level and I urge the Minister to accept this amendment. Local authorities are finding it hard to leave green areas alone because of the pressure from the Department of the Environment and Local Government to build houses. The Minister now intends to ask that Department to consider green areas for sports facilities. It is in contrast with the policy of that Department and the place to amend that policy is here.

Dr. McDaid:  I had to ask for a ruling as to whether this proposed amendment is within the scope of the Bill.

Acting Chairman:  The fact that it is accepted means it is. The wording was refused, but the Minister could issue recommendations.

Dr. McDaid:  For the reasons I have already stated I cannot accept the amendment, although I empathise with the Deputy. We are setting up a fledgling statutory body in this sports council, and I cannot add more cumbersome regulations to it, particularly as the Planning Act will soon be debated. The Deputy's amendment should be incorporated in that Act, but I cannot accept it.

Mr. Naughten:  I accept the Minister's position, but the problem is that the Department of the Environment is seeking to have houses built all over the country because of the pressure for housing. That is its main priority. It will not provide the green areas that will be needed if we are to combat the growing drugs problem. That problem does not exist just in Dublin, Cork and Galway; it is a problem in counties like Roscommon, where there is already a severe drugs problem. This problem will continue to grow unless the Sports Council gets a co-ordinating role. I ask the Minister to reconsider his position and to accept the amendment.

Amendment put.

Ahearn, Theresa.
Allen, Bernard.
Barnes, Monica.
Barrett, Seán.
Bell, Michael.
Belton, Louis.
Boylan, Andrew.
Bradford, Paul.
Broughan, Thomas.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Burke, Ulick.
Carey, Donal.
Clune, Deirdre.
Connaughton, Paul.
Cosgrave, Michael.
Coveney, Simon.
Crawford, Seymour.
Creed, Michael.
Currie, Austin.
D'Arcy, Michael.
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Deasy, Austin.
Deenihan, Jimmy.
Durkan, Bernard.
Farrelly, John.
Ferris, Michael.
Finucane, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Frances.
Flanagan, Charles.
Hayes, Brian.
Higgins, Jim.
Higgins, Michael.
Hogan, Philip.
Howlin, Brendan.
Kenny, Enda. McCormack, Pádraic.[43]

Tá–continued

McDowell, Derek.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
McGrath, Paul.
Mitchell, Gay.
Mitchell, Olivia.
Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
Naughten, Denis.
Neville, Dan.
O'Shea, Brian.
O'Sullivan, Jan.
Owen, Nora.
Penrose, William.
[44] Perry, John.
Quinn, Ruairí.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Ring, Michael.
Ryan, Seán.
Shatter, Alan.
Sheehan, Patrick.
Shortall, Róisín.
Stagg, Emmet.
Stanton, David.
Timmins, Billy.
Wall, Jack.
Yates, Ivan.

Níl

Ahern, Dermot.
Ahern, Michael.
Ahern, Noel.
Ardagh, Seán.
Aylward, Liam.
Brady, Johnny.
Brady, Martin.
Brennan, Matt.
Brennan, Séamus.
Briscoe, Ben.
Browne, John (Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.
Callely, Ivor.
Carey, Pat.
Collins, Michael.
Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
Coughlan, Mary.
Cowen, Brian.
Cullen, Martin.
de Valera, Síle.
Dempsey, Noel.
Dennehy, John.
Doherty, Seán.
Ellis, John.
Fahey, Frank.
Fleming, Seán.
Flood, Chris.
Foley, Denis.
Fox, Mildred.
Gildea, Thomas.
Harney, Mary.
Haughey, Seán.
Healy-Rae, Jackie.
Jacob, Joe.
Keaveney, Cecilia.
Kelleher, Billy.
Kenneally, Brendan.
Killeen, Tony.
Kirk, Séamus.
Kitt, Michael.
Kitt, Tom.
Lawlor, Liam.
Lenihan, Brian.
Lenihan, Conor.
McCreevy, Charlie.
McDaid, James.
McGennis, Marian.
McGuinness, John.
Martin, Micheál.
Moffatt, Thomas.
Molloy, Robert.
Moloney, John.
Moynihan, Michael.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
O'Dea, Willie.
O'Flynn, Noel.
O'Hanlon, Rory.
O'Keeffe, Batt.
O'Keeffe, Ned.
O'Kennedy, Michael.
O'Malley, Desmond.
Power, Seán.
Roche, Dick.
Ryan, Eoin.
Smith, Brendan.
Smith, Michael.
Treacy, Noel.
Wade, Eddie.
Wallace, Dan.
Walsh, Joe.
Woods, Michael.
Wright, G. V.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Barrett and Stagg; Níl, Deputies S. Brennan and Power.

Amendment declared lost.

Mr. Allen:  I move amendment No. 13:

In page 5, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:

“(h) to provide equality of sporting opportunity for everyone, regardless of gender, age or ability.”.

I tabled this amendment to give us an opportunity to discuss the challenges that face individuals involved in sport. I refer specifically to the role of women in sport. I am still unhappy about the impediments that face women who wish to become involved at a participatory, management or administrative level. Many organisations, especially those that involve women, have contacted me over the years about these impediments.

Many years ago I set up the review group to examine the role of women in sport. I expected it to have submitted a report setting out how it believes we could tackle the problems facing women before now. The group comprises many leading sportswomen, administrators, managers and athletes and dealt with issues such as the conflict in terms of the role of the woman in the home, the problems women face with crèches, the bias in many sports towards the involvement of women and, of course, the old and thorny issue of the role and status of women in golf clubs. Will the Minister give us a detailed update on the status of the review group and the recommendations it has made?

[45] I refer again to my concern about the overemphasis on high level performance in sport. Earlier the Minister denied there is a differentiation between high performance, competitive and participation sport. I would like him to rethink what he said because there is evidence to show grants are being given out under the headings of high level performance, competitive and participation sport. Will the Minister reconsider his denial before he goes any further? If we overemphasise top sportsmen and women and neglect sport at grassroots level, we will cut off the real lifeblood of sport.

I hope no efforts will be made to dilute the involvement of local authorities and vocational education committees in the sports-for-all programme or to terminate the grant scheme funnelled through to organisations by vocational education committees and local authorities. Last year it was almost eight months before the grants were sent out, and many clubs suffered grievously. A sum of £100 may not be much to the Minister or myself in relation to the moneys given out in the overall budget, but it is a lot of money to a small club in a deprived urban or rural area. There was serious doubt about the continued existence of that scheme. Will the Minister say whether it will continue, because it is vital?

Mr. O'Shea:  I support Deputy Allen's amendment. In sport, as in any other area of activity, there should be universal equality of access. I would like to emphasise the importance of age. Men or women can play a sport such as pitch and put, for instance. Children can take up the sport relatively cheaply at an early stage and people can continue to play that game into their senior years. It would be reprehensible if there was a gender bar on access to sport. I may be wrong but I was surprised that disability and access for persons with disability was not covered in the Bill. Perhaps the Minister will address that question. The Labour Party and other Deputies would strongly favour a regime which gives every possible assistance to disabled people in terms of access to sport.

Mr. Naughten:  Before I deal with the amendment, I congratulate the GAA and Joe McDonagh for taking the initiative to break down some of the equality barriers in that organisation. It was not successful, but we need to support this initiative and I hope this discrimination will be eliminated in the near future. There is much psychological discrimination within sporting organisations. An example I gave on Second Stage related to soccer in an area not too far from me where there is still much discrimination against such sports.

To come back to the amendment, we are trying to look out for the Minister because the last thing I want to happen to him when he leaves office is for him to be called, “the high performance minister” because of his emphasis on high performance sport. It is crucially important to provide [46] funds for basic facilities. The Minister knows my position on swimming. Fifty metre pools are pie in the sky to young people who want to learn how to swim.

Dr. McDaid:  The Deputy does not want a 50 metre pool.

Mr. Naughten:  Our priority should be to provide basic facilities. The Minister said the pool in Roscommon is the worst in the country, and there are many others like it. There is no point building 50 metre pools unless young people learn to swim and can compete.

Debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Question No. 1 has been postponed.

  2.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    the meetings, if any, he will have in advance of the EU-Latin American summit in Rio de Janeiro in June; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8210/99]

  3.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his meeting in Shannon on 23 March 1999 with the Prime Minister of Russia, Mr. Primakov; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8760/99]

  4.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his meeting with Prime Minister Primakov; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8918/99]

  5.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his meeting last week with the Russian Prime Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8999/99]

  6.  Mr. G. Mitchell    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on the recent visit to Ireland by Russian Prime Minister Primakov. [8858/99]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 to 6, inclusive, together.

I will attend the EU-Latin America and Caribbean Summit on 28 and 29 June. There are currently no plans for Heads of State and Government to hold preparatory meetings outside the framework of this summit. However, I expect to hold a number of bilateral meetings en marge of the summit and proposals for trade related visits to Mexico and Argentina are under consideration.

[47] I met the Russian Prime Minister, Mr. Primakov, with the Tánaiste at Shannon on 23 March. The Prime Minister was on his way to Washington, where he was scheduled to meet representatives of the IMF and the US Administration. As the House is aware, this visit was cancelled at the last moment, due to developments in Kosovo. During our meeting, Prime Minister Primakov set out Russia's position on Kosovo and I undertook to pass his views to the European Council, which I did in a letter to the President of the Council immediately after the meeting. I told Prime Minister Primakov of the concern of the Irish Government about the dangers of a new humanitarian catastrophe in the region.

We also discussed the outlook for the Middle East peace process. The Prime Minister told me about the meeting he had in Moscow with Prime Minister Netanyahu the day before we met and I informed him of my impressions from my visit there in January.

The Prime Minister invited me to visit Moscow in September with a business delegation and I agreed to do so. We decided that the Ireland-Russia Joint Intergovernmental Committee for Economic and Business Co-operation would meet before my visit. We decided that agreements on the prevention of drug trafficking and on fighting serious crime would be signed during my visit. We touched on the issue of beef exports and the Prime Minister assured me there would be no political obstacles put in the way of Russia buying beef from Ireland.

Mr. Quinn:  Did the Taoiseach convey to Prime Minister Primakov his opposition to NATO air strikes as a contribution to solving the ongoing problem in Kosovo and the former Yugoslavia, to avoid what he described in his reply as “a humanitarian catastrophe”? Will he outline the Irish priorities for the EU-Latin America and Caribbean Summit? Is there an Irish agenda distinct from the EU one?

The Taoiseach:  Our discussion with Prime Minister Primakov involved him explaining his difficulties. I expressed my view that if one enters into military action it is difficult to end it and to achieve compromise. His view on this matter is well known, but at that time the strength of his view was not known, and it was opportune that we met the day before the European Council meeting because I was able to relay his views. At that stage he had spoken to US Vice-President Gore and he was able to inform me that bombing would take place – he was ahead of me and most people in that regard – and he was within half an hour of deciding not to visit the US. He said he would continue to make every effort he could, which he was doing yesterday, and I hope he continues to do that.

[48]Mr. Quinn:  What view did the Taoiseach express to Mr. Primakov about the air strikes?

The Taoiseach:  I expressed the view that military action could exacerbate the problem. He told me the decision had been made and he was aware bombing would take place later that evening.

Mr. Quinn:  Did Mr. Primakov ask the Taoiseach if he supported the strikes?

The Taoiseach:  No. He knows we are not part of NATO or a member of the Security Council, which are making those decisions.

On the other matter, a group is working on this and the visit should be used to promote an Irish agenda. We have examined a number of matters. While it would not be suitable to have a trade delegation in Rio de Janeiro at the same time as the summit, we should use the session, the first of its kind, to follow an Irish agenda. I hope the group working on an agenda can devise one. Other countries are doing this and that is also my intention.

Mr. G. Mitchell:  On the EU-Latin America meeting, does the Taoiseach see merit in creating an EU drugs enforcement agency to complement the US DEA? Will this come up for discussion at that summit? Does he intend to raise the drugs issue at that meeting and, if so, in what context?

On his meeting with Prime Minister Primakov, does the Taoiseach agree the reason it is increasingly difficult to stop the bombing in Yugoslavia is that there is no “plan B”, that is, no alternatives are being put forward at present? Did he discuss possible alternative actions with the Russian Prime Minister? What are the alternatives to the bombing? If we could put forward alternatives there might be some hope of ending it.

The Taoiseach:  In reply to the first matter, a key issue of the summit will be to get a better understanding of drugs matters. The EU Commission is drafting a document which I hope will be the basis of an agreement at the summit. No person outside the Commission has seen that document but drug enforcement and co-operation will be a large part of the agenda.

As I said in reply to Deputy Quinn, discussions with Mr. Primakov consisted mostly of listening to his views on what could be achieved. My view is that every war must end. The basis of compromise has been suggested. Discussions are taking place with a number of Heads of State with a view to making some progress. Because I have been with Prime Minister Blair for the past 48 hours I am well aware of those discussions. Every effort is being made to broker a compromise and to stop Mr. Milosevic's campaign of action in return for an understanding that the bombing campaign has failed.

Mr. Gormley:  Will the Taoiseach accept the view expressed by Mr. Primakov that the bombing of Yugoslavia was in breach of international [49] law and that it would destabilise the region? Will he accept the bombing has been counterproductive in that it has strengthened the hand of Mr. Milosevic and provoked the humanitarian crisis? Is it preferable that the UN rather than NATO is part of this peace option?

The Taoiseach:  I am getting into the case again about what the Security Council did or did not do. That argument has been well made. Kofi Annan, a person for whom I have tremendous respect, has a difficult job and he explained a few days ago the difficulties with Security Council resolutions when action is necessary to deal with humanitarian catastrophies. Recently I read a document on how many humanitarian catastrophies had happened before any bomb was dropped last week. The bombing may have brought things to a head but it did not start it. There was no bombing campaign at Racak when 45 people were blown away or in several of the other incidents. I do not subscribe to the view that the UN bombing started all of that.

Mr. Gormley:  I wish to enlighten the Taoiseach because yesterday the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, informed us the bombing had resulted in an increase in retaliatory attacks. Does the Taoiseach accept that assertion?

The Taoiseach:  I read what the Minister for Foreign Affairs said this morning. Of course it has made the situation worse but it did not start it. I do not think we should get into that. These campaigns were going on all over the place for a long period. I have seen a list of the atrocities which occurred practically every day and ten times some days. The bombing campaign has increased the number of atrocities, but they have been taking place for a long period.

Mrs. Owen:  Will the Taoiseach confirm, as stated in the newspapers, that he was the last EU Prime Minister to meet Russian Prime Minister Primakov? Has he or the Minister for Foreign Affairs been in touch with Prime Minister Primakov since the meeting at Shannon? Given that Mr. Primakov has publicly stated he would try to intervene with Slobodan Milosevic and that the Taoiseach met Mr. Primakov, did he do anything to encourage the kind of negotiation that is required with Slobodan Milosevic to bring to an end what is happening there?

The Taoiseach:  I have not been in touch with Mr. Primakov since our meeting at Shannon. Mr. Primakov has been in touch with all the key players directly as late as last night.

Mrs. Owen:  Are we using any of our diplomacy?

The Taoiseach:  We are not required to do that. He has direct contact with the US President, Prime Minister Blair and other leaders. What he [50] asked me to do was to ensure his views were put before the Presidency prior to the start of the meeting. I did that within about two hours of the end of our meeting. I also repeated those views in full at the European Council meeting.

Mr. Gormley:  If the Taoiseach accepts the bombing has made the situation worse, it makes sense for the Government to call on NATO, and for the Taoiseach to use his influence in whatever forum he can, to call on those people to stop the bombing. Given what he has said it seems to be the logical step.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We seem to be drifting back to yesterday's questions.

Mr. Gormley:  I am commenting on what the Taoiseach said.

An Ceann Comhairle:  These questions relate to the Russian Prime Minister.

Mr. Gormley:  Exactly. I am sure the Russian Prime Minister made known his views on—

An Ceann Comhairle:  Will the Deputy please ask a brief supplementary question?

Mr. Gormley:  Did Mr. Primakov make known his views on the UN? Is it his view that it would be preferable to have UN rather than NATO involvement? Is that also the Taoiseach's view?

The Taoiseach:  If the UN Security Council had been able to take a unanimous decision, it would have been UN involvement, but that was not possible. That is why a decision was taken by NATO and allied forces. On the question of whether the bombing has made the position worse, bombing always makes things worse. However, it did not start the crisis because it has been going on for a long period. The debate we have had here in the past few days is useful. I am amazed the events at Racak and elsewhere in the past number of months did not tax our minds.

Mr. G. Mitchell:  In view of the discussions the Taoiseach had with the Russian Prime Minister and Ireland's ability to express its view on issues of this kind, does the Taoiseach see merit in appointing an ambassador to NATO so that our views can be expressed directly to NATO and, if so, is it intended to do this in the near future?

The Taoiseach:  No.

Mr. Quinn:  The Taoiseach conceded that we are now facing a humanitarian catastrophe. He accepted that the bombing has undoubtedly made the position worse. Bearing in mind the reports coming from the region as we speak that two or three neighbouring states face destabilisation – which will have consequences for the rest of Europe – rather than the paltry sum of £400,000 offered by way of assistance, the Minister of [51] State, sitting behind the Taoiseach, who has £30 million to spend on a mega party to celebrate the millennium, should divert at least one-third of that money to avert a millennium crisis on this continent. Will he give serious consideration to making substantial resources available through Trócaire, Concern, Goal, etc. and to accepting refugees who will never be able to return to Kosovo? If we cannot participate in the tangible solution, can we participate in the humanitarian solution by way of substantial aid, and not £400,000 which is about half the price of one cruise missile?

The Taoiseach:  Deputy Quinn is correct in saying there is a major refugee problem. While the international community hopes a resolution will lead to people returning, that will be unlikely for a large number of people as has been proved in the Balkans in the past decade. We have already indicated that this country will have to play its part. I do not think £400,000 will resolve the problem, but the Irish contribution is one of the largest. If there is an international effort, I would not rule out this country playing its part with refugees. We have always been good at that since the 1940s and the 1950s when we accepted Polish refugees and later Vietnamese. This issue is being examined by the UN, the International Red Cross and others. I indicated a few days ago that we would play our part.

Mr. Quinn:  We heard reports in the media this morning that the three countries in question, Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia, have indicated they cannot cope with the influx of refugees. We do not have to wait for an international lead, given that we have well equipped and respected humanitarian agencies. Will the Taoiseach undertake to contact those agencies to ascertain if we can provide effective assistance and to open our doors to refugees who cannot return because their homes have been burned. If we cannot be players on the political scene, we can be players on the humanitarian scene.

The Taoiseach:  As I indicated, that will be done. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, has already spoken to the agencies. Ireland has a part to play and it should play it.

[52]Mr. G. Mitchell:  NATO is the only force capable of getting the attention of Mr. Milosevic and under the Partnership for Peace every neutral country has appointed an ambassador to NATO, who is usually also the ambassador to the Western European Union. Why is Ireland not proposing to make a similar appointment? This would ensure that we had the ear of NATO and could put our concerns directly to it. Is this another matter on which the Taoiseach will make a U-turn in the future?

Mr. Gormley:  Did Mr. Primakov indicate to the Taoiseach his intention to suspend Russia's membership of Partnership for Peace? Does this call into question Ireland's participation in Partnership for Peace?

The Taoiseach:  Mr. Primakov stated that President Yeltsin would suspend Russia's contacts with all agencies. Deputy Mitchell is aware of my views on movement with regard to Partnership for Peace.

Mrs. Owen:  The Taoiseach did not answer Deputy Mitchell's question.

Mr. G. Mitchell:  He does not know how it works.

  7.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    the advisers, programme managers or public relations officers attached to his office; if those persons are civil servants or private sector employees; when they were employed for this work; the costs associated with these persons; if their work is full-time or part-time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8204/99]

The Taoiseach:  The information requested by the Deputy is included in two tabular statements which I propose to circulate in the Official Report.

There are no persons appointed in my Department as public relations officers per se. However, the details of the people whose work involves liaison with the media are included in the second tabular statement. The Deputy may also wish to refer to the two previous parliamentary questions about the role, status and cost of my staff.

Tabular Statement I.

Name Title Civil Servants/Private Sector Date ofAppointment Cost Full-timePart-time
£
Gerry Hickey Programme Manager and Special Adviser to the Taoiseach Non Civil Servant 1 July 1997 91,541 Full-time
Paddy Duffy Special Adviser to the Taoiseach National School Teacher, Public Servant 1 July 1997 52,484 Full-time
Martin Mansergh Special Adviser to the Taoiseach on Northern Ireland, Economic & Social Matters Non Civil Servant 27 June 1997 69,419 Full-time
[53] Name Title Civil Servants/Private Sector Date ofAppointment Cost Full-timePart-time
£
Katherine Bulbulia Tánaiste's Programme Manager Non Civil Servant 21 July 1997 59,137 Full-time
Frank Lahiffe Special Adviser to the Chief Whip (previously appointed as Personal Assistant to the Chief Whip on 27 June 1997) Non Civil Servant 1 February 1999 38,250 Full-time
Brian Murphy Adviser to all Ministers of State Non Civil Servant 1 March 1999 28,835 Full-time

Tabular Statement II.

Name Title Civil Servants/
Private Sector
Date of
Appointment
Cost Full-timePart-time
Joe Lennon Government Press Secretary Civil Servant 27 June 1997 59,137 Full-time
John Murray Assistant Government Press Secretary and Head of Government Information Services Non Civil Servant 27 June 1997 43,746 Full-time
Marty Whelan Manager of the Media Monitoring Unit Non Civil Servant 21 July 1997 32,875 Full-time
Tom Rowley Millennium Press Officer Non Civil Servant 1 March 1999 £50,000 plus performance allowance to maximum of £5,000 pa (to be decided by National Millennium Committee) Full-time

  8.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    if he has satisfied himself that agencies (details supplied) under the aegis of his Department are year 2000 compliant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8207/99]

  9.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the steps, if any, his Department has taken to ensure that agencies under its aegis are year 2000 compliant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8767/99]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 9 together.

I am satisfied that the agencies indicated by Deputy Quinn are making good progress towards achieving year 2000 compliance. For some offices, full compliance has already been achieved and others will have achieved it by mid-1999.

The agencies under the aegis of my Department which are fully year 2000 compliant are as follows: NESC; the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution; the National Centre for Partnership; the Information Society Commission, and the Tribunal Offices, Dublin Castle.

The following agencies are substantially compliant with a small amount of work still to be completed: the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions; the Office of the Attorney General; the Chief State Solicitor's Office; the Law Reform Commission, and the Central Statistics Office.

[54] With regard to the NESF, non-compliant systems are being replaced as part of a move to new premises that is under way.

Mr. Quinn:  I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. In light of the problems associated with year 2000 compliance and the fact that the Minister of State with responsibility for ensuring that Government agencies and Departments are compliant is now an active candidate seeking election to the European Parliament and is effectively off the political stage, will the Taoiseach reassign this function to another Minister of State to ensure the level of hands-on involvement which the task requires?

The Taoiseach:  At this stage the Minister of State is still fully involved. If that position changes when the campaign steps up after Easter, I will take it into account.

Mr. Quinn:  That is four days away.

The Taoiseach:  The Minister for Finance is co-ordinating the main groups.

Mrs. Owen:  The Taoiseach should try telling that to the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy.

The Taoiseach:  Most of the Minister's work involved the guidelines which have been set down. The various interdepartmental action groups are all up and running and most of their work is complete. This is a tribute to the Minister of State and all those involved.

[55] Most of the sections in Departments and Government agencies are dealing with the Minister for Finance. His campaign was national.

Mr. Quinn:  The Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, did not know that.

The Taoiseach:  The Minister of State is anxious to continue the work he has been doing for the past two years. He is still doing a good job.

Mrs. Owen:  Will the Taoiseach indicate the portion of the £40 million included in the budget this year to deal with this problem which was given to the Departments and agencies that are the subject of the question? On what was the money spent?

The Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, would be surprised to learn that he is not the main person dealing with this area because he has behaved in that manner every time I raised this issue during questions to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Will the Taoiseach indicate the findings of the most recent survey on the preparedness of companies and public bodies to deal with the year 2000 problem?

Is the Taoiseach aware that insurance companies are including a clause in policies which states that they will not pay any damages arising from problems related to the year 2000? Members received a letter in relation to our public liability insurance which stated that we will not be covered. The letter states that the underwriters have asked that it be brought to our attention that they have applied a year 2000 clause to our policy. All date related risks are excluded from cover, including damage to machinery.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is out of order in citing material at Question Time.

Mrs. Owen:  Is the Taoiseach aware that the insurance policy relating to his Department and these agencies may not cover any damage arising from the year 2000 problem?

The Taoiseach:  I do not have the figure for my Department from the total cost. I gave that information recently in a reply to a parliamentary question tabled by Deputy Quinn. None of the Deputy's other questions apply to me.

Mrs. Owen:  The Taoiseach will not answer them.

Mr. Gormley:  Does the Taoiseach accept that not only companies but households will be affected by the year 2000 problem? Does the Taoiseach agree it would make sense to issue a booklet or leaflet to each household informing them of the steps they could take to avoid difficulties?

The Taoiseach:  The Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, has already done that. The interdepart[56] mental committee dealing with Departments is under the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy. All the other activities come under the aegis of the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy. Booklets relating to small and medium size industries and household products have been put in the public domain.

Mr. Stanton:  Is the Taoiseach aware of legislation passed in other jurisdictions in relation to the year 2000? Why has no legislation on this matter been introduced in Ireland? Is the Taoiseach aware that a range of legal risks could come into play in relation to the making of statements, especially by project managers? They could be made in good faith for the purpose of sharing information, but they could provide the basis for a course of action. Is the Taoiseach aware of legislation in the United States to ensure that year 2000 problems do not disrupt commerce or lead to unnecessarily large case loads in the courts? Why is the Government so tardy in this area?

The Taoiseach:  I am not aware of any case that has been put to the Government regarding the need for legislation on these matters. I am aware that a case was put in relation to litigation. This was raised in the House some time ago and on 16 February the Government decided to change some of its policy initiatives in this area to ensure alternative suppliers were available. Otherwise, difficulties could arise with regard to litigation. These changes have been made and units have been established in each Department to ensure that alternative suppliers are available where year 2000 issues are outstanding. This work is ongoing and its purpose is to ensure that the Government does not encounter litigation. I am not sure why other countries may have introduced legislation in this area. It has not been an issue in the dealings of any of the groups.

Deputy Stanton rose.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I allowed the Deputy latitude on the question.

Mr. Stanton:  It is important.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy's supplementary question was out of order and I allowed him latitude. However, I cannot allow him continue.

  10.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his meeting on 23 March 1999 with Mr. Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8761/99]

  11.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report in his meeting on 23 March 1999 with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8762/99]

[57]

  12.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his meeting with the British Prime Minister at the Berlin summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8917/99]

  13.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his meeting last week with the President of Sinn Féin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8995/99]

  14.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his talks with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, on the fringes of the Berlin summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8996/99]

  15.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    the plans, if any, he has to visit Northern Ireland this week; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9003/99]

  16.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    the meetings, if any, he had in the past week with the leaders of the Northern political parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9004/99]

  17.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    the discussions he had at the Berlin summit with the British Prime Minister in relation to the role of the Chief Constable of Kent in the investigation into the murder of Mrs. Rosemary Nelson; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9006/99]

  18.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his discussions with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, in relation to the investigation into the murder of Mrs. Rosemary Nelson. [9170/99]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 to 18, inclusive, together.

In addition to the meetings referred to in the questions, I have had a series of other meetings and contacts over the past few days. All of them have been aimed at advancing the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in all aspects and, in particular, the activation of the institutions provided for in the Agreement. I held meetings, mostly jointly with Prime Minister Blair, with the Ulster Unionist Party, the SDLP, Sinn Féin, the Women's Coalition, the Alliance Party, the PUP and UDP. Jointly with the Prime Minister, I also met representatives of the Garvaghy Road Residents' Association and of the Lower Ormeau Concerned Citizens. I also met Mr. Paul Nelson, the tragically bereaved widower of the late Mrs. Rosemary Nelson. In an intensive process of interaction, there were numerous further meetings and contacts last evening and this morning. After completing my business in the House, I shall be returning to Belfast this afternoon.

As part of the wider efforts in the activation of the Agreement, there has been a strong focus on efforts to resolve the continuing difficulties in Drumcree and the situation generally in Porta[58] down, where a number of people have lost their lives in recent years – most recently Rosemary Nelson – and where the tensions, if unresolved before July, hold the potential to destabilise the Agreement. The meeting with Garvaghy Road residents was in this context. Prime Minister Blair met the Portadown District of the Orange Order and Mr. Frank Blair, the Scottish facilitator commissioned by the Prime Minister to promote dialogue and accommodation, met senior Orangemen from Portadown.

In the main discussions it again clearly emerged that there is a very strong desire on the part of all parties to ensure that the promise of the Good Friday Agreement for the future of all the people of this island is fully realised and that the major gains and achievements of the past five years are preserved and built upon. While very difficult issues remain to be resolved, there was a sense that parties, while naturally seeking to retain the support of their own constituencies, are seeking to make some political space available in which the other parties involved would be able to manoeuvre. There was serious engagement on crunch issues and some degree of progress was made, although this fell short of what is needed to bridge the significant remaining gap.

More serious work needs to be done and the Prime Minister and I will return to Belfast this evening after our respective parliamentary business has been concluded. We are determined that the current historic opportunity to bring peace to this island is not missed and, however long it takes, we will not flag in our efforts.

As previously indicated, I had the opportunity yesterday to meet Mr. Paul Nelson, husband of the late Rosemary Nelson, and to reaffirm to him the condemnation I expressed in the US, and subsequently in this House, of that shocking act of violence and my profound sympathy for Mr. Nelson and his three young children on their terrible loss. Mr. Nelson is bearing that loss with dignity but also with a determination that the killers of his wife be brought to justice and that the truth as to the circumstances of her murder is established through an investigation that is thorough, independent and transparent, and fully seen to be such. That, in the view of the Government, is absolutely essential. Our deep concern about this case has been emphasised in ongoing discussions with the British authorities on all aspects of it, including at my meeting with the Prime Minister on 23 March. The position is that the Chief Constable of the RUC has invited the Chief Constable of Kent, Mr. David Phillips, with the assistance of the FBI, to head the investigation into the murder. On 17 March, the British Prime Minister said in the House of Commons that the Phillips investigation would be independent and that its remit would be very wide. On 29 March 1999, it was announced that the Deputy Chief Constable of Norfolk, Mr. Colin Port, is to assume responsibility for the day-to-day control, direction and command of the investigation. Our concerns in [59] regard to the investigation will continue to be pressed rigorously at all levels and we will continue to maintain the closest contact with the British authorities on the matter.

Mrs. Owen:  I wish the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Blair every success in this, the end game of the problem in Northern Ireland, and I am sure every other Member of the House does likewise as we approach the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. We all want to see the situation resolved so the Executive can be set up.

Will the Taoiseach comment on the expectations he had yesterday about a statement the IRA was to publish? Now that we have seen the statement, will he comment on the fact it does not mention decommissioning? It may be that comfort is being taken from the fact that it does not state there will not be decommissioning. As was expected neither did the Unionists mention decommissioning and the IRA placing itself under the care of General John de Chastelain. Lest the Taoiseach says he does not comment on IRA statements, I remind him that he commented on the IRA statement earlier this week about the disclosure of the whereabouts of many people who were killed by the IRA; the Taoiseach welcomed that.

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy is right, I do not comment on such statements. I was very careful to say earlier this week that I would not comment. I did, however, comment on the letter written by my ministerial colleague regarding the matter.

The parties with which I am dealing, which may be influenced by the actions of other parties in the North and by what they say, would say it is probably useful that the decommissioning matter is not mentioned at all in any of these reports. The commitment to keep guns silent and the other commitments made by parties in the talks – be they PUP or Sinn Féin – are useful and commitment to the democratic system is useful.

In terms of trying to help resolve the difficulty which Mr. Blair and I face, I am afraid nothing has been said today or last night that has helped that position. We are still in a dilemma.

The Deputy will understand that I will not comment on the statement because I hate to comment on statements by people with whom I am not in negotiation. Sometimes, with my desire to resolve matters, I would like to negotiate with the people who can resolve these issues. It can be frustrating that it cannot be resolved by people who do not have it within their call but that is the way it is. I have to work through the democratic system, I must work on the people who have it within their call to do these things. That is the difficulty and it is shared by the PUP, the UDP and Sinn Féin. We have to continue to try to find a resolution of this matter.

For the information of the House, I mentioned the issues of the Garvaghy Road and Portadown. [60] Having talked to so many people from that area and to the security forces, I could bring a sense to this House that this really is an enormous problem which is wider than the Garvaghy Road or Portadown. It feeds into all of the communities in the North, even more widely than the Nationalist community. No one is happy with the situation in the area and it has an effect on all of this. I have heard harrowing reports about what was said to Rosemary Nelson. Other Members will be aware of what was said before she was killed, when she was killed and what was said the night of her wake. All of these make things difficult.

On the positive side, I can report to the House that all of the parties with which I am negotiating want the Agreement to work and want to move on to the next stage. I am conscious that others have an influence on such matters, but I can only report on those parties. They understand what is in the Agreement and what is not, they understand what is a precondition and what is not. The difficulty is that the gap between the Ulster Unionist position and the Sinn Féin position is still very wide. We continue to try to move on. I am not being critical of either team of negotiators, they are fully committed and determined to resolve the issue. Whether we can do that remains the question.

Mr. Quinn:  On behalf of the Labour Party, I wish the Taoiseach and all the participants to the process in Northern Ireland every success on this, the verge of the anniversary of the first Good Friday Agreement. I hope it will be consolidated with a second Good Friday agreement.

I will respond to a point made by the Taoiseach in his supplementary reply. Notwithstanding that the IRA statement issued today did not refer to decommissioning – and that could be construed in some quarters as a degree of progress – the Taoiseach said he regrets he is not negotiating directly with the people responsible for this statement. Is the Taoiseach not on record in this House as saying that he regards Sinn Féin and the IRA as two sides of the same coin? If his view has not changed, does he accept that he is negotiating with one side of that coin which is inextricably linked with the other side of the coin? Is he saying that the people who are linked to the IRA, the leadership of Sinn Féin, are not able to go any further in persuading the other side to make progress in finding a lasting settlement for peace in Northern Ireland? Does he understand the concerns of the broader Unionist population about this apparent contradiction, where Sinn Féin's leadership is attempting to distance itself from an organisation to which it is still inextricably linked as far as he concerned?

My party supports an independent international inquiry into the murder of Rosemary Nelson. In the light of the impasse on Garvaghy Road and the inextricable linking of that murdered person to the Garvaghy Road residents, such an inquiry, at the scale and level of indepen[61] dence with an international dimension, is the minimum that would meet the requirements of that section of the community in Northern Ireland for them to be satisfied with the results, bearing in mind the sad legacy of Stalker and others. Will the Taoiseach clearly express whether his Government supports a full and independent internationally supervised inquiry, and does he believe that what is being offered by the British Government meets that rigorous standard?

The Taoiseach:  To reply briefly on the second question, following a number of meetings yesterday, the views of the political parties and the ongoing view of the Irish Government – I mentioned last week in my meeting with Mr. Blair the unanimous view of this House on the Rosemary Nelson murder – the Prime Minister is trying to ensure that the tribunal will be transparent and independent and will be to the satisfaction of everybody involved. I know he was very impressed with the case put by Rosemary's husband yesterday and he is still examining it with a view to making it work. Until that is finished we are certainly satisfied.

Mr. Quinn:  Is the Taoiseach's view the same as that of Mr. Blair with regard to independence?

The Taoiseach:  While there has to be RUC involvement, the people involved to whom I spoke yesterday, including Rosemary's husband, agree that the way the investigation is run and who does the interviewing is important. The people involved in this who have evidence will not talk to the RUC so there is little use in the RUC trying to talk to them. That is the position. It has to be done in a different way. How the Deputy Chief Constable of Norfolk, Colin Port, can deal with that from a broader international level is still being discussed in London. These people will only talk to somebody from outside in whom they have complete confidence – an independent police force. They may be happy with these arrangements when they see Mr. Blair's response to yesterday's meetings and I will wait to see how they propose to do it but the position remains as it was yesterday. It will not work because the co-operation will not be forthcoming and, therefore, we will not have an independent tribunal. Mr. Blair put his point of view yesterday. He spent some time listening to the alternative view, as I did. I supported the alternative view and now we must wait to see what happens.

To answer Deputy Quinn's first question, the one positive aspect of recent times is the level of understanding developing between Sinn Féin and the UUP. That point should not be missed. I have been at meetings in recent days that would not have been possible a few months ago. It is a pity they did not take place a few months ago. The pressures and the sensitivities in terms of what was negotiated are far better understood now than ever before. That does not resolve them but [62] it certainly helps to reach an understanding. Ongoing pressures about pre-conditions and trying to make those pre-conditions work, whether it is Sinn Féin or the UUP, will not get the work done. The reverse will be the case. Repeating the same line all the time, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, will not work. The dilemma is that the parties who signed up and are committed to the Agreement know that the issue of decommissioning has to be dealt with. The circumstances of that are clearly not agreed. I am on record as saying that Sinn Féin and the IRA are the opposite sides of the one coin. That does not mean the people in the PUP, with their paramilitary links, can influence those outside the process. That is not the case all the time. I do not know the extent of that. One can only form a judgment when dealing directly with people across a table. In these circumstances I cannot form a judgment because—

Mr. Quinn:  The PUP does not support the so-called armed struggle.

