Dáil Éireann

25/May/1999

Prelude

Ceisteanna–Questions. - Departmental Staff.

Visit of Tanzanian Delegation.

Ceisteanna–Questions (Resumed). - Official Engagements.

Priority Questions. - Cattle Prices.

Priority Questions. - Control of Farmyard Pollution.

Priority Questions. - Western Development Investment Fund.

Other Questions. - Beef Insurance Cover.

Other Questions. - Abattoir Licences.

Other Questions. - Amendments to the Abattoirs Act, 1988:

Other Questions. - Meat and Bone Meal Feeding.

Other Questions. - Agenda 2000.

Other Questions. - Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Other Questions. - Departmental Review.

Other Questions. - Cattle Societies.

Adjournment Debate Matters.

Request to move Adjournment of Dáil under Standing Order 31.

Order of Business.

Minerals Development Bill, 1999 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage.

Minerals Development Bill, 1999 [ Seanad ] : Referral to Select Committee.

Private Members' Business. - Services for People with Disabilities: Motion.

Adjournment Debate. - Plant Closures.

Child Care Regulations.

Blood Product Testing.

Blood Product Testing. - Mobile Phone Hazards.

Written Answers. - Herd Register.

Written Answers. - Pigmeat Sector.

Written Answers. - Women's Role in Agriculture.

Written Answers. - Poultry Industry.

Written Answers. - Food Industry.

Written Answers. - Cattle Smuggling.

Written Answers. - Tribunals of Inquiry.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Dairy Products.

Written Answers. - Agriculture Industry.

Written Answers. - Abattoir Procedures.

Written Answers. - Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

Written Answers. - Hormone Treated Beef.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments Agency.

Written Answers. - Price Margins.

Written Answers. - Hormone Treated Beef.

Written Answers. - Cattle Smuggling.

Written Answers. - Food Quality.

Written Answers. - Agriculture Industry.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Shipping Facilities.

Written Answers. - Proposed Legislation.

Written Answers. - Leader Programme.

Written Answers. - Live Exports.

Written Answers. - Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

Written Answers. - Retail Grocery Sector.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments Agency.

Written Answers. - Cattle Smuggling.

Written Answers. - Agenda 2000.

Written Answers. - Beef Assurance Scheme.

Written Answers. - Agriculture Industry.

Written Answers. - Organic Farming.

Written Answers. - Beef Sector.

Written Answers. - Control of Farmyard Pollution Scheme.

Written Answers. - Consumer Price Index.

Written Answers. - National Dairy Herd.

Written Answers. - Trade Union Recognition.

Written Answers. - Employment Levels.

Written Answers. - Sweepstake Workers.

Written Answers. - FÁS Training Programmes.

Written Answers. - Grant Aid.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Inland Waterways.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Fishing Vessel Licences.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Pesticide Applications.

Written Answers. - Partnership for Peace.

Written Answers. - Postgraduate Research Scholarships.

Written Answers. - Computer Programmes.

Written Answers. - Telecommunications Services.

Written Answers. - Farming Sector.

Written Answers. - Food Industry.

Written Answers. - An Bord Bia.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Organic Farming.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Poultry Industry.

Written Answers. - Control of Farm Pollution Scheme.

Written Answers. - Farm Retirement Scheme.

Written Answers. - Installation Aid Scheme.

Written Answers. - Farm Retirement Scheme.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Abattoir Groups.

Written Answers. - Installation Aid Scheme.

Written Answers. - Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Animal Identification Tags.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Pigmeat Sector.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Sport Horses.

Written Answers. - Blodstock Numbers.

Written Answers. - Sheep Meat Industry.

Written Answers. - Food Industry.

Written Answers. - Cereal Production.

Written Answers. - Beef Exports.

Written Answers. - Agriculture Industry.

Written Answers. - Cereals Sector.

Written Answers. - National Cattle Herd.

Written Answers. - Food Industry.

Written Answers. - Tax Rebates.

Written Answers. - Carer's Allowance.

Written Answers. - Pension Provisions.

Written Answers. - Tax Clearance Certificates.

Written Answers. - Pension Provisions.

Written Answers. - Tax Clearance Certificates.

Written Answers. - Flood Relief Schemes.

Written Answers. - Disabled Drivers Scheme.

Written Answers. - Flood Relief Schemes.

Written Answers. - Urban Renewal Scheme.

Written Answers. - Economic and Monetary Union.

Written Answers. - Probate Tax.

Written Answers. - Children in Society Study.

Written Answers. - Dental Services.

Written Answers. - Hospital Accommodation.

Written Answers. - Resource Centres.

Written Answers. - Health Services.

Written Answers. - Speech Therapy Services.

Written Answers. - Nursing Education Forum.

Written Answers. - Medical Cards.

Written Answers. - Hospitals Building Projects.

Written Answers. - Speech Therapy Services.

Written Answers. - Tribunals of Inquiry.

Written Answers. - Grant Aid.

Written Answers. - Vaccination Programme.

Written Answers. - Diabetes Incidence.

Written Answers. - Speech Therapy Services.

Written Answers. - Voluntary Organisations.

Written Answers. - Cancer Incidence.

Written Answers. - Hospitals Building Projects.

Written Answers. - Health Board Staff.

Written Answers. - Orthodontic Services.

Written Answers. - Hospital Waiting Lists.

Written Answers. - Mobility Allowance.

Written Answers. - Hospital Services.

Written Answers. - Orthodontic Services.

Written Answers. - Mobile Phone Hazards.

Written Answers. - Orthodontic Services.

Written Answers. - General Register Office.

Written Answers. - Drugs Payment Scheme.

Written Answers. - Epilepsy Services.

Written Answers. - Industrial Disputes.

Written Answers. - Hospital Waiting Lists.

Written Answers. - Speech Therapy Services.

Written Answers. - Blood Transfusion Service.

Written Answers. - Assisted Human Reproduction.

Written Answers. - Epidural Services.

Written Answers. - Hospital Waiting Lists.

Written Answers. - Drug Payment Scheme.

Written Answers. - Hospital Waiting Lists.

Written Answers. - Psychological Assessment.

Written Answers. - Hospital Admissions Procedures.

Written Answers. - Suicide Research Group.

Written Answers. - Hospital Waiting Lists.

Written Answers. - Resource Officers.

Written Answers. - Consultant Appointments.

Written Answers. - Child Abuse.

Written Answers. - Medical Services.

Written Answers. - Roads Projects.

Written Answers. - Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Written Answers. - Mobile Phones.

Written Answers. - Motor Vehicle Testing.

Written Answers. - Roads Projects.

Written Answers. - Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Written Answers. - Traveller Accommodation.

Written Answers. - Superstore Developments.

Written Answers. - Housing Grants.

Written Answers. - House Payments.

Written Answers. - Housing Grants.

Written Answers. - Local Authority Funding.

Written Answers. - Motor Vehicle Testing.

Written Answers. - Local Authority Housing.

Written Answers. - Fuel and Energy Conservation.

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Written Answers. - Special Areas of Conservation.

Written Answers. - Archaeological Report.

Written Answers. - Special Areas of Conservation.

Written Answers. - Cross of Kells.

Written Answers. - Motor Vehicle Testing.

Written Answers. - High Court Judgment.

Written Answers. - Disorder Complaints.

Written Answers. - Visa Applications.

Written Answers. - Traffic Wardens.

Written Answers. - Departmental Staff.

Written Answers. - Visa Applications.

Written Answers. - Asylum Applications.

Written Answers. - Court Fines.

Written Answers. - Visa Applications.

Written Answers. - Garda Investigations.

Written Answers. - Separation Agreements.

Written Answers. - Sports Capital Programme.

Written Answers. - EU Urban Initiative.

Written Answers. - Schools Building Projects.

Written Answers. - School Staffing.

Written Answers. - Schools Building Projects.

Written Answers. - Maintenance Grant Scheme.

Written Answers. - School Staffing

Written Answers. - School Transport.

Written Answers. - School Staffing.

Written Answers. - Teachers' Health and Safety.

Written Answers. - Student Support Schemes.

Written Answers. - School Transport.

Written Answers. - Schools Curriculum.

Written Answers. - School Staffing.

Written Answers. - Special Educational Needs.

Written Answers. - School Staffing.

Written Answers. - Schools Building Projects.

Written Answers. - Child Abuse Allegations.

Written Answers. - School Staffing.

Written Answers. - Higher Education Grants.

Written Answers. - School Staffing.

Written Answers. - School Transport.

Written Answers. - Remedial Teaching Service.

Written Answers. - Youth Services.

Written Answers. - Schools Building Projects.

Written Answers. - Departmental Funding.

Written Answers. - Special Educational Needs.

Written Answers. - Capitation Grants.

Written Answers. - Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Written Answers. - School Transport.

Written Answers. - Child Abuse.

Written Answers. - Pension Provision.

Written Answers. - School Staffing.

Written Answers. - School Transport.

Written Answers. - School Accommodation.

Written Answers. - Higher Education Grants.

Written Answers. - Schools Recognition.

Written Answers. - School Transport.

Written Answers. - Terms and Conditions of Employment.

Written Answers. - Weight of Schoolbags.

Written Answers. - School Closures.

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

  1.  Mr. Higgins (Mayo)    asked the Taoiseach    if he has satisfied himself with the staffing levels at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions outlined in the recently published 1998 annual report. [13462/99]

The Taoiseach:  I welcome the publication of the 1998 Annual Report of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. It will be a useful document for all those who deal with the office and an informative guide on the workings of the office for the general public.

The present staffing of the office is 33, not including the Director, of whom 14 are in legal grades and 19 in administrative grades. The staffing in the office is constantly under review and requests for additional staffing will receive full consideration from both me and the Minister for Finance as they arise. The workload of the office has been acknowledged by increased resources being made available to it.

Mr. Higgins:   (Mayo): Is the Taoiseach concerned that allowing for holidays, etc., the number of files being dealt with by each professional member of the staff, the four barristers and the ten solicitors, works out at on average 500 files per annum, that is, between two and a half and three files per day? Would he agree that it is almost physically and mentally impossible to do justice to these files, to forensically examine them and to give them the time and the type of minute scrutiny which is required to deal adequately with files which have been sent to the office by the Garda and the Chief State Solicitor's office?

The Taoiseach:  The report shows that the numbers of files have increased fairly dramatically in recent years. The number of staff has increased also. There was an independent review of the office conducted by the Department of Finance [482] back in 1995-96 which reported in the winter of 1996. Among its conclusions and recommendations was that there should not be a formalised link between staffing and file numbers but rather that the office workload should be subject to periodic review. That is what happens.

In his comments, the DPP is not raising problems about the resources of his office. He is raising the issue about the unified prosecution system, which I have mentioned here and which is the subject of the Nally review, on which next month I hope we will have a report.

Mr. Higgins:  (Mayo): Is the Taoiseach concerned that 26 per cent or 1,833 files of the 7,068 files which were referred to the DPP by the Garda and the Chief State Solicitor's office in 1998 were rejected? Is the Taoiseach concerned that one in four of the files, on which a great deal of work has been done and where there has been a huge amount of preparation by the Garda and by the Chief State Solicitor's office, are rejected as not warranting prosecutions?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That would appear to be a separate question.

Mr. Higgins:  (Mayo): No. It is related directly to staffing. I have already made the point that every legal member of the staff must deal with 500 files. Has the Taoiseach made any attempt to establish whether it is that the files are not being properly prepared or on the other hand that they are not getting the detailed scrutiny which they merit?

An Ceann Comhairle:  We are straying into an area into which we should not stray. The DPP's office is independent.

Mr. Higgins:  (Mayo): It is directly related. I know it is independent. This is a report where he sets out in detail—

An Ceann Comhairle:  He is independent in the performance of his functions.

Mr. Higgins:  (Mayo): Correct. I am asking something directly related to the content matter of the file and the report which has been put before the Dáil by the DPP.

The Taoiseach:  The legal staff in the DPP's office are highly competent people and would act independently on all files so I have no comment whatever to make about that, but the resources were reviewed and reported on by the Department of Finance. They are under constant review. They have been increased. As I said, the remaining part, which the director has highlighted, about the unified prosecution system is to be reported on by the Nally report at the end of next month.

Mr. Higgins:  (Mayo): Does the Taoiseach share the concern of certain senior members of the Garda Síochána that there is a greater obligation [483] of proof required by the DPP's office of files which are sent to it than would normally be required in a court?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is asking about decisions of the DPP which cannot be questioned in this House.

Mr. Higgins:   (Mayo): The Taoiseach raised the issue of a unified prosecution system. What is the position in that regard?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Again, that would appear to be a separate question. We are dealing with the staffing levels of the Office of the DPP.

Mr. Higgins:   (Mayo): My question relates to the Office of the DPP.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The question is on staffing levels.

Mr. Higgins:   (Mayo): Questions have long been asked about the efficiency of the Office of the DPP. It has been recommended that from the point of view of its efficiency, it might be worthwhile considering the streamlining of the office, with a view to having a unified prosecution system.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is referring to the decisions of the DPP.

Mr. Higgins:   (Mayo): The Taoiseach already raised the issue; I am asking whether he would like to elaborate further on it.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The question quite specifically relates to staffing levels.

Mr. Higgins:   (Mayo): Will the Ceann Comhairle allow the Taoiseach to reply to a specific issue he raised?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach may reply to questions on staffing and efficiency of the office, but not on its decisions.

The Taoiseach:  The annual report on the Office of the DPP reveals that the office's workload is a heavy one. The office provides effective and efficient service; that has been acknowledged in various independent reviews. As regards the handling of files and the connection the Deputy is making with efficiency, the reviews state that no files showed signs of unnecessary, extensive or unwarranted delay. This was established by the management consultants' report in the winter of 1986. It is hoped that the Nally report will be available by the end of next month.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Before proceeding to Question No. 2, I would like to take this oppor[484] tunity to welcome to Dáil Éireann the Speaker of the Tanzanian Parliament, the Honourable Pius Maekwa, who is here today in the Distinguished Visitors' Gallery. On my own behalf and on behalf of the Members of Dáil Éireann, I extend to him a most sincere welcome to our country. I hope his visit to Ireland will be interesting, successful and to our mutual benefit.

Mr. J. Bruton:  I am sure Mr. Maekwa is impressed by the orderliness of our debates.

  2.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on the discussions he has had with Mr. David Trimble following the meeting of the UUP on 18 May 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13601/99]

  3.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on any meetings or discussions he has had with representatives of the Garvaghy Road residents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13602/99]

  4.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on the matters discussed when he met the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, at Chequers on 22 May 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13605/99]

  5.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    the plans, if any, he has to meet with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, in the run up to the 30 June deadline; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13607/99]

  6.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    his views on whether the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation should meet in the run up to the 30 June deadline to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is implemented in full; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13609/99]

  7.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his meeting on 22 May 1999 with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13610/99]

  8.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on the official engagements he undertook on his recent visits to the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13611/99]

  9.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent meeting with representatives of the Garvaghy Road Residents Association; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13612/99]

[485]

  10.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on the recent telephone discussions or meetings he has had since Wednesday, 19 May 1999 with the leaders of political parties in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13613/99]

  11.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13630/99]

  12.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    the contact, if any, he has had with the leaders of the Northern Ireland political parties in the past week; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13632/99]

  13.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    the plans, if any, he has to meet with the representatives of the Garvaghy Road Residents Association; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13634/99]

  14.  Mr. Higgins (Dublin West)    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on the discussions in London in the past week regarding the Good Friday Agreement. [13803/99]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 to 14, inclusive, together.

During my visit to London on Saturday, I took the opportunity to announce the allocation of £1.2 million in grants for projects involving North-South and east-west co-operation or relating to the island of Ireland. This funding came from money which became available under the Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust Act, 1988, and part of the funds provided for commemoration initiatives. Approximately 52 per cent of the money available has been allocated to projects involving east-west co-operation and projects involving the Irish community in Britain.

I was particularly pleased that substantial sums had been allocated to support a range of projects which would, in a very practical way, cater for the material and social needs of the weaker and less [486] fortunate members of the Irish community in Britain through such projects as housing for the elderly and homeless, support for parenting, development of community centres, advice and assistance for young Irish people going to Britain and support for individuals and families in particularly difficult circumstances.

I was also pleased that it had been possible to support a significant number of projects containing cross-community or cross-tradition elements which provide opportunities for the Government to demonstrate, in a practical way, the commitments entered into under the Good Friday Agreement to promote reconciliation on the island of Ireland and between the people of Ireland and Britain and to show respect for the diversity of traditions on the island. I am circulating a list of the projects supported with this reply.

At his invitation, I attended the FA Cup Final with the British Prime Minister and stayed at Chequers on Saturday night. On Saturday night, and again on Sunday morning, we had discussions relating to Northern Ireland. We agreed to continue to work to achieve the 30 June deadline for devolution of powers to the Assembly and the parallel establishment of the related institutions. To that end, I had a number of discussions with the leaders of the parties last week and the parties are continuing their discussions this week. I will keep in contact with the Prime Minister and party leaders, as appropriate, in the period ahead.

I met with representatives of the Garvaghy Road residents on 13 May. The residents raised a number of issues and briefed me on the situation in Portadown and their meetings with Mr. David Trimble, First Minister designate, and Mr. Frank Blair. In responding to the issues raised, I commended the residents on their continuing positive engagement in the mediation efforts that are taking place and I said any outcome should come about only with their agreement. On the issue of further meetings of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, this is not a matter for me, or the Government, but for the chairperson and all the participating parties. I refer the Deputy to my reply to previous questions on 8 December and 6 October last.

Projects assisted on the winding-up of the Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust

Organisation Project Allocate
IR£
Aberdeen – research inst of Ir & Scot studies Irish-Scottish Forum 15,000.00
Action Group for Irish Youth publish guide & put on web 25,000.00
An Teach Bán, Co. Donegal install lift of reconciliation centre 15,000.00
Armagh Observatory Climatology study – bearing on global warming 60,000.00
AVARI all Irl. network of social researchers 3,000.00
Beyond '96 Youth Club leadership project 5,000.00
Boomerang youth theatre project 8,000.00
Bradford – Ir diaspora research unit computers 10,000.00
Bray & North Wicklow Womens network Tripartite seminar 2,000.00
British Irish Association Ongoing work conferences & seminars 20,000.00
Br. Assn of Irish Studies bursaries 15,000.00
Cambridge Group for Irish Studies post in Irish studies 25,000.00
CARA fund team (3yrs) to assist homeless 72,000.00
[487] Organisation Project Allocate
IR£
Centre for Peace and Development Studies Publication of a Register of Cross Border Links in Ireland 4,000.00
Childrens Holiday Scheme holiday exchanges 22,000.00
Copernicus project youth exchanges between UK, North & South and Europe 10,000.00
Cork Lions Club restoration of cenotaph 1,000.00
Corrymeela rebuild residential unit for reconciliation work 25,000.00
Cost of the Troubles Study research/ exhibition including 1974 bombings 20,000.00
Cystic Hygroma website support to foster links in these islands 5,000.00
Family Welfare Association Grant to needy Irish in South England 50,000.00
Federation for Ulster Local Studies workshops, seminars xb exchanges Irl-Scot exchanges & publication 8,000.00
Glencree Centre for peace & Reconcil Political workshops & some refurbishment 35,000.00
Huddersfield Irish Association dev educ facility in HIA's new centre 10,990.00
Ir assn for Cultural Ecn & Soc relations ongoing wk & publication seminar material 10,000.00
Ir Episcopal Commission for Emigrants schools video on achievements of Irish in Britain 10,000.00
Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas casework database 20,000.00
Irish Community Care Manchester recruit youth dev co-ordinator youth/migrants 50,000.00
Irish Genealogical Research Soc. correcting placenames on list of Irish soldiers & dissem research 3,000.00
Irish in Britain Representation Group travel of old people's club 500.00
Irish Studies centre – Bath 6 bursaries, equipment , BIAS conference 9,000.00
Irish Youth Choir Concerts N, S & Wales 10,000.00
Islington Women's Counselling Centre parenting support 9,420.00
John Quinn study of military wrecks publication on military air wrecks/ support ongoing work 3,000.00
Journey of Reconciliation Trust to develop the Irish Peace Park in Flanders 50,000.00
Keele University – Dept. of Criminology academic research links with Irish universities 10,000.00
Leicester Irish studies ctr. Irish arts centre 20,000.00
London Irish Centre refurbishment for London Irish Centre. 71,000.00
Military Heritage of Ireland Trust acquisition material for military museum 10,000.00
Oxford Hertford College fellowship in Irish History 25,000.00
Parents for choice facilitate networking disability parents 4,125.00
R. Natnl. Inst. for Deaf & Nat. Assn. Deaf all Irl initiative – voice to text 30,000.00
RehabCare Coventry resource (welfare etc) centre project for Coventry Irish 38,000.00
RNLI contribute to costs or part fund new boat 30,000.00
Royal Dublin Fusiliers multimedia for exhibition 24,000.00
Royal Irish Academy Indexing and digitising of OS archive & drawings – 32 County 25,000.00
R.E.A.C.H across the Diamond, Derry youth contact camps 3,000.00
S Lond. Family Service Unit towards Ir domestic violence outreach service 20,000.00
Safe Start Trust recruit foyer development manager 23,000.00
Salmon of Knowledge – Shankill schools clay installation & artist in residence 25,000.00
Scouting Ireland towards cost x border x cultural activity centre 71,000.00
UCD Dept. of Folklore Digitise photographic archive of folklore collection 50,000.00
Ulster Society promote understanding of Ulster British culture – exhibits, seminars etc. 13,000.00
University of North London develop “Irish in Britain Archive” at the UNL Irish Studies Centre 10,000.00
Univ. of Bradford research project on the mental health of Irish migrants to Britain 25,000.00
Voluntary service international promoting links between UK, NI & Ir branches 10,000.00
WIRE (Warrington) youth exchanges – admin 20,000.00
Women on Ireland Network – Britain design & set up website 2,000.00
YMCA Ireland conference 5,000.00
Total 1,205,035.00

Mr. Sargent:  As there are five questions in my name, I want to ask a number of supplementaries. On the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, I appreciate the chairperson will have to make a decision if anything is to happen, but will the Taoiseach at least let his views on the matter be known which might help to get some guidance at this time of political sensitivity with the approach of the 30 June deadline? If there is not to be a resumption of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, will the Taoiseach consider further consultation with the Opposition parties, perhaps even a round table discussion, so that we might be able to deal in more detail with that question? Also, will the Taoiseach indicate whether, in [488] meetings with the British Prime Minister, the issue of a truth commission arose? I ask that question because of the sensitivity of inquiries taking place and threats by the UDA and the UFF in relation to the Pat Finucane inquiry. Should we grasp the nettle of a truth commission so we can begin to satisfy the need for truth which is fundamental if we are to have justice?

The Taoiseach:  I will keep the parties or the spokespersons informed and will make any briefings they require. My own view is that, with the parties so deeply involved in bilateral and trilateral discussions with their own parties and the fact that they are electioneering, a meeting of the [489] forum at this stage would not be of much use. Perhaps there might be some case for that towards the end of next month, but that is my own view. It is difficult enough to arrange the normal meetings with the parties' schedules, but that is an everyday issue. They meet continuously with each other and a number of useful meetings are taking place, although without much progress.

The issue of a truth commission has come up from time to time. The South African format or any amended format has not got much support. The opposite can be said for the investigations. There is phenomenal interest from both sides of the community in the Nelson and Finucane inquiries and some of the lower profile cases. They continue to receive a great deal of attention. I will meet tomorrow with a number of the groups involved in those inquiries, including the justice and peace groups and some other party leaders. They will be in the House tomorrow.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Why has the British Prime Minister changed his position on the obligation to put weapons beyond use from the formula used in the Hillsborough Declaration to the formulations mooted at the recent meeting in Downing Street? Will the Taoiseach comment on the article by Paul Bew in today's The Irish Times which describes this change from the Hillsborough Declaration to the Downing Street formulation as a “radical policy reversal, and that the possibility of any IRA decommissioning is fast receding”?

The Taoiseach:  The Hillsborough initiative, which I supported and worked towards, clearly went outside the terms of the Agreement, but it was an effort we thought might gain some acceptance at the time. It did not. In more recent times, the initiative has been to try to bring the Agreement back into play and to follow its original terms, that the executive would be set up, if not fully – which is unlikely – in shadow form, and that the issue of arms would then be tackled. That was the original position which should have happened last autumn. I know Paul Bew well but I did not see his article today. I have continually emphasised to the republican movement that it is important that we arrive at a situation where private armies have disappeared and that the number of weapons in circulation is drastically reduced. To achieve that goal it is more important to start making the transition to full democracy in Northern Ireland than to try to hold up that process. If we attempt to hold up progress we are working outside the Agreement. That is where the emphasis is being placed but that does not mean that decommissioning will go off the agenda – it will not.

Mr. J. Bruton:  What leverage will there be to achieve decommissioning if the parties associated with paramilitaries have achieved all their objectives without decommissioning?

[490]The Taoiseach:  We tried a number of methods and I do not think any one of them is preferred. I thought the Hillsborough proposal of putting arms beyond use was a fair compromise in that it allowed everyone to play their part in decommissioning. We had worked out the detail to some degree, but unfortunately and regrettably it was a non-starter.

The key issue for many of the groups is confidence and the importance of sticking with what was agreed, signed, passed and voted on, what these organisations passed at their annual conferences and such matters. If an executive in transition was set up there was a firm commitment that the arms issue would have to be dealt with by Easter 2000, within the period of the Agreement. Those who argue that the terms of the Agreement have to be followed, in this case the republican movement, must be consistent. If one argues for one aspect of the Agreement one has to argue for the other. The difficulty is that so many aspects of the Agreement which were meant to be followed have been broken. A number of aspects which were passed and voted on and which were meant to be followed through have been broken. This gives people the leverage to disagree. That is one of the difficulties we are experiencing over these weeks.

Mr. Quinn:  Can the Taoiseach assure the House that the British and Irish Governments are united and ad idem in the strategy they are pursuing to ensure that the 30 June deadline they set will be complied with? Are the party leaders in Northern Ireland hearing precisely the same message from the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister?

The Taoiseach:  Yes, there is no doubt about that. I talked to most of the party leaders in the past few days. Some of the parties point out that 30 June is four days before Drumcree. This could be very difficult for them. Some account has to be taken of this fact. However, at this stage the 30 June deadline, as set down by the British Prime Minister and agreed by me, is the only thing they are hearing. They could move more quickly but that is not their intention for one reason or another. The UUP in particular is not in a position to agree a short-term date.

Mr. Quinn:  For the benefit of those who have an interest in this matter but who are not following it in anything like the detail which some Members are doing, is it the position of the two Governments that a shadow shadow Executive would be identified, in other words, that the names of the ten participating members would be revealed? We have the names of the two people nominated at the Sinn Féin Ard-Fheis. We know the First and Deputy First Minister, but there have been no names from the other nominating parties, such as the SDLP, the Ulster Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party. Is it proposed to nominate the remaining eight [491] members of the shadow Executive to facilitate movement so that the 30 June deadline can be met?

The Taoiseach:  There are two aspects to that. The shadow Executive, to which Deputy Quinn refers, may or may not meet. It probably will not. Were it to happen, it would be immediate and would be in place for a number of weeks.

Mr. Quinn:  Would it be nominated or named?

The Taoiseach:  Yes. We would then, between now and 30 June, try to ensure that shadow Executive would become the Executive by the clear understanding that parties close to paramilitary groups would come to some agreement on decommissioning with General John de Chastelain. That is a proposal, but it is one with which the UUP has great difficulty. There have been various reports on the capacity of the proposal to be sold. I would not be certain about it being sold, having spoken to a number of people in the UUP. They have difficulty with the proposal as a short-term one and, if they have difficulty with the short-term proposal, they will have difficulty with the long-term one.

Mr. Sargent:  Has the Taoiseach broached the subject, which was mentioned before in briefings, of some type of symbolic monument comprising some of the arms which would be handed up? Given the statement from the First Minister, David Trimble, of “no guns, no government”, does the Taoiseach believe it would be worthwhile pursuing that proposal again and making the point to the paramilitaries that to be part of such a gesture would not mean surrender but an attempt to advance the peace process and make it work?

Has the Taoiseach had an opportunity, or does he believe there will be one, to stress to the Orange Order that, with the Prime Minister and David Trimble meeting the Garvaghy Road residents and Breandán MacCionnaith, it has left everyone wondering to whom it is loyal? Will there be an opportunity through intermediaries to work on the Drumcree situation to the point where we avoid the type of showdown which looks likely unless there is movement?

The Taoiseach:  The first proposal is precisely what the Hillsborough Declaration sought to do, but it did not work in that form. There is still merit in examining it within the de Chastelain process which is what we tried to do originally. It did not work in that format for reasons which predated the declaration. It could be a possibility were some progress to be made with the shadow Executive. It would then be a matter for General de Chastelain and the parties, especially those with influence. I would pursue that if the first step were achieved because the latter would lead to some confidence.

[492] The problem is the difficulties facing the peace process. There needs to be more political will to overcome them and to find solutions which are mutually acceptable. If people believe they are in tight corners, it is very hard for them to move. In any successful negotiation, parties must reach out to each other to overcome obstacles.

However, the Agreement is still being interpreted in a far too rigid and inflexible manner by some of the parties on both sides and this has created difficulties. The only way progress can be made is through use of and close adherence to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. As I informed Deputy Bruton earlier, the British Government sees this as the most likely avenue to success.

We are entering the marching season and there is a danger that, in the event of continued delays and procrastination, the security situation will deteriorate further. Although they have received little publicity, nightly attacks are being made almost exclusively on Nationalist areas. At last count 158 such attacks had taken place, but I am sure events at the weekend have added to that figure. I welcome remarks made by Gary McMichael, Billy Hutchison and David Ervine in recent days, but a number of loyalist splinter groups are terrorising Nationalist areas by means of pipe bombs, nail bombs, fire bombs and gun attacks. This has led to a great deal of concern on the part of the RUC. Through the Secretariat, the British Prime Minister has been pressing the RUC to try to step up its actions. There is always the possibility that other groups will respond to this type of provocation, particularly as the marching season progresses.

A great deal of effort is being made to resolve the crisis at Drumcree, most recently in the form of Frank Blair's initiative. I welcome the dialogue which has taken place, particularly that involving Mr. Trimble. Again, the pace is slow. Last week we hoped that progress would have been more rapid. Newspaper reports regarding what happened last week in respect of Drumcree are correct. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, none of the meetings planned to progress that initiative took place. Frank Blair is continuing to make efforts to resolve the matter this week. We are encouraging and assisting those initiatives and doing everything possible to provide help to those on all sides, not only the residents of the Garvaghy Road but also Mr. Trimble. In my opinion, Mr. Trimble will endeavour to continue his initiatives next week and Seamus Mallon is prepared and anxious to work with him in that regard, which is helpful.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Is the Taoiseach of the opinion that the British Prime Minister has fully considered the action he will take in the event that the 30 June deadline is not met? Will he dissolve the Assembly or does he know exactly what he intends to do in the event that the deadline is not met? How is it possible to reconcile the 30 June deadline for an agreement with the 12 month [493] extension granted in respect of the constitutional change mechanism? What political calculations were made by the Taoiseach and his British counterpart in deciding to publicise the Hillsborough Declaration when they did, given that this invited the possibility of public rejection, rather than using it as a working document for private negotiation, which might have been more prudent?

The Taoiseach:  With regard to the Hillsborough Declaration, the working document involved each of the parties and it was not possible to keep its terms secret.

Mr. J. Bruton:  There is a difference between that and making an announcement about the document.

The Taoiseach:  The Prime Minister and I made an announcement about its basic contents. Details of the indepth discussions which had taken place were not announced. These were hinted at but not pursued and they remain, as Deputy Sargent stated, to be dealt with by General de Chastelain. Only the basic contents of the agreement were announced and these had already become available on the previous evening. The reason they were announced the previous night was that the indications were that it would be accepted, including by Sinn Féin, who strongly rejected it afterwards.

The British Prime Minister has been endeavouring to put as much pressure as possible on those concerned to ensure movement now. A fair amount of thought has been given to the 30 June deadline. At all times that has to be considered. I am conscious that the Garvaghy Road issue will arise three for four days later. We will have to see if we can achieve finality by 30 June. Clearly, that will be difficult because of the elections and the marching season. The British Prime Minister has told all the parties in strong terms that he believes that date is final. He emphasised the fact that he has set down only two dates – 10 April, when he supported Senator George Mitchell, and 30 June. There were many other dates in the process but they were not stipulated by him.

On the reason for the 12 month extension, I can envisage a position where we could still find ourselves in dialogue and facing some difficulties. Even if we were to get to the stage, which would be great, of finding a way to set up the Executive, we would still have all the other institutions to set up which will involve a great deal of work. We are unlikely to get all of those set up by 30 June, regardless of what happens. It would take an enormous effort and would be extremely difficult. There is no point in saying we are not achieving the first part of the institutional changes by 30 June. There is no possibility of getting all the institutional changes in place by that date. That is why another year is needed.

[494]Mr. J. Bruton:  What will happen on 1 July, if the 30 June deadline for agreement is not reached?

The Taoiseach:  As I stated last week, if the parties do not agree by 30 June, Prime Minister Blair and I will have to assess the position and make a clear statement. We will not do that until 30 June.

Mr. Quinn:  If progress has not been made by 1 July or if progress was made by 1 July but decommissioning was not complied with in accordance with the Agreement, as set out by the end of the second year, I presume all bets would be off and we would return to the post anti situation which was the Anglo-Irish Agreement, direct rule from London and the secretariat in Maryfield and all the institutional changes – the cross-Border bodies and the Assembly in Northern Ireland – would come to an end and some form of plan B, based on the Anglo-Irish Agreement, would have to be considered by the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach. Is that a correct analysis?

The Taoiseach:  If the Agreement fails anywhere along the way – that is not what we want to contemplate – none of the institutions would be set up, including the Assembly, which was widely talked about last week in the North. The Assembly and all the other institutional matters of the Agreement would bite the dust. That is not what any of the parties are thinking of. The bigger difficulty is the timescale. Almost all the parties work on the basis of viewing things into the future and going at a snail's pace, which is extremely dangerous. Somebody somewhere has to show leadership and take chances on moving. Sometimes one party makes a move and at another time that same party blocks a move. That is the difficulty. As I have continually said, it is pointless forcing people against their wishes. They all have to be brought together in an inclusive process. It will not work unless they work together because at the end of the day there has to be cross-community support in the Assembly, agreement between the parties that make up the Executive and agreement between the Deputy First Minister and the Ministers in the other institutions which involve North-South bodies. This also applies to the British-Irish associations. It will not work if there is no agreement. As was pointed out last week, there will be no achievements without cross-community support. This is why we must painstakingly try to win cross-community support and the support of the parties which will ultimately make up the assembly.

Mr. Quinn:  In that regard, does the Taoiseach agree that the setting of deadlines has not been productive or felicitous? There has been the failed deadline of the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. The Hillsborough agreement was apparently accepted but subsequently rejected. Two weeks ago in Downing Street, it appeared an agreement had been accepted by all [495] the participants, but it was subsequently rejected. We were told that the 11 June date of the European elections was a deadline which had to be overcome and another deadline of 30 June was set. The Taoiseach suggested today that Drumcree, which will be four days later, is another matter which is interfering with that deadline.

Does the Taoiseach agree recent experience informs us that deadlines do not concentrate minds? What is required is the reapplication of all the participants to the Good Friday Agreement and for them to demonstrate a willingness for movement. In that respect, movement from the IRA and Sinn Féin on the principles of decommissioning is required as much as participation in the shadow Executive is necessary from the Unionist side. Does the Taoiseach see merit in the view that Members of this House could meet with participants in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation to reinforce that message? Such a meeting could concentrate on persuading Sinn Féin and its colleagues in the IRA that some further movement on their part is necessary.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask the Deputy to be brief because I wish to bring in another Deputy before the time for Taoiseach's questions expires.

Mr. Quinn:  Some movement in addition to what they have already indicated is required. Members of the House who are party to the Good Friday Agreement are best placed to convey that directly to them in the forum in Dublin Castle.

The Taoiseach:  That would be of value at some stage. However, the Deputy is correct that if we had stuck to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the shadow Executive should have been established last autumn and the North-South bodies should have been in operation by 31 October. Unfortunately, Mr. Trimble and the UUP could not meet those deadlines. This allowed the delay with regard to decommissioning. If progress had been made on the first two items, we would have made enormous progress by Christmas. There was an attempt to resolve the matter in Hillsborough, but we had moved away from the Agreement. This is the difficulty. Mr. Trimble did his best last week and Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuinness did their best at Easter. However, none of them succeeded in convincing their constituencies to make the progress they thought possible.

Our judgment is that the only way to move forward is to try to get everybody to focus on making progress and to sign off and give leadership on some of the issues as they stand. I understand their difficulties and I am aware of what happened at the UUP meetings in the past few weeks. I am also aware of what happened at the Sinn Féin meetings at Easter. They are not unconnected. These are the difficulties and [496] although it is painstaking and slow, we must continue to try to convince people to move forward.

If everybody wants to win on every issue, it will be difficult to find a solution. Somebody must compromise on some of these issues. One will never get a formula which is a victory for one side and a loss for the other, and get the latter to agree. This is impossible in negotiations. One must get people to move to the middle. However, even when one moves to the middle and the leaders and the negotiating teams agree, the larger groups reject the proposals. We must continue trying to find something which will be acceptable to the larger groups. We are in this position because everything is being interpreted in far too rigid and inflexible a manner. To correct Deputy Quinn, if he took this from what I said, 30 June remains the date and the parties should see there would be a great deal of benefit in making progress prior to Drumcree and the marching season. They have a difficulty with that, which was stated to me last night.

Mr. J. Bruton:  What would the Taoiseach say to those who might observe a radical change in position with regard to the obligation to put arms beyond use from what was said at Hillsborough, which asserted that obligation, and what was said at Downing Street, which seemed to remove it from the realm of immediate practical politics? What would he say to people who suggest that the Governments did not have firm convictions on this issue and were simply trying to split the difference between the parties? Given that the Governments have a fundamental requirement to ensure there are no private armies in either jurisdiction, and that this is of interest to the parties also, what would the Taoiseach say to those who might advance a doubt about how the Governments could change their position so dramatically between Hillsborough and Downing Street?

Can he assure the House that he and the British Prime Minister have worked out a full scenario for what they will do and say on 1 July if the 30 June deadline is not met? Does he not agree that precedents elsewhere in Europe in recent times, involving the British Prime Minister and others, suggest that setting deadlines without a plan B can be quite imprudent?

Mr. Flanagan:  Given that the lack of progress on the vexed and continuing question of decommissioning runs the risk of poisoning the entire Agreement, and that the Taoiseach has conceded that time is not on the side of those in the business of forging an agreement, does he accept that one man's role in this affair has been underplayed and that consideration should be given to enhancing or extending the role of General John de Chastelain? His is the one reputation which has been, if not enhanced, certainly maintained over the 12 months since the referendum. Did the Taoiseach discuss in his meetings with the British Prime Minister over the past week or more, the idea of inviting the IRA Army Council to meet [497] General de Chastelain directly, prior to a public statement by the general, which is somewhat overdue? Does the Taoiseach see merit in that idea? Given that the general will probably have only one bite at the cherry, his public utterance is highly important. Does the Taoiseach favour such an enhancement of the role of the independent chairman of the commission?

The Taoiseach:  At Hillsborough an effort was made to break the impasse by moving outside the Agreement. If any criticism is to be made of the Prime Minister and I, it is that we tried to go away from the Agreement, having had six months of foot dragging and people not sticking to deadlines or doing what they were obliged to do. We knew the Hillsborough Declaration went outside the Agreement but we thought we could get the parties to agree to it and we almost did. As I said earlier, some of those matters might come back into play again but as I also said, this shows why we are better off sticking to the Agreement. The Governments can stick to it but it is more difficult to get the parties to meet the deadlines – they have continually broken them. A number of the deadlines last year were clearly broken on one side rather than the other. However, I have tried to maintain a balance.

On the decommissioning issue, I had a long discussion with the British Prime Minister on Sunday morning about how we would handle it in June. I foresee plenty of difficulties and I discussed those and how they could be managed. I also discussed them with some of the parties.

General John de Chastelain is ready and available to do as Deputy Flanagan outlined. He is anxious to move on these matters but he cannot do so under the Agreement until there is at least some progress on the Executive. Clearly, he can be of tremendous assistance if we reach that stage but we must wait and see if progress can be made before that happens.

  22.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the reason for the current depressed price for store cattle at the livestock marts; the reason the Libyan and other markets for live cattle have not opened; the efforts, if any, he has made to reopen these markets; the reason he has not visited Libya to clarify the reason it did not honour the deal made in late 1998; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13618/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The price of store cattle is generally a function of market forces – supply and demand. This is particularly so with regard to the price of finished cattle. Since the beginning of this year, store cattle prices have improved [498] considerably. Although still down on this time last year, the trend has been in the right direction and there is some movement towards paying better differentials for quality cattle. Factory quotations for U type steers are within 2p per lb of last year's levels whereas Friesian type steers are back by 4p per lb. Poorer grass growth in spring in conjunction with the fodder scarcity carried over from last year and the lower prices for finished cattle has impacted on the demand for store animals.

While cattle prices have improved generally since the beginning of the year and reflect the continuing recovery of export markets, the process takes time. The collapse of the Russian market in particular has impacted on third country sales. EU markets continue to improve but the continuing preference on those markets for beef of domestic origin is delaying a more rapid recovery. The buoyancy of the live trade to EU markets is, however, having a major positive impact on weanling prices and I am hopeful that this trade, in conjunction with a general improvement in the beef trade, will impact on the prices of all cattle categories, including stores, over the coming months.

With regard to Libya, agreement was reached with a Libyan Government delegation last July providing for the reopening of the Libyan market for Irish cattle and beef on the basis of agreed veterinary health conditions and terms of contracts. This agreement was the culmination of extensive contacts with the Libyan authorities since early 1997. The Libyan Government, through the General People's Committee, formally cleared the agreement before the end of September and written confirmation to this effect was received.

Although the Libyan authorities indicated their wish to have the agreement implemented immediately, there have been delays in the conclusion of contracts for Irish cattle. These delays are of serious concern both to myself and the Government. Ongoing contact is being maintained with the Libyan authorities, through every appropriate channel, with a view to ensuring that the July agreement is implemented in practice. The Libyan authorities have indicated, as recently as 1 May, that current economic conditions in Libya have resulted in the postponement of the implementation of the agreement but pointed out that they have never failed in the past to honour any agreement reached with another state. I am hopeful, therefore, that the agreement will be honoured and I will continue to take every appropriate step to ensure this outcome.

The only other traditional market for live cattle is Egypt and while it is my objective that all markets should be open to Irish cattle, it should be noted that the nature of that market has changed for Ireland. Egypt has now become the largest market for Irish beef, importing 120,000 tonnes of beef in 1998, which is the equivalent of over 350,000 head of cattle.

[499]Mr. Connaughton:  I could have anticipated the Minister's concluding remarks. The earlier part of his reply brings no satisfaction to farmers. Is the Minister aware that prices for most store cattle are as bad as they were last December? Is he also aware that farmers are selling store cattle for prices as low as £150 per head, that is, under £1 per kilogramme, and that many store bullocks, particularly black Hereford whiteheads, are not making £1 per kilogramme, even with one subsidy left? Is he further aware that heifers weighing 300kg are being sold at present for between £160 and £180? This is distrastrous. Heifer suck calves are being sold for £25 each. Given the Minister's reply, it appears that about—

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

Mr. Connaughton:  I have asked a number of questions and I wish to ask another. What will the Minister do for the 80 per cent of cattle farmers who are receiving these disastrously low prices? Why has he not travelled to Libya to find out why they made a deal and then went back on it? The Minister has never explained that.

Mr. Walsh:  I am trying to grapple with the new regulations for Question Time which impose new disciplines on Members. The price of store cattle is a function of market supply and demand. There is a reasonable price for quality cattle but a poor price for poor quality cattle. I have travelled to many parts of the world in an effort to open up markets and I have put much effort into approving vessels for the transport of cattle from Ireland. This year, 140,000 cattle have already left Ireland compared with 48,000 this time last year. When I came into office there was virtually no live cattle trade.

Mr. Connaughton:  There was a good trade otherwise.

Mr. Walsh:  Towards the latter end of that year, 18,000 cattle left because I got Government approval to put the Purbeck on the high seas to take cattle out of the country. The present position with regard to Libya is that the Libyan authorities indicated as recently as 1 May that current economic conditions in Libya resulted in the postponement of the implementation of the agreement. They pointed out, however, that they have never failed in the past to honour an agreement reached with another state. I am hopeful the agreement will be honoured. I will continue to take the appropriate steps to ensure this outcome.

Mr. Connaughton:  Whatever else the Minister may be, he is extremely bad at marketing. He could not sell an electric fire to the Eskimos.

[500]An Ceann Comhairle:  We must proceed to Question No. 23.

Mr. Connaughton:  He has made no effort—

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  That is unfair.

Mr. Davern:  There would be no point if they had no electricity.

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  What about the Egyptians at the airport? The Deputy has a short memory.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Chair has called Question No. 23.

  23.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the progress, if any, achieved to date in his discussions with the EU Commission to obtain clearance for control of farmyard pollution and dairy hygiene schemes; the nature of the discussions; the level of grant aid proposed in both of the schemes; when discussions will be concluded; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13647/99]

Mr. Walsh:  In the Department Estimates for 1999, an additional £25 million is being provided for on-farm investment schemes to be targeted towards those farmers most in need of assistance. The new national scheme for the improvement of dairy hygiene standards has been formally approved by the European Commission and is now in operation. Application forms for the scheme are available in the local farm development service offices of my Department. The scheme provides for grant aid at the rate of 40 per cent in the less favoured areas and 35 per cent in the other areas subject to a grant ceiling of £7,000.

In relation to the proposed new control of farm pollution scheme, officials of my Department met the European Commission earlier this month to address the issues which the Commission had raised with regard to the draft proposals submitted to it for approval in February of this year. The Commission had expressed reservations that some of the proposed eligible investment items were production oriented rather than environmental measures. Arising from the discussions, further written clarifications on the environmental nature of the investments were provided to the Commission to allow the approval process to be completed.

The rates of grant aid proposed for this scheme are similar to those outlined for the scheme for the improvement of dairy hygiene standards but the maximum grant would be £10,000. I am confident the new scheme for the control of farm pollution will be approved and introduced in the near future.

Mr. Penrose:  What are the worries of the EU Commission? It always seems to have reser[501] vations and caveats regarding any scheme put forward by Ireland. Has the Minister told the Commission that the pressure for better facilities is driven by pollution control requirements, rural environment protection, quality food assurance, livestock welfare, shortage of labour and the elimination of drudgery from farming? That is what this is about. Will the application for the new CFP scheme have to be accompanied by a nutrient plan or a REPS plan, which would satisfy the nutrient requirement, or planning permission or a certificate of exemption and a calculation of the income units, with a maximum of 100 units being the criterion to verify eligibility? Are those the criteria required for eligibility under the new scheme? Would it be advisable for farmers, unless they can proceed without the need to get grant approval for capital expenditure, to postpone their application for REPS until approval for the CFP scheme is received?

This scheme has not been announced. What am I to say about this proposed scheme to drystock farmers in Kilbeggan and other such places in the midlands as June approaches? It will take those farmers three months to get planning permission for the necessary infrastructural facilities they want to put in place to house their cattle. When will the scheme be announced? Is Brussels trying to delay its introduction?

Is it the case that £25 million that is to be allocated will not be sufficient because of the number of farmers who were awaiting payments under the old scheme when it was suspended and who are now part of the matured liability to which the Minister of State probably referred previously? He told the Dáil a month ago that he expected approval for the CFP scheme and the dairy hygiene scheme to be granted within days. He got approval for the dairy hygiene scheme but not for the CFP scheme. Why is there a difference between the two schemes?

Mr. Walsh:  If I could have given approval for the scheme, I would have given approval for it in February, but this scheme is regarded as a direct aid to farmers and, as such, it is subject to approval from Brussels. A proposed scheme was forwarded to Brussels in February 1999 and Brussels is being extremely difficult about it. I could have announced the scheme a month ago, but I want the scheme to be broadly based and to provide for housing and facilities for livestock during poor weather conditions in the winter and because of the lack of fodder. That is what is holding up the approval.

I am annoyed and disappointed about it because there is adequate finance for it. Members who have had to deal with Departments will know that the most difficult job is to get approval for a scheme from the Department of Finance. We have got that.

It is disappointing that the Commission is holding up this scheme. The Commission questioned the environmental benefit of some of the investment items proposed for grant aid under the [502] scheme, including certain animal housing. Animal housing is required in this country and it is ridiculous to introduce a control of farmyard pollution scheme that does not contain a housing element. I am holding out for that element in the scheme. Officials of the Department met Commission officials on 7 May and it usually takes three weeks for approval to be granted and that would bring us up to 28 May. I expect and hope that approval for the scheme will be granted before the end of this month.

In order to focus the grant aid on farmers who are most in need of such aid, it is proposed to limit the scheme to applicants with 100 income units or less. A nutrient management plan will be required as a condition of the scheme because environmental protection is vital. I would advise applicants to make preparations for this scheme by getting approval within the next few weeks so that they will be able to proceed immediately approval is granted. I alerted the Department to have application forms available for this scheme and the dairy hygiene grant scheme.

  24.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the reason the Western Development Commission has not been given authority to spend the £7 million allocated to it following legislation passed in February 1999; the consultation, if any, with the EU concerning the status of the Western Development Investment Fund prior to the legislation being passed to ascertain if moneys or equity shares from the fund would be classified as State aid; if his attention has been drawn to the many projects evaluated since September 1998 and shelved; and if his attention has further been drawn to the great anger and resentment over the lack of action on this matter in the west. [13619/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Davern):  The Western Development Commission Act, 1998, requires that aid provided to enterprises or projects by the commission shall be in such form and subject to such terms and conditions as the commission determines, subject to the consent of the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Minister for Finance.

The commission, which I established under the Act on 1 February this year, decided at its meeting on 7 April how the western investment fund is to be used, including the forms of aid. Consequently, the terms and conditions to be applied to aid could not be finalised before then. My Department was in consultation with the non-statutory commission on this matter since last November. In accordance with the Act, I recently sought the agreement of the Minister for Finance for a set of terms and conditions to be applied to aid provided from the fund and I expect a decision very soon.

[503] It was not appropriate to hold consultations with the European Commission, prior to the passage of the Act, on the question of aid from the fund being classified as State aid. Given that the fund is Exchequer financed, it would be most likely to be regarded as State aid and, in the circumstances, there would have been little point in pursuing the matter prior to the Western Development Commission taking a definitive decision on the forms of aid to be provided. Now that it has done so, I hope to have clarified this week whether a formal notification to the European Commission is necessary. In that event, the notification will be submitted without delay. It is important to remember that, under the EC Treaty, a member state must not implement its proposed measures until the European Commission has considered them and reached a decision. The Commission can require aid not notified to it to be repaid, even long after the aid has been granted.

In relation to projects seeking aid from the fund, no projects have been shelved by the Western Development Commission. I expect that any projects on hand will be considered fully and adjudicated on once the fund is operational.

The Government has given a commitment that £25 million will be provided for the western investment fund over a six year period from 1998. This commitment will not falter.

Mr. Connaughton:  The Minister of State has a very short memory. When the legislation was going through the Dáil, I asked him if the aid that would given to the Western Development Commission would be regarded as State aid. He said, and I agreed with him at the time because I did not know any better, that he thought that because shares and equity would be used it would be treated differently by Brussels. I put it to the Minister of State and his officials that he should have known it would be regarded as State aid at that time.

The Western Development Commission has been treated with contempt. Approximately 150 projects were evaluated as long ago as last September or October and not a penny has changed hands.

If my information is correct and if the Minister of State must seek approval in respect of the aid being classified as state aid, it could be next October or November before we get an answer to this. If the Western Development Commission is to be treated in a manner in which the Minister of State and I would like to seek it working—

An Ceann Comhairle:  A question please, Deputy.

Mr. Connaughton:  Does the Minister of State believe that a single penny of the £2 million made available last year or the £5 million made available this year will change hands in respect of [504] evaluated projects before next September or October?

Mr. Davern:  The essential difference between Deputy Connaughton and I is that I am an optimist while he appears to be a pessimist.

Mr. Connaughton:  I am a realist. Show us the money.

Mr. Davern:  The money has been allocated—

Mr. Connaughton:  It cannot be spent.

Mr. Davern:  —by the Department of Finance – as the Minister said, that can be difficult to secure. This is unique legislation and it is the first time it has been tried in Ireland. We did not want to insist that it was State aid at that time because we did not want to pre-empt decisions that might be made by the European Commission. We will know this week whether we must approach the Commission formally on this. If we must, a reply normally takes two months, but there is a fast-track procedure whereby a reply could be given in one month. Given the unique position of the west and the atmosphere created by this legislation, I believe an exception can be made in this regard.

Approximately 70 or more projects have been considered or are still being assessed by the Western Development Commission. More than £600,000 will be spent to cover the cost of staff and payments for this year alone. The Deputy will also be aware that the recent development of Dillon House in Ballaghaderreen has cost a good deal of money. I was pleased to see the leader of his party at the opening of that house, which is called after a former Member.

