Dáil Éireann



Order of Business.

Message from Select Committee.

British-Irish Agreement (Amendment) Bill, 1999: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages.

Nuclear Test Ban Treaty: Motion.

Ceisteanna–Questions. - Computer Programmes.

Ceisteanna–Questions. - Official Engagements.

Ceisteanna–Questions. - Partnership 2000.

Ceisteanna–Questions. - Programme for Government.

Ceisteanna–Questions. - Feirmeacha Beaga sa Ghaeltacht.

Priority Questions. - Fishing Industry Development.

Priority Questions. - Oil Exploration.

Priority Questions. - DSP Outbreak.

Priority Questions. - Aquaculture Industry.

Priority Questions. - Forestry Industry.

Other Questions. - Fishing Grounds.

Other Questions. - Marine Accidents.

Other Questions. - Ore Exports.

Other Questions. - Offshore Exploration.

Other Questions. - Killybegs Development Plan.

Adjournment Debate Matters.

Message from Seanad.

Nuclear Test Ban Treaty: Motion (Resumed).

International Agreements: Motion.

Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) Bill, 1999: Motion.

Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) Bill, 1999: Committee Stage.

Private Members' Business. - Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 1999: Second Stage (Resumed).

Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) Bill, 1999: Committee Stage (Resumed).

Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) Bill, 1999: Report and Final Stages.

Adjournment Debate. - Motor Insurance Costs.

Adjournment Debate. - Job Losses.

Adjournment Debate. - Hospitals Building Programme.

Adjournment Debate. - Primary Schools in Gaeltacht Areas.

Written Answers. - Millennium Committee.

Written Answers. - Dumping at Sea.

Written Answers. - Water Sports Vehicles.

Written Answers. - Fishing Fleet Protection.

Written Answers. - Mining Industry.

Written Answers. - Fisheries Protection.

Written Answers. - Prospecting Licences.

Written Answers. - Fisheries Prosecutions.

Written Answers. - Fisheries Protection.

Written Answers. - Offshore Exploration.

Written Answers. - Passenger Vessels.

Written Answers. - Fishery Harbour Centres.

Written Answers. - Fishing Industry Development.

Written Answers. - Common Fisheries Policy.

Written Answers. - Water Quality.

Written Answers. - Computer Programmes.

Written Answers. - Salmon Management Report.

Written Answers. - Hazardous Waste.

Written Answers. - Ship Wrecks.

Written Answers. - Marine Accidents.

Written Answers. - Fishery Policy.

Written Answers. - Fishing Industry Development.

Written Answers. - Harbours and Piers.

Written Answers. - Health and Safety Regulations.

Written Answers. - Foreshore Licences.

Written Answers. - Coastal Zone Management.

Written Answers. - Aquaculture Licences.

Written Answers. - Drift Net Licences.

Written Answers. - Air Services.

Written Answers. - Gratuity Payments.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Recruitment.

Written Answers. - Farm Retirement Scheme.

Written Answers. - Control of Farm Pollution Scheme.

Written Answers. - Installation Aid Scheme.

Written Answers. - College Refurbishment.

Written Answers. - Rates Liability.

Written Answers. - Telecom Phonewatch System.

Written Answers. - EU Food and Veterinary Office.

Written Answers. - Phlebotomist Training.

Written Answers. - Health Services.

Written Answers. - Health Board Staff.

Written Answers. - Psychological Service.

Written Answers. - Pharmacy Services.

Written Answers. - Drugs Refund Scheme.

Written Answers. - Hospitals Building Programme.

Written Answers. - Hospital Equipment.

Written Answers. - Services for People with Disabilities.

Written Answers. - Medical Practice.

Written Answers. - Drugs Refund Scheme.

Written Answers. - Hospitals Report.

Written Answers. - Drug Treatment Services.

Written Answers. - Drugs Refund Scheme.

Written Answers. - Drug Treatment Services.

Written Answers. - Hospitals Building Programme.

Written Answers. - Driving Tests.

Written Answers. - Local Authority Housing.

Written Answers. - Social Housing.

Written Answers. - Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Written Answers. - Summer Jobs Scheme.

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Payments.

Written Answers. - Social Insurance.

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Written Answers. - Maternity Leave.

Written Answers. - Health and Social Services.

Written Answers. - Inquest Hearings.

Written Answers. - Prison Officers.

Written Answers. - Prisoner Costs.

Written Answers. - Prison Service.

Written Answers. - Court Accommodation.

Written Answers. - Visa Applications.

Written Answers. - Registration of Title.

Written Answers. - Crime Prevention.

Written Answers. - Sports Capital Programme.

Written Answers. - Third Level Charges.

Written Answers. - Leaving Certificate Examination.

Written Answers. - Proposed Legislation.

Written Answers. - Teaching Qualifications.

Written Answers. - School Staffing.

Written Answers. - Primary Teachers.

Written Answers. - Schools Building Projects.

Written Answers. - Class Sizes.

Written Answers. - School Staffing.

Written Answers. - Pay Awards.

Written Answers. - Crime Prevention.

Written Answers. - Leaving Certificate Examination.

[1065] Chuaigh an Ceann Comhairle i gceannas ar 10.30 a.m.

The Taoiseach:  It is proposed to take No. 2, British-Irish Agreement (Amendment) Bill, 1999 – Committee and Remaining Stages (resumed); No. 8, motion re Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; No. 9, motion re Agreement between the European Community and the United States of Mexico; No. 10, motion re Agreement between the European Community and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan; No. 11, motion re Agreement between the European Community and the Republic of Korea; No. a7, Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) Bill, 1999 – Instruction to Committee; No. 40, Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) Bill, 1999 – Committee and Remaining Stages; No. 3, Courts (Supplemental Provisions) (Amendment) Bill, 1999 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.

It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 10.30 p.m. tonight; the proceedings on No. 8, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion after 60 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: the opening speech of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case, the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed five minutes in each case, Members may share time and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; Nos. 9, 10 and 11 shall be moved and debated together and the proceedings thereon, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion after 60 minutes by one question which shall be put from the Chair and the following arrangements shall apply: the opening speech of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case, the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed five minutes in each case, Members may share time and a Minister or [1066] Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; and, No. a7, shall be decided without debate. Private Members' Business shall be No. 57, Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 1999 – Second Stage (resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are four proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed?

Mr. J. Bruton:  I have no problem with the time arrangements for today's business. However, I object to No. 3, the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) (Amendment) Bill, 1999, being ordered.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The current proposal relates to the late sitting.

Mr. J. Bruton:  I do not wish to object to the Order of Business but I would ask the Taoiseach to agree not to order the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) (Amendment) Bill, 1999, until such time as the report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights, which is at an advanced stage of preparation, is presented to the House. If the Taoiseach can accede to that request, I have no problem agreeing to the Order of Business but if he cannot accede to it, I cannot agree to the Order of Business.

The Taoiseach:  The Government wishes to order and take Second Stage of the Bill today. I understand the report referred to is in draft form. Hopefully, it will become available during the course of the debate on the Bill either this week or next week. We must proceed with the Bill because of time constraints.

Mr. J. Bruton:  What time constraints?

The Taoiseach:  The House will rise next week and we want to ensure the Bill is dealt with by then.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Why, what is the rush?

Mr. Howlin:  The committee has worked in a very non-partisan way to address an issue of concern to all Members of this House and to the public at large. It would be very helpful to the debate on the Bill if the committee's report were available. Substantial amendments, some of which have not yet been circulated, are being tabled to the draft report by all parties.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot have a debate on this matter. The proposal before the House relates to the late sitting.

Mr. Howlin:  The report should be finalised in the near future. I support Deputy Bruton's request that the debate on the legislation be delayed until such time as the report is finalised.

[1067]Mr. J. Bruton:  That is a reasonable request for the Opposition to make.

The Taoiseach:  If the report becomes available, which it will in the near future, it may form part of the debate on the Bill. The Bill will be debated this week and next week. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and I indicated last week that this legislation must be passed before the summer recess.

Mrs. Owen:  Why?

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is completely out of order to proceed with a debate on this matter.

[1068]Mr. J. Bruton:  What does the Taoiseach mean when he says that the legislation must be passed?

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot proceed with this discussion on which I have already allowed too much latitude.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe:  The House is being treated like a rubber stamp.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed?

Question put: “That the proposal for the late sitting be agreed.”

Ahern, Bertie.
Ahern, Dermot.
Ahern, Noel.
Andrews, David.
Blaney, Harry.
Brady, Johnny.
Brady, Martin.
Brennan, Matt.
Brennan, Séamus.
Briscoe, Ben.
Byrne, Hugh.
Callely, Ivor.
Carey, Pat.
Collins, Michael.
Coughlan, Mary.
Cowen, Brian.
Cullen, Martin.
Davern, Noel.
de Valera, Síle.
Dempsey, Noel.
Dennehy, John.
Ellis, John.
Fahey, Frank.
Fleming, Seán.
Flood, Chris.
Foley, Denis.
Fox, Mildred.
Gildea, Thomas.
Hanafin, Mary.
Haughey, Seán.
Healy-Rae, Jackie.
Jacob, Joe.
Keaveney, Cecilia.
Kelleher, Billy.
Kenneally, Brendan.
Killeen, Tony.
Kirk, Séamus.
Kitt, Michael.
Lenihan, Brian.
Lenihan, Conor.
McCreevy, Charlie.
McDaid, James.
McGuinness, John.
Martin, Micheál.
Moffatt, Thomas.
Molloy, Robert.
Moloney, John.
Moynihan, Donal.
Moynihan, Michael.
O'Dea, Willie.
O'Donoghue, John.
O'Flynn, Noel.
O'Hanlon, Rory.
O'Keeffe, Batt.
O'Keeffe, Ned.
O'Malley, Desmond.
O'Rourke, Mary.
Power, Seán.
Roche, Dick.
Ryan, Eoin.
Smith, Brendan.
Smith, Michael.
Wade, Eddie.
Wallace, Dan.
Wallace, Mary.
Walsh, Joe.
Woods, Michael.
Wright, G. V.


Ahearn, Theresa.
Barnes, Monica.
Barrett, Seán.
Bell, Michael.
Belton, Louis.
Boylan, Andrew.
Bradford, Paul.
Broughan, Thomas.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Bruton, John.
Bruton, Richard.
Burke, Liam.
Burke, Ulick.
Carey, Donal.
Clune, Deirdre.
Connaughton, Paul.
Cosgrave, Michael.
Coveney, Simon.
Crawford, Seymour.
Creed, Michael.
Currie, Austin.
D'Arcy, Michael.
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Deasy, Austin.
Deenihan, Jimmy.
Dukes, Alan.
Durkan, Bernard.
Ferris, Michael.
Finucane, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Frances.
Flanagan, Charles.
Gilmore, Éamon.
Gormley, John.
Hayes, Brian.
Higgins, Jim. Higgins, Joe.[1069]


Howlin, Brendan.
Kenny, Enda.
McCormack, Pádraic.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
McManus, Liz.
Mitchell, Gay.
Mitchell, Olivia.
Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
Naughten, Denis.
Neville, Dan.
[1070] O'Shea, Brian.
O'Sullivan, Jan.
Penrose, William.
Perry, John.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Ring, Michael.
Shatter, Alan.
Sheehan, Patrick.
Stanton, David.
Timmins, Billy.
Wall, Jack.
Yates, Ivan.

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

Question declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal for dealing with No. 8 agreed?