The Taoiseach:  The PUP people were clearly involved with paramilitary groups.

Mr. Quinn:  Is the Taoiseach's view the same as it was before, that Sinn Fein and the IRA are two sides of the same coin?

The Taoiseach:  I have not changed my view but it does not follow that those people who negotiate on behalf of Sinn Féin can influence the political negotiating position of others. That is the reality.

Mr. Quinn:  That is some coin.

The Taoiseach:  In terms of fully answering Deputy Quinn's question, I can tell him in a few days.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I would remind the House that the time for Taoiseach's questions has expired. I will allow brief supplementaries from Deputies Sargent, Ó Caoláin and Flanagan.

Mr. Sargent:  On behalf of the Green Party I wish the Taoiseach, the British Prime Minister and all the parties in the North well in bringing these negotiations to a successful conclusion. The Green Party supports the internationally independent supervised inquiry into Rosemary Nelson's murder. In light of the difficulties surrounding this sensitive political situation, particularly on the Garvaghy Road, and the need to achieve justice, will interviews be recorded on video in this investigation? If that is not to be the case, will the Taoiseach make it known that interviews ought to be recorded on video? Further to the matter raised this morning, will there be an investigation into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in the light of further information that seems to be available to the people investigating this matter on behalf of the families involved? Will the Taoiseach make a statement on that?

[63]The Taoiseach:  I have not seen it yet but I believe information has been passed to me which will be examined. This inquiry must be thorough, independent and transparent. That is what people want. If that requires the videotaping of interviews I have no difficulty with that. It is important that the people who have information that could lead to the conviction of those who murdered Rosemary Nelson come forward. If the process fails, and Rosemary's husband said this to me yesterday, at least proper efforts will have been made. The quicker that is done, the better. It is important that this matter does not drag on for ten years like the Finucane case or other cases. Yesterday I also met some of the lawyers and others involved in this. I hope the Prime Minister Mr. Blair realised the importance of that from yesterday's meeting. I believe he did. There can be no doubt that the Garvaghy Road residents and others have suffered enormously. The 4 July march down Garvaghy Road was stopped last year but there have been 180 marches since then. There are 60 more listed, including a build up during April and May, and 32 marches listed for the 30 days of June. It is not unreasonable for these people to expect serious action to be taken to resolve what is an impossible situation for the community in that area.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  In his response to the questions tabled the Taoiseach used the words “thorough, independent and transparent” in terms of the type of inquiry he would like to see established in the Rosemary Nelson case. Given the position articulated by her widower, Paul Nelson, and the widespread support for an independent international inquiry, including that of Archbishop Brady, does the Taoiseach recognise when he speaks of an inquiry with the involvement of the RUC that this does not balance with the view of independence? It is not an issue of the RUC being involved in such an investigation, but its being subservient and subject to an international independent inquiry. This is critically important as there is more than a simple fine tuning required in the responses we are hearing in the House to questions on this issue.

I tabled a question at the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body plenary meeting on Monday concerning the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. In terms of considering an independent judicial inquiry into these atrocities which took place on 17 May 1974, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, indicated that the file on this matter would be left open for consideration in the event of new evidence coming to light. Substantial new evidence has come to light within the past 24 hours. This evidence was presented to the Taoiseach yesterday and to the public at a press conference.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy appears to be giving more information than he is seeking.

[64]Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Will the Taoiseach indicate positively that he and his Cabinet will follow through on the commitment given by the Minister on Monday to initiate such an inquiry which is already 25 years too late?

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy is aware that any inquiry must be based on substantial information. I will look at the documentation. As with all Members of the House, I have always taken a keen interest in those terrible bombings, particularly as some of them exploded in my constituency. However, successive Governments have not initiated such an inquiry as there has been no substantial evidence. The Minister stated that there would be an inquiry if the situation changed. I have not seen the information but I will study it.

Last week I said to the Deputy that it is the view of lawyers, Paul Nelson and the community concerned that what is necessary is that the tribunal is independent, thorough and transparent. That is what we must seek to achieve. I have stated that the Deputy Chief Constable of Norfolk, Colin Port, is to assume responsibility for the day-to-day control, direction and command of the investigation. It was put to the British Prime Minister yesterday that the form of the investigation must be such that people have confidence in those to whom they give evidence. I support that request and we have to make sure that happens, otherwise people will not give evidence.

The reality is that the RUC has the information and so it will have to play a part. However, it is clear that it will not supervise or control the investigation. The investigation will not be complete if that happens.

Paul Nelson and others put other points which are being looked at by the Prime Minister. We should await his reply to ensure that the investigation is as independent as possible so that it receives the support of the people. I support that position.

Mr. Flanagan:  I join with other speakers in wishing the Taoiseach well in his current deliberations. We are heading for the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. Does the Taoiseach accept that there will be no progress on actual decommissioning between now and the triggering of the d'Hondt system by the Secretary of State?

The stalling of the Agreement weakens the parties involved and plays into the hands of anti-Agreement elements. Does the Taoiseach agree that it was hypocritical in the extreme of the IRA, in its statement, to talk about wishing to see a lasting peace on the one hand while not giving a scintilla of evidence as to how it might contribute to such a lasting peace? In wishing the Taoiseach well for tonight and tomorrow, will he provide the House with details of his plans for the rest of the week?

Mr. Currie:  In his discussions with the republican leadership, did the Taoiseach get an opportunity of discussing the statement on the return [65] of the bodies of the disappeared? If so, did he express the widespread scepticism of relatives and others as to the intentions of the IRA in this regard? In any further such discussions, will the Taoiseach insist that there are at least nine other bodies which ought to be returned about which the IRA can provide necessary information? The IRA knows where the nine bodies are located. Will the Taoiseach assure the House that the necessary information which will enable the relatives to exhume and give these bodies a Christian burial will not be held up by legislation which has to go through this House? If there is a chance that this would be held up will he give an assurance that the House will be recalled over the Easter recess to pass that legislation?

Mr. Quinn:  I wish to return to the original question concerning the attitude of the IRA and its political wing, Sinn Féin, to commencing a process which would build confidence in the entire Agreement, namely, making some statement or progress in regard to decommissioning. This is the net point with which the Taoiseach is trying to grapple. Is the Taoiseach aware of comments on this matter made by two journalists during the past 48 hours? On “Questions & Answers” on Monday night one journalist referred to the fact that some form of decommissioning was tantamount to the emasculation of Sinn Féin. In an article in The Irish Times another journalist stated that the object of this exercise was the neutralising of the IRA, if I have the quote correct. Will the Taoiseach again state that the process of decommissioning is not a process of surrender or humiliation but, on the contrary, a declaration of self-confidence in the democratic spirit which should pervade the entire island?

The Taoiseach:  I have answered questions about the independent tribunal. We will do our utmost to make sure that happens. I will convey Deputy Currie's comments on missing persons. There has been progress. I am not sure about another nine names. Five of the names with which I have been dealing are included on the list.

Mr. Currie:  There are two from Andersonstown, two from south Armagh and Captain Nairac – we know what happened him.

The Taoiseach:  That has been included in what has been stated. I agree with Deputy Flanagan and have continued to make the point, perhaps to the extent of boring many people, that anyone who stalls the Agreement is playing into the hands of those who protested outside Hillsborough Castle last night and who do not want the Agreement to work. Worse still, it plays into the hands of those involved in violence such as the Omagh bombing and the murder of Rosemary Nelson. These people win whenever there is uncertainty or when vacuums are created. Pro-Agreement parties and even those elected to the [66] Assembly who are not openly pro-Agreement do not want to see that happen. They want to see movement. We have carefully and painstakingly, over a long period of time, gone through all the issues we thought would create confidence in the agreement in all its aspects. When we set up institutions, whether they were the North-South bodies, the British-Irish Council or whatever, we sought clarification on every point we could. I accept that everything did not work out to everybody's satisfaction but the two Governments endeavoured to do that.

It is down to a crucial point at this stage. I think I have got everybody to say – although some people might disagree – that decommissioning was not a precondition in the Good Friday Agreement. Equally, however, everybody says it is an obligation under the Good Friday Agreement and one of the things that annoys me when the Agreement runs into difficulties is that a number of people – nobody in this House – express the view that that is not the case. They are the same people who say that George Mitchell is right.

George Mitchell, correctly, gets world credit for brokering this Agreement. He worked extremely hard on it. It is his interpretation – forget the Taoiseach's or anybody else's interpretation – that decommissioning is an obligation of the Agreement. I am afraid that is game, set and match. If people want to give him that credit they cannot argue with his key point. That is his conclusion and I support it. Therefore, we must find a way of dealing with it. There are a number of ways of dealing with it. I was asked if it would be dealt with up front but, as a journalist said on the radio this morning, it is unlikely that the arms will be delivered to the local RUC station. That was never a possibility; nobody ever spoke about it and I never heard a Unionist member suggest it. We were talking about some way that, with a clear definition, I could at least negotiate on the terms of some date, some time within the terms of the Agreement when we would have decommissioning. That is what we have been talking about. However, there must be some certainty.

It would be impossible for me, no matter how many hours I stayed in Hillsborough or Stormont, to broker an agreement that does not give certainty on the issue. That is the difficulty. One can argue about dates, times, preconditions, post-conditions and so forth but, at the end of the day, decommissioning was part of the Agreement. Senator George Mitchell, who negotiated it, said that is the case and I never heard anybody contradict him until the past few days. Of course, they do not contradict him: they say that this is their understanding. That is what we are trying to negotiate.

I can only negotiate in the same way as Deputies Quinn, Owen and others who have conducted negotiations. One cannot take a central part of an Agreement and say it means something else. One must try to negotiate around what is the central meaning of something. One can per[67] haps make timings and other matters different but one cannot change the principle. In this case, I cannot change the principle either.

Mrs. Owen:  The IRA statement does not help.

  21.  Mr. Yates    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the financial arrangements for providing the finances necessary for the implementation of the rail safety investment programme; the plans, if any, she has to introduce a new ceiling on the borrowing level for CIE; and, if so, the level at which it will be. [8641/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  On 24 February last, I announced that the Government had approved the implementation of the £430 million railway safety programme for the five year period 1999 to 2003, prepared by Iarnród Éireann. As part of that decision there is now a Government commitment to the retention of all the existing railway network.

When taking that decision the Government also approved an annual Exchequer contribution for five years for the funding of the programme. The Government will decide the precise amount of that contribution as soon as an independent review of the scope for revenue generation from the sale and redevelopment of CIE property, which is surplus to its transport requirements, has been completed and a property disposal programme has been agreed.

Pending these decisions the Government agreed to allow CIE to increase its borrowings to fund the safety programme. I will introduce legislation to increase CIE's borrowing limit by £100 million from its present level of £250 million, if that is required.

Mr. Yates:  Is the Minister aware that last Wednesday morning, 24 March, there was a serious derailment on the Limerick Junction-Waterford line at Barnlough, near Bansha, County Tipperary? Five cement wagons went off the track in a speed restricted area of 25 miles per hour. Has she any details of this accident? Is she aware that £24 million was due to be spent on this line? When is it anticipated that this urgent work will be carried out? If there has been an accident in a speed restricted area of 25 miles per hour, what is there to prevent further derailments? Within hours of this serious derailment two passenger trains were due to travel this route.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  If there is an accident of any nature, even if it only involves a shunting, the railway inspectors' arrangements are such that I receive notification when it occurs. That has been the practice for a number of years. I am aware of [68] the accident to which the Deputy referred and I discussed it in the Department. It is the duty of Iarnród Éireann to inform the Minister of such incidents.

I circulated the railway safety programme in its completed form to Members. They should have received it yesterday. There was an earlier programme which was essentially the same except it was not tarted up in its glossy cover. The programme lays out, year by year, what work is to be carried out and the approximate costings of each project. We intend to follow that programme.

Mr. Yates:  How can such an accident happen in a speed restricted zone? Will the results of the investigation be published? If CIE is to borrow the full amount of £430 million, its total borrowings will increase from £170 million to £600 million. At a 5 per cent interest rate, that will cost £30 million per year. Will the Minister indicate what level of Exchequer grant will be put in place so there will not be a milestone of debt on CIE into the future?

Mrs. O'Rourke:  I do not anticipate borrowings of £430 million. In 1985, section 4 of the Transport Act increased the borrowing limit to £250 million. The limit had also been increased in 1983. On 19 March this year its borrowings stood at £161 million. The company, therefore, has scope to borrow what is required in the safety programme for this year. However, if CIE goes above the limit to do what is set out in the programme, the mechanism is there to enable it to do so through an amendment to the legislation.

In 1981, 1983 and 1985 the borrowing limit was increased. Borrowings are now at £161 million and the company has the facility to borrow £250. CIE has already undertaken work on some of the safety programme for this year and it should be able to stay within the £250 million limit. However, if that is not the case, there is a mechanism to deal with that, as happened under previous Governments.

Mr. Yates:  My final question is a repeat of my original question. This accident at Barnlough, near Bansha, occurred where there is a speed restriction of 25 miles per hour. How could this happen? Given that trains travel at a slower speed and still derail, what assurances can be given to passengers on that route? This is a matter of critical concern to public safety. In this context, there is no difference between a freight train and a passenger train. I assume there will be an inquiry into this. Will the results of such an inquiry be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas or made available to relevant spokespersons? If I were a passenger on that route, I would be very concerned.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  If and when CIE has fulfilled its legal obligation to investigate this matter, I will inquire if it can make its findings available to the [69] spokespersons. To ascertain how this could happen, I requested an international safety report. It was not only I, but Deputy Stagg and others who became—

Mr. Stagg:  Exercised.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  —overwrought, in a correct sense, about safety needs. We have now got that report and this work has been costed at £430 million for five years. The Government said it will keep every existing line in place. This work will be done on a year by year basis. We have appointed monitors to carry out a spot monitor throughout each 12 months and at the end of the year to give an assessment of whether the work is been done as laid out for that year. I expect it will, because CIE is also keen on this.

As I said on “Questions & Answers”, I cannot give anybody an absolute guarantee that there will not be an accident. How could I? Can the Deputy opposite guarantee that those who travel on the roads every day will be safe? He cannot, and neither can I. I will not give such a guarantee. I am glad I have initiated a railway safety programme for which there is Government support.

Under legislation there is a legal stay on CIE publishing such results, but I will inquire whether it can make them available to the spokespersons and, if it can, I will give them to the Deputies.

  22.  Mr. O'Shea    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if she will defer the flotation of Telecom Éireann in view of the recent resignations of the chairman and vice-chairman of the board. [9295/99]

Mrs. O'Rourke:  I am satisfied the preparations for the forthcoming flotation are well in hand and I am confident the process is copperfastened.

The initial public offering, IPO, will be publicly launched in late April and I anticipate the company will be successfully listed as planned.

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Questions Nos. 14 and 65 of 18 February 1999, which outlines the position regarding the planning and preparation process for the initial public offering. That was taken a stage further yesterday evening by the completion of Report Stage of the relevant Bill. I said I would come back to the Dáil to give a full account of our position in this regard.

Mr. O'Shea:  I am sure the Minister will agree my amendment which, subject to redrafting, she agreed to accept last night, will bring an important element of public accountability to the process, as she will have to come back to the Dáil to outline the general principles of the sale. Does she believe damage has been done to investor confidence by the recent resignations of the chairman and vice-chairman of the board? Is she satisfied the board is not in disarray? Is April not a little to soon in terms of gauging how the investors will react to these recent traumatic events?

[70]Mrs. O'Rourke:  The Deputy referred to those events as traumatic. I would not refer to them as such. They were traumatic in the sense that we had to make many quick decisions in a short time. That was traumatic for the person dealing with the matter. I am assured by the advisers that will not cause damage to investor confidence and that we can look forward to a successful flotation. We had a substantial discussion on this matter yesterday. I was not prepared to stand over any conflict of interest, however small it might be, and neither was the ex-chairman. Even though he had hoped it could be managed, although not in a maligned way, the advisers and I believed that could not be done. It was proper that this was explained fully to the chairman and he accepted that. I recall with great warmth his work for the country and thank him for it, and the same applies to the work of the vice-chairman. I did not speak to him, he wrote to me. He did not give any reason for his resignation. He merely stated he was resigning. In that regard, I can pick up only what I read in the newspapers.

Mr. O'Shea:  The Minister informed us a number of times during the debate on Committee and Report Stages that she had not reached a final decision on the percentage of shares that would be sold in this tranche. Have her ideas become firm in the interim? Will she recommend to Government proceeding by way of issuing one or two tranches of shares?

Mrs. O'Rourke:  I have not made up my mind. This will be a Cabinet decision, but I will make recommendations. I do not have a firm view on this. I got advice which recommended proceeding by way of two tranches and that the shares would increase in value afterwards, but I do not know if that will happen. I am of the opinion that proceeding by way of issuing two tranches of shares would provide two chances for the advisers to be part of the process. I have not made a final decision or gone to Cabinet on this matter. It was a good day for the Oireachtas when the amendment was accepted. I will report back to the Dáil on the further steps we will take and on other amendments to that Bill.

Mr. O'Shea:  If two tranches of shares are issued, would that mean the highly paid advisers would have another bite of the cherry?

Mrs. O'Rourke:  That is exactly what I am beginning to wonder. All those matters will be probed. Having checked the earlier two flotations, which were public offerings although they were small by nature, it appears that after the first tranche of shares were issued, their price increased dramatically, which would leave one in a better position. I have not made a firm decision on this matter or on the appropriate fees, if there were a separate tranche. All these issues are firmly fixed in my mind for further reflection.

[71]

  23.  Ms O. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if she will have arrangements made to commission consultants from the private sector to complete the design of the entire extended Luas network in order that all routes can be designed concurrently rather than sequentially and thus facilitate the early construction of the entire network. [6839/99]

Mrs. O'Rourke:  The indicative timetable for the expanded Luas project, announced last May, provided for the concurrent rather than sequential development of the individual elements of the light rail network. However, the timetable also had to take account of the relative stage of development of each individual element.

For example, the Tallaght to Abbey Street line was already at the stage where the preferred technical route alignment and preliminary design had been substantially completed and it was, therefore, possible to bring it quickly to the statutory approval stage. By contrast, no work had been carried out on the Abbey Street to Connolly Station section. Therefore, while the statutory procedures for the Tallaght line were under way, work was being carried out concurrently on the selection of routing options for the Connolly Station section. These were subsequently put out to public consultation in February. Similarly, while the statutory process for Tallaght was under way, the application for the light railway order for the St. Stephen's Green to Sandyford section was finalised and submitted, route alignments for the Broadstone to Dublin Airport section were developed and put forward for public consultation last December and the process of selecting geotechnical consultants for the underground section got under way.

It is intended to continue this concurrent approach to the development of the individual elements of the project, with the objective of completing the implementation of the expanded network at the earliest possible time. CIE already has a substantial team working on the project, comprising its own staff and a very significant private consultancy input, and no constraints have been placed on CIE as regards the resources required.

We sought a public-private partnership approach. Arthur Andersen is advising on it. It has completed its work and I expect to get its report soon.

Ms O. Mitchell:  Would the Minister accept that the time is long since past for commissioning studies into studies in public-private partnership? Would she accept what everybody else knows without the benefit of any studies, that CIE simply does not have the capacity at any level, not entirely due to its own fault, to deliver on the scale required or within the time frame set down, and that the only alternative now is to bring in the private sector to help to deal with a crisis that every report tells us will get worse?

[72] Would the Minister accept that the fact that it has taken the Luas team six long years to design two lines and a small part of the third line and we still have not put a shovel into the ground is proof, if proof is needed, that at this rate of progress it will take at least ten years before we have three lines built, unconnected to one another? How long then can we expect to wait for the extended network?

I do not accept the Minister's statement that the lines are being designed concurrently. There is no doubt that they are being designed sequentially. If, as is becoming more and more obvious with every passing day, we need to bring in the private sector—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy is making a Second Stage speech. She should ask a question.

Ms O. Mitchell:  I have asked several already and I will get to another now. I do not doubt CIE's capacity to design the work, but I doubt its capacity to do it concurrently. To shorten the lead-in time for these projects, I am asking—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I must ask for brevity and that the Deputy ask a question. It is unfair to Deputies who submit questions when Deputies make major statements instead of asking a question.

Ms O. Mitchell:  It is unfair that the direct questions are not answered.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The purpose of Question Time is to elicit information from the Minister, not for the person who submits the question to make a statement.

Ms O. Mitchell:  Let me elicit information.

Mr. Yates:  There has to be some party-political to-ing and fro-ing as well at Question Time.

Ms O. Mitchell:  I am asking the Minister, at least in the first instance pending her consultants' report, to bring in a pilot project in public-private partnership to help with this design work.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I will not allow the Deputy to continue in this vein. It is unfair to Members.

Ms O. Mitchell:  That is the question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy is making a statement, put in the form of a question.

Ms O. Mitchell:  I am asking the Minister to bring in private consultants—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is not a question.

[73]Ms O. Mitchell:  —and look later at similar arrangements for funding the construction and the operation of the extended network. What I am looking for is a pilot project now in public-private partnership for the design stage so that we can at least shorten the lead-in stage for the project.

Mr. Stagg:  Are we in the six-minute mode?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That has been discontinued. We have 20 minutes for five questions. So far I have not seen five questions answered in 20 minutes. We are now on Question No. 3. The 20 minutes is up. In fairness to everybody who submits questions, the Chair tries to ensure that we get through as many as possible. Following this question, the next two will be taken in ordinary time.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  I do not know why that procedure was dropped.

Mr. Currie:  Because you kept over-running.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  I expect to have a report in the next few weeks on whether Luas is suitable for such an approach, that is, a public-private partnership. I hope it is. I am very keen on puplic-private partnership because it ensures expertise and money faster than would otherwise be the case.

Mr. Yates:  Is the Minister referring to the Anderson report?

Mrs. O'Rourke:  Yes. The indicative timetable was given to me earlier by the inspector. I replied to it earlier, gave the decision earlier, and CIE stamped it earlier. We are slightly ahead of schedule. If there is no judicial review, over which I would have no control, that will go ahead from May. The inspector begins his work on the next line on 6 April. I do not know whether the Luas team spent six years designing it but they have done a fair job and it is very complicated.

The Deputy is right on the question of integration. I have been thinking about that. It is one thing to design and build the Luas in all its manifestations. It is another to deliver an integrated system which will integrate light rail with heavy rail, bus and so on. That is something to which I am giving thought, particularly facing into the European money scenario, our own capital development programme and the Cohesion Fund. We now know the amount of money we are getting for transport. I agree with Deputy Mitchell's point on that matter. As soon as we get the report from Arthur Anderson's I hope to publish it.

Ms O. Mitchell:  On the matter of integrating the service, which is critical to the success of the Luas project, is the Minister aware that nothing has been done about a preliminary study into the underground system, that not a single trial bore has been made in Dublin city centre although it [74] was regarded as absolutely critical and a matter of urgency a year ago, and that the sense of urgency to deliver is not there if the entire rail measures, which we were promised would come on stream in the next three years, will deliver only about 12,000 peak hour journeys when the additional requirement each year in terms of going to work is 20,000? At the present rate of progress we will not even manage to stand still.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I am reluctant to intervene, but again I would ask the Deputy to ask a question.

Ms O. Mitchell:  That is my question.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  Integration is critical. We now have strategic planning guidelines and the Government is committed to looking at many areas in public transport. I have received no advices and I have brought nothing to Cabinet, but if we are to spend an amount of money on public transport, we cannot do it in a piecemeal fashion. The first lodestar by which we should be guided is one of integration and co-ordination.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The time for Priority Questions has concluded. Questions Nos. 24 and 25 will be taken in ordinary time.

  24.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if she has received a final report in relation to CIE's property portfolio; the revenue anticipated from the sell-off of property; and its bearing on the railway safety programme for the five year period 1999 to 2003. [9296/99]

Mrs. O'Rourke:  Because of the substantial requirements for public transport investment, I asked the CIE board in October 1998 to prepare a report on the potential for revenue generation from the disposal of property which was surplus to public transport requirements. I received a report from the board at the end of November which stated that £40 million could be generated from the disposal of surplus property over the period to 2006. The board also identified a further £127 million in leveraged borrowings which could be obtained against income streams from the redevelopment of property.

The CIE board's proposals were reviewed by the Government during its consideration of Iarnród Éireann's five year railway safety programme. The Government approved the implementation of the £430 million programme and decided there should be an annual Exchequer contribution to it. The Government also decided that there should be an independent review of the scope for revenue generation from CIE's property portfolio. When this review has been completed, the Government will decide on the precise [75] amount of Exchequer funding for the programme over the five year period.

Mr. Stagg:  I am worried that the case will be reviewed to death. Having said that, I compliment the Minister on taking the initiative to get the safety report completed and put on the agenda. We now have a requirement to find £430 million quickly. From what the Minister is saying, £40 million will be available from the sale of property by CIE by 2006. My impression was that the reason for selling properties, and the Minister might confirm this, was to get money in quickly to put into the safety programme. The year 2006 is a long time away. I am not sure when the income stream can be created that will yield £127 million in loans over a period of time. Would the Minister agree with me that we are looking at an investment strike by the Government which is refusing to invest in the safety programme identified by the Minister? Would she agree that there is no let or hindrance on the State in making that investment? Given that we received £500 million in taxes in the first two months of this year above what was planned, would she agree that the Government has ample money to invest in this programme? Would she consider going along those lines rather than simply selling off patches of land here and there for the next seven years?

Mrs. O'Rourke:  I note with interest that previous Ministers for Finance had the same idea.

Mr. Stagg:  I said it was the Department rather than a Minister.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  Perhaps it was the Department, if the Deputy wishes to change the emphasis. Different political persuasions had the same idea, so it is not just that I or the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, have had a bright idea. It has been on the books for some time. I thank the Deputy for his compliment about rail safety. Previous Governments did not engage in a root and branch examination of it, as we did, and come up with the sum of money required.

The report from the chairman last November said “up to 2006”; he did not say it would all appear in 2006. At that time, he also mentioned £127 million in leveraged borrowings. However, the Government has decided to have an independent review of CIE property which is surplus to operational transport requirements. We will then proceed on the basis of that review.

CIE is a public transport company which brings people and goods from A to B, safely and efficiently. By its very nature the company is not a public property developer. The original legislation established CIE as a public transport company. It has some good ideas about property involvement, working within the private sector, and where such ideas are in train I have no plan to disturb them. They will be part of the leverage [76] borrowings the company will be able to make against the redevelopment of property. By and large, CIE's main activity is bringing people and goods from A to B, and I want to encourage that. I am glad we are doing it.

It appears from what I can discern that while Ministers for Finance have had the same idea, Ministers for Transport of different hues and political persuasions did not appear very enthusiastic about the matter over the years.

Current safety requirements are so huge – as well as the huge development requirements that we will have – that I want to seek every way to get money for the programme. The Government has decided that there will be a yearly Exchequer input into that programme.

Mr. Stagg:  The Minister seems to be saying that CIE is being told to stick to its knitting. I remember Bord na Móna and other companies being told the same thing and when I was in Government I did not like the idea. Would the Minister agree that what we need is a period of intensive investment? Given that the Minister is about to sell off everything in the State sector that is worth a penny, she will have a lot of money arising from that. Would she agree that the Government, which is leading the charge on the matter, should set out how the money will be spent that will be realised from the sale of Telecom Éireann, Aer Rianta, Aer Lingus and the ESB? The Minister intends to sell the whole lot, but at the moment we will just take the example of Telecom Éireann. Does she agree that the proceeds of the sale of Telecom Éireann should be invested in other infrastructure that is required, including the railway infrastructure? Has she looked at that system of doing it, rather than mentioning a figure of £40 million and whatever else can be obtained from the Exchequer? Unless there is a Government decision to use the proceeds of the sales for this, we will not be able to implement this programme. Perhaps the Minister would comment on that.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  There is a clear, formal, written Government decision to agree to a £430 million five-year programme as per the book of Estimates which I brought to Cabinet. That Government decision has been made and no matter how one talks about it, it exists. The Deputy wants me to say what we will do with the proceeds of Telecom Éireann. In case we are running around frightening the whole nation, I have no intention of proceeding with disposal in a barnstorming way.

Mr. Stagg:  A grand car boot sale.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  That was the Deputy's team effort. He will have to change the vocabulary. He did not get anything out of that, by the way.

Mr. Yates:  The Minister could not give that away. She had to pay to give it away.

[77]Mrs. O'Rourke:  I do not intend to proceed in a hasty fashion with all the ideas the Deputy has put forward. He said I was going to sell off everything in the State sector, but in order to get that done I would have to be in office for the next ten years.

The proceeds of Telecom Éireann do not come to my Department – they come to the Department of Finance, as I said earlier today in the Seanad. Second, there is a huge overhang and I do not know in what way the Government will deal with this. Information was provided at an Oireachtas committee that the overhang would total up to £700 million or £800 million due on pensions. I do not know if the Government will decide to use some of the proceeds towards that. I do not know what the Government will decide to use it towards. It will not be my call.

Mr. Stagg:  The Minister will have a say.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  Yes. I would like to see some of it going into public transport infrastructure.

Mr. Yates:  When the Minister put up this kite that one of the solutions was to sell CIE property to raise money for rail safety, CIE came back to her with a report that the amount raised would be only £40 million. I put it to the Minister that she did not like the report she received from CIE and has now commissioned an independent review of CIE property. Does this mean she does not agree with the CIE report on its property portfolio? If so, what elements of the report does the Minister dispute?

As regards Luas, rail safety and the bigger and better plans she launched for rail lines to Navan and commuter lines in Cork—

Mrs. O'Rourke:  The Deputy will have to come back tomorrow to hear about that.

Mr. Yates:  —the Minister has stacked up £3 billion of transport investment plans for which she has not received one shilling from the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy.

Mr. Stagg:  There is no money.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  The Deputy never did anything about it himself for two and a half years.

Mr. Yates:  All plans and no money. No one should take it too seriously.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  The Deputy must have missed all the recent announcements about the Cohesion Funds.

Mr. Yates:  I miss very little. I call it confusion PR.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I ask Deputy Yates to allow the Minister to continue without interruption.

[78]Mr. Yates:  I call it confusion PR – lines to Navan and everywhere else.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We must move on. There is still a Priority Question remaining.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  Deputy John Bruton is very interested. He is writing to me every day.

Mr. Yates:  He actually believed it. I had to explain it to him.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Yates, in deference to your colleague, Deputy Currie, who has remained in the House all afternoon for a question which he has tabled, I would like to reach it before 4.15 p.m.

Mr. Currie:  I can wait.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  I am going to answer the Deputy's question so the Deputy need not be so magnanimous. The Cohesion funding has already been announced. The Department is drawing up its plans with the ESRI for submission to the Department of Finance which will draw up its plans in consultation with Europe. We are very much involved in that exercise. I will certainly be in at the beginning of a very substantial investment in public transport. When I started off I did not think I would see it but I will be involved in it. We will also see that we get good value for money and that it is done in a properly planned and prudent way. If Deputies come in tomorrow I will tell them about Navan in great detail.

Mr. Stagg:  Regarding CIE lands, I am very conscious that CIE sold land for housing in my local commuter town, Maynooth. Is the Minister aware that the effect of this is that there is now no room for car parks for commuters and that Maynooth is now blocked by commuters' cars every day of the week? Will she ensure that when lands are sold, these critical lands are not sold off? They are required for public transport and they will be necessary in the future.

Ms O. Mitchell:  The Minister has partly answered my question, but does she feel it is appropriate or desirable that CIE becomes involved in property development and management other than that ancillary to its own work, such as car parking? A huge public transport task faces that body, and its management of hotels was regarded in the past as a distraction from its main transport task.

Mr. Sargent:  Does the Minister agree that there is a fundamental inconsistency in Government policy when capital revenue from the sale of land is to be used essentially for remedial work in improving rail safety? Does she consider it normal to sell off roadways to pay for pothole repairs in the road sector? Is that not an inconsistency, given that there is money in the Exchequer, as other speakers have said? Deputy Stagg men[79] tioned the sale of CIE property. Will the Minister ensure that the evaluation of CIE property will be subject to public evaluation as much as company evaluation in light of the fact that there is an increasing need for facilities such as car parks? As with local authority development plans, the public should be able to offer opinions on the possible use and savings to the State that disposal of such property might entail.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  We will be here in 2006 if we go about things in this way. Deputy Stagg cited the land in Maynooth which was sold and which could now be used for car parks and park and ride facilities. I have made it clear to the chairman and other members of the board that anything that is operational now or likely to be operational in the future is not to be sold.

I agree with Deputy Mitchell – that was the point I made. CIE is a public transport company which brings people and goods from A to B and the entire management focus should be on that. It has entered into property portfolios and some have been successful, which is fine. However, I do not think it should have property portfolio development companies; that is not what CIE is about.

Deputy Sargent asked if roadways would be sold to fill potholes. We are not selling railway lines to fill potholes, we are keeping railway lines and we are selling surplus property to help with the safety programme.

  25.  Mr. Currie    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if she will report on her recent meeting with the Northern Secretary, The Rt. Hon. Mo Mowlam MP, on energy matters; the extent to which greater co-operation on energy was discussed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8667/99]

Mrs. O'Rourke:  I had a meeting with Dr. Mowlam on 3 February 1999 in the context of furthering cross-Border co-operation and meeting the infrastructural requirements of the growing demand for gas on both sides of the Border by the provision of a North-South interconnector. The Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, and Mr. Paul Murphy, M.P., the British Minister of State, were also present.

The meeting focused on how best to cater for the growing demand for natural gas for consumers both North and South and how to provide enhanced security of gas supply for the whole island. We agreed that the issue of constructing a North-South gas interconnector would be studied in greater detail by officials and experts from both sides and to have a further meeting on the matter in Belfast.

Prior to the meeting Dr. Mowlam had made contact with the Taoiseach and me about a proposal by KeySpan, a US energy company, and [80] British Gas to meet the growing demand for natural gas on both sides of the Border. The proposal comprises the provision of a North-South gas interconnector, backed up by increased compression on the existing Scotland-Northern Ireland interconnector and, if long-term gas demands so required, the building of a second Scotland-Northern Ireland interconnector at a later stage. At the request of Dr. Mowlam I agreed to extend an economic evaluation of the provision of a second Scotland-Dublin interconnector – the optimal solution to the growing demand for gas – to include the Keyspan-British Gas proposal.

Mr. Currie:  Does the Minister agree that one of the disappointing aspects of the Good Friday Agreement was that there was not a greater emphasis on co-operation in the gas sector? This could be made up by taking this under the umbrella of EU North-South development.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  Yes.

Mr. Currie:  I am glad that this meeting with Dr. Mowlam took place and that such meetings continue. Does the Minister agree that it is in our common interests North and South to have as much co-operation as we possibly can? The areas of Ireland that would benefit most from this development would be the north-west – Donegal, Derry and Tyrone – and along the eastern seaboard, from Dublin through Dundalk and Newry and across to Armagh and Craigavon. That should be borne in mind. Does the Minister agree that there is a strong case for a single regulatory agency for the whole island?

Mrs. O'Rourke:  I was disappointed that the Agreement did not contain more rigorous proposals for North-South co-operation in the energy sector, but it contained a lot of hugely important material. I hope everything works out well over the coming days. There is scope in the EU programme for us to create our own priority under that heading. The north-west and the east coast would certainly benefit from such co-operation. The Minister of State would deal with the issue of a single regulatory body, but it is something to look at, as it is natural and logical to do so if energy supply is dealt with on a North-South basis. Regulation of that supply would in time be dealt with by a single body. It is an interesting idea.

Mr. Currie:  I am always glad to come up with interesting ideas for the Minister to accept.

Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise (Mr. Jacob):  She gave the Deputy a bualadh bos.

Mr. Currie:  The Minister spoke of the North-South interconnector. Was there any discussion of a new power station in Huntstown in my constituency, which was to be jointly built by the [81] Northern Ireland electricity service and Cement Roadstone? Was the building of a land link between Dundalk and Ballylumford in Northern Ireland to connect with the Scotland-Northern Ireland pipeline discussed? That would be of benefit to the entire island.

Mr. Stagg:  I want to sound a note of warning. Does the Minister agree that there is now a need for a second gas interconnector between Scotland and Dublin? Does she agree it is desirable that there be an interconnector between Belfast and Dublin? Does she also agree that giving the contract to build an interconnector between Scotland and Belfast to KeySpan will not give us security of supply and will not be in the economic interest of Bord Gáis or the Irish consumer? That should be strongly resisted. I gathered that from the Minister's initial reply, and I ask her to confirm that strongly.

Mr. Sargent:  In the Minister's discussions with Dr. Mowlam, did the manner in which electricity is provided in the North arise? A customer there can indicate whether his or her electricity is to come from renewable sources. In the light of future interdependence between North and South, can that facility be made available to both North and South so that we can achieve standards at the highest rather than the lowest common denominator when harmonising?

Mr. S. Ryan:  In the context of the need for a second interconnector, has the Minister any proposals in the meantime, to extend the existing facility at Loughshinny?

Mr. Currie:  In the Deputy's constituency.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  We did not discuss electricity or energy in general. We only discussed gas.

Mr. Stagg:  Was KeySpan at the top of the list?