Mr. Connaughton:  We are all for this, but no action has been taken.

Mr. Davern:  The Deputy will be aware that Europe is sticking its nose into many more areas than it did in the past. We must tread carefully to ensure we maintain good relations and to ensure this unique legislation will work for the west.

Mr. Connaughton:  Has a substantial project been lost because the money was not available?

An Ceann Comhairle:  We must conclude Priority Questions.

Mr. Connaughton:  Will the Minister answer yes or no?

Mr. Davern:  I am not so aware.

An Ceann Comhairle:  As the Deputy in whose name Questions Nos. 25 and 26 were put down is not present, these cannot be taken. That concludes Priority Questions.

[505]

  27.  Proinsias De Rossa    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the position regarding the legal action being taken by his Department regarding insurance cover of beef held in a company (details supplied) in County Roscommon which was destroyed by fire in the early 1990s; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13594/99]

Mr. Walsh:  Nearly 7,000 tonnes of intervention beef, the property of the European Community, was destroyed in January 1992 in the course of a fire. This beef, in common with all stocks of intervention beef held in Ireland on behalf of the Community, has been fully insured by the Department for all risks and the necessary premium paid.

In the immediate aftermath of the fire, liability was repudiated by the lead insurers with which the insurance had first been placed. At the same time, the Department was informed by its broker that the risk had also been placed with a second lead insurer some months before the fire. The Department submitted a claim to its broker for £23 million on 27 January 1992. Liability was denied by the insurers and a complicated process of litigation was initiated.

Some insurance companies have sought a declaration against the Department that they have no liability in this matter. There are six separate sets of proceedings on this issue and particulars are being exchanged at present. It is possible that these cases can be brought to court within a year. The Department has taken a separate case against other insurers, who are challenging the jurisdiction of the Irish courts. The High Court has already found in the Department's favour on this but this finding is being appealed to the Supreme Court. This case may be heard before the end of the year.

The Department is also proceeding against the broker concerned both in respect of his company and on a personal basis. Nine sets of proceedings are now involved in this matter and I can assure the House that each is being pursued with vigour.

Mr. Penrose:  On what basis did the original broker repudiate the insurance agreement? Were there any arbitration clauses in the agreement? At what stage are the nine sets of litigation proceedings? Are pleadings closed or set down for trial?

Mr. Walsh:  The Department paid the premium and the insurers repudiated the claim. The proceedings are intended to establish the reason for this. The Department, like all Departments, is advised by the Attorney General's office and its counsel. Proceedings are then initiated by the Chief State Solicitor's office. We are doing everything possible and I invite Deputies to look at all the files in this regard. We want to conclude this matter as quickly as possible.

[506]

  28.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the number of licences issued, on a county by county basis, in each of the years from 1997 to date to low capacity abattoirs; the number of licences which issued to largescale operations slaughtering over 1,000 livestock units annually; the number of prosecutions taken against low capacity abattoirs in each of the years from 1997; the amendments made to the Abattoirs Act, 1988; and the reason for each amendment. [13098/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. N. O'Keeffe):  The total number of licences issued under the Abattoirs Act, 1988, to low capacity abattoirs was 308 in 1997, 264 in 1998 and 93 to date this year. A detailed breakdown by county for those years will be circulated in the Official Report. As regards licences issued to abattoirs in excess of 1,000 livestock units and not more than 1,500 units annually, two licences were issued in 1997 and 1998 and one in 1999. Export approval was issued to seven largescale slaughtering plants in 1997 and to nine in 1998. No approvals have been issued to date in 1999.

Two prosecutions were taken against low capacity abattoirs in both 1997 and 1998. Since 1997 a total of seven amendments were made to the Abattoirs Act, 1988. Details of these amendments and of the reasons behind them will also be circulated.

The number of licences issued under the Abattoirs Act, 1988, per county is as follows:

County 1997 1998 1999(to date)
Carlow 5 5
Cavan 15 9 3
Clare 13 9
Cork 36 40 23
Donegal 12 6 2
Dublin (County) 3 1
Galway 23 24 4
Kerry 27 22 3
Kildare 4 2 1
Kilkenny 14 5 3
Laois 9 12
Leitrim 11 10 1
Limerick 16 7 11
Longford 3 4 1
Louth 1 3 4
Mayo 11 16 9
Meath 7 7
Monaghan 6 8 2
Offaly 5 4 1
Roscommon 9 15 4
Sligo 2 3
Tipperary N.R. 10 6
Tipperary S.R. 21 15 10
Waterford City 1
Waterford County 5 5
Westmeath 23 18 7
Wexford 9 4 3
Wicklow 6 4 3
Totals 308 264 93

1. Abattoirs Act, 1988 (Amendment) Order, 1997 (S.I. No. 422 of 1997)

This order extends the application of the Abattoirs Act,1988, to include the ratite or running birds, ostriches, emus and rheas.

2. Abattoirs (Healthmark) (Amendment) Regulations, 1997 (S.I. No. 423 of 1997)

These regulations provide for the application of the health mark by a veterinary inspector on the meat of ratite birds – ostriches, emus, and rheas – which he has passed as fit for human consumption and prescribe the type of health mark to be used.

3. Abattoirs Act, 1988 (Abattoirs) (Amendment) Regulations, 1997 (S.I. No. 424 of 1997)

These regulations lay down the requirements for the construction and operation of abattoirs slaughtering ratite birds.

4. Abattoirs Act, 1988 (Veterinary Examination) (Amendment) Regulations, 1997 (S.I. No. 425 of 1997)

These regulations provide for the carrying out of ante and post-mortem examinations on slaughtered ratite birds – ostriches, emus, and rheas – to determine the fitness of the meat for human consumption.

5. Abattoirs Act, 1988 (Veterinary Examination) (Amendment) Regulations, 1998 (S.I. No.6 of 1998)

These regulations amend the grounds upon which animals or meat may be declared to be unfit for human consumption to include the condition of the hide, fleece or skin of an animal.

6. Abattoirs Act, 1988 (Abattoirs) (Amendment), Regulations,1998 (S.I. No.12 of 1998)

These regulations amend the Abattoirs Act,1988 (Abattoirs) Regulations, 1989, to fully implement Council Directive 91/497/EEC and 95/23/EC on conditions for the production and marketing of fresh meat.

7. Abattoirs Act,1988 (Veterinary Examination) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations,1998 (S.I. No. 512 of 1998)

These regulations transpose Council Directive 95/23/EC to provide that ante-mortem examination must occur within 24 hours of the animal arriving at the abattoir and within 24 hours of slaughter. The regulations also amend the Abattoirs Act, 1988 (Veterinary Examination) Regulations, 1992, having regard to Article 24 of Council Directive 96/23/EC.

[507]Mr. Connaughton:  I thank the Minister for his reply. Most small abattoirs must conform to the standards of an export licensed premises without grant aid. Perhaps the Minister will comment on the fact that most small abattoir owners inform me that the conditions in relation to abattoirs change every year and investment which would have been good enough to get a licence last year or the year before would not be good enough [508] now. Many abattoirs will be forced to close because they did not receive a definitive set of regulations when they started business. Is it planned that under certain conditions, abattoir owners with under 1,000 livestock units will get grant aid?

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  I will answer the last question first. That is a financial and budgetary matter.

Mr. Connaughton:  It is not.

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  A number of amendments have been made to the Abattoirs Act, 1988. The Deputy is aware that in 1997 there was an order to extend the application of the Abattoirs Act, 1988, to include the slaughter of ratite or running birds, ostriches, emus and rheas. In 1997 an amendment was made to provide for the application of the health mark by a veterinary inspector on the meat of these birds. Amendments made in 1998 laid down the requirements for the construction and operation of abattoirs slaughtering ratite birds and provided for the carrying out of ante and post-mortem examinations on slaughtered ratite birds. Regulations were also introduced to amend the grounds upon which animals or meat may be declared to be unfit for human consumption to include the condition of the hide, fleece or skin of an animal. This relates to the point raised by the Deputy about clean cattle which is important for safety and quality. Another amendment to the Act was made by order in 1998 to address refrigeration and the bleeding and dressing of the animals.

Those are the amendments to the Abattoirs Act, 1988, which were a cause of concern to small abattoir owners. We must protect the consumer. As the Deputy is aware, in the past four or five years many changes have taken place as people have become more consumer conscious. It is all about the safety of the product and quality.

Mr. Connaughton:  Everyone accepts we must maintain standards, which is what most abattoir owners are doing. Will the Minister give an undertaking to the House that conditions will be laid down as of now so that when owners invest in their premises the regulations will not be changed within a specified time after they make an investment and before they get a licence? Does the Minister think that abattoirs under 1,000 units should be grant aided in some form?

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  That is a matter for the Department of Finance and the budget.

Mr. Connaughton:  What does the Minister of State think?

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  That will be addressed if necessary.

Mr. Farrelly:  The Minister of State has no opinion on it.

[509]Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  On the regulations governing abattoirs, I cannot give a guarantee they will not change. Many changes have taken place, especially in 1996, of which Deputy Connaughton is aware.

Mr. Connaughton:  The goalposts are being moved.

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  The goalposts are not being moved. The changes are taking place to regulate the industry. Safety and the protection of the consumer are our priorities.

Mr. J. Brady:  Given the high incidence of e.coli at present, will the Minister consider giving grant aid to improve hygiene standards?

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  Hygiene is always important in the meat industry. We are aware of the problems for the consumer. Regulations and procedures are in place as regards the handling of cold, fresh and hooked meats. If they are adhered to there will be no more problems in any delicatessens or butchers' shops.

Mr. Connaughton:  Will the Minister give grant aid?

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  I answered that question. It is a budgetary matter.

Mr. Farrelly:  What is the Department's opinion?

Mr. Connaughton:  What does the Minister think about it?

  29.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the plans, if any, he has to stop the feeding of meat and bone animal meal to pigs in view of the fact that one of the requirements of our major export market, the United Kingdom, is the non-use of meat and bone meal in pigs' diets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13592/99]

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  The production of meat and bone meal here for feeding to non-ruminant animals is undertaken in accordance with comprehensive control arrangements which are based on scientific recommendations. Specified risk material is excluded from this process and the remaining material is rendered in accordance with EU parameters in approved plants which are under departmental supervision and which must meet specified conditions.

Pigs which have been fed meat and bone meal and product therefrom can be traded on the EU Single Market provided they meet animal health conditions laid down in European legislation. As the trade in pigs which have been fed meat and bone meal is legal and there is no scientific basis for imposing such a ban, it is therefore a matter [510] for individual producers and exporters to make decisions in regard to such trade. The ban in the UK on the feeding of meat and bone meal to any species was introduced in 1996 in response to the high incidence of BSE in that country and remains in place.

Mr. Connaughton:  This is a general question to which the Minister of State might not have an answer. Is there much meat and bonemeal in the rations being fed to pigs?

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  My Department licences compounders. We have a number of designated compounders who are mixing specialised plans which are fed only to the pigmeat and poultry industries. They are licensed. I do not have the exact number but we can send that information to the Deputy if he so requires.

Mr. Penrose:  Are they monitored and inspected on a regular basis?

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  There is monitoring and inspection by the inspectorate of the Department of Agriculture and Food, for which we have responsibility. No stone is left unturned to ensure all procedures and disciplines are in place.

Mr. Farrelly:  What is the Minister of State's opinion of the amount of meat and bonemeal stored around the country? What is his and his Department's long-term view on what should be done with the meat and bonemeal that is accumulating at an alarming rate and is stored all around the country? How will we dispose of it in the future?

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  I do not want to be unfair to the Deputy but I think that issue is outside the remit of the question. I do not have the exact information—

Mr. Farrelly:  Does the Minister of State not have a view on it?

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

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  That is not part of the question that was asked.

  30.  Mr. J. Brady    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the implications for the early retirement scheme when Agenda 2000 is implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13626/99]

Mr. Davern:  The rural development regulation that was formally adopted by the Agriculture Council on 17 May last as part of the Agenda 2000 agreement provides for continued support for early retirement from farming. Under the new regulation, the provisions of which cannot apply [511] before 1 January 2000, applications may be accepted from part-time farmers and the enlargement requirement will be replaced by a provision linked to the improved viability of the holding transferred. The new scheme also provides for possible changes in relation to the level and duration of pension payments. Detailed rules for the implementation of the regulation have yet to be agreed.

The new early retirement scheme to apply in Ireland will form part of the rural development plan which my Department must submit to the European Commission within six months of adoption of the Council regulation. The Commission will approve such a plan within six months of submission.

Mr. J. Brady:  I thank the Minister of State. Will the 50:50 rule, whereby a part-time farmer had to earn more than 50 per cent of his income from farming, be relaxed under the new Agenda 2000 negotiations? It is very important for the pension to be increased in line with inflation. I welcome the removal of the enlargement clause.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy must ask a question.

Mr. Davern:  Yes, that has been changed to allow for the inclusion of part-time farmers. It will help to address many of the effects, particularly farm size and the age profile of farmers. That has been very successful. In the initial stages we thought 7,000 farmers would join by 1998 but, in fact, 8,800 joined. There is room for many more part-time farmers to join under the new regulations, which the Minister, Deputy Walsh, negotiated successfully.

Mr. Farrelly:  What level of income is it intended that part-time farmers will be able to earn outside farming? Will it be 40, 60 or 70 per cent? Is the duration of the pension still open for negotiation by the Minister with the European Union, to extend its lifetime to 75 years?

Mr. Davern:  The pension is not being extended to 70 years. However, consideration is being given to paying the pension over a ten or 15 year period, if that suits some people.

Under the new arrangements, which will not apply until 1 January 2000, part-time farmers may be eligible to join the early retirement scheme. The enlargement of the farm by a minimum of five acres or 10 per cent required under the existing scheme will be replaced by the provision for an improved viability of holding transfer. The Department is currently examining options in that area. The Deputy will be aware that these matters are still under negotiation with the European Union. However, the principle of part-time farmers being included has been accepted. The rest is a matter for detailed negotiation.

[512]Mr. Farrelly:  Is the pension being extended to 70 years?

Mr. M. Moynihan:  With regard to the 50:50 rule for part-time farmers, at present a farmer taking over the land under the retirement scheme must be full-time. Is it envisaged that the taking over of the land by a part-time farmer would qualify a person for the retirement pension?

Mr. Davern:  This is a great country – the details of the regulations have not yet been agreed and we are looking for exemptions and options. I am not aware that is the tradition. I will have to check it and come back to the Deputy.

Mr. Farrelly:  We are helping the Minister of State to do it right.

Mr. Davern:  I appreciate that – I can see the sincerity written all over the Deputy's face.

Mr. Farrelly:  Just like the Minister of State's.

Mr. Penrose:  I am sure the Minister of State is aware of the implications of the euro for the pensions paid to farmers. What advances are being made to ensure farmers are compensated in full for the consequences of the euro, which will cause a £40 drop per month in their incomes?

Is there an implicit or inbuilt cap on the pension payments? If the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs pension increases, the farm retirement scheme pension—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There are other Deputies offering.

Mr. Penrose:  —decreases to ensure there is an inbuilt cap on the amounts. Is that fair? Is it part of the negotiations with the Commission to ensure that when the social welfare pension is increased it is not clawed back in the farm retirement scheme?

Mr. Davern:  I am glad the Deputy has raised the issue of the increase in old age pensions. There was a massive increase this year of £9, a total increase of £15 over two years. The former Government increased it by only £7 over a similar period.

Mr. Penrose:  It is of no use to people if they do not get it.

Mr. Davern:  It is worth noting because I know the Deputy is worried by the rate we are increasing pensions.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Minister of State's minute is almost concluded.

Mr. Davern:  The cap—

[513]Mr. Farrelly:  It is the taxpayers' money – one would think it was his own.

Mr. Davern:  Do I sense that the Deputy begrudges the increase given to old age pensioners?

Mr. Farrelly:  No.

Mr. Davern:  I hope not, given that the Deputy comes from wealthy County Meath.

Mr. Farrelly:  One would think the Minister of State was paying it out of his own pocket.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We must conclude and move on to Question No. 31.

Mr. Connaughton:  I should have been allowed ask a question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  If the Deputy's colleagues had not interrupted we might have had more supplementaries.

Mr. Connaughton:  I just want to ask—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There are no questions by way of interruption.

  31.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if his attention has been drawn to the most recent OECD review that highlighted the high levels of environmentally hazardous waste from agriculture, including the production of greenhouse gases such as methane; the measures his Department proposes to reduce the levels of livestock; the policy measures he proposes other than the REP scheme to significantly reduce the methane output from agriculture; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13640/99]

Mr. Davern:  I am aware of the recent review prepared by the economic and development review committee of the OECD, entitled “OECD Economic Surveys 1998-1999, Ireland”. Among the environmental issues referred to in the OECD report are the disposal of hazardous waste and the restraint of greenhouse gas emissions.

Under Part II of the National Waste Management Act, 1996, the Environmental Protection Agency is required to prepare a national hazardous waste management plan, a draft of which will be published this summer for public consultation. This plan will identify sources of hazardous waste and make recommendations for prevention, collection, recovery and disposal of such wastes. National policy in relation to the management of such wastes, including those originating in the agriculture sector, will be determined when the national hazardous waste management plan is adopted formally by the Environmental Protection Agency.

[514] The position regarding greenhouse gas emissions is that Ireland has committed itself to the restraint of such emissions as a result of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and based on an internal sharing at EU level. Ireland has to hold the increase in greenhouse gas emissions in 2008-12 to 13 per cent above our 1990 levels, while the overall EU level must be cut by 8 per cent. A national abatement strategy is being developed by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government in consultation with other Departments, including my Department. To ensure my Department can play a full part in the development of the abatement strategy, I have established an expert group on greenhouse gases, which includes representatives from the EPA, Teagasc, the IFA, the ICMSA, and UCD, to examine the impact of the agricultural sector on greenhouse gas emissions and to consider possible action which might be pursued in the agriculture sector with the aim of securing greenhouse gas emission over the next decade.

The recent Agenda 2000 agreement provides that member states may include minimum environmental conditions for the receipt of direct payments in respect of agricultural production. While the detailed rules governing this measure have not yet been agreed, it is likely that producers getting direct payments will have to follow good farming practice.

Some 43,000 farmers are currently participating in the rural environmental protection scheme. Participation in REPs is regarded as going beyond good farming practice. The scheme will play an important part in addressing environmental issues in the agricultural sector, with a significant increase in the number of participants expected in the coming years.

Mr. Connaughton:  Does the Minister know of any proposals in the Department which would necessitate farmers having to apply for a licence to apply slurry to their lands? Will all farmers have to adhere to certain farming practices if they are to get cattle headage payments?

Mr. Davern:  I am aware that many people have suggested ideas such as licensing. The Department is anxious to use the findings of the expert group to examine the impact of the agricultural sector on greenhouse gas emissions, including developments since 1990 and projections for the period up to 2010.

Slurry application is a matter for the Department of the Environment and Local Government. The Deputy will agree that anyone spreading slurry should be extremely careful. I was delighted to hear an advertisement by Teagasc and the IFA advising those using silage to ensure no effluent enters the river system. We have witnessed enough disasters. We have clean rivers and I hope this will continue as part of rural development.

[515]Mr. Connaughton:  Is the Minister suggesting we are reaching the stage where no slurry can be applied to the land?

Mr. Davern:  God forbid. It must, however, be applied carefully and with consideration for neighbours. There was a complaint recently about a farmer who sprayed slurry while the wind was blowing towards three houses. All three were splashed with slurry. That was a stupid thing to do. It is a pity the wind did not change direction towards the person involved. Other people have to be considered and facilitated.

  32.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the steps, if any, taken or envisaged to fulfil the commitment given in An Action Programme for the Millennium to carry out the most fundamental review of his Department since it was set up in 1900 and to focus on its central mission of developing policy to ensure Irish agriculture reaches its full potential; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13582/99]

Mr. Walsh:  Changing demands and circumstances and a need to continuously improve efficiency and effectiveness have highlighted the need for certain improvements in the organisation and structure of my Department. To address these issues, a fundamental review of the structure and work practices was instituted. This review also took account of the relevant Government decisions regarding FEOGA payments and food safety and the commitment in An Action Programme for the Millennium to focus the Department on its central mission – developing policy to ensure Irish agriculture reaches its full potential.

It has been decided that the Department should be reorganised on three broad pillars representing the three principal areas of activity – policy development, food safety and production and FEOGA payments. These arrangements will separate policy and executive functions, while maintaining the necessary relationships between them to ensure coherence in negotiations at EU level, in other international fora and in the implementation of various programmes and schemes.

Progress on the implementation of these proposals on food safety and production had to take account of the Government decision to establish a Food Safety Authority of Ireland under the aegis of the Department of Health and Children as this would have a significant influence on the future role of the Department in connection with food safety and, consequently, for the most appropriate organisation for this function within my Department.

The Department has been engaged, in conjunction with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, in the development of arrangements for the implementation by the Department of the extensive functions to be conducted by it on behalf of [516] the authority. These arrangements have considerable organisational implications for the Department, not least because many of the staff engaged on food safety work also carry out functions concerning FEOGA operations.

The Department is in the process of transferring to Johnstown Castle, County Wexford, on a phased basis, the work and staff posts of most Dublin-based FEOGA divisions other than those that deal with headage and premia schemes. Some 290 posts are being transferred on a phased basis, representing a very substantial decentralisation. The first two of the FEOGA divisions concerned moved to Wexford on schedule in September 1998 and April 1999.

Given that the position on the establishment of the FSAI has been clarified, and that the decentralisation is well under way, I am now in a position to progress to conclusion the work which has been under way in my Department to give effect to the commitment in An Action Programme for the Millennium to establish an agency to administer FEOGA and other payments. A draft memorandum to Government was circulated to other Departments and I am awaiting their final observations before submitting proposals to establish the agency to the Government at an early date.

The highly successful outcome of the recent Agenda 2000 proposals clearly illustrates the strength of my Department in the areas of policy development and negotiation. The challenge now facing the Department is to progress with the reorganisation of its structure and operations to deliver the potential of this package and other policy initiatives to the optimum benefit of Irish agriculture and the Irish economy. This will entail meeting the strictest criteria of financial accountability while ensuring services are responsive to clients' needs.

Mr. Penrose:  We all welcome the fact that food safety is one of the three pillars of the reorganisation taking place within the Department. Was there significant resistance in the Department to the establishment of the independent agency to administer FEOGA and other payments? Some people think that is the reason for the delay in its establishment.

Has the Minister given any thought to an independent appeals system for those who feel aggrieved at the levels of penalty imposed on grants received by them or the number of grants refused to them? That would be an important element of a root and branch review of the Department.

Mr. Walsh:  Since I entered office, substantial decentralisation has taken place to Portlaoise and that unit is working well. My predecessor, Deputy Yates, made the decision to decentralise to Wexford, to where substantial decentralisation has taken place. That process is ongoing.

A draft memorandum concerning the FEOGA agency has been circulated to other Departments and we are awaiting replies before putting in [517] place that element of the restructuring. In the meantime the Food Safety Authority of Ireland has been established. That is a huge organisation. It falls under the aegis of the Department of Health and Children, but much of the work is being done by officers of the Department of Agriculture and Food on contract to it. During the period of its establishment Deputies, committees and lobby groups complained that there was not great efficiency. Under those circumstances, there has been definite progress.

Mr. Crawford:  Is the Minister satisfied this separation can occur at local level, where personnel dealing with the basics of food safety also deal with FEOGA? It would be much easier to divide it at national rather than local level. Is the Minister satisfied there are sufficient numbers of staff at local office level to ensure programmes already in place are properly administered?

Mr. Walsh:  Generally the Department of Agriculture and Food is highly efficient in the administration of various schemes. No doubt the complex schemes which emanated from the 1992 CAP reform placed a huge burden on the administration of the Department. The provision of IT and computer facilities in the meantime has facilitated the good working of that operation. Recently in an official publication of the EU the Department of Agriculture and Food was seen as one of the better Departments in the administration and implementation of various programmes and schemes.

I am pleased that the general finding of the recent Cromien review of the systems and procedures was that the Department of Agriculture and Food had confirmed that there had been substantial and sustained improvement in systems and procedures in the Department since the late 1980s and the early 1990s.

Mr. Connaughton:  Perhaps I did not correctly understand the Minister. In so far as the FEOGA payments are concerned, will that be an autonomous body within the Department or will it be independent?

Mr. Walsh:  That is a good question. We circulated a draft memorandum which contains a number of options. We are awaiting the observations of various other Departments, including the Department of Finance. It will then be a matter for the Government to make a decision on whether it should be completely autonomous or whether it should be a free standing segment within the overall responsibility of the Department.

Mr. Connaughton:  What about the social welfare system?

Mr. Walsh:  That is a model which has been suggested for use. At least Departments and Ministers are answerable and accountable to the House and to the Committee of Public Accounts.

[518]Mr. Connaughton:  When will that decision be taken?

  33.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the plans, if any, he has to improve the breed characteristics of beef cattle; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13627/99]

Mr. Walsh:  Beef cattle breeding in Ireland was, until recently, fragmented between a number of organisations including my Department, AI societies and beef breed societies. However, the pooling of resources and expertise to form the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation now provides a real opportunity to have greater industry participation in cattle breeding and to make significant progress in developing the breed characteristics of beef cattle. One of the main objectives of the ICBF is to improve the genetic merit of the national herd.

My Department is also involved in discussions with the meat processing industry and farming organisations with a view to introducing a pricing system which adequately rewards quality beef production and encourages producers to improve the beef characteristics of their cattle. I understand that the Task Force on the Beef Industry which I set up last November is also addressing this issue.

Cecilia Keaveney:  I congratulate the Minister on the many agricultural initiatives he has introduced. Will he comment on the suitability of current breeds for the European and international markets? Is the quality grass beef animal status, of which we are so proud and which we flag so often, being undermined by certain present strands of animal stock?

Mr. Walsh:  No doubt the scrub bull has had a deleterious effect on the national cattle herd. The quality of beef cattle has deteriorated in the past seven or eight years. About 80 per cent are unsuited to the remunerative high quality continental markets like France and Germany. Where only 20 per cent qualify, there is something radically wrong. There are a number of reasons for this: the use of poor quality bulls; the change in the composition of live exports and the absence of any significant price differentials based on the classification rate and not helped by re-nationalisation of EU markets. In other words, flat pricing is an absolute disaster. There is an urgent need to up-grade and improve the quality of the beef herd.

Mr. Connaughton:  Does the Minister envisage, or would he hope for, a ban on flat pricing at factories?

Mr. Walsh:  I would welcome payment on a graded and quality basis. The difficulty is that there is not sufficient confidence between the [519] farmers and the meat factories to do that because, as the Deputy will be aware, the assessment is subjective. The National Food Centre at Dunsinea is evaluating objective mechanical systems for the grading of animals. If there is an objective system, then that will instil confidence and farmers will be happy to accept payment on a graded or quality basis.

In general, apart from factories there is a differential for good quality cattle at marts. It is in the interests of farmers to improve the quality of the breed.

Mr. J. Brady:  Is it the Minister's intention that farmers who produce top quality beef would be compensated by the meat factories?

Mr. Walsh:  The real difficulty at present is that we are dependent on opportunistic markets in third countries for a great deal of exports. We have lost out heavily in the continental European market and in the UK market. Much of the reason for that was the BSE difficulty in 1996 but there was also the problem of the renationalisation of those markets and the unsuitability of much of our beef. As soon as there is an improvement in the quality of beef and there is an objective method for payment on a graded system, that will be done and can be implemented quickly.

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 Fitzgerald – the effect of the implementation of the child care regulations and the resultant crisis in child care; (2) Deputy Clune – the proposal by the Blood Transfusion Service Board to abandon testing of blood products in its Cork unit; (3) Deputy Lawlor – the proposals for a toxic waste incinerator at Kilcock, County Kildare; (4) Deputy Deasy – the sale of the former Waterford Foods site in Dungarvan, County Waterford; (5) Deputy Ferris – the urgent need for the Government to outline the action it will take in the wake of the closure of Narnco, Tipperary town; (6) Deputy O'Shea – the need for the Government to outline the steps it will take in light of the new research regarding the health risks of mobile phones.

The matters raised by Deputies Ferris, Fitzgerald, Clune and O'Shea have been selected for discussion.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I propose to deal with a number of related notices under Standing Order 31 from Deputies Quinn, John Bruton and [520] Sargent. I propose to call on the Deputies in the order in which they submitted their notices to my office. I first call on Deputy Quinn to state the matter.

Mr. Quinn:  In accordance with Standing Order 31, I request leave to move the adjournment of the Dáil to discuss the following specific matter of public interest, namely the circumstances in which a cheque for £25,000, countersigned by the Taoiseach and drawn on an account into which money voted by the Oireachtas for purposes of the Fianna Fáil Party leader's allowance was paid, ended up in an account used for the personal finances of the former Taoiseach, Charles J. Haughey; the reason the Taoiseach did not disclose this matter or the fact that he was a signatory of this account when the matter of the Fianna Fáil leader's allowance was raised in the House on 10 September 1997 during the debate on the terms of reference of the Moriarty tribunal; and the need for the Taoiseach to make a full statement to the Dáil on the matter. A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, in view of the importance of this issue I hope that you will agree to my request.

Mr. J. Bruton:  I request that the business of Dáil Éireann be suspended to discuss a matter of urgent public importance, namely the revelation that the Taoiseach co-signed a cheque, made payable to cash from an account held by the Fianna Fáil Party which came under the control of accounts used for the benefit of Mr. Charles Haughey, knowing when he signed it that there is an obligation on co-signatories of blank cheques to know where the money is going; and that Dáil Éireann calls on the Taoiseach to publish the correspondence to which he has referred between him, his party and the Moriarty tribunal which he claims debars him from making a statement to Dáil Éireann correcting the record in respect of his misleading and incomplete statement on 10 September 1997 in view of the fact that he took that course in regard to Commissioner Flynn.

Mr. Sargent:  I wish to raise the following issue of urgent public importance under Standing Order 31: the need for a Dáil debate on why a cheque for £25,000 countersigned in 1989 by the then treasurer of Fianna Fáil and current Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, drawn from the party leader's allowances account was subsequently used by Mr. Charles J. Haughey for his personal benefit; why the Taoiseach failed to make this fact known to the Dáil on 10 September 1997 when the terms of reference for the tribunals were discussed; and, the urgent need for the Taoiseach to make a statement on the matter.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Having considered these matters fully, I do not consider them to be contemplated by Standing Order 31. Therefore, I cannot grant leave to move the motions.

[521]The Taoiseach:  It is proposed to take No. 1, Minerals Development Bill, 1999 [Seanad] – Second Stage. Private Members' Business shall be No. 72, motion re: disability.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There are no proposals to put to the House.

Mr. J. Bruton:  How long will the House be left in the dark as to why the Taoiseach signed the £25,000 cheque?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  It is not appropriate to raise the matter on the Order of Business. It has been dealt with under Standing Order 31.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Surely it is in the interest of the House to seek clarification on this matter. It was taxpayers' money.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy should find another way in which to raise the matter.

Mr. Quinn:  I do not challenge the ruling of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle in respect of a request made under Standing Order 31. He declared that the matter was not one of sufficient urgency at the present time and rejected our use of that particular parliamentary device. Is it the Taoiseach's intention to use another parliamentary device, namely, the making of a personal statement, to correct the record of 10 September 1997 which is now clearly erroneous?

The Taoiseach:  If it would be helpful, I have a short note on this matter.

Mr. Quinn:  I put it to the Taoiseach that the record of 10 September 1997 is clearly erroneous. There is a time honoured convention in this House that when that occurs, it is open to any Member of the House, particularly an office-holder, to come to the House and correct the record. If the House is agreeable, I suggest the Taoiseach should avail of that opportunity now.

The Taoiseach:  The question tabled by Deputy Spring on 10 September 1997 related to the 1982-7 period when the Fianna Fáil party was in Opposition. I explained to him on that occasion that I had spoken to the administrator and did not believe anything was wrong. I have not subsequently received or heard any information to indicate that there was anything wrong with any matter during the 1982-7 period. The record of that date stands to this day and is not erroneous.

I did not say on that occasion that I was one of the signatories of the cheque, rather I said that the procedure was for a senior person to sign cheques. I was not the only senior person who signed the cheque; a number of other senior people signed it. The fact that I was one of the signatories was the only information I could have [522] added to my reply on that occasion. I am not aware that anything on record about the 1982-7 period is any different today than on 10 September 1997.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Is the Taoiseach saying that as treasurer of Fianna Fáil and signatory of those accounts, he did not have any means of discovering what happened to the money he signed away?

The Taoiseach:  I watched a recording of a television programme broadcast last night in which people kept saying I was the party treasurer. I was the party treasurer for a period but there seems to be a view that I have been treasurer since its foundation. I was treasurer of the party from some time in 1992 to some time in 1994 but I was not treasurer during the period referred to. The procedure was that the whips signed cheques and authorisations were never changed. A number of people, of whom I was one, continued to be signatories. I signed cheques when I was asked to but was not responsible for the accounts.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Can I ask the Taoiseach—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We cannot have a debate on this matter, about which the Chair has been more than lenient. Members should resume their seats. Do Members wish to raise any other matters on the Order of Business before we proceed to item No. 1?

Mr. Quinn:  The questions will not go away simply because the Leas-Cheann Comhairle does not want to hear them.

Dr. Woods:  Deputy Quinn has spoken twice already.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Chair's responsibility is purely to implement Standing Orders. It is not appropriate to debate this matter on the Order of Business. If there are no other matters on the Order of Business, we will move on to item No. 1.

Mr. J. Bruton:  The Irish people have a right to know why the Taoiseach signed this cheque and whether he knew where the money was going.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  This matter is not appropriate to the Order of Business. I call on the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources to move the Second Stage reading of the Minerals Development Bill.

Mr. J. Bruton:  We cannot accept that.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputies Bruton and Quinn are totally out of order.

Mr. J. Bruton:  The Taoiseach should answer our questions and stop hiding behind his lawyers.

[523]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy must find another way to raise this matter.

Mr. Yates:  Does the Taoiseach not have access to ledgers or accounts journals?

The Taoiseach:  I will not let Deputy Bruton's comment go. I do not hide behind anyone. Deputy Bruton said that I am not answering questions because I am hiding behind my lawyers. I, therefore, insist on putting the following short note on the record.

Mr. J. Bruton:  More drama.

The Taoiseach:  I wish to state at the outset that I brought this matter to the attention of the Moriarty tribunal so that its significance and relevance, if any, could be determined by the tribunal having regard to all of the information it alone is in a position to assemble. I acted correctly in so doing and have co-operated fully in meeting any subsequent inquiries and requests. I am anxious to continue acting correctly in a situation where certain information, originally supplied by me, has become public without its exact significance having been established.

The Moriarty tribunal has, under the terms of reference given to it by Dáil Éireann, conducted a great deal of its most important work confidentially. The tribunal regards it as imperative to maintain confidentiality during the private phase investigation of each aspect until it is ready to conduct public hearings. In this way, any matter which cannot be substantiated is sifted out and unfounded and damaging allegations are not brought into the public arena where unwarranted damage could be done to innocent reputations. Partial, unnecessary selective discussion in the Dáil is prejudicial to the work of the tribunal.

Where third parties, whose willing co-operation is essential to the expeditious work of the tribunal, are involved, their constitutional rights must be protected. I have been advised by the Attorney General that the disclosure of such correspondence which relates exclusively to my obligation of confidentiality to the tribunal and which does not disclose the identity of third parties or in any way impinge on their constitutional rights would be permissible. In the circumstances, I propose to put parts of the relevant correspondence on the record of the House.

I should add that I sought the advice of the Attorney General on the matter as I was being asked to account to the Dáil in my capacity as Taoiseach. In normal circumstances, I would have been happy to amplify and add to the statement I made in this House on 10 September 1997, which related to a different period, on the basis of information which came into my possession a year subsequently. Indeed, I have already done so today in two respects. I would not have had any difficulty in making a statement if permitted to do so by the tribunal.

[524] Of course, many questions arise which none of us is in a position to answer definitively. That is why we have established a tribunal to provide answers. If we sincerely hope to get to the truth of the matter, we should all co-operate fully with the tribunal, as I will. In the most recent contacts with representatives of the tribunals, they again reiterated forcibly the necessity for confidentiality during this phase of their work. This confidential phase was agreed to by the Opposition parties during negotiations establishing the terms of reference. Indeed, the tribunal has made it clear that any person holding a position of responsibility could not fail to have regard to the obligations of the tribunal in carrying out its private investigative work. After all, the power to conduct these proceedings in private, where appropriate, to determine whether sufficient evidence exists was a key part of the terms of reference given to the tribunal.

I want to quote the extracts I can give from a letter from the tribunal. The tribunal makes a number of points but I want to put some points on the record of the House. The letter states:

The responsibility with which the Tribunal is charged is to ensure that matters within its Terms of Reference are ventilated so far as is practicable in a way which protects the constitutional rights of persons dealing with it. This the Tribunal does in the first instance by carrying out its initial investigatory work in private. Persons dealing with the Tribunal do so and expect to do so on the basis that the Tribunal will take steps to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable that confidentiality is maintained as regards information furnished by any such person to the Tribunal and also as regards any information made available by the Tribunal to any such person. The statement furnished by An Taoiseach clearly affects the interests of other persons. It would be irresponsible of the Tribunal to encourage any person dealing with it to think that circumstances you describe would justify the disclosure of such information in public otherwise than in the course of the Tribunal's sittings.

The same applies to correspondence between any of your clients and the Tribunal, if there were a risk, as it seems to me that at least in general terms, there must be, that the disclosure of such correspondence could lead to the identification of persons dealing with the Tribunal in the course of the private phase of its work or could lead to the identification of or the disclosure of information furnished to the Tribunal by or in connection with any such person.

Quite apart from the foregoing there is an overriding consideration that persons dealing with the Tribunal should be able to do so in the confidence that the Tribunal will take every practical step to protect the confidentiality of any such person's dealings with the Tribunal during the private phase of its work.

[525] The Tribunal would expect in particular that persons in a position of responsibility would not deviate from these principles. This is not to say that any person dealing with the Tribunal should be inhibited from so asserting, or from asserting that he had provided the Tribunal with a statement, [I have done so] or other information, to assist the Tribunal in its inquiries and that those inquiries are at a confidential stage.

When I received that letter, it put me in a position where I could not give the correspondence or the details, other than what the Attorney General has stated. I wrote back to the tribunal, through solicitors for the Fianna Fáil Party who were dealing with this because it was a Fianna Fáil matter, and they asked if these matters should be made known to the House. I received a reply to that letter yesterday which states:

In your letter you have indicated that the opposition parties in the Dail will be demanding a statement from An Taoiseach in relation to the Leaders Allowance. You have asked me to write to the Ceann Comhairle for the purpose of appraising him of the instructions and directions issued by the Tribunal to your client [that is to me]. I take it that your request is directed to me as Solicitor to the Tribunal and that what you require is that the Sole Member should write to An Ceann Comhairle in the terms indicated in your letter.

The Tribunal's view is that while the situation, as described by you may cause difficulties for your clients, you must agree that your request effectively amounts to an invitation to the Tribunal to become embroiled in a political controversy. This could result in the Tribunal becoming identified with one side or other of a political controversy and is something which might lead to the compromising of the independence of the Tribunal.

In particular it would not be appropriate for the Tribunal to write to the Ceann Comhairle in circumstances which could be seen to amount to an attempt to influence the Ceann Comhairle in the way in which he exercises his powers or exercises any discretion in the discharge of the duties of his office.

Lastly might I point out that the Tribunal has not given any directions to your client. Nor would the Tribunal presume to direct An Taoiseach or indeed any responsible office holder as to how they should act in relation to this matter. The Tribunal has already expressed the view that it would be confident that such directions would be unnecessary in the case of any responsible holder of public office. Indeed the Tribunal acknowledges the care with which your clients [me] appear to have observed the principles governing the operation of the Tribunal's workings, as outlined in my recent letters. In the same way the Tribunal has no reason to believe that any Ceann Comhairle or any other person holding a position of [526] responsibility would fail to have regard to the obligations of the Tribunal in carrying out its private investigatory work and the principles to be observed by persons dealing with the Tribunal in the course of this phase of the Tribunal's work.

That is my position. That explains the matter and I have no more to say.

Dr. Woods:  Hear, hear.

Mr. J. Bruton:  I thank the Taoiseach for putting all that information on the record of the House. It will be necessary for all Members to study carefully what has been said here before drawing further conclusions, but most Members would understand that there is a distinction between a public office holder, such as the Taoiseach, who must be accountable here and now, and a third party, whose interests could be adversely affected, who is outside this House and not a public office holder. Clearly, the Taoiseach has an obligation to this House that even supersedes his obligations to the Moriarty tribunal because he is appointed to his current office by this House. It is not satisfactory—

Dr. Woods:  The terms of reference.

Mr. J. Bruton:  —that he is unable or unwilling to answer to this House on matters that affect actions he took and documents he signed.

The Taoiseach:  On a point of order, I have to again correct Deputy Bruton. I am unable, not unwilling to do so.

Mr. Quinn:  I, too, thank the Taoiseach for putting on the record of the House the substantial text of the correspondence he received from his legal advisers and the tribunal. I also want to put something on the record of the House, because this is a matter to which we would like to return. On 4 September 1997, Deputy Spring wrote to the Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern, seeking details of the allocation of the leader's allowance from 1983 to 1987 and from 1987 to 1991. In reply on 10 September, the Taoiseach pointedly referred to the period when Fianna Fáil was in Opposition, omitting to answer the second part of Deputy Spring's question. This is a day for putting matters on the record of the House and, for the benefit of members of the Fianna Fáil Party, I will quote their Taoiseach when, in respect of the allowance, he further stated:

There was no surplus and no misappropriation. The person involved had sole control of the account. The money came in, the person lodged the cheque, dealt with the bills and invoices and paid those not covered by the ordinary allowance.

We want to know what happened between 1987, when Fianna Fáil was in Opposition, and 1991 when apparently the Taoiseach became a signa[527] tory to the account and where misappropriation appears to have occurred.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Quinn, we cannot have a debate on this matter now.

The Taoiseach:  I do not like to nit-pick but—

Mr. Sargent:  I tabled Question No. 31 which was recognised.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I called the leaders of the two parties that are recognised as groups.

Mr. Sargent:  I tabled No. 31, which was recognised.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  No. 31 is gone. Allow the Taoiseach to reply.

The Taoiseach:  I do not like to nit-pick but Deputy Quinn is normally a fair person and I have to correct him when he is not. He quoted a section from the Official Report of that day but, unusually for him, omitted the first line which states:

Deputy Spring has raised the issue of the party leader's allowance during Fianna Fáil's period in Opposition.

What I said was related to that, and Deputy Quinn knows it.

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Ireland has a rich tradition of mining extending back over 4,000 years and I am glad mineral extraction is still an important economic activity. In the modern era there have been many successful mineral developments which have benefited this country in terms of revenue and well paid employment. Many of these jobs have been created in relatively underdeveloped rural areas with little or no other employment.

For a small country, we have been very successful in the discovery of mineral deposits which have resulted in a number of important mines currently in operation. Our geology holds out the promise of further economically viable mineral discoveries if we continue to encourage investment in exploration.

Many Irish companies are active in this field, some of whom have made some of the most notable discoveries. However, junior exploration companies often need to form alliances with larger and more experienced partners to bring their discoveries to the next phase. It is important to encourage such partnerships with international [528] players who bring to this country the benefits of their worldwide experience and expertise in the most up to date methods of mining and environmental protection. We also welcome responsible international mining companies exploring in Ireland on their own behalf.

When considering any country as a potential area for exploration, any major mining company will naturally be very interested in the geology and the track record of previous explorationists. There is no doubt that Ireland has its attractions in that regard. However, a less obvious but equally significant element in a company's decision to invest its exploration budget in a country is the stability of that country's political system, a clear set of laws and, in particular, confidence in the method of determining mineral rights ownership. It is essential for a potential investor to be assured that the system will allow it to obtain legal title to work the minerals it discovers. The Minerals Development Acts are intended to cater for this and have done so with various amendments since 1940.

However, every system throws up complications from time to time and it is important that these are addressed when they arise, especially if they introduce uncertainty or delays. It is to deal with some such complications which have recently come to light during the processing of mining leases and licences that I have proposed this Bill. When enacted the Bill will remove some anomalies arising from the application of the Acts, particularly the position of some minerals vested in the Irish Land Commission. This is a technical measure which does not involve changes in policy and which has no adverse implications for anyone.

The principal purpose in bringing forward this Bill is to deal with the question of certain mineral rights which were acquired by the Irish Land Commission by a variety of means. Section 2 is the relevant provision which is intended to amend the definition of State minerals in the Minerals Development Act, 1940. To give the background to this provision, I must explain certain aspects of mineral rights and ownership which are at the best of times complicated, even to those familiar with them.

There are several categories of mineral rights which can be broken down into two essential classes – private minerals in private ownership and State minerals as defined in the Minerals Development Act, 1940. It is, and has been for a very long time, Government policy that all the State's mineral resources should be developed for the mutual benefit of the State and private developers. The Minerals Development Acts, 1940 to 1995, provide the regulatory framework which enables the development of minerals, whether State-owned or privately owned. I must make clear that the range of minerals covered by these Acts does not include stone, sand, gravel or clay. Minerals in private ownership are covered by the [529] Minerals Development Act, 1979, to which I will refer later.

The 1940 Act deals with State-owned minerals. It empowers the Minister to issue State mining leases to those who discover economic deposits of State minerals. State minerals are defined in section 5 of that Act as:

(a) any minerals and any exclusive mining right which, at the date of passing this Act, belong to or are the property of the State or the People, and are vested . in the State or in any Minister of State;

(b) any minerals and any exclusive mining right which, on or after the passing of this Act become, by any means, the properly of or vested in the State or the People or become vested in a Minister of State, as on and from the date upon which they become such property or become so vested.

Mineral rights were usually acquired by the State through dealings conducted by the Irish Land Commission under the Land Acts, 1903 and 1923. Other minerals and mining rights were vested in the Congested Districts Board and were acquired by the commission at the time of that board's dissolution under the Land Law (Commission) Act, 1923.

It was normal practice that, whenever the Land Commission divided lands it had acquired on the break up of the big estates, or assisted tenants in direct purchase from landlords, the associated mineral rights were reserved by the commission. In the case of dealings under the 1923 Act, these mineral rights became vested in the State as provided for in that Act. However, where the dealings were done under the 1903 Act, the situation was different and more complicated.

In 1931, the Mines and Minerals Act was passed which provided, inter alia, that, from then on, minerals acquired by the commission under the 1903 Act would also become vested in the State. However, for acquisitions by the Land Commission under the 1903 Act which had taken place before 1931, and for Congested District Board acquisitions, the mineral rights remained vested in the commission rather than the State. It had always been assumed that all such mineral rights were also State minerals within the terms of the Minerals Development Act, 1940. Based on this assumption, successive Ministers have, in good faith, granted State mining leases under the 1940 Act which included these minerals.

However, in the course of the investigation of mineral titles for the Lisheen mine, County Tipperary, it was brought to the attention of my Department that this assumption is likely to have been incorrect. The advice of the Chief State Solicitor's office and the Attorney General's office was sought. Both agreed that, under the definition of State minerals as it stands in the 1940 Act, even though the Land Commission is an arm of the State, it should possibly have been regarded for mineral ownership purposes as a private body. This is the essence of the problem. This distinc[530] tion could call into question the power of the Minister to grant leases and cast doubt on the validity of leases already granted.

Section 2 of the Bill provides that the rights vested in the Irish Land Commission will be deemed to be, and to always have been, State minerals for the purposes of section 5(a) of the 1940 Act. This will mean that there can be no doubt that all minerals acquired by the Land Commission are State minerals and that all such leases granted by me or my predecessors will be valid.

To illustrate the type of complication this situation can give rise to, I can give the example of the major new zinc and lead mine at Lisheen, north Tipperary. This deposit is being developed by Ivernia West, an Irish company, with its joint venture partner, Minorco. Minorco is part of the Anglo American Corporation, one of the largest and most successful mining conglomerates in the world. I was very pleased to grant a State mining lease to the companies in October 1997 but, before I could do so, extensive research had to be carried out into the question of who holds the mineral rights. As I have said, it was during the course of this title investigation that the question of the status of the Land Commission minerals came to light. It transpired that, while most of the minerals forming the Lisheen deposit were clearly State minerals within the meaning of the 1940 Act, a significant proportion was acquired by the Land Commission under the 1903 Act.

Quite understandably, the two companies were interested in developing the whole deposit which they had found, having spent large amounts of money on exploration and land acquisition. They would not have been concerned with the subtle distinctions between State minerals and Land Commission minerals. The companies applied to the then Minister for a State mining lease over the orebody which, unknown to them, was a combination of 1903 Act and 1923 Act minerals. In examining the feasibility of the project, the applicants based all assumptions concerning the economics of the development on the entire deposit, as did my Department in its consideration of the project's viability. My Department had no reason to distinguish between 1903 Act and 1923 Act minerals since the received wisdom, until the legal advice was obtained, was that they were State minerals. Even though the 1903 Act minerals were not earmarked for immediate attention, they formed an important part of the overall reserves so the position needed to be regularised to give the companies involved full security.

Therefore, I granted a State mining lease for the Lisheen mine in respect of all the minerals I could safely regard as State minerals, given the advice of the Attorney General's office. However, to satisfy the legitimate expectation of the developers that they would be able to mine the whole deposit as a unit, I built into the lease a commitment that it would be extended to include 1903 Act minerals if and when they became State minerals. On the advice of the Attorney General [531] I arranged for the drafting of this Bill in order to allow me to follow through on that commitment as soon as possible.

This issue also has implications for another major mineral extraction operation, namely the open cast pit of Irish Gypsum Limited at Knocknacran, County Monaghan. A consolidated lease is under negotiation between the company and my Department to give the operators continued rights of working, but parts of this deposit comprise 1903 Act minerals. These had been the subject of spent leases but I was precluded from granting a new lease over them because they were not technically State minerals. The Knocknacran deposit is the sole supplier for the plaster and plasterboard factory at Kingscourt, County Cavan, and it also provides essential materials for cement manufacture. Continued use of Irish raw materials for these essential components of construction depends on renewal of the company's access to this element of the deposit.

I am also taking the opportunity the Bill provides to address two other issues which require attention. As I explained, while the Minerals Development Act, 1940, deals with minerals in State ownership, it is also in the national interest that minerals in private ownership be developed in an efficient and rational manner. A significant proportion of the mineral resources of the State are in private ownership. It would be impractical to have to make the distinction between State owned and privately owned minerals before undertaking an exploration programme, yet exploration companies need to know that a system exists to allow them to work whatever they find, subject to a proper development plan.

For this reason, a system to regulate the working of privately owned minerals was established under the Minerals Development Act, 1979. It vested in the Minister with responsibility for mining the exclusive right to work all minerals in the State, with very few exceptions, and, consequently, the right to permit the working of those minerals by private individuals or companies. In keeping with the constitutional protection for the rights of private property, this was made subject to a right to compensation to the owners of the minerals at the time that any minerals were worked. Section 20 of the 1979 Act conferred this right to compensation on the person who had an estate or interest in the minerals on 20 June 1979. However, it also provided that this right could devolve and be disposed of. The effect of this was that the right to compensation became separated from the ownership of the minerals.

Normal transactions of selling land rights can range from conveyance in full fee simple, where the buyer becomes the owner of everything from the centre of the Earth to the heavens, to simply granting a wayleave or easement, with several levels of transfer of rights in between. Therefore, it has been possible since 1979 for someone to sell land and minerals, or even just minerals, while [532] retaining the right to compensation for the working of the minerals. The purchaser would then own the minerals, but this would be of no value to him as the right to work them is vested in the Minister and the right to compensation is vested in the previous owner. This situation is patently absurd and one of which I am sure most buyers and sellers of land are not aware, since they are concerned mainly with the surface rights and not with the abstruse position underground about minerals which may or may not have any value.

Matters become very complicated when I wish to grant a State mining licence for these minerals and it can result in long delays while the question of entitlement to mineral rights is sorted out. Under the procedures set out in the Minerals Development Act, 1979, I must give extensive public notice of my intention to permit the working of private minerals. I am also required to give direct notice to anyone who may appear to me to have an interest in the minerals to allow individuals an opportunity to establish their ownership. However, since the persons entitled to the compensation today are not necessarily the owners of either the minerals or of the land, they can be difficult to identify and may possibly be unaware of their entitlement. If nothing is done, the position will only become more difficult as the years pass.

Section 3 deals with this problem. It will ensure that, in future, the right to compensation for the working of minerals under Section 20 of the 1979 Act cannot be separated from the ownership of the minerals and that, on any future sale or conveyance of the minerals, the right to compensation will also transfer automatically. This means that the right to compensation will vest in the owner of the minerals at the time they are developed or mined, except where a sale or conveyance, which separated the right to compensation from the ownership of minerals, has already taken place since 1979 and the owner of those minerals has not acquired the right to compensation.