Mr. J. Bruton:  No. If we impose a time limit on this debate we will bring forward the commencement of the debate on the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) (Amendment) Bill. Fine Gael's position is that the House should not commence the debate on this Bill until the report of the committee is made available. Therefore, we do not agree with restrictions on any debates.

Mr. Gormley:  A Cheann Comhairle, no time has been allocated to the smaller parties and this amounts to political censorship. The House should discuss the issue of how much time is to be allocated to smaller parties. It is unacceptable that these parties are excluded every time the House takes statements.

Mr. Belton:  Small parties, small votes.

Question put: “That the proposal for dealing with No. 8 be agreed.”

Ahern, Bertie.
Ahern, Dermot.
Ahern, Noel.
Andrews, David.
Blaney, Harry.
Brady, Johnny.
Brady, Martin.
Brennan, Matt.
Brennan, Séamus.
Briscoe, Ben.
Byrne, Hugh.
Callely, Ivor.
Carey, Pat.
Collins, Michael.
Coughlan, Mary.
Cowen, Brian.
Cullen, Martin.
Davern, Noel.
de Valera, Síle.
Dennehy, John.
Ellis, John.
Fahey, Frank.
Fleming, Seán.
Flood, Chris.
Foley, Denis.
Fox, Mildred.
Gildea, Thomas.
Hanafin, Mary.
Haughey, Seán.
Healy-Rae, Jackie.
Jacob, Joe.
Keaveney, Cecilia.
Kelleher, Billy.
Kenneally, Brendan.
Killeen, Tony.
Kirk, Séamus.
Kitt, Michael.
Lawlor, Liam.
Lenihan, Brian.
Lenihan, Conor.
McCreevy, Charlie.
McDaid, James.
McGuinness, John.
Martin, Micheál.
Moffatt, Thomas.
Molloy, Robert.
Moloney, John.
Moynihan, Donal.
Moynihan, Michael.
O'Dea, Willie.
O'Donoghue, John.
O'Flynn, Noel.
O'Hanlon, Rory.
O'Keeffe, Batt.
O'Keeffe, Ned.
O'Kennedy, Michael.
O'Rourke, Mary.
Power, Seán.
Roche, Dick.
Ryan, Eoin.
Smith, Brendan.
Smith, Michael.
Wade, Eddie.
Wallace, Dan.
Wallace, Mary.
Walsh, Joe.
Woods, Michael.
Wright, G. V.


Ahearn, Theresa.
Barnes, Monica.
Barrett, Seán.
Bell, Michael.
Belton, Louis.
Boylan, Andrew.
Bradford, Paul. Broughan, Thomas.[1071]


Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Bruton, John.
Bruton, Richard.
Burke, Liam.
Burke, Ulick.
Carey, Donal.
Clune, Deirdre.
Connaughton, Paul.
Cosgrave, Michael.
Coveney, Simon.
Crawford, Seymour.
Creed, Michael.
Currie, Austin.
D'Arcy, Michael.
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Deasy, Austin.
Deenihan, Jimmy.
Dukes, Alan.
Durkan, Bernard.
Ferris, Michael.
Finucane, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Frances.
Flanagan, Charles.
Gilmore, Éamon.
Gormley, John.
Hayes, Brian.
[1072] Higgins, Jim.
Higgins, Joe.
Howlin, Brendan.
Kenny, Enda.
McCormack, Pádraic.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
McManus, Liz.
Mitchell, Gay.
Mitchell, Olivia.
Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
Naughten, Denis.
Neville, Dan.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghin.
O'Shea, Brian.
O'Sullivan, Jan.
Penrose, William.
Perry, John.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Ring, Michael.
Shatter, Alan.
Sheehan, Patrick.
Stanton, David.
Timmins, Billy.
Wall, Jack.
Yates, Ivan.

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

Question declared carried.

Question put: “That the proposal for dealing with Nos. 9, 10 and 11 be agreed.”

Ahern, Bertie.
Ahern, Dermot.
Ahern, Noel.
Andrews, David.
Blaney, Harry.
Brady, Johnny.
Brady, Martin.
Brennan, Matt.
Brennan, Séamus.
Briscoe, Ben.
Byrne, Hugh.
Callely, Ivor.
Carey, Pat.
Collins, Michael.
Coughlan, Mary.
Cowen, Brian.
Cullen, Martin.
Davern, Noel.
de Valera, Síle.
Dennehy, John.
Ellis, John.
Fahey, Frank.
Fleming, Seán.
Flood, Chris.
Foley, Denis.
Fox, Mildred.
Gildea, Thomas.
Hanafin, Mary.
Haughey, Seán.
Healy-Rae, Jackie.
Jacob, Joe.
Keaveney, Cecilia.
Kelleher, Billy.
Kenneally, Brendan.
Killeen, Tony.
Kirk, Séamus.
Kitt, Michael.
Lawlor, Liam.
Lenihan, Brian.
Lenihan, Conor.
McCreevy, Charlie.
McDaid, James.
McGuinness, John.
Martin, Mícheál.
Moffatt, Thomas.
Molloy, Robert.
Moloney, John.
Moynihan, Donal.
Moynihan, Michael.
O'Dea, Willie.
O'Donoghue, John.
O'Flynn, Noel.
O'Hanlon, Rory.
O'Keeffe, Batt.
O'Keeffe, Ned.
O'Kennedy, Michael.
O'Rourke, Mary.
Power, Seán.
Roche, Dick.
Ryan, Eoin.
Smith, Brendan.
Smith, Michael.
Wade, Eddie.
Wallace, Dan.
Wallace, Mary.
Walsh, Joe.
Woods, Michael.
Wright, G. V.


Ahearn, Theresa.
Barnes, Monica.
Barrett, Seán.
Bell, Michael.
Belton, Louis. Boylan, Andrew.[1073]


Bradford, Paul.
Broughan, Thomas.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Bruton, John.
Bruton, Richard.
Burke, Liam.
Burke, Ulick.
Carey, Donal.
Clune, Deirdre.
Connaughton, Paul.
Cosgrave, Michael.
Coveney, Simon.
Crawford, Seymour.
Creed, Michael.
Currie, Austin.
D'Arcy, Michael.
Deasy, Austin.
Deenihan, Jimmy.
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Dukes, Alan.
Durkan, Bernard.
Ferris, Michael.
Finucane, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Frances.
Flanagan, Charles.
Gilmore, Éamon.
Gregory, Tony.
[1074] Hayes, Brian.
Higgins, Jim.
Higgins, Joe.
Howlin, Brendan.
Kenny, Enda.
McCormack, Pádraic.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
McManus, Liz.
Mitchell, Gay.
Mitchell, Olivia.
Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
Naughten, Denis.
Neville, Dan.
O'Shea, Brian.
O'Sullivan, Jan.
Perry, John.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Ring, Michael.
Ryan, Seán.
Shatter, Alan.
Sheehan, Patrick.
Shortall, Róisín.
Stanton, David.
Timmins, Billy.
Wall, Jack.
Yates, Ivan.

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

Question declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal for dealing with No. a7 agreed?

Mr. J. Bruton:  No.

Question put: “That the proposal for dealing with No. a7 be agreed.”

Ahern, Bertie.
Ahern, Dermot.
Ahern, Noel.
Andrews, David.
Blaney, Harry.
Brady, Johnny.
Brady, Martin.
Brennan, Matt.
Brennan, Séamus.
Briscoe, Ben.
Byrne, Hugh.
Callely, Ivor.
Carey, Pat.
Collins, Michael.
Coughlan, Mary.
Cowen, Brian.
Cullen, Martin.
Davern, Noel.
de Valera, Síle.
Dennehy, John.
Ellis, John.
Fahey, Frank.
Fleming, Seán.
Flood, Chris.
Foley, Denis.
Fox, Mildred.
Gildea, Thomas.
Hanafin, Mary.
Haughey, Seán.
Healy-Rae, Jackie.
Jacob, Joe.
Keaveney, Cecilia.
Kelleher, Billy.
Kenneally, Brendan.
Killeen, Tony.
Kirk, Séamus.
Kitt, Michael.
Lawlor, Liam.
Lenihan, Brian.
Lenihan, Conor.
McCreevy, Charlie.
McDaid, James.
McGuinness, John.
Martin, Micheál.
Moffatt, Thomas.
Molloy, Robert.
Moloney, John.
Moynihan, Donal.
Moynihan, Michael.
O'Dea, Willie.
O'Donoghue, John.
O'Flynn, Noel.
O'Hanlon, Rory.
O'Keeffe, Batt.
O'Keeffe, Ned.
O'Kennedy, Michael.
O'Rourke, Mary.
Power, Seán.
Roche, Dick.
Ryan, Eoin.
Smith, Brendan.
Smith, Michael.
Wade, Eddie.
Wallace, Dan.
Wallace, Mary.
Walsh, Joe.
Woods, Michael.
Wright, G. V.


Ahearn, Theresa.
Barnes, Monica.
Barrett, Seán.
Bell, Michael.
Belton, Louis.
Boylan, Andrew.
Bradford, Paul.
Broughan, Thomas.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Bruton, John.
Bruton, Richard.
Burke, Liam.
Burke, Ulick.
Carey, Donal.
Clune, Deirdre.
Connaughton, Paul.
Cosgrave, Michael.
Coveney, Simon.
Crawford, Seymour.
Creed, Michael.
Currie, Austin.
D'Arcy, Michael.
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Deasy, Austin.
Deenihan, Jimmy.
Dukes, Alan.
Durkan, Bernard.
Ferris, Michael.
Finucane, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Frances.
[1076] Flanagan, Charles.
Hayes, Brian.
Higgins, Jim.
Higgins, Joe.
Howlin, Brendan.
Kenny, Enda.
McCormack, Pádraic.
McDowell, Derek.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
McManus, Liz.
Mitchell, Gay.
Mitchell, Olivia.
Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
Naughten, Denis.
Neville, Dan.
O'Shea, Brian.
O'Sullivan, Jan.
Penrose, William.
Perry, John.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Ring, Michael.
Ryan, Seán.
Shatter, Alan.
Sheehan, Patrick.
Shortall, Róisín.
Stanton, David.
Timmins, Billy.
Wall, Jack.
Yates, Ivan.

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

Question declared carried.

Mr. J. Bruton:  What is the current position on the publication of the report recommending a single financial regulator? This report has been discussed in and made available to the media but it has not been made available to the Members of this House. I understand it is a report to the Tánaiste. When will the report in full be made available to Deputies, who should be the first, not the last, people to get it?

Mr. Rabbitte:  On the same issue, I raised this matter with the Taoiseach over a few Orders of Business and the least the House is entitled to is to have the report published.

The Taoiseach:  I have to check this and I will come back to the Deputies if I am incorrect, but I understand it will be released today.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Will we have a debate here on the matter immediately? Will the Government announce its decision on this report immediately or is it simply being published without any Government decision being made on it?

The Taoiseach:  No, it is being published. The Government's consideration of this involves a report from the Tánaiste and the Minister for Finance to Government, which have yet to come to Government, but as the report was being leaked it is better to publish it.

Mr. J. Bruton:  The Taoiseach is right.

Mr. Finucane:  Yesterday I raised a query on proposed legislation about the alginate industries Bill and I want to correct an inaccurate comment made by the Taoiseach. He said that the seaweed forum is sitting at present. I asked if he would check the veracity of his information – his information is incorrect. The seaweed forum has not even been formed, despite being promised by the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources 12 months ago.

The Taoiseach:  I said yesterday there was to be a seaweed forum – I was not sure whether it was sitting. I understand there has been an announcement about the work and plans of the forum.