Mrs. O'Rourke:  The Deputy is correct. I met Viridian this morning. They are discussing very seriously a North-South connection. They will be in the competitive market for the 28 per cent next February and they outlined their plans to me. Dr. Mowlam and her group did not discuss any form of energy other than gas with our group.

Deputy Stagg asked about security of supply. It was his opinion that the KeySpan project would not ensure that. That appears to be the situation but, in deference to the idea of North-South co-operation, we agreed to extend an economic evaluation of the provisions of a second Scotland-Dublin interconnector to include KeySpan. That evaluation has not yet been initiated.

Deputy Sargent wondered if renewable energy projects were discussed. The meeting was quite one dimensional. We concentrated on gas and particularly on KeySpan. We also spoke in general political terms about the need for North-South co-operation. I agree with the point made in Deputy Currie's original question. We must [82] move forward projects which will demonstrate the explicit commitment of the Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly – and very soon the Executive – to North-South co-operation on energy provision.

Mr. Currie:  To our mutual advantage.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  Yes.

Deputy Seán Ryan asked about the Loughshinny facility, as did Deputy Owen in February. Both Deputies represent the same constituency so they will co-operate on the matter.

Mr. S. Ryan:  I asked a question and received a satisfactory written reply.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  A decision has not been taken regarding a possible pipeline landfall at Loughshinny. Does the Deputy want to see the facility put in place or not? His question did not make that clear.

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 Crawford – the need to have the remaining 15 per cent of County Monaghan declared severely handicapped; (2) Deputy Keaveney – the announcement of the closure of the Fingal factory, Moville, County Donegal, and the urgent need for job creation measures to be implemented in the Inishowen area; (3) Deputy Hayes – the response of the Department of the Environment and Local Government to the recommendations in the report of the working group on security of tenure and the decision to establish a commission to analyse policy in this area; (4) Deputy Haughey – the need to discuss the transfer of traffic wardens from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to Dublin Corporation; (5) Deputy Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny)– the need for the decentralisation of a Department to Carlow; (6) Deputy Finucane – the provision of extra classrooms and other facilities at the national fisheries training centre at Greencastle, County Donegal; (7) Deputy Sean Ryan – the need to discuss the safety of plastic oil storage tanks with specific regard to manufacturing standards, storage and planning regulations, if any; (8) Deputy Coveney – the need to discuss the devastation being caused by commercial long lining to the stocks of conger eel in the Ballycotton, Cork Harbour and Kinsale area and the huge impact on charter sea angling boats in the area and revenue from angling tourism; (9) Deputy Allen – the need for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to appoint a fourth judge to the Central Criminal Court to relieve the serious congestion and delays occurring there in trials of individuals [83] accused of very serious crimes, and especially in view of the long delay involved in bringing to trial those accused of the murder of Thomas Harte, Ballymacthomas, Cork, who was found dead with head injuries in Cork City on 20 May 1997; (10) Deputy O'Sullivan – the need for the Minister for Health and Children to further assist voluntary organisations who provide services for people with disabilities with their development needs in the light of growing demand for their services; (11) Deputy Broughan – the urgent need for the Minister for Finance to address the issue of the use of sub-contractors in the building industry, having regard to the unofficial strike at the building site of the new offices in Leinster House today; (12) Deputy Barrett – the need to discuss the proposed closure of St. Michael's Private Hospital, Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin.

The matters raised by Deputies Crawford, Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny), Broughan and Hayes have been selected for discussion.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 13:

In page 5, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:

“(h) to provide equality of sporting opportunity for everyone, regardless of gender, age or ability.”.

–(Deputy Allen).

Mr. Naughten:  Before the adjournment of the debate we discussed the provision of funds for basic sporting facilities rather than for flagship projects such as the building of a 50-metre swimming pool or the development of Croke Park. There is nothing wrong with the Government providing £20 million for Croke Park if funds are also provided for GAA clubs throughout the country. Many GAA clubs do not even have running water. Some may find this hard to believe but recently I attended a meeting of representatives of 21 schools in County Roscommon which do not have hot running water. Many sports clubs lack very basic facilities such as running water which is essential to deal with sporting injuries. We must concentrate our efforts on providing basic community facilities such as swimming pools and soccer and Gaelic pitches rather than provide funds for elite athletes and flagship projects. We must support our elite athletes and provide role models for young people but there is no point in having role models if young people who wish to participate in sport do not have the facilities to do so. Many parts of the country lack basic sport and recreational facilities. Their provision must be the priority of the Government.

Young people who do not have the ability to wear the national or county jersey must be given [84] the opportunity to participate actively in sport in their communities. I ask the Minister to support this amendment.

Mr. S. Ryan:  I favour the amendment. The Minister must ask himself if this amendment will strengthen or weaken the Bill and he will agree that it will strengthen the Bill. I hope the Minister will accept the spirit of the amendment.

It is difficult for a Minister for sport or a sports council to identify priorities. There is a need to provide the facilities to ensure that our sportsmen and women attain the standard required to represent their country in international arenas or their county in Croke Park. However, there is a perception that the Minister is placing too much emphasis on specialist sports people, major projects and the achievement of excellence. It is widely felt that priority is not given to the work of people who, on a voluntary basis, ensure that hundreds of thousands of young boys and girls take part in sport on a weekly basis. These people organise football matches in all codes, athletics and a wide range of sporting activities. This amendment would require the groupings to provide equal sporting opportunities for everyone regardless of gender, age or ability.

The Minister of State, Deputy Flood, as an active parliamentarian, will know the difficulties experienced on a daily basis by those endeavouring to enable a sporting organisation to provide sporting facilities. When one considers the number of young people from the age of seven who are looking for a venue to play a match each week, it is a credit to the volunteers and the spirit of volunteerism which exists.

What is in place at present? In the area covered by the County Dublin Vocational Education Committee, £90 is available to clubs to get these teams up and running under the youth and sport grant from the Minister's Department. It is fine to say megabucks are being provided for major facilities, but will the Minister of State put his hand on his heart and say he believes, in the context of the thousands of clubs which provide facilities on a weekly basis, that £90 per annum is sufficient even to recognise the contribution these people make in providing sport for young people?

What is the alternative to sport? We are taking young people off the streets and away from other unfortunate aspects of Irish life, such as vandalism, drugs, etc. Deputy Allen asked the Minister if the youth and sport grant will continue. In fairness, more money should be allocated – even £250 would not be too much for the clubs in question. At least it would be an acknowledgement of their work and might go some way towards providing jerseys or something else for new teams being set up on a weekly or yearly basis.

The Bill would be strengthened by the inclusion of the gender issue. People may talk about the shortcomings in grant aid to sporting facilities but there is at least something for young boys. There is little, however, for girls. Where [85] sports such as camogie, tennis or Gaelic football, for example, provide a service and facility for girls, it should be acknowledged and a grant should be provided to assist in developing facilities.

The other issue relates to age. We spoke earlier about youngsters from seven years upwards for whom we are endeavouring to provide facilities. I would also like to talk about older people. Reports from the Department of Health and Children encourage the full participation of older people in sport, whether pitch and putt or bowls, and we should acknowledge that. The criteria for grants from the Minister's Department to facilitate people starting off or older people, show that sufficient recognition has not been given to the needs of these groups. The inclusion of this amendment would ensure Members would give greater cognisance to the needs of these groups. I hope the Minister of State will see the merit of this amendment and accept it.

Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Mr. Flood):  I listened carefully to the contributions of Members, and not only since the session commenced this afternoon. While my colleague, the Minister, Deputy McDaid, took Report Stage this morning, I listened to it in my office so I am up to speed with what Members said and value their informed contributions. The Minister regrets that due to a prior engagement he cannot be here to complete the Bill.

I assure the House that in framing the Bill the issue of equality in terms of sporting opportunity for everyone regardless of age, ability or gender was not overlooked. Section 9 requires the council to have regard to Government policy in carrying out its functions and to comply with policy directives issued from time to time by the Minister.

One of the cornerstones of the policy is that the Government has committed itself to establishing an inclusive society where every citizen has the opportunity and incentive to participate fully in the social and economic life of the country. I draw Members' attention to the equal status Bill which has been redrafted by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is indicative of the Government's commitment on this specific and very important issue.

The sports council will not provide sporting opportunities at the level of the individual and, therefore, it would be inappropriate to impose a statutory obligation on it to provide equality of opportunity not consistent with the role envisaged for it. The council will work with a range of bodies in the business of providing opportunities to participate in sport and will work through and in support of such bodies. For example, under the current grant application scheme, non-governmental bodies – if they wish to maximise the funding they receive – must seek to increase the participation of young people, women and people [86] with disabilities as part of the development of their organisations.

If Members examine the contents of my Department's strategy statement, they will note, for example, the priority given to the participation in sport and recreation in disadvantage communities. I draw the House's attention to initiatives, such as the pilot programme for disadvantaged areas, the drugs initiative, over which I have some control, the young people's facilities and services fund and the new sports capital programme. These initiatives serve to underline the Government's commitment in the area of policy to the disadvantaged.

Members referred to priority and the question of flagship projects. It is fair and reasonable that people might raise the issue of flagship projects and the resources required to promote and sustain them. I ask Members to bear in mind that this country is coming from a long distance behind in relation to major projects of the type mentioned by them this morning, and we must catch up. Many people who do well in sporting activities find it necessary to draw to the attention of the Government and other agencies that facilities are not available to them and they are compelled to go abroad to find facilities to enable them to enhance their prowess in their chosen sport. That is not to say this Government or its immediate predecessors have neglected to invest in basic sport and recreation facilities. Moneys from the national lottery were paid through the Department of Education, as it was, to help local organisations to provide facilities. Those grassroots bodies may have generated local funds and drew on grant allocations from various Departments to operate their schemes. It is not fair to say they have been seriously neglected in comparison to some projects mentioned by Members.

The question of elitism is raised from time to time. It is asked whether we give an unnecessarily large amount of resources to those who excel in various sports. All of us take pride when Irish people do well on the international stage; it gives the country a great lift. When raising the question of elitism, we should be conscious that success on the international stage draws young people to pursue various sports or recreational activities. When Irish athletes achieve great success, young people are drawn to that activity. The same applies to our native games. When a county or province wins a national honour, more young people become involved in that pursuit.

This interests me because of my role on the national drugs strategy team. We want more disadvantaged young people to become involved in sporting activities because if they do, they tend not to be involved in what are loosely termed anti-social activities.

I will not enter the debate about the GAA, because that has been frequently discussed inside and outside this House. However, coming from that background, the hundreds of thousands of young people who pursue GAA activities all look [87] forward to a day when they might play for their school, college or county on the hallowed turf of Croke Park.

Many contributors mentioned the voluntary effort put into sport and recreation by hundreds of thousands of people through the years, which has made a tremendous contribution. Those working at that level are entitled to support. Equality and access are not being ignored in this Bill. It will be incumbent on the sports council to implement Government policy in this area.

Mr. Allen:  The Minister of State said he listened to this morning's debate but he did not respond to some issues raised by previous speakers. I mentioned the status of the review group on the role of women in sport but received no response on that point. On a day when the Taoiseach is announcing, in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, the details of Ireland's bid to host the 2003 Special Olympics, it is important this legislation should enshrine the principles of equality of treatment regardless of age, gender and ability.

It is regrettable that those who launched the bid for the Special Olympics were forgotten today. The Minister may be at the announcement but those from the previous Administration were disregarded. An invitation was put into my pigeonhole at 11.30 a.m. today but I had to attend this debate and was unable to make alternative arrangements. It is bad form that the former Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, and other members of the last Government were not invited in good time but only as an afterthought. All parties supported the bid to host the Special Olympics. The last Administration drew up the bid but the Taoiseach is basking in its success and seems to have forgotten who did the hard work. I like to protect the status of Oireachtas committees and it is regrettable that Members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Tourism, Sport and Recreation were also forgotten today.

We should enshrine in this legislation the provision for equality of sporting opportunity for everyone. We will push this issue to a vote because it is a key principle.

Mr. Naughten:  I am disappointed the Minister is not accepting the amendment. He said that section 9 outlined Government policy and ministerial directives but this amendment would only copperfasten a Government's policy at any stage. The legislation should provide that the Government will ensure equality of opportunity regardless of age, gender or ability.

The Minister mentioned elite athletes having to go abroad but the main reason for that is not infrastructural facilities but the coaching and training facilities. Sonia O'Sullivan did not need to go abroad to find a running track, she could have trained at the Mardyke in Cork to her heart's content. She went abroad for coaching. We need to coach not only elite athletes but all [88] young people and we need to put resources into that.

The Minister spoke about flagship projects but this is like a person buying a £500 suit while walking around in bare feet. Unless we have basic facilities – swimming pools, showers in soccer and GAA clubs – young people will not become involved and we will not lead them away from the curse of drugs, which is a rapidly growing problem not only in urban Ireland but in rural areas also. We should target them. To ensure we have young people who can compete in the elite venues of tomorrow we must invest resources in them today. I ask the Minister to reconsider his decision.

Mr. O'Shea:  Judging by the Minister's response on section 9, is it the intention that all other legislation relevant to the points made in this debate, such as the Equal Status Bill, when it comes back to the House in its new form and is passed into law, will automatically apply to the Irish Sports Council? The language used in section 9 is not sufficiently tight. What specific legislation will deal with the rights of senior citizens? It may be that it will be covered under the Equal Status Bill. I want an assurance that other general policy and legislation will automatically apply to this Bill, when enacted, and cover the issues raised in this amendment. I am concerned that the rights of the disabled be included. I take the Minister's point that the new Irish Sports Council will not be dealing with individuals but there must be basic rights for groups who need to have positive discrimination to participate.

Mr. S. Ryan:  At the end of Second Stage I recall the Minister saying he was prepared to take on board whatever reasonable amendments would be tabled to strengthen the Bill. This amendment endeavours to cater for everyone irrespective of gender, age, disability etc. Given that the inclusion of this amendment would strengthen rather than weaken the Bill, what is the objection to it? The Minister rightly said that while the Irish Sports Council will not deal with all the different aspects, individuals or individual groups its policy would be clearly set out in the Bill and it would complement all the other aspects of equality. I appeal to the Minister to accept the amendment.

Mr. Flood:  I regret I did not refer to the task forces in my earlier contribution. The current Sports Council established a task force on people with disabilities. The intention was to bring forward proposals to ensure greater participation in sport and to establish a task force to address the issue of women in sport and the reason there appears to be lower participation rates among women than men. The intention was to formulate a series of realistic proposals to overcome any barriers to women participating in sport.

Both reports are nearing completion. Their findings will form the basis for the statutory [89] sports council to consider strategies to promote greater participation in sport by women and people with disabilities.

Deputy Naughten referred to young people and drugs and the need to support their active participation in sport. That is the policy of my Department. The young people's facilities and services fund has £20 million at its disposal. This fund is not about only about bricks and mortar but about putting personnel and other support services into local areas. It assists organisations in their fund-raising efforts to have personnel brought on board to support them with leisure and recreational activities and so on.

Section 9 provides that the particular council must have regard to Government policy and must comply with any general policy directives which may from time to time be given to it by the Minister. I am convinced that covers what Members are trying to achieve in the amendment. Therefore, the amendment is not necessary.

Mr. Allen:  I do not agree with the Minister. Section 9 is aspirational and weak. By being spec[90] ific the amendment beefs up the aspirations of section 9. It seeks to ensure equality of opportunity for everyone irrespective of gender, age and ability.

In the absence of the review group on the capital grants scheme we do not know the Government's policy in that whole area. The sooner the report sees the light of day the better so that we will know the parameters within which money is distributed.

Last week I tabled a question on swimming pools. There is a demand from local authorities and communities for in excess of £25 million for the refurbishment and upgrading of swimming pools, some of which are antiquated, unhygienic and below acceptable standards.

Mr. Naughten:  Some are like pigsties.

Mr. Allen:  Before creating national monuments to our self-esteem and ego, adequate facilities at community and club level should be put in place. We are pressing this amendment.

Amendment put.

Ahearn, Theresa.
Allen, Bernard.
Barnes, Monica.
Barrett, Seán.
Belton, Louis.
Boylan, Andrew.
Bradford, Paul.
Broughan, Thomas.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Burke, Ulick.
Clune, Deirdre.
Connaughton, Paul.
Cosgrave, Michael.
Coveney, Simon.
Crawford, Seymour.
Currie, Austin.
D'Arcy, Michael.
Deasy, Austin.
Deenihan, Jimmy.
Durkan, Bernard.
Farrelly, John.
Ferris, Michael.
Finucane, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Frances.
Flanagan, Charles.
Gormley, John.
Hayes, Brian.
Higgins, Jim.
Higgins, Michael.
Hogan, Philip.
Howlin, Brendan.
Kenny, Enda.
McCormack, Pádraic.
McDowell, Derek.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
McGrath, Paul.
McManus, Liz.
Mitchell, Gay.
Mitchell, Olivia.
Naughten, Denis.
Neville, Dan.
Noonan, Michael.
O'Shea, Brian.
O'Sullivan, Jan.
Penrose, William.
Perry, John.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Ring, Michael.
Ryan, Seán.
Sargent, Trevor.
Shatter, Alan.
Sheehan, Patrick.
Shortall, Róisín.
Stanton, David.
Timmins, Billy.
Yates, Ivan.

Níl

Ahern, Dermot.
Ahern, Michael.
Ahern, Noel.
Ardagh, Seán.
Aylward, Liam.
Brady, Johnny.
Brady, Martin.
Brennan, Matt.
Brennan, Séamus.
Briscoe, Ben.
Browne, John (Wexford).
Byrne, Hugh.
Callely, Ivor.
Carey, Pat.
Collins, Michael.
Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
Coughlan, Mary.
Cowen, Brian.
Cullen, Martin.
de Valera, Síle.
Dennehy, John.
Doherty, Seán.
Ellis, John. Fahey, Frank.[91]

Níl–continued

Fleming, Seán.
Flood, Chris.
Foley, Denis.
Fox, Mildred.
Gildea, Thomas.
Harney, Mary.
Haughey, Seán.
Healy-Rae, Jackie.
Jacob, Joe.
Keaveney, Cecilia.
Kelleher, Billy.
Kenneally, Brendan.
Kirk, Séamus.
Kitt, Michael.
Kitt, Tom.
Lawlor, Liam.
Lenihan, Brian.
Lenihan, Conor.
McCreevy, Charlie.
McGennis, Marian.
McGuinness, John.
Martin, Micheál.
[92] Moffatt, Thomas.
Molloy, Robert.
Moloney, John.
Moynihan, Donal.
Moynihan, Michael.
O'Dea, Willie.
O'Flynn, Noel.
O'Hanlon, Rory.
O'Keeffe, Batt.
O'Keeffe, Ned.
O'Kennedy, Michael.
O'Malley, Desmond.
Power, Seán.
Roche, Dick.
Ryan, Eoin.
Smith, Brendan.
Smith, Michael.
Treacy, Noel.
Wade, Eddie.
Wallace, Dan.
Walsh, Joe.
Woods, Michael.
Wright, G. V.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Barrett and Ferris; Níl, Deputies S. Brennan and Power.

Amendment declared lost.

Mr. Allen:  I move amendment No. 14:

In page 5, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:

“(h) to examine applications from sporting, recreational and community groups for National Lottery funding towards capital projects and to allocate such funding to those applications as selected by the Irish Sports Council.”.

Amendment put.

Ahearn, Theresa.
Allen, Bernard.
Barnes, Monica.
Barrett, Seán.
Belton, Louis.
Boylan, Andrew.
Bradford, Paul.
Broughan, Thomas.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Burke, Ulick.
Clune, Deirdre.
Connaughton, Paul.
Cosgrave, Michael.
Coveney, Simon.
Crawford, Seymour.
Creed, Michael.
Currie, Austin.
D'Arcy, Michael.
Deasy, Austin.
Deenihan, Jimmy.
Durkan, Bernard.
Farrelly, John.
Ferris, Michael.
Finucane, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Frances.
Flanagan, Charles.
Gormley, John.
Hayes, Brian.
Higgins, Michael.
Hogan, Philip.
Howlin, Brendan.
Kenny, Enda.
McCormack, Pádraic.
McDowell, Derek.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
McGrath, Paul.
McManus, Liz.
Mitchell, Gay.
Mitchell, Olivia.
Naughten, Denis.
Neville, Dan.
Noonan, Michael.
O'Shea, Brian.
O'Sullivan, Jan.
Penrose, William.
Perry, John.
Quinn, Ruairí.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Reynolds, Gerard.
Ring, Michael.
Ryan, Seán.
Sargent, Trevor.
Shatter, Alan.
Sheehan, Patrick.
Shortall, Róisín.
Stanton, David.
Timmins, Billy.
Yates, Ivan.

Níl

Ahern, Dermot.
Ahern, Michael.
Ahern, Noel.
Ardagh, Seán.
Aylward, Liam.
Brady, Johnny.
Brady, Martin. Brennan, Matt.[93]

Níl–continued

Brennan, Séamus.
Briscoe, Ben.
Browne, John (Wexford).
Byrne, Hugh.
Callely, Ivor.
Carey, Pat.
Collins, Michael.
Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
Coughlan, Mary.
Cowen, Brian.
Cullen, Martin.
Davern, Noel.
de Valera, Síle.
Dempsey, Noel.
Dennehy, John.
Doherty, Seán.
Ellis, John.
Fahey, Frank.
Fleming, Seán.
Flood, Chris.
Foley, Denis.
Fox, Mildred.
Gildea, Thomas.
Haughey, Seán.
Healy-Rae, Jackie.
Jacob, Joe.
Keaveney, Cecilia.
Kelleher, Billy.
Kenneally, Brendan.
Kirk, Séamus.
Kitt, Michael.
[94] Kitt, Tom.
Lawlor, Liam.
Lenihan, Brian.
Lenihan, Conor.
McCreevy, Charlie.
McGennis, Marian.
McGuinness, John.
Martin, Micheál.
Moffatt, Thomas.
Molloy, Robert.
Moloney, John.
Moynihan, Donal.
Moynihan, Michael.
O'Dea, Willie.
O'Flynn, Noel.
O'Hanlon, Rory.
O'Keeffe, Batt.
O'Keeffe, Ned.
O'Kennedy, Michael.
O'Malley, Desmond.
Power, Seán.
Reynolds, Albert.
Roche, Dick.
Ryan, Eoin.
Smith, Brendan.
Smith, Michael.
Treacy, Noel.
Wade, Eddie.
Wallace, Dan.
Walsh, Joe.
Woods, Michael.
Wright, G. V.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Barrett and Ferris; Níl, Deputies S.Brennan and Power.

Amendment declared lost.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Amendment No. 15 was discussed with amendment No. 6.

Mr. Allen:  I move amendment No. 15:

In page 5, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:

“(h) to examine applications from national governing bodies for annual funding and to allocate such funding as deemed appropriate by the Irish Sports Council.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Mr. O'Shea:  I move amendment No. 16:

In page 5, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:

“7–The Ombudsman Act, 1980, and the Freedom of Information Act, 1997, shall apply to the Council and any reference in any enactment to the non-statutory Council which existed immediately prior to this Act shall be construed as a reference to the Council.”.

Some months ago I tabled a parliamentary question but the information I requested was denied on the basis that the cost of compiling it was excessive. I then used my rights as an ordinary citizen under the Freedom of Information Act and obtained the information. This posed the anomaly that information to which I was not entitled as an elected Member was obtainable as an ordinary citizen.

I make this point in the context of the strength of the Freedom of Information Act. The Ombudsman Act applies to instances of maladministration or where people feel aggrieved that their cases have not been properly dealt with. People need such an avenue of appeal. The Freedom of Information Act applies to the non-statutory council. I do not anticipate that the Ombudsman will receive many queries involving the Irish Sports Council. Nonetheless, the right of appeal should exist for citizens who wish to pursue grievances.

I recall cases arising from grants made to athletes. Some years ago a national organisation led an athlete to believe his name had been submitted to the Department of Education for a grant. The athlete did not receive a grant and I was asked to pursue the matter on his behalf. It transpired that his name had not been submitted. There is a need for openness. This has been a feature of how the non-statutory council has developed. It is important that all legitimate information is available through the Freedom of Information Act and that we avoid the sort of misunderstanding and ill-feeling which arose in the case I outlined, and others. Let us see the criteria for the disbursement of grants to high performance athletes. Where national organisations are required to put forward the names of athletes, let us see the names that have been nominated and how the schemes are implemented.

[95] I seek the establishment of a grievance mechanism and a mechanism by which people have access to information. The concealment of information invariably serves a negative cause. I hope the Minister responds positively to these two issues.

Mr. S. Ryan:  I support this amendment. The Bill will be substantially improved by the incorporation of the Freedom of Information Act and the Ombudsman Act. This will be proven in the context of information which may be required at some future stage with regard to decisions made by the council. The incorporation of these two Acts in the Bill would ensure information would not be concealed. Important decisions will have to be taken by the council and the incorporation of these two Acts will enhance the Bill and provide openness. That is very important.

Mr. Flood:  It is our intention that the Irish Sports Council should be a designated body under the Ombudsman Act and the Freedom of Information Act. The Minister stated on Committee Stage that this matter is more properly dealt with in the context of the original legislation. In this regard, the Department is making arrangements with the Department of Finance concerning the procedures for having the council designated as a scheduled body for the purposes of both Acts.

As regards the specific case mentioned by Deputy O'Shea, as a scheduled body under the Freedom of Information Act, the council will be required to publish details of all criteria, procedures and systems in respect of grant schemes. This will include details of appeal mechanisms available to applicants.

Mr. O'Shea:  I accept the Minister's intention is that the new statutory Irish Sports Council will be added to the schedules of the Ombudsman Act and the Freedom of Information Act. On that basis I am satisfied the objective of this amendment will come to pass. I do not propose to pursue the matter at this stage.

Mr. S. Ryan:  I welcome the Minister of State's comments and the openness to which he referred in the context of the criteria and the decision-making process concerning grants. There was a perception, not without foundation, that in the past grants were allocated purely for political reasons. This was the case regardless of what Government was in power. A Minister might turn up at a meeting and, after a short speech, present the grant. That approach did not work. In fact, it operated against the spirit and development of sport.

If the commitment given by the Minister of State is implemented, I will welcome it. People will know that if they have a worthwhile project for the development of sport which stands on its merit, they will get funding on that basis. This [96] will remove the perception of sports funding as a political football which is allocated on the basis of who one knows and whether the Minister lives in one's constituency. There should be openness about the criteria and I welcome the commitment offered by the Minister of State.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Flood:  I move amendment No. 17:

In page 7, line 32, to delete “eight” and substitute “ten”.

I am pleased to propose this amendment which was put down by Deputy Allen on Committee Stage. It increases the number of ordinary members of the council from eight to ten. The increase will allow for sufficient membership of the council to avail of the wide range of skills necessary for it to operate in an effective and dynamic manner. At the same time, the new council size will still be in keeping with my desire to maintain a small, executive style council and to avoid an unnecessarily unwieldly structure which would hamper its effectiveness.

Mr. Allen:  I welcome the Minister of State's agreement to this amendment, which I put down on Committee Stage. The amendment is not an effort to have more heads on a committee in order to give out favours or appointments. In 1994, Cospóir had about 24 members. The previous Government reduced that number to 13 but I considered the contraction to eight a little severe.

People are appointed not because of the sports they represent or their political connections but because of their overview and experience of sport. I am confident the Minister will take that into account in making appointments to the council. People should and will be appointed on the basis of their broad vision of how sport should progress in the context not only of sport itself but also of using sport as a preventative measure in the fight against crime and drugs. I have full confidence that the Minister and Minister of State will ensure that people will be appointed to the council on the basis of what they know, not who they know.

Mr. O'Shea:  Given that the Special Olympics will be held in Ireland in 2003 and bearing in mind the issues surrounding disability and the position of senior citizens, the Minister might consider, before the Bill is sent to the Seanad, providing that some members of the council should have special knowledge of sport and recreational sport for the disabled and for senior citizens.

Gender is not an issue in this case because under section 8 of the Equal Status Bill and under the gender quota approach, there will be sufficient numbers of both men and women on the council. I understand there must be at least three of either gender. However, to ensure that the dis[97] abled and senior citizen constituencies are served to the best effect, there should be an onus on the Minister to ensure that expertise in these areas is represented among those appointed to the council.

Mr. S. Ryan:  I was not involved in the Committee Stage debate on the Bill and I am not aware of the case put forward by Deputy Allen for this amendment. However, given that Deputy Allen is very much involved in sport and was Minister of State with responsibility for sport in the previous Administration, I do not doubt that the case he put forward was sound. I compliment the Minister for taking this amendment on board.

The important issue here is personnel. One of the drawbacks in Irish society over the years was the perception that appointments to be made by the Minister or Government of the day would be made on the basis of political allegiance. This system did not do justice to any of the organisations concerned and they did not benefit from appointments being made in that manner.

In view of the need for development in sport, it is important to appoint people on the basis of their experience, knowledge, commitment to give of their time and energy and what they have achieved. They need not necessarily be achievers in the sense of winning All-Ireland medals, success in the Olympic Games or having represented their country. There are people in different areas of Irish society who can make a major contribution to the development of sport. These are the people who have the necessary expertise and who should be appointed to the council.

Elderly people have pointed out that in various sectors of activity the needs and expertise of the elderly have been forgotten. They played their part in building up this country in many areas but once they pass 55 years of age, they appear to be forgotten. I echo the comments made by Deputy O'Shea. In nominating people for appointment to the council, consideration should be given to those who will represent the needs of elderly people and who have experience in this area. I ask the Minister of State to bear this in mind.

I am not one of those who demand that organisations X, Y and Z should be represented on a body. That could lead to all kinds of trouble. That is why the Minister moved away from the Cospóir model. What is required is a working council. However, he should take on board the views we have expressed on this matter.

Mr. Flood:  I will take on board the comments of the Deputies on this matter and bring them to the attention of the Minister, Deputy McDaid. I share the sentiments expressed. I also wish to put on record my views on appointments to this council or to any other statutory agency. Irrespective of what pertained in the past, any appointment to a council of this kind or any other State agency that does not ensure the best possible personnel are placed on such boards does the whole mechanism a disservice. Therefore, we must ensure the [98] best possible people are placed on this board and on any other board because they have an important and significant role to play in the well-being of organisations and, in this case, of this new council. I share the sentiments of the previous speakers on this issue. I will bring their comments on what I will loosely describe as ageism to the attention of my colleague, the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation.

Mr. Allen:  Mary Davis represents the Special Olympics on the present council. Ann Ebbs of the para-olympics has played an important role in the area of sport and recreation over the past number of years. Those bodies have added substantially to the development of this scenario since mid-1994. The contribution of the main committee and the sub-committees has been significant and is much appreciated. I support Deputy O'Shea's comments that there should be ongoing representation of those groups in the mainsteam.

Amendment agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Ms Coughlan):  We now come to amendment No. 18. Amendment No. 19 is cognate and, therefore, amendments Nos. 18 and 19 can be taken together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Allen:  I move amendment No. 18:

In page 13, line 2, after “conditions of service” to insert “(including conditions in relation to tenure of office)”.

I tabled these amendments following a letter I received from the Public Service Executive Union regarding this Bill. The contents of that letter are significant. It states:

The Union is concerned to ensure that the provisions of this Bill, in so far as they relate to the transfer of civil servants to the new body, are on a par with similar legislative provisions which applied in the case of staff transferred from the civil service to other bodies such as Telecom Éireann, An Post, FÁS, the Health and Safety Authority and the Irish Aviation Authority.

As the Bill stands, we are concerned that the legislative protection proposed for the transfer of staff is not on a par with the provisions enacted in the examples cited above. We therefore proposed an amendment to the Bill to the Minister for his consideration but the Minister has indicated that he is not willing to introduce such an amendment.

The text of the proposed amendment is enclosed and the union would be appreciative if you would consider same, with a view to having the matter raised when the Bill next comes up for debate. The effect of the amendment is [99] to make it clear that the provisions relating to no “less than official terms and conditions of service” include conditions in relation to tenure of office. The formulation we have proposed in the attached amendment to deal with this point is precisely the same as that enacted by the Oireachtas in section 40(2) of the Irish Aviation Authority Act, 1993.

The union understands that there is a view that the Bill, as it stands, covers the issue of tenure but we are not satisfied that this is the case. In our view, the provisions of the Irish Aviation Authority Act point to the necessity for a specific mention of tenure and it is unreasonable of the Minister not to apply similar provisions in this instance.

The amendment suggested would have had the effect of deleting section 22(5) and replacing it with the following:

Except in accordance with a collective agreement negotiated with any recognised trade union or staff association concerned, a person who is transferred in accordance with subsection (4) to the Council's staff shall not, while in the Council's service, receive a lesser scale of pay or be made subject to less beneficial terms and conditions of service (including conditions relating to tenure of office) than the scale of pay to which he or she was entitled and the terms and conditions of service (including conditions in relation to tenure of office) to which he or she was subject immediately before his or her transfer.

I submitted that amendment and, on the suggestion and with the co-operation of the Bills office, it was redrafted in two forms as contained in amendments Nos. 18 and 19.

On Committee Stage, the Minister said he would consult the Attorney General's office to ensure the protection required by members of the union would be covered in the Bill. I tabled these amendments to give the Minister an opportunity to state what the Attorney General's office said about these reasonable requirements of the Public Service Executive Union.

As the new sports council will be a small body, the scope for promotion for any civil servants who move to it will be limited. The Minister should consider allowing an interaction between the Civil Service and the new sports council on an indefinite basis. If any civil servant moves to the new sports council, he or she should have an option to return to the Civil Service at a later date. If civil servants, who may be very skilled, have to cut their ties with the Civil Service when they move to this new body that is in its infancy, that will pose a risk and may deter them from moving. If a civil servant joins this new body that is developing, he or she may encounter a person[100] ality clash and other problems and under the provisions of the Bill they may not be able to return to the Civil Service. Perhaps I should have given notice of this matter. I ask the Minister of State to respond to this concern.

Mr. O'Shea:  I seek clarification of these important points raised by Deputy Allen. Essentially, it comes down to whether the term “conditions of service” includes the tenure of office protection sought by Deputy Allen. Will civil servants who transfer to the new sports council be able to take part in Civil Service competitions at a higher grade than that which they hold, and, if successful, will they be allowed to return to the Civil Service? Will their contracts preclude them from returning to the Civil Service at a a time of their choice, once they have given notice to the new council to enable it fill their position? These are important questions concerning problems that may arise because of a weakness in the drafting of legislation which may not protect the conditions of employment of employees who wish to transfer from one organisation to another.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Will the Minister of State clarify the position regarding the terms and conditions of service that will apply to employees of the new sports council? I take it that employees who transfer to the council will not suffer a loss of salary. I presume they will also be entitled to the same terms and conditions of service and scale of pay as their colleagues with whom they worked in the Department and which they enjoyed immediately prior to transferring to the council. That point has been made by the unions and I support it. I hope the Minister will be able to meet the objectives of the unions representing the staff transferring to the new council.

Mr. Flood:  In tabling these amendments, Deputy Allen focused the attention of the Minister, myself and our officials on what is clearly a very important issue. Other contributors to the debate have also referred to it. Tenure of office is defined by section 5 of the Civil Service Regulations Act, 1956, which states: “Every established civil servant shall hold office at the will and pleasure of the Government”. The view of the Department of Finance, one shared by this Department, is that tenure of office is one of the conditions applying to the employment of established civil servants and therefore implicitly included in the current wording. This view has recently been confirmed by advice from the Attorney General's office. Therefore, we feel that an amendment is unnecessary.

I understand that the Public Service Executive Union has been made aware of this information and appears to be satisfied, but that is for themselves to confirm to Members of the House. Section 22 (24) provides for the transfer of estab[101] lished civil servants to the staff of the council on its establishment date, and that all such transfers will be on a voluntary basis. Negotiations will take place with the respective unions with regard to the establishment of the council and such transfers. There are issues that will have to be clarified, and the unions will be part of that process.

Mr. Allen:  I thank the Minister for his comments on my reservations and those of the trade union. I am still not clear on one point. It is important at this stage of the development of the sports council that we should attract the best people to its staff. That should include civil servants who have worked for decades in the area. It would be unfair if people who are invited to become part of the development of the new sports council had to permanently cut their ties with the Civil Service. Being a very small body, the prospects of rapid promotion to a very high level would be significantly lower than in the mainstream Civil Service structure. Will there be an opportunity to interchange between the sports council and the Civil Service? Will there be a two-way channel or will it be just one way, and a person working in the sports council stays there until he or she chooses to go elsewhere? It is important, in order to attract the best people, that there be a two-way system in operation. I ask the Minister to clarify this.

Mr. Flood:  The point raised by the Deputy is an important one. This is not the first time a council of this kind has been established and transfers have taken place. Section 22 (6) provides that in respect of civil servants who transfer to the council, their previous service is reckonable for the purposes of various employment Acts. This is a standard provision applying to civil servants transferring to State bodies which has been used in similar previous legislation, for example, the Irish Aviation Authority Act, 1993, the Marine Institute Act, 1991, and the National Cultural Institutions Act, 1997.

Obviously, those who transfer to the council will do so on a voluntary basis. I am not in a position to answer the question posed by the Deputy, but I will endeavour to get that information and send him a note, and the matter can be raised when this legislation goes to the Seanad.

Mr. O'Shea:  I request that the documentation which the Minister has undertaken to send to Deputy Allen be sent to the other Deputies present.