I am aware the problem remains for any land or mineral rights which may have been sold or disposed of between 1979 and now. I asked the Attorney General to consider making this provision retrospective but I am advised that it would be contradictory to the protection of the right to compensation contained in the Constitution. If land and mineral rights are sold in future following enactment of the Bill, the vendor could expect to obtain a price from the purchaser which would take account of the forgone compensation. That opportunity would not be available to previous vendors who have disposed of their mineral rights, and that in itself would be liable to compensation, so the problem would remain. Therefore, I must restrict this provision to future transactions but my Department will continue to consider ways to deal with this issue.

Section 4 deals with prosecutions for a variety of summary offences which are contained in the Minerals Development Acts. These make no pro[533] vision for who may prosecute, so it is left to the Director of Public Prosecutions to bring all such prosecutions. I have been advised by the Chief State Solicitor that, in line with other legislation, it would be more appropriate and more efficient administratively if relatively minor offences could be pursued in the District Court by the Minister or by the Mining Board as appropriate rather than involving the DPP. This is a simple technical amendment, with a consequent provision in section 5 relating to expenses in bringing such cases.

I sought the approval of my Cabinet colleagues to introduce the Bill now since the issues are uncontroversial and relatively simple to deal with, although the legal points are complex and abstruse, and there is nothing to gain by leaving matters as they are any longer, especially since the changes do not involve any departure from the policies adopted by successive Governments to date. In fact, there is a distinct advantage in administrative efficiency and in streamlining mineral ownership and rights to compensation for working minerals. However, I am aware of the need to examine the overall policy in this area and a fundamental review of minerals policy and regulatory practice in the minerals sector is under way in my Department.

This process started with the examination of the industry in 1994 by the national minerals policy review group and its report was presented in April 1995. It had many valid points to make and a large range of recommendations, some of which have already been implemented. I see the report as a useful tool in assisting the formulation of policy. However, it can only be regarded as one input. While some recommendations have merit, others may not have been practical and others have been overtaken by changing circumstances, both fiscal and industrial. For example, the group recommended a corporation tax rate of 25 per cent for the industry. In the last budget a 25 per cent rate was announced for profits from mineral extraction, along with certain other categories of business, including non-trading income. However, the industry now sees the 12.5 per cent rate which will apply to the mainstream of business profits and, unsurprisingly, has reset its target. There are many arguments for and against the lower rate, not least of which is a package of favourable allowances which mining currently enjoys, and my colleague, the Minister for Finance, has promised to keep the matter under review. However, I do not propose to discuss this matter in detail, merely to cite it as an example of the way policies and recommendations can be overtaken by events.

It is my intention, following this policy review process, to bring forward more detailed legislative proposals within the next year. I hope these will address in a rational way many of the issues and outstanding recommendations contained in the report of the National Minerals Policy Review Group as well as many other issues my Department has examined in light of recent oper[534] ational experience. My aim will be to have a clear set of legislative proposals designed to cater for the needs of the State and the developers of our nation's mineral resources so that these resources can be responsibly and sensibly exploited for our mutual benefit well into the next millennium. For now, however. the Bill, when enacted, will clarify the position regarding minerals which are clearly in public ownership but technically were not vested in the State.

I have already referred to Lisheen in County Tipperary and the commitment I gave to the joint holders of the State mining lease for that mine. Lisheen is a fine example of a modem mine development using best available technology. Before granting the lease I had to be satisfied that the project was robust, both commercially and physically, and that it was designed according to the highest environmental standards. The project underwent a rigorous examination by my Department with the help of external consultants of the highest international standing. This involved a detailed analysis of the project economics, ore reserve assumptions, development methods and costs, and a thorough examination of the environmental impact statement, with particular regard to closure planning. The project also required, and secured, planning permission and an integrated pollution control licence from the Environmental Protection Agency. As part of both processes, my Department was able to provide expert comments on the EIS and recommendations for conditions to be attached to both permits. This mine was a first for the EPA in that it was the first, not only in Ireland but in the European Union, to obtain an integrated pollution control licence.

Public awareness of and access to the permitting processes is also essential so that local communities and the general public can be reassured that successful projects are designed and implemented to the highest environmental standards. This does not mean that there will not be objectors, but there is at least a forum for objections to be heard. This is in addition to whatever briefing and listening a potential developer engages in with neighbours and others likely to be affected by the proposal. Such dialogue must be an integral part of prudent project design because it can result in an optimal proposal to the best advantage of all concerned going into the formal permitting arena. I was encouraged to learn, therefore, that with the planning application for a project as large as Lisheen there were only six appeals to An Bord Pleanála. This is testament not only to the preparation by the developers but also to the quality of the planning decision.

The Lisheen mine was designed to produce 1.5 million tonnes of ore per annum when fully operational. This level of output will support direct employment for more than 300 people. During development, however, up to 700 people will be employed on the project. As with any major employer in a rural region, there will be indirect [535] spin-off benefits resulting from the spending power of the mine, and its employees, which will support the local economy and generate further employment. Production of zinc and lead concentrates is due to commence by the end of this year.

Lisheen is the second major mine to be developed in recent years. In neighbouring County Kilkenny, there is a smaller but still significant zinc and lead mine at Galmoy. This mine, operated by an Irish company, Arcon Mines Limited, was granted a State mining licence in 1995 and is now in full production, providing employment for more than 200 people. Galmoy was the first new base metal mine in Ireland since Tara began operations in the 1970s. I granted two State mining licences to Tara in 1998 to work private minerals adjacent to the existing lease area outside Navan. Tara is the largest zinc and lead mine in Europe and the new licences will help to ensure that it will continue in production for many years to come.

Along with other natural resources, our mineral deposits are an important national asset and there is great potential for further discoveries. My aim is to ensure that deposits of minerals continue to be found and developed in a responsible way, for the mutual benefit of the nation and private investors. I place considerable emphasis on the word responsible because we must ensure that these activities are undertaken with particular regard to environmental protection. Our system of environmental checks and balances is intended to ensure that this is the case and we have led the way in Europe with our integrated pollution control licence system.

It is also essential that exploration and mining are undertaken with due sensitivity to the needs of local communities. Miners have to be good neighbours and must make a positive contribution to counterbalance the right to deplete a finite resource. This can be done in many ways, including payment of royalties and taxes to the State, contributions towards infrastructure and indeed job creation. In supporting responsible exploration and development we can have a mining industry which can be to the benefit of both the developers and the State as a whole and in this way mining can be made compatible with the principles of sustainable development.

To foster further exploration we need to maximise inward investment in the minerals exploration sector in tandem with investing in indigenous exploration and service companies. This puts us in direct competition with other countries with similar if not better geological conditions, all trying to persuade explorationists to invest their limited exploration budgets. Many of these countries, which used to be hostile to foreign companies developing their mineral resources, are now actively seeking such investment.

Ireland has done well against this background in attracting a good share of exploration investment. This is due in no small measure to the success of Tara, Galmoy and Lisheen. The geology [536] here holds out the possibility of further discoveries and all three of our major base metal mines have increased their identified reserves through extensive exploration programmes. To continue to support this activity it is essential to have a rational legislative framework to regulate the industry.

The legislative measures contained in the Bill are part of an ongoing effort to keep legislation and practices in the minerals sector up to date and relevant to the modern industry. The particular issues addressed require urgent clarification and I, therefore, recommend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Finucane:  I welcome the Minister's comment that the mining industry currently enjoys a package of favourable allowances. It has been pointed out by outside observers that the 1992 licensing terms and agreement, concluded under Ray Burke and Deputy Molloy, appeared to contain a number of very favourable recommendations. However, we have matured a great deal in terms of how we deal with the mining industry. For example, let us contrast Lisheen with the old mine situated at Tynagh near Loughrea. Everyone is aware that the development at Tynagh left behind an ugly scar on the landscape. However, in light of the safety mechanisms we have put in place to protect the environment, we have advanced by leaps and bounds.

As the Minister stated, the Bill is designed to close off various monopolies. Companies such as Lisheen Mines would not like to leave any open-ended sites, particularly in view of the terms set out in mining leases, and the legislation is important in that regard. People have one major disappointment in respect of the mining licence the Minister granted to Lisheen Mines in 1997 and we can learn from this in the future. I refer here to the planning process. Lisheen is a classic example of a mine situated in a rural location with access to a railway line six to seven miles away. Material from the mine could have been transported to Lisduff quarry or Thurles and shipped from there by rail to the relevant port. Instead, about 40 juggernauts will travel back and forth in heavy traffic through Cork city.

About 99 per cent of freight in our ports is transported by road. There should be a policy to transport some goods by rail. This is an opportunity where, with goodwill and enthusiasm, freight could be transported by rail. It would be a much better mode of transportation. Recently, economic consultants, DKM, looked at CIE and Iarnród Éireann, the freight and passenger aspects, and made recommendations accordingly. Their concerns focused mainly on the freight aspect.

A little encouragement could have steered it in that direction. The company has £4 million earmarked for roads development. This is not a vast sum. It should have been instructed that freight was to be delivered by rail. We have a track record in this area. It is easy for me to advance [537] the cause of Foynes because I am from there. For 26 years Magcobar exported ore from County Tipperary and it travelled on a rail link through Foynes very effectively. Mogul did it for about 15 years. Therefore, the precedent was already established.

We are all aware of the traffic volumes on our roads and the projections up to 2010 will put even further pressure on them. That is the reason I regret that in the recent mining lease and in the planning application it was not stipulated that rail should be used. It was a classic example of where it could be used. I wish Lisheen mine well. There is also involvement from Ivernia West and Anglo American, which is probably one of the largest exploration companies in the world. An environmental impact assessment was carried out and an integrated pollution licence obtained – everything was done correctly. A sum of money has been provided for restoration purposes when the mine closes eventually. A mistake was made in the past when ugly scars were left. In many cases people are looking to an alternative use for them, probably looking to landfill developments. This creates problems in areas where open-cast mining took place. Let us hope the lead and zinc concentrates will be in production at the end of the year.

Galmoy exports through New Ross, which is not a considerable distance from the mine. All this is done in the backdrop where concentrates, such as ore and zinc, are not fetching a premium price in the commodity markets. Not long ago, during its economic difficulties, Tara mines had to introduce certain production efficiencies to make its product more attractive on a tonnage basis to enable it thrive in the marketplace. Tara is a modern mine. I am glad economies have been effected there. I hope Tara will go from success to success as it is one of the largest mines in the world. I referred earlier to Tynagh but I think it better to leave that history behind us. We have progressed with regard to mining activities in recent times.

While the Bill concentrates on mineral resources, it would be remiss of me not to speak about offshore oil activity etc. The world price for crude oil is low and the Minister was probably disappointed last March when he announced that out of 155 blocks for exploration activity in the Porcupine Basin only 11 were taken up by two companies. Given that crude oil prices are low, there is not enough buoyancy in that activity for exploration companies to decide to drill. In 1977 I recall reading a banner headline, “Oil struck off the Porcupine”. We are still waiting for the oil to come on shore. I remember clearly the headlines and the excitement that pursued. Obviously it was uneconomic.

I wish to refer to what is taking place off the Slyne Trough and the Mayo coastline with regard to the offshore oil exploration taking place there. In a recent statement the Minister said the flow was showing up to 1 trillion cubic feet of gas. That was disputed in a national newspaper afterwards – it was even more optimistic and mentioned 5 [538] trillion cubic feet of gas. I understand the Minister cannot be over-zealous in making such statements because one has to be concerned with regard to the impact on shares. It is well known from people involved on the fringes of offshore oil activity that there is much excitement with regard to what is happening off the Slyne Trough. In 1996 the first drilling activity took place there and a well was sunk. In 1997 no wells were drilled. In 1998 there was an optimism following the company's return.

I have expressed my disappointment many times at what has happened. I accept the Minister's assurance that under EU law he cannot compel any company to take on Irish workers. On many occasions when I raised questions voicing my concerns, I was given optimistic answers, probably to fob me off, that discussions were taking place between the different interests and the offshore operators association to seek some effective conclusions with SIPTU. I recognise those discussions were going nowhere because the main player, Enterprise Oil, was not interested in involving itself in such discussions.

I was particularly disappointed when a service contract, which is a lucrative contract for any commercial port, was lost to Foynes in 1998 as a result of a picket by frustrated SIPTU workers who traditionally got work on the rigs. For the first time ever as a result of a fully manned rig arriving they were unable to get work on the rigs and exercised their frustration. Unfortunately, that frustration was taken out in the commercial port of Foynes. It is possible that it left a sour taste with regard to other potential uses of Foynes and the fear of hostile relations in that area. I regret that and I expressed the view that Foynes was used as a cockpit for a national dispute. That is history now. Enterprise Oil sailed off to Ayr in Scotland which has the service contract. I understand it is leaving the contract there this year and will be using Killybegs on an emergency basis when it suits. It was unfortunate that that situation developed.

When the gas comes ashore I hope the economies of County Mayo and the State will benefit. Many people are watching with great anxiety developments in that regard. We are all aware that the Marathon gas find in Ballycotton and Kinsale has a finite life and in the past 20 years produced about 30 per cent of our gas. An alternative company will be needed to replace it in the near future or, alternatively, to provide a continuous stream of gas. In my own area, Aughinish Alumina was recently bought by Glencore. They hope that, over time, they will get a chance to use natural gas. To date, a company of that size is barred from using natural gas because it would probably speed up the depletion of the finite resource in Kinsale, which is understandable. I wish the company well. The Swiss commodities company which took it over will give the firm added value and advantages with regard to buying raw materials which are important for the production of aluminium there.

[539] I mentioned the rail lines earlier and it would be remiss of me not to mention an issue which will impact on the commercial port of Foynes and industry along the corridor from Limerick to Foynes. The Minister recently travelled the N69 route, which could be made legendary in a song at this stage. This road is extremely dangerous, although it is the secondary route with the highest volume of heavy goods vehicles. It is most regrettable that this road was not included in the operational programme 1994-9 as requiring urgent remedial work. Each year a sum of £0.5 million is allocated, but this only enables work to be carried out on a small section of the road. Recently a convoy of heavy good vehicles blocked the road for a considerable amount of time, but this was symptomatic of the frustration of the people who use it.

Much money has been spent on developing the port, but its business will be retarded unless something is done about the route. Some £15 million to £20 million is required and I hope priority status will be given to work on this road in the next operational programme. Out of frustration, a colleague of mine, councillor David Naughton, suggested recently at a council meeting that if the National Roads Authority said it would fund the interest on a loan, this money should be raised. His proposal was accepted by councillors and the county manager. Urgent action is needed. Work on a large water scheme along that route compounded the dangers associated with it.

Over many years, the Shannon Estuary project team has considered what type of industry could be attracted to the area. The estuary has been described as the jewel in the western crown. However, its potential has not been fully recognised. The Shannon Estuary project team said it would be extremely important that one could travel from Limerick to Tarbert in an hour. However, it would take at least 30 minutes to travel 20 miles. This is not sustainable and it is regrettable that something has not been done about it, especially in terms of the type of industry which exists along the route and any development which may take place in the future in a large industrial park in Askeaton.

On a previous occasion the Minister said that a decision on whether a company used rail rather than road is a matter for the company itself and he could not interfere. However, a provision should be included in the planning process in the future to encourage companies to use rail. This would be in the long-term interest of the country.

The Minister said that sand and gravel is exempt from the Bill. Sand and gravel appear to be finite resources and there is difficulty extracting them in certain areas. This trend was disturbed recently; the Minister is probably aware of this issue following the case involving the codling bank off Dunmore East. Some areas are turning to the sea bed to extract sand and gravel. The Minister is aware of the reaction of the fish[540] ermen in Howth, Skerries and elsewhere to the idea of 0.25 million tonnes of sand and gravel being extracted from the codling bank. The Minister said it was such a small area that it would not make any difference to the sea bed and the habitat of the fish. However, this has not allayed concerns and the trend is increasing. There is extreme pressure to catch fish within the 12 mile limit at present and this development will create its own pressures in the future if it continues.

Perhaps the Minister will explain on Committee Stage why the geological aspect is the remit of the Department of Public Enterprise. It is an integral feature of mining policy and I do not understand why it has not been transferred to the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources, which appears to be the logical place for it.

The developments of recent years are desirable. The maturity with regard to mining is welcome, but the sector must be copperfastened for the future. The planning conditions must be strengthened in terms of the use of road or rail. It is not in the ultimate interest of ports and roads to have practically all traffic using the roads.

The Minister is aware of the position with regard to the fishing quotas and that trawlers have been encouraged to fish non-quota species. However, in a classic example recently, an embargo was placed on the fishing of the non-quota species of blue whiting. Other countries continued fishing the species while our fishermen, who in the main operate from Killybegs, sat in port watching them. The natural response was to complain to Commissioner Bonino and hope she took action. What action is taken against countries which continue to fish non-quota species? Are any restrictions or fines placed on them? Irish fishermen got the wrong end of the deal in terms of the allocation of the original quotas and we have paid the price recently. I applaud the Minister on his achievements with regard to new vessels, but part of the conditions attached was that they would fish for non-quota species. To where will they turn? What will happen if they opt for a non-quota species such as blue whiting and somebody says subsequently that they must stop fishing it? There lies a contradiction and I understand the fishermen's frustration about recent events.

This mirrors the frustration in recent years with regard to new non-quota species, such as horse mackerel, which became quota species. The feeling is that Ireland did not get a proper quota when they were being allocated. I do not understand how Austria, which does not have a navy or a trawler, can hold discussions each December under the common fisheries policy about the allocation of quotas to different countries. What is in it for Austria? It horse trades with other European countries to achieve concessions in other areas. However, they do not think of Ireland when they make such decisions. This concerns me with regard to Irish fishermen and the frustration they experience about the types of fish they want [541] to catch in the future. Although I am digressing from minerals policy, I am talking about another important resource—

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is digressing. I can find no reference to fisheries in this Bill.

Mr. Finucane:  I am finishing on this point but I wanted to make it because—

An Ceann Comhairle:  I was waiting for the Deputy to relate what he was saying to the contents of the Bill.

Mr. Finucane:  —it is rarely one gets the chance to express one's concerns about this issue.

Dr. Woods:  It was only a brief reference.

Mr. Finucane:  I have often heard people digress considerably from a brief. The legislation is quite hard to read.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That does not entitle the Deputy to go fishing.

Mr. Finucane:  I compliment you on your tolerance, a Cheann Comhairle. I ask the Minister to consider, before Committee Stage, my views on how ore is transported. We should try to legislate to ensure that if a rail link exists within a reasonable distance from a mine, it is used. I have no quibbles with the Bill which is an important amendment to the law. When Lisheen obtained a mining lease and sought a legal lease, certain anomalies were found. It is important that we address those anomalies in legislation such as this.

Mr. Bell:  I agree with my colleague, Deputy Finucane, about transport from mines. The rail link from the Navan mine to Dublin is via Drogheda and one can imagine the chaos and damage which would be caused should the ore be transported by road rather than rail through Drogheda or County Meath because many roads in those areas are chock-a-block with traffic at present. This issue should be examined in consultation with the Department of the Environment and Local Government.

I do not know what rail connections are in place for the mines in Counties Kilkenny and Tipperary or the intended means of transport but if the ore is to be transported by road the rail option should have been seriously examined. It is probably not possible to make rail transportation of ore compulsory for mining companies if the facilities are not available but such transport would mean great savings in the repair and upkeep of roads and would also create much needed revenue for our national transport company. Perhaps the Minister might give us his thoughts on that in his reply.

The Labour Party acknowledges the need for this Bill to deal with a number of anomalies [542] which have arisen regarding the ownership of mineral rights, particularly those vested in the Land Commission. Mineral exploration and the development of mines is a hugely expensive operation and companies will not commit the necessary level of investment unless there is absolute certainty about the legal title to the minerals they want to develop. This Bill will remove the uncertainty and make clear that mineral rights vested in the Land Commission are the property of the State. These are, therefore, State minerals for which the State can issue mining licences.

Under section 2, the provisions of the Bill are backdated to 1940, a period of almost 60 years. This must be a legislative record. Many Deputies will recall that whenever they sought to backdate a provision, Ministers always had a list of reasons for not doing so – constitutional reasons, legal arguments, cost implications, etc. When it comes to meeting the needs of multinational companies, the Government adopts a much more flexible approach. This has been the case with successive Governments.

Generations of Irish children were taught that Ireland was a poor country with few or no natural resources. We now know this is far from being the case. We have the biggest lead and zinc mine in Europe and some of the most significant such deposits in the world. However, we can legitimately ask whether we have made the best use of these great natural resources since we first began to develop them in the 1970s.

Coming from a neighbouring county, I know Tara Mines has been a valuable source of employment for more than two decades, not only for the people of County Meath but for people from County Louth and other adjoining counties. More than 600 people are employed there currently. The mine has not been without problems in the past few months, as the Minister knows. Industrial relations difficulties have arisen because of attempts by management to cut costs. I pay tribute to my colleagues in SIPTU and the engineering unions who have a difficult task there and have been closely associated with the discussions. I thank them for their contribution to resolving the difficult problems which could have led to the closure of the mine, arising from a serious fall in the concentration of zinc. Tara Mines is the key element in the economic system of the north-east and we must hope these difficulties are sorted out as soon as possible.

Significant new reserves of ore have been discovered in the past decade. The Arcan mine at Galmoy, County Kilkenny, came on stream in 1997 and the Lisheen mine in County Tipperary, which is expected to be even bigger than Arcan, is due to commence at the end of this year. This project provided about 600 jobs during construction and is likely to provide in the region of 300 permanent jobs.

There will be a great boost to the economy of those areas but there is still a question as to whether the country has received the best return from our natural resources. Return to the State [543] comes in a number of ways – directly, through royalties and taxation paid by mining companies and indirectly, through wages and the boost to the local economy. There is no doubt that the original mining lease given to Tara Mines in the 1970s was an error of judgment, in that it based the royalties payable to the State on profits assessed on corporation tax. Given how our corporation tax system was then structured, Tara was able to avoid paying any corporation tax for the first 10 years of its operation and, thus, paid no royalties to the State, despite exporting lead and zinc concentrates with a value of hundreds of millions of pounds. It would be more logical to have a royalty payable on every tonne of ore extracted from the ground.

I understand that the leases granted in respect of Galmoy and Lisheen at least seek to address this problem by assessing the royalty payable on a percentage of turnover. Perhaps the Minister will confirm this and indicate how much the State expects to take in royalties over the lifetimes of these two mines. I am sure the Department has researched this and that the Department of Finance has an interest in it. It would be wrong for the country to lose millions of pounds by making the same mistake made in the case of Tara Mines.

The other question that arises is whether the country would have been better served by trying to process the ore rather than simply exporting it in its raw state. Exporting ore is the same as exporting cattle on the hoof, which I fought against for a long time during my trade union career. There is no added value to the economy. According to the report of the national minerals policy review group, Ireland exported approximately 350,000 tonnes of zinc ore each year during the 1980s with an average value of more than £100 million.

Notwithstanding the serious environmental issues that arise with regard to a smelter, it is an issue which should be considered again. There are a number of major mines and, hopefully, many more will come on stream in the future. Environmental standards are higher and procedures are more vigorous than when the issue was examined previously. The IDA drew up plans for a smelter in the 1970s but they were not developed. Given that two major mines are coming on stream, it is worth examining the matter again with a view to getting added value, without damaging our environment, from the ore currently being produced and exported to countries such as Belgium.

We should acknowledge the tremendous role played by those who work in the mines. One often hears discussions about the environmental and other problems associated with mines but few people are aware of the difficult working conditions for those working in mines. I wish to put my thanks to them on record. Irrespective of the origin of the company or where the ore is sent, it cannot go anywhere without the labour of the men and women who work in the mines.

[544] The Labour Party welcomes this Bill and hopes it gets a speedy passage through the House.

Mr. Ellis:  Everybody welcomes this Bill. It is well known that rights such as fishing rights, shooting rights and mineral rights were attached to certain estates. This led to a great deal of controversy over the years. In some cases, despite the Minister's earlier remarks, mineral rights are still held by some estates and would not have been transferred if there were no dealings under the Acts to which the Minister referred. This should be investigated.

The rights of individual owners of land on which minerals might exist or be found must be given full consideration. The Bill vests these rights in the State but it does not provide for any compensation for the landowners. I do not know what redress they might have with regard to the compensation to which they believe they might be entitled. In the case of coalmines, there were continuous rows regarding rights to underground coal resources. They occurred in my constituency where various people claimed rights to the same portion of coal reserves. This matter should be clarified in Bills such as this.

Everybody supports the development of the country's natural resources. They are the State's assets and the State has a duty to ensure that maximum use is made of such assets on behalf of its citizens. I agree with Deputy Bell that the royalties which should apply deserve close scrutiny in the context of the leases issued by the State. In previous years, questions were raised about the royalties sought by the State. There should be a system to make the royalty proposals known to the public for a certain amount of time prior to them being agreed. People therefore, would have the right to comment on them if they believed it to be warranted. It is unfair to the taxpayer to give away a natural resource for little or no return to the State.

Deputy Finucane spoke about the problems which arise with the extraction of ore. Even if it is something as small as a quarry or gravel pit, one sees the effect it can have on roads and other infrastructure in an area. His suggestion that rail lines should be used to transport the minerals from the mines is worthy of consideration. Major damage can be done to roads, bridges and other infrastructural elements by the transportation of heavy loads of ore when the roads are not suitable for carrying such loads over a long period.

Indeed, in the planning process, local authorities should be asked to examine this aspect with regard to the charges they might impose for the damage done to roads as a result of transporting ore deposits. In many instances, the local authorities must pick up the bill for the damage but they receive no income. This issue must be examined.

I sympathise with Deputy Bell's comments on the Navan mine. I would not like to contemplate the possible condition of the road from Navan to Drogheda if there had not been a rail line to [545] transport the ore. The amount of investment both Louth and Meath County Councils would have been obliged to make would have been far beyond their resources and they would have received no return, aside from the creation of a certain number of jobs. Everybody appreciates the creation of jobs but the overall return to the community would have been a minus. These issues must be addressed.

State involvement is a major issue and will increase in the future if gas and oil fields are discovered off the coast. What royalties will the State seek? I accept that nobody will develop these fields without the benefit of financially rewarding incentives. The multinationals are international concerns and their only interest is the bottom line in terms of what can be got from the deal. However, we have a duty to future generations to ensure we do not give away these rights and royalties at too low a value. This must be considered when licence agreements are put in place.

People expect development. They do not want to see natural resources left lying in the ground for eternity. There comes a time when we must decide whether it is more beneficial to develop a mine or leave it undeveloped as it may have a greater value at a later date. As there is State involvement in mining, royalties should be published prior to licences being agreed to allow people to comment on them if they consider there is a need to do so.

Coal was a major source of employment up to recently in the part of the country from where I come. Good employment, although it was scarce, was found in coalmines, but they are no longer in operation and the legacy of health problems suffered by some individuals who worked in them is being picked up by the State. That is not due to any action taken by mine owners who tried to look after their workers as much as possible. The technology available in the mining industry 30 or 40 years ago was a carbide lamp, a pick and coal hutch. Workers tried to pick as much coal as possible during their shifts to earn a decent salary and they did not consider the health problems they might suffer later. Consideration should be given to protecting the health of those who will be involved in future mining operations. The Minister, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Children, should examine what can be done to ensure such workers' health will be protected in the short and long-term.

As Members are aware, the Kinsale gas field is nearing the end of its lifespan. It is believed there are other gas fields, some onshore and others offshore. The Minister and his Department should endeavour to see what can be done to ensure these come onstream to fill the vacuum that will be left with the running down of the Kinsale gas field.

There is also a need to examine the possibility of widening the natural gas grid. A connection to [546] Sligo, Longford and Mullingar has been sought long since, but there has not been any action on it. That should be examined. Access to gas is a major infrastructural boost to an area in terms of its development and the attraction of foreign industry.

While a number of licences have been issued, a time limit should apply to all future licences. If deposits found are not developed, the developers should not be able to retain the licences indefinitely, as happened on occasions in the past. Exploration licences should be granted for a maximum period of three to five years. That would ensure mineral finds that are economic would not be left undeveloped indefinitely or that developers would not take any action to ensure they are developed.

I am sure Members who live close to the Border would be concerned about rights in regard to a cross-Border gas find. It has been suggested there is gas on the Femanagh-Cavan-Leitrim Border area. What would be the position with regard to the right to explore such a gas field vis-à-vis Northern Ireland and this side of the Border? That matter should be examined. There have been small gas finds in that area over the past 30 years and some of them have been plugged and not explored.

Will the Minister confirm whether we can ensure that the benefits that accrue from the service of offshore rigs accrue to companies within the State? Recently a rig off the west coast was serviced by a company from outside the State. We should examine this matter with a view to making it a condition, where possible, that the service of offshore rigs should be undertaken by companies within the State. I do not want to make life awkward for those who draw up licence agreements, but as much benefit as possible from the servicing of offshore rigs should accrue to the State. The development of our natural resources would generate employment, but there is also an onus on us as legislators to ensure that the maximum benefit possible accrues to the State from the servicing of offshore rigs. Such benefit would accrue in terms of revenue and employment, which is imperative for the economy.

I hope the Minister will be able to clarify the position where ownership of minerals is not covered by the 1940 Act, the Land Commission Act or the 1923 Act. The issue of where minerals are not held by the State has arisen in a number of cases.

The payment of compensation in respect of lands under which mineral resources may be found must be examined. It would be unfair if a family, who may have owned land under which there is a natural resource prior to any of these Acts coming into force, were stripped of that asset, irrespective of whether they knew that natural resource was under the land. That matter should be examined. The possibility of establishing a system of arbitration to deal with such cases should also be examined.

[547] We all welcome this opportunity to progress our mining industry. This legislation is necessary as a result of what has happened at Lisheen mine and the Minister said he hopes to introduce another minerals Bill in the not too distant future. We must maximise the benefit accruing from the mining industry to the taxpayers, who have put in place a good deal of the infrastructure that will be used to develop these resources. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that the royalties that will accrue to the State and the people from future mining operations will be announced prior to final agreement being reached on future licences.

Mr. J. Brady:  I wish to share my time with Deputy Brendan Smith.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is agreed.

Mr. J. Brady:  I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on this Bill. I come from an area where mining has been a vital source of employment throughout the past decades of this century. Irish Gypsum and Tara Mines are two of the biggest sources of employment in the area I represent. The economy of north Meath has benefited greatly from the proximity of these two mining resources. Irish Gypsum Limited operates a major gypsum open cast pit in County Monaghan. From here gypsum is supplied to Gypsum Industries at Kingscourt on the Meath-Cavan border.

The construction industry is heavily dependent on the plasterboard produced here. As a result, Gypsum Industries is a major employer in the area and has provided a lifeline to local communities. This is an area where farms are small and land is of very poor quality. The “gyp”, as it is referred to locally, has enabled farmers to remain in the area and provided a substantial boost to their incomes. The future for schools and businesses throughout the area would have been very bleak without this major industry.

Tara Mines started production at Navan in the mid-1970s. This was a major boost not only for the town of Navan but also for Kells and north Meath. The success of Tara Mines over the years has been remarkable. It has a good environmental history and an open door policy at its environmental office. The company is to be commended on its success in staff agreement negotiations. This has resulted in a profitable operation despite a continuing low world market price for zinc.

I have just quoted two examples of the positive contribution the nation's mineral resources can make to an area. The product of these industries is transported by rail to port. County Meath is lucky to have a railway line from Kingscourt to Navan and on to Drogheda port, which saves our road network greatly. The extension of the gas network to parts of County Meath in recent years is welcome. I would like the Minister to consider the extension of the gas line to other parts of [548] County Meath, particularly rural towns and north Meath as this would attract industry there.

The chief purpose of this Bill is to address the question of mineral rights, as outlined by the Minister. There is some uncertainty in this regard. The Bill will also address the right to compensation under the Minerals Development Act, 1997. The current position could leave minerals owners without any rights. It is also difficult, if not impossible, to identify the owner of the right to compensation. This Bill will address that problem by providing that where any sale or convenience takes place involving mineral rights, the right to compensation will automatically transfer with them.

It is important that exploration continues throughout the country. Further discoveries can be made and several new companies have been attracted to explore here in the face of strong competition from other countries. Other areas will then reap the benefits which will ensue from having a successful mining industry. The country will benefit from increased tax revenue from royalties, rents and prospective licensing. This country offers attractive investment opportunities. These will secure the future of this industry. I compliment the Minister on bringing this Bill before the House.

Mr. B. Smith:  I am glad to have the opportunity to make a contribution on this important Bill. As the Minister said, its principal purpose is to deal with certain mineral rights acquired by the Irish Land Commission by a variety of means. I welcome the Minister's commitment to the introduction of further legislation following the policy review process. I look forward to the Minister bringing forward those legislative measures in the next year.

Like you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle and Deputy Brady, we in the Cavan, Monaghan and Meath areas are conscious of the substantial employment provided in the Kingscourt area since 1936 by the mining and subsequent processing of gypsum deposits. Great credit is due to the Creedon family and Mr. Michael Creedon, who established gypsum operations in Kingscourt in 1936. This operation started with a total workforce of six men. The first mine to be developed was at Lisnabo. Today in excess of 200 people are employed by Gypsum Industries. From 1989-91 it invested heavily in the development of the new Knocknacran mill in County Monaghan and the new board plant at the factory premises at Kingscourt. This overall investment amounted to about £20 million. In the past two years the company has invested in the region of £10 million in its plant facilities at Kingscourt. As Deputy Brady said, the company provides great employment for three counties.

The company involves itself in the local community and provides excellent employment. It has been a major employer of generations of families in Cavan, Monaghan and Meath. It started off in 1936 as a small plaster company. At present its [549] plasterboard facilities manufacture products of the highest standard. The recent welcome growth in the construction sector has obviously added to the demand for the product. Unfortunately for some years there was a growth in imports of plasterboard and related products. I hope it will be possible to further develop our industry and reduce the level of imports.

I am interested in the gypsum deposits at Glangevlin in north-west Cavan – Kingscourt is in east Cavan. For some years there was exploration for gas in the Glangevlin, Dowra and Blacklion areas. Apparently the gas finds were not of sufficient quantity to warrant further exploration. In 1992 a detailed technical report was drawn up. This included an estimate of the resources of gypsum deposit in Glangevlin and concluded there was at least 15 million tonnes of a gypsum resource in that area and at least six million tonnes were minable gypsum reserves. That report included the estimate of the resources in the deposit and showed it was likely to be physically possible to extract a substantial tonnage of gypsum. The report also showed the Glangevlin deposit was sufficiently economically attractive to warrant further more detailed exploration work.

I was glad that the then Department of Transport, Energy and Communications invited people to apply for prospecting licences over that major gypsum deposit. At that time the Department outlined that while preliminary drilling and other studies in the area over the years identified a gypsum resource of at least 15 million tonnes and minable gypsum reserves of at least six million tonnes, the full character, extent and value of the gypsum deposit had yet to be established. Subsequently, a prospecting licence was issued. It was hoped that with the substantial work and studies carried out in previous years that the work programme for that particular licence would be of a shorter duration than the usual prospecting licence. I do not expect the Minister to have answers to the queries I am putting to him. However, I hope he and his Department will ensure the studies on the prospecting licence will be finalised as rapidly as possible.

As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle knows, the Glangevlin, Blacklion and Dowra areas have suffered great depopulation and a lack of employment opportunities over the years. People in County Cavan are very anxious for the deposits of gypsum there to be extracted and processed locally to generate employment for the local community.

Some years ago I tabled a parliamentary question, which was replied to by the then Fine Gael Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, Deputy Lowry. I asked him if the Department would ensure that, if the gypsum deposits were commercial, all efforts would be made to ensure they were processed locally. I was most disappointed by his reply, which read:

While I would be anxious that local employment should be maximised, this will be a matter for the ultimate developer. I will have no con[550] trol over whether he wishes to process it on site, within the State or elsewhere.

That gave a very bad impression and the wrong answer to the community which wants the natural resources which belong to this State extracted and processed locally, which would provide employment for the local community. I hope the Minister, under this or future legislation, will ensure local communities can derive the benefits from the extraction of natural resources in their area. I hope the Minister and his Department will insist the prospecting licence studies are completed as rapidly as possible. It is hoped those studies will demonstrate that the deposits are commercial and can be extracted and processed locally, which will generate much needed employment in that area.

Mr. Killeen:  This is an interesting debate on the State's mineral rights and the manner in which they have developed. I was particularly interested in the Minister's speech. It is not very long ago that it was fashionable to say the State had virtually no mineral resources. When I was a schoolboy it was said that Ireland was not blessed with many mineral resources of any kind. When one studied the economic development of neighbouring states, the effects of the industrial revolution and the ready availability of coal and iron ore, it was always clearly stated that this country did not have similar resources. Perhaps we did not have those minerals, but we have realised since then that we have substantial mineral resources.

I got the impression from the Minister's speech that the 1940 Act was the first legislation dealing with this issue. It is understandable that the rights vested in the State, the Land Commission and various bodies under the Land Acts would have been assumed to be State rights at all times in the interim. However, in this era of increased litigation, the Minister is right to address these issues now that they have come to light.

When I was a young teacher working near Loughrea in County Galway the Tynagh mines were being worked very actively. I came from a rural area 40 or 50 miles away, which was very similar in many respects. However, I was struck by the huge impact of the activity at Tynagh on the economic life of the area. In the early to mid 1970s Loughrea was a booming town. It did not have a huge industrial base but was a dormitory town for many people from all over the country and the world who were working in Tynagh mines at that time.

I have often thought since then about the relatively lax control regime in operation at that time, which was not several centuries ago, rather it was less than a generation ago. Some of the minerals being extracted, which included lead, were quite dangerous. There was a scheme under which householders in the immediate area of the mine were provided with milk and vegetables from outside by the mining company. The mind boggles at the kind of legal difficulties the company would [551] have to surmount to operate a similar system today. To the best of my knowledge, and I have maintained close relations with many friends in that area, there was never a great epidemic or any suggestion that anyone suffered as a result of the mining activity, about which we are all delighted. However, there would be a very different approach to such mining and those materials today.

This puts me in mind of the position in Kilbricken, County Clare, which is between Ennis and Quin, where there are very strong local objections to an extraction proposal. In the absence of any strong evidence to the contrary, I support strongly the concerns and objections of the local community. I would not have been satisfied by the undertakings and guarantees available to them. The evidence suggests we will encounter this increasingly in the future because the deposits there may offer the kind of opportunities for employment and development which my colleagues have been talking about. Given the level of local opposition in that small community, it seems it would be impossible to proceed with the development of any mineral resources there. It seems these activities are no longer, if they ever were, welcome in an area and they are open to a good deal of questioning. It ought to be possible to provide the answers to what seem to me to be very reasonable questions. For many people, mining – or any other form of benefiting from the State's mineral resources – is something of a dirty word.

I agree with the Minister that there is a need to encourage exploration and to ensure people who believe resources might exist have the legal framework and guarantees they require to proceed. However, at the stage when one wants to extract the minerals and see an economic benefit flowing from the available resources it is much more difficult and important to encourage acceptance of the necessary operations. I do not know how that will be done, but the issue of non-acceptability provides the greatest barrier to progress in this sector.

Recently, I passed signs on at least two stretches of road where locals are objecting to a proposed quarry. Quarrying has now been added to the list of undesirable activities. It used to be travellers' halting sites, dumps, landfill sites and, in some particularly daft areas, tourist visitor centres. The latter are generally only objected to by outsiders but the objections to the others generally come from people in the immediate locality. There seems to be a growing number of activities which generate a great amount of local opposition at an early developmental stage. Unless this is addressed, any type of exploration will become virtually impossible in areas where people are prepared to mount a campaign of opposition.

The Minister referred to junior or less well-off exploration companies, which are likely to be indigenous Irish companies, and the need for [552] them to set up international alliances in order to proceed with extracting minerals. I am pleased the Minister has seen fit to introduce clear legal guidelines to address the difficulties which arose in the recent past. I compliment him and I know he will be thorough in addressing the problems which have arisen.

The Minerals Development Act, 1940, to which I have referred, appears to refer to State-owned minerals. These State rights appear to arise mainly from various Land Acts from a very different era. Sometimes these rights were not vested in the State but in the Land Commission or the local authority of the time. The State sometimes granted mineral leases in cases where it did not have the right to do so – Lisheen is a case in point. If this were the legal position with which exploration companies had to contend, they would go elsewhere and whatever resources lie untapped would remain so. For this reason I welcome the legislation which is likely to result in considerable development.

This brings me back to my previous point about the fundamental conflict in almost every scenario between development and the environment and between development and the local community, which is manifest in housing. It has been suggested that 35,000 or 40,000 new housing units per annum are needed. If it is decided to build these houses in the middle of a town, there will be protests against destroying the green space, and if they are built on the outskirts of a town, there will be protests against destroying the countryside. If high rise buildings are erected, the development will be seen to be too intensive and too close together and if single units are built, they will be considered too scattered. No matter what approach is taken, there always seems to be an immediate campaign ready to be ignited in opposition. Members will be aware that for the next fortnight or three weeks leading up to the elections a great many words will be written and spoken in support of and, more likely, in opposition to such projects.

We have entered an era when people become apoplectic with rage at proposals that may seem perfectly reasonable to others. We must address the State's capacity to provide income and revenue for State services such as health, education, social welfare, even the social welfare system for lawyers that is the tribunals, and all the other demands on the State. We are fast approaching a time when any enterprise is likely to face the threat of being choked. While it is fashionable to say that the Celtic tiger is strong, durable and tough, I do not believe it can sustain forever these attacks on development, the provision of housing and other means of income generation for the State and the people in the face of relentless opposition.

I support the Bill. I welcome its introduction because it addresses the legal shortcomings in the current legislative framework. However, we must face up to some unpalatable facts and choices in relation to where we are progressing if we wish to [553] continue to provide an improved level of services across a range of sectors. Nothing is more central to providing for the people than investment in resources, including mineral resources. We must be prepared to invest in and draw benefit from these resources for the benefit of the people. However, we must be prepared to use these resources sensibly and to abide by good environmental practice.

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  I thank the Opposition spokespersons and other Deputies who contributed to the debate on this complex issue. During the debate we had a fairly searching review of the general issues involved in mining in Ireland and highlighted some of the key issues and problems. Deputy Killeen is correct with regard to the growing opposition to exploration and mining. This problem must be overcome and mining companies have an important role to play in this regard. Galmoy and Lisheen mines have set a very high standard which is recognised not alone on a European basis, but on a much wider basis. Deputy Killeen also made the point that when he was somewhat younger people were not aware that this country had such resources. We know now that we have considerable resources and that we must manage, control and develop them. There are recent top class examples of this, not only in Ireland but internationally. Great credit is due to successive Governments and to the companies who have worked to develop these resources.

The purpose of the Bill is to rationalise aspects of the existing legislation relating to mineral ownership, to further streamline permission for mines under the Minerals Development Acts 1940-1995. For a small country, we have been very successful in the discovery of mineral deposits which have resulted in a number of important mines currently in operation. Our geology offers considerable prospects for the future.

At present there are 300 prospecting licences in operation, with exploration focusing mainly on base metals but with considerable interest also in precious metals, gemstones and industrial minerals. There are four significant mines operating currently in Ireland which provide direct employment for over 1,000 people on a continuous basis, with much higher levels of employment in the initial stages for each of these mines. In addition to the gypsum quarry at Knocknacran, which is a major supplier to the current construction boom, there are three major zinc and lead mines in Navan, County Meath, Galmoy, County Kilkenny and Lisheen, County Tipperary. When Lisheen reaches full production, Ireland will be the seventh largest zinc producing country in the world. For a small country, that is quite an achievement.

It is my aim to ensure that deposits of minerals continue to be found and developed in a responsible way for the benefit of the national and local economies. The legislative measures contained in the Minerals Development Bill, 1999 are part of [554] an ongoing effort to keep legislation practices in the mineral sector up to date and relevant to modern industry. Along with other natural resources, our mineral deposits are an important national asset. There is great potential for further discoveries. This is important legislation which will help in the ongoing development of these resources.

Deputy Killeen raised the Kilbricken deposit, a small calcite deposit, in County Clare. There were some objections to this proposal at local level. The developer has been refused planning permission on grounds related to road access problems. A fresh planning application will be forthcoming. It is important to mention in connection with this potential development that an integrated pollution control licence has been obtained and the State mining lease application is currently under negotiation.

Deputy Brendan Smith mentioned Gypsum Industries Limited, which holds the Glangevlin prospecting licence and is working on it assiduously. If it decides to develop the deposit, there is no reason to believe it will not be processed with its other product. At present it is not in a position to make a decision on the deposit. We will ensure it comes to a conclusion as quickly as possible.

Deputy Ellis raised the health and safety of workers. The Health and Safety Authority is actively involved in regulating the safety of workers and health conditions. Compensation is already payable to mineral owners under the Acts, which also provide for arbitration.

Deputy Brendan Smith also mentioned the value of Knocknacran in County Monaghan and Kingscourt in County Cavan in terms of employment made available by the company. He is anxious that studies there will be finalised as soon as possible and that the local community will benefit. I assure him that we will watch that closely.

Deputy John Brady spoke of the success of Tara Mines over the years. Much of its contribution has been exemplary. Even at a time when zinc prices were low, and this is a problem which affected Tara Mines, it provided valuable employment in that area. I assisted its further development by granting more licences recently. Those licences will enable work there to continue.

Deputies Ellis and Finucane were concerned about the transport problem. Deputy Ellis mentioned the royalties and asked that they be published. The royalties are a matter of public record. There is a booklet published on them and every six months a report on them is laid in the Oireachtas Library. He was also concerned about the possibility of a cross-Border gas find. There would be no difficulty in sharing a resource of that kind with the co-operation which now exists. Both Deputies were also concerned about offshore rigs.

Deputy Finucane expressed concern about the use of rail and the problem of crowding on the roads. I also had ideas about the ports. The com[555] pany, however, was free to negotiate with the ports. The ports operate now as independent commercial bodies; they are free to make their arrangements and to offer deals on this. Cork emerged as the winner.

Mr. Finucane:  That is not the point I made.

Dr. Woods:  I am saying that we might also have had other ideas about that. Rail use presents a similar problem because we cannot say to operators that they must use one method of transport unless the State is prepared to equalise the costs. There are many others using the roads and the same should apply to them; the issues need to be addressed. I have my own ideas about the ports and the desirability of feeding from them into local regions to avoid cross hauling.

The present position at Lisheen is that there were environmental and planning studies. These reports, which approved the methods of transport and the contribution of certain funds towards the roads, were accepted. It still leaves the broader question on a national basis to be addressed. I agree that the rail system should be used to a greater extent if possible. I tried to do that with the ports. It was found, however, that the carriages used are not suitable. Iarnród Éireann would have to invest in a different size of carriage to facilitate this. That would mean more investment. It is investing to an extent but there is a need for integration on a national basis.

Deputy Finucane raised the issue of offshore exploration. I am delighted that there are good prospects in the Corrib region. Marathon has reached agreement with Saga to acquire 18.5 per cent of the Corrib licences. Saga currently holds 40 per cent. That acquisition will come to me shortly for approval. It is an indication of interest in the initial finds there. Although we are careful about what we say, the matter will have to be resolved.

Naturally, I want to see more servicing of these initial exploratory offshore drillings – the second of which is taking place – undertaken in Ireland. I will do anything I can to try to bring that about. As the Deputy mentioned, Killybegs will benefit to some extent. The ports are all open now under EU law and people can easily move to another one for servicing, which is what happened in that situation. That was a serious and unfortunate loss to Foynes in the first instance and to Ireland again last year. This year some of that work will be regained but we would like to see much more of it being done in Ireland.

When it comes to the gas coming ashore it is a very different situation. I am anxious to ensure that a great deal of the servicing will be sourced in Ireland and that the benefits will come to Ireland.

Questions were asked about the financial terms and the royalties. To refer to what Deputy Kil[556] leen said, in the 1990s there was little interest in prospecting.

Mr. Bell:  The question I asked the Minister was: what are the estimated royalties?

Dr. Woods:  I want to address that in two ways. To keep it in a logical sequence, my predecessors – I may have a more kindly approach to them than people often have – were faced with a different situation. We were trying to encourage prospecting and development and the royalties and various charges were designed for that purpose. They were very successful.

The royalties for the Lisheen mine, for instance, are 1.75 per cent of revenue, that is, total turnover, per annum for the first three years of production to allow them to get started; 3 per cent of revenues per annum for the fourth and fifth years of production; and 4.5 per cent of revenues per annum for each subsequent year of production. There is also a dead rent which merges with the royalties and that is £50,000 for the first year; £100,000 for the second year; and £300,000 per annum for the third and subsequent years. That is the basis of the rents. In addition there is a £9.5 million closure provision for the proper closure of the mine at the end of its life.

Taken in the context of the development cost which is enormous at £162 million, one is asking somebody to invest £162 million and get all of this going. However, that is from where the 700 jobs came during the development period as there was huge expenditure.

The Galmoy mine is smaller and it was developed earlier. The royalties were 1.5 per cent for the first three years; 2.5 per cent for the fourth year; and then 3 per cent for each subsequent year.

The Deputy will see that the rate of royalties rose during the period between the development of the Galmoy mine in 1995, and the Lisheen mine. The minerals in the Galmoy case were private minerals and came into the private category. Royalties for the minerals in the other case are at the higher rates of 1.75 per cent, 3 per cent and 4.5 per cent.

To estimate the royalties involves making calculations from that. Deputy Bell asked the question and I could say that if he tabled a parliamentary question, we will get him the answer but on a rough calculation, in about three years – it would probably be better to say four years because then it would be at the top rate – the figure will be up to £1 million per annum for Galmoy and up to £3 million and rising subsequently to £4 million for Lisheen.

The royalties for Tara were bought out at an earlier stage. It was part of a £50 million deal which was made in relation to the State's 25 per cent equity stake.

[557] On the question of royalties for gas and petroleum, in the early 1990s interest in exploration was at a low ebb and the future promised no further exploration. A review of the licensing terms concluded that the only way to attract the industry was to offer commercially attractive terms, including generous allowances for write-off, a low level of tax of 25 per cent and zero royalties. This strategy was successful in bringing back exploration but new production has not yet come on stream, although we are hopeful about the Corrib find.

To take the overall situation, and Marathon in the Kinsale field, over 20 years 20 per cent of Ireland's energy needs have been provided and savings of more than £3 billion on energy imports have resulted. The Kinsale gas find is running down at this stage and there is no question about it. Recently we issued some further licences which will give a little extra gas at the end in some other areas. It will get the last out of the find but it is still running down. Hence, it is probably not surprising to find Marathon with an interest in the Corrib find at this stage.

Deputy Bell also asked about the creation of an Irish smelter but this is not regarded as economically viable. The volumes and the continuity would want to be much greater. We talked about problems with mining, but the Deputy can just imagine the environmental problems of a smelter. Taking account of the overall supply of smelting facilities in Europe, a new smelter would not be viable. In other words, there are sufficient smelting facilities available.

Deputy Finucane raised the question of the N69 and I noted what he had to say about it. It is relevant to the whole issue. He also asked why the Geological Survey of Ireland forms part of the remit of the Department of Public Enterprise and not the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources. The GSI has much in common with my Department. We work closely with it on Marine Institute issues and on the seabed survey. It is possible that at some time in the future it may move closer to my Department. Currently, we work well together in any event. Deputies are generally told it is not possible to backdate provisions. Deputy Bell suggested that when big companies come along, it becomes possible to do so, but that is not really the case. Mineral rights are not private property and do not come within the scope of the constitutional protection of private property. No private citizens are adversely affected. The advice of the Attorney General is that we can backdate this provision.

Deputy Finucane expressed a wish to consider the rail system further on Committee Stage. We can certainly do that. The general position in that regard must be considered both by us and the EU.

The Deputy also asked about blue whiting and the penalties which applied in regard to the [558] recent over-fishing. The Commission moved very quickly on the matter and the fishing stopped within two days. One of the two countries involved stopped fishing immediately and the other carried on for an extra day or two. Offhand, I cannot inform the Deputy of the penalties involved for such a breach. If a country over-fishes, the Commission examines all its figures to elicit the extra amount fished. The figure is subtracted from a country's subsequent allocation. That penalty is operated all the time and occasionally affects Ireland. As Minister, I must intervene sharply from time to time to ensure we do not exceed the allowable catch. It can be a very sore point if the Commission lowers our allocation and fishermen are unable to fish for a few extra days in autumn. Commissioner Bonino acted very swiftly in this case, as did the fishermen in alerting us to what they saw. We immediately contacted the Commission which accepted our criticism and, in turn, acted immediately to address it.

We had some difficulty in relation to the percentage figure for horse mackerel. We would probably have been due a 28 per cent allocation. There were some arguments about our fishermen's quantities but our statistics indicated a figure in the region of 28 per cent and we received 26.5 per cent. I felt that since the principle applied rigorously to us at the outset, it should also have applied at a later stage. We had quite a big row over the issue.

I thank Deputies for their contributions in this searching debate which highlighted the importance of these minerals and the necessity to look after them in a responsible manner. I will arrange for the spokespersons and any other interested parties to visit some of the mines. They are well worth a visit in their finished state and people come from all over the world to see how well they operate at Galmoy and Lisheen.

Mr. Finucane:  We would like to visit them.

Dr. Woods:  I thank Deputies for their support.

Question put and agreed to.

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

That, in accordance with Standing Order 112(1) and paragraph 1(a)(i) of the Orders of Reference of Select Committees, the Bill be referred to the Select Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Question put and agreed to.