Mr. J. Bruton:  It has not been launched yet.

Mr. Finucane:  To say it is sitting is incorrect.

The Taoiseach:  I hope it will sit shortly.

Ms McManus:  We were promised that the White Paper on private health insurance would be brought to Government in March and then that it would be June. Will the White Paper be brought to Government, presumably within the next week, so that commitment will be fulfilled?

The Taoiseach:  There is some delay. The most recent date proposed is July.

Mr. Naughten:  The Taoiseach promised the publication of the youthwork (amendment) Bill by autumn 1997, Christmas 1997, Easter 1998, [1077] summer 1998, Christmas 1998, summer 1999 and now the end of this year.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is giving information.

Mr. Naughten:  When will this legislation be published and why the delay?

The Taoiseach:  The general scheme was approved by the Government on 14 December 1998 but there has been a number of other priorities which have received attention before it, the latest being the Udarás na Gaeltachta (Amendment) Bill. It is a matter of priorities. There are 40 heads in the Bill and other legislation has taken precedence.

Mr. Howlin:  Will the money for yesterday's State purchase of Farmleigh be provided for in the public Estimate or will there be a Supplementary Estimate for it? To what public use will this property and lands be put?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That should be the subject of a parliamentary question but perhaps the Taoiseach wishes to make a brief comment.

The Taoiseach:  I assume the cost will be included in a Supplementary Estimate. As regards the use of Farmleigh, that information was contained in yesterday's statement by the Minister of State, Deputy Cullen.

Mr. Howlin:  The Minister of State said it would be used to house visiting foreign dignitaries. Will that be its exclusive use?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is a matter of detail.

The Taoiseach:  That is not what he said – he mentioned seven or eight cultural purposes.

Mr. Belton:  When will the Taoiseach have the housewarming?

Mr. M. Smith:  The Deputy will be the first to be informed.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  And invited.

Mr. McGahon:  Does the Taoiseach intend to introduce a Bill on privacy during the life of this Government?

The Taoiseach:  Specific legislation is not planned. It is a matter which has been receiving some consideration but not in the legislative area.

Ms Shortall:  Last week I asked the Taoiseach about the fact that Garda clearance is not being provided to child care workers. I hope he has had an opportunity to familiarise himself with the matter. Does he intend introducing amending [1078] legislation to the Data Protection Act to deal with this urgent problem?

The Taoiseach:  That will be done, if necessary.

Ms Shortall:  Does the Taoiseach know if it is necessary? Has he investigated the matter?

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot discuss the matter.

Ms Shortall:  It relates to legislation and is an urgent matter.

The Taoiseach:  The matter is being examined. Data protection legislation is due later this year and that matter will be dealt with if necessary.

Ms Shortall:  That is not what I asked. I am asking about an urgent matter which has arisen, that Garda clearance is not being given to child care workers.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That matter is not appropriate to the Order of Business. There are other ways to raise it.

Ms Shortall:  Does the Taoiseach plan to introduce amending legislation to the Data Protection Act before the summer recess?

Mr. Howlin:  It is a legitimate question.

The Taoiseach:  There is no legislation due before the summer recess. Data protection legislation is due later in the year. As regards the Deputy's question, it is being looked at and if amending legislation is necessary it will be introduced.

Mrs. T. Ahearn:  When will the long-awaited disability Bill be published? Given that the Government has £23 million to buy Farmleigh House so we can lavishly entertain foreign guests, will the Taoiseach make the money available—

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is out of order in pursuing that matter in that manner.

Mrs. T. Ahearn:  Respite care and day care is needed for people with disabilities—

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should resume her seat.

Mrs. T. Ahearn:  They are as important as bricks and mortar. When will they be given—

An Ceann Comhairle:  I have ruled the Deputy out of order. She should resume her seat.

Mr. Broughan:  Like me, the Taoiseach has many constituents whose names are on the lengthy cardiac waiting lists at the Mater Hospital. Would it be possible to find an extra £23 million—

[1079]An Ceann Comhairle:  That matter is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

Mrs. O'Rourke:  Vincent Browne is being well read.

Mr. Currie:  The Children Bill received a second reading in this House 16 months ago. We were told there was to be a successor Bill. Will the Taoiseach tell us how much longer we will have to wait for legislation which languished for many years, was then debated and now seems to have been lost?

The Taoiseach:  That legislation will be introduced in the form of a new comprehensive Bill which contains about 260 sections. It will update all the matters involved and will be brought forward as soon as possible.

Mr. Howlin:  Will the minimum wages Bill be published before the end of this session?

The Taoiseach:  It will be published later this year as it must come into effect by the end of 1999.

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): The Taoiseach insisted the Government would bring this State into the NATO-led Partnership for Peace without a referendum, despite the wishes of the people. He said this issue would be dealt with by the Dáil.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is making a statement, will he put a question on the Order of Business?

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): When will the Government's proposal to join Partnership for Peace be brought before the Dáil? Will the Taoiseach confirm it will not be rushed through before summer recess next week?

The Taoiseach:  It will be in the autumn.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That concludes the Order of Business.

Mrs. T. Ahearn:  On a point of order.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We must proceed with the business of the day.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Select Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport has completed its consideration of Vote 32 for the service of the year ending 31 December 1998.

Question, “That the Schedule, as amended, be the Schedule to the Bill” put and agreed to.

[1080] Title agreed to.

Bill reported with amendment.

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

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Cullen):  I thank all Deputies who contributed to the Bill for their support for this important legislation.

Mr. Currie:  Other Members are anxious to contribute.

Mr. McGahon:  At the conclusion of the debate yesterday I was describing the awful scene at Templetown beach less than ten miles from where I live. This is the 26th day of an unavailing search for a body of a woman murdered by the IRA so many years ago. To this day members of her family are gathered like refugees watching this search. The anguish this family has endured is appalling.

She was seized, many years ago, from her home by four women terrorists while bathing her six year old twins and was handed over to killers. It is appalling to have that wound reopened by the most cynical band of killers with the most blood-thirsty record in Europe since Adolf Hitler. That it was done in a cynical attempt to gain votes in the local and European elections makes it all the more dreadful.

The fact that 20,000 people in Leinster voted for an IRA candidate is a very sad statistic. It is extremely disillusioning that, at a time when gardaí were on their hands and knees digging for bodies around the country, 20,000 people could vote for murder incorporated. It is even more saddening that the IRA could gain two extra seats in my native town and county.

The fact that 11,000 people in Dundalk, who are probably of the middle income rather than middle class brigade, did not deign to vote is totally disillusioning. When the Omagh tragedy occurred last year my native town was plunged, once again, into the international headlines. There was an outpouring of revulsion in Dundalk and thousands of people converged on the town in one of the biggest displays of revulsion in this country. Sadly, it was a fleeting mirage because 11,000 of them stayed at home and did not bother to vote, thereby allowing the IRA to gain two local authority seats in County Louth. That is how the Nazis came to power in Germany in the early 1930s. The people were complacent. Sadly, we all know the results complacency brought not only to Germany but to Europe. We must guard against that complacency. It is particularly tragic that people do not cast their votes and will not give five minutes for their town, county or country. People are obliged to vote in some other countries, and the quicker we do something about it, the better.

[1081] The spectacle of the disappeared is tragic and, once again, plunges my county into the glare of international publicity. The body of a woman, who was not even from the county, was apparently buried in Cooley. One wonders what the game plan of the IRA was. Was it to gain publicity? Was it to gain votes in the European and local elections? If so, it certainly worked.

The greatest mistake and tragedy I have witnessed in my 17 years in this House was the rescinding of section 31, which gave the IRA the platform on which it is building successfully. Already, it has a representative in this House, Deputy Ó Caoláin, and it will have more. It should not have been given that platform. Section 31 had stood the test of time during all Governments over the years.

The Bill, which relates to the setting up of cross-Border organisations, is a fudge. There are two problems in the North which need to be resolved immediately and should have been resolved a long time ago. They are the Drumcree situation and the decommissioning issue. The Drumcree situation is a powder keg and will, undoubtedly, ignite next month. Until the British Government has the political balls to recognise that fact and tell the Orange Order it is not acceptable in that area, the problem in Ulster will remain. Decommissioning is absolutely essential if progress is to be made. No progress has been made for two years, despite the best efforts of an appeasing British Government and Prime Minister, who would make Neville Chamberlain look like an altar boy.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Briscoe):  I must ask the Deputy to keep to the subject of the Bill because other Members will be inclined to respond to him, which would be outside the terms of the debate.

Mr. McGahon:  I know you are giving me latitude. I want to underline the cynicism of the IRA in this most cruel hoax it has perpetrated on the victims' families and the people of this country. All over the world, it is normal for victims to be accorded a Christian burial. That should be done in this country, by people who complain about injustices perpetrated against a community in the North. The fact that many people have been callously denied a Christian burial means the IRA should not be allowed off the hook. I do not accept its view that those involved have died. Those people were not murdered by one person.

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy is really out of order.

Mr. McGahon:  I am just about to conclude. They were not murdered and buried by one person. While some people may have died, it is a nonsense to say they do not have a log of where bodies are located. The apparent acceptance of this hoax by a section of the Irish people makes it all the more regrettable.

[1082] I wish to explode the myth that has been perpetrated by Fianna Fáil and sections of the media over the years that the Irish situation would be better served by a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach, who would fix it all. There has been absolute stagnation for two years. I commend the calm, measured approach by my leader, Deputy John Bruton, who, when he was Taoiseach, did not dance to the tune of the IRA or its fellow travellers in the North.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  A number of speakers have ranged very widely beyond the subject matter of this Bill. I wish to speak briefly on some points. I roundly reject Deputy McGahon's assertions. I am an elected representative in this House of the electorate of Cavan and Monaghan.

I trust and pray that the remains of the disappeared are located soon. I have made my position on this issue known over a long period of time, both in public in this House and in private. I say without hesitation that the families of the deceased should never have had to bear this burden.

Sinn Féin is committed to the implementation in full of the Good Friday Agreement. We now have less than a week to ensure that, after a year of delay and prevarication, the Executive is put in place. It is clear to all there is no decommissioning precondition to its establishment. This is acknowledged by both the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister. The test now is of the willingness of the Ulster Unionist Party to share power. It is not a question of “No guns, no Government”, it is a question of “No equality, no Government”.

I refute the erroneous accusations again made in this Chamber about Sinn Féin. We are not the wing of any other organisation. We stand or fall on the basis of our electoral mandate, and it is a strengthened mandate coming out of the recent local and European parliamentary elections. That seems to have puzzled some Deputies, not least Deputy Bruton who has tried to make decommissioning a pre-condition not only to the setting up of the Executive but to the election to positions in local authorities throughout the State. The Deputies show their distance from the communities we represent when they fail to appreciate the reality that it is hard work and clear-sighted politics which has won our party support up and down the country.

It is important to place on the record of this House my support for this Bill and for the implementation of the Agreement in all its aspects.

Mr. O'Kennedy:  I too vigorously support this Bill in so far as it further represents the common commitment of both governments as indicated by the exchange of letters which represent a contractual agreement. I support it particularly because it relates to the potential that will be there for young people, North and South, when this Agreement is in place.

[1083] It is significant that this Bill refers to the European Structural Fund and the environment which will be of such crucial importance to all our young people whether in the North or in the South. My colleagues from the Border counties will be particularly conscious that the disadvantage they have suffered over the years as a consequence of the activities that have been going for as long as I have been a Member of this House, going back 34 years—

Mr. McGahon:  Evil atrocities.