Mr. Allen:  My understanding of the legislation which we are going to pass is that there will be a one-way system. In other words, if a person decides to leave the council, the decision is irrevocable. I am simply asking that, between now the taking of the Bill in the Seanad, pro[102] vision should be made for a two-way system. It would be in the interests of everybody, including the sports council, to attract the best people, and some of the best people are in the Civil Service.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 19 not moved.

Question proposed: “That the Bill do now pass.”

Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Mr. Flood):  I extend our appreciation to all Members of the House for their support of the Irish Sports Council Bill. It enables the establishment of the first ever statutory sports council which will further enhance the role of sport in our society which all of us, particularly those who participated in this debate, have a very strong interest in and commitment to. I thank the Deputies for their interest in the Bill and for their contributions to the debate. We all learned a great deal in the process. I also thank the officials of my Department for their work on this legislation and extend thanks also to the staff of the Bills Office.

Mr. Allen:  I congratulate everybody involved also. The passing of this Bill is the culmination of much work that has continued since 1995. I thank the civil servants in the Department of Education and Science and in the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation and the members of the strategy group which was set up in 1995 to develop the national plan for sport, out of which the proposal for a statutory sports council evolved. We will now have a strong and effective sports council. Without such a council or national strategy up to now sport could not attract the funding it required. Sport is not just about weekend activities, it is about getting young people involved in positive activities and away from the anti-social problems the Minister of State, Deputy Flood, speaks about so often.

The statutory sports council that will be put in place will attract the funds required to provide a modern infrastructure of sporting facilities at local, regional and national level. It will also allow the organisations and thousands of volunteers involved in them throughout the country the support they require – not only the financial support but also the policy and guidance they need in dealing with young and old alike.

I appreciate what has been done since responsibility for sport moved from the Department of Education and Science to the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation. I also want to record my appreciation of the responsible Ministers of State and the Minister who have continued to implement what essentially was an apolitical document produced after wide consultation with all political parties. That is what we set out [103] to do. They have implemented the proposals of that independent group in a very fair way.

Mr. O'Shea:  I came late to the debate on this Bill which was previously the responsibility of my late colleague, Deputy Pat Upton, who had been the Labour Party's spokesperson on sport.

The attitude of both the Minister of State, Deputy Flood, and the Minister, Deputy McDaid, to what was emanating from the House has been constructive. The establishment of a statutory sports council is something the Labour Party saw as very important. I look forward to the sports council achieving a regime where there will be greater involvement in both competitive and recreational sporting activities.

I belong to a large group of people who are overweight and could certainly benefit a great deal from more participation in sport. There are all kinds of benefits to be gained from sport, including social and health ones. The sports council will be very important in this regard.

I wish the Minister of State and the Minister every success in implementing the Bill when it is enacted into law.

Mr. S. Ryan:  As the House passes this Bill, it is appropriate that, as has been announced by the Minister today, the Special Olympics will be held here in the year 2003. That shows what this country can do in the area of sport. For a country of its size and population, we have achieved great success over the years in different sectors of sport. That was done on the basis of an ad hoc arrangement whereby the various sporting organisations did their own thing. As we prepare to enter the new millennium we are placing sport on a statutory basis. Given the commitment from all sides of the House, I have no doubt that the new legislation will enhance the entire area of sport.

Earlier we referred to the use of performance enhancing drugs. I hope one message that will emerge clearly in the context of this Bill is that we do not want cheats in sport. There is no place for them. The Bill is being enacted to enhance sport for both the young and the not so young. We do not want sporting endeavours to be clouded by the use of drugs. No cheats will be tolerated in this area.

On the basis of this legislation, I am confident that the development of sporting facilities and training will go from strength to strength. If our past achievements are anything to go by, on the basis of sporting grant allocations that have been identified for different organisations, and with the proper personnel in place on the new sports council, this is a sound day for sport. It is appropriate that today has seen the announcement of the Special Olympics in 2003, which I referred to earlier.

[104] In the new millennium we may well host the European championships or even the Olympic Games at some stage. As we develop on the basis of this legislation and given the commitment from volunteers which the new council will co-ordinate, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that we will see a big improvement and major developments in Irish sport.

I compliment both the Minister of State, Deputy Flood, and the Minister, Deputy McDaid, on introducing this fine legislation.

Question put and agreed to.

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

Ms Clune:  Before the debate was adjourned, I was speaking about the interiors of buildings. I welcomed the fact that both the interior and curtilage of buildings were being included in the provisions of the Bill and were recognised as an essential part of the structure of buildings. Sadly, it is about 20 years too late to save many of the fine buildings in Dublin and elsewhere throughout the country. Nonetheless, the provision is a worthwhile inclusion in the legislation.

I wish to talk about the detail of the Bill and the practicalities of what is involved in the proposals, as well as what I see as the volume of work involved in producing a list of all relevant buildings and structures. The work involved in producing such an inventory has been greatly underestimated. For example, it took up to 14 years to list all the thatched cottages in the five eastern counties. While this is no reflection on those involved in the task, it demonstrates that it takes time to visit, inspect, photograph and document such sites as well as dealing with all the legal aspects. That is just an example of the time taken to prepare a list of one type of structure in one area of the country. It will take many years to list all the buildings and other structures that should be protected. We have no written knowledge or any idea of what we have in the country. While it will be an enormous task to draw up such a list, it is an essential one and every support must be given to the conservation officers the Government proposes to appoint.

I understand that some counties have no lists of protected buildings, nor have they made attempts to prepare such lists. It is high time that we began this work, even though we are coming from behind. Until such an inventory of protected buildings is documented we cannot begin to protect our architectural and cultural heritage. The resources necessary to complete this national inventory should be given priority.

I am concerned about the provisions in section 10 of the Bill whereby a planning authority can, [105] if it deems that a protected structure will be endangered, serve a notice on the owner or occupier of such a protected structure requiring them to carry out works to prevent it from becoming, or continuing to be, endangered.

At its own discretion a local authority can provide financial assistance for these works but the money allocated for these grants does not seem to be much when one considers that a wing of Castletown House cost £3.5 million to preserve. I would be concerned that there would not be sufficient funds to match the requirements, particularly for private owners. While such people may recognise that they own a building or structure of architectural or historical importance and may genuinely want to comply with the legislation, they may not be able to afford to do so. Support will be available at the discretion of the local authority, but who will decide whether a structure of architectural importance or of social or scientific value is to be preserved? It is an impossible decision for one individual. The Bill's principles are commendable, but I have serious reservations about the funding allocated to conservation and to conservation officers.

Mr. McGuinness:  I commend the Minister and the Department on this legislation. I support any effort to open up and develop the planning process. I have served in local government for 20 years, and I come from a city that sells its tourism package on the basis of the medieval buildings scattered through the city and county. During that period I have seen enormous weaknesses in the planning process.

The first weakness is a financial one. Local authority planning offices are badly understaffed, and due to the enormous uplift in the economy, various planning authorities have been inundated with new applications. Applications to Kilkenny County Council have risen by 75 per cent, but the staff levels in the local authority have not risen. The technology used in the processing of planning applications is from the dark ages, and when a city is confronted with an enormous number of applications which may impact upon heritage buildings, there is no way in the present system, unless technology is made available to officials, to work out the impact of new developments or buildings on existing sites and buildings. Perhaps a CD-ROM system would help.

There is a great need for new legislation in this area. There is also a need to upgrade the skills of staff working in planning offices. An ongoing increase in finance must also be made available to these offices for proper staffing. The policing of sites that impact on heritage structures leaves a lot to be desired. There probably is no such policing or very little of it, perhaps just enough to get by, and it is not enough to arrest the injury that has been inflicted on our heritage. I ask the Minister to take the inadequacies of the present [106] system into consideration, especially given the pace of recent development.

People must also be educated. Perhaps we should begin by ensuring that there is a package in every school to tell children about their local heritage and to ensure that there is at least a basic knowledge and understanding of heritage. Sometimes we cannot see the wood for the trees and we may miss the precious heritage of our own counties. Business people should also be educated, though many large business institutions should know the heritage of their local areas well. I could give examples of financial institutions which have purchased properties alongside their own and which have destroyed listed properties with the sanction of An Bord Pleanála, to the annoyance of the local authorities. Tyler's, a listed building in Kilkenny's High Street, was torn down and replaced by an extension from a local financial institution. If that institution had been made aware of the value of the building, it had the resources available to give something back to Kilkenny. It could have given back a properly restored building.

Speakers have said that heritage buildings in many towns and villages are being replaced by facades. Planning applications were submitted for two beautiful Georgian buildings in Kilkenny, and the only condition attached to the planning permission was that a superstore extending into the buildings would preserve the facades. We now have two facades with a modern structure behind them. The interiors of those buildings were taken out and sold to salvage yards. The finest examples of fireplaces and doors, even stone, are being taken out of these buildings, sold through scrap yards and ending up in houses where they do not belong and look out of place. There is no legislation to govern that and local authorities are almost powerless.

How powerless will this new legislation be to deal with multinationals or indigenous business if they do not care for or understand their environments? An Bord Pleanála recently issued a condition to a planning permission in Kilkenny to the effect that the shop front of a listed building should be taken down and erected elsewhere. What nonsense will it come up with next? That shows no understanding of a town or city trying to preserve its heritage and to understand its past. This is a bulldozer process used by individuals or institutions with the money to do so.

In 20 years of local government I have seen much of our local heritage lost or damaged. There is an over-gentrification of our heritage, especially with important vernacular buildings. Kells in County Kilkenny is an area that has not been cleaned up, to use the Irish term. It has been kept in its present form and the local community needs money to preserve it, but that community will not damage it and lose its character. That is a local community with no money that is trying [107] its best for a heritage area it recognises as being important to the county and the country. There is a need for education and for people to understand that something can be done without money.

Tourists sometimes come to this country, not to see what we can create for them but what we have created for ourselves. They come to understand and appreciate our quality of life, our love for our past and our desire to preserve the buildings which represent the various periods of our history. Tourists do not necessarily want something created specifically for them. They want to enjoy our clean air and clear water and our historical buildings. Some of those buildings have been given some animation. Kyteler's Inn and the City Hall in Kilkenny are excellent examples of this development. Kilkenny Castle is being restored to incorporate an interpretative centre and a conference centre. Such developments give life to historical buildings and this is what tourists come to see.

Interesting things happen in the planning process. Local authorities have frequently asked Dúchas to comment on historical or interesting buildings. Does Dúchas have the staff or the time to ensure that their comments on the impact of developments on heritage sites and buildings are communicated to local authorities? The Lock House in Carlow is a very important Georgian building which was lived in until recently. A developer received planning permission to develop the adjoining property and destroyed the character of the Georgian house. That development was disgraceful. I asked a parliamentary question about this development and received a reply which was not very helpful because it was given in the context of the current law, which I respect. We must work with local authorities to ensure that what happened to the Lock House in Carlow does not happen again.

In Kilkenny we asked about the impact on Kilkenny Castle of a new riverbank hotel. The reply from Dúchas was quite scant, yet local authority representatives such as I are anxious to receive educated comments from bodies such as Dúchas so that we can apply their expertise to applications under consideration. There is a need for a planning process which will include bodies such as Dúchas.

I welcome the funding of £5 million with £3.5 million for grants. However, this is a very small sum of money. In Leighlinbridge there is a building which was a courthouse in 1798 and is now a shop. The shopkeeper wants to renovate her home but she is conscious of the historical importance of the building in which she lives. How far will the grant allocation take that woman who does not have the funds to restore a listed building properly? Local authorities and the State have an obligation – reflected to a degree in the Bill – to come to the aid of people such as this [108] woman and to ensure that people who live in historical buildings are given every possible assistance in renovating and preserving their homes. Houses such as that in Leighlinbridge should be restored and maintained to the best advantage of the State and of the family who live in them with the help of the fund established by the Bill. There is a need to increase the fund over the coming years. Buildings for which formal applications have not yet been made should be given priority, included in a pilot scheme and the householders given every encouragement to complete restoration projects as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The Bill must ensure that the activity of developers under cover of darkness and at weekends is controlled. Part of Kilkenny wall was removed, outside working hours, by a bulldozer which appeared to be driverless. The city wall was never properly reconstructed. The ceiling of Bridge House in Kilkenny is listed. However, a contractor chose to ignore the conditions of a related application and left the ceiling exposed to the weather. Local people are extremely concerned about such cases but the law contains too many loopholes and does not carry sufficient weight. Kilkenny people want to see the building restored sensitively but we have neither the time nor the resources to do so.

Too often, very short answers are given to parliamentary questions. The concerns of the public, articulated by their representatives, should be taken seriously. Replies to parliamentary questions should be adequate and should be pursued to the point where tangible action is taken.

A building known in Kilkenny as the Hole in the Wall is a fine example of a Tudor ale house. When I knew it as a child it was a fine building. Over the years it came into private ownership and is now falling down. The building is of immense value to the State. A civic trust, in partnership with the State, could purchase the site and restore the building which is not only interesting but also of enormous value to the State. The financial and planning problems presented by buildings such as this must be faced.

Whole villages can become important to our heritage. I can think of vernacular buildings side by side in a little area in Callan. We must encourage local authorities to be proactive in encouraging the owners of such buildings to keep them intact and to hand them on, little damaged by the course of time. There is a need for an overall stated policy in this regard so that the State and local authorities can co-operate with owners and developers. Even in the medieval city of Kilkenny we want to see development but we do not want to see development at any cost. The reckless onslaught of building and development in tax designated areas has been a great blow to the character of towns and cities. We have rushed into development without thinking and we have [109] allowed questionable planning permissions because our focus has been on jobs. In a few years time we will be sorry that we destroyed the characters of our cities, towns and villages in our mad rush for development. I am not opposed to development but it must be done sensibly.

There is a great need to examine the question of parking by-laws. Within the Department of the Environment and Local Government, a mechanism must be found to give back power to local authorities. Local authorities must be allowed to implement their own parking by-laws to protect the environs of a castle or heritage building and the rights of residents in a city like Kilkenny with its narrow streets and lanes. We should not have to come back to the Minister and find some circuitous route to prevent parking outside a heritage building on a narrow street or lane in order to protect the environment. I refer, in particular, to Kilkenny. I ask the Minister in the context of not only this but future legislation to look at this issue.

I support the Irish Georgian Society in relation to section 4 and its call for an historic buildings advisory council. I point the Minister in the direction of sections 10 and 38 and ask that the serious submission made by the Irish Georgian Society on this Bill be taken on board and that we do our best to incorporate some of those comments. The Irish Georgian Society, among others, has done immense work to ensure this country is protected and is prepared to play its part in its development in a sensible way while at the same time protecting our heritage.

Mr. Cosgrave:  May I share my time with Deputy Ring?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Cosgrave:  I welcome this Bill which, when passed, should make a real contribution to the conservation and protection of buildings and the heritage they reflect. Each one who cares in any way for the built environment will, time and time again, lament the loss of structures on the streetscape which they formed and mourn the loss of special interior features of importance.

It is not good enough simply to put legislation in place. The concept in this Bill of providing expert support to local authorities is of real value. This, like all generations, is only a caretaker of the natural and built environments which we must leave in better shape than when we arrived. Unfortunately, we have to date allowed too many important built structures, works of art in their own right, to be lost. The Bill recognises that architectural heritage may well be the clustering of buildings which complement each other, and that this is also important. The move forward abandoning the notion of listed building for that [110] of protected structures sends a new and powerful message.

We, in the developed countries, are particularly aware of the need for conservation and to ensure that a sense of locality is maintained. This Bill will help those of us who are at the drawing board creating the new residential areas needed to meet the demands of the expanding population of the greater Dublin region, ensuring focus and opportunity for people to identify with new districts. Not only is it important that buildings of great architectural merit are supported by the Bill, but it is also important that buildings which have played a role in history are also protected as all are part of the heritage of this nation.

I am particularly pleased that a common policy will be applied throughout the State, that a team of conservationists will be readily available to advise local authorities on drawing up lists of protected structures and that Dúchas will be there with practical advice. This will give a new moral authority, removing the view held by some developers that listed buildings are nothing more than an irritant. The public will become more aware and, in turn, more supportive of the notion of structural conservation. Every opportunity must be taken to ease the cost factor, thereby encouraging property owners to be proactive in the protection and restoration of important buildings. The enablement of local authorities to step in and acquire buildings will be of great value.

I congratulate my council, the former Dublin County Council, which purchased buildings such as Newbridge House and the Ardgillan estate in the north county Dublin area. The wonderful job it has done in the conservation and protection of these buildings and in making them available to the nation is to be admired and should continue. We should look to the future, and I take this opportunity to look at my constituency and the buildings therein which may be in need of protection. I am particularly interested in Howth Castle, which is in private ownership. The owner of the castle has been very good as regards the protection of the environment. He had the opportunity lately to put his case before Fingal County Council on the draft development plan and perhaps to make a killing in getting some of his land rezoned, but he resisted doing so. To his credit, much of the lands are there for future generations, as they should be. I will suggest to Fingal County Council that it should put it to him that he should enter into some arrangement with the council and the State to bring that excellent building into the ownership of the State.

There are other excellent buildings in the Howth area, such as the Mariners' Hall at the west pier and some of the wonderful facades will have to be looked after for future generations. Most of the west pier is in the ownership of the Department of the Marine and the Government would have a say in what happens there from [111] time to time. Every effort should be made to retain and preserve these buildings because of the tradition of fishing in Howth.

We have read about the much lamented Turvey House in Donabate, which was ruined and torn apart by developers to make way for housing. That type of activity should be curbed. Developers should not be able to tear down a house of great importance and historic value in this fashion. Some years ago developers moved in and destroyed the house over a weekend. That type of vandalism by developers must be stopped.

I congratulate the Office of Public Works, which does not get much praise, on the wonderful work it has done over the years. I was in Tralee last weekend and visited the old workhouse which is now council offices. Much work was done by Kerry County Council in preserving the building and all those involved should be congratulated. It is a building worth looking at and is a model at which we may look in the future when trying to preserve buildings. Clare Hall, in my constituency, is a marvellous building on which work needs to be done. Today Dublin Corporation informed me that it would do something about it. Buildings of this nature should be preserved for future generations.

Mr. Ring:  I thank Deputy Cosgrave for sharing his time. I hope this Bill will help young couples to provide their own homes. I am delighted to see powers to take on the rogues in the building trade. I am talking about builders who, in the past, got major planning permission in towns but who walked away without putting in footpaths, sewers or green areas and who went back to local authorities six months later and got special treatment from them. We know why some got special treatment, that is, because they brought bags of sweets.

I remember a housing estate in my town of Westport where a builder got planning permission but walked away leaving young couples stranded and bringing their children to school through large potholes. The local authority could not do anything because the estate had not been taken over by the council. The builder, however, got special treatment from the council.

I hope the Minister will be able to shorten the length of time people must wait for planning permission. Local authorities have started an outrageous scheme whereby on the last day the planning is due, they write to say they will refuse permission if they do not get a time extension. That is because some of them have not even looked at the planning application within the two month timeframe, which is outrageous. If the local authority looks for a time extension, it should say why it is looking for it and state how many times someone from the council has examined the planning application instead of playing [112] for time and holding back young couples. That will not happen to big builders, they will be looked after. They can get planning permission and do what they like.

In another case, builders from Galway came to Westport, blocked a road and abused the public who had to travel it every day. We made representations to the local authority and the Garda but no one seemed able to do anything. The builders put up two fingers to everyone who came down that road, including business people who travelled it on a regular basis. It is time that these cowboys were tackled. Other builders dig holes in roads on Saturdays or Sundays and might fill them two or three weeks later. People who drive on these roads are having their cars damaged. If they complain to the local authority, it says it must ask the builder to do something.

It is time the activities of these builders were regulated and I agree they should have to pay a bond. However, they should pay it not when they start building but on the day they receive planning permission. The bond must be received by the local authority before the builder puts a block or a machine on the site, not during construction, as happened in the past. In one case, a builder was three quarters of the way through a scheme, rumours started that he might not be able to finish it because he was not making as much money as he thought, and not until then did the local authority ask for a bond. How did it expect to get a bond from someone who had no money? The bond should be paid to the council before the builder starts work.

One person in my town, who owns a listed building, has presented plans to the local authority on three occasions. The local authority has raised objections and asked for certain work. Although this building is listed, the buildings on either side of it are not, although they are similar. Listed buildings should be protected but if that is what the State wants, it should assist the owner of such a building when he seeks planning permission. That person may find it is not commercially viable to do the work because the local authority wants it done a certain way.

If people working in local authorities spent some time in the private sector they would soon find out how it works. Many people in the private sector have to wait over the weekend to get paid, but local authority workers get paid every Thursday and if the money was not there the workers would be on strike the next day. People who set up their own businesses have to work hard and get little assistance but a lot of hassle from local authorities.

It is time this Government looked at the power of county managers. Maybe the last Government should have done this. They have too much power and it should be given back to councillors and the local authority. An outside agency could adjudicate on this also. It is outrageous that one [113] person has the power to grant or refuse permission. If he does not like someone, he will refuse permission but if he likes the person, he will grant it. We know what happened in this city – if the manager really likes the applicant, he will get as much as he wants, even a loan from the manager. That should stop. Local authority members and the manager should be involved in planning decisions and an outside agency should adjudicate on all applications and zoning.

If a person builds an extension to his house without planning permission, the local authority will get their law agent to drag him into court, even on a Saturday. He will be threatened and put under such pressure that he will do whatever the local authority asks. However, if a big builder breaks the law, knocks a listed building or works at weekends, the local authority has neither power, commitment nor will to tackle him. Local authorities attack people who build small extensions and let big builders do what they want. I am delighted that the Bill will introduce a bond system so that builders can be taken on and will have to pay a bond before they start work.

My county has one of the most beautiful of the few estates left in Ireland, Westport House. Its owner, Lord Altamont, received little assistance from this State, and every obstacle was put in his way by the local authority. He has done more for tourism in Westport, Mayo and the west of Ireland than Bord Fáilte, Ireland West or any State agency in the last 20 years. All they have done is travel the world at the taxpayers' expense, eating big dinners in America. This man has tried to save the features of his estate and to keep it open, but the best Mayo County Council could do for him was put a sewage treatment plant in the middle of it. This was outrageous and I was glad the Minister of the day was able to restrict the local authority to a certain extent. When a beautiful estate such as that exists, it is terrible that instead of assisting its owner, the local authority does him damage.

This Bill is not concerned with An Bord Pleanála but we passed legislation on it recently. Instead of that body improving, it is getting worse – people are now waiting longer for decisions on planning appeals. One speaker mentioned the Georgian Society and An Taisce, who have an important role to play. An Taisce has held up three major development in my county by raising objections. Who belongs to An Taisce in Westport or Mayo? Perhaps the objections are from people in Dublin 4.

If a person makes an objection, he should not be able to hide behind the banner of An Taisce or a State agency. We should know the name, address and telephone number of the person who made the objection. If the local authority thinks a development is needed in a rural area, these [114] people should not be able to hold it up, but An Taisce has delayed development in Mulrany, Westport and Newport in the last few years. Who is in An Taisce? I never saw their names on ballot papers or heard how many votes they won. They never stand for Europe, the county council or the UDC. Legislation should be introduced so that we know who objects to a planning application. They should at least have the courage to make themselves known.

This reminds me of letters to newspapers. If a person criticises politicians, we read that his name and address is with the editor, but if someone writes to praise politicians, the editor will not publish him. If a person does not have the courage to put his name to a letter to the editor or to a planning objection, the letter should not be published and the objection should not be heard, even if the money is paid. They should provide a name and address so we know who they are and where they come from. Perhaps we could amend the Bill on Committee Stage to deal with this problem, rather than allowing faceless and nameless people to put their name to planning appeals.

I am delighted this Bill will deal with builders because they have caused a lot of headaches to families and cost local authorities a lot of money. In some housing estates where developers did not provide proper services, local authorities had to put them in. It is time that builders obeyed the law like everyone else. If they dig a hole in the road or damage property they should pay. They should not be able to intimidate people because they are developers or to get away with murder with local authorities.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy):  I thank Deputies who contributed and assure them that the points they raised will be given careful consideration before Committee Stage, when many of these issues will receive closer scrutiny.

Question put and agreed to.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy):  I move:

That in accordance with Standing Order 112(2) and paragraph (1)(a)(i) of the Orders of Reference of Select Committees the Bill be referred to the Select Committee on the Environment and Local Government.

Question put and agreed to.[115]

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

Mr. Fleming:  I wish to share time with Deputies Kenneally and Callely.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Fleming:  I welcome the thrust of the Bill and commend Deputy Finucane on the excellent work and research in which he engaged in recent weeks to bring it before the House. Regulations are important in this area given that Ireland is an island nation. As such water and the influence of the seas have a major part to play in the lives of coastal communities. It is no coincidence that all our major cities, Dublin, Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Sligo, are located along the coast where there are many water and sport activities.

What prompted the Bill was the number of tragedies on our seas, lakes and rivers in the past. We should do everything in our power to avert other tragedies. I am happy to say we will accommodate the spirit of the Bill and take on board the spirit of what is being proposed by Deputy Finucane.

The question of water safety has not been addressed in the past. In the midland counties there are a number of water safety associations which are essentially voluntary groups. Many of these are organised and run in conjunction with the student summer job option scheme in which students participate for a number of weeks. Some are qualified lifeguards, having attained training locally. Those groups have been of tremendous benefit but they are only scratching at the surface in terms of the work that needs to be done. Regulations are needed in this area. We will have to be practical in how we approach this work as the policing of these areas will be difficult. Also, it would be difficult to apply the definition of standards. The regulatory authorities will have an ongoing task in policing this area.

There are approximately 100 centres run by private interests, whether scouting bodies or vocational education committees, providing training and participation in a number of adventure activities. These activities, which include sailing, power-boating, scuba diving, wind surfing, hill walking, pony trekking, canoeing, archery, rock climbing, abseiling, caving, pot-holing, orienteering, rafting, skiing, parachuting, ski diving and bungy jumping, involve an element of risk, thrill and excitement.

[116] Clarification is needed on which Department is responsible for water sport. The Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources is dealing with it today but the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation also has a key role because water sport is a recreation activity. Many of the centres operate for tourism purposes. I expect the Department of Enterprise and Employment has a role to play, given that the Health and Safety Authority, which is to monitor this area, comes under the ambit of that Department. The activities of the various Departments involved need to be co-ordinated.

While the Bill contains a number of definitions, it has two major omissions. There is no clear definition of “safety” or “providers of facilities”, both of which need to be spelled out in detail.

Before the Bill progresses further there should be greater consultation with the Health and Safety Authority, given that the Bill proposes that the authority will oversee the various regulations to be introduced. It is not appropriate to introduce a Bill without first ascertaining whether the authority is equipped to do that type of work. Currently it deals only with health and safety issues in relation to employment matters, whereas the Bill requires it to deal with the health and safety of the public and those who pay to engage in activities. That is outside the remit of the authority and it would be a major cultural change to take on this work.

I commend the Fine Gael Party on introducing the Bill. Its purpose is to provide for the regulation of centres and providers of facilities where children and young persons under the age of 18 engage in adventure activities, including the provision of requirements relating to safety.

A proper audit should be conducted of the 100 facilities provided by private and other bodies. If we looked, we would find many more. The purpose of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill, 1998, is to establish a register of protected buildings. Before that Bill can be enacted the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, through Dúchas, has to conduct a major survey to establish the listed buildings that need to be protected. Similarly, before the Health and Safety Authority can assume responsibility, some Departments or agent of the Government will have to conduct a proper audit of existing facilities.

The role of education and the attitude of people towards water needs to be addressed. We can introduce all the legislation we wish, but education and attitudes are much more important if tragedies are to be avoided in this area.

It is not clear whether swimming pools operated by local authorities or community groups come under the Bill.

While the Bill has many good points, it is too narrowly focused in that it relates only to water based activities. Marine based activity centres [117] would be positively discriminated against because of extra rules and regulations attaching to them while land-based centres would not be licensed or regulated. Given the higher standards required, the public would be content to use the marine based activity centres. On that basis the Bill needs much further consideration.

The Bill mentions 18 years of age. I do not know why that age was chosen and it is difficult to pick a particular age group. It is an arbitrary figure and will make the provisions difficult to enforce. Teenagers, irrespective of whether they are aged 16, 17, 18 or 19, engage in water sports activities. It is impossible to form an accurate opinion as to whether a person is aged 18 or over.

I understand the Bill is loosely based on UK legislation. However, there is a fundamental difference between it and the Bill because the UK legislation applies to all land and water based leisure activities. The UK legislation has been in place for approximately four years and has given rise to a number of problems. The enforcement of the law is under review in England.

The intention and essence of the Bill is good but I am opposed to statutes which cannot be enforced because of lack of provision on the ground. A law which is not enforced brings all other laws into disrepute. I would prefer resources to be directed to existing laws and regulations to allow them to be enforced rather than passing new laws for which additional resources are not provided.

Another complication is that marine and non-marine activities are often provided by a single operation. They may be provided by the one activity centre and it will be difficult in practical business terms to separate the two areas. I would be happier if the Bill was more broadly based and did not only cover water based activities.

Some non-marine activities, such as rock climbing, parachuting, caving and potholing, are more dangerous than those covered by the Bill. These non-marine activities need to be addressed because there is a greater level of interest in them. There is an increasing number of sports programmes on television devoted to them and young people are becoming more interested in these activities. Legislation should be introduced to cover that area. The people involved in the industry would prefer a broadly based approach.

I understand the Government is reviewing all the options and it has set the target date of the end of June for the completion of the review, which is only a short time away. I implore the Department to ensure that the deadline is met and it brings forward a full and comprehensive report to enable the introduction of legislation in the spirit of Deputy Finucane's Bill. This would also allow the Opposition parties to work with the Government in ensuring that legislation on this area is brought to a conclusion as soon as possible.

[118]Mr. Kenneally:  I thank Deputy Fleming for sharing his time. I am delighted this topic is finally being discussed in the House. I am also delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate.

I commend Deputy Finucane for introducing the Bill. It is largely inspired by the case of a constituent of mine who lives in an adjoining housing estate. He suffered a tragedy on 18 February 1995 when he lost his son in a drowning incident off Dunmore East. What happened that day bordered on criminal neglect. I first met the constituent on 16 October 1995. My party was in Opposition at the time and I tabled a number of parliamentary questions on the matter. I also spoke to my party's spokesperson on the marine and I hoped we would introduce a Private Members' Bill, but unfortunately that did not happen. It is three and a half years since my initial meeting with the constituent and I am embarrassed that it has taken so long to reach this point. However, at least we are finally making some progress.

There was much frustration at that time because a number of Departments were involved. When one went to the Department of the Marine, one was referred to the Department of Tourism and Sport which referred one to the Department of Education. It was a difficult situation.

In researching and looking back at some of my notes for this debate, I read the contribution the constituent made to the inquest which was held in October 1995. The man's comments were heart rending and all parents could sympathise with him. Most Members are parents and we are lucky because we can do something about this matter by introducing legislation. We can change the situation and I hope we will do so.

The Minister was initially reluctant to accept the Bill because, among other things, it relates only to one area of adventure activities. However, this should not stop us because, as Deputy Finucane said, the Bill is only a start. Further legislation could be introduced at a later stage to bring the other areas into line. As Deputy Fleming said, there are problems with the English legislation on which the Bill is based. However, a review is due to be completed at the end of June. I hope the report is produced before that date and that legislation can be introduced as soon as possible.

People have an increasing amount of leisure time and because Ireland is a coastal nation, people will inevitably turn to various aquatic pursuits. It would be nice if the existing regulations were adhered to and it was unnecessary to introduce legislation. However, they are dangerous sports and the recommendations and regulations are not being enforced. The House is often in the position of trying to save people from themselves and this is the purpose of the Bill. It is most important to protect young people. When parents send their sons and daughters to activity centres, [119] they want to do so in the knowledge that they will be properly protected.

A friend of mine was present in Dunmore East on the day the incident took place. He told me later that evening that he could not believe the canoes were out on the water that day because the fishing boats were tied up. It is not good enough. If legislation had been in place at that time, the canoes would not have gone out. I realise progress has been made with regard to various safety recommendations and that is welcome. However, it is easy to ignore them. For example, the Irish canoe union approved people who were not even qualified. It is imperative that statutory effect is given to the various recommendations.

In 1990, the Department of the Marine issued a report by the review group on air-sea rescue services. This report was commonly known as the Doherty report after the group's chairman, the former Garda Commissioner, Eamonn Doherty. Most of the report's recommendations have been implemented but two are outstanding. It was recommended that coast and cliff rescue units should be deployed to provide a visual coast watch where and when required. It was stated that mobile units could provide bad weather watches and that the director of the Irish Marine Emergency Service should draw up a plan identifying areas and situations where mobile watches would be needed. It was also stated that coast and cliff rescue service area officers should be trained as local search and rescue liaison officers linking sea and land-based rescue agencies. If these had been in operation when that tragedy occurred, it would have been the function of the area officer to advise people going out on the water in such conditions to return to shore as their position was dangerous. It would have also been the area officer's function to act as local co-ordinator during the search and rescue operation.

Tourism will be the largest industry on this island in the near future. That presents many opportunities – there is huge potential employment in it. There is, however, also a social dimension. Children love water. If we can encourage children from deprived urban areas to come out of the city to properly licensed and run adventure centres, it will help to keep them out of trouble. It will make them more responsible because of the discipline it will instil in them. This Bill would therefore have a benefit for society beyond its primary function.

I commend Deputy Finucane on this and hope that we will not be forced to divide on the issue later this evening.

Mr. Callely:  I compliment Deputy Finucane on his initiative to focus our attention on the need for appropriate legislation and regulation in the operation of adventure centres.

[120] Due to the tremendous growth in our tourism industry, the additional disposable income available to many and the awareness of the importance of sport, leisure and recreation, there is an increasing trend towards the use of adventure centres, especially towards water based activities.

Given our many lakes, canals, inland waters and miles of coastline which could accommodate water based leisure and adventure activities, and the great potential for further development, I support the view that legislation is essential in this area. I have tabled a number of questions to the Minister on this issue. The Minister of State is not satisfied that the proposals in the Bill go far enough and clearly stated that a comprehensive review of the regulatory requirement for all adventure centres and activities is required.

There is huge diversity in the number and type of adventure activities. I would like to see a legislative approach which would adequately address the total range. I envisage difficulties in that challenge, however, because the range is so diverse.

We are all aware of the tragic accidents at sea. Given the increased use of water activities it is appropriate that we start framing legislation to prevent them. We should not wait for more accidents before commencing what is necessary.

I have often raised the issue of jet skis and high powered speed boats. I was bitterly disappointed with the Minister's response to the question I tabled on 27 May, when he indicated that his responsibility solely relates to safety on water in so far as vessels, passengers and crew are concerned. His interest in water sports relates to the safe operation of sports where vessels or boats are used. The Minister has primary responsibility in this area. In a safe bathing area there may be dedicated swimmers, young children learning and people having a fun day out. It is not uncommon to see surfers surfing in and now high powered speed boats and very dangerous jet skis among people using the water for other purposes. It is appropriate that we clearly define responsibilities for all concerned.

I am disappointed the reply of 27 May states that self-regulation by individuals is the policy of the Department. That is not a practical or effective approach. There are irresponsible people who will show off in their high powered speed boats and jet skis. I ask the Minister to review that policy. While the Minister acknowledged that there was public concern about this, he again stated that self regulation was the policy in reply to a question on 1 July. In the Dublin Bay area, particularly Dollymount and the surrounding area, I have witnessed young people using jet skis and high powered speed boats. I do not believe self regulation works; it is not possible to police it for boats of this nature. Before a tragic accident happens, something must be done. The Minister is committed to addressing the full range of adventure activities. He should make a start by [121] examining regulations for jet skis and speed boats.

I was in west Cork and decided to take a trip on a leisure boat. There were two families with young children on board. One of my kids was nicknamed “Captain Smith” by the pilot who hit a rock where we became stranded for a period long enough to become frightening. When I looked around the boat, there was not a life jacket to be seen. This was a licensed boat operating from a pier with seemingly appropriate safety procedures.

Current regulations are not satisfactory. I ask the Minister to look at Deputy Finucane's initiative and come back to the House with appropriate legislation dealing with water based activities as soon as possible.

Mr. Bell:  I thank my colleague, Deputy Finucane, for sharing some time with me. I was unable to speak on the Bill last night. When my colleagues, Deputy O'Shea and Deputy Finucane, contacted me about the Bill on behalf of the parents concerned, I had no hesitation in saying I would support it. As a parent who lost a son under similar tragic circumstances, I can understand the problem and I congratulate Deputy Finucane on bringing forward the Bill.

It is important that the necessary safeguards contained in the Bill are introduced to protect not just young people but all of those engaged in water sports. I was particularly impressed by the fact that all my colleagues on both sides of the House supported the Bill. I thank the Minister also because it is rare for a Private Members' Bill to go through the Dáil; Deputy Shatter's Bill was probably the last to do so. It is nice for Deputy Finucane to have a Bill in his name on the Statute Book and it is equally important that the Government should recognise that.

This may not be a major Bill to some people but it is important to those who have been affected by similar tragic circumstances as occurred in this case. It is nice to know that democracy will prevail in the House. On behalf of the Labour Party I assure the Minister and Deputy Finucane that we will give our full support to the Bill. I hope the House will not divide on this issue.

Ms Clune:  I wish to share time with Deputies Perry, Ring and Deenihan.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Doherty):  Agreed.