[559]Sitting suspended at 6.55 p.m. and resumed at 7 p.m.

Mrs. T. Ahearn:  I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

–conscious that there is a serious shortfall in the practical provision of support and services to the many thousands of people with intellectual, physical and sensory disability, their advocates and carers;

–noting that the annual funding targets identified as essential in the report 'Towards an Independent Future' have not been reached;

–aware that despite two grants of capital allowances totalling £9.325 million, there are still considerable waiting lists for aids and appliances;

–noting that there is a regional imbalance in the provision of services;

–taking account of the unprecedented Exchequer returns and conscious of the serious moral obligation that the Franklin Delano Roosevelt International Disability Award places on us to continue the momentum for change, particularly before the start of the new millennium;

calls on the Government to provide the funds needed to enable:

–the making up in 1999 of the shortfall in funding identified as essential in the report ‘Towards an Independent Future';

–a substantial reduction of the waiting list for respite and residential care;

–the expansion of personal assistance services;

–the enabling of more resource centres countrywide for persons with physical and sensory disability;

–the provision of education in an appropriate setting with the needed support services for each child with a special need;

and demands that the Government produce before 30 June 1999 a fully costed programme to achieve the objectives of the Report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities, ‘A Strategy for Equality', within a new specified timeframe.

[560] Since this House last debated a Private Members' motion on the needs of people with intellectual, physical or sensory disability, Ireland received the Franklin Delano Roosevelt International Disability Award. The Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, presented the award to President McAleese earlier this month. It would be useful to remind Members of what the UN Secretary General said at that time about Ireland and our attitudes to people with disabilities. He stated:

Central to the UN World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons is the goal of full and equal participation by persons with disabilities in all aspects of life, regardless of the level of development of their country. Today, we honour Ireland and its people for reaching farther and doing more in the pursuit of that goal.

Ireland has been setting the pace in the cause of the disabled in many ways: by creating a Minister of State position with responsibility for disability and inequality; by enacting an Employment Equality Act which outlaws discrimination in employment against a number of groups, including people with disabilities. Just as importantly, Ireland has led the cause of the disabled on the international level, particularly in the European Union where it has promoted new and expanded measures to ensure Europe-wide equality for the disabled.

We are well aware of how deserving you are of this reward. It is my hope that other nations will look to you and learn of the great promise that exists for every society in empowering the disabled among their people and enabling them to make the most of their lives. I am confident that you, too, will inspire other nations to recognise that the cause of the disabled is a cause that nobody can afford to ignore.

Since the UN Secretary General made that speech, two other significant items of legislation were enacted or introduced in this House. They are the Equal Status Bill, Second Stage of which we debated here last week, and the National Disability Authority Bill, which completed Report and Final Stages recently. This seems to be an impressive record.

It appears that the legislative equality agenda, which seeks to empower and enable people with disabilities to achieve and exercise their economic, social, political and civil rights, is all but complete. If that is the case, however, why is there need for a Private Members' motion in the House this evening which notes the shortfalls, the waiting lists and the regional imbalances in the provision of services? If Ireland has reached farther and done more, if Ireland is setting the pace and is an inspiration to others in the cause of people with disabilities, why do we need to debate these issues here? We need to debate these issues because we need to remind ourselves, and particularly the Government which is [561] charged with responsibility for managing the economic well-being of the country, that legislation, while vital and welcome, does not have a world-changing effect on the lives of people with disabilities unless their basic needs are first satisfied. The motion tonight is about basic needs.

People with physical, sensory or learning disabilities, their families, advocates and carers, for far too long have heard words like “mainstream”, “integration”, “empowering” and “enabling”, but what have they experienced and what do they continue to experience? They experience marginalisation, exclusion and powerlessness.

It appears from the Government's amendment to this motion that there is, sadly, no will to provide these basic needs. The Government's amendment is mean-minded and self-congratulatory in tone. It does not take account of the fact that this Government, more than any other in recent years, has at its disposal resources which could, with political will, shorten the timeframe set out in the report, Towards an Independent Future, and the strategy for equality. These could make an enormous difference to the lives of people with disabilities.

It does not take account of the fact that on Tuesday last, the Transport for All Group organised a demonstration to the Dáil to highlight that, in the words of its own press release, “a form of apartheid currently exists in this country”. The Government's amendment does not take account of the fact that people are still prisoners in their own homes because there is no accessible transport available to them. It does not take account of the fact that the Government's programme, An Action Programme for the Millennium, in the preamble to its section on people with disabilities, states:

Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats in Government are committed to radical change to ensure that the needs and the aspirations of people with disabilities, their families, carers and advocates, are comprehensively addressed. We are committed to ensuring that disability is placed where it belongs, on the agenda of every Government Department and public body. Our policy is based on the core principles of promoting empowerment through appropriate, accessible and responsive services.

They were fine words with which we could all agree. In the same chapter under the heading “Key Priorities” the Government promises the introduction of a co-ordinated and comprehensive approach to promoting access by people with disabilities to the use of public spaces and facilities and to the range of public transport.

Two years into the lifetime of the Government we are being asked, in the words of the Government amendment, to approve “The Government's commitment to put in place an enhanced level of service provision [as it now calls it] outlined in the programme for Government”. How can the House approve the Minister's amendment when the Government's track record speaks [562] for itself? How can we approve of the Government's commitment when the Exchequer funded 150 buses, none of which are accessible to wheelchair users?

The enactment of the Equal Status Bill would have made it impossible for the Minister for Public Enterprise to order new buses which are not accessible to wheelchair users. Unfortunately, the introduction of the Bill came too late for those already excluded. Even if we had fully accessible public transport some people would still be trapped in their own homes. Even if we had enacted the Equal Status Bill they would be excluded from full participation in many aspects of life. Despite the Employment Equality Act, these people, sadly, will not be competing for jobs or taking advantage of the booming economy.

The Irish Wheelchair Association recently estimated that 2,667 of its members do not benefit from day activity or development. Of these people, 1,248 are totally physically isolated, in short, they are prisoners in their own homes; 1,153 still require aids and appliances and 1,375 require personal assistance with basic needs such as dressing and feeding. How can legislation help people to participate fully when they cannot even get out of bed without a hoist which they may not have? How can legislation protect the rights of these people to be considered for a job when they cannot get dressed without an assistant which, in many cases, they do not have? How can we justify the fact that, despite Ireland's legislative record and the booming economy, there has been little or no investment in personal assistance schemes for people with disabilities? How many more thousands of people, who are not members of the IWA, require services which are not provided? How many more members require such services but are not on a database?

This motion was designed to unite, not divide, the House. Two motions in the past seven or eight months have called on the Government to provide additional resources for the provision of services to persons with intellectual, physical or sensory disabilities. On each occasion the Minister and the Government did nothing but congratulate themselves on having provided a few resources. We accept that they can point to improved levels of services in some areas. However, the consensus in the House must be that we should do more and do it now.

Ireland received a prestigious international award and has been cited as having set the pace for change. Why can we not agree to speed up that pace? Why do we continue to take things slowly when the need for change and the reasons for making such change are self evident?

The motion asks the Government to take stock; to provide additional money; to accelerate the rate of change in tangible and practical ways; to make changes which will allow people to take advantage of educational and employment opportunities and to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities in real and practical ways. We need a new timetable for change. We [563] need legislative change but, most importantly, we need practical change.

Some of the changes may be small, such as more personal assistance services, more aids and appliances, more residential and respite care and more day resource centres and services. This is the policy at a macro level and we are making progress at legislative level. However, at a micro level people are still living lives of desperation and despair because of a lack of basic services.

A sentence from the report “Towards an Independent Future” will assist in setting the scene for this debate. Dr. Ruth Barrington wrote on behalf of the review group that: “The main thrust of our report is the development of services to enable people with a physical or sensory disability to live as independently as possible in the community”. Key issues in the submission to the review group highlight deficiencies in the system, which should be designed to achieve the objectives outlined above – enabling those with disabilities and giving them independence.

The submission to the review group highlighted a lack of comprehensive data on the numbers and the services needed; inadequate access to information on service provision; disparities in eligibility criteria between and within health boards; inadequate statutory funding for individuals; uncertain funding of voluntary organisations; shortfalls in services relating to therapy, day care, counselling and home support; uneven geographic distribution of services; inadequate transport services; inadequate co-ordination of services and poor consumer choice. Would the Minister not agree that this is a litany of disaster?

However, the situation is not hopeless. By producing a fully costed programme to achieve the objectives of “A Strategy for Equality” in a new, specified timeframe, the Government could make a real difference to the lives of those with disabilities.

Every day the parents of children with an intellectual disability face the painful reality that their children's quality of life will always be decided by others. Far from being the beneficiaries of a comprehensive and seamless service, parents and families may face a lifetime of struggle and delay. One of the submissions to the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities, quoted in the report of that body, “A Strategy for Equality”, graphically illustrates this point. A parent states: “It appears to us that the parents of a disabled child face a lifetime of fighting each and every agency and Department for their rights and those of their child.”

The Department of Health and Children's document “Services to People with a Mental Handicap/Intellectual Disability – An Assessment of Need 1997-2001” added a new dimension to the development and planning of comprehensive services for people with a mental handicap. It comprehensively describes the essential needs of those with mental handicap. The intellectual disability database identifies 26,694 people with a [564] mental handicap or intellectual disability. Of those, 604 people receive no service from the State and 22,804 receive some service. Of the 26,694 men, women and children, 1,439 – one person in every 20 – are waiting for residential and respite care and 1,036 are waiting for the provision of day care. It is constant waiting. Analysis of the data shows that, due to medical advances, the adult population in the database has increased by 31 per cent since 1974. Of the 26,694 people on the database, 61 per cent or 16,453 are aged 20 or over and, of those, 8,283 are aged 35 or over and 2,203 are aged over 55. The Department of Health and Children states that the average age of those requiring residential placement is 31.6 years and those requiring day places is 35.9 years.

If we do not provide those essential residential and day places, who is doing the work? The principal carers of persons with mental handicap are their parents. The age profile of those identified as requiring a service has a significant implication. Elderly parents are caring for their middle aged and older sons or daughters. Parents in their 70s and 80s are looking after their adult mentally handicapped sons or daughters. For all of them, apart from the daily physical and emotional demands made on them, there is the fear of what will happen to their child if they die or become incapacitated. We claim to value our elderly people. The Minister for Finance said he had concentrated resources in this year's budget on pensioners, but where are they?

Based on the figures above, it is clear that over 8,000 old age pensioners care for a dependent mentally handicapped son or daughter and give everything they have left every day to care for their handicapped child because there are no day centres and no respite care. What has the Minister done for them? Will the welcome increase in their old age pensions relieve the pressure of caring? Will it provide the residential, day or respite care they desperately need for their children and themselves? Will it end the sleepless nights and provide peace of mind? We know the answers to those questions are in the negative.

While it is true the Government has allocated some resources to assist with the scandal of the waiting list for respite and residential care for those with an intellectual disability, much more needs to be done. In a letter to my colleague, Deputy Shatter, the Carmona Parents' and Friends' Association summed up what it sees as a crisis in the provision of services for people with learning disabilities in south-east Dublin and east Wicklow. The letter explains the association requested £7 million to deal with waiting lists for residential, day, crisis and respite care. The Minister for Health and Children allocated it £252,500. It pointed out that this will provide five residential places and six day places in 1999 but that its waiting list is much longer. It needed 92 residential places, 180 respite places, 25 crisis places and 17 day service places. Surely that should have been taken into account. Unfortunately, bad as [565] that experience is, it is not unique. A new, real and meaningful timetable for funding with an accelerated pace would reassure those people that practical help is on the way.

The House will debate the Bill on the Statute of Limitations tomorrow. We have recently concentrated on the abuse of children in the care of the State in industrial schools and orphanages. We are rightly outraged by the pain and suffering people have undergone. We would also be outraged if we thought large numbers of people were still suffering abuse and neglect. We should be outraged. There are large numbers of people suffering neglect by the State. They are people with disabilities and we are still abusing their rights. We continue to do so when we do not provide the necessary resources to allow them to avail of day care, respite care, special education, personal assistance and aids and appliances.

I remind the Government what President McAleese said when she accepted the Roosevelt International Disability Award on behalf of the people of Ireland:

While we feel privileged and pleased to be the recipient country, we know that this award carries with it a serious moral obligation to ensure that we maintain and accelerate the momentum for change in disability related policy and service provision.

It places a moral obligation on us if we are to be worthy recipients of that award to provide the necessary additional resources. Later in her address the President said:

We have failed our people with disabilities and, in the process, seriously damaged our society. How much talent has been wasted because people with disabilities have not been given the opportunities and means to develop their gifts? How much genius has been lost forever to our world because of this? That loss has not only been a personal tragedy. . . it has also immeasurably impoverished our society.

I commend the motion to the House. The Government should help enrich society, not just by introducing legislation but through real and practical service provision and it should be done sooner rather than later.

Ms Clune:  I support the motion. The Government's programme states that it recognises disability as one of the most important social issues facing Ireland. I agree with that. I am glad the Government recognises such a fact and I hope that, in a time of unprecedented Exchequer returns, we would see fit as a State to financially support those who, through no fault of their own, are born with, or through illness or accident have acquired, a disability, be it intellectual, physical or sensory. We should not forget that a Government should govern society and not a financial institution. It should be a society which ensures full participation and integration of its citizens and one which gives them an opportunity to gain [566] equality of access and mobility so that their disabilities become sidelined and they can reach their full potential as human beings. When one reads the report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities, “A Strategy for Equality”, and becomes familiar with the discussions it held throughout the country with people with disabilities and their families on practical issues, one of the single greatest matters of concern which emerged was the question of access and transport. It emerged that people felt marginalised and trapped in their homes because of public policy in respect of transport, a policy which forgot to take account of the rights of people with disabilities.

It is disgraceful that the 150 additional buses being provided in Dublin will be inaccessible to wheelchair users. Where will such thinking lead? Have we learned nothing from the reports produced on the subject of equality? These buses are paid for by taxpayers' money but the rights of the citizens of this country have not been taken into consideration. It was a scandal that people in wheelchairs were obliged to take to the streets recently to demonstrate against the fact that they cannot gain access to public transport.

Disabled persons have the same entitlement to public transport as anyone else and yet their needs are ignored. It should be the standard that all forms of public transport are accessible to wheelchair users. No single element of a public transport system should be inaccessible to wheelchairs. That is what equality means. I accept this will require investment but if we do not take action now, in the so-called “good times”, what chance is there that such investment will be made in the event of an economic downturn?

The service provided to wheelchair users in Dublin by taxis which were licensed for that purpose seems to be falling short of what was envisaged. The streets are full of these taxis but people in wheelchairs do not seem to be able to avail of the service. Drivers are too busy picking up fares elsewhere and it seems they are not willing to spend the extra time needed to load a wheelchair on board, secure the passenger and then help them disembark when they reach their destination.

In my view it was a mistake to grant taxi licences to drivers on the condition that their vehicles are wheelchair accessible – it has been described by many as a taxi licence obtained by the back door. There is no check on the number of wheelchair fares taken by individual taxis. Taxi drivers are commercially driven and will not provide a service that is less viable than any other. What is needed is some form of service dedicated to the disabled. State funding should be provided to support such a service because commercial interests will not facilitate it.

There was a great deal of controversy in Cork city during the past month. Many public meetings were held and public representatives were contacted about the fact that a firm which was offering a transport service for the disabled has ceased [567] trading. A number of years ago, Able Cabs was persuaded to operate a taxi service for the disabled. With two suitable vehicles, the company provided a lifeline for the disabled. The company provided a dedicated service to wheelchair users and their families but, unfortunately, the business was not viable. However, it was very successful in its aim to provide an essential social service which was not being provided by the State. This service could be used as a model of how to serve the disabled but financial intervention is required.

If a taxi service is totally dedicated to the disabled, should it not be exempt from VAT and VRT charges as is the case with disabled drivers? The difference is that the passengers, not the driver, will be disabled. What is the position regarding exemption from VAT on petrol and diesel? Does it make sense to levy these charges on disabled people? Exemption would be a step towards facilitating a disabled transport service. I realise that these proposals would not offset the additional cost of providing special vehicles and, therefore, additional assistance in respect of running costs should also be provided. A subsidy based on the mileage covered by taxis to defray these costs could also be considered.

The situation in Cork is now drastic. The only transport service for the disabled was withdrawn two weeks ago and there are now no wheelchair accessible taxis available in the city. The corporation issued five new licences for wheelchair accessible taxis in the past month but these are unlikely to come on stream until September if not later. Based on what I have seen in Dublin, I have grave reservations about their ability to provide a service for the disabled.

Many disabled people in Cork face the prospect of increased isolation and further marginalisation. How can they do their shopping, collect children from school and attend medical appointments and physiotherapy clinics without access to transport? They are effectively stranded and left dependent on the support of others. There is only one wheelchair accessible bus in Cork, a token gesture which has had little or no impact.

I wish to read to the House a letter which was published in many national newspapers. It was written by a young woman of my acquaintance in Cork and it expresses the views of disabled people in the city regarding the lack of access to public transport. The letter states:

Dear Editor

I would like to bring up the topic of “Public Transport for the Disabled”. How generous the State is to provide me with a free travel pass. I had to have my personal assistant drive me to the bus depot to have my photograph taken for this wonderful free travel pass. When I was there I inquired how many buses in Cork city could take wheelchairs. I was told one. Is this not discrimination? Shame on the State.

For the past two years I have been lucky enough to be able to use the services of Able Cabs but this service is to cease on 21 April as [568] it was not financially viable. I feel violated that the State did not feel it its duty to make a contribution to this wonderful service. Might I also add that in the '80s it was the “year of the disabled”. Here we are in 1999, heading into the new millennium, and the State has not yet provided any service and yet it tries to create the illusion by encouraging private business to make a few taxis accessible without proper guidelines on how to achieve this. Surely the existing service could have been encouraged to continue as they genuinely provided an excellent service for the disabled in this city.

That letter was written by a person who now finds herself further marginalised and stranded in her home.

Last week I spoke to a young mother in Cork whose young son of almost four years of age, is described as being mildly mentally retarded. Since he was born the mother has been engaged in a constant battle to gain State services for him. Last week, after a two year struggle, it was confirmed that the Southern Health Board will provide the services of a speech therapist. However, the speech therapist will only be available for approximately six weeks. After that, the mother will face a further battle. She has ensured that her son will have schooling for the next 12 months but when he reaches five years of age she will face a further fight when he is installed in his new school.

The toll a person with a mental disability imposes on his or her family members cannot be underestimated. Providing care for these people is a full-time job, 24 hours a day, seven days a week and family members cannot even travel to the local shop without first ensuring that they are secure. These families need access to respite care which will provide them with the opportunity to recharge their batteries. Children with autism will also benefit enormously from special schooling and the opportunity to communicate with the assistance of speech therapists. Spouses and family members of those who suffer from Alzheimer's disease need society's support through the provision of respite care and day-care centres.

Numerous reports have been produced since the mid-1990s to highlight the gaps in the services provided. What is now required on the part of everyone in the House is a commitment to the children and adults to whom I refer to give them the necessary financial support to enable them to live their lives to their full potential. I support the motion.

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:

Dáil Éireann recognises the need for the further development of services to people with intellectual, physical and sensory disabilities and approves both the Government's commitment to put in place an [569] enhanced level of service provision in line with the commitments outlined in the Programme for Government and Partnership 2000 and the actions taken by the Government to date in meeting these commitments, which include the provision of additional funding of £91.662 million and the putting in place of arrangements to meet the educational needs of children with special needs.

The disability sector, people suffering from disabilities, their parents and families, often look with a jaundiced eye at the timing of debates such as this in the midst of election campaigns when many commitments and promises are given, usually far more generous from the Opposition side than the Government side. It does not add much to the debate. Part of Deputy Ahearn's speech was untypically constructive.

Given that these issues are ongoing, the concern of successive Governments and that people need to make decisions as to who is more likely to deal with these issues on the basis of need, I am prepared to have the Government's record put side by side with the record of the previous Government for the previous three years. That is the basis on which people should decide. We can make rhetorical speeches, point to the problems in the service and say a particular Government would do better, but the Opposition parties were also in Government.

The idea has come about that it is only now we can do something for the disability sector. I remind Deputies that when the leader of the Labour Party was Minister for Finance and Deputy Jim Higgins was Chief Whip, three budgets were passed totalling public expenditure of over £45 billion. Is it suggested there was no money at that time? Is it suggested no opportunities were available to the rainbow coalition to show its commitment, apart from all its politically correct speeches? I am not interested in that type of politics. I am interested in coming into office and getting an opportunity to improve the situation, to bring in orderly, planned improvements year on year. I will not say to the disability sector that all their problems can be solved overnight because they cannot and will not be solved overnight. We should have more respect for people about whom we claim we are concerned. We must be honest and state what we intend to do, outline the strategy, how we will work in partnership with voluntary bodies, parents and friends' associations of the mentally handicapped, the Irish Wheelchair Association, the Cystic Fibrosis Association and many other voluntary bodies which are trying to maintain or improve a service or obtain a service where none exists.

Nobody is more acutely aware of those issues than an incumbent Minister for Health and Children who takes his or her job seriously. I am not prepared to say that a wand can be waved which will solve the problems but I am prepared to state my record. This amendment is not self-congratulatory. It points out there is a need for further development of services to people with intellec[570] tual, sensory and physical disabilities. I am not suggesting the problems are solved. That is not the real world. The reality is that the Government is providing more services, resources and opportunities to ensure the disability sector has improved services. That was the case with all previous administrations.

It is also the case that 46 residential places for intellectual disability were provided in 1996 when the Deputies opposite supported an administration on this side. This resulted in a huge problem in the delivery of emergency cases which came onstream and for which there was not even a contingency fund, not to mention the need to improve and increase the level of residential, respite or day care for mental handicap. It is only now we are dealing with that situation to ensure we get back on the path of producing an increased number of places as a result of increased allocations, which put to shame the allocations of the previous administrations in terms of development moneys in this sector. I will not use those facts as a means to say everything is honky dorey. I am committed to continuing as Minister for Health and Children, using my influence in Government with the agreement of my colleagues to provide further development moneys to deal with the issues. The Opposition should stop stating rhetorical platitudes. That impresses nobody because people are fed up listening to it and I will not engage in it.

Members will recall we had two debates late last year on services for people with disabilities, in early November on services for people with intellectual disability and in early December on services for people with physical and sensory disabilities. However, I am pleased to have this further opportunity to reiterate the Government's commitment to the development of these services and to outline the progress which has been made since the Government took office.

The Government fully supports the principle that people with disabilities are entitled to all the rights and privileges which go with citizenship and that all obstacles to the enjoyment of these rights and privileges should be removed. These obstacles have been identified by the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities in its report, A Strategy for Equality. That report adopted three guiding principles: equality, maximising participation and enabling independence and choice. Bearing in mind these principles, the overall thrust of health policy for people with disabilities is to provide the supports necessary to enable each individual to live in the community with the maximum possible degree of independence.

What is involved in ensuring equality, participation and independence for people with disabilities is a lot more than health services appropriate to their needs. People with disabilities have called for a departure from “the health model of disability”. They wish to be treated the same as their fellow citizens by having services delivered to them by the “mainstream” agencies, that is, [571] the same agency that provides the particular service to the rest of the community. This is one of the objectives set out by the commission in A Strategy for Equality. My colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Mary Wallace, has special responsibility for disability issues and is co-ordinating the Government's action in implementing A Strategy for Equality across the range of Departments involved.

A progress report on the implementation of the recommendations of the commission is nearing completion and will be submitted to Government at an early date. Since the commission's report was published, significant milestones have been achieved in promoting equal opportunities for people with disabilities. These include: the establishment of an interim Irish Council of People with Disabilities, the enactment of the Employment Equality Act, 1998, the publication on 19 April 1999 of the Equal Status Bill and the establishment of an interim National Disability Authority board.

In addition, steps are being taken to establish a new national disability authority on a statutory basis to establish a new body to fulfil, among other things, the role of the disability support service recommended by the commission and the transfer of responsibility for vocational training and employment from my Department to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

A specific commitment is given in the Programme for Government to the implementation of A Strategy for Equality. The programme states “key priorities will include implementation of the report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities”. The practical steps needed to develop services in my area of responsibility are set out in the report of the review group on health and personal social services for people with physical and sensory disabilities, Towards an Independent Future, and in Services to People with a Mental Handicap – An Assessment of Need 1997-2001. A commitment to implement the recommendations of Towards an Independent Future is given in Partnership 2000 and in my Department's Strategy Statement 1998-2001, which states “resources will be allocated within overall expenditure parameters for the development of services to persons with disabilities in line with the report of the review group”.

A commitment is also given in both documents to pursue the development of services for persons with a mental handicap in line with the needs identified by the national intellectual disability database. That database is now providing information on services currently being provided and on current and future needs. The number of people on the database in 1996 was 26,804. The data reveals an ageing population in the more severe range of disability. The higher numbers of young adults and increased life expectancy will mean that the pressure currently being experi[572] enced by adult day services will increase as this group ages and requires residential services.

At present there are no definitive statistics in relation to the number of people in this country with physical and sensory disabilities. Based on population trends in other countries, it has been estimated that the number in Ireland could be as high as 200,000. However, not every person with a physical or sensory disability needs a health service. The report, “Towards an Independent Future”, highlighted the lack of reliable information on the number and service needs of people with physical and sensory disabilities and recommended the establishment by the Department of Health and Children, health boards and voluntary bodies of a database on the health service needs of persons with physical and sensory disabilities.

As a first step the review group recommended the establishment by my Department of a database development committee to prepare detailed proposals for the development of the database. This committee was established in December last and hopes to complete its work by the end of this year. This will pave the way for the putting in place of the database next year. Once it has been established, the database will provide the factual information necessary for the orderly planning of service developments at national, regional and sub-regional level, including prioritising service needs and assisting in decisions on the allocation of resources. The report, “Towards an Independent Future”, which was published in December 1996, set out the requirements for the development of the services over a five year period. I have already stated on a number of occasions that I am committed to the implementation of the report.

The important role of the voluntary sector was fully recognised by the review group in looking at the organisation of services. The group recommended the structured involvement of the voluntary agencies in the planning and co-ordinating of the services and in the fixing of priorities for the allocation of funding for the development of the services. One recommendation of the review group was that the chief executive officer of each health board should establish a regional co-ordinating committee for services for people with physical and sensory disabilities. Membership of the committee should comprise officers of the health board, voluntary sector service providers, representatives of service users, that is, people with disabilities, and the National Rehabilitation Board.

I am pleased to say that these committees have now been established in every health board. My Department is currently pursuing a review of the operation of the committees in consultation with the health boards and the voluntary organisations concerned. The purpose of the review is to identify best practice, encourage a cross-fertilisation of ideas across the regions, come up with solutions to any teething problems which may have arisen and to contribute to the development of [573] overall national policy. A major element of the review process is a seminar which was held in Portlaoise last week. This seminar brought together all the participating parties to discuss progress to date and ways in which the operation of the committees could be made more effective.

Regarding carers, people with disabilities living at home require assistance with the tasks of daily living and often responsibility for the care rests with one person principally. The review group report acknowledges the need to expand and develop different levels of home support services for people with disabilities and their carers. The crucial role of the carer is taken into account in the planning of services with, for example, the strong emphasis placed on the development of respite care services which benefit the person with a disability and the carer. The provision of this and other support services with the object of enabling the person with a disability to remain in the home serve the dual purpose of promoting independent living for the person with a disability and taking as much pressure as possible off the carer.

A substantial package of improvements in the carers allowance was provided in the 1999 budget. All 11,500 existing carers will benefit from these measures while an additional 3,300 new carers will now qualify for the allowance. The total package for carers amounts to over £18 million annually. This is a large additional increase on the existing £45 million spent on carers in 1998 and indicates the Government's commitment to carers and the appreciation it has for their valuable role in our society.

There have been calls from the Centre for Independent Living for a personal assistance service funded by an independent living fund. A personal assistant provides assistance at the discretion and direction of a person with a disability with everyday tasks, such as personal care, household tasks, etc., which the person is unable to do himself or herself. A full personal assistance service is defined by the Centre for Independent Living as a need for at least 20 hours service a week. The independent living fund is no more than a particular model for funding a personal assistance service. The important point is that the service is provided to those who need it; the precise manner of funding is a detail.

The personal assistance service is one of a range of support services designed to enable people with disabilities to live in the community with the maximum degree of independence. The range includes home helps, home care attendants, respite care, day care, etc., and the objective of policy is to develop the range of services as a whole. The amount of funding to be devoted to the development of this service will be decided in each health board area in accordance with locally perceived priorities.

As I have already indicated, health boards decide on priorities for the allocation of development funding in consultation with the regional co-ordinating committees for physical and sensory [574] disability services. In addition, the Centre for Independent Living is represented on most of the co-ordinating committees. From a total of £3 million provided for development of services in 1998, personal assistance services were among those to which the boards allocated funds.

Deputies will be aware that my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Martin, recently announced a major new initiative in the special education area under which all children in the primary system assessed as having special needs arising from a disability will be entitled to an automatic response to those needs. The Minister for Education and Science considers that this initiative represents a major advance in the education of all children with special educational needs and demonstrates the Government's commitment to the need to provide suitable education to children with special needs.

The level and nature of the response in each case will depend on the assessed needs of the child or group of children involved. The response may take the form of a full or part-time resource teacher or child care support, depending on the number of children involved and the nature of their needs. A total of £8 million has been allocated over the next two years for teacher and special needs assistant support. Under that initiative, an additional 46 full-time and 26 part-time resource teachers have been allocated along with an additional 247 special needs assistant posts to assist school authorities cater for children with special needs.

The Minister for Education and Science also recently reduced the pupil/teacher ratio in all special schools and special classes catering for children with mild learning disabilities, moderate learning disabilities, emotional disturbance and children with a physical disability. These reductions will bring the pupil/teacher ratios in all special schools and special classes down to the level recommended by the special education review committee and represents the full implementation of one of the key recommendations of that committee.

In addition, £3.4 million has been allocated over the next two years to facilitate the introduction of escorts on all special school transport services and the provision of safety harnesses on such services when required. This measure will come into effect next September. A further £800,000 has been allocated over the next two years for the purchase of special equipment for children with disabilities. The Minister for Education and Science is also extending the remedial teaching service to ensure that all schools which currently do not have a remedial service will have access to this service with effect from next September.

I am sure Deputies will agree that these measures provide concrete evidence of the Government's commitment to ensuring that all children with special needs receive the support they require to enable them gain maximum benefit from the education system. I assure the House [575] that it is the intention of the Minister for Education and Science to continue to build on the very significant progress which has already been achieved in this area with the full support of his Government colleagues.

Regarding housing, under the disabled persons grants scheme, local authorities may pay a grant for the provision of additional accommodation or necessary works of adaptation to a house to meet the needs of a member of the household with a disability. In the last budget, this grant was increased from a maximum of £8,000 to a maximum of £12,000.

Another initiative designed to promote the interests of people with disabilities was the announcement in December 1997 by my colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, that he proposed by mid-1999 to amend the technical guidance documents on access for people with disabilities in order to make new dwellings commencing on or after 1 January 2000 socially accessible to them. The Minister has also signalled his willingness to review any other aspects of the technical guidance document on Part M in the light of representations made by people with disabilities. This is a golden opportunity for those affected by Part M to have an input into shaping its content.

The arrival on our streets of buses which are accessible to wheelchairs is a major breakthrough in the pursuit of universal access. The Minister for Public Enterprise stated in reply to a parliamentary question on 31 March, for those who heard or saw it, that she is committed to making public transport facilities fully accessible to all at the earliest possible date. The CIE companies have been made fully aware of her policy in that regard and she is satisfied they will do all in their power to achieve that goal.

The accessible buses, currently being operated by Dublin Bus on the No. 3 route, are also being piloted in Cork city by Bus Éireann, but Deputy Clune did not mention that. At the request of the Minister for Public Enterprise Dublin Bus is preparing a broad programme of trials for low floor buses. Depending on the result of these tests Dublin Bus should be in a position to order accessible double decker buses from 2000. In Cork, Bus Éireann currently has one low floor, single deck bus operating on the Bishopstown route and a wheelchair accessible school bus in the city. A further ten low floor vehicles are currently on order; Bus Éireann has stated that they are due for delivery in early summer and will be put into service on the company's Cork city and Limerick city routes.

One difficulty in developing services for people with physical and sensory disabilities is the wide range and variety of disabilities included in that category. This makes the development of the services complex. From time to time a certain group [576] will mount a campaign for the development of a particular service, for example, respite care and personal assistance. While these and other services are of vital importance and are among the priority areas for development they cannot be treated in isolation. What is involved is a wide range of interlocking and complementary services, designed to provide the person with a disability with a flexible range of services. Many individuals with disabilities may require a combination of several services to meet their needs.

Many services for people with disabilities are provided by agencies in the voluntary sector, often in response to demand from their own members. Some of these could be funded from fund raising income, but not all. The position developed over a period of years that services were not fully funded by the State. In recent years, with falling income from fund raising, most agencies have run services at a loss, thereby accumulating debts. A basic recommendation of the review group was that existing services be put on a firm financial footing in order to provide a sound basis for future development. Within months of coming into office this Government provided, by way of Supplementary Estimate, £5 million to eliminate the accumulated deficits of these agencies. To help eliminate the ongoing underfunding of the services, £2.4 million revenue was provided in 1998 and £6.4 million this year. Those are not insignificant amounts.

One area singled out by people with disabilities and their advocates is aids and appliances for people with physical and sensory disabilities. Deputy Ahearn mentioned a waiting list of 1,100 people. Shortly after taking office this Government took the earliest possible opportunity to alleviate this problem by making £4.325 million available and it is estimated that more than 10,000 people with disabilities benefited from this Government's initiative. That opportunity was available to the previous Government for three years but it would not listen.

A further £1 million capital funding was made available to health boards in 1998 for aids and appliances. Notwithstanding this funding, it was brought to my attention towards the end of 1998 that there were still substantial waiting lists in health boards for aids and appliances. I therefore allocated a further £4 million to eliminate these waiting lists. This Government cannot be accused of inaction. Despite these substantial injections of funding, health boards are still experiencing difficulty in keeping up with demand for aids and appliances – that is acknowledged. I do not have at my disposal at this point but I will consider making further funding available to boards for this purpose at the first available opportunity in Estimates discussions for the coming year.

In 1997, in addition to the £9.325 million made available for aids and appliances and to eliminate the accumulated deficits of voluntary sector ser[577] vice providers, capital grants totalling £675,000 were given to voluntary sector service providers for the provision of additional respite and long-term residential care places. That is an indication of the practical steps taken by the Government to deal with basic issues. I agree with the Deputy that replacement wheelchairs or hearing aids are basic matters but the Rainbow Administration said “no” to 10,000 people for three years. Those people told me about it and we responded.

In 1998 a total of £8.4 million was allocated to the maintenance and development of services for people with physical and sensory disabilities. Of this, £2.4 million was devoted to eliminating core underfunding of existing services and nine of the main voluntary agencies in the sector received grants for this purpose. A further £3 million was for capital projects, of which, as I mentioned, £1 million was invested in aids and appliances. The balance of £3 million was allocated to health boards for the further development of the services. Almost half this funding was used to create 50 new posts in health boards, such as speech and language therapists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers and public health nurses.

This year, a total of £13.4 million, rising to £16.4 million in the year 2000, has been allocated to the maintenance and development of services for people with physical and sensory disabilities. Compare these figures to those of the Rainbow Administration. Of this £13.4 million, £6.4 million is for the elimination of underfunding of existing services, deficits built up during the previous Government; £3 million, which increases to a full year cost of £6 million in 2000, is for development; and £4 million is for capital developments. A further £2 million capital has been committed this year to a major building project by one of the main voluntary sector service providers.

Since my appointment as Minister for Health and Children, I have consistently identified the ongoing development of services to persons with an intellectual disability and their families as one of my priorities. In addition to allocating significant levels of additional funding to develop new services and to meet identified needs in existing services, I have taken a number of measures to ensure that the services are developed in a planned and orderly manner in line with identified priority needs and with a secure financial basis for the future. That is the only way we can improve these services, there has been too much ad hoc provision in the past. The motion mentioned regional imbalances. These exist because there was no planned and orderly development of any service. It depended on whether one knew the Minister.

While the additional services which have been put in place have made a significant difference, their impact on the waiting lists has been reduced because of the numbers of emergency admissions [578] which have been and continue to be made to the residential services, as a result of the cuts made in 1996 by the Rainbow Administration. The figures are there to prove it.

Before this Administration there was never a national capital programme for mental handicap services. The social progressives who were in power for three years did not bother to introduce this. I listened to speeches from those people, now in Opposition, for a long time. When they got the chance they did not want to know.

Between 1997 and 2001 we will provide £30 million, which is facilitating the planning of the infrastructure necessary to support new services and to up-grade existing facilities, and more will be needed after that. The importance of having such a programme available to the services has already been demonstrated in that, in addition to the capital allocated to support new developments, I was also in a position in 1998 to approve a development plan for the services to persons with a mental handicap in St. lta's, Portrane. Nothing was done about that in the previous three years either. This major capital investment, funded jointly by my Department and the Eastern Health Board, will bring the facilities both on and off the hospital campus up to the highest modern standards. When I visited St. Ita's I did not bring a group of media people with me. I was pleased to be in a position to allocate additional revenue funding of £12 million in 1999, with a full year cost of £18 million in 2000, for mental handicap services.

In my area the Department's commitment to develop services for people with disabilities has been demonstrated by the investment of more than £91 million in the past two years and, again, more needs to be done. This has been mirrored by developments in a broad range of areas such as education, public transport and housing. As I also outlined, many positive developments are in the pipeline in a number of areas of concern for people with disabilities. It fair to say that a degree of optimism for the future by people with disabilities could be justified on the basis of present trends under this Administration, particularly on the basis of our demonstrable commitment to taking all positive steps to enhance the quality of life of people with disabilities. When the parties in Opposition were in power they did not take the opportunity.

Mr. Gilmore:  I wish to share my time with Deputies O'Shea and O'Sullivan. Deputy O'Sullivan will speak tomorrow night.

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

Mr. Gilmore:  It is a great pity the Minister cannot whip up the same enthusiasm for dealing with the problems of people with disability as he does [579] for the invective he clearly enjoys inflicting on the Opposition when he is in Government.

Mr. Cowen:  The Deputy is a past master at that himself.

Mr. Gilmore:  I support the motion and I congratulate Deputy Theresa Ahearn and her colleagues for putting it before the House. My colleague, Deputy O'Sullivan, the Labour Party spokesperson on equality, will speak in greater detail on the party's position on this subject. However, the House will be aware from previous debates of the Labour Party's commitment to providing the necessary resources for support and services for people with intellectual, physical and sensory disability and for their advocates and carers.

To underline that commitment, I refer to the speech of the Labour Party Leader, Deputy Quinn, at the party's recent conference in Tralee. He said:

The absence of support services is a continuing source of stress for families whose love and hard work saves the State millions of pounds each year. It is time we made enough respite places available to support parents and carers. It is time we provided enough residential places so that carers are assured that when they can care no longer, their sons or daughters will be able to live full lives. Is it too much to ask of the Celtic tiger? I don't think so. If this Government cannot find the £60 million necessary from a budget surplus heading for £1,500 million, the Labour Party will.

This issue is about priorities. Ireland is now a rich country. We no longer need the excuses we used in the past. The approach which characterised Government responses to people with disabilities was to lavish them with sympathy and send them away with the poor mouth excuse that the country could not afford supports. The country can afford to deal with this problem now. There are huge budget surpluses. The £65 million that is necessary to deal with this problem is available but I do not believe it will be provided or that there will be adequate provision to deal with this issue in the incremental method which appears to be favoured by the Government.

A positive political decision by the Government is required to provide the resources now and to provide the services that are needed by people with disabilities and their families. The Minister made much of the extra resources already provided. He said an additional £12 million has been provided this year. We need to get away from the figures for “this year” and for “a full year”. They can be misleading and do not amount to much when they are reflected in the services. The £12 million quoted by the Minister resulted in an allocation of £3.635 million for the [580] Eastern Health Board. What does that mean for the south eastern region of Dublin, an area which stretches from Ringsend to Bray and across to Stillorgan? It has a population of approximately 300,000. It is one of the fastest growing areas in the country as a result of physical and residential development.

The St. John of God Carmona Services, which is the main service provider for people with mental handicap in the south east region of Dublin, currently provides services to 303 people – 244 on a daily basis and 59 in residential care. That service is facing a major crisis as it is unable to meet the huge demands being placed on it, particularly for residential care. There is an unacceptably long waiting list and the waiting period can be as much as ten years.

The current numbers on the waiting list are as follows: 97 for residential places, 180 for respite care, 25 for crisis places and 22 for day services. This service received £250,000 out of the Minister's millions. That will provide five residential places, from a waiting list of 97, and five day places from a waiting list of 22. Incidentally, those waiting lists might be understating the real demand since many people who are aware of them and are aware of the length of waiting time to get a residential place, give up in despair and do not apply.

I recently attended a meeting in Dunmore House in Glenageary regarding the funding allocation. I had previously attended a similar meeting with other public representatives before the budget at which there was great expectation that the Government would deliver on its pre-election promises and its programme for Government. At the second meeting it was most disappointing to see the staff and the parents and carers of people with disability absolutely devastated.

The staff and parents in that service are worn out by the burden of care and the drudgery of fund raising. It leaves them with little energy for the type of lobbying that appears to be necessary to get the Government's ear. What energy they have left is rapidly converting to anger. They wonder what they must do to get the type of attention on-course betting, major sports organisations and other, more powerful and active lobbies received in the budget.

The £65 million which is sought to deal with this problem is not an enormous sum. It can be provided. In my area the requirement is £7 million for the services which are necessary and approximately £2 million additional funding on an ongoing basis. It should be possible to meet that need out of the huge and unprecedented level of resources available to the Government. It is most disappointing that it is not happening.

There is no point in the Minister listing a litany of incremental measures. What is required is a firm decision on the part of Government to provide the necessary resources and to do so without [581] equivocation. It must be done now to ensure that the necessary construction and the provision of equipment, services etc. can be done without delay. It would provide some hope—

Mr. Fahey:  The Deputy's parties made these decisions in Government.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Gilmore without interruption.

Mr. Fahey:  That Government equivocated.

Mr. Gilmore:  This Government inherited an economy and a set of public accounts which were unprecedentedly good.

Mr. Fahey:  They were not bad in the previous Government's term and it would not give out any money.

Mr. Gilmore:  The Government ought to be able, from the surpluses which are now being generated, to provide the necessary resources in this case. That is not happening and it is most regrettable. It is frustrating for the carers of people with disabilities to see other, more powerful interest groups in society, which are in a position to make the necessary amount of noise to get the attention of the Government, doing so well while they are forgotten and neglected. The Government should change its position on that and provide the money necessary to facilitate the provision of the services required. This is a priority.

Mr. O'Shea:  Gura maith agat. Ar an gcéad dul síos ba mhaith liom an Teachta Theresa Ahearn agus Fine Gael a mholadh as ucht an rún seo a chur síos. Tá sé in am ceart agus ba chóir don Rialtas aird níos mó a thabhairt dó seachas leasrún a chur síos. Níl an leasrún seo ag brú ar chor ar bith ar na nithe atá sa rún a chuir Fine Gael síos.

I compliment the Fine Gael Party and Deputy Theresa Ahearn on tabling this timely and welcome motion, but I am disappointed with the Government's response to it. The Government's amendment ignores the critical issues raised. The Government should give us a detailed breakdown of what is involved in two points in its amendment. Its amendment refers to the provision of additional funding of £91.6 million. When was that funding put in place and to which period and exact services does it relate? Its amendment also refers to arrangements being put in place to meet the educational needs of children with special needs. I find that reference extraordinary because I spoke about this issue during the passage of the education Bill through this House. For our education system to be available in an integrated way for all people with disabilities, it is vital to ensure teacher training includes a component on disability, which it does not include currently. It is [582] ludicrous that teachers who want to avail of such courses have to pay for them out of their own pockets.

I also asked the Minister for Education and Science at that time to ensure all members of the inspectorate have a minimum knowledge and expertise in areas that relate to the disabled and to children with special needs in education. I am not sure to what the amendment refers, but it does not reflect the real position. It is ludicrous that some remedial teachers have to provide a service for five or six schools in some rural areas. Teacher training at primary or secondary level does not have a component which would prepare teachers to deal with children with special needs whether they be physical, intellectual or whatever. This amendment rings very hollow to me. It does not describe a situation that will improve substantially in the short or medium term.

There is very little knowledge about learning disorders, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADD and ADHD, in the education system. I am sure every Member is aware of the distress suffered by the parents of these children and their feeling of alienation and abandonment by the education system because these issues are not being addressed. The section of the amendment, which gives the impression that substantial arrangements are being put in place for the education needs of children with special needs, is misleading and rings hollow.

In their programme for Government, Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats gave an explicit commitment to fund the necessary services called for in the Report of the Review Group on Mental Handicap Services – A Policy for the Intellectually Disabled and the report, Towards an Independent Future. As my colleague, Deputy Gilmore said, the Labour Party is committed to the full implementation of the recommendations of these critical reports, but the evidence of a wide range of groups and non-governmental organisations suggests the Government has failed to honour many of its commitments. One has only to read the newspapers or listen to the radio to know at first hand how far away the Government is from putting its commitments into practice.

The report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities was launched in November 1996. An interdepartmental committee to oversee the implementation of its recommendations was put in place to bring forward a report to a monitoring committee, which was immediately established. This monitoring committee was established but it has not met for almost 18 months as it is awaiting the report of the interdepartmental committee and the costing of the commission's report.

The committee hired to cost the commission's recommendations began work in late 1997. In March 1998 it met the Irish Council for People [583] with Disabilities as part of the consultation process it was undertaking. Nothing has been heard since despite its meeting with the Irish Council for People with Disabilities.

The Government amendment refers to £91.9 million, but I would like to know where that money has been allocated. Ireland has never had it so good. The Minister for Finance is taking in a record amount of tax receipts and people with disabilities ask that they and their carers should be given no more than a fair share of the surplus available to the Government. This year the current budget surplus will be £1.3 billion. It is necessary to use a proportion of that money to provide a basic level of service for those who have been ignored.

There will be a deficit of people with the necessary qualifications and expertise to provide the required caring services unless the Government decides to address this problem by providing the necessary training, whether it be, training in nursing or training for carers or for providers of support services at whatever level. If we do not have the necessary trained people, it will not matter what funds, capital or buildings are available. Unless we have people qualified to deliver the necessary quality services we will not achieve the objective of this motion. The Government must give a commitment that it will ensure a flow of qualified people will be available to enable services to be provided to cater for those who are in need.

As the parent of an intellectually disabled child, I know that people with an intellectual or physical disability can have a relatively dignified and independent existence in a home setting, but what happens to those children when their parents are no longer there? What does the future hold for them? My colleague, Deputy Gilmore, quoted figures on this. The parents of these children are growing old and many of them are in a state of torment wondering what the future will hold for their children when they depart this life. The issue of training and the expansion of personal assistance services for people with physical disabilities needs to be addressed.

Debate adjourned.

Mr. Ferris:  It gives me no pleasure to raise the matter of a further factory closure in Tipperary town. Last Friday morning, Namco Ireland Limited announced the closure of its manufacturing plant with the loss of 42 jobs. Perhaps the loss of 42 jobs is not very important to the Government, taking into account some of the job announce[584] ments recently made by the Tánaiste. However, in comparative terms, the loss of 42 jobs in Tipperary town is the final nail in the coffin of a town which has staggered from one closure to another.

As the company has stated, its share of the traditional games market has declined in the past few years as the technology gap between commercial and consumer games closed dramatically. This has arisen from the huge penetration of personal computers and highly sophisticated games software. Apart from job losses in other parts of the county, the litany of losses sustained in Tipperary town include the 7-Up soft drinks company, O'Doherty and O'Dwyer, Irish Pride bakery, Mass Mutual and Tambrands Ireland Limited. Mass Mutual has been replaced by Continental Promotions and Tambrands by Pall Corporation. However, these replacement companies, welcome as they are, are still in the process of getting into full employment mode, leaving a large number of unemployed people in Tipperary town. It is a shame that during this economic boom and the Celtic tiger, good workers who have excellent relations with their employers are forced to travel to Clonmel or Limerick which necessitates a 50 mile round trip.

Last Friday morning I met with the directors of Namco, including Michael Nevin and John McKenzie, the managing director and financial controller of Namco Europe respectively, and Patrick Pickham, the general manager of the Tipperary plant. I am pleased they have agreed to allow their facility to be marketed by the IDA. I do not have to tell the Minister, as the Tánaiste has already issued a statement, that this is one of the most excellent facilities available to the IDA and the Government. It is a magnificent facility and I thank the outgoing company for maintaining it. It has installed a security system to ensure the factory is not vandalised. It has ensured the continuation of heating, lighting and cleaning so that when the Minister, through the IDA, brings in a prospective customer they will see an excellent facility. Any prospective company can start up there immediately.

I ask the Government to give a commitment that Tipperary town will be given the priority it deserves from IDA promotions in Europe and North America. Nothing less will satisfy the people of Tipperary town and those of us who represent them. The company agreed, in consultation with me, to enter into meaningful and, hopefully, satisfactory negotiations with union representatives. I hope they will agree to a fair redundancy package to compensate for the loss of jobs. Many employees have worked for this company for more than 20 years. The closure has created and will create problems for Tipperary town. Every stop needs to be pulled out so Tipperary town will not be neglected and left on the industrial heap by the Government or the IDA. [585] This closure is not the fault of workers or the company.

Mrs. T. Ahearn:  The Minister said he will allow me a little time to endorse what Deputy Ferris said.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  My predecessor in the Chair ruled it was not appropriate for a Minister to concede time to a Member of the House. However, if the House is agreeable, Deputy Ahearn may make a contribution. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mrs. T. Ahearn:  I thank the Minister for giving me this opportunity to concur with Deputy Ferris. We are all devastated and shocked by the closure of this factory in Tipperary town. Deputy Ferris did not exaggerate the tragic consequences of the loss of 42 jobs to the economy of the town. Tipperary has suffered more than its share of job losses. This must be the priority of the IDA. I trust that the plea made by Deputy Ferris and myself will enable the Minister for Enterprise and Employment to put Tipperary on the top of the agenda. We hope we will be able to report to the devastated workers that the Government will make every effort to get a replacement industry.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Mr. Fahey):  I acknowledge the constructive contributions of both Deputies. I apologise for the absence of the Tánaiste. We were all greatly disappointed at the recent announcement by Namco Ireland that it will close its Tipperary plant which is engaged in the manufacture of amusement centre video games, with the loss of 50 jobs. This decision has resulted from the loss of its contract to supply its main customer, WMS, with Atari product. This product represented 60 per cent of turnover in the Tipperary plant.

The Atari corporation established an operation in Tipperary in 1978 and one in Limerick in 1982. At that time they were world leaders in video games and home computers. Over the years, the company lost market share to the more sophisticated Sony and Sega products. This resulted in the downsizing of the Tipperary plant and the closure of the Limerick plant.

Atari was bought by two successive owners and finally by WMS in Chicago, which is in the same business. Namco corporation, a $500 million dollar business with global leisure interests, purchased the manufacturing facility in Tipperary from WMS and a contract was agreed to continue to supply the Atari product to Europe on its behalf. In addition, Namco manufactured some of its own product for Europe in the Tipperary facility.

[586] Following the loss of the WMS contract, the only remaining production in the County Tipperary facility was Namco's own product, the volume of which would not be sufficient to maintain the operation. IDA Ireland requested that Namco consider the option of making Ireland its principal European manufacturing base. However, despite IDA Ireland's best efforts, in discussion with the company and at meetings with the Japanese owners regarding the various options, Namco has decided that the only option is to close the facility. Namco previously closed its UK manufacturing facility with a loss of 40 jobs.

In response to the announcement, IDA Ireland has persuaded the company to co-operate in promoting the property for an alternative manufacturing activity. A specific marketing initiative to highlight the availability of a modern facility and skilled workforce is currently being put into action through the IDA's overseas offices. In particular, IDA Ireland is targeting the opportunities for sub-supply companies to locate in County Tipperary to service the growing number of large scale IT manufacturing operations in Ireland. I understand that IDA regional management will be meeting tomorrow with the county manager, the chairman of the county council and the chairman of the urban district council to discuss a full range of further initiatives.

This and previous Governments have had significant success in the past few years in attracting new jobs to County Tipperary. In 1997 and 1998 a total of 697 and 726 jobs, respectively, were created in County Tipperary in client companies of the industrial development agencies, namely, IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, Shannon Development and the Tipperary county enterprise boards.

In April 1998 an expansion of 200 jobs for Clonmel Healthcare was announced. In July 1998 Guidant Corporation, a global leader in the medical devices sector, decided to establish a 518 person project over a five year period in the former Seagate facility. Guidant Corporation is progressing well, and in March 1999 the Taoiseach announced a 700 person expansion project for the company. Also, in 1998 60 new jobs were announced for Tipperary town, with an expansion of Continental Promotions. In addition, employment in Pall Corporation, also in Tipperary town, increased to 99 in 1998.

I assure Members every effort will be made by the industrial development agencies to ensure a replacement industry for Namco is secured at the earliest opportunity.