Mr. O'Kennedy:  They were atrocities. Now it is time to look forward, as does every other region of the world where such atrocities have happened and as we did in this Parliament after the atrocities of the civil war. There is an obligation on all public representatives to lead young people forward, not to feed off the prejudice that has unfortunately been inherited from the tragedies and atrocities of the past. Our role is to lead the way forward, particularly in the context of pointing out to young people of both traditions in the North that there is a wider world out there waiting for their contribution, providing them with an opportunity to make a major contribution on behalf of themselves, their communities and their families in the same way as our young people are fortunately able to realise opportunities whether they work in Europe, Africa, America or here in Dublin. It is time to get the message across that our only concern at this point is to release those young people from the cage of bigoted history.

Many people have put much effort into this. I pay a special tribute to my colleague, Deputy Austin Currie, and people like him. We have now reached a point that with a week to go the choice is clear and simple. Either we take them out of that cage or we lock it even tighter. These young people have the potential for greatness or to be cast back into the tragedies and horrific atrocities of recent years.

I am not particularly encouraged by hearing some of the young people on a television programme I saw last evening. The programme exhibited as clearly as anyone could, that young people who are digging their heels in even harder in one of the traditions – I do not want to attach blame to them – are now unfortunately responding to prejudices being highlighted instead of responding to the opportunity that is there for all. I have had informal contact within the past week with people from the Unionist community in the North and I pleaded with them, in the interests of their own community, not to mention the interests of permanent peace, to take a position that will open up all these opportunities.

This means concessions on both sides. It means understanding and accommodation on both sides. It means a determination across the communities and their political representatives to come to an [1084] agreement. If there is this one knot that needs to be unravelled, namely, the link between decommissioning the formation of the Executive, surely it must be possible, as has been done elsewhere, in South Africa, for instance—

Acting Chairman:  We are miles away from the Bill.

Mr. O'Kennedy:  It relates to the terms of the Agreement and the Structural Funds. In South Africa, which has come through even more bitter division because of the terrible repression of apartheid, they managed to agree to accept sharing in government but that that shared executive would oversee the decommissioning of weapons on all sides. That precedent is there for us to look at. When the Executive is in place the primary responsibility will be immediate arrangements for joint commitment to supervision of the decommissioning of weaponry on all fronts. That is a way we can go forward. However, I get more and more impatient when I think of the huge potential that exists and the barrier that has been erected by people who do not have the confidence to take that one step forward. I hope this Bill and the Agreement will, in terms of our European common approach, represent the line to be followed from now on.

Mr. Crawford:  We want to move the peace initiative on as quickly as possible. I welcome this legislation which takes into the account the nuts and bolts of funding. We must move forward in that respect if we are to continue the movement towards prosperity and peace in the Six Counties and the Border region. The Programme for National Recovery fund, INTERREG and other cross-Border funding has been and will be extremely important in the next five or six years. I welcome the necessary measures in this Bill which will enable the new funding, when it is in place, to be administered smoothly and with little loss of time. In that context initiatives like the Ulster canal and other cross-Border projects can build up confidence and create wealth for the region I represent. It will also be possible to improve agriculture, business and so on.

One has to be anxious about the whole peace initiative. The Taoiseach himself said last night that we are at a cross-roads. I was glad to hear Deputy Ó Caoláin say he is committed to all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. There are many aspects to the Agreement. One is the commitment on the release of prisoners, something which has happened in an organised fashion. Another is decommissioning, which is to be monitored. How can something which has not happened be monitored?

It is a matter of concern that the issue of the disappeared, which was supposed to be cleared up three weeks ago, has not been resolved. We must take that a step further and ask if those who declared they would release the bodies to us will be committed to decommissioning if and when [1085] the Executive is established? I want all groups to go the extra mile to ensure we can learn to live with each other. In these last few days before 30 June, I ask all sides to meet the commitments they made in writing on Good Friday 1998. The Taoiseach and many others worked hard to do that.

Two years ago, one of the main subjects of electioneering whispers was that if Fianna Fáil, under Deputy Bertie Ahern, was in power, the Northern Ireland issue could be sorted out in days and that my leader, the then Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton, did not understand how to deal with the situation. My leader has given every support to the Taoiseach in the past two years and will continue to do so, as I and others will. We do, however, want delivery on the promise made to our electorate that peace is for good.

Mr. Currie:  Like every other Member of the House who has spoken, I welcome this legislation. Its implementation depends on a number of circumstances related to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. I am still more optimistic than pessimistic about a solution. I refuse to believe that all that has been achieved will not culminate in ultimate success. I say this while still entertaining some doubt because the Governments have not told us what will be allowed to remain and what will be implemented by them even if a local administration is not formed.

If a local administration is not formed, the two Governments should implement the Agreement to the extent they can without elected local participation and, in terms of North-South co-operation and integration, go beyond the Good Friday Agreement. The people of Ireland should not be held to ransom by intransigent minorities. The referendum last year represents the central fundamental fact which cannot be ignored. The people of Ireland have the right to expect that their wishes, as expressed in the referendum, will be respected and implemented. I cannot, however, believe it will come to that. Agreement will be reached.

For once, history has been on our side. In the past we have been unlucky. From the Spanish Armada, the defeat at Kinsale, Bantry Bay in 1796, the Famine, the gutting of Parnell, the failed Home Rule Bills, the Civil War to the fall of the power-sharing executive, history has been unkind to us. This time we have a British Prime Minister with a large majority, the commitment of an American President, leadership in Nationalist Ireland, particularly that of John Hume, and the EU context. If we fail this time, when will it happen again? When will all these factors coincide again? Is there any difference in terms of obduracy between those who say, “No guns, no government” and “Not a single bullet, not a single ounce“? I fail to detect any difference.

It has been asked if it is a good thing to set a deadline and if 30 June is a good date. Yes, it is right to set a deadline. Minds must be concen[1086] trated. In Northern Ireland there are politicians on all sides who will never take a difficult decision if they can avoid it. The further we get from the insurance policy of the referendum, the more that will be the case. I have my doubts about the date of 30 June. I suspect it was taken without full consideration by the British Government and without adequate consultation with the Irish Government. I suspect it was taken in the context of the date for devolution to Scotland and Wales. Now, however, the decision having been made, and the two Governments having committed themselves so firmly to the date, it must be stood by. If the date is allowed to slip into Drumcree and the marching season until the end of August, there will be a dangerous instability and too many opportunities for the merchants of death. Having said that, for the very same reasons, it is imperative that agreement is reached. In the aftermath of failure to agree, the uncertainty and instability will intensify the opportunities for those same merchants of death. It is a perilous situation. I choose my words advisedly.

Unionists and Sinn Féin must jump together. That is the best solution. If that proves impossible, the greater onus is on the republican movement. It has more freedom of movement than Trimble. It has had successful elections, North and South. The wider republican and Nationalist community, nationally and internationally, would support it in an initiative to break the impasse. General de Chastelain is to make a statement shortly. If he were able to verify that an amount of Semtex had been destroyed, the situation would be immediately transformed. Under the terms of the decommissioning legislation, it is not necessary for weaponry to be handed over. The paramilitaries can destroy it themselves, it requires only the verification of such destruction by the international commission. Such a statement would unblock the logjam and the Executive could be formed.

It is a perilous situation and, in terms of violence, it will most likely get worse. I listened to Jim Cusack on the radio this morning. I spent last weekend in the North. I can vouch that the fear and dread so pervasive before the ceasefires is returning. Jim told us that since November, five people have been killed by the IRA and two by loyalists; at least 140 pipe bombs have been used by loyalists; punishment beatings and banishment continue on both sides; ethnic cleansing continues, particularly in areas east of the Bann where there are large Protestant majorities. Much of this intimidation goes unreported. It comes to light only when there is a tragedy and in many instances the RUC is informed only when it is necessary to have confirmation for a change of house.

Acting Chairman:  I regret to have to remind the Deputy he is outside the terms of the Bill. I understand the Deputy's passion about these matters but I am bound by rules.

[1087]Mr. Currie:  There are only seven days to go to this important date of 30 June and I will have no opportunity to speak on this matter between now and then. I thank the Acting Chairman for his latitude so far and will continue as quickly as I can.

I do not believe the stress and tension among the residents of the Garvaghy Road is properly appreciated. Imagine trying to bring up a family there. The more affluent in society can get away on holiday but for many on the Garvaghy Road, even a week away is not an option. In these circumstances in the North, it is inevitable that the IRA should again seek to pose as the defenders of the Catholic community. Let the record speak for itself.

A recent study by the University of Ulster entitled, Northern Ireland's Troubles – The Human Cost, gives the facts. Republicans were responsible for nearly half the 3,600 killings and for the murder of more Catholics than the British Army, the RUC and the UDR put together, not to count those Catholics killed by Protestant paramilitaries in retaliation for the republican killings – some defenders of the Catholic people.

There has been much talk of the dissolution or suspension of the Stormont Assembly.

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy is pushing the Chair.

Mr. Currie:  In terms of the cross-Border bodies, if the Stormont Assembly is suspended, we will not have an assembly in the North to deal with its involvement in these bodies, which is the subject of this discussion.

I would like to talk briefly about the disappeared. I already described what happened to the disappeared as barbaric and from the very beginning have been somewhat sceptical about whether the bodies were in those sites. On Monday, I visited the site at Bragan in County Monaghan where, according to the IRA statement, Columba McVeigh is buried. It is a remote area of bog and trees and the gardaí had to make a road into it. When I stepped off the planks, my wellingtons sank into the bog. When the gardaí stopped for a tea break, a pump had to be used to reduce the level of water. The original designated area was 1,000 square yards, three quarters of an acre, and all that area has been worked over. They are now operating outside the designated area and have completed their third week on this appalling job. A JCB scrapes the bogs. It reminded me, if this is not disrespectful – I know Members of this House will understand – of the tallymen at a recount scrutinising every half bucket full of earth. No praise can be too great for the gardaí and civilian workers who have been involved in this most frustrating exercise. On behalf of the relatives I know, I thank the gardaí for the way they have kept in touch and informed the relatives regularly of developments.

If the body of Columba McVeigh is there, it will be found. However, if it is not found, if no [1088] body is found in any of the six designated areas, what are we to think? If a body is not found on any of the six sites, including the areas dug beyond the designated areas, clearly we will have been the victims of a con job. We know some of those who will have been conned – Members of this House, the Garda and the public, but above all the relatives. Who will have conned us? The IRA clearly has conned us in that its original statement led us to believe it knew where the missing bodies were. Should I say the republican movement has conned us? After all Sinn Féin and the IRA are two sides of the same coin.

Acting Chairman:  I am sorry Deputy, but I must ask you to resume your seat. You have taken full advantage of the generosity of the Chair.

Mr. Currie:  Are leading members of Sinn Féin among the conned and, if so, why? The relatives of the disappeared have had three weeks of hell on top of a quarter of a century of purgatory. I visited the mother of Columba McVeigh last Sunday to tell her I was visiting the site and asked her if she would like to come with me. I was very relieved when she told me she could not face the ordeal. When I left her, I participated in cemetery Sunday in the adjoining parish at the graves of my relatives – at least I have graves to visit.