Ms Clune:  I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Finucane, on bringing forward the Bill. It is essential that these regulations are put on a statutory footing because there has been a huge increase in these activity centres in recent years. Over the past few years I have sent my children to a number of these centres in Cork during the summer months. It is important that we teach our children [122] how to properly use the water for sports purposes. As an island nation we have a great maritime tradition and safety is important regardless of whether people use the water for sailing, canoeing, boating or wind surfing. I have always encouraged my children to enjoy the water because I did not enjoy it as a child.

I have put my six year old son on a bus in Cork, he was brought to one of these activity centres and brought back home in the evening. Having spoken to Mr. Michael Davies from Dunmore East it occurred to me that I just assumed these people would look after my son and that all the proper procedures would be in place. While I do not doubt that these activity centres are professionally run, mistakes can happen if proper regulations are not put in place. These children go out in canoes. They are supposed to be wearing lifejackets but who supervises children, who may never have seen a lifejacket before, when they are putting them on? Do they ensure they are properly secured? Is there regular inspection of the belts? It is all very well having a lifejacket but if it does not work when it is needed, the child is in trouble.

It is essential to have the right attitude to lifejackets. It should be automatic as in the way we fasten our seat belt in a car. Nobody should go near a boat unless there are lifejackets available. Some people appear to have a casual attitude to lifejackets – Deputy Callely described earlier how he found himself without a lifejacket on a boating trip. Lifejackets are essential but we do not pay sufficient attention to them in terms of safety at sea. Putting on a lifejacket is a procedure that young people can learn automatically, just as they should learn to listen to the weather forecast.

The tragedy in Dunmore East was mentioned earlier. Mr. Davies told me he did not know his son would be out in a canoe that day and his permission was not sought. It is essential that parents are consulted. This was a 14 year old boy, the type of person this legislation will protect.

I commend Deputy Finucane and I am delighted the Government proposes to accept the spirit of the Bill. Comments were made to the effect that it only refers to water-based activities but it can be extended to other activities. Our spokesperson on sport, Deputy Allen, is examining that. There is no reason we cannot enjoy water-based activities but the safety of our young people must come first. Safety learned at a young age will hold for life.

Mr. Deenihan:  I compliment my colleague, Deputy Finucane, on this important initiative. I want to recognise also the magnanimity of the Minister in accepting the Bill. This is the second Private Members' Bill to be accepted in the House in the past six weeks and it shows that the [123] Opposition can have a meaningful role in coming up with practical proposals.

As a former physical education teacher, I am well aware of the necessity for regulation of outdoor activity centres on the coastline as well as inland centres throughout the country. Our tourism industry is becoming more focused on activity-type holidays. More walkers are coming to Ireland than golfers. We have a massive resource in our seas, with 2,000 miles of coastline. County Kerry alone has 300 miles of totally under-utilised coastline. That is a resource we must exploit. As we begin to recognise that vast natural resource, we will capitalise on it through outdoor activities.

I remember an incident that occurred ten years ago in which an experienced canoeist, who regularly used a fibreglass canoe, used a plastic canoe for the first time. If one turns over in a fibreglass canoe the recovery manoeuvre is different from that used in a plastic canoe. The instructor never told them how to get out of the canoe and he was nearly drowned. This person was quite a good canoeist in a fibreglass canoe.

This indicates the need for proper regulations and safety procedures in outdoor activity centres. The Minister will arrange a special committee to examine the totality of the requirement for all centres. It is important that regulations are in place and that instructors are properly qualified. In many cases people who may be good at sport suddenly become professionals and instruct young children without having been put through a course on normal safety precautions. One sees people going fishing or sailing without life jackets. Many fishermen never use life jackets and cannot swim. People do not realise the danger until they are in trouble.

The essence of the Bill is the need for more regulation and awareness and that people should not be able to establish outdoor activity centres at a whim. It should not be easy to obtain a licence. There is an appeals provision in the Bill whereby people can go to the High Court if they are refused a licence. The Bill also sets out reasonable parameters concerning those who should qualify.

Outdoor activity centres can provide important jobs in tourism and there are spin-offs for B&Bs, local hostels and restaurants. It is important that we encourage the growth of these centres but they should be properly regulated and run in a professional manner.

Cappanalee Outdoor Education Centre in Kerry is one of the finest outdoor activity centres in the country. It has been in operation for over 20 years and there have been very few incidents as it observes very high standards of safety procedures and control. Cappanalee is an example to other centres. The manager has been at the centre for almost 15 years and this is an indication of [124] his commitment and dedication. The centre offers canoeing, wind surfing, sailing, mountaineering, hill walking and a range of other activities. Safety is the primary concern in the centre. Before anyone is allowed to go walking they must go through a drill which outlines safety procedures. That is very important.

I compliment Deputy Finucane on this opportune Bill and thank the Minister of State for accepting the Bill in the spirit it was intended.

Mr. Perry:  I congratulate Deputy Finucane on this excellent Bill and the Government for indicating that it will take the Bill on board. That is good government.

The purpose of this Bill is to provide for the regulation of centres and providers of facilities where children and young persons under the age of 18 engage in adventure activities, including provisions relating to safety.

Sligo's saddest day was 16 May 1998 when three teenagers under 18 years of age, Bobby Taylor, Michael Higgins and Tommy Coyle, lost their lives on Strandhill beach. No family should ever again suffer in the way in which the families of these young men suffered. I know the three families. These were three brilliant young men due to sit their leaving certificate the following week. On the only good day of the summer they went to Strandhill beach to play football and lost their lives within 30 minutes. This Bill could be a tribute to the lives of these young men if it ensures that such an accident never happens again.

The regulation of safety should be undertaken by the Government. In a letter dated 2 February 1999, the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Woods, stated:

The Irish Marine Emergency Service, IMES, of my Department are currently working with the Department of the Environment and Local Government with the proposal to have a liaison agreement with lifeguards which would affirm the lifeguard service as a “Declared Facility” to the IMES. This would incorporate the lifeguard service in the co-ordination of rescue efforts in the event of a marine incident.

It is important that co-operation exists between Departments.

I wish to raise an issue concerning the National Safety Council whose sole responsibility it is to inspect beaches. Its instructions to local authorities, which are classified as confidential, concern the area known as the beach line and are intended to assist authorities to take whatever action is considered necessary to improve the safety of the area surveyed. This report is made in good faith in the interests of promoting water safety. The report covers the period of inspection over two or three weeks and relates to facts as found or viewed within the defined survey areas. [125] It is not a survey of the adjacent waters or of the area beneath the water. Where appropriate, the report may contain historical or common knowledge references to the survey area, shifting sands and so on.

Water safety is a comprehensive issue and the Minister should look at the guidelines concerning the NSC so it can deal with marine safety. The NSC deals with all inland safety issues. Inspections were carried out on Strandhill beach in 1992, 1994, 1996 and 1998. I received a letter from the Irish Surfing Association which stated that it was disappointed with the way in which the report first came to its attention – it heard about it on the morning news. The letter states:

As the national governing body of surfing in Ireland and the authority on the sport it would have made sense to have consulted the association when researching the report. It would appear to us from reading the report that it was carried out by somebody who has very little knowledge of the sport of surfing.

The report claims that the beach is not a designated surfing beach. As far as the Irish Surfing Association is concerned the beach has been designated as a surfing beach for the past 25 years. The beach is also listed in the Bord Fáilte leaflet Surfing in Ireland as a suitable beach for surfing. It is mentioned in the Stormriders Guide for Europe, the acknowledged travellers reference, as a major surf spot.

The report states that surfers who became detached from their boards now become swimmers. Surfers wear leashes which attach them by their ankle to their boards so when they fall off their boards they are still attached.

On the issue of safety on beaches, the National Safety Council should consult more widely with all concerned – local authorities, the IFA, and surfers. The Marine Safety Working Group has been set up by the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources in conjunction with other maritime bodies. The group has published safety booklets on a variety of maritime activities. The IMES has also published safety posters in conjunction with the National Safety Council. These booklets should be made available to schools. There is a huge lack of knowledge. The three young men who died in Strandhill did not have enough awareness. One of them had never been to Strandhill before they went for a game of football on the beach. The tragedy could have been prevented if these booklets were made available through schools.

However, the direction of such notices and the appointment of lifeguards as well as overall responsibility for safety at beaches is under the remit of the local authorities. Ultimate responsibility rests with the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. There should be more [126] co-operation with regard to safety. Responsibility lies with the different local authorities along the coast but there should be a separate body to deal exclusively with maritime safety, particularly safety at beaches. It should not be left to the local authorities. They might not have the funds or the discretion to impose their authority.

Water activities is a huge sector. There should be co-ordination in promotions when beaches are opened and declared safe for swimming. I pay tribute to the three tragic young men who lost their lives in Strandhill less than one year ago. They should have been in third level college today. The Minister must ensure that such an event never occurs again. There should be a State body to deal exclusively with safety on the coastline.

I pay tribute to Deputy Finucane. It was one of the Government's greatest decisions to accept this Bill and to introduce legislation for proper controls and regulations to ensure that no family will again have to suffer tragedy due to lack of knowledge and awareness and an inability to swim.

I wish to make a final appeal to the Minister. There is no activity centre in Sligo. Funding is required for the provision of such a centre and I look forward to putting a proposal to the Minister in this regard in the near future.

Mr. Ring:  I compliment Deputy Finucane. Since he was appointed Fine Gael spokesman on the marine and natural resources he has settled well into the job and takes a great interest in it. When one goes into his office, he is surrounded by bags of books and letters which he uses for his research. He had a particularly keen interest in the introduction of this Bill.

There is hardly an area of this country where a family has not seen one of its members die tragically in water. Many activity centres have sprung up on our coasts over the years and there are no rules or regulations to regulate them. I am delighted the Government accepted Deputy Finucane's Bill and that it intends to introduce similar legislation to regulate this important sector. It is time for such action.

A friend of mine went surfing in Westport one Sunday. There were hundreds of people on the beach but she was dead within two minutes. It was a tragic accident. There was nobody there to deal with the problem so they had to wait for the right people to arrive. The young lady died and it was a terrible tragedy for the family. Her mother was a widow who was left with one surviving son. They will never forget the day they got that terrible news.

I hope when the Bill is next brought before the House, we will discuss the activity centres throughout the country. Many of these centres are sponsored by the State through the vocational education committees. They have an advantage [127] over the private sector. I know of somebody in my constituency who sold his home and bought a business in this sector. He finds it difficult to compete with the public sector centres. They get subsidies from the VEC and it does not matter whether they have a good or bad year because they know somebody will pick up the tab for them. That is wrong.

There should be grant aid for people who are setting up private businesses in this sector. They should certainly get the same help other centres receive from the vocational education committees and it is wrong that they do not. If regulations are introduced for the private sector, they will also apply to the public sector. Rather than cutting prices and undercutting private operators, it is time this sector was regulated. That is why this Bill is before the House.

People have talked about this for the past five or six years and at last something is being done. I hope the Minister will ensure that proper legislation is brought before the House and that he will honour the commitment he gave Deputy Finucane. People who go out to enjoy themselves in water activities should know there are proper regulations and trained personnel in place to regulate those activities. Hopefully, there will be no more of these tragedies.

Mr. Sheehan:  I welcome the Bill introduced by Deputy Finucane, Fine Gael spokesman on the marine and natural resources. It is long overdue. The Activity Centres (Young Persons' Water Safety) Bill is a major step forward towards ensuring no more serious fatalities occur on our coastline.

Young people are inclined not to dread the danger of the sea. I come from the seaside constituency of Cork South-West and I am aware of the importance of seaside facilities which are an attraction for tourists throughout the year. It is most important that these tourists be advised, as far as possible, of the dangers that lie in their paths. It is of paramount importance that activity centres be compelled to give full instructions to their young and adult clients. They must take every precaution possible to ensure they do not get into difficulties. However, it is hard to impart such information.

Visitors from Germany, Holland and other countries tend to visit our coastal resorts around Christmas. They go out walking on the cliffs, often walking down the beach to the water's edge. Suddenly, a giant wave surges forward and sweeps them off the rocks. I have seen that happen on numerous occasions. Every year for the past ten to 15 years has seen a tragedy caused by that activity. These people should be advised of the dangers of walking on the headlands. It is hard to put an old head on young shoulders. However, it is vital for the safety of all concerned [128] that as much knowledge as possible is imparted to water activity enthusiasts who pursue their activities both in the water and on the rocks.

The Irish Marine Emergency Service has given a superb service since it was established. The Minister is also from a coastal constituency so he is well aware of the rigours involved in providing that service. He is also aware of the quality of service given by the IMES. I implore the Minister to maintain the funding of that worthwhile organisation. It has played its part in trying to make our coastline and marine activities safer than ever. Its members have spent days and weeks tracking the coastline in search of people who are missing after falling from rocks.

The Minister has the experience, courage and dedication to put this legislation into force. I do not doubt he will ensure that outdoor activities are made safer in the years ahead.

Ms Coughlan:  I wish to share my time with the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Woods.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Ms Coughlan:  I am delighted to address the Bill before the House and I compliment Deputy Finucane on introducing it. As a Deputy representing a coastal constituency, I am aware of the serious problems encountered by many young people concerning their safety at sea. I am also president of the Killybegs IMES. I agree with what Deputy Sheehan said. Problems often arise due to the negligence of people who do not take even the simplest precautions when they leave to go abseiling, hillwalking or climbing cliffs. Self-regulation is not in the mindset of the Irish or of continentals. Therefore, legislation and supervision of its implementation will be paramount.

I am glad the Minister has taken on board the concerns of all Members. I look forward to the introduction of legislation in this area, which will encompass not only water sports and water safety but many of our other outdoor activities. A tremendous outdoor pursuits centre is run by Donegal VEC. Its pursuits include canoeing and other activities at sea, as well as many other activities, including hillwalking, abseiling and rock climbing. The new legislation should be all encompassing.

I would like the Minister to address an anomaly in regard to swimming pool safety in this legislation. This issue also concerns the Department of the Environment and Local Government. Any Members who are county councillors will be aware of the stringent regulations that apply to the supervision and insurance of swimming pools. However, with the growth of tourism many private pools and leisure centres have been set up which are not properly regulated. Having regard to the dreadful tragedy that occurred in a crowded swimming pool in Killybegs, regulation [129] of such facilities should also be included in the new legislation. If we want to promote outdoor activities and the health of the young and not so young, we must take account of the many concerns regarding safety on land and on sea and ensure the necessary protection is included in an all-encompassing Bill.

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources

(Dr. Woods): I am pleased to have this opportunity to participate in the debate on this important issue. I welcome the initiative taken by Deputy Finucane in introducing this measure. I wholeheartedly endorse the spirit and intention of the Bill. I support the view that a strong regulatory regime must be introduced as soon as possible. I set up an interdepartmental working group for this purpose to ensure that the issues are dealt with comprehensively.

I would have liked to have been here last night for the introductory statements, but as my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Hugh Byrne, explained I was detained in Brussels at an important EU Council of Ministers meeting. I thank Deputy Finucane for the best wishes he extended to me in that regard. I also thank the Minister of State for standing in for me and briefing me on the debate.

From the content of last night's debate, it is clear there is general agreement that the question of a proper regulatory regime for activity centres needs to be urgently addressed. The Bill gave Members an opportunity to express their views on the issues concerned. Doubt was expressed that the Bill in its present form may not be the ideal vehicle. I noted the remarks by Deputy O'Shea in that context. The Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, also outlined some of these difficulties. I share those doubts, but having regard to the non-adversarial and non-controversial spirit in which debate was conducted, I can indicate the Government is anxious to bring forward a Bill of this kind as soon as possible to meet the concerns of Deputy Finucane and others.

There is general agreement that urgent action needs to be taken to tackle the question of unregulated adventure centres and to ensure the safety of all those, particularly young people, who avail of their services. In the meantime work will proceed urgently on a detailed examination of what needs to be done by the interdepartmental working group I established. That group, comprised of senior representatives of the Departments of the Marine and Natural Resources, Education and Science, Environment and Local Government, Tourism, Sport and Recreation and Enterprise, Trade and Employment, is chaired by Mr. Michael Guilfoyle, Assistant Secretary of my Department. I asked that the group produce a report by the beginning of June. When I receive that report, subject to the usual requirements for its submission to Government, I will make it [130] available to Deputy Finucane and other spokespersons. Following consultation, I look forward to the introduction of what, in effect, will be agreed and comprehensive legislation.

I can also inform the House that the RNLI proposes to institute very shortly the sea check scheme, which has proved very popular in the United Kingdom and has made a significant contribution to the safety of people participating in marine leisure activities of all kinds in that jurisdiction. I understand the RNLI will station experts at as many slipways and access points as possible around the coast during the high season and advise people, who propose going to sea therefrom, on the safety requirements they should observe. This will be done on a voluntary basis.

I congratulate the institution on another fine initiative. I have no doubt it will make a major contribution to safety at sea and I look forward to announcing further details in due course.

I propose to get in contact immediately with the Association for Adventure Sports, AFAS, the umbrella group for these sports, and request it to produce immediately strong guidelines that should be observed by all adventure centres pending the outcome of the deliberations of the working group and the finalisation of a Bill.

I met the officer board of this association last autumn and was struck by its obvious determination to participate to the full in the safety drive on which we are now all agreed. It proposed two alternative approaches to me at that time. These form the basic working documents on which the work of the working group is proceeding. One is a statutory scheme and the other is the issue of ministerial guidelines, which would be observed on a non-statutory basis. Under the first proposal, the statutory scheme, the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation would issue licences to people providing training, leadership, instruction or supervised activity in any of a listed number of adventure activities to people of any or all ages and provision should be made to include additional activities.

The licensing scheme should not apply to schools providing such activities to their own students but should apply to outdoor education centres, permanent outdoor centres run by scouting or other organisations and to such other organisations as the Minister decides. The Central Standards Board should be designated as an advisory body to the Minister and as the inspectorate responsible for monitoring the adventure activities of providers who have applied for licences with the purpose of ensuring safety and good practice. In fulfilling its role, the Central Standards Board should pay due regard to safety guidelines laid down by the national governing bodies and the Minister should attach such conditions as he thinks fit to the issuing of a licence.

[131] The national governing bodies of the relevant activities should be required to maintain easily accessible and up to date records of institutional award holders and these should be made available to the board as required. Appropriate penalties should be imposed on persons or operators who breach safety regulations laid down by the Minister or who fail to meet conditions attached by him. Providers should pay differential fees based on the number of activities provided and the Minister should provide grants to the inspectorate in respect of such expenses as are not met by licence fees. The alternative proposal was that the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation should issue guidelines pertaining to safety and good practice based on the Central Standards Board booklet inspection and approval scheme, and these would be widely circulated. There is a variety of other interesting proposals in that which are being considered by the board. They will enable the working group to come up with a workable regime that it can recommend to me, the Government and the Opposition so that we will have a well-rounded implementation system of regulations which will be to the satisfaction of everybody involved.

In the meantime, following the tragic loss of two young canoeists at Dunmore East in February 1995, my Department made new safety recommendations. These include making equipment highly visible so that rescue services can more easily locate people in need of assistance, and the carriage of whistles, hand flares and hand-held VHF radios by canoeists. These and other recommendations, which were outlined in detail by the Minister of State last night, are already in operation. Since 1997 my Department has been issuing leaflets and advice for canoeists which include these recommendations. This is now part of our constant campaign to promote safety on the water in association with the National Safety Council, the ISA, the RNLI, IMES and other Government Departments and State agencies.

I have requested the committee to publish its report by early June. This would enable us, and it would be my objective, to draft legislation before the summer recess. I will take up that with the Opposition to see how we can make progress on such a programme. We need extra regulatory powers to comprehensively address the issues of safety in our growing water-based leisure activities.

Deputy Finucane has highlighted these issues for the House in bringing forward this Bill. My concern is that the Bill goes only so far. I invite him to co-operate with me in going the rest of the way to bring in the comprehensive legislation we both want. We have had excellent contributions to this debate over two nights. I thank Deputy Finucane for bringing forward his proposal. I [132] assure him I am totally committed to proceeding as early as possible along these lines. I know he understands that various Departments are involved. Therefore, if we want to have the truly comprehensive legislation we all want in this area, the inderdepartmental group will provide us the basic material and a point from which we can take off. I will consult Deputy Finucane and other Front Bench spokespersons at that stage so that we can introduce agreed legislation which would be a major step forward. I trust Deputy Finucane appreciates my sincerity in this regard.

Mr. McGinley:  I wish to share my time with Deputies Belton and Finucane.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. McGinley:  Cuirim fáilte roimh an Bhille seo agus molaim an Teachta Finucane as é a chur ós comhair na Dála. Tá fhios againn go léir go bhfuil méadú mór ar an uimhir daoine – go speisialta daoine óga – a ghlacann páirt sna imeachtaí spóirt a chlúdaíonn an Bille seo. De ghnáth ionaid eachtraíochta a eagraíonn na himeachtaí seo agus molann an Bille go mbeadh orthu clárú le rialacha sábháltachta áirithe.

Nuair a chumhníonn muid ar an méid táismí uisce a tharla le blianta anuas tá sé thar a bheith in am an Bille seo a chur tríd an Oireachtas. Tá seanfhocal sa Ghaeilge a deir go mbíonn a cuid féin ag an fharraige agus is fíor é sin.

Go minic ní thuigeann daoine óga chomh contúirteach is atá an t-uisce agus is beag bliain nach dtarlaíonn tragóidí in uiscí ár dtíre ina gcailleann daoine óga a mbeatha.

Tá sé tábhachtach go mbeadh rialacha daingne i bhfeidhm a mbeadh seasamh reachtúil acu agus sin go díreach an rud a mholann an Bille seo.

I welcome the Bill and commend Deputy Finucane on its introduction. The Government should have introduced such a Bill.

The purpose of the Bill is to regulate providers of facilities and centres where children and young people under 18 years of age engage in adventure activities. More and more young people are participating in these activities, which include rock climbing, caving, pot-holing, skiing, parachuting, sky-diving, bungy-jumping, kayaking, sailing, power boating, scuba diving, wind surfing and many others.

A common theme surrounding such adventure activities is that besides being fun they all involve risks, some more than others. The dangers that accompany these activities are what the Bill is attempting to minimise. The Bill is an effort to encourage the participation of young people in these activities while regulating the activity centres which provide mostly water-based sports. The purpose of the regulations is to minimise the risks involved and consequently maximise safety standards. As Deputy Coveney rightly noted yesterday evening, many of the centres are already [133] professionally operated and have a superb safety record. However, statutorily based regulations can only improve standards and therefore safety.

Even to the most experienced people, water can be deceptively dangerous. When we combine that observation with the mentality of invincibility of young people, the risks associated with adventure activities become much greater. The safety of our young people is our responsibility. From experience we often know better than they do. Consequently, we must do everything in our power to ensure their safety.

Participation in these activities should be encouraged, but we should make the activities as safe as possible. That is our responsibility. We can participate by enacting this young persons' water safety Bill. Put simply, it proposes that a licensing system be set up by the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources in co-operation with the Health and Safety Authority. The authority would implement the licensing system and make proposals for safety regulations. It would consider licence applications individually and decide on suitable regulations and conditions for each potential activity centre. Also, the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources will have to finance the necessary extra resources the Health and Safety Authority will require.

Implementation of this Bill will cost money and cause inconvenience to people, especially in the water activity business. However, if enacted, it will save lives. Even if it saves only one life, it will be well worth the money and inconvenience that will accompany its implementation. If we allow the Bill to fall and lives are lost as a result we will all be culpable of negligence. I am glad the Minister has indicated he supports the proposals in this Bill in principle and that steps will be taken as soon as possible to bring in the regulations.

The weather can be a critical factor in determining safety while engaging in outdoor activities, whether water-sports, mountaineering or hiking. The weather can change suddenly and without warning in coastal areas. Organisations and instructors should be obliged to contact the meteorological service to get an accurate forecast for the next 24 or 48 hours during which the activity is to take place. Such a precaution would lead to greater safety. Prior to an event the rescue services should also be notified of particulars of the area to be covered by the activity and the likely starting and completion times. It should be obligatory for each group to have at least one mobile phone and in the case of water trips there should be radar detectable strips on the craft, and wet suits. I have heard rescuers state that one of the greatest difficulties and obstacles they encounter is identifying the exact location of those in need of rescue.

All water-based equipment should be regularly examined and maintained and should also be of a deep orange colour to provide maximum visi[134] bility. These are only a few measures that would greatly assist in making these activities much safer for young participants.

At present the entire system is organised on a personal policing basis, which is unacceptable to say the least. There are simply too many lives at stake to have it on such a haphazard basis. In the UK, safety regulations are on a statutory basis and it is essential that we adopt similar procedures. Annual audit of equipment and personnel by statutory officers is essential and the enactment of the Bill would enable this.

Coming from a coastal area I can recall many tragedies at sea, involving young people, fishermen and holidaymakers. There is seldom a year during which we do not experience loss of life in the county through drowning. One can only imagine the amount of suffering caused to bereaved families through such loss, particularly during the long searches for remains, which unfortunately are not always successful. There is a mystery, finality and a sadness about drowning and one recalls Synge's Riders to the Sea. This Bill is designed to prevent such tragedies involving suffering and loss. I am glad the Government agrees with it in principle and I look forward to measures being taken and a Bill being introduced, preferably before this summer, enabling statutory regulations that such centres can be made to adhere to.

Mr. Belton:  I compliment Deputy Finucane on bringing forward this important Bill. I also compliment the Minister on his agreement and enthusiasm in pressing ahead with it. It is a sign of healthy politics. It also provides a good headline for the House showing that Members of all parties are at one on this issue and are genuinely interested in introducing such important regulations.

Ireland has become a major tourist destination and tourist figures are leaping ahead all the time. However, where one has activity involving people one must also have order, which has to be achieved through legislation and regulation. The Bill can only help to further this aim.

Recent years have seen a significant growth in the number of outdoor adventure centres, many of which are located on the coast or in lakeland areas. They are engaged in a range of water-based activities, including canoeing, sailing and surfing. Nine such centres are operated by vocational education committees, one of which I have personal experience of. Parents like to feel their children are in capable hands when they engage in outdoor pursuits and that activity centres are properly organised and supervised. Fine Gael recognises that many of these centres are professionally run but because of the nature of their activities, proper safety standards are both desirable and necessary.

At present there is no statutory control of out[135] door activity centres, although some centres are subject to a voluntary code of safety standards devised by the Association for Adventure Sports. Activity centres providing water-based sports activities to those under the age of 18 should be regulated.

The Bill proposes the establishment of a licensing system by the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources in co-operation with the Health and Safety Authority. I pay tribute to Deputy Finucane and to the Minister for a fine day's work.

Mr. Finucane:  I am very pleased that the House is not divided on this issue. Anybody listening to contributors to the debate, both yesterday and today, will have noticed unanimity on the necessity of introducing regulation of adventure centres. In preparing this Bill, I recognised that we were focusing exclusively on water-related activities. One could quite rightly say that the scope of the Bill should be broader and apply to all adventure centres. I accept that but in looking at it originally I found that many Government Departments were involved. For an Opposition Deputy it would be difficult to produce a broad based Bill to accommodate all those sectors. That is proved by the committee the Minister has established, which involves five Government Departments.

I respect the stance adopted by the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, and the Minister, in our discussions on this Bill over the last two days. The Bill has provided the catalyst with regard to taking action on this important area. I am pleased that the Minister, with whom I fully agree, has decided, based on these discussions, to fast-track the committee towards concluding its findings quickly. On account of the urgent necessity of this Bill he will also try to fast-track the legislation to 1 June. I am sure the Minister will achieve that objective, recognising all the contributions made in the House and the urgency of proceeding with this legislation. I am sure he will communicate that to the chairman of the committee, Mr. Michael Guilfoyle, Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources, a very meticulous man who will respond positively.

With regard to the adventure centres, I am anxious to have the regulatory framework in place before the summer recess. I welcome the fact the Minister has said it is his objective to ensure that the committee meets and presents a report. I would welcome a copy of that report when it becomes available. We will then proceed towards having the regulatory system in place before the summer. Everyone would agree that this is a positive step.

Given the spirit of co-operation on both sides of the House, we empathise with the difficulties faced by many people in the past who have been [136] concerned about these adventure centres. I recognise that many of the centres are professionally run but the Bord Fáilte promotional literature really focused my mind on adventure centres when I saw them being marketed for children as young as four or five years of age. Parents whose children avail of these centres – many of which are commercial operations and some of which are run by vocational education committees – are entitled to the comfort and knowledge that safety procedures are ensured by a regulatory mechanism providing for policing and licensing through the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources. If anything, that will enhance the profile of outdoor adventure centres, which represent a growing business due to the increased amount of leisure time available. Parents are committed to giving their children such outdoor experiences.

Mr. Michael Davies has been in the Public Gallery to hear the contributions of Members, both yesterday and today. Following our discussions he is happy that there is a sense of urgency regarding the introduction of a regulatory framework for adventure centres. The personal trauma he suffered through the loss of his young son in February 1995 has been mentioned often in the course of the debate. The discussions I had with Mr. Davies helped in focusing on the necessity to do something in this area. I know that many Members, including the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, will have had similar discussions. I am glad we are doing something positive in this area before the summer recess, as I would not like to reintroduce this Bill. I welcome the co-operation on all sides.

Dr. Woods:  I move:

That notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders or the order of the Dáil yesterday, the debate on Second Stage of the Activity Centres (Young Persons' Water Safety) Bill, 1998, shall stand adjourned until such time as it is ordered to resume by an order of the Dáil.

Question put and agreed to.

Mr. Crawford:  I thank the Chair for allowing me to raise this matter. In 1975 only 12 per cent of County Monaghan was declared severely handicapped. As a result of three further applications in 1981, 1985 and 1991, the area declared severely handicapped was increased to 43 per cent. An independent appeals committee, which included Mr. John Donnelly of the IFA, recommended that only a further 30 per cent of Monaghan be included, while parts of Cavan, Galway [137] and other areas were included. The Minister agreed with this application and brought it to Brussels. When Deputy Yates was Minister in 1997 an application was made to the STAR Committee for a further 12 per cent. This was agreed in February 1999, and now only 15 per cent of Monaghan does not benefit from headage or other benefits under severely handicapped status.

It is important that the Minister realises this is the only part of Connacht-Ulster which is not included. It is impossible for me or anyone else to explain to farmers in areas like Curcaghan, Aghabog, Greenans Cross or Drum why they have been left out, when good land in Galway, Longford and other parts of Monaghan have been included. In the last survey, only 60 per cent of the land was sampled, which may be some excuse for failure to include the full county. I thank Department officials and others who helped to get the last 12 per cent that was applied for included, but I beg the Minister to take whatever steps are necessary to get the last 15 per cent included. The Department explained that land quality, income under 60 per cent of the national average and a low base of population are qualifying factors.

Most of the areas left out have very bad land. Farmers housed their cattle as early as June-July 1998. Many got no second cut silage and no fodder cheques. The Department explained further that only adjacent areas could be added. Why leave out Currinewey-Aghabog? It is an area with small farmers – there are no large dairy farmers – yet adjoining lands were included. Neart-Cermoyle is another area with bad land and small farms compared to areas already included. In 1991 the owner of Freemount on the Cavan border applied and put in an appeal through the IFA. Floods occur on half of his land and he farms with great difficulty. Land all around him is declared severely handicapped, yet farms twice the size of his with much better land are included. Monaghan County Council passed a unanimous resolution to have the entire county declared severely handicapped and to ask the Minister to explain why some areas of the county were omitted.

These farmers want no more excuses. They want action and their rights, no more and no less. They have watched their neighbours being paid for 24 years while they have been treated as second class citizens. I know the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will be only too happy to support me in having this last small piece of area of Connacht-Ulster declared severely handicapped. According to the Department's senior officials, this status can be applied for if the will is there at Departmental level. The weather conditions in the past two years have caused more suffering in this area than anywhere else. Half of the electoral area of Clones is left out while all of south Monaghan and other areas are included. It is [138] extremely difficult to tell farmers that their areas are destined not to be included.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Davern):  I thank Deputy Crawford for raising this issue. He is right, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle has raised this on many occasions and has been passionate in doing so.

When the disadvantaged areas appeals panel was commencing its examination of areas for reclassification in 1992 it was decided, following agreement with farming organisations, that the panel would base its recommendations on data gathered in the 1989 survey. This data had been used in the previous – the fourth – review to select areas for reclassification, based on an income criterion of “less than 40 per cent of national average income”, with at least 40 per cent of the working population engaged in agriculture.

It was agreed that if the income limit was raised to 60 per cent and the working population limit was disregarded, the data would allow selection of a significant number of additional areas. A further condition was that the land must be rated at four or lower on a quality scale of zero to nine and that selected areas must adjoin existing more severely handicapped areas.

Using these criteria, the panel selected an additional 30 per cent of Monaghan for reclassification as more severely handicapped and this was approved by the EU Commission in November 1995. This brought the land area of County Monaghan classified as more severely handicapped to 73 per cent. Following representations from farmers, farming organisations and public representatives regarding areas not included, it was decided to carry out a complete recheck of the less severely handicapped areas in Monaghan, including those reclassified in 1995. This recheck highlighted a number of areas which the panel had inadvertently omitted from its original recommendation.

As a result of the recheck, my Department submitted a supplementary proposal to the EU Commission in April 1997 to include the additional areas of County Monaghan as more severely handicapped. The proposal was finally approved by the STAR Committee of the EU Commission in February 1999, bringing the total of the more severely handicapped area in Monaghan to 85 per cent of the land in that county. I am satisfied that, based on the data at the disposal of my officials, all areas of County Monaghan which could be shown to satisfy the criteria for more severely handicapped status have now been reclassified.

Mr. Browne:  (Carlow-Kilkenny): Táim buíoch go bhfuil an deis agam labhairt ar an ábhar seo.

George Bernard Shaw wrote to Carlow Urban [139] District Council on 13 May 1944, offering it property he owned in Carlow. There was a legal difficulty in handing over this property to a municipal body, so an Act of Parliament was introduced by the late Deputy James Hughes to allow Carlow UDC to accept Mr. Shaw's generous offer. He had served as a councillor for six years on a London borough council and said he understood the difficulties of bequeathing property to such a body. Mr. Shaw said that if his wishes could not be fulfilled his property should go to the National Gallery. He finished his letter by saying: “but Carlow is clearly entitled to the first offer.”

I ask the Minister for Finance to treat Carlow with generosity and to match the wonderful offer of the great George Bernard Shaw. It is a long time since 1944, and Carlow has not had a fair crack of the whip. Carlow is approximately 50 miles from Dublin and is on the main Dublin-Waterford rail line. As the saying goes, it is about an hour from Dublin. The Naas dual-carriageway, coupled with the Kilcullen by-pass, gives rapid access for 30 of those miles and this year plans are afoot by Kildare County Council to extend the by-pass which will mean even quicker access to Dublin. The opening of the inner relief road and the completion of the proposed new by-pass will ease the traffic problem in Carlow for those who are lucky enough to be living there.

With regard to education, Carlow can cater for everyone. We have six primary schools, four secondary schools and Carlow Institute of Technology provides diploma and degree courses. We also have the long established St. Patrick's College which runs degree courses and the research centre at Oak Park is playing a vital role in agricultural advancement. With the presence of these three prestigious facilities, I look forward to the day when Carlow will be a university town.

We may be small in size but we are tall in stature in the sporting world. Éire Óg football club is nationally known as the GAA club of the nineties. Carlow Rugby Club has advanced above the level of the normal rural town and soccer is well catered for. Our snooker centre has already held world championships while tennis, badminton and squash have top class facilities and performers. We need only think of Willie Hosey in squash. Carlow Rowing Club is internationally known and has international stars and the Barrow also provides fishing facilities second to none. Carlow golf course is regarded as the best inland course in Ireland while in the rest of Carlow there are so many other leisure facilities and activities available that I would need much more than five minutes to list them.

The people of Carlow have looked in awe at towns like Portlaoise, Tullamore, Kilkenny, Wexford and Longford, all of which are roughly the same size as Carlow, as they bask in the advantage of having Government offices transferred to [140] them. There is a feeling that because Carlow lacks a Minister or Minister of State, now and in the past, that it is not getting its proper share of Government finance. Since I always believed that Ministers are appointed to run the country and not their constituencies, I like to think that those who are about to make decisions on decentralisation will be broad minded in their attitude and help Carlow to get its place in the sun.

The help of the Minister for Finance to provide us with an arts centre and theatre would be greatly appreciated. As I listened to CKR last evening I learned that two centres in Kildare are being rewarded for their talent and I am hoping that neighbouring Carlow will also be recognised for the outstanding contribution of Carlow Little Theatre whose members have swept the decks at all-Ireland level year after year and of the Éigse Arts Festival which this year celebrates 21 years of successful existence. The provision of financial backing for the planned arts centre in Carlow is genuinely expected since the arts have been promoted so succesfully over the years. The Dolmen Musical Society is also noted for talent and provides opportunities for those with melodious voices.

The Minister can see that Carlow is an ideal town in which civil servants could and would be delighted to live and where housing is available at much lower prices than in Dublin. It cannot be ignored any longer. Carlow has served its apprenticeship for far too long. The ball is now at the Minster's feet.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Cullen):  I thank Deputy Browne for raising this important issue. I notice that Deputy McGuinness from Carlow-Kilkenny who has raised this issue on a number of occasions is also in the House.