Mr. Ferris:  We need a commitment to an earlier date—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Ferris must allow Deputy Fitzgerald to speak.

[587]Ms Fitzgerald:  I welcome the opportunity to raise on the Adjournment the crisis in child care and the impact of the child care regulations and inspections on the number of child care places available in the Dublin area and throughout the country. Yet another child care campaign has been launched today. There have been over 20 years of campaigning to try to put the issue of child care on the agenda.

I was told by the Minister, in reply to a parliamentary question some time ago, that 1,720 inspections of child care places have taken place throughout the country. It is absolutely clear, from information on the ground, that there is a reduction in the number of child care places. There is concern that not enough child care places are available to meet demand. People are calling child care services on a daily basis, asking where they can find a place and what supports are available to them as parents. The lack of places affects those who work full-time and part-time outside the home and those who work full-time in the home. We know from research that child care is used by families where parents work inside and outside the home.

A nursery owner told me today she no longer operates a waiting list because there is no point in having one. Another owner told me she receives queries every day from frantic parents asking whether child care places are available. A mother and father who recently returned to this country told me they are considering seriously leaving again because of the lack of child care places. Another couple who returned recently from England told me they had supportive child care services available locally in England which were of high quality and affordable. They checked out 18 crèches in Dublin and were unable to find a place. When they eventually found a place they were not satisfied with it.

I want to bring it to the House's attention that this situation is placing great stress on families. The Irish Pre-School Playgroup Association said today that 2,000 places have been lost recently. We are facing a serious situation. If this were an agricultural, fodder, training, industrial relations or any other sort of crisis, the Government would not be as complacent as it appears to be.

Providers must get support to implement the regulations and grants. These grants should apply to those who have already made the effort, as well as to those who have not yet brought their crèches to the standard rightly demanded by the regulations. Compliance with the Act costs money and the industry and parents can no longer afford full compliance.

As the Minister of State knows, there are issues of concern with regard to child care at present, namely, quality, quantity and qualifications. There is a major problem finding staff willing to [588] work in this area. Training is also a problem. We must address this urgently and seek consistency of standards in the area. Many crèches have not yet registered with the health boards.

Quality child care in this country, particularly in the Dublin area, is moving beyond the reach of many parents. The consequences of this are extremely serious, particularly for children. If parents have to move children from quality child care to other services with low standards, as they are doing, we can imagine the consequences and scandals we will have in years to come. This is at a time when we say we care very much about children and in light of the experiences of the past.

About 600,000 Irishwomen are in paid employment today. About 46 per cent of children under four years and 25 per cent of full-time working mothers use child care facilities. It is projected that a further 218,000 women will rejoin the labour force in the years ahead.

The Child Care 2000 campaign asked today for a number of points to be considered, including an allocation of £3 million for the establishment of national and local co-ordination of child care; a national child care committee; county child care committees – which were first recommended by the Commission on the Status of Women five years ago; £2 million for the upgrading of premises and an information campaign to help providers. These issues must be seen as a priority. I ask the Minister of State to get the Government to agree to introduce an emergency package of measures to deal with this crisis. That is the least that is called for at the moment, given the scenario I have outlined.

Mr. Fahey:  I thank Deputy Fitzgerald for her interest in this subject. I know of her ongoing concern about this and I share many of the sentiments she expressed.

The Deputy is aware of the introduction of the child care regulations, which are determined to build on the existing good standards in our pre-school services, to improve standards throughout the sector and to secure the health, safety and welfare of pre-school children. I am the first to acknowledge that the implementation of those regulations has had a significant effect on crèche and playschool owners. The fact that we are implementing much more stringent standards brings added pressures because of the reduction in numbers, the need for an increased staff to children ratio and the need to improve the standard of playschool facilities.

I welcome the fact that everybody, without exception, has welcomed my initiative in introducing those regulations and ensuring standards are upheld, registrations are made with health boards and inspections are carried out. I acknowledge that, as the Deputy said, the impact of this is causing increased costs. However, the require[589] ment to reduce places is related mainly to the availability of adequate space per child in the premises and the requirement to have a sufficient number of competent adults supervising the pre-school children in the service at all times.

It is important to point out that where deficiencies are identified, I have asked the health boards and the providers to work in a co-operative manner to make specific improvements in a planned way, provided that any delay would not affect the welfare of children adversely. The plan may include a reduction in numbers, achieved through natural reduction – that is, not replacing children who leave during the year – reducing numbers on a phased basis, reducing numbers at the beginning of the next school year or the provider moving to a larger premises. The time scale for making improvements may vary from a requirement for immediate action if the health and safety of the children are at risk or may extend to six months if it is appropriate to use a phased approach. I have asked the health boards to be flexible in their approach to the implementation of the regulations so they do not drive people into the black market as is happening in some cases.

The Government is fully committed to expanding the availability of health care. Health boards provide financial support to pre-school services which cater for children who are regarded as being at risk or disadvantaged. I have asked the health boards to get together with the other State agencies, such as local partnerships, city and county enterprise boards and the local authorities, in which there are significant difficulties with the implementation of planning regulations in a haphazard fashion, so we can respond to the difficulties now being experienced. I hope to provide a forum for all those agencies to get together in the various health board areas.

I am aware of the difficulties in Dublin. I am determined to tackle those difficulties and I am determined that, between those agencies, we will put the considerable amount of money being made available this year into the creation of new places. I urge those who have difficulties to form their own groups to provide community crèches and playschools and I will try to respond with some financial support to create the extra places.

This problem has arisen in the past two years. My ability to respond may not be as good as it should be; I admit that. I assure the Deputy that we are making a spirited effort to implement the regulations fairly and flexibly to create new places throughout the State. I will be holding discussions with all the health boards in the next ten days to decide a programme for extra places by September. The Government is committed to quality child care at an affordable price.

[590]Ms Clune:  I welcome the opportunity to express the worry and concern which exists about the Blood Transfusion Board requesting that its chief executive officer and its national medical director explore the implications to patient services of providing a single site for donation testing in the State.

There are currently two sites, one in Cork and one in Dublin. It is feared by medical staff in Cork that it is the preferred option to close the donation testing centre in Cork, thus downgrading the facility there.

I understand that no report has been produced yet and no decision has been made. If such a report recommended the downgrading of the Cork facility, hospital staff in Cork have told me that it would have dire consequences for patient care. Some newspapers have reported that patients' lives could be put at risk by such a move. Recently a newspaper carried a letter signed by more than 40 doctors and consultants in the Cork University Hospital which outlined the negative impact of such a proposal.

The hospital deals with all acute services in the southern region. Services are provided at that hospital which are not available in any other hospital in the State. It has a good relationship with the Blood Transfusion Service Board in Cork. Even the hint of a move to downgrade such a service has led to warnings of the risks to patients' lives. The proposed move is seen as financially driven rather than based on scientific or social imperatives. There is no scientific or medical evidence available which justifies the downgrading of the service. Samples which had to be tested in Dublin would be one day in transit. Platelets have a limited life span and this day is vital.

Cork provides a back up service to Dublin which has been called upon on many occasions. Waterford is served by Dublin but on several occasions lately Cork has had to provide a service which Dublin was unable to provide. Now we are told that if the Cork service is downgraded, Belfast and Edinburgh will be used as back up. Why would this be necessary when there is a perfectly reliable facility in Cork? Why withdraw something which is working well? Blood from Amsterdam had to be brought to Dublin last year because Dublin could not provide its own supplies.

On four occasions last month, 40 to 60 pints of blood were required in the hospital. The Blood Transfusion Service in the area arranged for extra clinics so the blood could be provided that day. It is not only Cork University Hospital which will be affected, all hospitals in Cork are concerned about this proposed move and have expressed their concerns strongly. They say that their medical opinions have not been taken on board and [591] they were not consulted during the preparation of this report. Why were the providers of medical services in the region not consulted? Why did 40 of them feel it necessary to express their sentiments in a national newspaper? It is alarming to me, as a layman, at a time when there is low confidence in the Blood Transfusion Service Board, that the service in Cork is being undermined.

There has been an outcry from the consultants and staff of Cork University Hospital and I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to their request for a meeting. It is alarming that so many medical staff do not agree with such a move.

Mr. Fahey:  Responsibility for the organisation and management of the Blood Transfusion Service rests with the Blood Transfusion Service Board. Following the report of the Finlay tribunal of inquiry, the BTSB is in the process of implementing a wide ranging programme of modernisation to adapt to emerging developments in blood transfusion. Measures to further improve blood safety are being introduced this year. The cost of the new measures will be £6.8 million in 1999, resulting in the price of one unit of red cells increasing from £63 to £94. A new IT system is also being introduced at a cost of £4 million. At the Cork centre, the BTSB recently completed the refurbishment of the component processing and compatibility testing laboratory at a cost of more than £500,000.

Transfusion medicine is undergoing rapid change. New technology and additional safety tests continue to emerge. The BTSB assesses these developments to ensure its practices are in line with the highest international standard and consistent with efficiency and effectiveness. One such development is PCR testing, which has been introduced on the advice of the medical consultant to the board following the evaluation of international best practice. PCR testing is the most sensitive way of testing for viruses in blood donations and requires expensive, high grade laboratory technology and expert technical support.

In February 1998, the BTSB decided, having regard to international practice, PCR testing at both Dublin and Cork centres could not be justified. It was decided, therefore, that PCR testing of all donations would be carried out at the new national headquarters of the BTSB currently under construction.

The proposal now being assessed by the BTSB is whether all serological testing and not just PCR testing should be performed at the national headquarters. The board of the BTSB has asked the chief executive officer and the National Medical Director to prepare a report on the practical implications for patient services of developing a single site for donation testing in Ireland. Among the issues being addressed are: how best to provide a transfusion service in the light of the rap[592] idly changing environment in transfusion medicine; the application of accepted international standards of practice in leading centres and blood services; the achievement of the goal of the organisation in supplying 100 per cent of hospital blood components on time and without fail; how best to prepare for a substantial reduction in the use of blood components given the alternatives to blood transfusion which are currently available and being developed; the concerns of health boards and hospitals, including their concerns about the substantial increase in the costs of BTSB products; and the achievement of a service that is efficient and effective.

As part of this process, the chief executive officer and the National Medical Director are consulting international transfusion experts.

I will now respond to a number of misleading statements which have appeared in the media recently. I assure the House that the closure of the BTSB Cork centre is not on the agenda of the BTSB or my Department. All that is being considered is a possible change in one aspect of the Cork operation. There is not any suggestion of change in relation to the other scientific and technical services currently carried out at the Cork centre such as blood grouping, components processing, compatibility testing and ante-natal screening.

With regard to claims that patients' lives will be put at risk as a result of the proposed changes, the BTSB says there is no evidence to suggest that life-saving operations in hospitals throughout the country will be affected by having one national testing centre. The BTSB points out that there are many acute hospitals in the country which are a considerable distance from a blood testing centre and this, of itself, does not pose a threat to patient safety. It has also been suggested that the removal of testing operations from the Cork centre would delay the supply of blood components to hospitals in the region. The BTSB rejects this and points out that, at any given time, 75 per cent of blood stocks are held by hospitals, with the remainder being stocked at the BTSB facilities in Dublin and Cork. There is no proposal to change this policy.

Mr. O'Shea:  I welcome the opportunity to raise this important and timely matter on the Adjournment this evening. Scientific research, which came into the public domain this week, casts a serious question mark over the health risks posed by mobile telephones. I do not want to exaggerate the risks. However, it is now fair to say that the jury is out regarding the possible health risks of mobile telephones.

This new evidence demands a response from the Government, the telecommunications industry and the office of the Director of Tele[593] communications Regulation. The safety of Irish consumers must be of paramount importance.

We are entering a new phase in telecommunications with the advent of the liberalised market. The liberalised market is not a free for all, it is regulated. Companies who are granted licences are expected to operate to certain standards which protect the Irish mobile telephone users, who number almost 1 million, from possible health risks.

In this respect the Government has a key role. It should lay down the public policy priorities under which the Director of Telecommunications Regulation shall perform her important functions. However, after seeing the Minister for State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with responsibility for science and technology, Deputy Treacy, on “Questions and Answers” last night, it is clear that the Government will bury its head in the sand on this important public health issue. I was genuinely taken aback at the grossly complacent attitude of Deputy Treacy. Perhaps the Minister is too busy glad-handing voters from Glenties to Glenamaddy to comprehend the seriousness of the issues before him. The Minister's position, that the Government will do nothing until conclusive, incontrovertible proof is available, is a shocking dereliction of duty.

The incontrovertible proof on which the Minister claims he is waiting is proving elusive. It could well take a decade before proof of this nature is available. In the meantime the Government should take action to minimise the risk that mobile telephones may cause. If it does not do so then thousands of people may contract serious illnesses in the meantime.

There is now a serious question mark over the safety of mobile telephones. The Government should insist that the telecommunications industry faces up to its responsibilities and ensures that any possible risks to consumers are minimised.

Three steps should be taken immediately. All mobile telephone users should be offered a hands-free set paid for by the mobile telephone industry. All new mobile telephones should be sold with a hands-free set. All mobile telephone users should be issued with a health and safety guide, which is compiled by a panel of independent experts and distributed by the phone companies. These steps will reassure the public, maintain public confidence in mobile telecommunications and show that the Government is concerned by the recent research.

The telecommunications industry, not the consumer, should foot the bill for these initiatives. For example, hands-free sets are strongly recommended by scientists who study mobile telephone radiation. However, if I walked into a high street shop tomorrow to purchase such a set, I would be lucky to get one for £40. In [594] that transaction I would pay a substantial mark-up to the manufacturer, the distributor and the retailer. This could be curtailed if the telephone companies were required to provide these sets.

We cannot stand idly by while a possible risk to the health of people exists. We must move to ensure that the preventative measures which reduce the possible risks from mobile telephones are instituted while we await comprehensive scientific results. The complacent attitude displayed by the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with responsibility for science and technology, Deputy Treacy, is not good enough and I urge the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, to take the matter into her own hands and ensure that action is taken.

Mr. Fahey:  I thank Deputy O'Shea for raising this matter. I am aware that there is some public concern about possible adverse health effects from exposure to radiation emissions from mobile telephones.

The Department of Public Enterprise monitors all significant research in this area and my Department, the Department of Health and Children, liaises with that Department regarding the human health aspects. Medical officers in my Department keep themselves informed of developments. The latest research in regard to a possible link between radiation from mobile telephone hand sets and an increased risk of brain tumours in users will be assessed in that context.

I am advised that there has been a considerable body of research carried out internationally on possible adverse health effects from non-ionising radiation associated with telecommunications systems. The general body of scientific evidence to date has not established a conclusive link between this form of radiation and ill-health. Nevertheless while it has not been possible to determine a definite link neither has it been possible to discount any such relationship. For this reason it is advisable that we should take all such reports seriously and carefully examine them. The latest research will be incorporated into the existing body of scientific research and will also be examined by the broad scientific community.

Research in this area is ongoing and the World Health Organisation in 1996 launched a five year research programme, the International EMF Project, to assess the health and environmental aspects of electro-magnetic fields. There has been an increase in the number and diversity of sources of electro-magnetic radiation, including mobile cellular phones. This project is being carried out over a five year period and will bring together current knowledge and available resources of key [595] international and national agencies and scientific institutions in order to arrive at scientifically sound recommendations for health risk assessments. From the public health viewpoint, if conclusive evidence emerges that radiation from mobile phones is causing an unacceptable public health risk, I would seek to have appropriate remedial measures put in place by the Government and agencies with direct responsibility in the area.

[596] Many people share the concerns expressed by Deputy O'Shea. We must be vigilant in our approach to new technologies such as mobile phones to ensure they do not pose a health risk in the future which may lead to serious problems.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 26 May 1999.

[597]

  25.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if he will impose a more reasonable penalty for errors when completing the herd register of bovine animals and animals remedies record in view of the fact the register is restrictive, time consuming and difficult for farmers to complete and the proposed penalty impositions for human error are too harsh. [13099/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh): Since 1996 herdowners have under EU legislation been required to keep herd registers of all cattle on their holdings. In accordance with Council Regulation (EC) 820/97, they have been required to record additional information since 1 January 1998 in relation to animal movements to and from their holdings.

The herd register is an essential element of the cattle traceability arrangements that have been put in place throughout the EU to provide the assurances demanded by consumers. From a national viewpoint, these traceability arrangements are vital in protecting the export interests of the Irish beef industry.

EU legislation provides for a range of penalties to be applied in cases of non-compliance with identification and registration requirements including situations where the herd register is not properly maintained. These measures include loss or reduction of premia and other payments and restrictions being placed on the movement of animals to and from holdings. As these sanctions are set down in EU Regulations, they apply equally to herdowners in all member states of the Community. It is not open to me to modify these penalties.

In practice, the proper completion of the on-farm register is checked during inspections and where non-compliance with the identification and registration requirements is relatively low the farmer is advised of the problem encountered with non-compliance and is informed that a further inspection will be carried out. However where persistent non-compliance is found the regulation requires the imposition of penalties under the premia and headage schemes.

In addition to headage and premia penalties, failure to comply fully with identification-registration requirements, including the maintenance of the register, may result in loss of entitlement to other payments, to restrictions being placed on movements to or from holdings and-or to prosecution.

As regards animal remedies, the position is that the maintenance of records which is provided for in EU and national legislation, is an important element in the chain of control designed to ensure that consumers are not exposed to illegal and potentially harmful residues. As such, I am sure that the Deputy will readily accept that it must [598] be completed fully and accurately by farmers each time a medicine with a withdrawal period is administered.

To facilitate herdowners in meeting their obligations, my Department is in the process of supplying a consolidated herd register book to each herdowner free of charge. This book contains clear instructions as to how the records must be kept. In addition provision has been made to allow the records to be kept on certain computer packages. The information which herdowners are required to record in the herd register is relatively straightforward. If herdowners follow the instructions and maintain their registers in the correct fashion, they should not experience any difficulties.

  26.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if he has met with the pig sector; if so, the individuals he met; the dates of these meetings; if his attention has been drawn to a major income crisis in the industry; and the plans, if any, he has to resolve this crisis. [13793/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  I am acutely aware of the difficult market situation in the pigmeat sector and the consequences of this for producers. The situation is not unique to Ireland and the problems deriving from an oversupplied market are worldwide. Within the EU, I along with a number of my colleagues in the agriculture council have requested the Commission to take action both in terms of market support measures and other measures in order to alleviate the situation. There was a full discussion on the situation at the most recent Council of Ministers. I intend to maintain pressure at EU level for appropriate action.

Since the market difficulties first began to have effect, I have taken action on a number of fronts. With regard to export refunds, I, along with my colleagues from other member states, secured substantial increases from the EU Commission on four occasions last year. In February of this year I followed this up by securing a further increase, when refunds for certain processed products for Russia were enhanced by 47 per cent to 80 per cent.

I secured agreement from the EU Commission for the introduction of a scheme of aids to private storage, under which EU funding is provided for the storage of pigmeat for a maximum period of six months. The scheme is still running and to date over 300,000 tonnes of pigmeat have been temporarily taken off the Community market.

At the end of last year the Council of Agriculture Ministers decided on a food aid package for Russia, which includes 100,000 tonnes of pigmeat. This package, when concluded, will have a positive effect on the market. An Bord Bia launched an extensive promotional campaign for bacon earlier this year. This campaign was aimed at the consumer who was encouraged to buy qual[599] ity assured bacon. The campaign helped sales thus improving the market.

A number of different meetings have been held at ministerial level with representative organisations. Since the start of the problems in the pigmeat sector my Department has been in regular contact with the organisations representing both the production and processing side of the industry and have had numerous meetings. Towards the end of last year I called in representatives of the banking organisations and the pigfeed providers who gave an assurance that every possible support would be given to their clients operating in the pig sector.

It is worth noting that pigmeat prices have risen by nearly 4 per cent since the beginning of the year and I am hopeful that this trend can be continued.

  34.  Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the activities of the special advisory committee on the role of women established as a result of the commitment given in An Action Programme for the Millennium; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13583/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The main function of the advisory committee on the role of women in agriculture, which I will establish shortly, will be to make an input into strategies in the agriculture and rural development areas.

I envisage that the committee will address those issues which are impediments to women's full participation in areas which affect their lives. These will include issues relating to education and training, health and welfare, appropriate representation on relevant organisations and fuller participation in political, economic and social life particularly in relation to agriculture.

  35.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if his attention has been drawn to recent opinion polls that show a large majority in favour of phasing out battery cages for hens; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13641/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  I am aware of the recent publicity and the views expressed in relation to the proposal for a new Council Directive laying down minimum standards for the protection of laying hens kept in various systems of rearing, currently the subject of discussions at EU level. While supportive of any measures that would contribute towards safeguarding and improving animal welfare, I believe that all aspects and potential consequences of the proposal, including legitimate economic concerns, must be taken into account [600] in the discussions. It would be unfortunate if arrangements adopted within the EU were to result in the mass importation, into this country and other member states, of cheap battery-produced eggs from third countries which may have scant or no provisions on hen welfare. Being mindful of that potential consequence, I have been seeking to secure a balanced outcome to ensure that the interests of both animal welfare and the producer are protected.

  36.  Ms Coughlan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the plans, if any, in place regarding the future role of quality assurance schemes for Irish food; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13621/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  I believe that quality assurance schemes will continue to play a vital role in the future of our food industry. The demands of the marketplace are such that there is now universal recognition of the importance of quality assurance schemes as integral and important components of the entire food chain. This philosophy is underscored in the recent report of the food industry development group which indicated that potential for maximisation of the contribution of the food industry to the economy is dependent upon attention to competitiveness and market orientation and that development must be underpinned by attention to food safety, quality standards and quality assurance.

Indeed, quality assurance was one of the significant topics dealt with at the world meat congress, hosted by An Bord Bia in Dublin as recently as last week. That conference was reminded of the necessity of having quality assurance schemes and accreditation measures that comply with best international practice. In this regard, I should say that the quality assurance schemes currently in operation by An Bord Bia and An Bord Glas and new schemes in preparation are constantly monitored to ensure that they continue to match the highest standard.

My own Department's national beef assurance scheme, for which incidentally, the necessary legislation is at an advanced stage, must for example, as is the case in all claims made in respect of beef, whether in relation to origin, quality assurance or production methods, satisfy the provisions of the beef labelling scheme. This scheme requires that any such claims are fully authenticated and independently verified.

[601]

  37.  Mr. Gilmore    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    when his Department's investigation will be completed into the seizure at Nenagh, County Tipperary, on 5 January 1999 of a consignment of cattle believed to have been smuggled from Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13589/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  As I have indicated to previous questions, this seizure of cattle was made on a public road outside Nenagh and the suspicion is that the animals were smuggled from Northern Ireland.

It is not possible at this point to indicate when the joint Garda Síochána-Department of Agriculture and Food investigation which is still on-going will be completed.

[602]

  38.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the costs and fees paid to date arising from the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Beef Industry; if he will give a breakdown of all associated costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13461/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  Information requested is set out in a tabular statement, which will be circulated to the Deputy.

Beef Expenditure

ONT Name Amount Heading Year
£
1,787.18 Amex Total
98,700.00 Carr Communications Ltd. Total
14,000.00 Commuted Rep. Allowance Total
2,698.82 Couriers Total
199,374.00 John Hogan & Associates Total
3,642,771.40 Legal Total
2,080.90 Legal Research Total
9,087.06 Lunch Total
60,039.40 Misc. Total
798.78 Misc./Coffee Total
7,897.67 Office Equipment Total
43,655.00 Office Supplies Total
173,461.81 OPW Total
432,701.68 Other Depts Total
468,160.13 Overtime Total
44,246.66 Phone Total
7,000.00 Post Total
46,455.60 Printing Total
85,384,86 Rank Xerox Total
16,117.85 Refund Total
34,500.00 Room Rent Total
266.43 S/A 024-08 Total
527,232.05 Salaries Total
455,832.31 Stenographers Total
85,969.45 Transfer Total
Tribunal Bank Account
177,318.12 Total
1,161,876.15 Withholding Tax Total
4,039.18 Sub Account Total
MacGiolla/Rabbitte
March 96 Michael D. White & Co. Solrs. 754,760.40 Taxing Master 1996
Laurence Goodman/Goodman Int.
August 96 A&L Goodbody Solrs. 3,993,772.87 Taxing Master 1996
Laurence Goodman/Goodman Int.
August 96 Rory O'Donnell & Co. Solrs. 1,076,586.92 Taxing Master 1996
Baltinglass Meats Ltd.
December 96 Dermot Fulham Solr 1,726.80 Taxing Master 1996
[603] ONT Name Amount Heading Year
£
Continental Beef Packers Ltd.
February 97 Eugene F. Collins 1,796.94 Taxing Master 1997
Angela McGee and Imelda Murray
February 97 Devaney & Ryan 7,736.33 Taxing Master 1997
Desmond O'Malley TD
May 97 Bell, Branigan, O'Donnell & O'Brien 559,132.53 Taxing Master 1997
S. Sheehan & K. McDonald
February 97 MacGuill & Co. Solrs. 2,125.60 Taxing Master 1997
Barrett, Bruton, Rafferty & Conaughton
February 98 J. J. O'Connor & Co. Solrs. 126,168.64 Taxing Master 1998
Barrett, Bruton, Rafferty & Conaughton
February 98 James Nugent, Senior Counsel 51,425.00 Taxing Master 1998
Pat Farrell – General Secretary of Fianna Fail
May 98 Messrs. Ivor Fitzpatrick & Co. Solrs. 7,314.56 Taxing Master 1998
Rangeland Meats Ltd.
May 98 Messrs. Donal J. Hamilton & Co. 22,771.51 Taxing Master 1998
Eoin Patton and Intermedia Ltd.
May 98 Messrs. Ivor Fitzpatrick & Co. 12,106.94 Taxing Master 1998
May 98 Agra Trading Ltd. 45,876.94 Taxing Master 1998
United Farmers Association
June 98 Messrs Henry P. Kelly & Co. Solr. 281,076.67 Taxing Master 1998
ATGWU
July 98 Messrs. Donal J. Hamilton & Co. Solrs. 271,954.39 Taxing Master 1998
Ballywater Meats Ltd.
July 98 Messrs. John A. Mernagh & Co. Solrs. 6,976.17 Taxing Master 1998
Dermot Hanley
July 98 Mr. Richard R. O'Hanlon Solrs. 7,204.67 Taxing Master 1998
Lixsteed Ltd.
July 98 Messrs. Paul N. Beausang & Co. Solrs. 5,700.50 Taxing Master 1998
Slaney Meats Ltd.
July 98 Messrs John Mernagh & Co. Solrs. 5,891.92 Taxing Master 1998
Eamon Mackle
July 98 Messrs. Séamus Mallon & Co. Solr. 205,222.21 Taxing Master 1998
Dawn Meats Ltd,
July 98 Messrs. Nolan, Farrel & Co. Solr. 9,041.93 Taxing Master 1998
Brian O'Beirn
July 98 Messrs. C. P. Crowley & Co. Solrs. 7,621.06 Taxing Master 1998
Ashbourne Meats
July 98 Messrs Garret, Sheehan & Co. Solr. 11,119.44 Taxing Master 1998
Avrich Ltd. T/A Freshland Foods
July 98 Messrs. Robert Walsh & Co. Solrs. 4,819.77 Taxing Master 1998
Master Meats
July 98 Messrs Robert Walsh & Co. Solrs. 35,228.07 Taxing Master 1998
Brian Britton
July 98 Messrs. Gore & Grimes Solrs. 323,066.33 Taxing Master 1998
Western Meat Products Ltd.
July 98 Messrs. Connellan Solrs. 15,751.62 Taxing Master 1998
Liffey Meats Ltd.
August 98 Messrs. Séamus Mallon & Co. Solr. 30,163,31 Taxing Master 1998
CH Foods Ltd.
August 98 Messrs. Barry Bowman & Co. Solr. 5,717.14 Taxing Master 1998
S.I.P.T.U.
August 98 Messrs. Bowler, Geraghty & Co. Solrs. 186,793.95 Taxing Master 1998
Freezematic Cold Stores Co.
August 98 Messrs. Nolan Farrell & Goff Solr. 6,123.05 Taxing Master 1998
Pascal Phelan
August 98 Messrs. Robert Walsh & Co. Solrs. 35,663.22 Taxing Master 1998
James Fairbairn
August 98 Messrs. Moran & Ryan Solrs 35,058.21 Taxing Master 1998
[604][605] ONT Name Amount Heading Year
£
Michael Purcell Foods Ltd.
August 98 Messrs Kieran T. Flynn & Co. Solr. 6,557.66 Taxing Master 1998
Barford Meats Ltd.
August 98 Messrs Séamus Mallon & Co. Solr. 6,207.75 Taxing Master 1998
Mr. Spring & Mr. Desmond
September 98 Messrs. Spring Murray & Co. Solr. 650,00.00 Taxing Master 1998
Horgan Meats Ltd.
September 98 Messrs. P. J. O'Driscoll & Sons Solr. 16,046.84 Taxing Master 1998
Michael Jinks
September 98 Messrs. McGovern, Walsh & Co. Solr. 2,110.20 Taxing Master 1998
Michael Jinks
October 98 Messrs. McGovern, Walsh & Co. Solr. 100.00 Taxing Master 1998
Tim Boland
September 98 Messrs John J. O'Hare & Co. Solrs. 24,738.21 Taxing Master 1998
Blanchbac Ltd.
October 98 Messrs. Arthur Cox, Solicitors 2,898.66 Taxing Master 1998
Messrs Brennan Governey & Co.
October 98 Messrs. Ivor Fitzpatrick & Co. Solrs. 19,003.07 Taxing Master 1998
Michael Kennedy TD
December 98 Messrs Bruce St. John Blake & Co. Solrs. 56,111.18 Taxing Master 1998
Rathkeale Managers
January 99 Messrs Holmes O'Malley Sexton Solrs. 125,775.89 Taxing Master 1999
Liam Marks
January 99 Messrs. Dermot Lavery & Co. Solicitors 157,297.56 Taxing Master 1999
9,221,282.63 Taxing Master Total
16,992,499.42 Grand Total

  39.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the reason for the delay in receiving EU approval for the control of farmyard pollution grants; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that many farmers will not be able to have their new slatted houses built before the end of 1999 even if given approval now; and if his attention has been drawn to the huge interest by farmers in the scheme. [13617/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The terms of a nationally funded scheme for the control of farm pollution were drawn up following consultations with the main farming organisations and submitted to the European Commission by my Department in February of this year. The Commission raised a number of issues in relation to the proposals in April and my Department responded to the Commission on these issues. Subsequently, officials met with the Commission earlier this month to deal with outstanding points. Most of the issues are now clarified but some further information was forwarded to the Commission within the last two weeks to allow the approval process to be completed. As a result, I am confident that the scheme will be approved in the near future.

[606]

  40.  Mr. J. O'Keeffe    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the steps, if any, he has taken to safeguard the export of Irish dairy products to the United States in view of the reaction of the US in relation to these products following the failure of the EU to comply with the World Trade Organisation ruling to allow hormone treated beef into the EU; and Ireland's position at EU level in relation to the importation of hormone treated beef from the US. [12892/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The preliminary list of products considered by the US for retaliatory action does not include the type of dairy products exported to the US from Ireland. I understand a final and shorter list of restricted products will be available in June.

I will continue to keep the situation under close review over the coming months in conjunction with my EU colleagues.

Following a finding by the WTO appellate body in January 1998, the EU was given until 13 May of this year to bring its ban on the import of hormone treated beef fully into line with WTO rules on risk assessment. In order to comply with this ruling, the EU has commissioned 17 scientific studies on the six hormones in question. At the beginning of May of this year, the Commission released the results available thus far from these studies.

I have already expressed my support for the European Commission's position that there can be no question of lifting the ban at this time. However, I believe it is important that there is [607] continuous dialogue between the EU and the US on this issue.

  41.  Mr. B. Smith    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the plans, if any, he has to bring forward proposals for the long-term development of Irish agriculture in view of the fact that Agenda 2000 is in place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13624/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  I have established a high level committee to propose a strategy for the development of agriculture and the food industry over the next decade, following on the agreement on Agenda 2000, which sets out the framework for the development of those sectors, and in the light of the changes and challenges which are likely to evolve nationally and internationally over that period. The committee will be chaired by Mr. Pat O'Neill and includes a range of distinguished people with expertise in relation to agriculture and food.

In addition, the National Development Plan 2000-06, which will be published later this year, will address important structural issues in agriculture and the food industry. Specifically the Plan will set out how the Government proposes to put into operation the measures included in the EU Council Regulation on support for rural development, which forms part of the Agenda 2000 package, and the industrial support measures which will apply to the food industry.

  42.  Mr. O'Shea    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the action, if any, taken arising from the report of the EU inspection mission which found serious deficiencies in March 1998, including the possibility of fraudulent actions, at the AIBP plant in Nenagh, County Tipperary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13590/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  As I indicated in replies to Questions Nos. 68 of 16 December 1998 and 72 of 24 February 1999, an EU Commission inspection mission to Ireland in March 1998 found certain hygiene related deficiencies concerning the loading bay, handling of seized-detained carcasses and the staining of specified risk material at the plant in question. In addition, deficiencies were found which, in the opinion of the EU inspectors, could allow for the possibility of fraud. However, it was made clear by the EU Commission, at a later meeting in Brussels, that the inspection mission had not found any evidence of actual or attempted fraud.

The Commission presented the reports of the mission at a meeting of the standing veterinary committee in Brussels in July 1998. No evidence of actual or attempted fraud was put forward and [608] no further investigations were planned. The Commission stated that health marking which was also reported to be a problem in other member states would receive particular attention during inspections of establishments.

Arising out of the findings of the mission and its own ongoing review of in-plant veterinary procedures, my Department took a number of steps to further improve controls at all meat plants. These included: revised arrangements in relation to marshalling halls and loading bays in all slaughter plants, including the plant to which the Deputy refers; revised procedures for the detention of carcasses in all slaughter plants; tightened procedures for the identification, handling, segregation, staining and removal of specified risk material in all slaughter and cutting plants; revision of the procedures at local plant level in respect of the evaluation of cattle age for the purpose of facilitating commercial trade.

The EU Commission has been fully appraised of the actions taken by my Department following the inspection.

  43.  Ms Coughlan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the timetable for the evaluation of the REP scheme under the EU regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13628/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The evaluation of the REP scheme will be completed by the end of June.

The purpose of this evaluation is to assess how the objectives of the scheme have been met to date, to assess the agricultural, socio-economic and environmental impact of the REP scheme and to provide practical recommendations for future modifications and improvements to the scheme.

Submissions have been received from concerned organisations including the Heritage Council, Birdwatch Ireland, Teagasc and the farming organisations. Independent studies have been commissioned on particular measures of the REP scheme under the auspices of Teagasc and the universities. Consultants have been engaged to consider the various inputs to the evaluation process and to put together a comprehensive and objective assessment of REP along with recommendations for the future scheme.

  44.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    his position on the efforts of the United States authorities to be allowed to export hormone treated beef within the EU; the extent of Irish food exports to the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13616/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  There has been a long-running dispute [609] between the EU and the US arising from the Union's ban on imports of hormone treated beef which was imposed in 1988. Following protracted proceedings, which included an appeal under the WTO, the EU was allowed up to 13 May last in order to bring the import ban fully into line with WTO rules on risk assessment.

Arising from its efforts to comply fully with the WTO requirements, the EU released, at the beginning of May, the results available thus far of 17 scientific studies into the six hormones in question. The US announced a list of retaliatory measures and therefore the dispute has become more difficult and complex. I fully support the European Commissions position that there can be no question of lifting the ban at this time.

I am, of course, also very conscious of the potential effect on Irish exports of the retaliatory action threatened by the US side. Given that the most recent announcement on 14 May by the US of its intended retaliatory action covering a total of $202 million in EU exports, does not give details of the products involved, it is not possible at this time to quantify how much of Ireland's total food exports of £164 million per annum to the US would be affected.

I have expressed my support for continued dialogue between the EU and the US on this issue.

  45.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the implications for Irish food exports if the United States proceeds with its threatened blacklist of European products arising from the dispute over the importation of US hormone treated beef; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13586/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The US announced on 14 May that it will seek authority from the World Trade Organisation to increase import duties on imports from the EU worth an estimated $202 million, if the EU continues its ban on the importation of meat to which growth hormones have been administered.

The US has not yet indicated the specific list of EU products to be affected by this suspension of trade, but is expected to publish the list in early June. Until such time as this list is published, it is not possible to estimate what effect, if any, the US action will have on Irish food exports.

I should also point out that discussions between the European Commission and the US are ongoing with a view to reaching a settlement of this long running dispute and I fully support the Commission's efforts in this regard.

  46.  Mr. D. Moynihan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the position regarding the proposals to have a separate FEOGA payments agency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13629/99]

[610]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  A draft memorandum to Government on the establishment of a new office to administer FEOGA and other payments to farmers has been circulated to other Departments. I am awaiting their final observations before submitting proposals as regards its establishment to the Government at an early date.

  47.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if a pilot study will be carried out on the levels of margins in view of the huge variance between the sale of cattle for slaughter and the sale of meat through food chains; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13460/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  My Department is responsible for collecting price data at producer level and these are reported weekly to the EU Commission. Data relating to consumer prices are collected by the Central Statistics Office and published on a monthly basis. The margin between the producer price and the retail price is a function of market forces, consumer preference and the relative negotiating strengths of each sector along all elements of the food chain. It is my view that, other things being equal, lower producer prices should be reflected in lower prices at retail level. However, matters concerning consumer prices and market competition are under the remit of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

In view of the fact that data are already collected at the various points in the food chain by various institutions and in light of existing legislation in the area of consumer protection and competition, the establishment of a pilot study as suggested is unnecessary.

  48.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if his attention has been drawn to the comments made on 18 May 1999 by the United States delegates to the World Meat Congress in Dublin to the effect that the US was not prepared to accept a compromise to avoid a trade war with the EU over hormone treated beef; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13646/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  I am fully aware of the current US perspective in relation to the EU hormone ban. Indeed, together with US agriculture secretary Glickmann, Commissioner Fischler and the secretary general of my Department, I participated in a session of the World Meat Congress on 19 May at which this was one of the issues discussed.

This has been a long running dispute which arises from the European Union ban on hormone treated beef in 1988. I have already expressed my [611] support for the European Commission's position that there can be no question of lifting the ban now. The outcome of proceedings under the WTO and the proposed retaliatory action by the US has clearly made the dispute more difficult. I have also expressed my support for continued dialogue between the EU and the US in order to avoid a trade war on this issue.

  49.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the action, if any, he will take arising from the departmental investigation into the circumstances of the seizure at the AIBP plant in Nenagh, County Tipperary, in November 1997 of a consignment of cattle believed to have been smuggled from Northern Ireland; if he will publish the report of his Department's investigation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13588/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  My Department has carried out an investigation into this matter. That report has been referred to the Garda Síochána with a view to determining whether the activities described therein warrant action by the Garda authorities.

  50.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if he has satisfied himself with the quality of fruit and vegetables being presented for sale at retail outlets; and if he has further satisfied himself that he has sufficient staff available to check the quality of this produce. [13639/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  Officers of my Department authorised under the European Communities (Fruit and Vegetable ) Regulations, 1997, carry out about 4,500 inspections annually, about 2,500 of which are at retail level. I am satisfied with general staffing levels for this purpose.

While there is some room for improvement in the labelling of produce, the incidence of defects in intrinsic quality is now at a very low level considering the perishable nature, variety, range and origin of the of produce on offer.

  51.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the steps, if any, he plans to take to ensure that Irish agriculture produce is not disadvantaged in the context of forthcoming World Trade Agreement negotiations; if his attention has been drawn to any indications which might mitigate against Irish producer interests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13643/99]

[612]Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  As in trade negotiations generally, the EU will participate in the next round of World Trade Organisation negotiations as a single entity and will be represented by the European Commission, which will conduct the negotiations in accordance with a mandate given to it by the Council of Ministers. The initial phase of the discussions is scheduled to commence later this year.

In the formulation of the Commission's mandate, I will seek to ensure that the CAP, as reformed under the Agenda 2000 decisions, will be defended vigorously within the WTO negotiations and, in particular, that the environmental, food safety and animal welfare burdens that have been placed on EU farmers are taken into account by our WTO partners, either by adopting similar objectives themselves or by acknowledging that the support system adopted by the Union is necessary to offset these burdens.

I am not aware of any factors which would adversely affect Irish agriculture specifically. I will, of course, remain alert to that possibility and will take whatever counter-measures are appropriate.

  52.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the progress, if any, being achieved in the delivery of direct payments to producers; the way in which Ireland compares with other member states in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13620/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The position is that Ireland's performance in delivering the direct payment schemes is among the best in the EU and compares very favourably with that of other member states. For most schemes Ireland rated between one and five among the 15 member states in terms of early payment in the 1997-98 scheme year. Ireland was first in the arable aid and ewe premium schemes, third in the suckler cow scheme and fifth in the special beef premium scheme.

I am satisfied that considerable progress has been made in implementing the Department's customer service action plan in using modern technology and in keeping documentation as simple as possible for these schemes. Application forms and helpsheets have been simplified each year in consultation with the farming bodies. In a recent oral presentation to the all-party committee on the strategic management initiative, the European Commission indicated that the forms used in Ireland were easier to understand than those used by other member states.

Direct payments to farmers constituted some 56 per cent of farmers income in 1998 and this proportion is set to increase in the coming years following the successful outcome of the Agenda 2000 negotiations. It is my objective that the improvements in delivery of these payments which has been achieved in recent years are built [613] on and that the service provided by my Department to farmers is efficient, fair, friendly and transparent.

  53.  Mr. D. Moynihan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the progress, if any, being achieved in expanding the shipping capacity for livestock to export markets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13622/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The provision of shipping facilities for transporting livestock is in the first instance a matter for the private sector.

Since the beginning of the year, my Department has approved four additional dedicated cattle ships. All of these have been approved for transporting cattle to the Continent while two are approved for markets further afield such as the Lebanon.

This brings the total number of dedicated ships approved for the export of cattle to 16 and gives a capacity on such vessels for over 22,000 heads of cattle at 500kg weight.

In addition, there is the capacity for up to 30 livestock units to be carried each week on roll-on/roll-off services currently operating out of Rosslare. My Department has recently approved another vessel, the M.V. Venus for a roll-on/roll-off service between Cork and St. Malo. This new service, which is expected to carry nine to ten livestock units on each voyage, is planned to commence next month and is in addition to the existing two roll-on/roll-off services available from Rosslare to the Continent for livestock exporters.

There has been a further dramatic surge in live exports this year with total exports to early May, 1999 amounting to 121,279, compared with 44,330 in the same period last year – a 173 per cent increase. Exports to the Continent thus far this year amount to 91,217, compared with 33,294 in the same period last year.

My Department will continue to respond without delay to all reasonable requests for inspection of vessels and will be inspecting additional ships within the next two months, which may result in a further increase in available shipping capacity.

  54.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    when the White Paper on rural development will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13581/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  As indicated in reply to Question No. 38 on this issue on 28 April 1999, the White Paper on rural development will be published in advance of completion of the National Development Plan, 2000-06. I will submit a draft document to Government for approval shortly with a view to publication of the White Paper as soon as possible.

[614]

  55.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if he will give details of any discussions which have taken place with the EU Commission on the continuation of the Leader programme; if he will confirm that the budget may be reduced for this programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13637/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  As part of the agreement on Agenda 2000, the European Commission is committed to the introduction of a further Community initiative on rural development when the current Leader programme expires. In March, the European Commission published a working document outlining its initial proposals for the new Community initiatives, 2000-06. The Commission invited comments by 12 May 1999 and indicated that the final programme could be formally approved before the end of 1999.

The EU funding for Community initiatives under the next round of the Structural Funds has not yet been finalised, either in overall terms or for individual Initiatives. The indicative allocations which have been presented by the European Commission for Ireland represent a reduction in the level of funding under the current round period, 1994-99. The Commission has indicated that its final proposals will be available in the near future.

The European Commission's proposals on the Community initiatives, 2000-06 were discussed at a meeting of the management committee for Community initiatives on 23 April 1999. My officials are also in regular, informal contact with the Commission.

  56.  Mr. J. O'Keeffe    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the reason for the failure to open up live shipping markets of any consequence for Irish cattle; and the steps, if any, he now proposes in this regard bearing in mind current catastrophic prices for cattle. [12891/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  Exports of live cattle increased from 56,000 head in 1997 to 180,000 head in 1998 and have already reached 130,000 head this year. These exports are contributing to market price stability, particularly for suckler cow producers, who are generally at the more vulnerable end of the production spectrum.

While cattle prices have recovered substantially since the beginning of the year, they are, nevertheless, below the levels that prevailed this time last year. These lower prices are primarily due to the ongoing impact of the difficulties in the Russian market and the difficulties in some EU markets where consumers are showing a preference for their own domestically produced beef. However, I am confident that our beef exports to EU markets will continue to improve over the [615] next few months and this, in conjunction with a very active live trade should ensure a strengthening in prices.

I will continue to ensure that adequate ferry capacity is available to transport cattle to EU markets. Shipping capacity continues to expand, with 16 dedicated vessels now approved by my Department to complement the existing roll-on roll-off services. In addition, last week my Department approved the MV Venus at Piraeus in Greece for carrying livestock trucks on the Cork to St. Malo route. It is expected that nine to ten livestock trucks will be carried on each voyage.

With regard to the live trade to third country markets these have increased substantially, particularly to the Lebanon. As regards Libya, agreement was reached with a Libyan Government delegation last July providing for the re-opening of the Libyan market for Irish cattle and beef on the basis of agreed veterinary health conditions and terms of contracts. This agreement was the culmination of extensive contacts with the Libyan authorities since early 1997. The Libyan Government, through the general peoples' committee, formally cleared the agreement before the end of September and written confirmation to this effect was received.

Although the Libyan authorities indicated their wish to have the agreement implemented immediately, there have been delays in the conclusion of contracts for Irish cattle. These delays are of serious concern both to myself and the Government. Ongoing contact is being maintained with the Libyan authorities, on a continuing basis, through every appropriate channel, with a view to ensuring that the July agreement is implemented in practice. The Libyan authorities have indicated, as recently as 1 May, that current economic conditions in Libya have resulted in the postponement of the implementation of the agreement but pointed out that they have never failed in the past to honour any agreement reached with another State. I am hopeful therefore that the agreement will be honoured and will continue to take every appropriate step to ensure this outcome.

The only other traditional market for live cattle is Egypt and while it is my objective that all markets should be open to Irish cattle, it should be noted that the nature of that market has changed for Ireland. Egypt has now become the largest market for Irish beef importing 120,000 tonnes of beef in 1998, which is the equivalent of over 350,000 head of cattle.

  57.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if farmers will be allowed to continue to take up supplementary measure 6 of the REP scheme at any stage during their five year plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13636/99]

[616]Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  Under the provisions of the new REP scheme document of 1 January 1999 and the revised agri-environmental specifications, applications under supplementary measure six may only be made at the time an application for a new five year plan is being submitted.

Farmers may not take up supplementary measure six for the purposes of drawing down additional payment after the commencement date of his or her agrienvironmental plan.

  58.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that bulk buying of fruit and vegetables by the major supermarkets is putting considerable pressure on producers and small wholesalers; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that the quality of the produce is often inferior; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13638/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The continuing concentration of demand in the retail grocery sector and the associated central distribution systems has resulted in a need for reorganisation and investment by producers and those involved in conditioning, packaging and distribution.

In the fruit and vegetable sectors these developments were anticipated in the reform of the common organisation of the market with its emphasis on ongoing support for producer organisation programmes. In addition special priority was given to fruit and vegetable projects, involving investment in post harvest packaging and distribution facilities, in recent rounds of FEOGA funding and national aid.

There is no reason why produce should now be inferior and there is little evidence to support the view that there is any deterioration in quality.

  59.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    when the promised independent agency to administer FEOGA and other payments, such as premia to farmers, will be established; the reason for the long delay in setting up the agency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13593/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  I have circulated to other Departments a draft memorandum to Government on the establishment of a new office to administer FEOGA and other payments to farmers. I am awaiting their final observations before submitting proposals to the Government.

The draft memorandum was prepared following the substantial progress that has been made by my Department in preparing for the establishment of the food safety authority of Ireland and the implementation of the major decentralisation [617] to Johnstown Castle, Wexford of large numbers of staff dealing with FEOGA payments.

  60.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the number of cattle, believed to have been smuggled from Northern Ireland, seized so far this year; the steps, if any, taken by his Department to end this smuggling; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13587/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  A total of 64 cattle believed to have been illegally imported from Northern Ireland have been seized in the first four months of this year. A very extensive range of measures is in place to ensure the integrity of animals presented for slaughter including an animal traceability system. Close liaison is maintained between my Department, the Garda authorities and the Customs and Excise to ensure that the ban on import of live cattle from the United Kingdom is fully implemented. It should also be noted that the primary onus is on the UK authorities to comply with the implementation of the ban.

  61.  Mr. B. Smith    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if he will outline the consultation process regarding the detailed rules for the implementation of Agenda 2000; the implications, if any, in terms of resources it may have for his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13623/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The detailed rules for the implementation of the Agenda 2000 CAP reforms have yet to be published by the Commission. As soon as they are available I will arrange for consultations to take place with the main organisations concerned.

I have already set up a group within my Department to make a preliminary assessment of the resource and operational implications of the policy changes decided on as part of the Agenda 2000 agreement. This task cannot be completed until the detailed rules are finalised. However, I can say at this stage that the resource implications are likely to be significant.

  62.  Mr. J. Brady    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    when the Bill to place the national beef assurance scheme on a statutory footing will be presented before the Oireachtas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13625/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The drafting of a Bill to put the national beef assurance scheme on a statutory footing is at an advanced stage and will be finalised shortly, [618] following which it will be presented to the Government seeking authorisation to circulate it to Deputies and to present it to the Oireachtas.

  63.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the extent to which the future of Irish agriculture is secure arising from recent Agenda 2000 negotiations; the anticipated impact on the industry here; the reason for the difference in prices paid to producers here and in other EU states; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13644/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  I am satisfied that in the agreement reached on the Agenda 2000 CAP reforms, my major objectives of fully protecting the interests of the Irish agriculture and food sectors and providing a framework within which these sectors can maximise their contribution to employment and rural development have been met.

Over the seven year period 2000-06, the gains to Irish farmers from the agreement will amount to £395 million. This compares with a loss of approximately £1.4 billion which would have accrued if the Commission's original proposals of March 1998 had been implemented.

The differences in prices paid to producers here and in other member states are due to a variety of factors such as distance from market, customer preferences, the value and extent of processing and other local and regional market conditions. It is my intention that whatever action is open to me to eliminate any disadvantages to Irish producers, such as improved marketing and promotion, will be taken.

  64.  Mr. Gilmore    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the steps, if any, taken by his Department to fulfil the commitment made in An Action Programme for the Millennium to actively encourage the development of the organic farm sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13584/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  Support is provided under the rural environment protection scheme and the scheme of grant aid under the operational programme for agriculture, rural development and forestry 1994-99 for the organic farm sector.

Payments in the order of £3 million have been made to date to organic farmers under the REP scheme and a total of almost £224,000 has been paid under the organic grant scheme of the operational programme.

The Department also provides annual funding to the three private organic inspection bodies, Irish organic farmers and growers association, organic trust ltd. and demeter standards and maintains a register of genuine organic producers licensed by the three organic inspection bodies. [619] The number of producers on the register is in excess of 800.

Future support arrangements for the organic farming sector are under consideration in the Department in the context of the new National Development Plan for the period 2000-06. The outcome of the evaluation of REPS which is due to be completed next month will be taken into account in this process.

  65.  Mr. O'Shea    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    when the report of the beef task force will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13591/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The beef task force has not yet completed its deliberations. When I established the task force last November I asked for a strategic plan of action to be drawn up to deal with the major obstacles impeding the future development of the beef sector. I understand that considerable progress has been made by the group under the chairmanship of the secretary general of my Department and I expect the report to be concluded shortly.

  66.  Mr. Higgins (Mayo)    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if farmers will be allowed to use converted piggeries as housing accommodation for cattle under the terms of the new farmyard pollution scheme. [13532/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  Under the terms of the proposed control of farm pollution scheme submitted to the European Commission for approval, provision has been made to grant aid for the conversion of existing farm structures to new requirements, provided the converted structure when finished, complies with my Department's minimum technical specifications for such a structure. These include the appropriate size of the structure, its structural safety, storage tank structure and capacity, ventilation standards, appropriate slatted and other passages.

It is not customary to convert piggeries for use as cattle housing. However, such a conversion might be eligible under the proposed new scheme if it could be converted to a standard and type of cattle housing which would qualify for grant aid under the scheme.

[620]

  67.  Mr. Dennehy    asked the Taoiseach    if he will request the Central Statistics Office to research alternative methods of measuring the cost of living, given the widespread concern that the current consumer price index does not adequately reflect the cost of accommodation, home owner ship and transport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13674/99]

The Taoiseach:  The consumer price index, as an indicator of inflation, is designed to measure the change in the level of prices paid for consumer goods and services by the average private household in the country. In this regard the construction of the Irish CPI conforms to the highest international standards.