Mr. G. Mitchell:  I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on this important Bill. I do not believe it has dawned on the House that no matter who is in Government in the Republic, once the Executive in Northern Ireland kicks in, Sinn Féin will be there forever, at least while the current arrangements operate. Although the Minister is in office today and Fine Gael, the Labour Party and others are in Opposition, Fianna Fáil will find itself in Opposition in a matter of time. Fianna Fáil, the largest party, Fine Gael, the second largest and the Labour Party, the third largest, will find themselves dealing, North and South, with overarching bodies which will have a permanent Sinn Féin input. If Sinn Féin's day has not come, in those circumstances it is hard to see how it could have screwed a better deal out of both Governments in terms of the future arrangements on this island. It is a tiny minority and will have a permanent presence not only on the Executive in Northern Ireland but, as a result of that, on the overarching bodies, North and South. That is something Sinn Féin needs to bear in mind.

Deputy Currie is one of a handful of Members who really understand the Nationalist and Unionist community in Northern Ireland. I had the great honour and privilege to attend Queen's University, as Deputy Currie did. For me it was an academic exercise and the opportunity to visit the city of Belfast on a regular basis was a great part of that experience. We are, nonetheless, visitors. While we have some opportunity to hear the Nationalist view in Northern Ireland and that [1089] of people who are decent and fair about it, such as Deputy Currie, who try to put the case for the Unionist minority on this island as well, we miss out by not hearing the Unionist view.

When we talk about ethnic cleansing, we should bear in mind that Edward Carson, the founder of the Unionist party, whose tradition continues today, was as much a Dubliner as I am? We somehow seem to think the word “Unionist” is one of abuse. I have no doubt the word “Serb” is one of abuse in Kosovo as is the word “Albanian” in Serbia. We must come to terms with the fact there are people on this island who are Unionist as well as Nationalist. We must stop using the word “Unionist” as if it was one of abuse.

As little as we understand the Unionists on this island, very few of us understand the Nationalists in the northern part of this island, and it is time we were truthful enough to say so. We have an imagined view but, thankfully, there are people like Deputy Currie and others in the House who have not only an imagined understanding but a real one. As part of that understanding, we must acknowledge there are many Nationalists north of the Border who are very fearful as the Drumcree stand-off continues and as attacks on their communities take place. That is a real fear which we must articulate and acknowledge.

Given that there is an Assembly in Northern Ireland and a Parliament in the Republic, would it not be better if each had right of audience in the other's assembly, something which is allowed for under Standing Orders of the House and of the Committee on European Affairs? This would allow us listen to the views and concerns of each other at first hand in a dignified way. We could hear Unionist and Nationalist opinion directly in the House or in a committee of the House. On the other side of the coin, we could go and raise some of our concerns and issues at the Assembly in Northern Ireland. Such an arrangement is not beyond the practice of real politics if we are prepared to establish it along the lines I have outlined. We could go a long way in this context, particularly given the role of the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, if the Taoiseach and the First Minister jointly commissioned a study on how we can co-operate on EU issues in general, not just financing, and if through that report we could identify priorities which the Government and the Dáil in the Republic and the Executive and Assembly in Northern Ireland could pursue.

Members know that decommissioning is not a pre-condition in terms of the Good Friday Agreement. However, it is clearly a condition that by May 2000 decommissioning should have taken place. Therefore, it is implicit in the Agreement that the process should commence before May 2000. Could Sinn Féin not generously pursue the issue of how it can bring about the objective Mr. Adams set out in New York, namely, that republicans and Unionists in Northern Ireland jump together in relation to decommissioning? I joined [1090] Fine Gael in 1969 as a young boy, mainly because the party advocated a pluralist approach in Northern Ireland and promoted other issues of social justice. It was probably a peculiar choice for somebody of my background to make at that time, but I have remained a member of the party for 30 years. I have seen people who advocate violence come and go in Northern Ireland. Yet the party of which I am a member, which has always been strong on law and order issues, has been prepared to fudge, if necessary, to put all of this terrible history behind us and to bring people into the democratic process. In recent days our party leader said we would not do business with Sinn Féin in terms of electing mayors until the gun was completely taken out of politics. However, as soon as the gun has been taken out of politics, in the interest of good Government and democracy the party will do business with any party which is truly committed to democracy. We have deliberately taken a profile which goes against the grain to try to bring about and contribute to a solution to the problem. It is time other parties did likewise.

Occasionally there is a need for more calm debate and consideration in the House of issues such as this. Sometimes Bills like this give us an opportunity to discuss issues, rather than simply raising them with the Taoiseach or the Minister for Foreign Affairs during Question Time. Bills and motions should be introduced more often to give us an opportunity to speak more broadly about the issues. I hope in the future we will have matured enough to share our thoughts in a structured way whereby we could contribute to that debate in a forum north of the Border and where people north of the Border could do so south of the Border.

Proinsias De Rossa:  I do not propose making a long contribution. However, I wish to revert to a point I raised in my contribution yesterday when I expressed concern and alarm that a shift in the Government's position regarding decommissioning and the participation of Sinn Féin in the Executive was signalled in the Taoiseach's speech to the House. The Minister of State reassured me there had not been a change in Government policy. I re-read the speech, the contributions of the Taoiseach in the Dáil on previous occasions and this morning's edition of The Irish Times, which confirmed my own reading of the Taoiseach's speech, namely, that there is a definite shift in the Government's position.

The previous position of the Government was that there could not be an executive without the inclusion of Sinn Féin and that Sinn Féin could not participate in an executive unless a start had been made on decommissioning. These were the two fundamental principles of the Government's approach to decommissioning and the establishment of an executive. Yesterday the Taoiseach stated clearly and deliberately in the House that in the first instance the Executive will be formed and that if decommissioning does not take place [1091] in the period set out in the Agreement, steps will be taken to deal with the situation. This is a change, and I express concern about it not because I do not want a solution to be found – obviously I do want a solution to be found – but because it seems to make the position of David Trimble, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, virtually untenable, particularly in view of the fact that Jeffrey Donaldson, who previously resigned from the negotiating team of the UUP over this issue, has now been brought back by David Trimble to his inner circle of advisers and negotiators. It seems we are heading for an open clash with the UUP. Maybe there are aspects of the negotiations which are taking place, one presumes with the parties concerned on a bilateral basis, of which I am not aware, but it seems we are setting ourselves up to be on the side of Sinn Féin as against that of David Trimble. This is a very dangerous position and I urge extreme caution on the part of the Government in terms of the State taking a stance in support of Sinn Féin against the UUP which has throughout the troubles of the past 30 years maintained a democratic stance against terrorism and in favour of democracy, as has the SDLP.

I would also argue very strongly against any notion that the Agreement can be implemented piecemeal, that in some way the Assembly and Executive can be set aside and other aspects of the Agreement can continue as if nothing had happened. As we all know, the Agreement is very carefully balanced, with the internal arrangements vis-à-vis the Assembly, the North-South arrangement and the East-West arrangement, all of which support each other. Without one aspect, the others collapse and this principle must be maintained. I do not think Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionist Party nor anybody else in Northern Ireland should be let off the hook of implementing in full the Agreement negotiated by them and passed overwhelmingly by the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic. It is essential that the Agreement is pursued.

At the end of the day it is a matter for agreement between the Ulster Unionist Party and Sinn Féin as to the arrangements to be made with regard to Sinn Féin's entry into the Executive. One presumes that whatever agreement is reached will be accepted by us but the integrity of the Agreement must be defended and maintained. The integrity of ensuring Sinn Féin may not participate in an assembly in the absence of any demonstration of willingness to decommission must be maintained also.

Will the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Cullen, undertake that if it comes to the point – although we all hope this eventuality does not occur – where the Bill must be put aside because no agreement has been reached on an Executive, mechanisms and resources will be put in place to ensure the continuation of the projects under the current arrangements?

[1092]Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Cullen):  I thank the Deputies for their contributions. I want to cover some of the issues raised.

Deputy McGahon spoke of the difficult situation regarding the disappeared. This has been raised by almost everybody in the House. The announcement of the locations where the bodies were buried was widely welcomed. It was considered that this would be an important part of the healing process, which was to start in both communities if they are to move on from their current sectarian positions.

Deputy Ó Caoláin also mentioned the problem about the disappeared and he mentioned the commitment of Sinn Féin to the Agreement. As we are now in the final phase of negotiations, we hope this commitment will help to move us towards a final solution. As the Taoiseach indicated, all sides must move if we are to achieve a consensus.

I concur with many of the views expressed by Deputy Currie but, in particular, with his gratitude to the Garda for carrying out the difficult task of searching for the bodies of the disappeared. It is a great disappointment to everybody that despite all their work they have not had any success to date.

Deputy Currie asked what will happen if local administrations are not formed or, in effect, what will be made operable if the Good Friday Agreement is not to be implemented in full. Recently, in responses to parliamentary questions, the Taoiseach stated we would have to evaluate the position if we do not reach agreement. At this point we cannot be definite as to what, if any, aspects of the Good Friday Agreement will remain. The Taoiseach already said we cannot go on without some deadline to focus minds. The longer the process, the more confidence is eroded and the greater the potential that other issues will affect the chances of success. There is increasing low-level violence already and we certainly do not want to see this escalate.

I want to respond to one aspect of Deputy Mitchell's contribution which related to co-operation on the approach to Structural Funds and in Europe. Recently I shared a platform in Belfast with Mr. Trimble and Mr. Mallon on the single programme document which they produced. As the House will be aware, there are many aspects in the chapter which are common to both of us. I found it a fruitful exchange of views. It opened up for me, personally, the potential of what we could all be doing. That a Minister of the Government would be invited to such a platform to speak on those issues was, in itself, a positive step forward. It is indicative of the potential to achieve things.

Deputy Mitchell also stated that Sinn Féin will have a permanent position in Government in Northern Ireland. He indicated that we miss out in not having a Unionist view in this House. We agree with the Deputy that not all Unionists merit views which have been expressed about them [1093] generally. There is a large degree of ongoing co-operation in business and other areas which is not given the publicity it deserves. The Good Friday Agreement provides for the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Oireachtas to consider developing a joint parliamentary forum bringing together equal numbers from both institutions for discussion on matters of mutual interest and concern. This is another area to which we look forward.

I emphasise what the Taoiseach stated last night. He put it succinctly:

If the Agreement is to work we need to make it work now. There is nothing to be gained by further delay or procrastination.

We have entered a difficult period of negotiation. All of us in this House want to see the minds of every party to those negotiations focused on what must be achieved in the next few days for the sake of all of the people who voted so overwhelmingly in Northern Ireland and in the Republic in support of the two referenda. We know what needs to be achieve and the Government is committed to it.

There is one point I wish to raise with Deputy McGahon, who was a little unfair. Everyone in this House would accept that the Taoiseach and the Government have given a great deal of time almost every day to this issue since coming to office. An enormous amount of progress has been made. We are now in the final phase which we hope will see achievement in the next few days. I wish my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, every good wish in the difficult negotiations which lie ahead.

Question put and agreed to.

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Andrews):  I move:

That Dáil Éireann, pursuant to Article 29.5.2º of Bunreacht na hÉireann, approves the terms of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, signed by Ireland on 24th September, 1996, a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 10th June, 1999.

Since the first – and, thankfully, so far the only – use of nuclear weapons in 1945, the world has sought ways of preventing their proliferation. Down the years, Ireland has continually called on all states to refrain from testing nuclear weapons and to embrace nuclear disarmament. Growing concerns among both states and non-state actors about the consequences of a large number of countries holding nuclear weapons – and the increased likelihood of their use if that happened – led to the landmark Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968, which was proposed by one of my predecessors, the late Mr. Frank Aiken, in 1958. Another significant treaty, banning nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water, was concluded in 1963.