Mr. Browne:  (Carlow-Kilkenny): The Minister of State is making a political point. It is wonderful to see Deputy McGuinness in the House.

Mr. Cullen:  Indeed it is. The previous Minister complimented the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for raising issues. It is quite normal.

As the Deputy is most likely aware, to date about 3,800 personnel have relocated under the decentralisation programme to centres across the country. Approximately 400 further personnel are in the process of decentralising to the remaining designated centres which include Dundalk, Roscommon and Wexford. It is expected that the relocation process will be complete in about two years' time.

To put the scale of the decentralisation programme into context, it is interesting to note that of an overall total of about 29,000 serving in the Civil Service, about 16,500 – 57 per cent – are located in Dublin and 12,500 – 43 per cent – are located outside Dublin. While not all of the [141] staff located outside Dublin relocated as part of the decentralisation programme, nevertheless the programme has contributed significantly to a greater geographical spread of Government services. Successive Governments have supported and developed the programme of decentralisation and I can assure the House that the Government is committed to completing the ongoing decentralisation programme.

By way of background I would like to explain to the House some of the issues which were considered prior to the announcement of the extended decentralisation programme. One of the first steps taken was that all Departments and offices were examined with a view to identifying sections suitable for relocation. To be suitable, sections need to be of a certain size to be viable and sufficiently self-contained to be able to function effectively outside Dublin.

The locations were selected by the Government having regard to the desire to promote regional development, economic growth and a more even spread of public sector jobs around the country. The centres include Sligo and Letterkenny in the north-west; Ballina, Castlebar, Roscommon and Galway in the west; Limerick, Ennis and Nenagh in the mid-west; Cork and Killarney in the south; Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny in the south-east; Athlone, Tullamore, Portlaoise and Longford in the midlands; and Cavan and Dundalk in the north-east and Border areas.

The decentralisation programme was initiated to facilitate more widespread location of public service employment which would contribute to the development of some of the main urban areas outside Dublin, helping to reduce regional imbalances and the pressure on the Dublin region. Undoubtedly, the movement of public servants to the provincial towns has added to the social and economic wealth of those towns.

As I have already said, the current programme of decentralisation is not yet complete and there is no decision to extend it to other areas. However, the Minister for Finance is currently considering the many issues relevant to decentralisation policy and he proposes to discuss these with his colleagues in Government in the near future.

I can assure the Deputy that the case made by him for the inclusion of Carlow in any future decentralisation has been well made and is noted.

Mr. Broughan:  I thank you for the opportunity to raise this important matter on the Adjournment and I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to discuss it. This is the third time I have had to raise this matter in this Dáil on behalf of the building workers of this country and their [142] trade union representatives, the Building and Allied Trades Union.

On the Order of Business this morning my party leader, Deputy Quinn, drew the Tánaiste's attention to the picket on the building site of the new Leinster House offices. Allegations had been made that workers on the site were being forced to work in breach of statutory regulations regarding tax and social welfare legislation. The Tánaiste undertook to arrange an inquiry into the matter and I understand the pickets were removed early this afternoon.

This incident is evidence of wider abuse in the building industry. There is now overwhelming evidence that rogue contractors continue to force building workers to work as sub-contractors, using the C2 and C45 systems. This means that the contractor is absolved of responsibility for the tax, PRSI, pension payments, sick pay and holiday payments of the building workers. Contractors often require that the workers draw the dole while employed on the site and, in effect, induce workers to break the law.

This is not the first time the issue has been raised in the House. Last autumn when building workers who are members of the Building and Allied Trades Union placed a picket on a building site where these practices were rife, building workers went to jail. At the time Deputies on this side of the House supported the brave stand of the building workers and we were assured that there would be a crack down on the illegal practices which rogue contractors force upon workers. Section 26 of the Social Welfare Bill, which was finalised last week, gives social welfare inspectors, with Garda, the power to stop any vehicle to root out abuses in the social welfare system. Although we took that measure we have no system in place to police building sites. I hope the Minister is in a position to tell the House the progress the authorities have made in this regard. Have there been any prosecutions of rogue contractors who are flagrantly abusing the system? Has the number of inspections of building sites increased in the last six months? Has there been a review of the operation of the C2 system in the building trade? In the past six months, has any action been taken to clamp down on the tax and social welfare fraud that some building contractors seem to regard as a subsidy towards their operation costs?

The building trade is booming and there is no reason why contractors, who are making enormous profits from this industry, expect to openly flout the law. It is the building workers and the taxpayers who are expected to pick up the tab for the abuse. It cannot continue and the Government and Minister must take immediate action to stamp out the activity. There is a special responsibility when the building is taking place on one of our sites as was the case this morning. I know the Minister is making an effort to give Deputies and [143] staff better accommodation but there is no excuse on such a site or, indeed, on a local government or health board site for a subcontractor to force workers or encourage them to break the law. It is intolerable that it should happen on a Government site.

We need to relaunch the campaign and this will involve increased inspection of building sites. I published a Bill during the last Dáil session which would increase the number of health and safety inspectors visiting buildings sites. Recently, the number of serious and fatal accidents has increased dramatically, and the Labour Party is determined to see tougher penalties and increase the number of inspectors to properly police the building industry and ensure safety standards are upheld. It is also clear that more inspectors are required to enforce tax compliance among rogue contractors and subcontractors.

The building workers union, BATU, is also determined to see progress on this front and I fully support its campaign. About a year ago on the first occasion I raised this issue a delegation of the building workers were present in the House and the Minister, Deputy McCreevy, addressed the matter. We had an informal and lengthy meeting with the workers outside the House afterwards. The Minister undertook to try to reform once and for all the C2 and C45 systems as they apply to the building industry. I urge the Minister of State to acquaint the Minister with the problem and bring it to a conclusion once and for all.

Mr. Cullen:  Deputy Broughan raised some important issues with which I want to comprehensively deal. In relation to the site for the new offices for the Oireachtas adjacent to Leinster House, I am aware there was an unofficial picket at the entrance to the site for some two hours this morning. I understand these pickets comprised of workers who were not from the Oireachtas site, and it is important to put that on the record. They were protesting at the practice of subcontracting within the construction industry generally and had nothing to do with the Leinster House site.

Mr. Broughan:  They were from the same trade union.

Mr. Cullen:  As I understand it, this issue has arisen primarily in relation to the bricklayers within the industry. However, as there are no bricklayers on the Oireachtas site, I do not see that there should be a connection specifically with the project we are undertaking there. I emphatically reject the inference in the Deputy's motion that the pickets have arisen in reaction to some irregularities on that site. That is not the case. There has not been any evidence of that and if the Deputy is aware of any wrongdoing, he should inform the relevant authorities.

[144] The more general tax aspects of this issue have been raised on a number of occasions in the House within the past 18 months, as the Deputy said. It would be helpful for Members present to give a synopsis of the system of tax collection as it has developed in the construction industry in recent years.

Persons employed in that industry are classified for tax purposes as employees or as subcontractors and tax is deducted from each group on a different basis. Subcontracting is an integral part of the construction industry. Payments to sub-contractors come within the relevant contracts tax, RCT, system – commonly referred to as the C2 or C45 system. Under this system, where a principal contractor makes a payment to an unregistered contractor, he or she is required to deduct relevant contracts tax from those payments at the rate of 35 per cent.

RCT was introduced in the 1970s to counter the growing incidence of black economy activity in the construction industry. Workers operating under the system known as “the lump” were being paid without tax being deducted. The Revenue Commissioners have confirmed that RCT continues to play a vital role in combating tax evasion in the construction industry.

The Deputy's reference to allegations that some workers have been required to breach tax and social welfare codes is very serious. Without further and more specific details of the allegations I am sure the Deputy will appreciate a specific answer is not possible. However, if I continue with my synopsis of the general position in the construction industry the allegations may be dealt with.

As one of the methods used to combat this type of evasion, Revenue and the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs regularly conduct joint investigations under the joint investigation programme to ensure that those engaged as employees fully comply with the tax system and to ensure that employers are not facilitating working and signing arrangements.

Following a comprehensive review in 1995-96 Revenue issued guidelines to the industry setting out the criteria under which a person may be regarded as an employee as distinct from a subcontractor. Principal contractors and subcontractors creating self-employment contractual arrangements must sign a declaration to the effect that these guidelines have been considered by them and they are both satisfied that the contract created is a contract of self-employment. The joint declaration was introduced in line with a recommendation of a subcommittee of the Black Economy Monitoring Group which looked at the construction industry. It is of interest at this stage to list the current membership of that group. Its members are drawn from IBEC, the CIF, ICTU and the SFA as well as the Revenue Commissioners and the Departments of Social, Com[145] munity and Family Affairs. Both parties to the declaration certify that they have considered the guidelines issued by the Revenue Commissioners as to the difference between contracts of service – employment contracts – and contracts for services – self-employment – and are satisfied that the contract which they are about to enter is a contract for services.

The Deputy probably already knows but it is worth reiterating that during 1997-98 Revenue completed a nationwide campaign to ensure that declarations made by principal contractors and sub-contractors represent the true situation. Where employment rather than subcontracting was considered to exist and PAYE/PRSI and levies were not being deducted, the principal was advised to put matters on a proper footing. Where this is not done, the principal contractor will become liable for the PAYE/PRSI and levies.

All aspects of compliance in the construction industry were monitored during the campaign. More than 7,000 principal contractors were visited. That is a substantial number. No problems were found in 52 per cent of cases. Of the balance, 76 per cent agreed with Revenue rulings. The remainder are subject to different aspects of follow up action which may include additional visits, a comprehensive Revenue audit and assessments of additional tax where necessary. This was a major operation to counteract the kind of abuses the Deputy has in mind.

It almost goes without saying that in its ongoing drive to identify the correct basis of deduction of tax in respect of each individual, Revenue is happy to receive information from other organisations or individuals. In this context, for example, facilities have been made available to trade unions representatives to report any cases where they consider that PAYE should have applied instead of RCT.

The Deputy may also be interested to know that in January of this year, the Revenue Commissioners produced two new booklets as guides for principal and subcontractors to assist them in making correct decisions in the taxation consequences of working in the forestry and meat processing industries. I will arrange to have copies sent to the Deputy if he does not already have them.

Coming back now to matters raised in this debate, while the Deputy will appreciate that it would not be appropriate to comment on a particular contractor, it will be clear from what I have said that Revenue are active in this area and take account of any information they receive when planning their audit activity. I emphasise once again that the matters this morning had nothing to do with Leinster House site or any of the people working on that site.

[146]

Mr. Hayes:  Last week I was grateful to receive from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, a copy of the report of the working group on security of tenure. As Members are aware, this working group was established in November 1994 to examine the issue of security of tenure within the private rented sector. This followed considerable public attention with the sale of apartments in the Mespil Estate by Irish Life plc. At that time there was widespread public revulsion at the manner in which elderly people were given notice to quit from the Mespil Flats.

The working group on security of tenure was asked by the then Government to examine the situation and to report on possible changes to the law. It is interesting that it has taken five years for this report to be published. The Mespil Flats controversy highlighted the vulnerability of tenants in the private rented sector. We sometimes wrongly have an image of tenants in this sector as being people in their early 20s with mobile employment opportunities. It needs to be stressed that a large proportion of tenants are elderly people who have been in various accommodation units for a considerable period.

The core issue which the working group examined was the practice referred to as long occupation equity. In these cases, a tenant acquires over a period, normally 20 years, long-term tenancy rights to a rented property. Although the working group emphasised the exceptional nature of long occupation equity, it has made a concrete proposal to amend the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act, 1980. Its recommendation that an opt-out clause be included as a solution to this problem has been met with stony silence from both the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Department of the Environment and Local Government. Is it the Government's intention to amend section 13 of the 1980 Act and, if so, when will the amending legislation be published and enacted?

I am surprised the Minister responsible for housing policy has not commented publicly on the content of the working group report. The group considered the complex area of security of tenure and examined various options for the future. It was important that the group referred to the existence of a form of security of tenure in other EU countries and to the possible establishment of a landlord and tenant tribunal to determine fair rents where conflict has arisen between landlord and tenant.

Some weeks ago the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, informed us the Government had decided in principle to establish a commission to investigate security of tenure. I would be grateful if he would inform the House when this principle will be put into practice as the matter is urgent, [147] given the obvious problems of tenant insecurity in the current housing market. As it has taken two years for the Minister to establish such a commission, I hope we do not have to wait as long for it to meet.

The terms of reference and membership of the commission have yet to be established. It could build on the views and observations of the working group report on security of tenure. Given the current debate on housing I am flabbergasted the Government has yet to air its views on this important subject. I hope this evening's Adjournment debate will provide such an opportunity.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy): The working group on security of tenure was established by the then Minister for Justice in 1994 to examine and report on the provision of security of tenure in the private rented residential sector, with particular reference to any changes which may be desirable to the provisions of the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act, 1980. The group presented its report in July 1996 and it was published by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in February 1999.

The principal issue considered by the group was that of long occupation equity, that is, the right under Part II of the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act, 1980, to a 35 year, renewable lease after continuous occupation of 20 years. This issue had come to public attention with the sale of apartments in the Mespil Estate, Dublin 4. The group found that the general practice appears to be that landlords terminate tenancies before statutory rights under the 1980 Act can accrue. This means a provision intended as a pro[148] tection for the rights of tenants works against their interests in practice.

Consequently, the principal recommendation contained in the report deals with this issue. The report recommends that serious consideration should be given to amending the 1980 Act to include a provision whereby a tenant, on whom a notice to quit had been served, could waive any future rights to a 35 year lease in return for a continuance of his or her occupancy. The other two recommendations relate to the removal of anomalies arising from sections 13 and 58 of the 1980 Act. The Department of the Environment, as it was then called, was represented on the working group and had no difficulty with the recommendations contained in its report. Consideration of and action on the report's recommendations are, in the first instance, matters for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who has responsibility for the landlord and tenant legislative code.

The Government announced on 9 March 1999, as one of the range of measures in response to the report The Housing Market : An Economic Review and Assessment, a decision to establish a commission to examine issues relating to security of tenure in the private rented sector. Consideration is being given to the appropriate membership and terms of reference of the commission and an announcement on the matter will be made as soon as possible. The commission will take into account the report of the working group on security of tenure, but the intention is that it will examine the issue of security of tenure on a much broader basis, including the complex legal and constitutional issues inherent in the landlord and tenant relationship.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.05 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 1 April 1999.

[149]

  19.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    the number of officials from his Department represented on the Standing Interdepartmental Committee on Human Rights; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9000/99]

The Taoiseach:  My Department has one representative on the Standing Interdepartmental Committee on Human Rights. The committee, on which all Government Departments are represented, considers all aspects of Ireland's international human rights obligations. The inaugural meeting was held on 18 February 1997 and the committee has met on five occasions since then, most recently on 16 March last.

The committee is particularly concerned with the timely preparation of comprehensive national reports under the various international instruments already ratified. It also seeks to expedite the legislation necessary for the ratification of additional instruments. The committee is currently preparing for the examination of Ireland's first report under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights before the relevant UN Committee in Geneva in May.

The committee also plays an important role as a forum for co-ordination and co-operation between Departments on human rights issues generally.

  20.  Ms McManus    asked the Taoiseach    the amount allocated in 1999 for grants under the Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust Act, 1988; the amount paid out to date; if a grant has been made to Leopardstown Hospital; if so, when it will be paid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9007/99]

The Taoiseach:  As a result of moneys made available from the Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust in the 1988 and 1992 period, approximately £2.65 million was allocated to 24 separate projects including an allocation of £1.1 million to the RNLI and £1 million towards the restoration of the Shannon Erne Waterway.

Arising out of the winding up of the trust, a further £1.5 million approximately has been made available to be disbursed under the terms of the Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust Act, 1988. Commitments have already been entered into amounting to £343,762. Of this, £150,000 was allocated to the Peace Park at Messines, Belgium; £180,000 to the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool; and £13,762 towards the Irish Peace Bell at Messines.

Just over £1.1 million remains for allocation to applicants who responded to advertisements placed by my Department. The closing date for receipt of applications was 15 December 1998.

[150] An assessment committee, comprising representatives from my Department, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Finance was established to make recommendations to me regarding the disbursement of the funds from the trust. I expect to receive the recommendations of the committee very shortly. I would expect be in a position to make an announcement of successful applications very soon thereafter.

  26.  Ms O'Sullivan    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the position in relation to the report regarding the future of Aer Rianta; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9131/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  Last August, I asked the chairman of Aer Rianta to carry out a review of the full range of development options for the company and to reflect on what might be the most appropriate direction for Aer Rianta in the years ahead.

I expect the board to report to me shortly and, until I have given that report and its recommendations full consideration, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the future direction of Aer Rianta. The process of engaging consultants to assist me in my examination of the report is under way. Ultimately, any decision on Aer Rianta's future will, however, be a matter for Government, following a recommendation by myself.

  27.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the proposals, if any, she has to improve the provisions of the convention of nuclear safety in order to protect Ireland's interests; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9157/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise (Mr. Jacob):  Ireland has no proposals at present to amend the International Convention on Nuclear Safety. This convention entered into force in October 1996 and to date has been ratified by some 50 countries, including Ireland and the UK. The convention commits contracting parties to achieve and maintain high international safety levels in the regulation, management and operation of land-based nuclear power plants.

Given that the convention has only been in operation for a comparatively short period, Ireland would consider it prudent to assess the practical impact of the convention over a longer period before contemplating any amendments to the convention.

The first peer review meeting under the convention will take place under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency during the period 12-23 April 1999. Ireland will be represented at this peer review meeting. It will provide the opportunity for contracting parties to [151] assess the effectiveness of the convention through the consideration of the country reports produced by each contracting party on how they are complying with the obligations of the convention.

The convention represents the type of significant international commitment to nuclear safety which Ireland and like-minded non-nuclear States have been trying to establish for many years. I am hopeful that the convention will prove to be a breakthrough in fostering a global nuclear safety culture and provide a forum for extensive information exchange on nuclear safety matters.

  28.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the report, if any, she has received from the Irish Aviation Authority on the recent spate of life threatening accidents at Dublin Airport; if she will publish the report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9136/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  There have been two recent accidents involving ground personnel at Dublin Airport. The statutory responsibility for the investigation of aviation accidents lies with the Air Accident Investigation Unit of my Department and not with the Irish Aviation Authority. An accident is considered to be an aviation accident if it is an occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft, which takes place from the time any person boards that aircraft with the intention of flight until such time as all persons have disembarked.

One of the two recent accidents, which occurred on 22 January 1999, falls under this definition and is being investigated by officials of the Air Accident Investigation Unit. It occurred when a ground handling agent was struck by a tow truck while the aircraft was being pushed back prior to taxying for take-off. The report of the investigation into this accident will be published on completion, in accordance with normal practice. I expect that the report will be available within a couple of months.

The other accident, on 11 March 1999, does not come within the definition of an aviation accident, as there was nobody on the aircraft with the intention of flight at the time. The accident occurred when a technician was partially sucked into a jet engine during engine ground runs for maintenance purposes while the aircraft concerned was stationary. Officials of the Air Accident Investigation Unit were informed of this accident immediately after it occurred. They ensured that the matter was brought to the attention of the Health and Safety Authority, which is responsible for investigating industrial accidents, and they further verified that the Health and Safety Authority was investigating the accident.

While it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the causes of these two accidents in advance of completion of the investigations, they [152] do underline the necessity for strict adherence to approved aviation industry standards and practices. I have no doubt that if either of the investigations reveal that such standards and practices were not fully adhered to on these occasions, the accident investigators will make the appropriate recommendations.

  29.  Mr. Higgins (Dublin West)    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the implications for Telecom Éireann of the appointment of its former chairman as chief executive and chairman of a United States based multi-national company in the telecommunications area operating in Ireland; and the advisability of proceeding with the planned privatisation of Telecom Éireann. [8896/99]

  35.  Mr. Yates    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the discussions, if any, she had with Mr. Brian Thompson, the former chairman of Telecom Éireann, prior to his appointment in January 1999; if his period of office, loyalty or exclusivity were discussed; if not, the reason in this regard; if she has satisfied herself that the newly appointed chairman of the company meets the criteria that she set out at the time of the appointment of Mr. Thompson; the reason the vice-chairman of the board saw fit to resign; and the advice, if any, she has received on the effect of these resignations on the share price at the floatation of the company. [8894/99]

  36.  Mr. Higgins (Dublin West)    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if she will make a statement on the appointment and subsequent departure of Mr. Brian Thompson as chairman of Telecom Éireann and the appointment of Mr. Ray MacSharry as his replacement. [8895/99]

  72.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if she had anticipated the recent developments in the formative membership of the board of Telecom Éireann when she made her previous appointments to the board including the nomination of the chairman; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9405/99]

  73.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the further restructuring, if any, she proposes on the board of Telecom Éireann; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9406/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  I propose to take Question Nos. 29, 35, 36, 72 and 73 together.

Mr. Brian Thompson was appointed as a director and chairman of the board of Telecom Éireann on 20 January 1999. Mr. Ray MacSharry and Mr. Jim Flavin were also appointed as directors effective from the same date. Mr. Thompson, Mr. MacSharry and Mr. Flavin were each appointed to the board for three years. Mr. [153] Thompson, Mr. MacSharry and Mr. Flavin paid a courtesy call on me on the eve of their appointment to the board of Telecom Éireann and I subsequently met with Mr. Thompson for a general discussion on the preparations for the initial public offering (IPO) of shares in the company. I had, of course, met Mr. Thompson several times during 1998 in his capacity as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Telecommunications, which reported to Government last November.

These appointments were made in the context of the initial public offering (IPO). This was done on the recommendation of the advisers engaged by my Department that the board should be strengthened by the appointment of new non-executive members who had wide experience of board membership of major listed companies and relevant international industry and-or telecoms experience.

The fee payable to directors of Telecom Éireann is the standard fee of £5,000 per annum, while the Chairman receives a fee of £7,500 per annum. Mr. Thompson had resigned as vice chairman of Qwest Communications International at the end of 1998. Mr. Thompson's role as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Telecommunications was undertaken by him for a period of six months in a voluntary capacity for which there was no financial consideration, except for his travelling expenses. It is not practicable for Government to impose loyalty or exclusivity conditions in relation to appointments to State boards.

I learned on the evening of Friday, 19 March 1999 of Mr. Thompson's impending appointment as chairman and chief executive officer of Global TeleSystems (GTS). I immediately instructed officials to discuss the matter further with Mr. Thompson. That took place over the weekend.

ITL is a licensed provider of telecommunications services in Ireland. Global TeleSystems became its ultimate parent company in December 1998. There is, at present, limited amount of competition existing between the Irish operations of Global TeleSystems (International Telecommunications – ITL) and Telecom Éireann – in that International Telecommunications resells minutes, which it buys from Telecom Éireann at wholesale rates. Going forward, as both companies develop their businesses, there will be, almost certainly, other areas of potential competition of far greater significance than the existing limited competition. These existing and potential interests of GTS and Telecom Éireann required that Mr. Thompson resign from his position of chairman in order to remove any potential or actual conflict between Mr. Thompson's roles as chairman of Telecom Éireann and his position in GTS, where he took up his new role as chairman and chief executive on Monday 22 March. The clear advice from the advisers engaged by my Department was that a conflict did exist which required Mr. Thompson's resignation as chairman. A confidentiality agreement has been signed by Mr. Thompson following his departure [154] and a copy of the agreement has been placed in the Oireachtas Library.

Brian Thompson has made a substantial contribution during his tenure as chairman of Telecom Éireann. He has played an enormously significant role in positioning the company for its forthcoming flotation. While I am disappointed that he is not in a position to continue in this role I would like to wish him every success in his new post. The Government greatly appreciates his contribution to Telecom Éireann and his invaluable work in chairing the Advisory Committee on Telecommunications. The report is indeed regarded as a great blueprint for developing Ireland as a global e-commerce centre. In addition to Mr. Thompson's work with the advisory committee he has been an active member of the Ireland-United States Economic Advisory Board and has made a very valuable contribution in that forum.

Following Mr. Thompson's departure, I have appointed Mr. Ray MacSharry as chairman.

On Tuesday, 23 March Mr. Ron Bolger, vice chairman of the board, tendered his resignation. It is with regret that Mr. Ron Bolger has chosen to resign from the board. He has served Telecom Éireann well as a director and as a chairman and I wish to thank him for this contribution. Mr. Bolger did not state any reason for his departure in his letter of resignation addressed to the chairman.

I have appointed Mr. Pat Molloy as non-executive director with immediate effect. Mr. Molloy is a former group chief executive of Bank of Ireland; he is chairman of Enterprise Ireland and is a non-executive director of CRH plc., Bank of Ireland plc. and a number of other public companies. I am very pleased that a person of the calibre of Pat Molloy has accepted my invitation to join the board. He is a highly qualified appointee.

As we continue to progress the flotation of Telecom Éireann, plans for which are well advanced, I am glad that Mr. MacSharry has agreed to steer the company through the remainder of this process and lead it into the new era as a publicly quoted company. I am satisfied that the preparations for the forthcoming flotation are well in hand and I am confident that the process will be copperfastened by this important appointment.

Mr. MacSharry is a former EU Commissioner and has held numerous ministerial posts and was previously Tánaiste and Minister for Finance. He has served as governor of the European Investment Bank and is a director of the following companies: Bank of Ireland Group; Jefferson Smurfit Group; Green Property plc.; Ryanair and is chairman of London City Airport. He has also served as chairman of Ryanair when it became a publicly quoted company. He was recently appointed chairman of Coillte. His track record is outstanding and he has been closely involved with the flotation process since his appointment to the board.

[155] I have also appointed Mr. William Ferguson as non-executive director. Mr. Ferguson is a former chairman and chief executive officer of NYNEX Corporation in the United States. He has over 40 years' experience of the communications industry. Mr. Ferguson began his career with Michigan Bell in 1952 before moving on to the role of vice president of New York Telephone. He returned to Michigan Bell in 1978 as executive vice president and chief operating officer. In 1983 he was appointed president and chief executive officer of New York Telephone until his appointment to NYNEX in 1987. I am very pleased that someone of Mr. Ferguson's expertise and background in the telecommunications industry has accepted my invitation to join the Telecom Éireann Board.

Mr. MacSharry's contribution as chairman, together with the other directors, will successfully steer the company through this historic phase of its corporate development. I am satisfied that his experience in steering Ryanair through flotation and his substantial experience gained through his membership of the boards of some of Irelands most respected companies will be vital for Telecom Éireann going forward into a new era. His experience, together with the experience of Mr. Molloy in corporate stewardship and Mr. Ferguson in the telecommunications industry, undoubtedly meets the criteria of wide experience of board membership of major listed companies and relevant international industry and-or telecoms experience.

I also welcome the appointment of Mr. Malcolm Fallen as finance director. His appointment completes the 12 member board of Telecom Éireann.

I have no advice to suggest that the changes I have outlined will in any way affect the very healthy fundamentals of Telecom Éireann as we move into the more public phase of planning for flotation. The plans for the flotation are well advanced and the process is close to commencing. The IPO will be publicly launched in late April and I anticipate that the company will be successfully listed as planned.

  30.  Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the plans, if any, she has to sanction the increases in charges sought by Aer Rianta in respect of its aeronautical charging policy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9130/99]

[156]

  51.  Mr. Yates    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if her Department has completed consideration of the dispute between air carriers and Aer Rianta in relation to the landing charge fee structure for the future and the abolition of the discount schemes previously operated; the proposals, if any, she has to intervene in the matter; if she has received a copy of the proposals submitted by Ryanair in which it has sought improved facilities and a lower cost base in return for which it is committed to further passenger growth through Dublin [8644/99]

  53.  Mr. S. Ryan    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the value of the reductions and rebates of ground airport charges by Aer Rianta for the services provided to Ryanair at Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports from 1989 to date; the value of the special reductions which apply to Ryanair at pier A in Dublin Airport; the reason this special provision is being continued at pier A; if she will make it conditional that reductions and rebates given by Aer Rianta apply only if airlines meet certain basic safety conditions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9138/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  I propose to take Question Nos. 30, 51 and 53 together.

In January last Aer Rianta submitted for my consideration a study commissioned by them on the existing structure of airport charges levied by the company. The basic finding of the report was that Aer Rianta's charges were too low for acceptable long-term performance. Ryanair commissioned a report from DKM on airport charges at Dublin airport which was presented to me in February last.

Aer Rianta engaged Price Waterhouse Coopers to assist them in developing a revised charging structure for the State airports. Their proposals are expected to be submitted to me for my consideration in mid-April.

Before reaching a decision on the future level of airport charges, I will take Aer Rianta's funding requirements for their capital development and the possible impact of the loss of duty free sales, and all other relevant factors, into account, including the impact any change in the level of charges would have on airlines and, consequently, on air travellers generally.

In this context, I have recently had a meeting with Mr. Michael O'Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair at which we discussed his proposals in relation to airport charges. I do not think it is appropriate, at this juncture, to single out one set of proposals for comment. Ryanair's proposals should be considered in conjunction with those of Aer Rianta, and with those of any other airlines or interested parties that might wish to make submissions on this important question, and that is what I intend to do.

In response to the Deputies' more specific queries, I append a table to this reply, as submitted to me by Aer Rianta, indicating the value of rebates and discounts for Ryanair for the years 1989 to 1998. The figure provided by the company in respect of 1998 is provisional and may be subject to future adjustment.

The passenger load fee for Pier A is not a special reduction for Ryanair. Aer Rianta's published charges list a passenger load fee of £5.73 for all flights departing from Pier A with effect [157] from 1 January 1997. This compares with a standard charge of £7.23. It is intended that the reduced rate for passengers using Pier A will continue until 31 December 1999. This reduced rate was granted to all airlines, including Ryanair and Aer Lingus, in respect of their use of Pier A.

While the regulation of airline safety is primarily a matter for the Irish Aviation Authority all airlines must have the highest regard for safety considerations no matter what level of airport charges they pay. I consider safety to be of the utmost importance. It would not be appropriate to consider safety matters as being in any way linked to airport charges issues.

Airport Landing Charges

Value of Rebates/Discounts availed of by Ryanair at Cork, Dublin and Shannon Airports, 1989-1998

£million

89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98
0.5 0.86 1.2 1.99 1.92 2.08 4.40 7.15 9.34 9.52

  31.  Mr. Higgins (Mayo)    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the official radon safety level; the latest available radon readings for the five Connacht counties; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7702/99]

  49.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if she will introduce a radon remediation grant scheme for householders in view of the completion of the national radon survey; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9156/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 31 and 49 together.

In 1990, the Government adopted an annual average indoor radon concentration of 200 becquerels per cubic metre as the national reference level for dwellings. Above this level, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland has recommended that remediation measures should be taken to reduce the indoor radon concentration level.

The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland has been conducting a national radon survey since 1992. The aim of this survey is to identify areas at greatest risk of high indoor radon levels. Survey results have been published by the institute for 24 counties to date, including counties Sligo, Leitrim and Roscommon. Results in respect of counties Galway and Mayo will be published shortly.

The survey results for counties Sligo, Leitrim and Roscommon show that approximately 20, 5 and 8 per cent respectively of houses surveyed were above the reference level. To put these figures in context, published figures show that of the 8,437 houses surveyed nationally to date under [158] the Institute's survey, 7.5 per cent were found to be above the reference level. However, it should be borne in mind that indoor radon levels show significant geographical variations, even within individual counties, and the institute's survey has shown that there are pockets of high radon concentration in every county.

As regards the question of introducing a radon remediation grant scheme, I refer the Deputy to my previous reply of 18 February 1999. The position as set out in that reply remains unchanged.

  32.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if she will continue the subsidy to Aer Lingus to enable it to operate at competitive rates from Kerry Airport when the present arrangement ends in December 1999; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9065/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  The Government operates a grant scheme to assist the six regional airports including Kerry Airport with marketing and promotional activities for the period 1996-1999.

The Deputy may also be aware that under Article 4 of Council Regulation (EEC) 2408/92, the Government operates four public service routes under the Essential Air Services Programme between Dublin and Kerry, Donegal, Galway and Sligo since 1995 which are subsidised from Exchequer funds. These contracts were renewed in 1998 and will continue until early 2001, not December 1999.

The public service obligation provides for the capping of fares at £89 return from regional airport-Dublin and vice versa and for the levels of frequency of return trips. These conditions were agreed with the relevant regional airport including Kerry.

  33.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the effect of the Electricity Regulation Bill, 1998, in terms of the opening up of the market to generation capability as currently framed by her; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9148/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  The Electricity Regulation Bill, 1998, once enacted, will open up 28 per cent of the market in electricity to competition, and will provide for independent but accountable regulation of the electricity industry in Ireland. There is also provision in the Bill for the access by any customer to electricity produced by renewable or alternative energy sources.

The 28 per cent of the electricity market which will be open to competition will consist of the biggest electricity users in the State; about 320 customers in all. The market opening will be further increased to 32 per cent by 2003, so that the benefits of open and fair competition, to both [159] the Irish economy and to the electricity companies themselves, will be extended even further.

I understand that a number of private sector interests are at present actively developing plans to enter the Irish electricity market. ESB are also making plans for new plant, and I have recently given approval to ESB for capital expenditure in the preparatory work up to completion of the planning permission process.

Both ESB and any private sector interests will, of course, require an authorisation to construct new plant from the Commission for Electricity Regulation once established under the Bill now before the House.

  34.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the amount of investment and proposed timetable for the commuter rail plans recently announced; and the financial commitment, if any, the Government has given to implementing these particular proposed upgraded commuter routes for the greater Dublin area and elsewhere. [8645/99]

  39.  Ms O. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the individual who will carry out the feasibility study into the recently announced suburban rail commuting services; and the way it is proposed to fund the two to five years short-term measures and the longer-term measures. [7805/99]

  78.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if adequate regard has been taken of the ever increasing need for a more sophisticated rail service in respect of the current and proposed upgrading of commuter rail services serving Kilcock, Maynooth, Leixlip and Confey; the consideration, if any, she will give to the possibility of extending the DART to these areas in view of the ever increasing need to provide an efficient, rapid, effective and safe rail service for commuters; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9411/99]

  79.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the reviews, if any, taking place on the commuter rail services serving Sallins and Hazelhatch with a view to identifying the full extent of the current and future needs in an area with a large workforce; if her attention has been drawn to the necessity to enhance and make attractive to the commuter the safe efficient and effective means of rail transport with particular reference to adding extra facilities and services to meet the current and projected needs of Naas and Celbridge; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9412/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 34, 39, 78 and 79 together.

[160] I announced on 4 March that I had been given Government approval to arrange for the carrying out of costing and feasibility work on a suburban rail development plan. The plan comprises two elements. Firstly, a short-term programme based on making more intensive use of the existing rail corridors. The second element is a longer term programme based on certain conceptual suggestions for improving the suburban rail network contained in the Strategic Planning Guidelines for the Greater Dublin Area. Electrification of the Maynooth line is not envisaged as part of this work.

The focus of the short-term programme will be on the next two to five years. The implementation period for the longer term programme can only be decided in the light of the findings of the costing and feasibility studies. The timing of the longer term programme will also be influenced by the pace of development in accordance with the strategic planning guidelines which cover the period to 2011.

My Department has asked CIE to arrange for the carrying out of this work without delay. Some initial work has been carried out by the programme and projects division of Córas Iompair Éireann with specific inputs from Iarnród Éireann staff. However, it is my understanding that CIE will be seeking additional consultancy support to enable them to complete the work quickly. The selection of consultants is a matter for the company but I understand that tenders will be sought in the normal way.

The outcome of the costing and feasibility work will be considered as part of the review of strategic transport needs for the country as a whole as an input to the preparation of the National Development Plan.

It will be necessary to have the costing and feasibility work completed before any decision could be taken to commit public funds to implement the plan. However, funding is likely to come from a number of sources, possibly including EU Structural and Cohesion Fund assistance, Exchequer resources, internal CIE resources and public private partnership.

  37.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the position in relation to employees at Telecom Éireann who wish to return to the Civil Service if the flotation of the company proceeds; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9142/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  Telecom Éireann was established on a statutory basis as a separate entity in 1983 and staff of the former Department of Posts and Telegraphs transferred to it on vesting day. Since then, there has been no scope for such staff to return to the Civil Service and that remains the current position. The planned flotation of Telecom Éireann will not change this situation. I [161] should emphasise, however, that the provisions in the Postal and Telecommunications Services Act, 1983, as amended relating to the conditions of services and tenure of those who transferred to Telecom Éireann will remain unchanged after the flotation.

  38.  Mr. Spring    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the position in relation to the funding of the STAD case against BNFL; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9165/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise (Mr. Jacob):  I refer the Deputy to my reply of 18 February 1999. The position remains unchanged.

  40.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the response, if any, she has to proposed EU directives on road and rail transport with particular reference to passenger and merchandise transportation systems; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9126/99]

  76.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the extent to which she has examined the implications of proposed EU directives in respect of road and rail transport; the plans, if any, she has initiated to ensure the benefit of these directives for the economy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9409/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 40 and 76 together.

Two Commission proposals for directives designed to encourage the use of combined transport are currently being considered by the EU Council of Transport Ministers.

One proposal amends Directive 92/106/EC on the establishment of common rules for certain types of combined transport between member states and the other amends Directive 96/53/EC laying down, for certain road vehicles circulating within the Community, the maximum authorised dimensions in national and international traffic and the maximum authorised weights in international traffic.