The CPI does include changes in mortgage interest costs. These costs reflect not only changes in interest rates but also the increasing size of the average mortgage. Measurement of the latter takes into account the trend in house prices and thus these price trends are indirectly taken into account in the construction of the CPI. It should be noted that many households own their houses outright, or have long established mortgages, and thus only a very small minority of households are involved in house purchase at any given time. Therefore, the impact of recent price increases on the CPI – which relates to the average household – is limited. A wide range of other housing costs, including rents, service charges, insurance, decorating and repairs, are also covered by the index.

The index covers all aspects of transport including the purchase of new and second hand cars and motor cycles, motor tax and insurance, motor fuels and spare parts. Also included are car maintenance and repair and other vehicle costs such as parking fines and parking fees. In addition public transport costs for all modes of transport are monitored by the CPI.

The CSO methodology as outlined above is extremely comprehensive and compares favourably with that of other countries. Accordingly, I do not consider it necessary to ask the CSO to investigate alternative methods at this point in time.

  68.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Taoiseach    the numbers in the national dairy herd; the numbers five years ago; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13816/99]

The Taoiseach:  The following table outlines the numbers in the national dairy herd on 1 December 1998 along with comparable estimates for 1993.

Year Numbers of Dairy Cows
1 December 1998 1,276,500
1 December 1993 1,274,100

Source: CSO December Agricultural Survey.

[621]

  69.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if she has assessed the proposed agreement on trade union recognition and discussed the matter with all relevant State agencies who have an input to make; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13452/99]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ms Harney):  Consultations with the social partners and the relevant state agencies about implementation of the proposals in the report of the high level group on trade union recognition are ongoing. Following these consultations I intend to put implementation proposals to Government.

  70.  Mr. Higgins (Mayo)    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment     the number of industrial jobs created in Mayo in 1998; and the number of industrial jobs lost as a result of closures of enterprises. [13482/99]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ms Harney):  I am providing data in respect of manufacturing employment from the annual Forfás employment survey and relevant county enterprise board figures as employment information is not generally compiled under the broad classification of industrial jobs.

The number of manufacturing jobs created in County Mayo in 1998 was 825, while the number of manufacturing jobs lost as a result of closures in that county in 1998 was 155.

Economic growth is boosting regional prosperity and is having a positive impact on local economies such as Mayo. Furthermore, additional employment is being created in many firms with which enterprise support agencies would not have a direct involvement.

  71.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the position regarding the Sweepstake workers who were made redundant in 1987 and are still awaiting the implementation of the Labour Court recommendations of two weeks' pay for each year's service as compensation for their loss of employment; when a resolution will be finalised; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13533/99]

  73.  Mr. D. Carey    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if the Government will honour the Labour Court recommendation in relation to the remaining 126 retired staff of the Irish Hospitals Sweepstake; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13580/99]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ms Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 71 and 73 together.

[622] My Department has no specific responsibility in relation to this matter. However, the Government is examining how the State might recognise the contribution which has been made by the hospitals sweepstakes pensioners and discussions are taking place between the Taoiseach and myself on this matter.

  72.  Mr. Belton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the progress, if any, made by the Longford Inter Agency Group; the situation regarding new projects for County Longford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13542/99]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ms Harney):  Since I set up the inter agency group in December last, following the closure of the Atlantic Mills factory, considerable progress has been made. FÁS has implemented a range of programmes in response to the needs of the workforce who were made redundant and a considerable number has now found alternative employment.

A marketing brochure has been finalised and a marketing programme has been put in place. Two potential investors have expressed particular interest in the factory at Clondra and discussions are ongoing between the agencies, the owners of the factory and the potential clients, to secure a successful outcome.

The advance factory and lands at Longford are also being actively promoted for potential investment. I am hopeful that all these efforts will result in a positive outcome for the county.

  74.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the position in relation to a refurbishment grant application for a boat for a person (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13472/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  The application in question was submitted to BIM under the fleet modernisation scheme of the fisheries operational programme 1994-99. I understand that the application was held over pending the acquisition of a licence by the applicant which has now issued. A decision on the grant application will be announced shortly.

  75.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources when a forestry premium payment will be made to a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13474/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  Payment of the premium in respect [623] of the above named person has been approved. Payment will be made in the near future.

  76.  Mr. Creed    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources when a person (details supplied) in County Cork will be paid a forestry grant. [13512/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  The premium payment for the person in question has been approved and a payable order will issue at an early date.

  77.  Mr. Creed    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources when a person (details supplied) in County Cork will be paid a forestry grant. [13513/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  The premium payment for the person in question has been approved and a payable order will issue at an early date.

  78.  Mr. Higgins (Dublin West)    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources if the Kenmare River waterway has been sold or leased by the State; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that signs indicating that fly fishing may only be done from a boat have been erected along this stretch of water, which has traditionally been open to fishing. [13528/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  I am advised by the South-Western Regional Fisheries Board that the Kenmare River is and always has been open to the public, and there are no signs restricting fishing.

It is possible that the Deputy has in mind Lough Brin, on the River Blackwater. The Blackwater was purchased by the Central Fisheries Board five years ago and is being managed by the South-Western Regional Fisheries Board, which has invested significant amounts in developing it. The lake is a good spot for trout anglers and has been attracting increasing numbers of tourists. The signage erected by the south western board indicates that only fishing from boats is allowed and a fee of £20 per day per boat applies. These fees were introduced by the south western board for fishing on the lake to contribute towards funding on-going maintenance and development of trout stocks and angling facilities.

  79.  Mr. Farrelly    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources when an afforestation grant will be paid to a person (details supplied) in County Meath; if he will ensure that these moneys are paid at the same time each year so that applicants can keep to their financial commitments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13560/99]

[624]Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  The premium payment for the person in question has been approved and a payable order will issue at an early date. The introduction of a new computerised system will ensure that subsequent premiums will be paid in the early months of each year.

  80.  Mr. Cosgrave    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources if the transfer of ownership of a fishing vessel to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 13 will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13691/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  An offer of a sea fishing boat licence was made to the person concerned, subject to certain conditions and requirements, last month. Their application will be finalised expeditiously when all necessary information and undertakings are received by my Department.

  81.  Mr. M. Moynihan    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources when a forestry payment will be made to a person (details supplied) in County Cork for 19.9 hectares which he planted in 1998. [13783/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  The premium payment for the person in question has been approved and a payable order will issue at an early date.

  82.  Mr. Higgins (Dublin West)    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the authority under which Coillte is permitted to spray the organochlorine pesticide lindane on sitka spruce plantations; if a licence is required for this spraying; his views on the spraying of chemicals such as lindane within close proximity of schools; and the monitoring, if any, conducted in the use of lindane. [13819/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  While I have no function in the licensing of pesticides or their use by bodies under my aegis, I understand from Coillte that, in addition to conforming with all statutory requirements, it applies very strict internal procedures in the application of pesticides.

I understand that pesticides such as lindane, which is currently being withdrawn from use by Coillte are applied to individual plants by means of hand held knapsack sprayers and should not create any general risks.

[625]

  83.  Ms Fitzgerald    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the preparations, if any, made by his Department for the presentation document in relation to Partnership for Peace; and the other steps, if any, required in the case of this country. [13453/99]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Andrews):  As has been made clear previously, it is the Government's intention that, in the light of the current public debate and following the European elections, in which parties will no doubt take the opportunity to set out their approaches, Ireland will join Partnership for Peace later this year.

Prior to joining, a decision in favour of participation in PfP should be submitted to Dáil Éireann for its consideration and approval. The decision to be submitted to the Dáil would make clear the nature and scope of our proposed participation in PfP in appropriate terms.

Participation in Partnership for Peace is based on the principle of self-differentiation: that is, a State selects for itself the nature and scope of its participation. The terms of our participation would be reflected in Ireland's national presentation document, which would be presented to NATO upon signature by Ireland of the PfP framework document of January 1994. Upon signature by Ireland of the framework document, Ireland would have joined PfP. Consultations with the NATO Secretariat concerning the modalities of Ireland's participation in PfP will take place at the appropriate time.

An information booklet, entitled Ireland and the Partnership for Peace – An Explanatory Guide, which explains in detail what participation by Ireland in PfP would entail, has been issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs under the direction of the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

  84.  Mr. Farrelly    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if there are grants available for post-graduate research courses in Boston, United States of America; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13467/99]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Andrews):  Scholarships for postgraduate research and study in the United States are made available every year to Irish citizens by the Ireland-United States Commission for Educational Exchange, also known as the Fulbright Commission, which is administered by the cultural section of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Fulbright scholarships are advertised annually in the national newspapers in late September-early October and interviews for shortlisted candidates are usually held in December.

For scholarships in the academic year 2000-2001, applicants from academic disciplines should have a university degree or equivalent pro[626] fessional qualification-experience by 1 September 2000. Those of exceptional talent in the fields of music and the visual and performing arts, are also eligible. Applicants should be in a position to outline a clearly defined programme of research or study at a specific accredited institution and must obtain their own placements in the US. Those who are already resident in the United States, i.e. holders of US immigrant visas – green cards – or applicants for such, are ineligible to apply.

  85.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    his views on whether certain parts of the world would be best avoided, particularly by air travellers, due to problems associated with the year 2000 computer problem; the plans, if any, he has to make inquiries in this regard; if he will seek advice and information on the issue; if not, the plans, if any, he has in this regard; the advice, if any, he has issued to travellers in this regard; the timescale in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13796/99]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Andrews):  It is possible that travellers will encounter problems at the beginning of next year because of computers in some countries not having been adapted for the year 2000. There may in some instances be disruption or breakdown of air, sea and-or land transportation; services such as heating, air conditioning, lifts, sewerage, water and-or gas; medical, hospital and-or welfare services; police, emergency and-or other security services; banks and other financial service providers and-or telecommunications.

Problems are most likely to manifest themselves in some developing countries or in the former Soviet republics.

It is too early yet to be more specific as to the places where problems are likely to materialise or the nature of such problems. In consultation with our EU partners, the Department of Foreign Affairs is gathering information with a view to advising Irish people expecting to be abroad at the crucial time about precautions to take. When the situation becomes clearer the Department will issue appropriate advice.

  86.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the plans, if any, she has to develop the telecommunications network in the broad band or other infrastructural investment in the Inishowen peninsula in view of the fact that it serves a population equivalent to Counties Leitrim or Louth; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13578/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  The Deputy is aware that the provision of telecommunications infrastructure is primarily a matter for operators in the newly liberalised telecommunications market.

[627] Recognising that in certain regions of the country, competition alone will not provide the required broadband telecommunications infrastructural investment, I recently sought fresh proposals for projects supporting the development of advanced communications networks and services which might be co-funded by the European Union. A number of proposals have been received and are currently being evaluated by independent consultants.

In addition, my Department, together with Forfás, is currently preparing estimates of further funding requirements to ensure nation-wide broadband connectivity. All regions will be considered in this review.

  87.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the number of farmers operating in Ireland; if he will give a breakdown of farming sectors; the level of operators in each sector who avail of grants, subsidies, premia or any payment; the average grant payment to the 144,177 farmers which availed of one or more grants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13448/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The Central Statistics Office provides information relating to the number of farmers and their representation in each farming sector.

CSO data indicate that in 1998 there was a total of 146,300 farmers in Ireland. The most recent information from the CSO regarding the number of farmers in each farming sector relates to 1993 and is contained in the publication agricultural labour input survey. This reveals the following details:

Farming Sector Number of Farmers
Tillage 4,400
Dairying 39,000
Beef 68,900
Sheep 15,300
Mixed Livestock 25,600
Mixed Crop/Livestock 4,300
Other 2,000

According to my Department's records, 144,177 farmers received grants in the form of direct income payments of approximately £7,200, on average, in 1998.

In addition, farmers have also benefited from investment supports such as the farm improvement programme and retired farmers received pension payments totalling £67 million in 1998.

[628]

  88.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the progress, if any, the food industry development group has made on its report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13449/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The food industry development group completed its work in 1998 and its report was published in February 1999. In accordance with the group's terms of reference, its report identifies priorities, defines support requirements and proposes an action plan in the context of a strategic approach to the future use of national and structural funds.

  89.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the board membership of An Bord Bia; if the food retail, restaurant and delicatessen sectors are represented on the board; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13450/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  Section 14 of the An Bord Bia Act, 1994, as amended by An Bord Bia (Amendment) Act, 1995, and An Bord Bia (Amendment) Act, 1996, provides that the board of An Bord Bia shall consist of a chairman and 14 ordinary members. That section further provides that, of the ordinary members, one shall be an officer of the Minister and three others shall be appointed on the nominations respectively of the Minister for Tourism and Trade – now Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment – the Minister for the Marine – now Minister for Marine and Natural Resources – and such organisations as the Minister considers to be representative of consumers. It also stipulates that both the chairman and the ordinary members shall be spersons having knowledge or experience of the food industry and of consumer requirements.

Details of the current membership of the board are given in the attached list which also sets out the areas from which they are drawn and identifies the nominated appointees.

Philip Lynch (Chairman) IAWS Group PLC
*Agnes Aylward Department of Tourism, Sport & Recreation
Noel Cawley Irish Dairy Board
Michael Dowling Food and Agribusiness consultant
John Duggan Avonmore Foods PLC
Michael Hanrahan Kerry Group PLC
Denis Lucey Dairygold Co-Op Society Ltd.
Maura Nolan Department of Agriculture and Food
Tom O'Dwyer ICMSA
William O'Kane O'Kane Poultry Ltd.
Joseph O'Sullivan Drinagh Co-Op
Tom Parlon President, IFA
Mary White Lir Chocolates Ltd.
*Sara White Department of the Marine & Natural Resources
*Vacancy Consumers Association of Ireland

*Nominated members.

[629]

  90.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive 1998 headage and premia payments. [13464/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The person named is not the registered herdowner and accordingly is not eligible for payment of headage or premia grants. He has applied to my Department for a herdnumber, and he was written to on 1 October 1998 requesting certain information relating to his application. To date, no reply has been received, and until the information requested has been furnished, his applications for a herdnumber and headage and premia grants cannot be processed further.

  91.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the plans, if any, he has to review the annual inspection fee for small organic farms in view of the financial difficulties that this fee is creating for small producers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13502/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  My Department does not charge a fee for inspection of organic farm enterprises.

Organic producers must be licensed by one of the approved independent organic bodies and are inspected by the licensing body on an annual basis. Any inspection fee charged is determined by the approved organic body concerned.

  92.  Mr. Finucane    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    when a fodder grant will be paid to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [13507/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The person named submitted an application for assistance under the 1999 special fodder hardship scheme and qualifies for aid of £300. Arrangements are being make to issue payment as soon as possible.

  93.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    his views on the European Commission proposals for a new directive on the welfare of egg-laying hens. [13522/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  Discussions on the proposal for a new Council directive laying down minimum standards for the protection of laying hens kept in various systems of rearing are continuing at EU levels with the participation of officials from my Department. In the course of these discussions a [630] number of member states, including Ireland, have indicated difficulties with aspects of the proposal.

While supportive of any measures that safeguard and improve animal welfare, I believe all aspects of the proposal, including legitimate economic concerns, must be taken into account in the discussions. Hence we have been seeking a balanced outcome in the discussions on the proposal to ensure that the interests of both animal welfare and the producer are protected.

  94.  Mr. Higgins (Mayo)    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if the new farmyard pollution scheme will apply only to people who are in the REP scheme. [13531/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  Under the terms of the proposed new national scheme for the control of farm pollution submitted to the European Commission for approval, participation will be confined to farmers participating in the rural environment protection scheme or those following a nutrient management plan.

  95.  Mr. McGrath    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if he has discussed with the EU Commissioner for Agriculture the fact that Irish farmers in receipt of pension under the farm retirement scheme through his Department have had their total income capped despite increases in their pensions from the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs; if he will ensure that the present income cap is lifted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13657/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  Under the terms of the regulation governing the scheme of early retirement from farming all national pensions must be deducted from the pension paid under that scheme.

My Department has discussed this matter at some length with the European Commission who have made it clear that the deduction of national pensions has universal application across EU member states implementing the early retirement measure.

  96.  Mr. U. Burke    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    when an installation grant will be paid to a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13660/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The documentation received in my Department with the application for installation aid in this case was found to be incomplete. The application was returned to Teagasc, on 23 April [631] for further processing and has not been resubmitted to date.

  97.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the details of the new farm retirement scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13661/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The rural development regulation which was recently adopted by the Agriculture Council as part of the Agenda 2000 agreement provides for continued support for early retirement from farming. Under the new regulation, the provisions of which will apply from 1 January 2000, the enlargement requirement in the existing scheme will be replaced by a provision linked to the improved viability of the holding transferred, and part-time farmers will be eligible to apply for the pension. The new scheme provides for possible changes in relation to the level and duration of pension payments.

Detailed rules for the implementation of the regulation have yet to be agreed. The new early retirement scheme to apply in Ireland will form part of the rural development plan which my Department has to submit to the European Commission within six months of adoption of the Council Regulation. The Commission will approve such a plan within six months of submission.

  98.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    when headage grant payments will be made to a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13662/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The person named applied for grants on four suckler cows under the 1998 beef cow scheme and the 1998 suckler cow scheme on 13 May 1998. He was paid his full entitlement of £300.00 under the 1998 beef cow scheme on 19 November 1998.

As the person named did not hold a suckler cow quota for 1998 he is not entitled to payment under the 1998 suckler cow premium scheme.

  99.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if he will introduce a grant scheme to enable butchers to upgrade their abattoirs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13663/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  A submission from the Craft Butchers of Ireland on behalf of the small abattoir group requesting inclusion for financial assistance in the [632] new structural funds for the years 2000-2006 to upgrade their abattoirs has been received by my Department. No decision has been made as yet on expenditure under the new round of structural funds.

  100.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    when farm installation aid will be paid to a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13664/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  Having regard to the volume of work on hand, there has been an unavoidable delay in processing this application. If the application is supported by full documentation as required under the scheme it will be processed within two months.

  101.  Mr. U. Burke    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the section where it is stated in the terms and conditions of the REP scheme applicable on 1 February 1996 that a leased share of a share of commonage is ineligible for payment under the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13665/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The position is that as from 10 December 1997 leased commonage is not eligible for payment under the REP scheme and notification to this effect was sent to all planners and planning agencies. This decision was made against a background of the receipt in the Department of a significant number of REP applications with high proportions of leased commonage land. Some of the applications were in respect of lands which were of entirely leased commonage.

In order to safeguard the financial interests of the EU and the national Exchequer these applications had to be assessed thoroughly to ensure they were genuine and complied with the terms and conditions of the scheme. Consideration of the eligibility of such cases involved consultation with the offices of the Attorney General and the European Commission and the Commission concluded that payment of REP on leased commonage could not be justified.

  102.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if, further to Parliamentary Question No. 115 of 12 May 1999, he will waive all late penalties on the area aid application for a person (details supplied) in County Sligo in view of the medical evidence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13695/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  As stated in my reply of 12 May 1999, [633] the question of whether late penalties should not apply to the 1999 area aid application for the person named will be considered in the light of any medical evidence submitted by the person named. Due to the large numbers of applications which require processing, it will be some time before the final status of any individual application will be determined.

  103.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if, further to Parliamentary Question No. 106 of 27 April 1999, the area aid application will be reviewed for a person (details supplied) in County Leitrim in view of the fact that he has the land maps supplied; if a favourable decision will be made and his headage payments released; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13696/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  As outlined in my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 106 of 27 April 1999 there was a parcel of land on the 1998 area aid application for the above-named which was also being claimed by another applicant. Both applicants were contacted regarding this matter and the person named admitted that he did not have the right to declare this parcel on his application. The area of this land parcel constituted an over-claim in excess of 20 per cent.

Under EU regulations this results in the application of a 100 per cent penalty and I have no discretion in the matter.

  104.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a company (details supplied) in County Sligo is willing to transfer to Ireland its total production of ear tags for cattle, sheep and pigs which will create additional employment in the area; if he will grant the company the necessary authorisation to sell the tags; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13697/99]

  109.  Mr. Yates    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the proposals, if any, there are to introduce a system of choice for farmers in relation to the provision of national cattle identification whereby there would not just be one single source of ear tags, but a range of approved suppliers from which herdowners could purchase; and the situation in relation to the next tendering process for the national bovine identification system. [13759/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 104 and 109 together.

The present position is that Eurotags, Mullinahone Co-op, County Tipperary was appointed as the sole supplier of approved cattle eartags in respect of 1999 on foot of an open tendering competition conducted under national and EU procurement rules. In accordance with the terms and [634] conditions specified in the tendering documentation issued by my Department, the contract with Eurotags covers the period 1 January 1999 to 31 December 1999 with the possibility of an extension for a maximum of two further years.

The supply arrangements for cattle eartags to apply in respect of the post 1 January 2000 period are being reviewed by my Department and will be discussed with the farming organisations at a sub-group of the Animal Health Forum in the near future.

Under EU procurement rules, all tenderers and suppliers must be treated equally irrespective of their location within the Community. In these circumstances it will be open to the County Sligo company referred to in the questions, to tender on an equal footing with other firms when the next tendering competition for the supply of cattle eartags is announced.

As regards the identification of sheep, proposals for the introduction of a system of tagging of sheep have been presented to the various respesentative bodies by my Department and consultations are now ongoing. Final decisions have not yet been taken as regards the system of tagging or the tag supply arrangements that will be put in place.

There are no current proposals to introduce a mandatory tagging system for pigs.

  105.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    when a REP scheme payment will be made to a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [13719/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  My Department has no record of an application under the rural environment protection scheme from the person named.

  106.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo did not receive the full payment for headage premia as maps were supplied confirming adequate forage area; and when the outstanding payment will be made. [13720/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The applicant applied for a total of 52.67 hectares on her 1998 area aid application form. Following processing of the form, the area determined was 50.60 hectares, an overclaim of 4.09 per cent. Under EU regulations any overclaim greater than 3 per cent and less than 20 per cent results in the rate of penalty applied being double the discrepancy determined in the area. The applicants payments were therefore based on a adjusted area of 46.46 hectares. A letter an maps issued to her explaining the situation. The area aid unit did not receive a reply to this letter. In order to afford the applicant a final opportunity to clarify the matter, a second copy of the previous letter and maps have issued.

[635]

  107.  Mr. Boylan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if his attention has been drawn to the recent serious drop in pig prices; the action he will take to prevent recurrence of the collapse of the industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13748/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  In January 1999 Irish pigmeat prices were £73.63/100kgs and since then, they have increased to £76.46/100kgs. This represents an increase of about 4 per cent, and I am hopeful that this upward trend will continue. Nothwithstanding that, it is true that the pigmeat sector at EU level and third countries has been going through a very difficult period since the middle of last year. This is due essentially to the fact that the market is heavily oversupplied at present.

I have taken a range of actions aimed at alleviating the difficulties in the pigmeat sector. I secured increases in export refunds on four occasions in 1998, and I secured a further increase in February of this year. I also secured agreement from the EU Commission for the introduction of an aids to private storage scheme, under which EU funding is provided for the storage of pigmeat for a maximum period of six months.

The Russian food aid programme, which involves the supply of 100,000 tonnes of pigmeat to Russia, will have a positive effect on the EU market when concluded. To date 22,000 tonnes have been exported to Russia and arrangements are currently being finalised for the supply of a further 40,000 tonnes.

To encourage the consumption of bacon on the home market, An Bord Bia launched the quality assured bacon promotional campaign earlier this year, which has helped sales and improved the market.

The latest EU Commission forecast for the pig industry is that pig slaughterings will start to decrease later this year, and this should help to drive up pigmeat prices given the cutback on supplies.

I along with a number of my colleagues in the Agriculture Council have last week requested the Commission to take action both in terms of market support measures and other measures in order to alleviate the situation. I intend to maintain pressure at EU level for appropriate action.

  108.  Mr. Yates    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if a person (details supplied) in County Wexford will have his application under the 1998 special beef premium scheme reviewed on the basis that a part of the application was submitted in error two days earlier as it should have been as part of his 1999 application; and if this can be adjusted in view of the circumstances involved. [13758/99]

[636]Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  Under the EU regulations governing the special beef premium scheme there is a stocking density limit of 2 livestock units per hectare of forage area declared on an applicants area aid application.

The person named declared a forage area of 72.02 hectares on his 1998 area aid application, thereby giving a stocking limit of 144.04 livestock units. This person also had a milk quota of 55,468 gallons in 1998, which when divided by the national average yield of 897 gallons, accounts for 61.83 livestock units.

The person named made the following applications for special beef premium – 14 animals on the ten month special beef premium scheme on 18 June, 1998; eight animals on the 22 month special beef premium scheme on 29 April, 1998; 30 animals on the ten month special beef premium scheme on 4 December, 1998; 13 animals on the 22 month special beef premium scheme on 4 December 1998.

The person named also applied for premium on 485 ewes (72.75 livestock units) under the ewe premium scheme. The balance of the livestock units available were utilised under the special beef premium scheme as follows: 14 animals x 0.6 = 8.4 livestock units; 1.06 animal x 1 = 1.06 livestock units.

The remaining animals will not receive payment and are, under EU regulations, deemed to have received the instalment of the premium applied for and are not entitled to be re-submitted for premium for the same age group subsequently.

There is no provisions in the regulations governing the scheme to withdraw either part of or all of an application once it has been submitted for premium. The regulations governing the special beef premium scheme are prescribed by the EU and you will appreciate that they must be adhered to.

  110.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if his attention has been drawn to the Environmental Protection Agency report showing that 30 per cent of rivers in Ireland are polluted and a substantial proportion of this pollution comes from nutrient phosphate from farms; the measures, if any, his Department will take to ensure that farmers are aware of the importance of better practice in relation to pollution from farms in view of these findings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13760/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  A copy of the report referred to was furnished to my Department during the past week.

The recent Agenda 2000 agreement provides that member states may include minimum environmental conditions as a condition for the receipt of direct payments in respect of agricul[637] tural production. While the detailed rules governing this measure have not yet been agreed it is likely that producers getting direct payments will have to follow good farming practice.

Some 43,000 farmers are currently participating in the rural environment protection scheme. Participation in REPS is regarded as going beyond good farming practice. In the recent revision of the REP specifications, the permitted phosphorous levels are clearly set out.

An evaluation of the REP scheme is currently being carried out and discussions have taken place with Environmental Protection Agency personnel in relation to this exercise.

The evaluation will be completed by the end of June and I will be asking my Department to examine carefully all aspects of the findings. In addition, a nationally funded control of farmyard pollution scheme is being introduced, for which I expect to receive EU Commission approval shortly.

  111.  Mr. Higgins (Mayo)    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if payment under the 1998 extensification premium scheme will be expedited for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [13785/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  In accordance with the regulations, extensification premium is payable on all animals paid under the suckler cow and special beef premium schemes if the stocking density on the holding is less than 1.4LUs per Hectare. It is intended to commence payment of the 1998 extensification premium in early June. The person named will then be considered for payment and if the stocking density is less than 1.4 LU/HA his full entitlement under this scheme will be paid before the end of June, in line with EU requirements and with the charter of rights for farmers.

  112.  Mr. Crawford    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    when a person (details supplied) in County Cavan will receive payment under the control of farmyard pollution scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13794/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The grant in this case is being paid.

  113.  Mr. U. Burke    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    when a grant will be paid to a person (details supplied) in County Galway under the 1997 area aid scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13795/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The herd owner lodged an appeal on 5 March 1999 regarding his 1998 area aid application. His 1997 area aid application was in order. Appeals are dealt with in the order in which they are received and require individual examination. [638] This appeal will be examined in due course and the herd owner will be notified of the outcome.

  114.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the current number of sport horses; the number five years ago; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13807/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The information requested by the Deputy is not available.

The Central Statistics Office calculate the number of horses other than thoroughbreds on farms at 38,057 in June 1993 and 44,023 in June 1998.

A study, published in 1996 by Alison F. Corbally on The contribution of the sport horse industry to the Irish economy calculated the total registered sport horse population in 1993 at 48,320.

  115.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the number of bloodstock in training at racing stables; the number five and ten years ago; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13808/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  I have had inquiries made from the Turf Club and have been informed that in 1998, 4,487 horses were in training. The corresponding figures for 1993 and 1988 are 4,845 and 4,648 respectively.

  116.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the plans, if any, he has for the continued expansion of the sheep meat industry with particular reference to exports and in the context of the forthcoming World Trade Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13810/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The development of the sheepmeat industry is an ongoing process and given our self sufficiency in production of 400 per cent, expansion is critically dependent on the situation in our main export markets. An Bord Bia will continue to play an important role along side our exporting firms in improving and developing our export performance.

Given that France accounts for almost three quarters of our export sales, promotion efforts will be concentrated on this market as well as on the possibility of increasing our sales in Germany and in the Nordic countries. There will also be renewed efforts to find markets for light lamb in southern European countries including Spain, Portugal and Italy.

While the industry has made considerable progress in establishing valuable export markets for [639] Irish lamb, it is my intention to ensure that improvements in quality and traceability are such as to ensure that we are in a position not only to consolidate but to increase our presence on these markets. I believe opportunities lie in the achievement all year round product and in producing more value added fresh/chilled products.

My strategy in the context of the forthcoming WTO negotiations will be to ensure that the interests of sheep producers in the European Union and especially in Ireland are protected.

  117.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the measures in hand or proposed to enhance Ireland's reputation as a producer of high quality food and food products; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13811/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  Ireland's reputation as a producer of fine quality food is founded on our ability to produce high quality safe food. Food safety is at the core of food quality and only when safety is guaranteed, can our potential to achieve the highest standard of quality be enhanced. Reassurances on food safety are being provided by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, working in co-operation with the relevant Government Departments and State agencies and with the food industry.

Quality assurance schemes through integrated programmes involving farmers, processors, and retailers are operated by An Bord Bia and An Bord Glas. These schemes are aimed at ensuring safe, wholesome, high quality product capable of commanding a premium market position. The quality-assurance schemes currently operated by An Bord Bia apply in the beef, pigmeat and egg sectors, while An Bord Glas operates a quality auditing scheme for horticultural food products. In addition, my Department has a wide range of systems in place to boost the quality of Irish food. These span the range of commodities from breeding through to labelling of the end product. A major initiative undertaken by my Department is the national beef assurance scheme which aims to guarantee the safety of Irish beef and beef products in line with consumer demands. Drafting of the legislation is at an advanced stage and I hope to present it to the Government in the near future.

Promotion of our quality foods continues to be a priority, and An Bord Bia which has the statutory function of promoting, assisting and developing the marketing of Irish food has in place a comprehensive programme aimed at securing these aims and every opportunity is availed of to boost the wholesome and safe image of Irish food, whether at home or abroad.

[640]

  118.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the current total acreage under cereals; the total five years ago; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13812/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  According to the CSO the area under cereals, i.e. wheat, barley and oats, was 294,000 hectares in 1998 and 280,200 hectares in 1993.

  119.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the beef export markets lost arising from BSE or other concerns; the number of these markets restored in the past two years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13813/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  In the aftermath of the BSE crises in 1996 many markets outside of the EU restricted or banned imports of beef. Following in some cases prolonged negotiations, all of the traditionally important markets for Irish beef are now open. We are now focusing on some of what would have been secondary markets where market access problems persist. These markets include Turkey, Jordan, Tunisia and Syria.

While there was no ban placed on Irish beef by any EU member state there was a loss of market share due to an increased consumer preference on some of those markets for their own, domestically produced, beef. While there has been considerable progress made in regaining these markets, it remains one of the major priorities for the Irish beef industry to recover and improve its presence on EU markets. The beef task force, which I have established, is examining this matter in the context of an action plan for the whole industry, right through from primary production through to processing and marketing. I am expecting the task force to complete its report very shortly.

  120.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the plans, if any, he has for the agricultural and food sectors post Agenda 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13814/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  I have established a high level committee to propose a strategy for the development of agriculture and the food industry over the next decade, following on the agreement on Agenda 2000, which sets out the framework for the development of the sector, and in the light of the changes and challenges which are likely to evolve nationally and internationally over that period. The committee will be chaired by Mr Pat O'Neill [641] and concludes a range of distinguished people with expertise in relation to agriculture and food.

In addition the National Development Plan 2000 – 2006, which will be published later this year, will address important structural issues in agriculture and the food industry.

  121.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the plans, if any, he has for the cereal growing industry in the aftermath of Agenda 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13815/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The outcome of the negotiations on Agenda 2000 represents a significant improvement on the commission's original proposals for the reform of the cereals sector. The intervention price reduction agreed was 15 per cent as opposed to 20 per cent, with compensation for half of the price reduction.

Most analysts predict that due to an expected upturn in world prices, the price in the EU will not drop by the full 15 per cent. The reinstatement of a positive rate of set-aside of 10 per cent should act as a further influence on price buoyancy in the EU and on world markets. If these price forecasts prove to be correct then potential losses will be significantly reduced and could even be eliminated. The Agenda 2000 proposals will simplify the arable crops support system, will help remove uncertainty for grain growers, and will enable them to plan ahead with a reasonable degree of confidence.

  122.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the number of animals in the potential beef herd; the number ten years ago; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13817/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  Statistics on the total number of animals in the national cattle herd are collected by the Central Statistics Office in June and December of each year. The estimates for June 1998 and June 1988 are as follows: June 1998, 7,797,100 cattle; June 1988, 6,604,100 cattle.

The increase in the cattle population is mainly due to an increase in the beef suckler cow herd which has increased by approximately 700,000 head over the ten years period from 480,000 in 1988 to 1.220 million in 1998.

The establishment of the national suckler cow quota with individual rights under the 1992 CAP reform agreement provided the basis for the current suckler cow herd. This quota has been preserved intact under the Agenda 2000 agreement which I successfully negotiated this year. The industry now has a very stable production base on which it can build to produce top quality beef [642] for export markets, with particular emphasis on EU markets.

  123.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the plans, if any, he has to ensure the protection of Ireland's position as a food producer within the EU with particular reference to the World Trade Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13818/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  As in trade negotiations generally, the EU will participate in the next round of World Trade Organisation negotiations as a single entity and will be represented by the European Commission, which will conduct the negotiations in accordance with a mandate given to it by the Council of Ministers.

In the formulation of the Commission's mandate, I will seek to ensure that the CAP, as reformed under the Agenda 2000 decisions, will be defended vigorously within the WTO negotiations and, in particular, that the environmental, food safety and animal welfare burdens that have been placed on EU farmers are taken into account by our WTO partners, either by adopting similar objectives themselves or by acknowledging that the support system adopted by the Union is necessary to offset these burdens.

  124.  Mr. O'Shea    asked the Minister for Finance    the assistance, if any, he can give to a person (details supplied) in County Waterford in relation to her income tax; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13595/99]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that remuneration due to the taxpayer in the 1998/99 tax year was paid by her employer in 1999-2000. As a consequence, the taxpayer's income in the first four weeks of 1999/2000 was greater than her tax free allowances for that period from £17.48 PAYE and £7.20 PRSI were deducted. However, as the taxpayer's income for the year is not expected to exceed her total tax free allowances, the income tax deducted will be refunded by her employer in subsequent pay cheques.

With regard to the PRSI deducted, the taxpayer should apply to the office of the Collector General, PRG section, Sarsfield House, Limerick for a refund.

  125.  Mr. Farrelly    asked the Minister for Finance    if the amount which may be approved in relation to the new proposals on the carer's allowance will be taken into account as income; if this will affect the income tax position of the spouse; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13475/99]

[643]Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  It is a general principle of taxation that, as far as possible, income from all sources should be subject to taxation. In line with this principle, the carer's allowances, in common with other social welfare payments, is therefore, reckonable as income for tax purposes.

The extent, if any, to which taxation will actually arise in a given case will essentially depend on the level of income other than the carer's allowance that a recipient or the spouse has in the same tax year. If there is no other income in addition to the social welfare payment, the existing exemption limits and allowances can be expected to ensure that there is no tax to be paid on the social welfare income itself.

The carer's allowance is paid in full by the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs without tax being deducted and, in order to collect any tax due, it is necessary to reduce an individual's tax free allowances by an amount equal to the amount of the carer's allowance that they receive. If an individual is jointly assessed with his/her spouse, then the combined tax free allowances of the couple will be reduced in order to collect the tax due on the carer's allowance.

  126.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Finance    if, further to Parliamentary Question No. 289 of 20 April 1999 regarding retirement terms furnished to a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary, he will review his reply in view of the information that the grade of estates officer was abolished at the time the person retired and is thereby entitled to be linked to the grade of executive officer for all pension increase purposes. [13455/99]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  As I indicated in my reply of 20 April 1999, it was intended that the grade of estates officer would be abolished at the time of the officer's retirement and that they would be linked to the executive officer grade for pension increase purposes. In the event, the grade of estates officer has not been abolished and it will continue in existence until the difficulties vis-à-vis the serving officers in the grade in the Department of Agriculture and Food are resolved. The question of which salary scale retired officers in the estates officer grade will be linked to for pension increase purposes will be determined in the course of resolving the position in relation to serving staff.

  127.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Finance    if, further to Parliamentary Question Nos. 93 of 28 April 1999 and 166 of 11 May 1999, the beneficial owners and partners of a company (details supplied) fully satisfied all the necessary criteria for tax clearance certification. [13456/99]

[644]Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  I note that the company to which this parliamentary question refers is a different company from that named in the Deputy's question of 28 April 1999.

The tax affairs of each individual and company are confidential between the persons concerned and the Revenue Commissioners. Consequently, I am not in a position to indicate, as requested by the Deputy, how the persons mentioned in the question stand in relation to the satisfaction of tax clearance criteria.

As regards the general position in relation to tax clearance, section 1095 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, regulates the issue of tax clearance certificates in relation to public sector contracts. The section provides that where the applicant for a tax clearance certificate is a company, a certificate shall not be issued unless the tax affairs of the company and each person who is either the beneficial owner of, or able directly or indirectly to control, more than 50 per cent of the ordinary share capital of the company, are in order.

  128.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    if his attention has been drawn to two deficiencies in the transfer values for pensionable service of various public servants transferring from Northern Ireland in view of the Good Friday Agreement, the cross-Border bodies and the need for closer co-operative structures generally between North and South. [13483/99]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  Firstly in relation to cross-Border bodies, I wish to point out that my Department, in conjunction with the Northern Ireland authorities, is currently examining the question of the superannuation arrangements, including transfer of service arrangements, which will apply to the staff of those bodies. These arrangements have not yet been finalised.

In relation to the question of transferring pensionable service to or from public bodies in Northern Ireland, the current position, is that there are no arrangements in place to cater for this. The public sector transfer scheme, which is administered by my Department, provides for the transfer of service, on a reciprocal basis, between participating organisations. Any organisation in the public or private sector (including organisations outside the State) is free to participate in the scheme provided it is prepared to accept the obligations of membership including the liability to make contributions, where necessary, towards the ultimate cost of service benefits. The European Commission is, to date, the only organisation outside the State with whom a transfer arrangement has been agreed.

The matter of transferability of superannuation rights with organisations outside the State is kept under review. While I have to point out that there are major differences between our transfer of service arrangements and those which apply in [645] Northern Ireland, I will, of course, be happy to respond favourably to any workable proposals which emerge in this area.

  129.  Mr. Creed    asked the Minister for Finance    the reason for the delay in issuing a sub-contractor's certificate to a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [13510/99]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that a C2 certificate for the current tax year, 1999/2000, could not be issued to the taxpayer while his income tax return for the 1997/98 tax year remained outstanding.

The return of income has now been submitted to the inspector of taxes and the taxpayer was notified by letter issued on 18 May 1999 and his C2 certificate is now ready for collection.

  130.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Finance    the response, if any, of the Office of Public Works as requested by Limerick County Council to prepare and carry out a scheme to alleviate flooding in Shanagolden. [13534/99]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  The resources of my office are fully committed to advancing to completion the schemes on their current priority list of urban flood relief schemes. My office is aware of approximately 300 areas where periodic flooding occurs throughout the country. It was only requested to examine the flooding problems in Shanagolden, County Limerick by Limerick County Council at the beginning of this month.

Because resources are fully committed the Office of Public Works has no plans to prepare or carry out a scheme for flood alleviation in Shanagolden, County Limerick.

  131.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Finance    if blind passengers will be included in the disabled drivers and disabled passengers car scheme currently under review. [13558/99]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  I refer the Deputy, for his information, to the reply to the Adjournment Debate held on 2 March 1999 which dealt comprehensively with this matter. I also refer him to Parliamentary Questions on this issue which I answered on 20 April, 27 April, 18 May and 19 May 1999. I can confirm that I have no plans to include blind people in the list of those eligible for benefit under the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme.

The present medical criteria for access to the scheme relate essentially to disabilities which seriously and permanently impair the physical [646] mobility of the person concerned. This reflects the origins of the scheme as a relief for disabled persons who were confined to wheelchairs, but nevertheless, were capable of driving suitably adapted motor cars.

A review of the scheme is being undertaken by the inderdepartmental group chaired by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The existing medical criteria for qualification is one of the issues that have been raised with that group. I await this report. The current scheme is costly and opening it up to wider ranges of disabilities would significantly add to this cost. I must caution, therefore, against an expectation that a broader range of persons who suffer from some form of disability or disablement will be admitted to the scheme as a result of this review.

  132.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Minister for Finance    if additional funding will be allocated to the Office of Public Works to enable it assess periodic flooding in locations such as Hazelhatch and Celbridge, County Kildare, thereby enabling it to draw up alleviation proposals for these areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13567/99]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  The Commissioners of Public Works in conjunction with a firm of consulting engineers are currently examining the flooding problems at Hazelhatch, Clebridge, County Kildare. The examination will include the economic, environmental and engineering aspects of the works required to alleviate the problem. The results of the study will be available shortly. Funding has been provided for the study. Any proposals for alleviation of the flooding will need to be cost beneficial and environmentally acceptable before any further progress can be made.

  133.  Mr. Crawford    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has forwarded details of the urban renewal scheme in line with the request made to the Government by the European Commission in January 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13574/99]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  I take it that the Deputy is referring to the new urban renewal scheme legislated for in the Finance Act, 1988. My Department formally notified the EU Commission of the business elements of the scheme on 17 September 1998 after having already discussed it with the EU Commission on a number of occasions earlier in the year. The Commission responded on 17 November 1998 with a request for a substantial amount of additional information. The matter was discussed with the EU Commission at a meeting in mid-February and a detailed reply was sent to the commission in early March. The commission [647] wrote again on 24 March 1999 with a further request for additional information and a reply was sent to this letter on 24 May 1999. The discussions with the EU Commission have been quite protracted and are affected by the delay in obtaining EU approval for the new regional State aids map for various Irish regions, including the new regional aid intensity ceilings. It appears that it will take some more months before the business tax incentives elements of the scheme will be approved by the EU Commission.

  134.  Mr. Dennehy    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will communicate to the European Central Bank Ireland's objection to sterling being allowed to fall significantly in value in advance of joining the European single currency as this will damage the competitiveness of our export market and is contrary to the spirit of the Single Market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13675/99]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  A decision on the UK's participation in the third stage of EMU is entirely a matter for the British Government. In the event of such a decision, the appropriate euro-sterling conversion rate would be matter for ECOFIN, the EU Council of Finance Ministers, of which I am a member.

  135.  Mr. U. Burke    asked the Minister for Finance    the plans, if any, he has to abolish probate tax; the total return from this tax during the past two tax years; the plans, if any, he has to substantially increase the thresholds for this tax; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13676/99]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  Probate tax was introduced in 1993 in order to increase the yield from capital taxation by applying a relatively modest charge on a wide base to estates passing on inheritance. Probate tax is charged at a rate of 2 per cent on the net value of non-exempt assets left by a deceased, whether the assets pass under a will or intestacy. The yield from probate tax for the past two years is as follows: 1997, £17.0 million; 1998, £19.7 million.

Estates with a taxable value of £11,250 or less are exempt from probate tax. This threshold is indexed annually by reference to the consumer price index. Outstanding debts of the deceased, as well as funeral expenses, may be deducted as expenses of the estate in arriving at the taxable value. There is full exemption for the spouse and also for the share of the family home passing to dependent children or dependent relatives. Jointly-owned property which passes automatically from one joint owner to another joint owner is not subject to probate tax. Agricultural land and buildings may be reduced in value by 30 per cent for probate tax purposes. There are other [648] exemptions for pension benefits, charitable bequests, heritage property and the proceeds of section 60 insurance policies, which are used to pay inheritance tax/probate tax.

The Revenue Commissioners have discretion to allow for deferred payment of the probate tax in situations of illiquidity or hardship. For example, payment by instalment may be arranged, including waiver of interest on late payment where appropriate. Each beneficiary can claim his or her portion of the probate tax as an expense in calculating the value of the benefit for the purposes of inheritance tax, if any, under the capital acquisitions tax code.

Having regard to the generous reliefs and exemptions that apply, the very modest rate of tax and the special arrangements which cater for problems with payment, it is considered that the provisions of the probate tax strike a fair balance between the need to ensure a broader distribution of the tax burden and the need to take due account of ability to pay. Consequently, I have no plans to abolish this tax.

  136.  Mr. McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    the amounts collected by the Revenue Commissioners in probate tax each year since its introduction; the threshold at which this tax applies and the rate applicable; the plans, if any, he has to increase the threshold in view of the increase in property values. [13857/99]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  Probate tax was introduced in 1993 in order to increase the yield from capital taxation by applying a relatively modest charge on a wide base to estates passing on inheritance. Probate tax is charged at a rate of 2 per cent on the net value of non-exempt assets left by a deceased, whether the assets pass under a will or intestacy. The yield from probate tax is as follows: 1993, £1.7 million; 1994, £9.6 million; 1995, £12.3 million; 1996, £14.4 million; 1997, £17.0 million; 1998, £19.7 million.

Estates with a taxable value of £11,250 or less are exempt from probate tax. This threshold is indexed annually by reference to the consumer price index. Outstanding debts of the deceased, as well as funeral expenses, may be deducted as expenses of the estate in arriving at the taxable value. There is full exemption for the spouse and also for the share of the family home passing to dependent children or dependent relatives. Jointly-owned property which passes automatically from one joint owner to another joint owner, is not subject to probate tax. Agricultural land and buildings may be reduced in value by 30 per cent for probate tax purposes. There are other exemptions for pension benefits, charitable bequests, heritage property and the proceeds of section 60 insurance policies, which are used to pay inheritance tax/ probate tax. The Revenue Commissioners have discretion to allow for deferred payment of the probate tax in situations of illiquidity or hardship. For example, payment [649] by instalment may be arranged, including waiver of interest on late payment where appropriate.

Each beneficiary can claim his or her portion of the probate tax as an expense in calculating the value of the benefit for the purposes of inheritance tax, if any, under the capital acquisitions tax code.

Having regard to the generous reliefs and exemptions that apply, the very modest rate of tax and the special arrangements which cater for problems with payment, it is considered that the provisions of the probate tax strike a fair balance between the need to ensure a broader distribution of the tax burden and the need to take due account of ability to pay. Consequently, I have no plans at this stage to amend the threshold for this tax.

  137.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if his attention has been drawn to the report by Treoir, the Federation of Services for Unmarried Persons and their Children, analysing the case for a longitudinal study of children in Ireland; and if funds will be committed immediately to a feasibility study in this subject as a basis for a Government decision on this long overdue proposal. [14148/99]

  184.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    his views on whether there is an information deficit in relation to children in Irish society; if he will commission a national longitudinal study of children; the plans, if any, he has to provide funding for such a study; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13747/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 137 and 184 together.

My Department has met Treoir to discuss its proposal. Following this meeting, the views of other Departments were sought to establish the level of interest for such a study. There was a favourable response and accordingly a joint paper on a longitudinal study was submitted by my Department and the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs to the Cabinet sub-committee on social inclusion for consideration. That paper recommended that a detailed proposal outlining the scope, methodology, management arrangements and costs involved in such a study be prepared. The Cabinet sub-committee on social inclusion has given its approval for this to be done. This will be funded jointly by the Departments concerned.

[650]

  138.  Mr. Dukes    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when the coverage of dental treatment other than extractions under the general medical services card scheme will be extended to patients other than those in the 16 to 34 years and over 65 years age brackets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13447/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The dental health action plan provides for the extension of dental treatment to all adults with medical card entitlement on a phased basis under the dental treatment services scheme. Under the first and second phases of the scheme emergency dental treatment is available to all adult medical card holders. Procedures available under the emergency scheme include extractions, restorations, denture repairs, endodontic procedures and other necessary treatment to control pain, haemorrhage and the sequelae of trauma where urgent treatment is needed. Full denture treatment is available to all edentulous, adult people with no natural teeth. Routine treatment is available to all adults in the 16 to 34 age group and the 65 years and over age group.

My intention is to extend routine dental treatment under the dental treatment services scheme to persons with medical card entitlements in the 35 to 64 age group later this year. This will complete the programmes as provided under the dental health action plan for the phased extension of routine dental treatment to all adults. I have made additional funds available this year to health boards to provide for this development.

My Department and the health boards are currently in discussions with the Irish Dental Association concerning the introduction of revised procedures designed to improve probity, accountability and patient access under the scheme. When I have a firm commitment on these issues the additional funding will be committed to the scheme.

  139.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if he will prevent the closure in July of the female surgical ward at St. Luke's hospital, Kilkenny; the reason for this policy; when the decision was reached or debated by the South-Eastern Health Board; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13459/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The management of services at St. Luke's Hospital is a matter for the South-Eastern Health Board in the first instance. I understand from the board that St. Luke's Hospital has been engaged over the past number of years in a programme of refurbishing units within the hospital to bring them up to modern standards. The board plans to refurbish the female surgical unit this year. In view of the pressure of medical admissions the only time feasible to undertake this work is during the summer period when medical admissions are at their lowest. I understand that it is the board's intention to agree this with the hospital's medical board and other interests locally and to undertake the work at a time when it is possible to source appropriate contractors.

[651]

  140.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if his Department has received an application from the South-Eastern Health Board for funding in regard to the provision of a resource centre for Lisdowney community, County Kilkenny; if a decision is imminent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13484/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  As the Deputy will be aware, the provision of services for older people in the Kilkenny area is a matter in the first instance for the South-Eastern Health Board. The board states that it has had discussions with the Lisdowney Development Association in relation to its proposals for a resource centre in the area. The capital contribution requested of the board is £32,000 and the board states that this project will be included in its capital development priorities for 1999/2000. I have not yet received any formal submission from the South-Eastern Health Board in regard to this matter.

  141.  Mr. G. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if the case will be examined for persons (details supplied) in Dublin 12 to ensure that they receive adequate assistance in view of the fact that they were offered only £1.50 per month assistance from the health board. [13485/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  As the Deputy will be aware, the provision of health services in the Dublin area is a matter for the Eastern Health Board. I have asked the chief executive officer of the board to examine this case and respond directly to the Deputy with the board's findings as a matter of urgency.

  142.  Mr. G. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if additional speech and language therapy facilities will be provided for the Eastern Health Board, Old County Road District, Crumlin, Dublin 12 (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13486/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The provision of speech and language therapy services in any individual case is a matter for the relevant health board. The Deputy's question has been referred to the chief executive officer of the Eastern Health Board with a request that he examine the query and reply directly to the Deputy, as a matter of urgency.

[652]

  143.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if he will add a representa tive for registered nurse tutors to the nursing education forum in order that their important professional insights can be brought into play in the deliberations of the forum. [13487/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The membership of the nursing education forum includes a number of registered nurse tutors. At the request of the Irish Nurses Organisation I extended the terms of reference of the forum in order to require it to consult extensively with nurse tutors who have been involved in the development and delivery of the nursing registration/diploma programmes. The forum has been meeting on a regular basis since its establishment last January. I do not propose to appoint additional members to it.

  144.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if individuals who return to work after being in receipt of social welfare or unemployment benefit are entitled to their medical cards for three years after returning to work. [13488/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  As part of budget 1996, the then Government announced that “persons who have been unemployed for at least one year shall retain their medical cards after entering employment.” Persons on the live register for at least one year, who take up paid insurable employment were deemed to meet the criteria for retaining their medical cards for three years. The provision also covers participants on approved schemes applicable to the long-term unemployed, including back-to-work allowance, community employment, jobstart, job initiative, partnership and community group initiative and development courses such as workplace and vocational training opportunities scheme. The purpose of the budget provision was to remove disincentives to labour force participation by long-term unemployed persons. The implementation of the budget provision is a matter for health board chief executives, who have statutory responsibility for the administration of the medical card scheme.

  145.  Mr. Belton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when the casualty unit at Dublin Road, Longford, will be extended; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13505/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The Midland Health Board have recently conducted a major examination of the existing casualty unit at St. Joseph's hospital, Longford. They have consulted widely with all relevant personnel regarding the additional requirements of the unit. Arrangements are currently being made to finalise specifications which incorporate the extension involved in enhancing this facility. The [653] board anticipates that the revised arrangements, including the extension, will be in place by the end of this year.