[1094] Ireland remains committed not only to non-proliferation but also to disarmament. The nuclear weapons states must speedily take steps towards achieving total nuclear disarmament, as they are obliged to do under Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It was with this in mind that I, along with the foreign ministers of seven other countries, launched a declaration entitled “Towards a nuclear weapons free world: the Need for a New Agenda” on 9 June last year. This initiative is set in the context of the 1996 International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion that the nuclear weapons states must pursue in good faith, and bring to a conclusion, negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control. It is an effort to find the middle ground in nuclear disarmament debate and, by so doing, seeks to encourage the nuclear weapons states to engage with greater commitment in the disarmament process. A resolution based on the declaration was approved on 4 December 1998 by a large majority of the UN General Assembly; 114 states voted in favour, 18 voted against and 38 abstained. The wide-ranging support as well as the fact that so many allies of the nuclear weapons states, including China, itself a nuclear weapons state, abstained, was very encouraging and has girded us to pursue this initiative in all relevant fora. In particular, next year's NPT review conference will provide a unique opportunity to achieve concrete results in respect of nuclear disarmament.

The current treaty structure – the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the treaty banning nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water – has had considerable success in limiting the number of nuclear weapons states. However, that structure left a clear gap by permitting the nuclear weapons states to continue testing new weapons underground. The solution to this problem was found in the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty which removes the anomaly by forbidding all nuclear weapons tests anywhere. For this reason, Ireland has long been a consistent and active supporter of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. I am, therefore, very pleased to move this motion approving the terms of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, commonly known as the CTBT.

Let me briefly explain how the treaty came about and why I am asking the House to approve its terms today. It was initially negotiated within the framework of the conference on disarmament in Geneva. The text was then adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10 September 1996 and opened for signature on 24 September 1996. Ireland signed on the first day. To date it has been signed by 152 countries and ratified by 37, including 12 of our 14 EU partners.

The treaty bans all nuclear test explosions, wherever they may be conducted. It also obliges all states' parties to ensure that no person within their jurisdiction or control participates in or assists a nuclear test explosion. In order to verify [1095] compliance with the prohibition, an international monitoring system will be established. This system will comprise 312 stations around the globe which will conduct continuous seismological, hydro-acoustic and radio-nuclide monitoring. The network will permit the detection of any nuclear explosion.

The system will be run by a supervisory body which will be established in Vienna, namely the CTBT Organisation or the CTBTO. The organisation will have the powers to inspect any sites on which it is suspected that nuclear tests have taken place. It will also have the technical expertise to make reliable judgments on suspicions.

In addition, the organisation will provide a forum for ensuring that the treaty's aims and objectives are met, as well as for consultation and co-operation among states' parties. As in other international organisations and bodies, the organisation's budget will be provided by contributions from states' parties, based on the United Nations scale of assessment, adjusted, as appropriate, to take account of the differences in membership between the two organisations. Pending the entry into force of the treaty, a preparatory commission for the CTBTO has been set up and it has begun to establish both the monitoring system and the organisation's administrative structure.

The treaty will enter into force when the 44 countries, which it names, have ratified it. The 44 countries in question are those which the International Atomic Energy Agency deems to have a nuclear capability, whether civilian or military. Ireland is not among them. So far 41 of the 44 have signed the treaty and 18 have ratified it. India, Pakistan and North Korea are the three named states which have not signed the treaty.

If the treaty has not entered into force within three years of opening for signature, namely, by 24 September this year, a conference of states which have ratified it will be convened to consider ways of ensuring its rapid entry into force. It is now clear that this conference will be convened in the autumn. Ireland must ratify the treaty in order to fully participate in the proceedings of this conference.

Under the terms of the treaty states' parties are required to designate a national authority to ensure effective implementation of the treaty and to serve as a national focal point for liaison with the organisation and with the other states' parties. On 25 May the Government decided to designate the Department of Public Enterprise as Ireland's national authority. The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland will carry out Ireland's obligations under the treaty. The RPII has responsibility for all aspects of nuclear and radiological safety in Ireland and for implementing Ireland's nuclear safeguards agreement with the IAEA.

Last year India and Pakistan conducted tests of nuclear weapons. At the time I made it clear, directly to the representatives of both Governments, that the people and Government of Ireland were deeply dismayed and angered at the [1096] tests. Those events clearly demonstrate the urgent need for rapid entry into force of the CTBT. Adherence by Pakistan and India to the CTBT is fundamental to its success. To date neither has signed it, although both have indicated that they may do so. It is my hope that both countries will come to appreciate the strength of international concern and that they will sign and ratify the treaty as soon as possible without conditions.

Let me emphasise that the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is a central instrument in preventing the further proliferation of nuclear weapons. By implementing a ban on testing nuclear devices and by establishing an effective mechanism to monitor the ban, it will add to all our security. I commend the motion to the House.

I apologise to the Opposition spokespersons for my departure from the House as I have to attend a function. We are behind schedule due to a prolonged Order of Business.

Mr. G. Mitchell:  The Minister will miss a great speech.

Mr. Andrews:  I promise the Deputy I will take note of it.

Mr. G. Mitchell:  I wish to share time with Deputy Gormley.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. G. Mitchell:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I am delighted to support the motion approving the terms of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. I commend the Minister on the initiative he took, together with seven other Foreign Ministers, in declaring the need for a new agenda in regard to a world free of nuclear weapons.

It is important that we take initiatives, not just in regard to nuclear test ban treaties and related matters, but more generally in the area of international and foreign affairs. People seem to have the impression that those of us who go to Dublin Airport are going on holidays. There is a perception that anything which relates to foreign affairs must be some kind of junket.

We are not only concerned with global occurences in the areas of economic, political and security issues, we also have a view on them which we need to hone. Our reaction to international security events should not be to say “we are caught between a rock and a hard place”. We should outline our view on the architecture of European security and explore our beliefs and goals in this area in order to identify a role for ourselves. We tend to keep our heads down because we know our position is untenable. We know that although we might get away with sanctimonious nonsense about Ireland's place in the world here at home when situations such as those in Kosovo and Srebrenica erupt, our position will not be convincing at a meeting of the General [1097] Affairs Council. When one is sitting next to a Dutch Minister whose troops are going into the regions, he or she might well say that we should not speak such nonsense at the same time as we take European money. It is very difficult to make a case for Ireland in those circumstances.

It is time we took a more proactive role in foreign affairs issues. The establishment of an Oireachtas committee on foreign affairs indicated renewed thinking in this area.

If we are to build on Frank Aiken's contribution in 1968 to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which was known as the Irish convention at the United Nations for many years before it came into play, we will have to take ourselves more seriously. As a mark of respect, Ireland – which is now one of the wealthiest countries in the world and, given the number of embassies here is growing in stature and importance – was allowed to sign that convention first.

I was struck by the role played by Finland in Kosovo. Admittedly, it is a frontline state and will soon assume the Presidency of the European Union but it still grasped the opportunity with both hands and got involved. It is time that we started to think in those terms. If the objectives set out by the Minister are to be achieved, we cannot continue to say that we will not participate in security arrangements and pander to what is perceived as a good line for the people and mislead them into believing that it would be dangerous to become a member of Partnership for Peace. This approach does not stand up to scrutiny.

The events of the last 12 months have highlighted, all too depressingly, the dangers associated with nuclear proliferation. India and Pakistan conducted public nuclear tests and now face each other in an increasingly tense situation in Kashmir. The more states that acquire nuclear weapons the greater the risk of their eventual use. We must do all we can to avoid such a catastrophe. The Government is to be congratulated on its nuclear non-proliferation initiative.

A deep responsibility rests with the current nuclear weapons states to safeguard their own stocks of weapons and not export nuclear technology and to engage in meaningful nuclear weapons disarmament. There is a suspicion that nuclear weapons states concentrate their efforts on limiting membership to their club rather than engaging in meaningful arms reduction talks.

Fears remain about the safety and security of nuclear weapons held in the former Soviet Union in particular. The EU and American initiative with the Ukraine has made some progress but disturbing reports continue to emanate from Russia in particular about how unpaid nuclear scientists, submarine crews and soldiers might earn a living. Ireland should raise as a matter of priority in the European Union the need to agree aid to Russia targeted at ensuring the safety and security of its nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons facilities. We may at some point reach the stage where [1098] aid will be traded for the destruction of weapons, where for every weapon destroyed in Russia a similar weapon will be destroyed in the United States. If our non-proliferation initiative is to advance, we must be creative in coming up with proposals such as an aid programme to Russia in EU, UN and other international fora.

I repeat my call for Ireland's immediate membership of Partnership for Peace and the appointment of an Irish ambassador to NATO. I can think of few more relevant bodies at which to raise the issue of nuclear disarmament than the Councils of NATO, of which three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are members. There are people who will say that, for this reason, we should not be associated with them in Partnership for Peace. This is nonsense. We are already associated with some of them through our full membership of the European Union. We cannot pretend that NATO does not exist. We have to work out our relationship with it. We are in the process of working out our relationship with Northern Ireland which has been part of NATO since 1949. This has to encompass the future security relationship between these islands. Partnership for Peace presents us with an ideal opportunity to co-operate in areas of our choice. We should not turn our backs on those with whom we live on this island and say we cannot associate with them in any circumstances. That does not stand up to fair analysis.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to support the motion. Are there any proposals to strengthen the initiative taken with the other six Foreign Ministers? It shows that Ireland can play a significant role. The more pro-active we are in this area, the better it will be for our reputation and the security of our children and of the world.

Mr. Gormley:  I thank Deputy Mitchell for sharing his time with me.

While the Green Party welcomes this initiative, we believe that our standing and credibility in this area have been severely undermined by our proposed participation in Partnership for Peace. In Cologne last week Ireland endorsed the first moves towards the formation of a European army. If that is the case, we are now aligned to powers which use nuclear weapons. The Western European Union is committed to the first use of such weapons. This means that we now have little credibility on the world stage. We can have all the pious aspirations we like but they count for nothing. We have been silenced. It is time the people were given an opportunity to decide on the important question of Partnership for Peace, as promised by the Taoiseach in opposition. It has now, conveniently, been put to one side.

This matter entails far more than tests and experiments. In Kosovo there was the use of uranium-tipped shells which will cause untold damage for generations. They were also used in Iraq. The Government was prepared to stand back and let this happen. Why did we not speak [1099] out? The Western European Union is the European leg of NATO. It is hypocritical of parties in this House to say, on the one hand, that they are opposed to nuclear weapons and, on the other, that they support these nuclear alliances. This does not stand up to scrutiny.

I asked the Taoiseach in the House yesterday to define the action of NATO in Kosovo. Was it a war or peace enforcement? He could not answer the question. Perhaps, he did not want to. He is in denial on the question of Ireland's neutrality. It is clear from the Cologne conference that neutrality is being steadily eroded because of the Amsterdam Treaty, particularly Article J.7.2. The Green Party warned about this, but it was ignored and accused of scaremongering. It now seems peace enforcement and crisis management mean we can become involved in these kinds of conflicts and there is no doubt we will be involved in such conflicts in the future. This means Ireland is now fully aligned with these nuclear powers.