The objective of the proposals is the increased use of combined transport as an alternative to the ever-expanding role for road transport and to extend the scope of application of tax incentive measures designed to reduce, or reimburse, taxes and-or user charges applicable to road vehicles when engaged in combined transport.

I have, and will continue, to put forward refinements which are in the best interests of Ireland to both the proposals. My main concerns are to ensure that the provision of fiscal incentives for combined transport will be at the discretion of member states rather than being made mandatory and that the implementation of the direc[162] tive's provisions does not lead to distortions of competition.

In relation to rail, the EU Commission has proposed further liberalisation measures for European railways, in particular to enable access to railway infrastructure on a non-discriminatory basis for competing train operators. These proposals are currently under discussion at the Council of Transport Ministers.

Because it is unlikely that rail liberalisation will have any practical impact in Ireland my main concern is to ensure that the proposals do not lead to an unnecessary administrative burden for this country.

The Commission has also brought forward proposals to introduce specific working time provisions for the road transport sector. This sector was excluded from the original Council Directive, 93/104/EC of 23 November 1993 on the organisation of working time. The aim of that directive was “to guarantee the protection of workers against the adverse effects on their health and safety arising from excessive working time, insufficient rest or irregular work patterns”. The stated aim of the Common Proposal for a Directive is to protect the health and safety of workers, to avoid possible distortions in competition and to improve road safety.

These latest proposals are also being discussed at Council of Transport Ministers. The Commission proposal is very ambitious and very broad in its scope and would apply to all mobile workers performing road transport activities including self-employed drivers.

At the Transport Council I will be seeking greater clarity in terms of both the exact scope and objectives of the proposal. My main concern will be that any extension of working time regulations in the road transport area achieves an appropriate balance between worker protection and the need to sustain a competitive national economy.

  41.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland has reported to her in relation to its examination of information and documentation concerning the probability risk assessments which cover the high level waste storage tanks at Sellafield; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9162/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise (Mr. Jacob):  I refer the Deputy to my previous reply of 18 February 1999.

The RPII's visit to Sellafield which I referred to in my reply of 18 February 1999 will take place at the end of April.

At my meeting on 25 February 1999 with UK Minister Meacher in London which dealt mainly with Sellafield discharge authorisations and the future of the MOX plant, I again raised the Irish Government's concerns about the safety of the [163] storage of high level waste in liquid form at Sellafield. I reiterated the Government's desire to see the speedy clearance of the backlog of this waste much earlier than the proposed 2015 target date. In response, Minister Meacher could give no commitments in this area. Accordingly, I will ensure that in future bilateral contacts with UK Ministers or officials that our concerns about this subject will continue to be raised.

  42.  Mr. McDowell    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    her views on the cause of the industrial dispute at Moneypoint; the action, if any, she has taken to ensure that the partnership approach to industrial relations is restored within the ESB; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9144/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  In response to private notice questions in the House on 11 March 1999 in relation to the recent industrial unrest in certain ESB power plants, I made clear that the conduct of industrial relations in the company was a matter for the management of ESB in association with its trade unions. The board has well established internal industrial relations machinery for addressing and resolving disputes.

However, in an effort to be helpful, I actively monitored the recent problems very closely in collaboration with all the parties involved and the Deputy will be aware of the recommendation made by Mr. Phil Flynn which secured an end to the unrest based on a return to full compliance with agreed procedures.

I have since met with both the board and with union leaders in ESB and I have stressed to all parties that the best way forward, in the era of competition now facing ESB, is to uphold and utilise agreed and tested procedures, relying on the climate of open dialogue and spirit of partnership which have been at the heart of the progress and growth experienced by the company in recent years.

  43.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if she will reconsider her decision in respect of the ESB application to build a 350 to 400 megawatt power station; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9146/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  The construction of all new electricity generating plant will, in future, require an authorisation from the new electricity regulator under the provisions of the Electricity Regulation Bill, 1998 which is currently before the House.

This requirement will apply both to ESB and to the private sector interests who are at present actively developing plans to enter the Irish mar[164] ket under the provisions of the Electricity Directive to be implemented here by 19 February 2000.

  44.  Mr. M. Higgins    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the position in relation to the sale of Cablelink; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9128/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  The full disposal of Cablelink, which is owned by Telecom Éireann and RTE, is being pursued through a trade sale process.

An information memorandum, which outlines Cablelink's existing businesses, plans for its future development, the current regulatory environment and a financial overview, was sent to over 30 potential bidders who had previously expressed an interest in the company. These potential bidders had signed confidentiality agreements and were given a deadline of 10 March for submission of indicative offers.

Five indicative bids were received by the deadline ranging in amounts from £250 million to £360 million. The bidders, in alphabetical order, are Cable Management Ireland Limited, Esat Telecom Group plc, NTL Incorporated, TCI Telecommunications Ireland Limited and United Pan-Europe Communications Services Limited. All five bidders were chosen to go through to phase 2 of the sale process and are currently involved in detailed “due diligence” in relation to the company. Following this process, they will be asked to submit their final offer for the company. A preferred purchaser will then be selected with whom negotiations will proceed to conclude a sale of the company. The sale process, subject to final regulatory approvals, is expected to be completed by late May 1999.

  45.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the position in relation to the campaign for the retention of duty free sales; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9133/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  At ECOFIN on 15 March 1999, the presidency proposed a two and a half year extension for the retention of duty free facilities. The proposal failed to obtain unanimous support however and no clear position was taken. It was then hoped that the heads of State meeting in Berlin last week would provide an opportunity for further discussion. However, due to the very full agenda of the Council, it was not possible to deal with it there.

Germany, as the current president of the European Union, remains the key to obtaining any concession at this late stage. My colleagues in Government and I, will, of course, continue to support the EU Presidency in its call for a limited [165] extension to the duty free regime, because we believe that this is the correct position to take.

  46.  Mr. O'Shea    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if she has contacted her British counterparts in relation to the proposals by the British Health and Safety Executive to allow increased discharges or expand operations at nuclear installations without having to justify them to the British Government or the public; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9159/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise (Mr. Jacob):  I am aware of recent media reports about the proposals from the UK Health and Safety Executive referred to by the Deputy.

These proposals were submitted by the HSE to the UK Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions for consideration. The proposals are not in the public domain. However, I understand that they relate to HSE proposals for implementing certain provisions of the EU Directive 96/29 of 13 May 1996 laying down basic safety standards for the protection of the health of workers and the general public against the dangers arising from ionising radiation. As I understand it, the proposals do not relate to radioactive discharges or to matters concerning the expansion of operations at nuclear installations as these would be outside of the remit of the HSE.

While I cannot comment definitively on the HSE proposals without having seen them, I can assure the Deputy that I will strongly oppose any proposal either to expand operations at UK nuclear installations without having to justify such operations or to allow increased radioactive discharges.

I would also point out to the Deputy that under the EU directive referred to above, the disposal of radioactive waste, including discharges, would require prior authorisation from the UK's regulatory authority. Furthermore, in accordance with the directive, existing justifications for practices are required to be reviewed in the light of new evidence.

On 26 March 1999, the UK Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions published proposals in the form of a consultation document for amending the UK's Radioactive Substances Act, 1993. The proposals take account of the EU directive referred to above and deal with radioactive waste and radioactive discharges. My Department will be examining these proposals closely in consultation with the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland.

[166]

  47.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if she will report on her meeting with Mr. Michael Meacher MP in relation to the draft MOX authorisation and radioactive discharge authorisations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9164/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise (Mr. Jacob):  On 25 February 1999, I met with UK Minister Meacher in London. I sought this meeting to discuss mainly the UK Environment Agency's draft decision relating to the discharge authorisation limits and the proposed new MOX plant currently being considered by the UK Ministers.

As to radioactive discharges, I informed Minister Meacher that the revised discharge limits proposed by the Agency are not acceptable to the Irish Government and that in particular the proposed limits for technetium-99 should be reduced further. I also pointed out to him that the UK Ministers' decision on these discharge limits should reflect the very strong commitment given by the UK Ministers at the OSPAR Ministerial meeting in Portugal last July. Minister Meacher informed me that he was fully aware of the strong concerns in Ireland and in the Scandinavian countries about technetium-99 discharge levels and that he would reflect fully on the matter before a final decision is made.

I also informed Minister Meacher of the Irish Government's total opposition to the Environment Agency's draft decision to give the go-ahead to the MOX plant. I requested that Ireland's concerns about this project, set out in two earlier separate submissions to the Environment Agency, should be given careful consideration by the UK Ministers. Minister Meacher assured me that Ireland's views would be borne in mind in the decision process.

  48.  Mr. Gilmore    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    when she will make regulations allowing the Director of Telecommunications Regulation to prevent cherry picking of customers in the voice telephony market; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9139/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  The liberalisation of the telecommunications sector and the introduction of competition among telecommunications operators inevitably involves allowing them certain commercial freedoms in carrying out their businesses. It is not possible, therefore, to prevent competition for customers who are profitable from the point of view of operators. The regulatory framework must, however, ensure that there is fair competition among the operators, with due regard to the interests of the incumbent operator and of the new entrants.

The legislative framework for telecommunications includes a range of regulatory measures at the disposal of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation to ensure fair competition among telecommunications operators. I have recently signed further regulations which lay [167] down requirements, to be monitored by the director, regarding the provision of voice telephony services by operators, including measures to ensure the provision of a universal service.

  50.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the plans, if any, she has to sanction a fare increase in Dublin Bus and DART services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9149/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  On 12 March last I received an updated application for fares increases in respect of the three CIE operating subsidiaries, which I am currently considering.

  52.  Proinsias De Rossa    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if she will give a commitment that all buses purchased in future by CIE will be wheelchair accessible; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9152/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  It is and always has been my policy that transport operators, and in particular the State transport companies, should provide the highest possible degree of accessibility. I am committed to bringing about a situation where public transport facilities are fully accessible to all at the earliest possible date. The CIE companies are fully aware of my policy in this regard and I am satisfied that they are doing all in their power to achieve this goal.

Bus Átha Cliath currently has six low-floor single decker buses in operation on the No. 3 route, Belfield to Drumcondra, and the company has given a commitment that, from now on, all single-deck buses due for renewal will be replaced by low-floor equivalents.

At my request the company is preparing a broad programme of trials of possible low floor buses. I expect the trials to include six double deck; one articulated; and one alternative fuel bus. These trials, together with the experience of their existing low floor single deck buses and a further 20 fully accessible 33 seater midi buses which the company will purchase this year, will provide the basis for decisions on the future fleet replacement programme. Depending on the results of these pilot tests, Bus Átha Cliath should be in a position to begin ordering accessible double decker buses from 2000.

At present Bus Éireann has one low-floor single deck bus operating on the Bishopstown route in Cork. A wheelchair-accessible school bus is also in service in Cork city. A further ten low-floor vehicles are currently on order. Bus Éireann state that these vehicles are due for delivery in early summer and will be put into service on the company's Cork and Limerick city routes.

[168] I am also pleased to report that each of the CIE companies, Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann, have now established user groups representative of people with disabilities. The input from these groups gives the companies very valuable assistance in their ongoing programmes of improving the suitability of their services for mobility-impaired customers.

  54.  Mr. Browne (Wexford)    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the plans, if any, to extend the natural gas grid to County Wexford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5790/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  The question of extending the natural gas grid is one for Bord Gais Éireann, BGE, in the first instance.

I am informed by BGE that the current energy demand projections in County Wexford are not sufficient to generate the requisite economic returns to justify the level of capital expenditure involved in extending the natural gas network to the county.

However, the situation is being kept under review by BGE. If future energy demand projections increase to the point where a network extension meets with the board's investment criteria, then the board would be likely to proceed with seeking the necessary approvals from me for an extension of the network to County Wexford.

  55.  Mr. G. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the contact, if any, between the Director of Telecommunications Regulation and her Department in relation to the introduction of interim licensing arrangements for television deflector groups; if the consultation process will be expedited in order that householders will have access to multichannel television prior to digitalisation; if she has ascertained from the regulator if a time period has been set out for these regulations; if she will assent to these; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8642/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  As the Deputy will be aware, licensing of television rebroadcasting systems is a matter, in the first instance, for the Director of Telecommunications Regulation.

The director has indicated that a consultation process will shortly take place on issues surrounding the possible licensing of deflector systems. The Deputy will appreciate that, given the independence of the director in the exercise of her functions, it would be inappropriate for me to intervene in relation to the timing and duration or, indeed, any element of that process.

In the event that the director proposes draft regulations in relation to the licensing of deflector systems, I will give them appropriate consider[169] ation. As yet, no such proposals have been made to me.

  56.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the Government policy position in relation to the competing proposals for meeting future gas supply, that is, an interconnector between Dublin and Belfast, a second interconnector between Scotland and Ireland or to await the final exploratory investigations into a gas find off the west coast; and if she will make a comprehensive statement setting out the Government's strategy in this regard. [8646/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  I refer the Deputy to previous replies given to questions on this subject on 18 February, 9 March and 23 March 1999.

The study of gas demand to the year 2025 is ongoing and the various options and proposals will be carefully considered by me.

  57.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if her attention has been drawn to three recent accidents at the Sellafield plant on 25 February, 11 March and 13 March 1999; if she has received reports from her United Kingdom counterpart on these accidents; the representations, if any, she has made to the UK Government in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9123/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise (Mr. Jacob):  I am aware of the three incidents referred to by the Deputy.

The incident on 25 February involved the evacuation of eight occupants of one of the buildings at Sellafield, when a number of Alpha-in-air monitor alarms were triggered by a backflow of airborne radioactivity through the ventilation system from contaminated areas which were being decommissioned. It appears that this backflow related to fire prevention tests which affected the ventilation characteristics of the building. Subsequent monitoring of the workers showed that they had not been contaminated.

The incident on 11 March 1999 related to the spillage of nitric acid at a solvent treatment plant. One BNFL employee was overcome by fumes and two others were treated for acid burns. No radioactive materials were involved in the incident and, therefore, there was no release of radioactivity into the environment.

The most recent incident on 13 March occurred in the course of routine operations at the waste vitrification plant when a maintenance worker came into contact with a hot particle and his finger was irradiated. The level of contamination exceeded the annual dose permitted under the UK Ionising Radiation Regulations, 1985. However, no other workers were affected and [170] there was no release of radioactivity into the environment.

In keeping with arrangements between the UK Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, NII, and the RPII, on-site incidents which affect workers' safety are notified to the RPII. Only incidents of radiological significance are notifiable directly to my Department. The RPII were informed of the incidents on 11 and 13 March and they in turn informed my Department. The incident on the 25 February was not notified to the RPII but I would point out that no contamination had resulted from the incident.

I have been assured by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland that the incidents were of no radiological safety significance to Ireland. However, such incidents serve to highlight the risks associated with the Sellafield operations and can, understandably, give rise to public concern here in Ireland. My concerns about incidents at Sellafield continue to form part of regular contacts between Irish and UK officials on nuclear safety matters.

  58.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the difficulties, if any, reported to her, either by the Light Rail Advisory Action Group or CIE, in relation to the Luas project; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9153/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  I have had no reports of difficulties from CIE or the light rail advisory and action group in relation to the Luas project.

I am pleased to say that there has been significant progress in relation to the project since the Government decision last May. I made a light railway order in respect of the Tallaght to Abbey Street light rail line on 1 March 1999. A public inquiry on the application for a light railway order in respect of the St. Stephen's Green to Sandyford light rail line is due to commence on 13 April with a preliminary hearing on 6 April. Public consultation in relation to the various route options for the light rail line from Broadstone to Ballymun and the airport was launched on 18 December 1998. A public consultation document was published in February setting out the route options for the Abbey Street to Connolly Station line and I expect an application for a light railway order for this line to be submitted at the end of August.

  59.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if she has analysed or evaluated airport facilities with particular reference to identifying the extent to which existing facilities meet current and projected requirements; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9125/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  Aer Rianta's extensive capital [171] development programme of over £300 million, is designed to meet current and projected requirements at the three State airports for the period to 2002. Major projects at Dublin Airport include an extension to the main terminal, the addition of two new piers and ongoing investments in roads, aprons, taxiways, etc. These facilities will bring capacity at Dublin Airport to 20 million passengers. Projects including the completion of a new terminal at Shannon will bring passenger capacity to 4.5 million at that airport and significant capital works at Cork Airport are also under way.

Passenger numbers at Dublin, Shannon and Cork airports are expected to reach over 13 million, 2 million and 1.5 million respectively by the end of 1999. The current capital programme is being kept under constant review by Aer Rianta and my Department and can be modified to meet any changes in the forecast demand for airport facilities.

  60.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if she will respond to the correspondence from the Register of Electrical Contractors of Ireland of 6 January 1999 relating to the serious issues of public safety; her views on legislative change in this area; if she will take responsibility for action in this area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8643/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  I received a representation from the Register of Electrical Contractors of Ireland on 18 January last. This was forwarded to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment for direct reply early in February.

I have previously outlined to the Deputy that my Department has no statutory function in relation to this issue. My Department is responsible for the economic regulation of the electricity industry. There are national wiring rules which address the issue of safety of electrical wiring. These rules are drawn up by the Electro-Technical Council of Ireland (ETCI) which is a non-statutory association made up of the various interested parties. The members of the two recognised regulatory bodies, ECSSA and RECI, are required to comply with these rules. The question at issue here is who should monitor and enforce the voluntary standards and whether this can be done by more than one body. While the health and safety authority has a general responsibility for these matters in the case of non-domestic installations in the context of the safety and health of workers, it does not have such a role in respect of domestic installations.

As the Deputy is aware, the ESB sets criteria for recognition of self-regulatory bodies for the electrical contractors. These criteria, which were set as a result of litigation between ESB and electrical contractors who did not wish to join RECI, comply with the requirements of competition law. [172] The ESB is represented on the board of ECSSA and RECI. In the light of the concerns expressed about the self-regulatory regime, my Department has been in contact with the ESB on the matter. The ESB has indicated that its representatives are satisfied that sufficient inspectors have been appointed by both bodies to meet the criteria set for the establishment of regulatory bodies for the electrical contracting industry.

In view of the health and safety authority's existing role in relation to non-domestic electrical installations, my Department initiated discussions with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment concerning a possible supervisory role for the authority in relation to electrical installations generally. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is currently considering its approach in relation to this matter.

  61.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Taoiseach    if sufficient space will be given when marking the millennium to the erection of a statue in O'Connell Street, Dublin, to mark the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ; the plans, if any, the millennium committee has for such a project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9368/99]

The Taoiseach:  The National Millennium Committee, which is chaired by the Government Chief Whip and Minister of State, Deputy Séamus Brennan, is to advise on project proposals of national significance for inclusion in the Government's millennium programme and also to recommend a system for supporting millennium projects at a local level. A large number of postcards petitioning for a statue in O'Connell Street, Dublin to mark the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ have been received and will be brought to the attention of the National Millennium Committee. This petition has also been brought to the attention of Dublin Corporation. Such a proposal would need to be submitted to the millennium committee in a worked out form before it could be given detailed consideration.

  62.  Mrs. Owen    asked the Tánaiste    and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the plans, if any, she has to make additional staff available to the labour inspectorate in order that the joint labour committee arrangements for the catering sector in the south east can be properly enforced; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the resources deployed by her Department are wholly inadequate in view of the scale of the non-compliance with the joint labour committee; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9365/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. T. Kitt):  As I have explained to the Deputy previously the [173] labour inspectorate of my Department is comprised of ten inspectors who have responsibility for enforcing 21 employment regulation orders (EROs)/registered employment agreements (REAs) which lay down minimum rates of pay and other conditions of employment in 19 individual sectors, amongst them the catering sector, and 11 labour law legislative enactments. In 1998, 1,138 visits were made to catering sector establishments nationwide by the inspectorate, resulting in the detection of 47 irregular cases in the matter of pay and holiday entitlements and in the collection of £54,360 by way of arrears due to the affected employees. The south east region, Counties Wicklow, Wexford, Carlow, Kilkenny and Tipperary SR, accounted for 153 of these visits and for seven of the irregular cases where £4,674 of the total arrears figure was collected.

I am satisfied that, having regard to the extensive range of legislation and EROs/REAs in respect of which my inspectors exercise an enforcement function, a reasonable enforcement service is provided on behalf of workers generally. Within their overall responsibilities the inspectors give reasonable coverage to the catering sector nationwide and, in relation to catering establishments in the south-east region, I am satisfied that their enforcement work represents a fair proportion of the volume of their activity.

I have no plans at this time to augment my existing complement of inspectors but I would like to take this opportunity to advise the Deputy that I will be shortly launching an intensive enforcement campaign with a major emphasis on the catering sector nationwide. This campaign will run for six months and will involve the full complement of inspectors and inspectorate section administration staff in an operation targeted at non-compliant employers. The campaign will be publicly announced and it is my intention that it shall have a high public profile through media advertising. Appropriate action, including legal proceedings where necessary, will be taken against all employers found to be in breach of their obligations to their employees.

[174]

  63.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Tánaiste    and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she has received correspondence from a person (details supplied) in County Kildare regarding her complaint that the trade union IMPACT has unsatisfactory voting procedures which do not allow her and others to exercise their right to vote; if she referred this case to the registrar of friendly societies; the reply, if any, she has received; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9366/99]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ms Harney):  I received correspondence from the person referred to by the Deputy. My response to the correspondence stated that complaints by a trade union member about the conduct of ballots may be referred by the complainant to the Registrar of Friendly Societies for investigation. The investigation of such complaints is a matter for the registrar. However, I am informed that the registrar is in contact with the parties concerned in the complaint to which the Deputy refers and that he has recently sought to arrange a meeting with the complainant.

  64.  Mr. Sheehan    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources when a person (details supplied) in County Cork will receive payment of a forestry premium. [9352/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  The applicant completed his forestry plantation on 29 March 1998 and under the terms of the scheme would be due his first forestry premium one year later. A payable order for the amount due will issue to the applicant by the end of March.

  65.  Mr. McGinley    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the number of foreign fishing vessels arrested for illegal fishing in Irish waters during 1998; the nationality of each; the ports to which they were escorted; and the amount of the fine in each case. [9353/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  Seventeen fishing vessels from other countries were detained in Irish waters during 1998. The vessels detained were seven British registered vessels, six Spanish vessels and four French vessels. Thirteen vessels were escorted to Castletownbere, two to Cobh and one to Cork. The French vessel Rohellan was detained by the Department's sea fisheries officers at the port of Castletownbere. Full details of the detentions, including the ports to which each vessel was escorted and fines, if any, imposed in each case, are set out in the following table.

Arrests of Foreign Fishing Vessels in 1998

Name of Vessel Nationality Port Penalty Imposed
Rohellan French Castletownbere £1,050
Patricia Marta Spanish Castletownbere £700
Elife Tres Spanish Castletownbere Warning issued
Farpesca Quinto Spanish Castletownbere Warning issued
Grampian Duke British Castletownbere £20,166
[175] Name of Vessel Nationality Port Penalty Imposed
Kendal Hus French Cork £10,919
Le Stiff French Castletownbere £17,500
Mountain Peak British Castletownbere £450
Sierra Ancares Spanish Castletownbere £23,500
Kersiny French Cobh £12,575
Nuevo Confurco Spanish Castletownbere Released
Mari Geni British Castletownbere £31,500
Westwind British Castletownbere £27,000
Abrente British Castletownbere £25,645
Maria Gallego Spanish Castletownbere Warning issued
Poolster British Castletownbere £25,710
Angelus British Cobh £450

  66.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources if a forestry premium will be paid to a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [9354/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  The applicant has four separate plantations in County Sligo. The premiums in relation to two of these plantations have been processed and will be paid shortly. Further documentation is required before the premiums in respect of the other plantations can be paid and the applicant has been advised accordingly.

  67.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if a special capital allocation for the purchase of buses will be conditional on the fact that they are environmentally friendly in view of the importance of public transport; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8898/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  As the Deputy is aware from the reply to Question No. 35 of 18 February 1999, there are a number of issues which would need to be examined in relation to the use of alternative fuels by Dublin Bus. My Department has allocated a sum of £20,000 to part fund a trial involving the use by Dublin Bus of a vehicle fuelled by liquid petroleum gas (LPG). Dublin Bus is at present in negotiation with a bus manufacturer about the leasing of a suitable bus. In addition, Dublin Bus, in a joint venture with Bord Gáis Éireann, is operating, on a trial basis, a single-decker bus using compressed natural gas. There is no special capital allocation for the purchase of buses conditional on the fact that they be environmentally friendly.

  68.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the mechanism to facilitate the general public in acquiring Telecom Éireann shares in the run up to the initial public offering of the shares; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9213/99]

[176]Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  The current proposals for the retail phase of the Telecom Éireann initial public offering, TE IPO, includes a comprehensive mailing, a registration period and a media campaign which will provide information concerning the IPO to the Irish public. It is anticipated that this registration period will precede the launch of the share offer phase.

  69.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if she will report on the development at TEAM and FLS; if she has satisfied herself with all aspects of the developments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9214/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  The sale of TEAM to FLS Aerospace was successfully completed last December. The majority of the staff in TEAM transferred to FLS Aerospace. A total of 91 employees returned to the airline with 49 having been accommodated with positions matching their skills and the remainder in other positions. I understand Aer Lingus is making every effort to accommodate the former staff from TEAM as vacancies matching their skills arise in the airline. As to TEAM FLS itself, developments there are matters for the new owners to pursue.

  70.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the evaluation process for public transport requirements and the allocation of the required funding; the areas identified as requiring special focus; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9215/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  The evaluation and assessment of public transport requirements is a continuous process, undertaken by the relevant Government Departments and transport agencies.

Transportation planning in the greater Dublin area is co-ordinated by the Dublin Transportation Office which is now preparing an action plan for investment in the period to 2006 and is [177] also updating the existing DTI strategy to take account of anticipated development to 2016.

Last September, the DTO published a short-term action plan recommending a number of measures designed to provide 21,000 extra bus passenger trips and 11,300 suburban rail passenger trips in the peak period by end 2000. These recommendations have been approved for implementation and funding provided partly by the Exchequer, the reallocation of Luas EU aid and CIE's own resources.

Over the last two years, Córas Iompair Éireann undertook in-depth reviews of the investment needs of its bus, suburban rail and mainline rail services. A development programme prioritising a set of investment needs for each sector was devised. An independent examination of overall transport investment strategy, including the CIE public transport proposals, has just been completed by DKM Economic Consultants, external evaluator for the operational programme for transport, and is being examined by my Department.

In response to the rail safety review, completed in November 1998, the Government immediately appointed a high level task force to prepare prioritised recommendations to address the issues raised in the IRMS report. On 24 February I announced that the Government had approved a £430 million railway safety programme 1999-2003, prepared by Iarnród Éireann and endorsed by the task force. This programme provides the framework for railway safety investment over the next five years.

Earlier this month I secured Government approval to arrange for the carrying out of costing and feasibility work on a suburban rail development plan. The plan comprises two elements: a short-term programme based on making more intensive use of the existing rail corridors and a longer term programme based on certain conceptual suggestions for improving the suburban rail network contained in the strategic planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area.

The outcome of this work and other public transport investment proposals will be considered as part of the strategic transport needs for the country as a whole in the context of the preparation of the National Development Plan.

  71.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the plans, if any, she has to set out the parameters within which the telecommunications system will operate; the plans, if any, she has to either leave these matters with the Director of Telecommunications Regulation or deal directly with these issues herself; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9404/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  The regulatory framework for the [178] telecommunications sector, setting out the range of functions of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation, is already well defined in existing legislation.

To further enhance the effectiveness of this regulatory framework, I intend to bring legislative proposals before the Government in the latter half of this year to address a number of issues which require clarification since the establishment of the director's office.

  74.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if recent changes in the membership of the board of Telecom Éireann have any implications for the third mobile phone licence; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9407/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  The award of a third mobile telephony licence is the responsibility of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation. The result of the competition held last year by the director is currently the subject of a High Court case. I am not aware of any reason the recent changes to the board of Telecom Éireann would have any implications for the eventual award of the licence.

  75.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the extent to which she has examined EU directives in respect of the production and generation of electricity; if a nett benefit will accrue to the consumer arising from these directives; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9408/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  The EU Electricity Directive 96/92/EC concerning common rules for the internal market in electricity requires that approximately 28 per cent of the Irish electricity market be opened to competition initially. This will allow independent electricity suppliers to contract directly with eligible customers for the supply of electricity. Eligible customers are those who will be free to choose their electricity supplier in the competitive market. The remainder of customers will continue to be supplied by ESB.

The directive is being implemented in two phases. The Electricity Regulation Bill, which provides for the establishment of the Commission for Electricity Regulation, completed Second Stage in the Dáil on 24 March 1999. A second item of legislation to be published later this year will implement the balance of the directive.

The ultimate responsibility for regulation of electricity prices for consumers in the non-liberalised market will be devolved to the Commission for Electricity Regulation. I would be dis[179] appointed if the end result of liberalisation and increasing competition did not benefit all consumers.

  77.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if she has satisfied herself that adequate safety standards apply in respect of railway stations and services from Enfield to Dublin, including Kilcock, Maynooth, Leixlip and Confey, arising from her recently published safety report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9410/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  Day to day responsibility for all matters relating to rail safety is a matter for Iarnród Éireann. I have been assured that rail safety is the company's main priority and is of paramount importance in all aspects of the company's operations.

The Deputy will be aware from the IRMS report, A Review of Railway Safety in Ireland, that the condition of much of the track, signalling and other infrastructure of Iarnród Éireann is poor. However, I am informed by Iarnród Éireann that adequate safety standards do apply in respect of stations and services from Enfield to Dublin where a considerable amount of new track has been laid since the commencement of the IRMS study. Further extensive improvement works, which are ongoing on this line, include the automation of five level crossings, the doubling of the line, platform extensions, the installation of a new signalling system and the purchase of new railcars for the route.

On 24 February I announced that the Government had approved a £430 million five year railway safety programme, prepared by Iarnród Éireann and endorsed by the task force established by the Government. Iarnród Éireann is proceeding with the implementation of that programme.

  80.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the extent to which energy needs are being met by way of electricity or alternative energy sources; if adequate examination has been given to future needs in this area; the proposals, if any, she has to meet these demands in view of the current rate of industrial expansion; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9413/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise (Mr. Jacob):  Total final consumption, TFC, of the various sources of energy for 1997, the latest year for which figures are available, [180] expressed in thousands of tonnes of oil equivalent, KTOE, was as follows:

KTOE % share
1. Coal 544 6
2. Peat 361 4
3. Peat briquettes 112 1
4. Oil 5,323 61
5. Natural gas 865 10
6. Renewables 139 2
7. Electricity 1,443 16
Total 8,787 100

Under a business as usual scenario and taking account of forecasted economic growth, total final consumption is expected to increase by 39 per cent to 12,196 KTOE in 2010.

The business as usual forecast will be influenced by two major developments in the energy sector. Growth in energy demand will be constrained by limitations on greenhouse gas emissions established for Ireland under the Kyoto Protocol. Moreover, energy liberalisation will also affect the current approach to security of supply of gas and electricity. The effect of the Kyoto Protocol on the energy sector will become clearer following the publication of the greenhouse gas abatement strategy by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, who has the lead role in this matter.

Liberalisation of the electricity and gas markets will necessitate new arrangements to ensure security of supply for consumers. As a result of the changing role of the ESB, the transmission systems operator will have the ultimate duty to ensure that there is sufficient capacity in the electricity system to meet consumer needs.

The use of alternative energy in electricity production is already being strongly supported under my current policies. I propose to further elaborate my policies in this area when I publish my Green Paper on Sustainable Energy in the near future.

The protection of the future needs of gas consumers will be addressed when the legislation to implement the EU directive concerning the common rules for the Internal Market in natural gas is published. A study to assess natural gas demand and related infrastructural requirements to the year 2025 has been commissioned by the Department and BGE. As to the demand for fossil fuels such as oil, coal and peat there is no particular concern about security of supply. Over time, it is envisaged that coal and peat used for domestic purposes will be substituted by convenience fuels such as gas and oil. Furthermore, in the power sector there will be increased reliance on natural gas and renewable sources of energy.

[181]

  81.  Mr. Power    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of Defence Forces members who have availed of voluntary early retirement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9297/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  The number of Defence Forces personnel who have availed of the voluntary early retirement scheme is 1,509. The following table indicates the number availing of voluntary early retirement in each of the three years 1996-98.

Voluntary Early Retirement

Year Numbers
1996 500
1997 735
1998 274
Total 1,509

  82.  Mr. Power    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will assist an application from Gaelscoil Chill Dara to build a new school at Lumville, County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9298/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  The position is that the future management and development of the Curragh is currently being considered by an interdepartmental task force having regard to the immense archaeological, cultural, environmental and historical significance of the area. The request for access on to the Curragh Plains from the proposed school site at Lumville will be considered in the context of the report of the task force which, I understand, will be presented shortly.

  83.  Mr. Power    asked the Minister for Defence    the progress, if any, made with local and voluntary organisations regarding the future use of the barracks in Kildare; when the sale of the barracks will proceed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9299/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  Following the Government decision of 15 July 1998, to dispose of six barracks considered to be surplus to military requirements, I had consultations with public and community representatives in each of the five areas in which barracks were subsequently evacuated. In addition to those initial meetings, my officials met with councillors and officials of Kildare County Council in relation to Magee Barracks on 11 February 1999. I expect to meet with representatives of the county council in the near future to discuss the matter further. The sale of the barracks will proceed as soon as is practicable.

[182]

  84.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Defence    the expenditure allocated to the Civil Defence for each of the years 1997 and 1998; the amount availed of in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9302/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Mr. S. Brennan):  The amount provided for Civil Defence in the Defence Vote for the years 1997 and 1998 was £2.475 million each year. The outturn for the year 1997 was £2.590 million and the provisional outturn for 1998 is £2.575 million.

  85.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Defence    the expenditure allocated to the Red Cross for each of the years 1997 and 1998; the amount availed of in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9303/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  In each of the years 1997 and 1998 a grant-in-aid of £535,000 was allocated to the Irish Red Cross Society of which a payment of £100,000 per year was made to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva. The full provision was availed of in both years.

  86.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if the issue of the shoreline with the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands will be resolved for a person (details supplied) in County Sligo in view of the fact that he has joined the REP scheme; if the total 100 acres will be included for REP scheme payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9210/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The person named does not have title to some of the land included on his agri-environmental plan and, therefore, is ineligible for REPS payments on this area. Should full title to the land in question be obtained, then my Department would re-examine his payment entitlements.

  87.  Mr. Sheehan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    when a person (details supplied) in County Cork will receive payment of a 1998 REP scheme grant. [9355/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  This case has been chosen for a pre-payment inspection. Arrangements are being made to have this carried out as soon as possible and if everything is in order payment will be made.

[183]

  88.  Mr. Sheehan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    when a person (details supplied) in County Cork will receive payment of a ten month beef premium which he applied for in February 1998. [9356/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The area aid application has been processed. Any outstanding payments will issue as soon as possible.

  89.  Mr. Bradford    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the amount paid under all premiums applied for during 1998 to a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [9357/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  Payments amounting to £3,537 have been approved for the person named. However, as he has substantial arrears of land annuities dating back to 1993 he was recently informed by letter that it is proposed to offset the payments due if the arrears are not paid by 9 April 1999.

  90.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the outcome of the appeal of a person (details supplied) in County Leitrim with reference to his headage payments. [9359/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The person named will be paid his full entitlement on a maximum of 40 beef cows under the 1998 cattle headage scheme within the next 14 days.

The person named applied on 49 suckler cows under the 1998 suckler cow premium scheme. At an inspection carried out on 17 November 1998, three of the animals applied on were absent and the identity of one animal could not be established, with a consequent rejection of the animals concerned and reduction in payment on the remaining eligible animals. The person named has been informed by my Department that he will receive reduced payments under this scheme. He has been given the opportunity to appeal this decision by writing to my Department setting out any facts which he wishes to put forward to support his case. Any such appeal will be considered as a matter of urgency.

  91.  Mr. J. O'Keeffe    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if the terms and conditions of the farm early retirement scheme allow for the wife of a farmer to give general advice and assistance to her son in a situation where he has taken over the family farm and where her husband as the retired farmer is being paid the farm retirement pension pursuant to the scheme. [9442/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  In the case of a sole application the spouse of the retiring farmer may give assistance to the transferee i.e. the person taking over the released land. In relation to a joint ownership application, where both spouses apply as transferors, neither spouse may give assistance to the [184] transferee. In a joint management situation where the spouse of the owner of the released land receives the pension because this is a more favourable option, both spouses must cease all commercial farming activity definitively and are precluded from giving any assistance to the transferee.

  92.  Mrs. T. Ahearn    asked the Minister for Finance    the reason for the delay in the provision of the new agriculture offices in Tipperary town; when the new facilities will be available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9358/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Cullen):  The main reason for the delay in the provision of the new offices for the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs is due to a requirement of the conditions of the planning permission that a full archaeological excavation of the site be carried out before the commencement of any development on the site. This excavation has now been completed.

The following is the programme for the completion of the project. Tenders will be invited in the first week of May 1999. Contract placed and contractor on site by the end of June 1999. Contract period is 12 months followed by a fit-out period of one month. The offices will be ready for occupation by August 2000.