  146.  Mr. Belton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if he will sanction a speech and language therapist for the senior language unit at St. Joseph's school, Dublin Road, Longford. [13506/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The recruitment of speech and language therapists is a matter for the relevant health board, in accordance with employment control ceilings set by my Department. I have asked the chief executive officer of the Midland Health Board to examine the matter and to communicate directly with the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

  147.  Mr. Creed    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason for the delay in the establishment of a tribunal of inquiry into the circumstances of infection of people with haemophilia with HIV and hepatitis C. [13511/99]

  149.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when the tribunal of inquiry into the circumstances of infection of people with haemophilia with HIV and hepatitis C will be established. [13526/99]

  158.  Mr. Sheehan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when the Government will be advised on the establishment of a tribunal of inquiry into the circumstances of infection of people with both HIV and hepatitis C; and the reason the commitment given by him that the final draft of the terms of reference would be submitted to Government on 30 March 1999 was not honoured. [13555/99]

  173.  Mr. Higgins (Dublin West)    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason for the delay in establishing the promised tribunal of inquiry into the circumstances leading to the infection of people with haemophilia with HIV and hepatitis C; and when this tribunal will now be set up. [13712/99]

  192.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the status of the final terms of reference for the tribunal on the infection of haemophiliacs with HIV and hepatitis C; the reason for the delay in the publication; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13768/99]

  193.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when the Government will establish a tribunal of inquiry into the circumstances of infection of people with haemophilia with HIV and hepatitis C; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13769/99]

[654]Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 147, 149, 158, 173, 192 and 193 together.

At its meeting today, the Government approved the text of a draft order providing for the establishment of a tribunal of inquiry to investigate the infection with HIV and Hepatitis C of persons with haemophilia. The tribunal will also investigate the circumstances of the infection with HIV of the person known as “the Kilkenny health worker” following a blood transfusion in July 1985 and the circumstances surrounding the issue of untested platelet concentrates in December 1985, the donor of which was subsequently diagnosed as HIV positive.

Due to the special position held by the Irish Haemophilia Society in that it represents persons directly affected by the HIV and Hepatitis C contamination of blood products, my officials and I have been in consultation with the society in relation to the issues to be examined by the tribunal. It appears that most blood products implicated in the infection of haemophiliacs with Hepatitis C and HIV were manufactured by pharmaceutical companies in the USA, some based on blood donated there and some based on blood donated in Ireland and sent for processing. In order to fully investigate the source of the infections the IHS felt that the tribunal should, if possible, inquire into the relevant operations of the pharmaceutical companies concerned.

It was necessary to take advice from counsel here and consult with attorneys in the United States in relation to this matter. The advice received indicates that an Irish tribunal would face considerable difficulties in attempting to investigate the actions of companies or agencies based outside the State. I am advised that as a tribunal of inquiry is not a court, it is most unlikely that US courts would be able to assist by enforcing discovery orders or compelling the attendance of witnesses.

Having regard to the legal advice, the proposed terms of reference include a provision which would enable the tribunal to investigate anything arising outside the State that it considers relevant in so far as the tribunal considers it practicable, appropriate and reasonable to do so and considers that the procedures adopted for the purpose can be carried out without unduly delaying the completion of the inquiry and with a substantial expectation of being able to obtain the evidence necessary for the investigation.

The Attorney General and I met representatives of the society and its legal advisers on Friday 21 May. The IHS indicated that it was satisfied that the proposed terms of reference comprised all the issues which they wish to have examined by the tribunal. The IHS also indicated its support for the provision relating to the international aspect of the tribunal. At its meeting this morning, the Government also approved the moving of the necessary motion in the Dáil and Seanad to establish the tribunal. I will ask the Chief Whip [655] to make the necessary arrangements as soon as possible.

  148.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a decision will be made on the request for funding from the La Leche League of Ireland. [13525/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  My Department has recently received a request for funding from the organisation to which the Deputy refers. The request is being considered at present and a decision will be made shortly. The decision will then be communicated to the organisation concerned.

  150.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if Trivax batch numbers 3753, 3797 and 3732 which were produced by the Wellcome Foundation were administered in Ireland in the late 1960s and early 1970s; the information, if any, he has received from Wellcome Foundation or Glaxo Wellcome Foundation in relation to these vaccine batches; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13545/99]

  152.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if the Trivax three-in-one vaccine batches whose numbers range between 3753 and 3797, produced by the Wellcome Foundation were administered in Ireland in the late 1960s and early 1970s and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13547/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 150 and 152 together.

My Department has no information as to whether the Trivax vaccine batch numbers referred to by the Deputy were administered in Ireland in the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, correspondence is continuing with Glaxo Wellcome Limited, the successor to the company which produced the Trivax vaccine, in an effort to establish whether vaccine from batch 3732 and batches 3753 to 3797 might have been distributed in Ireland and, if so, whether the relevant lot numbers are available.

Glaxo Wellcome has previously indicated to my Department that a variety of tests were used to analyse Trivax in the late 1960s and that all batches of Trivax released for sale complied with the mandatory requirements at that time. The company added that the results of all tests, mandatory and otherwise, together with expert advice which the company had sought, indicate that no other batch gave rise to the same level of potential concern as batch 3741.

[656]

  151.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Health    and Children the number of children who had a severe reaction to Trivax three-in-one vaccine, batch numbers 84769, 84657 and 84019, which was administered in the Eastern Health Board area in 1972 and 1973; the other health boards, if any, which administered these vaccine batches; the reports, if any, of severe reactions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13546/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  In the time available the Eastern Health Board has not been able to undertake a detailed examination of individual vaccination records for the period concerned. The information available indicates that in the board's area adverse reactions were noted in 73 children who were recipients of vaccine from the lots quoted. The number of children involved in each case was as follows: Lot 84019, 9 children; Lot 84657, 25 children; Lot 84769, 39 children.

It is not possible to classify these cases as to whether they were serious or non-serious, as it would appear that few, if any, were reported at the time to the National Drugs Advisory Board, now the Irish Medicines Board, which has a system of classification of the adverse reactions notified to it. It is known that four of the cases referred to above involved the hospitalisation of the child and as such would usually be classified as serious adverse reactions.

In so far as the other health boards are concerned, one board, the North-Western Health Board, has indicated that 41 children were vaccinated with Trivax, lot number 84657 in 1972/3 and that there are no records of any severe reactions in these cases. The Midland Health Board has indicated that it is unable to locate any records for the period concerned. The Western Health Board has not identified any records of usage of the vaccine numbers quoted. The board indicates that there are a number of records against which there are no batch numbers shown. The Mid-Western Health Board, the North-Eastern Health Board, the South-Eastern Health Board and the Southern Health Board have all indicated that an extensive examination of records would be necessary in order to ascertain whether vaccine from the lot numbers in question was used and that this was not feasible in the time available. The Irish Medicines Board has indicated that from 1972 to 1973 four suspected adverse reaction reports associated with the use of Trivax were notified to the board. No information was provided to the board as to the vaccine batch or lot numbers in these cases.

  153.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of people diagnosed with diabetes in each county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13548/99]

[657]

  154.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Health    and Children the number of people in each of the past five years diagnosed with diabetes; the plans, if any, he has to investigate the increase in these figures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13549/99]

  155.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the plans, if any, he has to ensure that all individuals diagnosed with diabetes receive counselling and are aware of the back up services which are provided through the health boards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13550/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 153 to 155, inclusive, together.

The statistical information requested by the Deputy is not available on a routine basis in my Department. I have asked the chief executive officer of each of the health boards to compile the information sought and to communicate it to the Deputy as soon as it is available.

The majority of people with diabetes suffer from non insulin dependant or type II diabetes. As this type of diabetes usually affects the over 40s it is likely that we will see an increase in the number of cases as the age of our population increases. Ireland is a signatory to the St. Vincent Declaration, a World Health Organisation declaration which sets outcome targets that aim to reduce major health problems relating to diabetes in both adults and children. At present, a task force is looking at what needs to be done in order for Ireland to comply with the declaration. The report of the task force is expected shortly and any recommendations in that report will be acted upon.

Towards the end of last year I gave assistance, through the national lottery, to the Barretstown Gang Camp towards the establishment of camps for both children and adolescents to help them learn to manage their diabetes. The Health Promotion Strategy, Shaping a Healthier Future, includes diabetes as one of the public health issues to be addressed. The document states that this will be done by raising awareness in the population and among healthcare professionals of the opportunities for the prevention of the complications of diabetes and of diabetes itself; promoting independence, equity and self-sufficiency for all people with diabetes; reducing morbidity and mortality from coronary heart disease in diabetics by rigorous programmes of risk factor reduction. Since 1992 the health promotion unit of my Department has supported the development of health promoting materials, a national radio awareness campaign and resource materials for teachers.

[658]

  156.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the average waiting time in each of the health board areas for children to receive speech therapy following initial assessment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13551/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The information sought by the Deputy is not routinely gathered by my Department. I have asked the health boards to provide this data and I will communicate further with the Deputy when this becomes available.

  157.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the plans, if any, he has to provide additional resources for speech therapy in the Western Health Board region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13552/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The report of the review group on health and personal social services for people with physical and sensory disabilities, Towards an Independent Future, published in December 1996, sets out the requirements for the development of these services, including speech and language therapy services. As also recommended in the report, regional co-ordinating committees for services for people with physical and sensory disabilities have been put in place in each of the health boards. One of the primary functions of the co-ordinating committees is to advise the chief executive officer of each board on priorities for the allocation of funds available for the development of the services.

An additional 13 new speech and language therapy posts have been created from development funding made available in 1997 and 1998. This year development funding totalling £3 million, £6 million full year cost in the year 2000, has been provided for the development of services, which includes £300,000, £600,000 full year cost in the year 2000, provided to the Western Health Board. The setting of priorities for the development of services, including speech and language therapy services, in 1999 is being discussed by the health boards with their local co-ordinating committees. Speech and language therapy continues to be identified by all health boards as a priority service for development.

  159.  Ms O'Sullivan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties encountered by organisations which are funded through health boards under section 65 of the Health Act, 1953, specifically in relation to the cost of pay increases which are not factored into the overall budget available to boards under this section; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13562/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The determinations for 1999 made provision for all the relevant increases in respect of pay and non-pay for the health boards own services and [659] for the agencies directly funded by the boards. Specific funding was made available by my Department to the health boards to cover the 1999 pay costs arising for those agencies funded by way of section 65 grants. The budgets for these organisations are increased appropriately by health boards when the additional allocation is received. A number of health boards provide funding to these voluntary organisations on the basis of service agreements which outline levels of service to be provided by the agency and the funding to be provided by the board. This arrangement includes provision for claims in respect of approved pay increases.

  160.  Mr. Power    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if his attention has been drawn to recent studies in the United States of America which indicate that the incidence of cancer is on the decline; the similar studies, if any, undertaken in this country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13568/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  National statistics on the incidence of cancer are collected by the National Cancer Registry which was established in 1991. Reports for 1994 and 1995 show that the numbers of new cases of cancer diagnosed were 19,316 and 19,833 respectively. A longer time period will be required before any definitive statements can be made regarding national trends in cancer incidence using cancer registry data.

Mortality data shows that while actual numbers of deaths from cancer appear to be increasing slightly, this is more to do with changes in the age structure of the population rather than an actual increase in cancer deaths. The calculation of age-standardised death rates for cancer show a gradual decrease over recent years. The following table shows this data for the years 1988 to 1997.

The studies in the United States to which the Deputy is presumably referring are contained in a recent publication of the journal of the National Cancer Institute. The figures show a decline in the incidence rates for six out of the ten leading cancer incidence sites in males, and a similar decrease for females, except for lung cancer. This trend reversed a pattern of increasing incidence rates in the United States from 1973 to 1990.

Deaths from cancer: number of deaths and age-standardised mortality rates per 100,000 population for all ages

Number of Deaths
Year TotalNumber Age-Standardised Rate
5-YearPeriod Rate for 100,000population
1988 7,154
1989 7,339
1990 7,115
1991 7,262
1992 7,539 1988-1992 221.23
[660] Number of Deaths
Year TotalNumber Age-Standardised Rate
5-YearPeriod Rate for 100,000population
1993 7,589 1989-1993 220.83
1994 7,412 1990-1994 218.98
1995 7,519 1991-1995 218.61
1996 7,306 1992-1996 215.97
1997 7,528 1993-1997 213.33

NotesAge-standardised rates have been standardised to the World Health Organisation's European standard population. Rates are based on a 5-year moving average.

Data for 1996 and 1997 are provisional.

Source:Central Statistics Office and Public Health Information System, Department of Health and Children.

  161.  Mr. Shatter    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when the next phase of the development programme for Mullingar general hospital will be sanctioned; the target date for completion of all essential works; the reason for the delay; and the regional specialities that will be based at the hospital. [13575/99]

  171.  Mr. McGrath    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of medical and surgical beds at Mullingar general hospital, County Westmeath; the occupancy rate of those beds for November 1998 to February 1999; his view of whether there was overcrowding at this hospital over that period; his further views on whether the provision of additional beds in the empty four storey block would relieve this problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13682/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 161 and 171 together.

The question of reviewing the brief for the phase 2B development of Longford/Westmeath general hospital and drawing up a programme for carrying out the work involved is a matter for the Midland Health Board in the first instance.

There are 52 surgical and 57 medical beds in Longford/Westmeath general hospital at present. During the period November 1998 to February 1999 all beds were open except for a three week period from 14 December 1998 when 17 beds were closed. The percentage occupancy for the year 1998 in the surgery beds was 49.78 per cent and in medical beds 119.44 per cent. This medical bed occupancy reflects the fact that most emergency admissions are medical patients and this would be particularly prevalent in the winter months.

The board's priority general hospital developments at Tullamore and Portlaoise are currently being planned, and the timing of the phase 2B scheme at Longford/Westmeath general hospital will be considered in the context of a [661] review of the Department's medium-term capital programme.

  162.  Mr. O'Shea    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the assistance, if any, he can give to a person (details supplied) in County Waterford in relation to her pay from the South-Eastern Board; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13595/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The matter referred to by the Deputy is the responsibility of the employing agency, namely the South-Eastern Health Board. I have asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate this case and reply directly to the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

  163.  Mr. McGrath    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of children in the Midland Health Board area awaiting assessment and treatment by an orthodontist; the waiting time at each centre for this treatment; and the measures, if any, he is taking to shorten the waiting lists. [13655/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The provision of orthodontic treatment to eligible persons in the Midland Health Board area and the maintenance of waiting lists is the statutory responsibility of the board. I have had inquiries made of the board. The information requested is as follows:

Centre Number ofChildren AverageWaiting Time
Tullamore 177 2 years
Portlaoise 295 2 years
Longford 116 18 months
Mullingar 48 18 months
Athlone 113 18 months

Despite several attempts the Midland Health Board has not been successful to date in the recruitment of a consultant orthodontist. It is continuing its efforts and is hopeful that it will be successful in the near future. The successful recruitment of a consultant orthodontist by the board should enable it to further increase treatment levels and further reduce waiting times.

[662]

  164.  Mr. McGrath    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of patients in County Westmeath awaiting hip replacement operations at Tullamore general hospital; the number who have been on this list for more than three months, six months, nine months, 12 months and longer; and the proposals, if any, he has to reduce these lists and the waiting time. [13656/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  Figures collected by my Department relate to numbers of people on in-patient hospital waiting lists rather than to the patient's place of residence. Therefore, it would not be possible to give the Deputy a breakdown of the numbers of persons from County Westmeath on waiting lists.

The numbers awaiting admission to Tullamore general hospital for total hip replacements as at the 31 December 1998, the latest date for which figures are available, are as follows:

Period waiting 3-12 months Over 12 months
Total hip replacements 92 73

Following the £20 million allocation to the waiting list initiative this year, and the new policy guidelines and circular which my Department issued to each hospital dealing with waiting lists in January, I am confident that these measures will lead to a significant reduction in waiting lists and, more importantly, waiting times for public patients.

  165.  Mr. McGrath    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if he will review the regulations for the mobility allowance to ensure that a family with two wheelchair bound children can avail of this allowance to help with transport costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13659/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The mobility allowance is a means tested scheme that provides financial support to severely disabled people who are unable to walk or use public transport in order to finance the occasional taxi journey. To be eligible to receive this allowance applicants must satisfy the following conditions: be over 16 years and under 66 years; be living at home or maintained by a health board in any long-term institution; be unable to walk, even with the use of artificial limbs or other suitable aids, or must be in such a condition of health that the exertion required to walk would be dangerous; inability to walk has to be likely to persist for at least one year; moving of the applicant must not have been forbidden for medical reasons; and be in a condition to benefit from a change in surroundings.

At present there are no plans to amend the scheme. However this allowance, among others, is being considered by the interdepartmental task force examining the report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities. The task force is chaired by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

[663]

  166.  Mr. Dennehy    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the current situation in regard to proposed improvements to the maternity and neo-natal facilities at Cork university hospital. [13677/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  A design team has been appointed for the amalgamation of the maternity unit on the Cork University hospital site. The proposed development will replace the existing facilities for maternity and neo-natal care in Cork city at St. Finbarr's and Erinville hospitals at a total cost of approximately £32 million. The development will consist of 110 beds, 34 cots for the neo-natal services as well as facilities for associated out-patient, education and general services.

The design team have presented the project team with a draft time scale which would see the obstetric unit commissioned and ready for opening at the end of 2002. I am confident that this development, when completed, will provide the best in modern facilities for expectant mothers and newborn babies. The progression of this project demonstrates the Government's commitment to the provision of high quality health services in the Southern Health Board area.

  167.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) in County Kerry will be called for orthodontic treatment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13678/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The provision of orthodontic treatment to eligible persons in County Kerry is the statutory responsibility of the Southern Health Board. I have asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the position in relation to this case and to reply to the Deputy directly as a matter of urgency.

  168.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    his views on the recent study carried out by the Norwegian Radiation Board and the comments made by a person (details supplied) concerning possible ill effects and health hazards associated with the use of mobile telephones; the action, if any, he plans to take as a result; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13679/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  All significant research in this area is monitored by the Department of Public Enterprise with whom my Department liaises in regard to the human health aspects. Medical officers in my Department keep themselves informed of developments. I am advised that this latest study will [664] be assessed in that context as will the comments made by the person referred to by the Deputy.

Research in this area is ongoing and the World Health Organisation in 1996 launched a five year research programme, the international EMF project, to assess the health and environmental aspects of electric and magnetic fields. This project is being carried out over a five year period. It will bring together current knowledge and available resources of key international and national agencies and scientific institutions in order to arrive at scientifically sound recommendations for health risk assessments.

At EU level the Council of Health Ministers is currently considering a recommendation on the subject of public exposure to electromagnetic fields. This recommendation if adopted will establish a European wide standard which each member state will apply to its own country. The measure as currently drafted provides, inter alia, for a system of ongoing monitoring of the ambient exposure of the public to electromagnetic fields from all sources including mobile telephone masts.

Should conclusive evidence emerge that electromagnetic radiation associated with mobile telephones is causing an unacceptable public health risk then I would seek to have appropriate remedial measures put in place by the Government Departments and agencies with direct responsibility in that area.

  169.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if, further to Parliamentary Question No. 209 of 18 May 1999, the date when the orthodontic review group report was made available to the health boards and to his Department; if the findings of the report will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13680/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The report of the orthodontic review group was prepared on behalf of the chief executive officers of the health boards on the recommendation of my Department. A copy of the report was sent to my Department for information on 15 February 1999. Publication of this report will be a matter for the chief executive officers.

  170.  Mr. Crawford    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Monaghan has to wait eight to ten weeks for the General Registry Office in Joyce House, Lombard Street, Dublin 2, to send her a birth certificate by post; his views on whether this situation is acceptable for people in rural areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13681/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The administration of the registration system and [665] the operation of the general register office is a matter for An tÁrd Chláraitheoir, the Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages. An tÁrd Chláraitheoir has advised that there has been an increased demand for certificates of entries of births, deaths and marriages in recent times. While his office has managed to maintain a normal service to callers, the postal and authorisation services are somewhat in arrears. Additional resources have been provided and the postal backlog in respect of applications for certificates for post-1900 events, in particular, has been reduced from nine weeks to approximately six weeks. It is anticipated that a further improvement will be achieved by the end of this week. Priority is being given to these applications, as such certificates are more likely to be required for other services.

  172.  Mr. McGrath    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when he will introduce the new drugs refund scheme as announced some time ago; if his attention has been drawn to the confusion regarding this scheme; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that participants in this scheme are getting conflicting information from health boards and the administrators of the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13683/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  As previously announced, the new drugs payment scheme will be introduced with effect from 1 July 1999. An explanatory leaflet which incorporates an application form has issued to households throughout the country. Health boards and the General Medical Services (Payments) Board have issued further copies to patients currently using the existing community drugs schemes. My Department has also established a health board liaison group to co-ordinate the introduction of the scheme and ensure its uniform application. I am satisfied that there is consistency in the information being disseminated to the public on the new scheme.

  174.  Mr. Higgins (Dublin West)    asked the Minister for Health and Children    his response to a request for resources to have regular clinics around the country for people with epilepsy. [13714/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  As recommended in the report of the Review Group on Health and Personal Social Services for People with Physical and Sensory Disabilities, Towards an Independent Future, published in December 1996, regional co-ordinating committees for services for people with physical and sensory disabilities have been set up in each health board area. These bring together health boards, voluntary sector service providers and consumers. [666] One of the primary functions of the co-ordinating committee is to advise on priorities for the allocation of funds available for the development of the services. This year £3 million, £6 million full year cost in the year 2000, has been provided for the development of services. The allocation of funding out of this for the provision of clinics to provide advice, counselling and information to people with epilepsy, their families and their carers must be considered by each board in consultation with its co-ordinating committee.

  175.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if his attention has been drawn to the threatened industrial action by employees of SOS, Callan Road, Kilkenny; if his Department will seek a report from the South-Eastern Health Board in relation to the dispute and any commitment given by the board to SOS; the plans, if any, he has to intervene in the dispute which may cost the board £100,000; his views on the implications of this action on the overall finances of the board; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13738/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  SOS, Callan Road, Kilkenny is a voluntary organisation in receipt of a contribution from the South-Eastern Health Board towards its costs. It is an autonomous body independent of the board in relation to its day-to-day operation. Its employees are not employees of the board and their pay, terms and conditions of employment are not controlled by the board. Consequently, the dispute with SIPTU is a matter for the management of the agency as the direct employer and I have no function in this matter. I have been advised by the chief executive of the South-Eastern Health Board, who has been monitoring the situation that, although they are not a party to the dispute, negotiations are continuing under normal industrial relations procedures.

  176.  Mr. Haughey    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9, who has been a patient in Beaumont Hospital for the past six weeks, will have his heart by-pass operation carried out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13739/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The determination of in-patient appointments is a matter for the hospital authorities in the first instance and is based on clinical assessment of need. I have asked the chief executive officer of Beaumont Hospital to investigate the position regarding this patient. Given the particular circumstances of this case, I have requested that he reply to the Deputy directly, as a matter of urgency.

[667]

  177.  Ms Clune    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of speech therapists employed in the Southern Health Board area; the average waiting period for speech therapy; his views on whether the service is satisfactory; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13740/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  There are currently 26.7 whole-time equivalent speech and language therapy posts filled in the Southern Health Board community care service. The waiting period from referral date to the beginning of therapy varies according to age and type of disorder as follows: pre-school children with language problems 6 to 12 months; pre-school and school going children with severe to moderate phonology, sound system, disorders 12 to 30 months; and children with mild phonology disorders 18 to 48 months. The waiting period for assessment in all areas is three months.

The report of the Review Group on Health and Personal Social Services for People with Physical and Sensory Disabilities, Towards an Independent Future, published in December 1996, set out the requirements for the development of these services, including speech and language therapy services. The report recommended that 150 new speech and language therapy posts be put in place over the following ten years. Since the report was published three new speech and language therapy posts were created in 1997, one of which was in the Southern Health Board area, and ten new speech and language therapy posts in 1998, four of which are in the Southern Health Board area.

Another recommendation of the review group is the setting up of regional co-ordinating committees for services for people with physical and sensory disabilities. These bring together health boards, voluntary sector service providers and consumers. One of the primary functions of the co-ordinating committee is to advise on priorities for the allocation of funds available for the development of the services. This year £3 million, £6 million full year cost in the year 2000, has been provided for the development of services. The allocation of funding out of this for the provision of additional speech and language therapy services will be considered by each board in consultation with its co-ordinating committee.

  178.  Ms Clune    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if his attention has been drawn to the concern expressed by a number of hospitals in the Cork region to the proposed removal of the testing of blood products in the Cork Blood Transfusion Service Board unit; the consideration he has given to this proposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13741/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  Responsibility for the organisation and manage[668] ment of the national blood transfusion service rests with the Blood Transfusion Service Board. Following the report of the Finlay Tribunal of Inquiry, the BTSB is implementing a wide-ranging programme of modernisation in order to adapt to emerging developments in transfusion medicine. A number of measures to further improve blood safety are being introduced this year at a cost of approximately £6.8 million. This has resulted in a unit price increase in red cells from £63 to £94. A new IT system is also being introduced at a cost of approximately £4 million. At the Cork centre, the BTSB recently completed the refurbishment of the components processing and compatibility testing laboratory at a cost of over £500,000.

Transfusion medicine is undergoing rapid change. New technologies and additional safety tests continue to emerge. The BTSB is continually assessing these developments to ensure that its practices are in line with best international standards consistent with efficiency and effectiveness. One such development is PCR testing which is being introduced on the advice of the medical consultants at the board following an evaluation of international best practice. This is the most sensitive way of detecting viruses in blood donations and requires high grade laboratories, expensive technology and expert technical support.

The board of the BTSB decided in February 1998 that PCR testing at both the Dublin and Cork Centres could not be justified having regard to international practice. The board decided that PCR testing for all donations would be performed in the new national headquarters which is currently under construction. The implementation of this decision will involve blood samples from donations collected in all parts of the country being tested at the new national headquarters. In the light of that decision, the board recently decided to examine whether all serological testing and not only PCR testing should be performed at the national headquarters. I might add that there is no suggestion of any change in relation to other scientific and technical services at the Cork centre such as blood grouping, components processing, compatibility testing and ante-natal screening.

Among the issues being addressed by the BTSB in its detailed assessment of the feasibility of having a single testing centre are: how best to provide a transfusion service in the light of the rapidly changing environment in transfusion medicine; the application of accepted international standards of practice in leading centres and blood services; the achievement of the goal of supplying 100 per cent of blood components on time and without fail; the likelihood of a substantial reduction in the use of blood components given the alternatives to blood transfusion which are currently available or being developed; the concerns of health boards and hospitals, including their concerns about the substantial increase in the costs of BTSB products; and the achievement of a service that is efficient and effective.

[669] As part of this process, the chief executive officer and the national medical director of the BTSB are consulting with international transfusion experts. Consultation is also taking place with BTSB staff, relevant hospitals and blood users to brief them on the emerging developments, fully explain the BTSB's enhanced blood safety programme and address the needs and concerns of medical and scientific staff. A meeting has already taken place with members and staff of the Southern Health Board. The BTSB has advised the Southern Health Board that it is committed to working with all hospitals to ensure that it meets their blood component needs in a speedy, efficient and cost-effective manner consistent with the essential requirement of blood safety. The BTSB has invited scientific and medical input from hospital consultants in Cork to inform its considerations. The newly appointed chairman of the BTSB has also offered an opportunity to the Southern Health Board to make a presentation. The board of the BTSB will consider the outcome of the current assessment at its meeting in July.

In response to a number of misleading statements that have appeared in the media recently, I want to assure the House that the closure of the BTSB Cork centre is not on the agenda of the BTSB or my Department.

  179.  Ms Clune    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the in vitro fertilisation services available to those in the Southern Health Board region who wish to avail of this service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13742/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  In vitro fertilisation is not part of the publicly funded health service and people who avail of the service do so in a private capacity. The service is not available in the Southern Health Board region. There is an assisted infertility service available at Erinville maternity hospital and Cork University hospital and patients who wish to proceed to IVF are referred to Galway or Dublin or Belfast.

  180.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if he will approve the necessary funding to enable the Southern Health Board to employ the required staff to provide a full-time epidural service at Tralee general hospital; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13743/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The provision of an epidural service is in the first instance the responsibility of the Southern Health Board. There is currently a limited epidural service available at Tralee general hospital, which is dependent on both the availability of consultant anaesthetists and the medical requirements of the [670] patient. The further development of the epidural service is a priority with hospital management. They have upgraded two anaesthetic senior house officers to registrar level since 1 January 1999 with the objective of improving the availability of the epidural service.

The hospital now propose to introduce a 24 hour, seven day epidural service from 1 July 1999. This will necessitate the employment of additional staff and other ancillary costs. It is estimated that the additional cost of this development would be £220,000 per annum and the hospital have submitted proposals to my Department for funding of this development.

  181.  Ms Clune    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) in County Cork will be called for a hip operation. [13744/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The question of admission to Cork University hospital in this instance is the responsibility of the Southern Health Board, I have asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the position in relation to this case and reply directly to the Deputy, as a matter of urgency.

  182.  Ms O'Sullivan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if he has modified the effect of the changes to the drug cost subsidisation scheme; if the changes have had an adverse affect on the ability of many families to pay for necessary medication; if he will revert to the original guidelines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13745/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  With effect from 1 July 1999 the drugs cost subsidisation scheme and the drug refund scheme are being replaced by a new scheme, the drug payment scheme, which contains the best elements of the two existing schemes. The drug cost subsidisation scheme applies to individuals certified by their doctor as having a long-term medical condition necessitating expenditure of £32 per month. The new drug payment scheme is available to everyone and is not restricted to individuals within a family.

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 heavy expenditure on drugs and medicines in a quarter and have to wait a further six weeks from the end of the quarter before they receive a refund. This can cause considerable cash flow problems for a significant number of families and individuals. From the introduction of the new scheme, no individual or family will have to pay more than £42 per [671] 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.

The new scheme will be easier to use than the drug refund scheme and will be more inclusive than the drug cost subsidisation scheme, bringing overall benefits to a greater number of people. While I have no plans to review the proposals at this stage, I will monitor the operation of the scheme with a view to making any adjustments necessary from time to time.

  183.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if his attention has been drawn to the long delays being experienced by many people in the casualty unit of Tallaght and other hospitals; if he will respond to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 11 who was recently waiting six hours before receiving adequate treatment; if he will bring forward proposals to deal with these long waiting times; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13746/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The provision of treatment in the case referred to by the Deputy is the responsibility, in the first instance, of the Adelaide and Meath hospital, Dublin, incorporating the National Children's hospital. I have therefore, asked the chief executive officer of the hospital to investigate this matter and reply directly to the Deputy. The Deputy will be aware that all persons attending accident and emergency departments are assessed and treated in strict medical priority order and consequently the waiting time for treatment may vary in accordance with the circumstances at the time. The Deputy may also wish to note that total attendances at the accident and emergency unit at Tallaght in April 1999 reflects a 1.9 per cent increase on the figure for April 1998. Total attendances for all the major accident and emergency departments in the greater Dublin area show an overall increase in attendances of 0.4 per cent when April 1999 is compared to April 1998. This does not reflect a significant increase in demand.

  185.  Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when it is proposed to carry out a psychological assessment by the Southern Health Board on a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if his Department will cover the cost of private assessment for the family in view of the fact this person has been awaiting an assessment for 11 months. [13749/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The provision of health services in County Kerry [672] is a matter, in the first instance, for the Southern Health Board. As it would not be appropriate to provide the information sought by the Deputy in relation to the individual concerned by way of a parliamentary question, I have asked the chief executive officer of the Southern Health Board to examine this matter and to respond directly to the Deputy.

  186.  Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of children awaiting psychological assessment in the Southern Health Board area; the length of time they have been on the waiting list; the proposals, if any, he has to deal with this serious situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13750/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The Southern Health Board maintains separate waiting lists for psychological assessment for children with mental handicap and for children suffering a mental illness. Assessments are carried out by clinical psychologists of the board and by a number of agencies, principally the Brothers of Charity and Cope Foundation, on an agency basis. The number on the waiting list for children with a mental handicap is 416 and 445 for children suffering a mental illness. The average waiting time varies from agency to agency. However, for mental handicap the average waiting period is in the region of one year and the waiting list for mental health services ranges from one week to two and a half years. Clients presenting with urgent issues are given priority and are usually seen within one month. The board and the Brothers of Charity have experienced difficulty recruiting additional psychologists. Efforts continue to be made to employ additional psychologists to address the waiting lists.

  187.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Health and Children    his views on whether the options available to persons who wish to change their next of kin for the purposes of dealing with matters under the auspices of his Department are adequate; the nature of any representations received in that regard; the action taken or proposed thereon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13751/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  It would be normal practice for hospitals to invite patients to nominate their next of kin when taking registration details upon admission. In relation to operational procedures in place at an individual hospital level to facilitate patients in changing their next of kin or in establishing a next of kin in the case of an emergency admission, I have written to each agency individually to request that this information be supplied directly to the Deputy.

[673]

  188.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of meetings and progress made by the suicide research group established in mid 1998. [13753/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The information requested by the Deputy is not readily available in my Department. The chairman of the suicide research group has being asked to provide the information and I will contact the Deputy directly as soon as this is received.

  189.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9 will not receive an essential appointment before June 2000 in view of the target set that waiting times for children would not exceed six months; the steps, if any, he is taking to address this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13765/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  Since taking office, I am acutely aware of the importance of reducing waiting lists and waiting times, particularly for children. To this end, my Department has allocated £20 million in 1999 to agencies for the provision of treatment to patients on waiting lists. A new policy circular and guidelines have also issued to each hospital dealing with waiting lists advising them of updated procedures in relation to the waiting list initiative. I am confident that the additional funding and revised arrangements for the management of waiting lists will have a significant impact on waiting lists and, more importantly, waiting times this year.

With regard to this patient, the Deputy will be aware that the determination of in-patient appointments is a matter for the hospital authorities in the first instance, based on clinical assessment of need. I have asked the secretary-manager of Temple Street hospital to investigate the position in this case and, given the particular circumstances, I have requested that he reply to the Deputy directly, as a matter of urgency.

  190.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the status of the nomination of a resource officer with responsibilities in the broad field of suicide in each of the health board areas. [13766/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  All health boards have now appointed resource officers. The Eastern Health Board appointed a resource officer in April 1999 on a full-time basis for an initial three year period. The person appointed has a background in occupational therapy. The Midland Health Board appointed a [674] psychiatric nursing officer as resource officer with effect from 9 February 1999. The Mid-Western Health Board has appointed two part-time resource officers. The persons appointed have a background in research and public health and were appointed in August 1998. The North-Eastern Health Board has had a nursing officer as an acting resource officer since last year. The board hopes to fill the post on a permanent basis in the near future. The North-Western Health Board appointed two resource officers in November 1998. The positions are part-time and both persons are senior psychiatric nurses. The South-Eastern Health Board has appointed a resource officer who will officially take up the position on 31 May 1999. The person appointed is a psychiatric nursing officer. The Southern Health Board has appointed a chief nursing officer as resource officer. The appointment has been made on a part-time basis as a number of other persons are also engaged by the board in suicide and suicide prevention activities. The Western Health Board has appointed a nursing officer to the position of resource officer on a full-time basis. The position was filled in 1998.

  191.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if, further to Parliamentary Question No. 197 of 5 May 1999 and in view of the fact that the chief executive officers of each health board and of the voluntary hospitals have failed to date to supply the information requested, he will now correlate the information himself and make it available. [13767/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  My Department has requested the chief executive officers of the health boards and voluntary hospitals to provide the information requested. However, I am arranging to contact the chief executive officers to have the matter dealt with as expeditiously as possible.

  194.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if special care and counselling will be extended to persons (details supplied) in County Kilkenny who have been informed that certain family members have been sexually abused; if a medical card will be arranged for the family in view of their ongoing medical requirements and the extreme hardship; if a report will be requested on the case; and the way in which the South-Eastern Health Board are assisting the family concerned. [13781/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  Officials of my Department have been in contact with the South-Eastern Health Board in regard to this case and have been assured that appropriate services have been offered to members of the family. The board has also advised that no application for a medical card has been received to [675] date. If an application is made it will be considered by the board.

  195.  Mr. G. Reynolds    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if his Department will devise a system where a neurosurgeon will attend to patients suffering from multiple sclerosis in Sligo rather than have them travel to Dublin for the required consultation or treatment. [13820/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The provision of medical treatment to eligible persons in County Sligo is the statutory responsibility of the North-Western Health Board in the first instance. Neurosurgery is a highly specialised procedure and it is considered appropriate for our population size in this country that we have a limited number of centres carrying out this type of surgery. Beaumont hospital, Dublin is the national centre for neurosurgery and there is also a smaller neurosurgery unit in Cork University hospital.

  196.  Mr. O'Shea    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    if sufficient funds will be provided in 1999 to complete the Tramore ring road; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13481/99]

Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey):  My Department's 1999 non-national roads grant allocation to Waterford County Council of £5,292,000 includes a grant of £203,000 for the Tramore ring road under the scheme of grants for works to facilitate housing development. Some £97,000 was also paid to the council for Tramore ring road under this scheme in 1998. These amounts are contributing towards the construction of some 1.3 km of the Tramore ring road. The provision of the remaining section of the Tramore ring road is a matter for determination by Waterford County Council in the context of its resources and priorities under the non-national roads programme.

  197.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    the schemes or opportunities open to elderly people to have heating installed in their houses in view of the fact that it does not seem to be covered under health board or council works: and if he will make a statement in this year of the elderly. [13497/99]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy):  There are a number of options currently available to local authorities to assist older people in securing necessary improvement works to their [676] housing, including the provision of heating facilities. These include in the case of private housing: the disabled persons grants scheme, the terms of which were also significantly improved in the 1999 budget, with a 50 per cent increase in the effective maximum grant from £8,000 to £12,000 and the grant now covering up to three-quarters of the cost of works as against two-thirds previously; the scheme of improvement works in lieu of local authority housing which enables 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. In the case of local authority rented dwellings, the local authority may meet the full cost of any necessary improvement works.

  198.  Ms Clune    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    the regulations governing the use of mobile phones while driving a car; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13498/99]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy):  I refer to the reply to Question No. 79 of 27 April 1999. The position is unchanged.

  199.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    the commencement date of MOT testing for motor vehicles; the details, if any, agreed at this stage in respect of this scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13520/99]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy):  I refer to the reply to Question No. 146 of 21 April 1999. The position is unchanged.

  200.  Mrs. Barnes    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    when construction will begin on phase three of Church Road, Killiney, County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13523/99]

Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey):  I refer to the reply to Question No. 409 of 20 April 1999. The position is unchanged.

[677]

  201.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    if the extension to the Portumna sewerage scheme at Woodpark will be funded by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13566/99]

Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey):  A proposal relating to the Woodpark Road area was received in my Department on 24 March 1999 from Galway County Council. However, additional information is needed to allow further consideration of the proposal. The further information is awaited from the local authority.

  202.  Mr. Aylward    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    if funding will be provided for the upgrading of the Bennettsbridge and Thomastown water supply schemes (details supplied) in County Kilkenny where the pressure is low due to a large scale housing development. [13571/99]

Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey):  There are no proposals with my Department for water supply schemes at Bennettsbridge or Thomastown. Any such proposals would come within the terms of my Department's circular letter L9/98 of 22 October 1998. This circular asked each local authority to undertake a fresh assessment of the needs for capital works in its area and to prepare a prioritised list of projects based on the assessment. The priority lists will be taken into consideration by my Department in framing future water and sewerage services investment programmes under the next National Development Plan 2000-2006.

  203.  Mr. Shatter    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    to provide a halting site development and a small housing development on lands off Ballyboden Road adjacent to the Drive, Boden Park Estate, in view of the decision made by him on 4 May 1999; and if the Department will provide the full funding required to South Dublin Council to acquire these lands if it determines to proceed with this proposal. [13572/99]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy):  The provision and funding of a halting site and housing development on lands off Ballyboden Road is a matter for South Dublin County Council in the first instance. However, following commencement of the development, the cost of acquiring the lands can be recouped from the appropriate housing/halting site scheme budget. In the meantime, the cost of acquisition must be borne by the local authority by way of overdraft or other approved temporary borrowing. Funding is available from the Housing Finance Agency for this purpose. In the event of any of the land being disposed of to approved housing bodies, recoupment would be less any payments by them in respect of the sites.

[678]

  204.  Mr. O'Shea    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    the proposals, if any, he has to meet the concerns of retail workers in Waterford regarding the introduction of out of town superstores (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13599/99]

  210.  Ms Clune    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    when he will decide if the draft retail planning guidelines which limit the size of supermarket developments will become regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13737/99]

Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 204 and 210 together.

In June last year, I made a policy directive and regulations under the Planning Acts to limit the size of supermarket development to 3,000 sq. metres, pending the carrying out of a detailed study and publication of planning guidelines by my Department. The study has now been completed and published and the draft planning guidelines were issued on 15 April 1999 for a period of two months for public comment.

I will take into account the views of the retail workers in Waterford, along with all other submissions received as part of the consultation process, when deciding on the final version of the guidelines. Planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála will be statutorily required to have regard to the final guidelines in carrying out their planning functions. The existing policy directive will remain in force pending the issue of the final guidelines.

  205.  Mr. Crawford    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    when persons (details supplied) in County Monaghan will be paid a new house grant of £3,000 for which they applied and furnished VAT receipts for over £15,000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13671/99]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy):  Where an applicant builds a house by direct labour, a new house grant may be payable where a contractor, registered for VAT and holding either a current Form C2 or a tax clearance certificate, is engaged on the construction of the house and provides labour to a value of not less than £6,000. In addition, materials having a value, including VAT, of not less than £9,000 must be used in the construction of the house.

Receipts for labour were requested from the applicants last November and are still awaited.

[679]

  206.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    when a new house grant will be paid to a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13672/99]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy):  An inspection, with a view to payment of the grant, will be carried out as soon as possible.

  207.  Mr. Dennehy    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    if he will bring forward legislation to outlaw the practice of house builders requiring staged payments from purchasers as this necessitates purchasers drawing down their mortgage prior to completion of their home and represents a hidden increase in the cost of home purchase; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13673/99]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy):  I consider that stage payments in excess of the amounts covered by the HomeBond stage payment warranty expose the house purchaser to an unacceptable degree of risk. I have placed on record my concerns regarding the level of stage payments set out in the Irish Home Builders' Association code of practice in cases where title to the site is transferred before completion of the transaction. I have also written to the association seeking assurances that members neither seek interim payments in excess of the HomeBond warranty nor seek to extend the practice of stage payments to areas where they did not previously operate. These assurances have not yet been forthcoming.

I have also noted the recent judgment of the District Court in Cork that the stage payments sought in the case in question were unfair. The stage payments sought in this case appear to be the level set out in the IHBA code where title to the site is transferred before completion of the transaction. I would now expect the Irish Home Builder's Association to withdraw the stage payments element of the code of practice. I will be in touch with it in this regard. My Department will also be in touch with the Director of Consumer Affairs on this issue. I would not rule out the prospect of legislation in this area if that proves necessary.

  208.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    if a person (details supplied) in County Sligo will have a new house grant payment released immediately in view of the fact that it has been approved; if the cheque will be re-issued as all the documentation has been lodged; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13715/99]

[680]Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy):  A replacement cheque has now issued in this case.

  209.  Ms Clune    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    the amount collected in Cork County Council and Cork County Borough in the past five years; the amount of this money used for the upkeep of local roads; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13736/99]

Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey):  Details of the amounts collected by individual local authorities, the amounts applied to individual local authorities and the amounts applied to individual programmes are contained in the returns of local taxation, the most recent volume of which relates to 1997. Estimates for such collections and application of funds are contained in the Local Authority Estimates publication – up to 1998. Both of these publications are available in the Oireachtas Library. If the Deputy's question relates to amounts collected by the Cork local authorities in motor tax, the amounts collected in the years 1994 to 1998 inclusive were £28.9 million, £30.6 million, £34.1 million, £36.3 million and £39.9 million, respectively.

  211.  Mr. McGahon    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    if his Department has given any consideration to the transfer of vehicle testing of small PSV vehicles from An Garda Síochána to local authority test centres. [13764/99]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy):  I am currently seeking to progress, with the various interests concerned, a range of improvements to the regulatory framework for taxis and hackneys generally, following closely the advice addressed to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government by the Dublin Taxi Forum. One of the forum recommendations is that the primary functions of the Garda Síochána carriage office in relation to vehicle testing and inspection should be transferred to the local authorities or the new national car testing service and this is under consideration.

[681]

  212.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    the plans, if any, he has to provide funding to Kildare County Council for the refurbishment of the Páirc Mhuire flats, Newbridge, County Kildare; the plans, if any, the council has to refurbish the flats; the plans, if any, there are to totally change the design of the flats; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13838/99]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy):  I refer to the reply to Question No. 232 of 9 February 1999. The position remains unchanged.

  213.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    if the Government has a policy in promoting energy efficient design for residential accommodation; if so, the progress being made to implement this policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13839/99]

Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey):  Part L of the Building Regulations, which applies to the design and construction of new buildings and the reconstruction of existing buildings, sets out the legal requirements to be observed in relation to the conservation of fuel and energy. Part L applies to all categories of relevant buildings, including residential accommodation. Technical Guidance Document L – TGD-L – which accompanies the regulations, provides guidance on thermal performance standards. The guidance also deals with the means of applying insulation and selecting the thickness of insulation. In December 1997 I published a revised edition of TGD-L. The overall result of the revised guidance will be an energy saving in space heating estimated at up to 10 per cent. My Department has initiated a further and more radical review of the thermal performance and insulation requirements of TGD-L having regard to Ireland's obligations to limit greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol by the years 2008 to 2012. I hope to be in a position to publish relevant proposals for public comment by the end of this year, following consultation with the Building Regulations Advisory Body.

  214.  Mr. Farrelly    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    if the carer's allowance is means tested following the new proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter [13475/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The carer's allowance is a social assistance payment to carers on low incomes who live with and look after certain people who need full-time care and attention. At the end of March 1999 there were 11,659 carers in receipt of the carer's allowance. The estimated expenditure on carer's allowance in 1999 is over £59 million. Following a detailed examination of the review of the carer's allowance which was launched in October 1998 and its proposals on [682] the improvement and development of the carer's allowance, a range of measures were introduced in the 1999 budget at an additional annual cost of over £18 million, to improve and develop the position of carers. The 1999 budget introduced improvements in the means test for carer's allowance. From August 1999, a disregard of £75 per week will be applied to the income of a carer who is single and the current disregard of £150 per week will be applied to the joint means of a married couple.

The submissions and proposals of the organisations representing carers were considered as part of the review process and are set out in the report. One of the major issues raised by these groups was the removal or easing of the carer's allowance means test. The review examined the means test and considered that it should be maintained as a way of targeting scarce public resources towards those who are most in need. The means test applied to the carer's allowance is one of the more generous tests associated with social welfare payments.

  215.  Mr. Flanagan    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    if he will rectify the anomalous situation regarding the living alone allowance where a person holding an old age pension from another jurisdiction is not entitled to the allowance while entitled to all other associated free schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13476/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The purpose of the living alone allowance of £6 per week is to recognise the extra cost of living alone. It is payable as an addition to weekly social welfare pensions to people aged 66 years of age or over, who are in receipt of certain social welfare-type payments, and who reside alone. The allowance is an integral part of the Irish pension system and is designed to cover a specific contingency. As such, it has no applicability vis-à-vis pension payments made under the social security regimes of other EU member states or countries with which Ireland has bilateral agreements. This is fully in accordance with the EU regulations which allow all member states to decide which benefits are granted and under what conditions.

There are no plans to extend this allowance to people in receipt of a social security pension or benefit from a country covered by EU regulations or a country with which Ireland has a bilateral agreement. This does not, however, preclude low income pensioners from qualifying for the free schemes provided that they are in receipt of a qualifying payment, for example, in this instance, from another EU member state, or that they satisfy a means-test and are living alone or with certain categories of excepted people.

[683]

  216.  Mr. O'Shea    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    the proposals, if any, he has to relax the means text on the back to school allowance for recently widowed parents with young children who take up part-time employment for therapeutic and financial reasons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13479/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The back to school clothing and footwear allowance scheme is administered on behalf of my Department by the health boards. The scheme is designed to assist certain recipients of social welfare and health board payments with the cost of children's school uniforms and footwear. Certain people on low incomes who are in receipt of family income supplement may also qualify for assistance. In order to qualify for the allowance, the claim must be in respect of a qualified child, the applicant must be in receipt of a qualifying payment and they must satisfy a specified means test. A qualified child is one who falls into one of the age groups specified for the scheme and in respect of whom a child dependant allowance is payable.

The means test takes account of any income over and above the appropriate rate of widow's and widowers contributory pension plus £5 where the guardian is single, and contributory old age pension plus £5 where the guardian is one of a couple. Where the income of a household exceeds these limits, the back to school clothing and footwear allowance is not payable. Applications for assistance from those who do not qualify for payment under the scheme may be considered by the health board for an exceptional needs payment – ENP. The purpose of ENPs is to help prevent hardship by providing for essential, once-off, exceptional expenditure, which applicants could not reasonably be expected to meet out of their weekly income. ENPs are payable at the discretion of the health board taking into account the requirements of the legislation and all the relevant circumstances of the case.

I have no immediate plans to relax the means test provisions for recently widowed parents who take up part-time employment. The income limits for the allowance are based on social welfare payments and are automatically raised each year in line with the budgetary increases. Any changes in the scheme would have to have regard to the position of other families on lower incomes who do not qualify for such a payment on the grounds of excess means. The back to school clothing and footwear allowance scheme will be reviewed during 1999 as part of my Department's series of programme expenditure evaluations. The review will examine all aspects of the scheme including the income limits and means test. Any changes recommended in the review of the scheme will be considered in the context of the budget.

[684]

  217.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    the reason a person (details supplied) in Cork, who was 66 in January 1999, only received the free electricity units from 5 February 1999; and the reason he should not get it from the billing period during which he reached his 66th birthday rather than on the next billing period which resulted in his losing one month's free electricity. [13480/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  Under the conditions of the free electricity allowance scheme, which is non-statutory, the allowance is applied in all cases from the start of the next complete billing period following the date on which the conditions are satisfied. Similarly at the end of a claim, the allowance is applied for the full billing period in which entitlement ceases. There are no plans to alter these arrangements. The person concerned has received his correct entitlement under the terms of the scheme.

  218.  Mr. G. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    if he will publish one application form for all schemes administered by his Department in order that applicants will receive a detailed answer stating their entitlements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13499/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The social welfare system includes a variety of schemes, each of which was designed to support people at various stages of their lives or when certain contingencies arise. It has been the practice to have a separate application form for each scheme type, designed to elicit concise information needed to determine entitlement to the specific payment most appropriate to the needs and circumstances of the applicant. While the basic information required to identify the applicant and, where necessary, to locate the appropriate PRSI record, is common to all schemes, the specific information required to determine entitlement to the most appropriate scheme type can differ significantly from scheme to scheme.

Applications for disability benefit, for example, are made on a combined application form, also completed by a medical practitioner who certifies the nature of the illness involved. Unemployment payment claims, on the other hand, are usually completed during a visit to one of the Department's local offices and the information required relates strictly to the employment position of the applicant. Other application procedures will differ in respect of the nature of the information required, for example, those involving a means test will require details which would not be relevant in the case of contributory schemes based on the persons PRSI record. It is considered that, given the wide range of social insurance, social assistance and other types of benefits available, a single unified application form would be unduly complicated from the customers' point of view.

However, I note the Deputy's point that applicants contacting my Department should be provided with detailed information on their full [685] entitlements and not solely in relation to the specific benefit type on which the initial application may be based. My Department is committed to delivering quality customer service and to ensuring continuous improvements in the standards of service it provides. A number of initiatives have been introduced in recent years aimed at improving the quality of our service to the public. These include establishing customer panels where customers meet officials regarding their needs and concerns in the area of customer service delivery, and developing a code of practice for form and leaflet design in consultation with customers and their representative organisations. Other improvements include a more widespread use of information technology to meet the needs of customers at local level and to help minimise the difficulties encountered by people wishing to access their entitlements under the broad range of schemes and supports administered by my Department.

  220.  Mr. Haughey    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    if the free travel scheme will be extended to old age pensioners who have to attend early hospital appointments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13553/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The free travel scheme is available to all people living in the State aged 66 years or over, as well as to certain people with disabilities under that age who are in receipt of certain social welfare type payments. It is also available to carers in receipt of carer's allowance and from last April free travel is available to carers of people in receipt of a constant attendance allowance or prescribed relatives allowance. The scheme provides free travel, primarily at off-peak periods, to eligible people on the main public and private transport services. The full year cost of free travel scheme for 1999 is approximately £34.5 million and at the end of March 1999, over 537,000 free travel passes had been issued. Time restrictions have been a feature of the free travel scheme since its inception in Dublin, Cork and Limerick. They do not, however, apply in the case of mentally-handicapped people, people attending long-term rehabilitation courses or certain work experience programmes and certain other disabled or blind people. These people are issued with an unrestricted free travel pass which enables them to travel during the normally restricted travel times.

The central issue in regard to time restrictions relates to capacity constraints. Time restrictions have been put in place because the transport companies concerned are under severe pressure from commuters travelling to and from work and school in the morning and evening. There are no peak time travel restrictions on DART or suburban rail services provided by CIE and private transport operators in other parts of the country.

[686] The free schemes were originally designed to benefit mainly older people in receipt of a social welfare type payment who were living alone and required additional assistance. However, over the years, additional categories of people have been included.

A fundamental review of the free schemes, including the free travel scheme, is currently being undertaken by an officer on secondment to the Policy Institute, TCD. The purpose of the review is to assess whether the objectives of these schemes are being achieved in the most efficient and effective manner. It is expected that the review will be published by the institute in October-November this year. The conclusions of the review will then be considered in a budgetary context, as appropriate.