The situation regarding Sellafield is similar. The Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise, Deputy Jacob, is currently involved in the OSPAR negotiations in Holland. Why has the Government adopted a softly, softly approach to the issue of reprocessing? It is fine to call for the elimination of technetium 99, as we have done. However, 40 other radionuclides are entering the Irish Sea as a result of reprocessing which is a fundamental part of the nuclear industry. Successive Governments have adopted this kind of approach whereby they do not want to offend the British too much in the hope that they will get something from negotiations. Scandinavian countries, who are not as affected by this issue as Ireland, have taken a different stance and have insisted on an end to emissions into the Irish Sea. Why is this the case? I suspect it is due to the alignments in which we are now involved. This is regrettable and most Irish people will be appalled by it.

While I welcome this initiative, it is clear the people need to be fully informed of the consequences of Partnership for Peace. PfP is a stepping stone towards NATO which is based on nuclear weapons, to which the majority of Irish people are opposed.

Proinsias De Rossa:  I welcome this motion approving the terms of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty which will enable Ireland to ratify the treaty and deposit the instruments of ratification. It is almost three years since the treaty was opened for ratification in September 1996. Ireland was one of the first countries to sign up, but it is unfortunate it has taken so long for the necessary motion of approval to be brought before the Dáil. Clearly, there have been delays on the part of many countries in ratifying the treaty as it has not yet entered into force. Under its terms it will not enter into force until ratified by 44 named countries identified by the International Atomic Energy Agency as hav[1100] ing either a civil or military nuclear capability. Ireland is not one of these countries. As the treaty has not been ratified by the required number of countries, a conference of member states will be held in the autumn to consider ways of speeding up its entry into force. I hope Ireland will use its influence to ensure the treaty enters into force without further delay.

The treaty prohibits the carrying out, participation in or provision of assistance to a nuclear weapons test explosion, or any other nuclear explosion. While nuclear tests are not as prevalent as in the 1950s and 1960s, they remain a problem. India, Pakistan and China have conducted tests in recent years and it is only a few years since France, an EU partner, carried out nuclear tests in the Pacific. Since 1970, more than 75,000 nuclear weapons have been deployed and the world has seen almost 600 nuclear tests, the vast majority of which were carried out by the so-called “great powers”. Thousands of people have been dispossessed of their environmental heritage by nuclear tests. Whole islands in the South Pacific, used as a nuclear playground by France and the United States, have been reduced to environmental wastelands. People have been forced to leave their homes and are still living in nuclear exile two generations later. The issue of nuclear test victims should also be placed on the international agenda and I would like Ireland to take a lead in the demand for compensation.

Ireland has a fairly honourable role in highlighting the dangers of nuclear weapons and seeking to limit their proliferation. In June 1998 the Government announced that it was joining a number of other countries to launch an initiative aimed at halting the spread of nuclear weapons and the elimination of those already in existence. At the time I stated it was particularly positive to see Ireland joining other EU and non-EU countries who shared our concern about the continuing threat posed by nuclear weapons. This initiative shows that, notwithstanding the development of a common foreign policy in the EU, it is still possible for an Irish Government to take initiatives on foreign policy issues, provided there is the political will to do so.

I particularly welcomed the fact that the initiative was directed at existing nuclear weapons as well as those being developed by “new” countries. While the recent nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan focused attention on the proliferation of nuclear weapons, by far the greatest threat to global safety remains the huge arsenals of nuclear weapons held by the big powers. Following the end of the Cold War, the case for disposing of these lethal weapons is more compelling than ever.

An Irish initiative was largely responsible for the conclusion of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty almost 40 years ago. That treaty had some success in limiting the spread of nuclear weapons, but it has not stopped those countries which are determined to secure these weapons. As we approach the millennium it is an appropriate time [1101] to launch another initiative aimed at freeing the world from the awful threat posed by these weapons of mass destruction.

Much of the attention in recent years has focused on the need to prevent nuclear weapons failing into the hands of “new” countries. However, we must get away from the attitude that nuclear weapons are somehow acceptable in certain hands but not in others. I would prefer to have a Bill Clinton or a Tony Blair controlling nuclear weapons than a Saddam Hussein or a Slobodan Milosevic. However, I would prefer if none of them had such weapons.

The world has only once seen the use of nuclear weapons. The weapons used against the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were small by modern standards, but we saw enough of their destructive power to oblige us all to ensure they will never again be used. The most effective way of achieving this is to ensure no such weapons exist. This should be the primary aim of Irish policy concerning nuclear weapons.

A number of points were made during the debate concerning Partnership for Peace and NATO which I would like to address. The Government's document on Partnership for Peace provides useful information. However, it is extraordinary that the document does not attempt to define or outline NATO itself. Given that what is being proposed in terms of joining PfP is that Ireland will have an association agreement with NATO, I would have thought that the least that would have been done was that the treaty which established NATO would have been included as one of the documents in the explanatory guide provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

I have done as much reading as possible regarding the development of NATO and it is important that we have a genuine and open debate on that organisation – EU security, the context in which PfP is located in its association with NATO, and the role, if any, NATO will play in European security and defence. It is clear from NATO's documentation that it sees itself as part of the security architecture of Europe as a continent and of the EU. On page 10 of a document called US Foreign Policy Agenda, published to mark NATO's 50th anniversary, there is an article by Admiral Harold W. Gehman, Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic, entitled “Transforming NATO's Defence Capabilities for the 21st Century”.

According to the blurb, he is in a unique position to evaluate the new dangers NATO faces, including “the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, increases in the lethality of terrorism and non-state sponsored adventurism”. In the course of the article, he emphasises:

the three pillars of the Alliance – common defence, nuclear deterrence and the transatlantic link – are and must remain the underpinnings of our efforts. They represent the core policies that made our Alliance so successful in [1102] the past and are critical for our success in the future”.

Given that commitment to nuclear deterrence by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which was confirmed in the revised treaty adopted in April at the summit held to mark its 50th anniversary, it would make sense for the Government when making its case for joining the Partnership for Peace, which is variously described as the outreach of NATO or an annexe or waiting room for joining NATO, to at least explain the nature of NATO today, its objectives, how it sees itself and how Ireland sees it in the context of European security. To pretend, as some do, that joining Partnership for Peace has no wide-ranging implications for Irish foreign policy is to mislead the public.

I do not take the option, as some do, of claiming that joining the Partnership for Peace would be the end of the world as we know it. Partnership for Peace is, in itself, a relatively benign organisation, if it can be described as an organisation, in terms of the tasks it sets itself. However, it is clearly part of the structures which the United States and member states of the European Union, particularly Britain, envisage evolving for the future security of Europe. To pretend, as the Irish Government appears to, that all Ireland is doing is ensuring the interoperability of its armed forces with the forces of other countries which might participate in peacekeeping with Ireland at various points in the future, is to mislead.

Deputy Gormley implied that any association whatsoever with NATO means the death of Irish neutrality. That is an overstatement of the facts. Our troops are participating in SFOR in Bosnia under a United Nations mandate which gave NATO command of the effort. As a Member of this House and a then member of the Government, I supported that development. I did not regard it as an infringement of Irish neutrality. We must distinguish between the overstatements and fears of some people with regard to Irish neutrality, the evolution taking place in Irish foreign policy and the definition of Irish neutrality. It is being redefined before our eyes. Unfortunately, it is being defined by sleight of hand rather than openly in the context of an open debate. I appeal to the Government to take courage and engage in the debate about the nature of Irish neutrality, the role and place of Ireland in the security and defence of the European Union, how that connects with NATO and what role NATO will have in the future.

Given today's debate about the test ban treaty, the commitment of the Government to denuclearisation, the abolition of nuclear weapons, and the reconfirmed commitment of NATO to nuclear deterrence, there appears to be a real conflict between Ireland's declared objectives and principles and the proposal to become more closely aligned or associated with NATO through Partnership for Peace. That conflict of principle and action must be teased out.

[1103] Attention should also be drawn to a world court decision in 1996 which found that nuclear weapons or the threat or use of nuclear weapons was contrary to the rule of international law. The declaration of the retention of nuclear weapons as a deterrent by NATO appears to be an implied threat of their use. It appears, therefore, that this article of the NATO treaty is in conflict with the world court decision on the legality of nuclear weapons.

The Government should let us know where it stands in relation to the world court decision. Does it intend to take up that decision and use it in its armoury, if one can use that term, in its arguments for the abolition of nuclear weapons? In the negotiations which it is determined to pursue with NATO in relation to Partnership for Peace what will it say about NATO's declared intention to retain nuclear weapons as a deterrent?

Prior to the last general election, Fianna Fáil made a solemn promise that it would hold a referendum if there was any intention to join Partnership for Peace. As soon as it was in Government it abandoned its promise. However, the Taoiseach said in the Dáil that Fianna Fáil would seek a renewed mandate in the European elections. Is Fianna Fáil sticking by that statement given that the number of seats it won in those elections decreased from seven to six? Can I take it, therefore, that it regards the decision to seek a new mandate on the basis of the European elections as a foolish one, which I believe it was? One cannot claim to have a mandate in relation to Partnership for Peace on the basis of a European election. The Partnership for Peace has nothing to do with the European Union as an institution. However, given that this was Fianna Fáil's declared intention, can we take it that the party will refer back to the people and seek their agreement or otherwise in a plebiscite on the intention to join Partnership for Peace?

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. N. O'Keeffe):  I thank the Deputies for supporting the motion. It is gratifying to see that level of agreement on such an important treaty.

I wish to deal with some of the points raised during the debate. Participation in Partnership for Peace in no way commits Ireland to the nuclear deterrence doctrine held by NATO. Deputies will be aware that several other countries which share Ireland's position on nuclear disarmament, notably Sweden, our co-sponsor in the new agenda initiative, already participate in PfP. Our position on nuclear disarmament and proliferation will not change as a result of our participation in PfP.

Legislation has been drafted to give full effect to the treaty. This legislation will, for example, put a clear prohibition on nuclear test explosions and specify the penal sanctions for participation in such tests.


  1.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    the number of members of staff from his Department involved in interdepartmental groups examining the year 2000 problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15351/99]

  2.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the number of staff from his Department on interdepartmental groups working on the year 2000 issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15786/99]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.

Two IT staff from my Department are members of the interdepartmental year 2000 special interest group which was set up specifically to examine the year 2000 issue. This issue also arises in the context of other interdepartmental groups without it being their primary focus. These include the Civil Service IT group and the IT managers' network. My Department is represented on both groups.

Mr. Howlin:  Is the Taoiseach aware of the survey of the Small Firms' Association which shows that up to 70 per cent of small firms surveyed are not yet Y2K compliant? Does he accept a major job of work remains to be done? What is the readiness of other Departments to meet the target the Taoiseach has set himself of being Y2K compliant by the end of July? Has all the £40 million allocated in the last budget to address the Y2K problem been taken up? How was the money spent? Will further money be required?

The Taoiseach:  I will confine my answer to what I have said in reply to previous questions on this issue. The year 2000 interdepartmental committee secretariat is under the remit of the Minister for Finance who has answered questions on it. The Minister of State with responsibility for science, technology and commerce has responsibility for the Y2000 problem. I answer only questions that relate to my Department.

We have set the summer for our Department to be fully Y2K compliant and other Departments and agencies have also set that as their target. It appears as if everything is on schedule. The unit working on this in my Department has moved on to examine the contingency requirements for key business processes. The Minister for Finance submitted the eighth report to Government this week and I am sure he will answer questions on that. All my ministerial colleagues have had meetings with agency leaders to ensure everything possible is done in their areas of responsibility. Campaigns are also being conducted by the ESB and other State agencies to ensure people are Y2K compliant.