  93.  Mr. Power    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of second hand cars imported in each of the years from 1990 to date; the country from where these cars were exported; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9380/99]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners who are responsible for the registration of vehicles since 1993 that the information requested by the Deputy is set out below in respect of second hand cars from 1993 to end February 1999. Information before that date is not available to the Revenue Commissioners.

Year Gross No. of Used Cars Registered
1993 33,940
1994 41,245
1995 44,591
1996 48,164
1997 44,828
1998 44,914
1999 to end of February 6,757

[185] A breakdown by reference to the last country of registration is only available since 1996. Details are as follows:

Country of last registration
No. of Cars Registered
1996 1997 1998 1999 (to end of February)
France 4,656 3,463 2,505 381
Germany 4,848 3,434 2,487 317
Gt. Britain 21,594 17,060 12,764 1,910
N. Ireland 3,958 2,857 2,092 358
Japan 11,388 16,266 23,823 3,606
Others 1,720 1,748 1,243 185
Total 48,164 44,828 44,914 6,757.

  94.  Mr. G. Reynolds    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) in County Leitrim will be called for surgery. [9217/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The provision of medical treatment in this case is the responsibility of the voluntary hospital concerned in the first instance. I have asked the chief executive officer of the hospital to investigate this matter and to reply to the Deputy directly as a matter of urgency.

  95.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath will be admitted for a hip operation to the orthopaedic unit at Tullamore General Hospital; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9218/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The provision of medical treatment to eligible persons living in County Westmeath is the statutory responsibility of the Midland Health Board in the first instance. I have asked the chief executive officer of the Midland Health Board to investigate this case and to reply to the Deputy directly as a matter of urgency.

  96.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if his attention has been drawn to the case of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and the solution he will offer to ensure orthodontic work is carried out without further delay in view of the long number of years spent on a waiting list. [9369/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  As the provision of orthodontic treatment to eligible persons in the Dublin area is the statutory responsibility of the Eastern Health Board I have asked the chief executive officer of the board to examine the case of the person named by the [186] Deputy and to respond to the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

  97.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if a person diagnosed as having tuberculosis is automatically entitled to a medical card; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9370/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  Entitlement to health services in Ireland is primarily based on means. Under the Health Act, 1970, determination of eligibility for medical cards is the responsibility of the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board. Medical cards are issued to persons who, in the opinion of the chief executive officer, are unable to provide general practitioner medical and surgical services for themselves and their dependants without undue hardship.

Income guidelines have been drawn up by the chief executive officers to assist in the determination of a person's eligibility and these are revised annually in line with the consumer price index. However these guidelines are not statutorily binding and even though a person's income exceeds the guidelines, a medical card may still be awarded if the chief executive officer considers that his/her medical needs or other circumstances would justify this. Medical cards may also be awarded to individual family members on this basis.

In view of this special provision I do not feel it justifiable, nor did previous Governments, on health policy grounds, to extend an automatic entitlement to a medical card to any specific group without any reference to their means or in the case of children, to their parents' means, as a general rule. It is open to all persons to apply to the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board for health services if they are unable to provide these services for themselves or their dependants without hardship.

Non-medical card holders are entitled to a broad range of health services including an entitlement to public hospital and public consultant treatment subject only to modest statutory charges and out-patient services free of charge. However, exemptions are made, from these statutory charges, for persons receiving treatment for prescribed infectious diseases including tuberculosis. There are also schemes which provide assistance towards the cost of medication.

I should add that an infectious diseases maintenance allowance (IDMA) is payable under section 44 and section 5 of the Health Act, 1947 to a person who is unable to make reasonable and proper provision for his/her own maintenance or the maintenance of his/her dependants because he/she is undergoing treatment for one of the infectious diseases specified in IDMA regulations. The allowance is means tested and the [187] diseases for which an allowance may be paid include tuberculosis.

  98.  Mr. McCormack    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of cases of MRSA infection in Western Health Board hospitals in the past five years; the number of cases at University College Hospital, Galway, and Merlin Park Regional Hospital, Galway; if the number of these cases in either of the two hospitals exceeds the norm nationally or internationally; if the number of cases in the two hospitals is increasing, decreasing or remaining stable; if the level is increasing; and the number of cases in each of the two hospitals over the past five years. [9371/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  As MRSA is not a notifiable disease under the infectious disease regulations, national statistics on incidence are not available. In 1995 a survey was undertaken to ascertain the number of times MRSA was isolated in acute hospitals over a defined period of time. Hospitals from each health board area were included. Subsequently, guidelines for acute hospitals and other facilities were developed and circulated, drawing attention to such issues as the need for education and training of staff, and for infection control committees.

In order to review the situation, a repeat all-Ireland study was carried out during 1-14 February, 1999 under the direction of the Eastern Health Board, and the results of the study are currently being collated.

The information requested is as follows:

Year UCHG Merlin Park Regional Hospital Roscommon County Hospital
1998 361 128 56
1997 347 102 51
1996 386 138 50
1995 408 128 67
1994 308 106 43

The figures for Mayo General Hospital are not readily available. I have sought this information from the Western Health Board and I will forward them to the Deputy as soon as it becomes available.

  99.  Mr. Power    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of reported cases of meningitis in each of the years from 1990 to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9373/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The number of cases of meningitis notified to my [188] Department in each of the years from 1990 to date is as follows:

Acute Viral Meningitis Bacterial Meningitis, including meningococcal septicaemia
1990 300 131
1991 86 155
1992 104 225
1993 39 203
1994 90 241
1995 74 382
1996 77 410
1997 32 506
1998 32 486
1999 1 167

There are two forms of meningitis – bacterial and viral. Bacterial meningitis is the more serious form of the disease. The occurrence of meningococcal infection is cyclical in nature and an increase in incidence may occur periodically without apparent reason, persist for a number of years and then begin to fall again towards previous lower levels.

The Working Group on Bacterial Meningitis and Related Conditions was established by my Department in 1996 to examine the incidence of bacterial meningitis and related conditions, and to make recommendations with a view to strengthening the surveillance and control of these conditions. The group reported in 1997 and its report was circulated to all relevant agencies in the health service. The group has remained in existence and will shortly complete an evaluation of the implementation of the recommendations in its 1997 report.

  100.  Mr. Cosgrave    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if funding is available to give hepatitis A and B vaccination to all 26,500 mentally handicapped patients as recommended; and, if so, the source from which it is available. [9393/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The Immunisation Advisory Committee of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland recommends immunisation against hepatitis B for patients and carers in institutions for persons with mental handicap. The guidelines also indicate that this group may be considered for immunisation against hepatitis A.

Additional revenue funding of £300,000 was provided to the health boards and voluntary mental handicap agencies by my Department in 1995 to enable the provision of hepatitis B vaccination for staff working in the mental handicap services and for client groups considered to be at risk. This funding has continued to be provided in the agencies' budgets.

In June 1997, the health boards and voluntary mental handicap agencies were requested to [189] review ongoing arrangements to ensure that all at-risk clients have been identified and scheduled for immunisation. This process is ongoing.

There are no plans to provide immunisation against hepatitis A.

  101.  Mr. Cosgrave    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the responses, if any, he has received from the seven hepatology units to the recommendation and advice (details supplied) that all hepatitis C victims should be offered and given hepatitis A and B vaccination; and if it will be given to patients at the Mater Hospital, Dublin and Cork units. [9394/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  I refer the Deputy to my reply to Questions Nos. 354, 355 and 366 of 23 March 1999. My Department has conveyed to the relevant hospitals the advice of the Immunisation Advisory Committee of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in relation to vaccination against hepatitis A and B of persons with hepatitis C. Arrangements are being made to ensure that patients attending the relevant hospitals, including the hospitals referred to by the Deputy, can avail of this vaccination.

  102.  Mr. N. Ahern    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if his attention has been drawn to the strong objections of many people to the increase from £32 to £42 in the drugs cost subsidisation scheme; if he will add additional illnesses to the long-term illness card scheme, such as transplant patients who must use immuno-suppressant drugs for the rest of their lives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9439/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The long-term illness scheme entitles persons to free drugs and medicines which are prescribed in respect of a specific schedule of illnesses. The long-term illness scheme has not be extended since 1975 and there are no plans to change the scheme or to expand the number of illnesses covered by the scheme having regard to the fact that the needs of individuals with significant or ongoing medical expenses are met by a range of other schemes which provide assistance towards the cost of prescribed drugs and medicines.

Persons who suffer from an ongoing medical condition can avail of the drug cost subsidisation scheme which caters for people who do not have a medical card or long-term illness book and are certified as having a medical condition with a regular and ongoing requirement for prescribed drugs and medicines. Persons who qualify for inclusion in this scheme will not have to spend more than £32 in any month on prescribed medication.

Under the drug refund scheme which covers expenditure by the whole family, any expenditure [190] on prescribed medication above £90 in a calendar quarter is refunded by the health board.

With effect from 1 July 1999, the existing drug cost subsidisation and drug refund schemes will be merged into one new drug payment scheme. The primary aim of this scheme is to bring about important improvements in the existing schemes by effectively merging the best elements of the two existing schemes and is designed to significantly improve the cash flow situation for families and individuals incurring ongoing expenditure on medicines.

The new family scheme will have significant advantages over the existing drug refund scheme. Under the drug refund scheme, families and individuals pay the full cost of their prescription medicines and may, at the end of the quarter, claim reimbursement from their health board of expenditure over £90 in that calendar quarter. Many families and individuals have very heavy expenditure on drugs and medicines in a quarter and have to wait a further six weeks from the end of that quarter before they receive a refund. This can cause considerable cash flow problems for a significant number of families and individuals. This will not happen under the new drug payment scheme. From the introduction of the new scheme, no individual or family will have to pay more than £42 per month for prescribed medicines. It means that families and individuals will, for the first time, be able to budget for the cost of medicines. Families and individuals will know that, whatever the size of their drugs bill, they will not have to pay more than £42 per month. In addition, there are families where, although one member may qualify for a drug cost subsidisation scheme card, combined expenditure on medicines by other members, which can be considerable, cannot be recouped until the end on the quarter. With the new drug payment scheme, no family will have to pay more than £42 in any month for prescribed medicines. The new scheme will be of significant benefit to such families.

The fact that the drug payment scheme will operate on a monthly basis has distinct advantages over the current drug refund scheme. Under the drug refund scheme, a family or an individual could, for example, in one month have expenditure of say £80 but no expenditure in the other two months. They would not have been entitled to a refund. Under the new scheme, they will only have to pay £42 in that month.

There are no qualifying criteria for inclusion on the new drug payment scheme. Where expenditure by a family or an individual exceeds £42 per month on prescribed medicines, the balance will be met by the State. This is in contrast to the old DCSS scheme, where patients had to be certified by their doctor as suffering from a condition requiring ongoing expenditure on medicines in excess of £32 per month.

With regard to the increase in the threshold from £32 to £42, the position is that there has been no increase in the threshold for the existing schemes since 1991. It must also be borne in mind [191] that the new £42 threshold in respect of the drug payment scheme refers to family expenditure in contrast to the existing £32 threshold in the drug cost subsidisation scheme, which relates to individual expenditure.

I would point out that where an individual or a family is subjected to a significant level of ongoing expenditure on medical expenses – general practitioner fees, prescribed drugs, etc. – due to a long-term medical condition, these expenses may be reckoned in determining eligibility for a medical card. In some cases, a medical card may issue to a family member on a personal basis. Eligibility for a medical card is solely a matter for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board to decide.

  103.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if he will review the qualifying criteria for category II orthodontic treatment in view of the fact a person (details supplied) in Dublin 11 is deemed ineligible under the scheme in spite of reporting serious dental problems; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9440/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  As the provision of orthodontic treatment to eligible persons in Dublin 11 is the statutory responsibility of the Eastern Health Board I have asked the chief executive officer of the Eastern Health Board to investigate the position in relation to this case and to reply to the Deputy directly as a matter of urgency.

At the request of my Department, an orthodontic review group was set up by the health boards to prepare a report and make recommendations on the orthodontic services. The objective of this review is to ensure equity in the provision of orthodontic treatment throughout the health boards having regard to the additional resources provided to health boards over the past few years under the dental health action plan. As part of its remit the group has been looking at the criteria used in the clinical assessment of orthodontic cases to determine treatment need.

The group recently made its report to the chief executive officers of the health boards and the report is currently the subject of discussions between the chief executive officers and my Department.

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  104.  Mrs. Owen    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that extensive renovations to Ardee Castle will not include access to people with disabilities; if he will inform Louth County Council that this access should be required of the development company currently renovating the castle in view of the fact that this project is being funded from the EU Peace and Reconciliation Fund and Louth County Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9374/99]

Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey):  I refer to the reply to Question No. 274 of 9 March 1999 in which I advised that a report on the matter from Louth County Council was awaited. Upon receipt of this report I will advise Deputy Owen on the matter.

  105.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    if he will make the financial resources available to allow the public sewerage scheme being constructed in Portumna, County Galway, to be extended to the Woodpark area of the town; if he has received a proposal from Galway County Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9375/99]

Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey):  Work commenced last year on a major sewerage scheme at Portumna which includes a new wastewater treatment plant and the upgrading of the existing collection system. A proposal relating to the Woodpark Road area was received in my Department on 24 March 1999 and is under examination. A decision in the matter will be conveyed to the local authority as soon as possible.

  106.  Mr. McGinley    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    the position regarding the proposed sewerage scheme for Gweedore, County Donegal; when work will commence on the scheme; and the date of completion. [9377/99]

Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey):  This scheme has been included in the Department's water and sewerage services investment programme to be advanced through planning in 1999. Grant assistance has recently been secured from the European Union for the planning of the scheme and approval has been given to Donegal County Council to appoint consultants to update the preliminary report and prepare an environmental impact statement. I am not in a position at this stage to indicate when construction of this scheme will commence.

  107.  Mr. Bradford    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    when funding will be approved to complete works on the new Cork County Council library at Midleton, County Cork. [9378/99]

Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey):  A proposal for a [193] branch library at Midleton, County Cork, was received in my Department in August 1995. This proposal was not advanced due to the large number of proposals on hands in the Department, and the limited funding available at that time.

However, the capital allocation for library improvements has been increased from £2.76 million in 1998 to £7.2 million this year. Against this background, I wrote to all local authorities recently requesting them to update and, where appropriate, prioritise all their library proposals. The local authorities' responses, including that of Cork County Council, are currently being evaluated in my Department.

  108.  Mr. McGinley    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    the progress to date on the provision of an adequate sewerage scheme for Ballyshannon, County Donegal. [9379/99]

Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey):  The Ballyshannon sewerage scheme has been included in my Department's 1999 water and sewerage services investment programme to advance through planning. The European Commission has approved grant assistance for the planning of the scheme. It is understood from the local authority that work is proceeding on the preparation of the preliminary report for the scheme.

  109.  Mr. Aylward    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    if the decision will be reconsidered not to have improvement grants made available to persons (details supplied) in County Kilkenny living in residential areas who are mainly old age pensioners, single parents and unemployed persons and are not in a position to avail of tax incentives proposed in the integrated area plan submitted by Kilkenny County Council in March 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9381/99]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy):  I have no proposals to make house improvement grants available on the basis suggested.

However there are a number of possible options currently available which are targeted at assisting low income and other households to secure necessary improvement works to their housing. These include disabled persons' grants from local authorities. Significant improvements to the terms of this scheme were announced in the 1999 budget, including a 50 per cent increase in the effective maximum grant from £8,000 to £12,000 with the grant now covering up to three-quarters of the cost of works to private houses as against two-thirds previously; the essential repairs [194] grant scheme under which local authorities have traditionally assisted elderly people in unfit houses in rural areas. This scheme was also significantly improved in the 1999 budget with the effective maximum grant being increased from £1,800 to £4,500 and the scheme now operates in urban, as well as rural, areas; the Task Force on Special Housing Aid for the Elderly which has been allocated record funding of £6 million in 1999; the scheme of improvement works in lieu of local authority housing which enabled local authorities to carry out necessary improvement works to a private house as an alternative to the provision of local authority housing, and local authority house improvement loans of up to £6,000 unsecured and £15,000 secured.

  110.  Mr. S. Ryan    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    if he has satisfied himself that the plastic oil tanks used for the storage of central heating oil are safe and not a fire hazard; the standards in this regard; the individual responsible for the implementation of all aspects of these standards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9403/99]

Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey):  Responsibility for the formulation of standards for products such as oil storage tanks comes under the aegis of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Part J of the building regulations, 1997, details the legal requirements in relation to the location of fixed oil storage tanks. Technical Guidance Document J – Heat Producing Appliances – provides guidance on how to comply with the legal requirements. Responsibility for complying with the regulations rests with the designers, builders and owners of buildings.

  111.  Mr. J. O'Keeffe    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    the basis on which towns were selected for inclusion in the recent urban renewal scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9451/99]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy):  Designations under the new urban renewal scheme were based on integrated area plans, IAPs, submitted by local authorities and were in line with recommendations made by an expert advisory panel which I established to assess all of the plans submitted.

The IAPs were drawn up on the basis of detailed guidelines prepared by the expert panel and issued to local authorities. These guidelines made it clear that, in selecting areas for the preparation of IAPs, local authorities were expected to give priority to areas in cities and towns with strong urban characteristics and the highest con[195] centrations of physical decay and socio-economic disadvantage.

The expert panel exercised an independent role in assessing the plans submitted. The recommendations made by the panel were accepted in full and that is the basis on which designation is now being implemented.

There is no proposal to designate further areas under the urban renewal scheme which runs until 28 February 2002. Only areas recommended by the expert panel have been designated.

The expert panel found also that many of the smaller towns which had not been recommended for designation, contained a significant amount of urban townscape which had deteriorated badly. The proposed townscape restoration scheme is aimed at the restoration and conservation of townscapes in smaller towns. Local authorities will be asked to submit urban townscape plans by 1 August next. Guidelines are being prepared for issue to local authorities to assist them in preparing plans for this new scheme which is to be introduced in the autumn.

  112.  Mr. Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    when a driving test centre will be set up in either Killorglin or Caherciveen, County Kerry, to deal with the huge number of applicants who are waiting for driving tests. [9452/99]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy):  The present national network of driving test centres comprises some 47 individual centres. This has been generally considered to provide good coverage across the country and to represent a reasonable balance between convenience to customers and the need for economy in public service administration.

The Kerry area is already served by driving test centres in Killarney and Tralee. In addition, Caherciveen would not have the level of urban traffic features required for driving tests. In the circumstances my Department does not propose to site a further driving test centre in Kerry.

  113.  Mrs. Owen    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    if a group (details supplied) in County Monaghan is eligible for funding to assist it in its work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9399/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The group referred to in the Deputy's question has applied, under the 1999 scheme of grants for locally-based community and family support groups, for funding towards the cost of a three year personal training and development programme. The closing date [196] for receipt of these applications was 12 March 1999.

As the Deputy can appreciate processing of these applications will take some time and my Department will be in touch with the group concerned as soon as a decision has been made regarding this application.

I am aware that the group concerned also intends applying for core funding from my Department. This funding is made available under the scheme of grants to locally-based community and family support groups, and is available to more established and developed groups with a specific anti-poverty focus, who work with a wider group of disadvantaged people and have the potential to make substantial impact in their local communities with enhanced funding. Funding under this programme can be used for the group's programme of activities and/or to recruit a co-ordinator or development worker.

Applications received under this scheme are assessed by my Department. My Department will be in touch with the group concerned in this regard as soon as any application under this heading is received and a decision has been made.

  114.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands    if compensation will be paid to a person (details supplied) in County Leitrim as a result of his claim under the Shannon and Erne restoration scheme. [9360/99]

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera):  An offer in respect of this case was made by my officials to the appointed agent of the claimant in January 1998. Following direct communication by the claimants family, they were apprised of this fact in August 1998. A response to the offer is still awaited.

  115.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands    if she has visited the James Joyce Centre in Dublin; her views on the value of the centre as an artistic, cultural and literary development centre; her further views on its future role and importance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9363/99]

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera):  I have visited the James Joyce Centre in Dublin. I appreciate the role played by such centres engaged in artistic, cultural and literary activity in enhancing the quality of life of our citizens. The Deputy will appreciate that the question of the future role of the James Joyce Centre is a matter for the centre itself.

[197]

  116.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands    her views on whether the Arts Council is a funding agency or a policy formulation body; and the plans, if any, she has to change its remit for the future. [9364/99]

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera):  The functions of the Arts Council are set out in section 3 of the Arts Act, 1951, as amended by section 13 (2) of the Arts Act, 1973.

I have no immediate plans to amend the existing legislation.

  117.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the plans, if any, he has to move 500 refugees out of Dublin to Cork city; and the discussions, if any, which have taken place with the Department of the Environment and Local Government, the Department of Health and Children, Cork Corporation, Cork County Council and the Southern Health Board on the matter. [9211/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  While neither I nor my Department have any direct responsibility for providing accommodation for asylum seekers, I am aware that Cork County Council and Cork Corporation as well as the Southern Health Board have been considering the matter of accommodating asylum seekers in Cork. I have also been in contact with the Minister for Health and Children and the Minister for the Environment and Local Government in this regard.

I also understand that the Eastern Health Board has generated proposals for the accommodation of up to 500 asylum seekers in privately owned properties identified by it in Cork and in other locations.

  118.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    his view on whether the options available to persons who wish to sever connections with their parents in terms of legal next-of-kin are adequate; if he has received representations seeking legislative reform to facilitate a divorce from parents remedy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9338/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  I assume the Deputy is inquiring as to whether the law adequately allows persons to bequeath their property to certain persons only or to arrange their affairs to be dealt with by certain persons in the event of supervening mental incapacity. The Succession Act, 1965, and the Powers of Attorney Act, 1996, already contain detailed provisions on those matters. While there are no proposals to change the law in these areas I can say that the law is being kept under review.

I can confirm that the law in relation to succession and powers of attorney is the subject of [198] representations to my Department from time to time.

  119.  Mr. Bradford    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position concerning the implementation of the report of the expert group on the Probation and Welfare Service. [9339/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  The expert group on the probation and welfare service in its first report, published on 2 November 1998 made a number of recommendations as follows:

1. An increase in staff numbers and that recruitment be streamlined.

2. That the service needs to develop a PR strategy.

3. An up-to-date IT system must be established.

4. A staff training analysis be carried out.

5. Comprehensive research facilities should be available within the service.

6. Insurance cover regulations for community service projects be changed.

In relation to staffing matters, there are 16 vacancies in the basic grade of permanent probation and welfare officer and the Civil Service Commission is currently recruiting staff to enable these posts to be filled in the first half of 1999. As regards the additional 65 probation and welfare officers and the ten other senior staff and clerical support staff recommended in the expert group's report, my Department is considering the recommendation made by the expert group in consultation with the Department of Finance.

The group is continuing its work and I am awaiting its second report.

In relation to providing a comprehensive public information and awareness programme my Department will be looking at how best a public relations initiative can be progressed to promote knowledge about the current and future development for the service. As regards an IT package for the service, it has been possible to make progress by putting in place local area networks in the probation and welfare offices. These are being installed at present and a considerable amount of computer hardware has been purchased. I am hopeful that by the end of 1999 there will be a comprehensive information technology system in place. My Department will also be implementing a comprehensive training programme for the new IT system and will take into account additional training needs as they arise.

The Probation and Welfare Service has a small research unit and when the extra staff and the improved IT system are in place this will allow for the development of more detailed statistics and data. As regards community service projects [199] and related insurance issues, I will examine this whole area with a view to providing easier and more cost effective insurance cover for people doing community service work.

Finally, I am fully committed to the development of community sanctions and measures as an alternative to custody and as a means of combating crime. The probation and welfare service has a significant role to play in this regard.

  120.  Mrs. Owen    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the status of an appeal against a refusal for a visa for a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9396/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 342 of 16 February 1999. The position remains unchanged since then.

  121.  Mrs. Owen    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he is examining the licensing laws in relation to discotheques; the existing rules and regulations in relation to night club discotheques and their hours of opening and so on; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9397/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  I have already indicated to the House on a number of occasions, by way of reply to questions, that my Department has been developing heads of proposals for reform of the licensing laws. The proposals take account of the June 1998 report on liquor licensing laws by the subcommittee on justice, equality and women's rights and the September 1998 interim report of the Competition Authority. They are also a response to the many submissions on our licensing laws which have been received by my Department from groups and individuals. As part of the exercise I have engaged in extensive consultations and meetings with representative groups.

I can confirm that the views of the discotheque and nightclub sector have been taken into account as part of the overall examination in my Department of the licensing code.

The heads of the Bill which I am now proposing have reached the stage where a decision of the Government on the details can be expected in the near future.

  122.  Mr. Yates    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if a secondary school teacher (details supplied) in County Wexford will be paid an incremental credit; and if the staffing difficulties which have led to the backlog in processing these cases will be rectified. [9468/99]

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  124.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a person (details supplied) in County Wexford who is entitled on the basis of incremental credit to be paid at point 22 of the secondary teachers' pay scale is receiving salary based on point 4 of the scale; his views on the hardship to this teacher and his family arising from this annual deficit of £10,000; the steps, if any, he will take to ensure that the appropriate salary is paid to this teacher without further delay; if interest will be paid on the arrears of salary due to this teacher who has incurred overdraft interest as a result of his Department's failure to pay the correct salary rate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9340/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 122 and 124 together.

In accordance with the terms of agreed reports 9/79 and 4/85 of the conciliation council for teachers, incremental credit may be awarded in respect of recognised teaching service abroad. Up to seven years incremental credit may be allowed, subject to a maximum of four years in respect of service prior to 1 June 1979.

In September 1997 the person referred to by the Deputies submitted an application for incremental credit in respect of teaching service abroad. This application could not be considered until the teacher concerned was registered as a secondary teacher.

The teacher was formally registered in January 1999 and the application for incremental credit is currently being examined by my Department. A decision on the application will be made shortly and, if credit is awarded, arrangements will be made for the payment of any arrears due to the teacher concerned as soon as possible thereafter.

  123.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the proposed changes to the school public transport service arrangements as provided by Bus Átha Cliath in the Dublin area; the implications of the proposed changes; if the same service and fare structure will apply; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9092/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  I understand that Bus Átha Cliath will commence a replacement programme in the Dublin area with effect from Monday, 19 April 1999, which will benefit fare paying pupils, including those being accommodated under the school transport scheme.

As the organisation of public scheduled services in the Dublin area is operated by Bus Átha Cliath and is not under my Department's remit, I have referred the matter to that company and requested that it reply directly to the Deputy.

[201]

  125.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if his Department's budget in relation to the new education centre for County Wexford includes any provision in respect of incorporation of works of art in this project; if so, the amount of this provision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9341/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  There is no specific provision in respect of art works included in the budget for the new education centre in County Wexford. However, consideration will be given to this issue in the context of the overall funding available for the new building.

  126.  Mr. McGinley    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if remedial services will be made available to pupils attending Murroe, Dunfanaghy, Ballymore and Creeslough national schools in County Donegal. [9342/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  Arrangements are currently being made in my Department to extend the remedial teacher service to all first and second level schools with effect from September next. As part of this development, primary schools with a pupil-teacher ratio of below 10.1 and which currently have no remedial service may apply for a service where they can demonstrate the particular needs of their pupils.

All primary schools, including the schools mentioned by the Deputy, will be covered by this expansion of the remedial teacher service.

  127.  Mr. McGinley    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position regarding the proposed new Wood school, Ardara, County Donegal. [9343/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The position regarding the proposed new school at Wood, Ardara, County Donegal is that my Department has advised the school management to apply to the local authority for planning permission.

At this early stage, it is not possible to say when construction will commence.

  128.  Mr. McGinley    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the plans, if any, he has for a further primary teacher training course for graduates; and, if so, when it is likely to commence. [9344/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  Future intake and output requirements [202] in primary teacher training are the subject of ongoing review between my Department, the colleges and the Higher Education Authority. The need for another primary teacher training course for university graduates will be considered in that context.

I can, however, confirm that it is my intention to maintain a significant intake into the colleges in order to fully address the issue of teacher supply.

  129.  Mr. McGinley    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the services available to autistic pupils. [9345/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  Children with autism have access to a range of educational support services. The precise nature of the support provided will depend on the severity of the condition in each individual case.

In some cases, children with a mild degree of autism are capable of being educated in ordinary schools with the support, where necessary, of the remedial or resource teacher services. At present, there are 1,302 remedial teachers and 140 resource teachers within the primary system. My Department is currently arranging to extend the remedial service to all first and second level schools with effect from September next. Further resource teachers will be allocated as required on the basis of assessed levels of need.

Children with more serious needs are now catered for in special facilities which are dedicated to addressing the needs of such children.

I recently announced my Department's formal recognition of the distinct educational needs of certain children with autism. Arising from this development, the children in question are now catered for in special dedicated classes which operate at a pupil teacher ratio of 6:1. Each class also has the support of a special needs assistant.

A total of 40 such classes have been established to date. My Department's Inspectorate is currently investigating the possibility of establishing a number of additional special classes for children with autism in a variety of locations throughout the country.

  130.  Mr. Power    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the action, if any, taken to improve school attendance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9346/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  My Department has a range of programmes in place to help prevent early school leaving. These include the allocation of additional staffing and funding resources to schools in disadvantaged areas; the Breaking the Cycle of Disadvantage pilot project; the home-school-community liaison service; and the eight to 15 year old early school leavers initiative.

[203] I recently announced a major £57 million package to tackle educational disadvantage across the education system. This plan included the allocation of extra teaching resources to facilitate the extension of the remedial teaching service to all first and second level schools and the extension of the home-school-community liaison service to all first and second level schools with disadvantaged status. These extensions of service will take effect from September next.

In addition, £3.68 million is being committed to the eight to 15 year old early school leavers initiative over the two school years 1998-99 and 1999-2000. The key objective of this initiative is to test models of response to the problem of early school leaving in selected urban and rural areas of disadvantage, with a view to the integration of such models, after structured evaluation, into mainstream policy and practice.

The forthcoming Education (Welfare) Bill, which is currently undergoing detailed drafting and will be published shortly, will provide for the introduction of a comprehensive school attendance service. The legislation will also include specific measures for the early identification and support of children who have dropped out or are at risk of dropping out of the school system.

  131.  D'fhiafraigh Mr. McGinley    den Aire Oideachais agus Eolaíochta    an gcuirfidh sé háiseann iar-bhunoideachais ar bun do Oileán Thoraí. [9347/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  Fuarthas iarratas i mo Roinn o Choiste Gairmoideachais Chontae Dhún na nGall maidir le áiseanna iar-bhunoideachais a chur ar fáil ar Oileán Thoraigh.

Tuigim go bhfuil sé ar intinn ag an gcoiste scoil iar-bhunoideachais agus áiseanna oideachais d'aosaithe a chur ar bun in Ionad Pobail Cholmcille ar an Oileán.

Tá an t-iarratas á phlé sa Rannóg Pleanála dem' Roinm faoi láthair. Chomh luath is atá gach gné den iarratas scrúdaithe, tabharfar breith sa chás agus cuirfear scéala dá réir chuig Coiste Ghairmoideachais Chontae Dhún na nGall.

  132.  Mr. U. Burke    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when he will sanction the sale of land submitted to his Department by Galway County VEC for approval at Tuam and Dunmore vocational schools, County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9348/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  An application for sanction has been received from County Galway VEC concerning the disposal of property in the locations referred to by the Deputy. My Department is considering the request and has sought further information [204] and clarification from the committee concerning the proposed disposals. When this information is received and considered I will be in a position to make a decision on the matter.

  133.  Mr. U. Burke    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will grant an upgraded position of assistant principal officer to County Galway VEC senior staff officer grade three, in view of the fact that other vocational education committees have such a grade with less work load and smaller schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9349/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The grading structures in vocational education committees are reviewed from time to time by my Department. Any request for an improvement in the staffing structure has to be approached in the context of staffing norms in the VEC sector as a whole.

The grading structure of County Galway VEC was last reviewed in 1991 and the recommendations of that review were accepted by my Department. My Department is satisfied that the present staffing structure in the VEC is appropriate and consistent with norms in the VEC sector as a whole.

  134.  Mr. Aylward    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the progress, if any, on the provision of a new school building at Drumphea national school, County Carlow. [9350/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  A project to provide a new school building for Drumphea national school, County Carlow is currently at the early stages of architectural planning.

An accommodation brief for the school has recently been agreed with the school authorities and initial design drawings are currently being prepared. It is not possible to say at this point when construction will commence.

  135.  Mr. Aylward    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he has examined the submission to his Department by the management of St. Brigid's secondary school, Goresbridge, County Kilkenny regarding the operation of the school transport system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9351/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The management authorities of St. Brigid's secondary school recently submitted a list of routes and areas, which were examined by my Department.

As the pupils in question are attending a school outside their home centre, they are eligible for [205] catchment boundary transport only. My Department cannot make arrangements for these pupils which would involve encroachment into the adjoining catchment area, which would be contrary to the terms of the scheme.

In the circumstances, it is regretted that the present arrangement is the most that can be offered by my Department.

  136.  Mr. O'Shea    asked the Minister for Education and Science    his Department's policy on the inclusion of the upgrading of Waterford Institute of Technology to university status as a clear, well-funded and major element of the National Development Plan 2000-2005 as the only effective method of combating the regional deficit in participation by students in degree courses both ab initio and add-on and ensuring the optimum economic and industrial development of the south east region in the new millennium; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9415/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  Early in 1997, Waterford Regional Technical College was redesignated as the Waterford Institute of Technology and arrangements were put in place to carry through the process leading to the delegation to the institute of authority to make awards . This process was initiated through the appointment of a review team chaired by Professor Dervilla Donnelly. The results of this academic review published on 5 March 1999 recommended that Waterford Institute of Technology become one of the first institutes to have the delegated power to make awards in respect of all existing NCEA-validated national certificate and diploma courses. The review group also recommended that, after an appropriate period of time following the delegation of award-making authority in respect of certificate and diploma courses, a review should take place concerning the further delegation in respect of primary degree courses.

The objective of significantly increasing the level of degree provision available in WIT has been implemented steadily. Since 1995 ten new degree courses have been approved. While the overall student enrolment has increased by 35 per cent since 1995, the numbers on degree courses have increased by 74 per cent, 97 per cent for ab initio. The proportion of graduates these represent has increased by 5 per cent to 29 per cent. This will increase further because of the expansion in places in the last two years.

An increase in the academic staffing of the institute is an essential part of its continued development. For the current academic year alone my Department provided sanction for the hiring of an additional 30 staff on top of the increases in the previous two years.

The recurrent funding of the institute was also increased by £2.2 million, or 21 per cent, last year alone. This represents quite a dramatic level of [206] funding increase. The over £14 million on capital allocated to the institute will further develop its facilities and enhance the quality of its work. Taken together, these investments show an unmatched commitment to the future development of WIT.

Waterford Institute of Technology will continue to play a major and growing role in Irish higher education. It has a distinctive and unique mission in the south east region which the Government intends to maintain. The Government has demonstrated its commitment to the institute through both the provisions of the Qualifications Bill and the Universities Act. The statutory provisions will be there to ensure the institute has the power, when it wishes, to seek to obtain additional devolved authority. This is an objective academic procedure.

  137.  Mr. O'Shea    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the significance of the inclusion of the word "primary" before "degree courses" in regard to recommendation (ii) of the recommendations on the delegation of qualification awarding authority to Waterford and Cork Institutes of Technology contained in the report of the interim review group (details supplied); the reason the word "primary" is not included in an otherwise identical recommendation for Cork Institute of Technology in view of the fact that he has endorsed these recommendations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9416/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill, 1999, is at present being considered in Seanad Éireann.

Section 29 sets out provisions relating to the delegation of authority from the Higher Education and Training Awards Council to recognised institutions to make higher education and training awards. Recognised institutions include the institutions established by or under section 3 of the Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992, which includes Waterford Institute of Technology.

Section 29(6) sets out that a review which has been or is being conducted on the direction of the Minister in relation to the delegation of authority to an institution established by or under section 3 of the Act of 1992 to make higher education and training awards, which following the commencement of the Bill becomes a recognised institution, “shall be a review for the purposes of this section where the Minister so determines and the Minister shall inform the Council, by notice in writing, of any such determination and may give such directions to the Council and the Authority, as he or she considers appropriate”.

It is my intention that, after the commencement of the Bill, I would direct the Higher Education and Training Awards Council and the [207] National Qualifications Authority to implement the recommendations of the report of the Interim Review Group, chaired by Dervilla Donnelly. Thus, subject to the other provisions of the Bill and subject to the provisions of the Regional Technical Colleges Acts, I would envisage that Waterford Institute of Technology would have authority delegated from the Higher Education and Training Awards Council to make awards in relation to existing and new programmes at the level of certificate and diploma currently awarded by the National Council for Educational Awards.

There is no significance in the different wording of the reports on Waterford Institute of Technology and Cork Institute of Technology in relation to the future delegation of degree awarding powers. The Bill enables further devolution of degree certification to either institute and the way forward to achieving this has been outlined in the work of the review group itself and the self-[208] evaluation work of the institutes. Both institutes are free to seek this authority at an appropriate time.

  138.  Mr. N. Ahern    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position regarding requests from the Sacred Heart boys' school, St. Canice's Road, Glasnevin, Dublin 11, for approval to resurface the two school yards; if he will approve the request; when work will take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9438/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The position regarding the application from the Sacred Heart boys' national school, Dublin 11 for grant-aid to resurface the school yard is that the request is under consideration.

My Department will shortly be in contact with the school board in the matter.