  221.  Mr. O'Shea    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    the proposals, if any, he has to increase substantially the widow's pension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13596/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The widow's and widower's pension schemes recognise the particular financial difficulties that arise for people following the death of a spouse. A widow(er)'s (contributory) pension is based on either the claimant's own or late spouse's social insurance record. In addition, a person may use the full record or the record over the previous three or five years to satisfy the yearly average condition. From June, the weekly rate of the widow(er)'s (contributory) pension, £82.10 per week for those over 66 and under 80 years of age, will be 114 per cent of the main rate recommended by the Commission on Social Welfare.

A widow's and widower's (non-contributory) pension is available to those, without children, who do not qualify for the contributory pension. This is payable subject to a means test. From June, the maximum rate of the widow(er)'s (non-contributory) pension, at £78.50 for those over 66 and under 80 years of age, will be 109 per cent of the commission's recommended rate. Title to these pensions also gives access to the free schemes, where appropriate. Special measures are in place to ensure that households do not suffer the loss of entitlements following the death of a spouse. Widows/widowers aged from 60 to 65 whose late spouses had been in receipt of the free schemes retain that entitlement. The question of future improvements in social welfare provisions for widows and widowers – as for all social welfare clients – is a matter for consideration by the Government in a budgetary context.

[687]

  223.  Proinsias De Rossa    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    the reason a person (details supplied) in Dublin 11 has not received a reply to her query regarding maternity benefit submitted to his Department on 15 March 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13858/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  An application for maternity benefit from the person concerned was received by my Department on 11 February 1999. In order to qualify for maternity benefit certain PRSI contribution conditions must be satisfied. Based on her social insurance record she has insufficient contributions to qualify for maternity benefit. Her application was, accordingly, refused by a deciding officer and she was notified of this decision and the reasons for it on 1 March 1999. Representations subsequently received from the Deputy raised an important issue in the case which required careful consideration. The points raised in these representations have now been fully considered and a full reply has been issued to the Deputy.

  224.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands    the position in regard to the protection of the corncrake; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13809/99]

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera):  All wild birds throughout the state are protected under the terms of the Wildlife Act, 1976. Corncrakes are included in Annex 1 of the EU Birds Directive 79/409/EEC which lists species which are to be the subject of special conservation measures. Ireland is a party to an international corncrake action plan produced by Bird Life International which is supported by a number of international bodies including the Council of Europe. From a position in the first half of this century where the corncrake was widespread in Ireland the population is down to less than 200 calling males. After a number of years of decline the numbers have stabilised in the last two years. The overall decline is probably attributable to the mechanisation and intensification of agricultural practices in recent decades.

A number of measures have been taken to protect the corncrake. Hunting has not been permitted for a number of years. The remaining strongholds of the corncrake – the meadows of the Shannon Callows, Inishbofin and Tory Island in Donegal – have been classified as special protection areas under the EU Birds Directive. My officials are currently considering whether other areas used, or potentially used, by the corncrake can also be classified as special areas of conservation. In addition, Dúchas, the heritage service of my Department together with Birdwatch Ireland operate an annual corncrake grant scheme whereby farmers who have corncrakes on their lands are offered financial incentives to operate in a manner sensitive to the needs of the [688] corncrake particularly when mowing their fields – the delay of grass cutting until young corncrakes are fledged. A grant of £64,000 has been approved for this scheme in 1999. Discussions are ongoing between my officials and officials from the Department of Agriculture and Food to identify modifications to the REPS so that specific corncrake sensitive measures can be included in the scheme.

  225.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands    when the archaeological report which was drawn up as a result of a survey carried out on the old church and graveyard at Kilrush, Dungarvan, County Waterford, will be made available to Dungarvan Urban Council. [13536/99]

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera):  The archaeological report on the old church and graveyard at Kilrush, Dungarvan, County Waterford was commissioned by Dungarvan Urban District Council in 1993. In March last, Dungarvan Urban District Council informed my Department of the Deputy's interest in having clearance and restoration work undertaken at the church and graveyard and requested my Department to indicate the works which it felt would be appropriate. My Department has now replied to the council requesting detailed written proposals on the nature of the works in question, on receipt of which I will arrange for a response to issue expeditiously.

  226.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands    when compensation will be approved for a person (details supplied) in County Roscommon following the special area of conservation designation of Esker; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13537/99]

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera):  Dúchas, the heritage service of my Department, will prepare a farm plan for each farmer with lands included in proposed special areas of conservation and any income loss arising from implementing these farm plans will be compensated for. Dúchas will shortly commence a pilot programme for the preparation and implementation of five farm plans. The case referred to by the Deputy will be one of those included in the pilot programme.

[689]

  227.  Mr. Farrelly    asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands    if she will instruct the Office of Public Works to replace the Cross of Kells to a temporary site at the front of the court house in Kells until Cross Street is pedestrianised when the N52 by-pass is com pleted; and her views on whether the loss of the cross is causing serious damage to the tourism industry in the area. [13790/99]

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera):  The decision on whether the Kells market cross should be moved to a temporary location pending the pedestrianisation of Cross Street lies ultimately with its owners, Kells Urban District Council. Dúchas, the heritage service in my Department, has advised the council that the cross should be moved as little as possible as with every move there is a possibility that it will be damaged. Accordingly, it is recommended that when the cross is moved back to Kells it should be to its final location. I do not consider it appropriate for me to comment on the issue raised by the Deputy relating to tourism in the area.

  228.  Mr. McGahon    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if his attention has been drawn to fact that there is a six month waiting period for taxi and hackney operators in having vehicles tested by PSV officers. [13764/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that the majority of applications for small public service vehicle drivers' licences to have vehicles tested by public service vehicle inspectors throughout the country are dealt with within a few days.

However, in some cases it may take two or three weeks before a certificate is issued. This can happen where the applicant would have to have a defect in the vehicle remedied.

  229.  Mr. Higgins (Mayo)    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if judgment was delivered in respect of a High Court case (details supplied) listed for hearing in 1983. [14031/99]

  236.  Mr. Higgins (Mayo)    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if a High Court case (details supplied) scheduled for hearing in 1983 was listed; and if a judgment was registered. [13721/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 229 and 236 together.

I am informed that a search of the records of the High Court on the basis of the information supplied by the Deputy has failed to locate any record of the case in question. If the Deputy has any further details to offer which might assist in tracking the record of this case I will make further inquiries on his behalf.

I would remind the Deputy, however, that the courts are, subject only to the Constitution and [690] the law, independent in the exercise of their judicial functions and it would, therefore, be inappropriate for me, as Minister, to comment on the conduct of an individual court case.

  230.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    further to Parliamentary Question No. 242 of 11 May 1999 the number of calls the gardaí have received since then to deal with disorder at and outside the premises (details supplied); and the action, if any, they are taking to ensure that this disorder is discontinued. [13454/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that no further complaints of disorder concerning the premises in question have been received by the gardaí since the Deputy's previous Parliamentary Question on 11 May 1999.

I am also informed that the gardaí continue to monitor the premises, and are taking the appropriate action to deal with the situation. I am sure that the Deputy will understand that for operational reasons it is not possible for me to comment on the measures being taken by the gardaí in this regard.

  231.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the reasons an application for a study visa and a subsequent application for an exam visa for a person (details supplied) were refused; the additional documentation or information needed for a successful application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13556/99]

  232.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if a study visa will be granted for a person (details supplied). [13557/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 231 and 232 together.

The person in question applied for a study visa for a period of 12 months. However, the documents submitted with his application showed him to be enrolled for a course of two weeks duration only. In addition, the applicant did not produce evidence of sufficient funds to support himself for a stay of one year. Should the applicant supply my Department with details of his enrolment in a further course as well as evidence of sufficient resources, the case can then be re-examined.

It is noted that the applicant has an offer of a supernumerary attachment in an Irish hospital. However, registration with the Irish Medical Council is a requirement for such a post and this has not yet been obtained by the applicant. It would be of benefit if the applicant could clarify his plans in this regard.

[691]

  233.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the current situation with regard to the transfer of Dublin traffic wardens to the employment of Dublin Corporation; his plans, if any, in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13576/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  The Labour Relations Commission recently held conciliation conferences with representatives of my Department, the Garda authorities, Dublin Corporation and the unions representing the traffic wardens. My Department has issued joint proposals from the Garda Commissioner and Dublin Corporation regarding the transfer together with clarifications on certain aspects of the Dublin Corporation proposals, and is now awaiting the unions response.

  234.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will make a statement on the circumstances of the transfer of an official in his Department (details supplied) arising from a reported dispute on the sanctioning of certain expenses claimed by staff; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13688/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  In December 1998, my Department became aware that the majority of the staff in a certain office in the Department were no longer content to work with their supervisor i.e., the official referred to by the Deputy.

The Christmas leave period arose before anything could be done about the situation but on 12 January 1999, the personnel officer transferred the official concerned. The official proceeded to take High Court proceedings the following day to prevent her transfer but indicated to the Department, through her legal advisers on 18 January, that she was prepared to settle the action and accept her transfer. The case was subsequently settled.

In the course of a High Court affidavit the plaintiff implied that her transfer may have been connected with the fact that she queried and refused to approve certain travelling and subsistence claims. I am satisfied that the question of such claims did not arise in the consideration of the transfer to other duties of the person concerned.

I should inform the House that the official concerned has formally withdrawn all her allegations and has accepted that they were not and are not true. To the best of my knowledge and advice no fraud, irregularity or overpayment occurred in relation to the expenses concerned in this case.

[692]

  235.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if, further to Parlia mentary Question No. 388 of 10 November 1998, he will again intervene on behalf of a person (details supplied) and rescind the decision made on her visa; if he will make a favourable decision in view of the circumstances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13689/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  I am currently reviewing the decision in this case and my Department will be in contact with the person concerned again in the near future.

  237.  Mr. Currie    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will grant a certificate of naturalisation to a person (details supplied) whose father, mother and brother are citizens and whose skills would be of value here. [13722/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  Having considered the application in question under the provisions of section 16(a) of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Acts, 1956 and 1986 where the applicant is of Irish descent or has Irish associations, I was not satisfied that I should grant a certificate of naturalisation. The person referred to was informed in writing of this decision earlier in the year.

It is of course open to the person in question to visit the State or to apply for permission to reside here in accordance with the provisions of Irish immigration laws.

  238.  Mr. Currie    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if a citizen application will be facilitated for persons (details supplied) in Dublin 15. [13723/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  Applications for certificates of naturalisation from the persons referred to by the Deputy were submitted to this Department in May and November 1998 respectively.

The various procedures involved in processing an application for a certificate of naturalisation in respect of a person of full age, coupled with the high number of applications received are resulting in applications taking in excess of 12 months to complete. It is therefore likely to be some months yet before the application received in May of 1998 is finalised. With regard to the application received in November of that year, this is likely to be finalised around the middle of next year.

As soon as full consideration has been given to both applications, I will advise both the applicants and the Deputy of my decision in each case.

[693]

  239.  Mr. E. Ryan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will provide a detailed breakdown of the way in which the revenue collected in court fines in each of the years 1997 and 1998 was allocated. [13756/99]

[694]Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  The information requested is set out on the following tables:

Fines Revenue 1997

Period Motor Tax Courts Vote Revenue Fisheries Total Fines Paid
£ £ £ £ £
Jan-Mar 1997 1,415,930.08 323,453.80 52,582.75 134,201.87 1,926,168.50
Apr-June 1997 1,398,916.67 377,325.79 70,575.00 15,650.00 1,862,467.46
July-Sep 1997 1,260,082.21 377,959.79 59,280.00 171,590.00 1,868,912.00
Oct-Dec 1977 1,398,300.41 457,336.20 81,675.00 186,886.30 2,124,197.91
Totals 1997 5,473,229.37 1,536,075.58 264,112.75 508,328.17 7,781,745.87

Fines Revenue 1998

Period Motor Tax Courts Vote Revenue Fisheries Total Fines Paid
£ £ £ £ £
Jan-Mar 1998 1,298,683.81 450,052.88 63,778.13 83,955.00 1,896,469.82
Apr-June 1998 1,446,450.10 463,966.68 76,424.78 23,054.50 2,009,896.06
July-Sep 1998 1,612,453.79 487,271.13 54,490.00 120,356.00 2,274,570.92
Oct-Dec 1978 1,784,109.17 657,139.38 141,123.96 97,670.91 2,680,043.42
Totals 1998 6,141,696.87 2,058,430.07 335,816.87 325,036.41 8,860,980.22

  240.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will intervene on behalf of a person (details supplied) and grant her an entry visa in view of the fact that she has a work visa, has secured a job and is fully qualified to work here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13757/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 244 of 11 May 1999. The position remains unchanged since then.

  241.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will have investigations made into an incident where a car owned by a disabled driver (details supplied) was impounded on 23 April 1999 under section 47 of an Act leaving the owner without transport to return to his home in Kilkenny; if he will have further investigations made into the way in which the person was treated at a Garda station during this incident; if the fine imposed will be refunded in view of the circumstances of the case and the fact that the motor tax on the vehicle is paid by another Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13779/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  I have been informed by the Garda authorities that the vehicle in question was seized by the gardaí in accordance with Section 41 of the Road Traffic Act, 1994 and the relevant regulations made thereunder.

Under Section 41 of the above Act, the gardaí are empowered to seize a vehicle if any one or all of the following circumstances are satisfied: the driver has no driving licence and is ineligible to hold one by reason of age; the driver has no insurance; and the vehicle is untaxed for more than three months. The vehicle is released on payment of a £100 fee, i.e. £75 seizure fee and £25 daily storage charge plus £25 per day thereafter.

In the case referred to by the Deputy, I am informed by the Garda authorities that the vehicle in question was seized for being untaxed for a period of three months or more. In addition, the vehicle was not specially constructed or adapted for use by a disabled person in which case it would not qualify for an exemption from road fund licence duty, i.e. motor tax. In the circumstances, the gardaí do not recommend a refund of the charges incurred.

With regard to the issue of the treatment of the person referred to by the Deputy by the gardaí, I have been assured by the Garda authorities that the driver was treated with courtesy at all times and made no complaint to the gardaí about the manner in which he was dealt with.

[695]

  242.  Ms Clune    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he has satisfied himself that the guidelines and regulations governing the access of both parents to children following a separation agreement are satisfactory; the plans, if any, he has to review these regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13787/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  I assume the Deputy is referring to the position where parents are in dispute about access to a child following a separation agreement. The law already provides detailed provisions by way of a Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964 and the Children Act, 1997 in this area. While I have no proposals for changes in the law I can say it is kept under review.

  243.  Mr. Farrelly    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    if he has received an application for lottery funding from a club (details supplied) in County Meath for the major development at its premises; when this will be considered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13468/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  An application for financial assistance under the sports capital programme has been received from the organisation in question. This is one of almost 1,900 applications and will be considered when the grant allocations for 1999 are being made in accordance with the criteria for awarding such grants as set out in the terms and conditions of the new programme.

Given the large number of applications and the level of work involved in evaluating them, I do not expect to be in a position to make final announcements on the 1999 round of grant allocations for some time yet.

  244.  Mr. Farrelly    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    if he has received an application for lottery funding from a parish hall (details supplied) in County Meath; if so, when this will be paid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13469/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  My Department has no record of receiving an application for funding under the new sports capital programme from the organisation in question. The closing date for the receipt of completed applications forms was 12 February 1999.

  245.  Proinsias De Rossa    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    if a grant application will be allowed from a community band (details supplied) in Crumlin, Dublin 12; his views on whether the work of this band is deserving of financial assistance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13529/99]

[696]Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Mr. Flood):  Applications were sought under the 1999 sports capital programme at the end of 1998 and the closing date for the receipt of completed applications was 12 February 1999. No application has been received under the programme from the community band named by the Deputy.

However I understand that, in December 1995, prior to the establishment of my Department, the then Minister of State with responsibility for local development, then located in the Department of the Taoiseach, approved the payment of a grant of £40.000 on foot of a joint application by the Herberton Youth Club-Crumlin Academy of Music towards the development of a music academy in the youth club premises in Raleigh Square, Crumlin, Dublin 12.

It appears that the promoters have, to date, failed to raise the remainder of the funding required and that the project has not started as a result.

My Department is currently in consultations with the grant recipients and expects to hear shortly on the precise details of the refurbishment project and how the group now intends to proceed with the completion of the project.

  246.  Mr. U. Burke    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    if a club (details supplied) will be grant aided for its proposed development from the current budget allocation of national lottery funds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13687/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  An application for funding from the club concerned has been received under the sports capital programme. This is one of almost 1,900 applications and will be considered when the grant allocations for 1999 are being made in accordance with the criteria for awarding such grants as set out in the terms and conditions of the new programme.

Given the large number of applications and the level of work involved in evaluating them, I do not expect to be in a position to make final announcements on the 1999 round of grant allocations for some time yet.

  247.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    the amount allocated in grants and the actual amounts drawn down to date in respect of each of the three urban areas of Cork northside, Tallaght-Clondalkin and Ballymun-Finglas. [13698/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Mr. Flood):  I am assuming that the Deputy is referring to the three [697] areas under the EU urban initiative and, on that basis, the following table sets out the most up to [698] date information under this initiative as sought by the Deputy:–

Breakdown, by Sub-Programme, or URBAN Community Initiative allocations and drawdown in (IR£m.)

SubProgramme Area Total allocation Funding drawndown to date Balance
1 North Dublin
Ballymun/Darndale/Finglas
10.4 7.2 3.2
2 South Dublin
West Tallaght/North Clondalkin
5.4 2.4 3.0
3 Northside of Cork City 5.4 4.3 1.1
Total 21.2 13.9 7.3

At the meeting on 5 May 1999 the monitoring committee for the URBAN Operational Programme, each of the steering groups in the three selected areas confirmed that all funding available to them had been fully allocated. In addition, significant progress was reported in respect of activity in the first four months of 1999. Planning permission is now in place for the flagship project in Ballymun – the Arts and Community Resource Centre, allocated IR£2.13 million from URBAN – the planning process for the Darndale's Village Centre – IR£1.14 million from URBAN – is under way and the Enterprise Centre in Cork is near completion.

The monitoring committee was also pleased to note the assurances from the steering groups and full financial allocations would be spent within the programming period which expires at the end of 2001.

  248.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason for the delay in the building project for Gaelscoil Osraí, Kilkenny; the time frame for the project; if the project will be completed by the beginning of the new school year; if the integrity of the site detailed in the original application for planning permission will not be interfered with; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13457/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  A contract has been placed and construction is well under way for Gaelscoil Osraí. It is expected that the works will be completed by September 1999.

I understand an approach was made to my Department to sell a section of the site but this has not been acceded to.

  249.  Mr. Bradford    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if the remedial teaching service provided to Ballynoe national school, Mallow, County Cork, will be improved in view of the fact a number of pupils in the school need extra remedial hours. [13458/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  My priority at present is to ensure that all schools which currently have no remedial service will be given access to this service from September next. Arrangements to put this extension of service in place are currently being made in my Department.

I can assure the Deputy that the remedial needs of the school to which he refers will be fully considered in the event of additional resources becoming available to improve existing remedial services.

I understand that the school in question has applied for teaching and child care support in respect of two pupils with special educational needs. My Department's Inspectorate is investigating this application at present and a decision on the matter will be made as soon as the Inspectors report is received.

  250.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position in relation to Carrowkennedy national school, Westport, County Mayo; when the plans will be sanctioned; and when it will go for tender. [13463/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The position regarding Carrowkennedy national school, Westport, County Mayo is that a cost plan for the project is currently being prepared by the project design team.

  251.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Donegal is not receiving a grant in view of the fact he is over 15 miles from his school; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13470/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  Under the student support schemes, maintenance grants are payable at either adjacent or non-adjacent rates. The adjacent rate of maintenance grant is payable where the grantholder's normal residence is 15 miles or less from the col[699] lege which he or she is attending. The non-adjacent rate of maintenance grant is payable in all other cases.

I understand from Donegal Vocational Education Committee, the body entrusted with administration of the maintenance grants scheme for students attending post-leaving certificate courses, that the normal residence of the student in question is 15 miles from the school that he is attending and therefore the student is entitled to the adjacent rate of maintenance grant.

I believe that the existing arrangements are reasonable and I have no plans to review the qualifying criteria for adjacent-non-adjacent rate of maintenance grant.

  252.  Mr. Farrelly    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the steps, if any, he will take to alleviate the problem that the parents and management of Nobber primary school, County Meath, are having due to the school losing a teacher at the beginning of the school year 1999-2000 in view of pupil numbers; if this decision will be reversed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13490/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The staffing of primary schools is determined by reference to the enrolment of the school on 30 September of the previous school year. This is in accordance with guidelines agreed between this Department and the education partners.

The current staffing of Nobber primary school is a principal and four mainstream class teachers based on an enrolment of 123 on 30 September 1997. The enrolment on 30 September 1998 – on which the staffing for the 1999-2000 school year is based – was 109. The school would have needed a minimum enrolment of 120 pupils in order to retain the fourth teacher in this school. This is in spite of the fact that the retention figure has been reduced for the coming year.

  253.  Mr. Farrelly    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will have a survey carried out into the provision of a school transport service to Nobber primary school, County Meath; if he will investigate the numbers of children who would avail of this service without payment due to the distance from the school; if he will indicate the required number of pupils to qualify for the restoration of this service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13491/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  My Department has not received an application for the establishment of a school bus service to Nobber primary school. The names and addresses of all the pupils offering for transport to Nobber primary national school should be for[700] warded to my Department to allow examination of their eligibility.

In order to be eligible for free school transport, children under ten years of age must live at least two miles from and be attending their nearest national school, while older children must live at least three miles away.

Under the terms of the school transport scheme, a service to a national school may only be established for children who are eligible for transport to that school and provided there are at least ten eligible pupils living in a distinct locality offering for transport to that school.

As soon as all the relevant information is received and considered by my Department, a decision will be conveyed to the Deputy without delay.

  254.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if St. Catherine's senior girls school, Dublin 7, will retain the 11th assistant teacher in September 1999 when there will be 308 pupils on the roll. [13492/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The staffing of primary schools is determined by reference to the enrolment of the school on 30 September of the previous school year. This is in accordance with guidelines agreed between this Department and the education partners.

The current staffing of St. Catherine's senior girls school is a principal and 11 mainstream class teachers based on an enrolment of 335 on 30 September 1997. Additionally, the school has the services of a remedial teacher, a concessionary teacher due to the schools disadvantaged status, a teacher for the mildly mentally handicapped and a shared home school liaison teacher.

The enrolment on 30 September 1998 – on which the staffing for the 1999-2000 school year is based – was 298. Unfortunately, this does not meet the retention requirement for the 11th teacher in this school.

While a school may apply for an additional teaching post under the criteria for developing schools, the projected enrolment would be insufficient to qualify for such a post.

  255.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if Scoil Mhuire na Trocaire national school, Buttevant, will retain a teacher post which would otherwise go on the panel in view of the prospective rise in enrolments. [13493/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  I am pleased to advise the Deputy that sanction has been given to Scoil Naisiunta Mhuire na Trocaire to retain the services of a temporary teacher at the school for the 1999-2000 school year.

[701] This favourable decision was relayed to the board of management by officials of my Department in the last few days.

  256.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the procedures, if any, in place to deal with complaints of bullying of a teacher by other teachers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13494/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The health and safety authority is the body with national responsibility for health and safety matters. At the beginning of 1996, the authority issued a report of the advisory committee on occupational safety and health at first and second level schools. This advisory committee included representatives of the partners in education, my Department and other interests. While this report did not identify bullying of teachers as a widespread issue I am very concerned by recent reports of bullying and other threats to the health and safety of teachers. Teachers like other employees are entitled to be feel safe and protected from all forms of bullying and intimidation in their working environment.

Under the health and safety legislation, school managerial authorities in their role as employers are responsible for ensuring the safety and health of their employees. This duty requires the drawing up a safety statement for the school in consultation with those at risk. The statement should identify potential hazards and assess the risks to health and safety.

Bullying should be considered as a potential hazard and assessed accordingly. Where there is a risk to health and safety from bullying, school based measures should be devised to prevent and deal with such behaviour and create awareness within the school that bullying behaviour is unacceptable.

My Department has recently completed consultations with teacher unions and management bodies concerning guidelines for second-level schools on the issue of violence in schools. The guidelines outline the duty of school management authorities to provide a safe environment for employees and other persons present in the school and the measures to be taken to prevent or minimise the risk of assaults to teachers and other school staff. The guidelines also give guidance regarding the measures to be taken in support of staff who have been assaulted or threatened with assault. The guidelines emphasise the importance of developing a fair and efficient code of behaviour in schools to assist in the promotion of good relations between teachers, pupils and parents. Arrangements are now being made for the issue of the guidelines to all second-level schools. Similar guidelines have already issued to primary schools.

I am open to submissions from teacher and other school staff interests on the specific issue of [702] bullying of teachers and if there is a need to address the issue further in the form of guidance to school management, I will do so in consultation with the partners and the health and safety authority.

  257.  Mr. O'Shea    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the proposals, if any, he has to relax the financial constraints in relation to the free book scheme at first and second levels for recently widowed young people who take up part-time employment for therapeutic as well as monetary reasons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13495/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The aim of the book grant schemes in first and second level schools is to provide assistance towards the cost of school textbooks for needy pupils.

The book grant schemes are administered in schools by the principal teachers in a flexible way under the terms of the schemes and based on their knowledge of the particular circumstances in individual cases.

The schemes include provision for pupils from families who are dependent mainly on social welfare payments, are on low income from employment or are experiencing financial hardship because of particular circumstances in the home.

I would like to acknowledge the sensitive, responsive and resourceful manner in which management and staff of schools, particularly principal teachers, have operated the schemes to date and I have no plans to amend the schemes as they currently exist.

  258.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will review the distance a person (details supplied) is from his school in view of the fact that the route used by the bus would seem to be the eligible distance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13496/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  Under the school transport scheme, recognised post-primary pupils who live at least three miles from the post-primary centre of the catchment area in which they reside are eligible for transport to that centre. Eligibility for transport is determined by reference to the distance from the pupils home to the centre taking the shortest traversable route, which is not always the route taken by the bus.

The family concerned resides 2.5 miles from their appropriate post-primary centre taking the shortest route, and therefore would not ordinarily be eligible for transport under the scheme.

In the circumstances, the most that can be offered by my Department to the family in question is fare-paying transport on the existing ser[703] vice to their appropriate post-primary centre, subject to their being room available after all fully eligible pupils have been accommodated, and provided no extra cost would be involved.

I understand that there is room available on the service, which passes within 0.2 miles of the family home. The standard fare for concessionary tickets is £40 per child per term.

  259.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position regarding Irish in secondary schools; if Irish is a compulsory subject in secondary schools; if Irish is required to achieve a leaving certificate; if Irish is required for entry to National University of Ireland colleges; if so, the reason, if any, for this; and the plans, if any, he has in relation to the compulsory aspect of the Irish language. [13504/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The requirements in relation to Irish which are set out in Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools must be seen in the broader context of the requirements which apply to the curriculum in secondary schools generally. The curriculum of a secondary school must include instruction in a syllabus approved by the Minister in Irish as one of a number of subjects.

The approved course for junior pupils in secondary schools must include a number of specified subjects, one of which is Irish.

In the case of the established leaving certificate, the approved course for recognised senior pupils must include not less than five subjects from a specified list. One of these must be Irish. Both the leaving certificate vocational programme and the leaving certificate applied have specific requirements regarding subjects to be studied. The study of Irish is a requirement for both of these courses.

It is important to point out that the requirements in relation to Irish have to do with the study of that subject. There is no minimum grade requirement in the case of Irish or any other subject for the award of a certificate in the junior certificate or the leaving certificate examinations.

The requirements which apply to Irish and to other subjects which must be studied exist in order to ensure that pupils receive a broad and balanced education. An exemption from the study of Irish is granted subject to certain conditions which have been communicated to all schools. These apply to the children of foreigners who are consular or diplomatic representatives in Ireland, to those who have had extended periods of residency in other states and to students with certain learning disabilities. Students who are granted such an exemption may substitute another subject from an approved list of subjects for Irish.

As part of the academic requirements for entry to primary teacher training colleges which are [704] affiliated to universities, all candidates, including mature students and graduates, must have achieved, as a minimum, a grade C3 on a higher level paper in Irish at the leaving certificate examination. The reason for this requirement is to ensure that they have a sufficiently high standard on entry to meet the academic demands of the teacher training course in Irish, both oral and written, which has to equip them to teach Irish to pupils across the whole range of the primary school.

I have no plans at present to alter the rules which apply to the study of Irish in secondary schools. Section 47 of the Universities Act, 1997 provides, inter alia, that the senate of the National University of Ireland shall determine the basic matriculation requirements for its constituent universities. I understand that these requirements include Irish.

  260.  Mr. G. Reynolds    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason a remedial teacher has not been appointed to Kinlough Four Masters national school (details supplied) in County Leitrim. [13508/99]

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, including schools in County Leitrim, with effect from September next 1999. 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.

The school to which the Deputy refers will be included in this expansion of the remedial service.

  261.  Mr. G. Reynolds    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if funding will be provided in 1999 for the Dyslexic Children's Learning Association in Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim, which is providing tuition to children suffering from dyslexia. [13509/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  I have no proposals to provide funding for the organisation in question.

The educational needs of primary pupils with specific learning disability, including children with dyslexia, are generally capable of being met within the ordinary school system, with the support where appropriate of the remedial teacher service. The priority focus of available resources is on the development of in-school services to cater for the children in question. As part of this approach, arrangements are currently being made by my Department to extend the remedial teacher service to all first and second level schools with effect from September next.

[705] In 1998, my Department allocated a sum of £38,111 to the association for children and adults with learning disabilities to assist their administration service and to facilitate access to workshops and summer schools for children from disadvantaged areas. In the current year an allocation of £50,000 is being made available to the ACLD.

I recently announced a major new development in special education services under which all children with special needs in the primary system are now entitled to an automatic response to those needs. Children with specific learning disabilities, including dyslexia, are entitled to avail of this development. Where more serious cases of difficulty arise, provision is made in special schools or special classes dedicated to such children. These special facilities operate at a reduced pupil teacher ratio of 11:1.

  262.  Mr. C. Lenihan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will allow the retention of the present staffing levels at Archbishop McQuaid junior school, Loughlinstown Drive, Loughlinstown, County Dublin (details supplied) which is to lose two teachers in September 1999 in view of the fact that this is a developing area and one of the assistants is the teacher of the special class for mildly mentally handicapped children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13515/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The staffing of primary schools is determined by reference to the enrolment of the school on 30 September of the previous school year. This is in accordance with guidelines agreed between this Department and the education partners.

The current staffing of Archbishop McQuaid junior school is a principal and eight mainstream class teachers based on an enrolment of 229 on 30 September 1997. Additionally, the school has the services of a concessionary teacher due to the schools disadvantaged status, two remedial teachers, two special additional assistants and a shared home school liaison teacher.

The enrolment on 30 September 1998 (on which the staffing for the 1999-2000 school year is based) was 204. A minimum enrolment of 210 pupils was required in order to retain the post of the seventh mainstream teacher. This is in spite of the fact that the retention figure has been reduced for the coming year.

  263.  Mr. C. Lenihan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will continue to sanction the retention of a concessionary teacher and a full-time resource teacher for the special class at Dominican Convent primary school, Convent Road, Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13516/99]

[706]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The school in question is included in the disadvantaged areas scheme for funding purposes only and does not therefore have a disadvantaged concessionary teaching post.

I understand that an additional mainstream class teacher was allocated to the school last year under maximum class size guidelines. The school will retain this teacher for the 1999-2000 school year.

Resource teacher posts are only allocated to schools to cater for special needs children who are attending ordinary classes on a fully integrated basis. Children attending special classes enjoy a reduced pupil teacher ratio which is designed to reflect the needs of the children involved. In the case in question, the special class caters for children with a mild general learning disability and operates at a maximum pupil teacher ratio of 13:1. I am pleased to inform the Deputy that, from September next 1999, the ratio in question will be reduced to 11:1. There are currently ten pupils in the special class in question. This class will continue.

  264.  Mr. C. Lenihan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will allow the retention of the present staffing levels at St. Brigid's boys national school, Foxrock, Dublin 18, which is to lose a teacher in September 1999 in view of the fact they are only one pupil short of the quota and the loss of a teacher will result in the closure of the computer room; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13517/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The staffing of primary schools is determined by reference to the enrolment of the school on 30 September of the previous school year. This is in accordance with guidelines agreed between this Department and the education partners.

The current staffing of St. Brigid's boys national school is a principal and 17 mainstream class teachers based on an enrolment of 509 on 30 September 1997. Additionally, the school has the services of a full time remedial teacher and a shared remedial teacher.

The enrolment on 30 September 1998 – on which the staffing for the 1999-2000 school year is based – was 479. I acknowledge that this is just below the enrolment required to retain the 17th teacher in this school. However, I am sure the Deputy will agree that the staffing schedule must be adhered to, and I regret that there is no basis whereby I can allow the retention of the present staffing levels in this school for the coming year.

[707]

  265.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if his Department has received the local contribution of £22,600 for the building of the new school in Fahy, Newport, County Mayo; and, if so, when a receipt will issue. [13518/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The local contribution of £22,600 for Fahy national school was received by my Department on Friday 9 April 1999 and a receipt was issued to the chairperson of the board of management on Monday 12 April 1999.

  266.  Mr. Shatter    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he has satisfied himself that statements made by officials of his Department to any Oireachtas Committee and the media regarding allegations made by a person (details supplied) concerning the abuse of children in St. Laurence's in the 1980s are accurate and comprehensive; and, if not, if he will set the record straight. [11291/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  I am satisfied that officers of my Department have in this case, as in all matters, sought to provide this House, all Oireachtas Committees and the media with accurate and comprehensive information and if at any time, for any reason, that was not the case I would be only too willing to set the record straight.

If the Deputy has any particular concern as regards this particular case, he may wish to provide me with further details so that I can have the matter investigated. In this regard, I assure the Deputy that it is my intention to facilitate the maximum possible level of disclosure in relation to such matters.

  267.  Mr. Haughey    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if an inspector will assess without delay an application for four classroom assistants by St. Paul's special school, Beaumont, Dublin 9; if these appointments will be sanctioned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13540/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  I am aware of the case to which the Deputy refers. I have asked my Department's Inspectorate to investigate the needs of the pupils in question with a view to putting any necessary support services in place as speedily as possible.

  268.  Mr. Haughey    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if the means test for post-leaving certificate students to qualify for the higher education grant will be relaxed; if he will ensure that applications are processed and paid without delay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13541/99]

[708]Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  I introduced a maintenance grants scheme for students attending post-leaving certificate courses in the academic year 1998-99. These grants are means tested and the rates of grant, income limits, and other criteria for eligibility are similar to those which apply to the third level student support schemes.

It has been the practice in recent years, when reviewing the third level student support schemes, to increase the reckonable income limits in line with movements in the average industrial wage. Similarly, maintenance grants have been increased in recent years in line with changes in the Consumer Price Index. This increase was also applied to the allowance by which the income limits may be increased in respect of other family members pursuing certain courses of study. The question of increasing income limits and maintenance grants for the 1999-2000 academic year is being considered in the context of the annual review of the schemes. I expect to be in a position to announce details of the student support schemes for 1999-2000 shortly.

I am committed to ongoing improvements in the student support schemes, including increasing the value of maintenance grants and increasing the income limits as resources permit. The Deputy will appreciate that such improvements must have regard to overall resource constraints and competing demands in the education sector.

The arrangements for the payment of grants under the maintenance grant scheme for students attending post-leaving certificate courses are a matter for the vocational education committees, which are entrusted with the administration of the scheme. I am confident that the VEC's will make every effort to process applications and make payments to students without undue delay.

  269.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if a remedial teacher will be appointed for September 1999 to St. Mary's primary school, Parnell Avenue, Enniscorthy, County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13561/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  My priority at present is to ensure that all schools that currently have no remedial service will be given access to this service from September next 1999. Arrangements to put this extension of service into place are currently being made in my Department. 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.

[709]

  270.  Mr. Aylward    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if transport will be approved for persons (details supplied) attending a special class at Holy Angels Care Centre, Strawhall Industrial Estate, Carlow. [13570/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The provision of transport for the pupils in question is currently being investigated by Bus Éireann, on behalf of the Department.

My Department is keen to ensure that the necessary arrangements are put in place as soon as possible.

  271.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the measures, if any, which will be taken to improve the level of remedial teaching service to all primary schools in County Donegal particularly those without a service and those part of a large cluster; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13579/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  My priority at present is to ensure that all schools which currently have no remedial service, including schools in County Donegal, will be given access to this service from September next. Arrangements to put this extension of service in place are currently being made in my Department. 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.

  272.  Mr. O'Shea    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the proposals, if any, he has to deal with young offenders who are persistently offending and out of control; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13597/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  My Department's responsibility in respect of the young people in question relates to the provision of residential accommodation in custodial facilities for those who been placed on remand or sentenced to detention by the courts. There are five such facilities operating under my Department at present. Four of these facilities cater for young male offenders and one caters for young female offenders.

My colleague Deputy O'Donoghue, Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, is currently preparing new legislation on juvenile justice. This legislation will contain a comprehensive range of measures to deal with the issues to which the Deputy refers. In addition to updating provisions relating to young persons who have been sentenced to detention by the courts, the legislation will provide for a wide range of early interventions and non-custodial alternatives to cater for children coming into conflict with the law or with serious care needs.

Development plans have been drawn up by my [710] Department to meet the obligations which will arise under the new juvenile justice legislation in relation to custodial provision.

The health authorities are also engaged in the development of a range of high support units to cater for out of control children who have not been convicted of offences but for whom structured residential placement is required.

  273.  Mr. McGrath    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will confirm that an application has been received in his Department for an extension to Mullingar Community College, County Westmeath; if so, the date this was received; if approval has been given for the extension; and if he will make a statement on the progress of this application. [13648/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  An application for improvements at Mullingar Community College was received on 23 March 1998.

A letter issued to County Westmeath Vocational Education Committee on 14 July, 1998, outlining the steps to be taken by the VEC in order to progress the project through architectural planning.

County Westmeath Vocational Education Committee is addressing these and other related issues at present.

  274.  Mr. McGrath    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the capital expenditure approvals made by his Department since 1 January 1999 for first and second level schools. [13649/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  Capital expenditure for the period between 1 January 1999 and 30 April 1999 was as follows: primary capital expenditure, £18.5 million; post-primary capital expenditure, £21.6 million.

  275.  Mr. McGrath    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if his attention has been drawn to the concerns in relation to the safety of pupils outside Curraghmore national school, Mullingar, County Westmeath; if he will approve expenditure from his Department to provide a pick-up and set-down area for traffic at this school; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13650/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  There is no record of my Department having received an application from the management of Curraghmore national school, Mullingar for a pick-up and set-down area for traffic at the school.

Should such an application be received, it will be considered by my Department's building unit [711] in conjunction with an application already being assessed relating to additional accommodation.

  276.  Mr. McGrath    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if students with a special learning difficulty will be entitled to assistance to make up the disadvantage while being fully conscious of the need to preserve the integrity of the examination system; if he has considered the proposal to give suitably assessed students an additional 15 per cent time allocation to complete written examinations at junior and leaving certificate levels; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that additional time allocations are given to these students at third level institutions and at many State examinations in the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13651/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  For some time I have been anxious to have a wide-ranging and comprehensive review of the special arrangements which are made at the examinations. Late last year I asked the expert advisory group on examinations, a group which I established to provide independent advice on the operation of examinations, to provide me with a discussion paper for publication and as a basis for a thorough review of our approach in this area. I received the group's report last month.

I have arranged for the publication and circulation of the discussion paper and recently in the national press the expert advisory group invited submissions from interested parties and individuals in relation to the issues identified in the discussion paper and on the operation of special arrangements generally. The discussion paper brings out very strongly the complexity of this issue. In particular, it highlights the tension within our examination system between the need for equal treatment and fairness on the one hand and on the other hand the desire to take account of human circumstances. The discussion paper also deals expressly with issues which arise in the case of students with specific learning difficulties, including the issue of extra time.

Previous reviews of the special arrangements schemes were conducted internally in my Department. I was particularly anxious that this review would be public and open in order to build a consensus on how best to respond to the needs of the individual student within the constraints imposed by both the format of some examinations and the need to maintain full confidence and credibility in our systems of national certification. I was also concerned that international practice would be considered in the review and the discussion paper deals with the UK position.

My aim is to have a further report in the autumn from the expert advisory group, after they have considered any submissions received, so that [712] any changes can be in place for the examinations in 2000. I anticipate that the issue of additional time will arise in submissions and be fully considered in the process.

  277.  Mr. McGrath    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will compare the capitation grant payable for students at voluntary secondary schools to that payable for students in the vocational system; the reason for the difference; the plans, if any, he has to equalise these payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13652/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The way in which resources are provided to second-level schools reflects the different management and ownership arrangements for vocational schools and community colleges and voluntary secondary schools. Consequently, direct comparison between the two sectors is difficult.

The financial allocations for vocational schools and community colleges are made to the vocational education committees as part of a block grant to cover VEC head office overheads and other activities apart from the second level programme. Voluntary secondary schools are funded on a per capita basis based upon enrolments.

The matter of equity of funding between the various sectors at second level is currently being examined by a steering group on funding which has available to it the report of a technical working group. Under its terms of reference, the group will draw up a recommended funding framework designed to ensure equal treatment for different schools within the second level sector while taking account of the needs of these different schools. The group's recommendations when available will inform future developments in the funding of schools.

  278.  Mr. McGrath    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will agree to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio for the appointment and retention of teachers in view of the fact that the number of students at second level schools is due to decrease leaving many schools over quota; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13653/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The pupil-teacher ratio at second level has improved due to the allocation of additional ex-quota and concessionary posts and the application of a reduced ratio in respect of a range of new programmes which have been introduced in second level schools. The Deputy will also be aware of my recent significant initiative which introduced a retention ratio of 18:1 in relation to schools with over quota full-time teachers who [713] might otherwise be redeployed. This coupled with the provision of a remedial entitlement to all second level schools and the extension of the home school liaison scheme will have a considerable and sustained impact on the pupil-teacher ratio at second level.

These moves clearly indicate the importance this Government attributes to education, and demonstrate its commitment to seriously addressing the issue of teaching resources available in our schools.

  279.  Mr. McGrath    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the funding, if any, available from his Department to enable a family provide transport to school for two of their children who are wheelchair bound. [13654/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  A medical grant towards the cost of private transport arrangements may be sanctioned by my Department where a pupil is severely medically handicapped, and cannot be accommodated on the ordinary network of school transport.

Applicants for medical grants are required to submit a medical form completed by their family doctor. My Department then submits the application to its medical adviser, who determines whether the appropriate conditions apply. The amount payable is based on the distance from the pupils home to the nearest appropriate school.

I can assure the Deputy that if the family in question makes an application to my Department for a medical grant it will be considered without delay. Current rates of grants are as follows:

Current Rates of Transport Grant

Distance Annual Amount
Miles £
0 – 0.5 100.00
0.6 – 1.0 140.00
1.1 – 1.5 180.00
1.6 – 1.9 220.00
2.0 – 2.5 260.00
2.6 – 3.0 300.00
3.1 – 3.5 340.00
3.6 – 3.9 380.00
4.0 – 4.5 420.00
4.6 – 5.0 460.00
5.1 – 5.5 480.00
5.6 – 5.9 540.00
6.0 – 6.5 580.00
6.6 – 7.0 620.00
7.1 – 7.5 640.00
7.6 – 7.9 700.00
8.0 – 8.5 740.00
8.6 – 9.0 780.00
9.1 – 9.5 820.00
9.6 – 9.9 840.00
10.0 – 15.0 1,000.00
15.1 – 25.0 1,250.00
25.1 or more 1,500.00

May 1999

[714]

  280.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the discussions, if any, with Mr. Brian Tobin, Premier of Newfoundland, in view of the contents in the documentary, "States of Fear", showing that one of the first investigations into child sexual abuse by Irish Christian Brothers took place there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12786/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  As the Deputy will be aware the Government has appointed a Commission on Childhood Abuse which is to be chaired by Ms Justice Laffoy of the High Court. The commission will provide a forum for victims of abuse and will in addition conduct wide-ranging inquiries into the nature, extent and causes of abuse of children in Irish society. The commission will be an independent body, free to conduct inquiries when and where it sees fit. The Government has undertaken to provide the commission with any statutory powers and protections it requires. While I would not, therefore, presume to pre-empt the decision of the commission as to how it will conduct its work, inquiries of the kind referred to in the Deputy's question would be more effectively conducted by the commission, if it considers that to be relevant, in the context of its extensive inquiries into all aspects of abuse of children. It is not my intention therefore to make separate inquiries into the matter.

  281.  Mr. U. Burke    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if transferability of pension entitlements will be granted for teachers who have given service in both Northern Ireland and here; if reciprocal pension arrangements will be approved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13666/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The position is that, currently, there are no arrangements in place to cater for the transfer of pensionable service to or from public bodies in Northern Ireland.

The public service transfer scheme, which is administered by the Department of Finance, provides for the transfer of service, on a reciprocal basis, between participating organisations. Any organisation in the public or private sector, including organisations outside the State, is free to participate in the scheme provided it is prepared to accept the obligations of membership including the liability to make contributions, where necessary, towards the ultimate cost of serving benefits.

I am informed that the European Commission is, to date, the only organisation outside the State with whom a transfer arrangement has been agreed. The question of the superannuation arrangements which will apply in the case of the cross border bodies is currently being examined.

[715] With regard to service in Northern Ireland generally, the position is that the question of the transferability of superannuation rights is kept under review. The Minister for Finance has informed me that, although there are major differences between our transfer of service arrangements and those which apply in Northern Ireland, he will be happy to respond favourably to any workable proposals which emerge in this area. In the circumstances, my Department will, as a first step, be glad to explore this question further with the Ministry of Education in Northern Ireland.

  282.  Mr. U. Burke    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if all primary schools will be provided with secretarial and caretaker facilities from the beginning of the new school year in September 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13667/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  At primary level my Department provides funding towards the cost of caretaking and secretarial services under two separate schemes. One scheme is the 1978-79 scheme for the employment of caretakers and clerical officers under which my Department meets the full cost of salary and employers' PRSI. However, this scheme is being phased out as posts become vacant.

The second scheme is the provision by my Department of additional per capita grants for primary schools as agreed under the Programme for Economic and Social Progress, PESP, and has been in operation since 1 September 1992.

Under the PESP scheme, schools receive grants of £30 per pupil – £15 per pupil in respect of each service – to a maximum of £15,000 per annum, which are paid as additions to the standard per capita grant. The scheme, by its nature, is flexible and gives boards of management full discretion as to the level and extent of the services to which the grants are to be applied. Since its introduction in 1992, the scheme has been expanded in line with undertakings given in the PESP. The priority has been to extend the scheme in the first instance to schools which have no secretarial or caretaking provision already rather than increase the per capita grant rate of £30 per pupil. In this regard, the scheme has been extended to include more schools by reducing the qualifying enrolment threshold to its current figure of 195 pupils, with an ultimate target of providing grant aid to all primary schools with 100 pupils or more.

I wish to assure the Deputy that I remain committed to improvements in the provision of additional assistance to schools for these services. The position of schools that are currently in receipt of the maximum grant available under the scheme will be examined in the context of any [716] improvements to the scheme which may be implemented in the future.

  283.  Mr. U. Burke    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position on the question of teaching principals at primary level; if he will act positively on the report of the principals' review group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13668/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The working group on the role of the principal, which I established last year, is currently examining the rights, roles, duties and responsibilities of principals, both administrative principals and teaching principals, in primary schools. The review group, which is chaired by Teri Garvey, and representative of the partners in education, is addressing the full range of issues of concern to principals. I understand the work of the group is well advanced, and I look forward to reading its report in due course.

In the circumstances, it would be premature of me to comment any further on the position of teaching principals, or of principals generally, in advance of considering the report of the working group.

  284.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if his attention has been drawn to the serious concern by parents of children using the school bus services of Scoil Naomh Molaise, Grange, County Sligo; if he will intervene and open the necessary discussion with all parties to find a solution acceptable to secure the safety of all the children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13694/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The issues of double tripping and the safe operation of the service to Scoil Naomh Molaise, Grange have been examined by my Department. The transport service to this school is operated by a mini-bus, which has a double trip to the school.

In the operation of the school transport system, buses are normally required to operate a number of runs. To facilitate the operation of these services, children are often required to wait some time, morning and evening, for their service. It is understood from Bus Éireann that it would not be possible for a larger bus to operate the route in question, as some of the roads are not suitable for a large bus.

Safety is of paramount importance to my Department, and to Bus Éireann, which operates the school transport on its behalf. Set-down, turning and pick-up points are carefully selected, always with safety in mind.

As the existing level of services is within my Department guidelines, I regret that it would not be open to my Department to alter the present arrangements. However, I am advised that Bus [717] Éireann is available to discuss the parents' concerns with the school authorities, who should contact the local Bus Éireann office in this regard.

  285.  Mr. Higgins (Dublin West)    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when the site for the Littlepace school in Dublin 15 will be purchased; when the school will be sanctioned; and when will it open. [13713/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  Following a review of the primary school needs of the Castaheany-Littlepace area, a new 16-classroom school will be provided in that location and arrangements are being made regarding the acquisition of the reserved site.

The Deputy will appreciate that this important project is in a position to proceed because of the major increase in school building funds provided by my Department. The project will proceed as quickly as possible.

  286.  Mr. Haughey    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will ensure that local authorities particularly Dublin Corporation pay higher education grants quickly in order to avoid hardship; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13733/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The higher education maintenance grant is paid by the local authority in three equal instalments as early as possible in each term of the academic year. The individual payable orders are addressed to the grantholder c/o the bursar's office of the college. I understand that Dublin Corporation paid the first instalment of the 1998-99 awards to students whose grant was being renewed on 7 October and to first time applicants on the 14 October 1998. The second and third instalments issued to all students on 4 January and 9 April 1999 respectively. My officials have been assured by Dublin Corporation that every effort is made to issue grant payments as promptly as possible.

  287.  Ms Clune    asked the Minister for Education and Science    his Department's view on the Steiner method of education; if he will provide financial support for this system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13734/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The curriculum of the Steiner schools differs in a number of significant ways from that of the national schools. These include the Steiner approach to early childhood education, reading, mathematics and history. The Steiner method was the subject of a recent High Court ruling.

[718] The Deputy will appreciate that the existence of solid national standards for qualifications and the curriculum represents an essential element to protecting and promoting the quality of our education system.

  288.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when the grant in relation to the rural remote school transport scheme was last increased; if a further increase is proposed; if he is prepared to do so immediately; and, if so, the amount of any increase. [13735/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  Remote area transport grants are paid to pupils who live in areas where there is no school transport service available or where they reside more than three miles from the nearest pick-up point of a service.

The present schedule for remote area grants was introduced in 1977. While there are no plans to provide an increase in the current rates of grant the rates will be kept under review.

The following is a copy of the rates for the Deputy's information.

Rates of payment of remote area transport and scheme D grants

Distance Daily Rate
3.0 – 4.0 miles £1.50
4.1 – 5.0 miles £2.00
5.1 – 6.0 miles £2.50
6.1 + miles £3.00

  289.  Mr. M. Higgins    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the outcome of a recent meeting held between an official of his Department (details supplied) and a number of temporary assistant primary teachers regarding concerns relating to the terms and conditions of their employment; the progress, if any, made on these issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13755/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  An official of my Department recently met two people who are not recognised by my Department as qualified primary teachers. The two people sought recognition as trained primary teachers as a consequence of service that they have given over a number of years. The bulk of the service given by the two people has been substitute service.

The presentation made by the two people is being considered within my Department. As soon as a decision is reached in this matter, the persons in question will be informed.

[719]

  290.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if his attention has been drawn to the concerns of parents in relation to the weight of schoolbags; his views on whether there is a risk to children's health as a result of this weight; the measures, if any, his Department is taking to address this problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13786/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  I am aware of the concerns expressed by parents and other groups about the weight of schoolbags and I share those concerns. With this in mind, I set up a working group in Autumn 1997 to examine the potential problems caused by the weight of heavy schoolbags and the working group reported to me last year.

The report of the working group outlines a number of recommendations which have implications, not only for my Department, but also for schools, parents and publishers. One of the main recommendations relates to the need to heighten the awareness of the potential health hazards posed by excessively heavy schoolbags.

[720] In this regard my Department, at primary and post-primary levels, has initiated an awareness raising campaign by disseminating the report, with an accompanying circular, to all primary and post-primary schools. Furthermore, information leaflets and posters have also been distributed to all schools which highlight the potential health hazard of heavy schoolbags and outline a range of local measures that can be adopted in order to alleviate the problem.

It is a matter for each school to choose those measures which would be most suitable to its needs.

  291.  Mr. Sheehan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when a person (details supplied) in County Cork will receive a deed of release in connection with Dunmanus national school, County Cork. [13791/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The person to whom the Deputy is referring was advised on 12 May 1999 that as the lease for the former Dunmanus national school had expired, the Department of Education and Science has no further vested interest in the building and a deed of surrender was not required.