[1105] There has been a huge improvement in the business area with which the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, has dealt. The awareness and advertising campaigns conducted through Enterprise Ireland must be maintained. The focus has changed recently towards countries supplying goods to Ireland which would not be as advanced as other countries in working towards being Y2K compliant. There is concern in that area but many legal issues are involved. It is, therefore, receiving a great deal of attention.

Mr. Yates:  On Y2K, is the Taoiseach aware of the widespread concern about air navigation equipment, all of which is computerised? Will he take a flight in full confidence on 1 January next? Will he ensure, under the interdepartmental committee, with regard to the Irish Aviation Authority, Eurocontrol and air carriers, that all the necessary arms of Government examine this matter so that people can be assured of complete air navigation safety at a holiday time of year when large numbers of people travel by air?

The Taoiseach:  I am not going to become involved in a debate on that because I do not have overall responsibility for Y2000 issues. That matter has been addressed previously at Question Time by the Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, who spoke extensively about it.

Mr. Yates:  Does that mean the Taoiseach will take his chances?

The Taoiseach:  I take more chances with my life than that.

Mr. Yates:  We know that. We know how fast and loose the Taoiseach can be.

Mr. Byrne:  Deputy Yates would take him to the airport if he could find it.

The Taoiseach:  I consider it an easy challenge.

Mr. Howlin:  All the Taoiseach is doing is risking his life.

Mr. Yates:  I hope he has a soft landing.

The Taoiseach:  Air navigation, as well as many other areas, have been extensively examined because they are serious issues. Having spoken to many of the people on the committees involved with this issue, I am told it is embedded chips which matter, and we will find on 1 January next that they are located in places where we did not think they were. I was amused to find in my Department that an old alarm system in Government Buildings had embedded chips which meant it would have broken down on 1 January. I do not consider myself technical by any stretch of the imagination, but I am surprised there were embedded chips in such things. I can imagine what could happen with alarm systems, not to [1106] mention more sophisticated appliances. We will ring in the new year in more ways than one.

Mr. Howlin:  I will stay with areas for which the Taoiseach is responsible. Regarding the assigning of responsibility for ensuring industry is Y2K compliant to the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, does the Taoiseach believe the results of the Small Firms Association's survey indicate we have fallen behind and that this is possibly attributable to the other activities in which the Minister of State was involved? Was another Minister of State assigned to cover for him while he was seeking election to the European Parliament?

The Taoiseach:  I thought it was a little the other way, that the Minister of State was so involved in—

Mr. Howlin:  All kinds of everything?

The Taoiseach:  —Y2K projects and launches that it gave the issue a high profile. I pay tribute to the Minister of State and the people who worked with him on this issue. He has a good group comprised of people from within and outside the public service. The latter has given much time to this. The Minister and his team have driven this issue to ensure compliance across Departments and across the State. There has been an enormous effort in small business. I have attended many of the launches held by the chambers of commerce, the Small Firms Association and IBEC. The chambers of commerce have been responsible for driving this issue forward. There are small businesses that deal with it on a day to day basis. The accountancy associations and many other groups have been pressing hard for compliance, with the result that a great deal of progress has been made.

This time last year I was very concerned about this matter because only the banks, insurance companies and other major interests had made preparations. However, an enormous effort was made, driven by the roadshow with which the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Treacy, and Enterprise Ireland co-operated.

Mr. Howlin:  Deputy Treacy's roadshow was not as effective as it might have been.

The Taoiseach:  Perhaps he spent too much time working on this matter.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Does the Taoiseach agree that Departments will be compliant by September and that the business sector is the cause for concern? Does he find it alarming that the small businesses survey shows that there is a serious dividing line between awareness and activity, for whatever reason? This division is not due to lack of advertisements on public radio, but many small and medium enterprises are not taking the necessary action. That is serious, particularly in terms of the [1107] economic damage that might be done. In the time that remains, does the Government intend to consider taking further measures? Has the Government made representations on this matter to Britain in respect of its nuclear industry? A number of nuclear reprocessing plants are situated a number of miles from the east coast and it is particularly important that we reassure our citizens about safety in that regard.

The Taoiseach:  Contact has been made with Britain on the last matter to which the Deputy referred and many others. However, I will raise the issue of the nuclear industry at the next available opportunity. I am aware that an enormous list of contact points was identified over a year ago where follow-up action was needed. I will again mention to the committee the issue of the nuclear industry.

There are a number of institutions within the State sector which have to carry out work on compliance and we are pressing them to see that this is rapidly concluded. We are in a fairly good position but the interdepartmental committee continues to follow through in respect of the institutions that are lagging behind. The committee's work is particularly focused on elements in the security sector such as the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces to ensure that their systems are year 2000 compliant.

A survey conducted last autumn by the Irish Computer Society concluded that almost nine out of ten businesses were aware of the problem. As Deputy Rabbitte correctly pointed out, the survey showed that most companies were not translating that awareness into action. When one reads articles about SMEs, one can see that the problem of non-compliance is a worldwide phenomenon. In the UK, despite an extensive and costly media campaign during the past 12 months, the level of action in respect of compliance is a matter for concern.

We must press ahead with our campaign to ensure compliance. Last December we asked Enterprise Ireland, by means of its new information service, to step up activity in this area. More recently, to deal with the division between awareness and action, Enterprise Ireland launched a practical “how to” guide on SMEs and a comprehensive directory of Y2K service providers and consultants. It also established a professional help desk to support the implementation of the guide and put in place networking shops to provide assistance for SMEs and intermediaries. I referred earlier to the chambers of commerce but Enterprise Ireland has also supplied information and copies of the guide to county enterprise groups and small business associations. There is also a website containing regularly updated guide material primarily targeted at accountancy groups which deal with small and medium-sized businesses. In addition, a media campaign was launched to prompt business interaction with that service which has attracted [1108] interest from representative groups as opposed to individual companies.

It was also decided that the county and city enterprise boards should play a major part in the national campaign on compliance. Recently the boards issued 110,000 copies of the documentation they have made available. Approximately 180 executives have been trained by the development agency, advice and support has been given to the 1,800 companies which sought it, 400 mentors have been trained and public advice and development sessions have been held. A supplement was provided in one of the Sunday newspapers which provided in clear, user-friendly language a complete overview of the issue.

I am not ruling out further action and we must continue to publicise this problem. I recently addressed one of the sessions to which I referred earlier. I spoke to representatives of one accountancy group which represented between 400 and 500 small businesses and I made them aware of some of the services Enterprise Ireland is offering. Within a week they linked into the system and obtained the data they required. I do not believe that individual business people such as shopkeepers etc. will not take a day off to attend one of these sessions. I attended the sessions for large business concerns approximately 18 months ago which were attended by representatives of all the companies that were invited.

We must continue to press home the message in respect of compliance. I agree with Deputy Rabbitte that people should see it as an effect on economic development because if their systems are not compliant problems will arise with their suppliers and others.

Mr. Rabbitte:  In respect of his reference to large business concerns, does the Taoiseach agree that the financial institutions and major banks, which have spent large amounts of money to ensure that their systems are year 2000 compliant, ought to make a greater contribution towards assisting the small companies with which they do business? Given that one of their advertisements says “If you are in business, we are in business”, surely the major banks could make a greater contribution in terms of assisting small and medium enterprises.

The Taoiseach:  In fairness, the financial institutions and major banks are involved with the various groups. However, it must be a concern to them that a large number of people's systems remain non-compliant. I am aware that concerns have been raised with them in respect of the number of staff they have appointed to promote awareness of the need for compliance. I will raise that matter again because the financial institutions and major banks, which have long been Y2K compliant, have the resources necessary to provide assistance. At the same time, however, I thank them for the work they have done with the national group.

[1109]Mr. Barrett:  With regard to the county enterprise boards, does the Taoiseach agree that these bodies tend to move away from the purpose for which they were originally established? Does he have proposals to study the current structures within county enterprise boards to see if they are communicating with local enterprises?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is a separate question.

Mr. Barrett:  It is an important question.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It may be important but it is not directly relevant to this matter.

Mr. Barrett:  We are discussing the role of county enterprise boards.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Not in respect of Questions Nos. 1 and 2.

Mr. Barrett:  I have no intention of delaying the proceedings, I merely wish to ask the Taoiseach to consider this matter. I was a member of a county enterprise board when they were first established and I thought they had much to offer. However, I recently made representations on behalf of a small enterprise in my area and the person in question received a telling off from the chief executive for approaching public representatives.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The matter to which the Deputy is referring is totally irrelevant to the questions before the House.

Mr. Barrett:  It is very relevant to the people who are seeking assistance from these bodies.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should table a separate question. It is not in order to raise this matter in respect of the two questions with which we are currently dealing.

Mr. Barrett:  If I table such a question, the Taoiseach will not answer it because it will go to the relevant Minister.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach cannot answer it now because it is not in order.

Mr. Barrett:  The Taoiseach is anxious to answer.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Be that as it may, we must proceed to Question No. 3. The Deputy should pursue the matter in another way.

  3.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his meeting with the Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Chrétien; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15787/99]


  4.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    the discussions, if any, he has had with the Canadian Prime Minister, Mr. Jean Chrétien, during his visit to Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15826/99]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 and 4 together.

The Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, and Mrs. Chrétien accompanied by parliamentary and business delegations visited Ireland last week. I met the Prime Minister on Monday, 14 June in Government Buildings. We discussed a number of matters of mutual interest, including the situation in Kosovo, EU-Canada relations, Ireland's candidacy for election to non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council – I thanked the Prime Minister for the support of the Canadian Government – and trade and investment issues, especially in relation to e-commerce.

I was very interested in hearing the Prime Minister's views following his visit to Northern Ireland. I expressed our appreciation of the unstinting support of the Canadian Government for the peace process, especially the successive roles which General John de Chastelain has played, particularly in co-chairing the talks and currently in chairing the International Decommissioning Body. I also acknowledged the valuable contributions being made by Judge William Hoyt, former Chief Justice of New Brunswick, who sits on the Bloody Sunday Inquiry and of Professor Clifford Shearing on the Policing Commission.

I was also pleased to have the opportunity to thank the Prime Minister for the recently announced renewal of Canada's contribution to the International Fund for Ireland for the next three years. Canada has been a loyal supporter of the fund since its beginning in 1986, with contributions to date of CAN$4.15 million. The Canadian contribution has been used for the very important work for young people in disadvantaged areas from both traditions, including through the Wider Horizons programme. The renewal of Canada's contribution will allow the fund to continue with its work of promoting reconciliation. The Prime Minister met many of the Wider Horizons programme graduates when he was in Belfast.

At a dinner in honour of the Prime Minister and Mrs. Chrétien in Dublin Castle that evening, I took the opportunity to announce that the Irish Government would provide funding of £100,000 for the Canadian Irish Studies Foundation for the establishment of an undergraduate programme of Irish studies at Concordia University, Montreal.

This was in recognition of the support and generosity of the people of Canada and not least the people of the Prime Minister's province of Quebec, in welcoming the many emigrants from Ireland, especially during the famine years and also of the constructive engagement of Canada in [1111] the peace and political processes relating to Northern Ireland.

Mr. Yates:  Were any arrangements made for a reciprocal visit by the Taoiseach to Canada? Were any particular trade or joint venture proposals discussed between the Canadian and Irish authorities? Does he recall that last year one of his Ministers of State – I think it was Deputy Ó Cuív – flew the kite that Ireland might join the Commonwealth and as Canada is one of the most prominent members of the Commonwealth, is this still on the agenda or is it merely a kite that is being flown—

Mr. Howlin:  Only for Connemara.

Mr. Yates:  —or was this discussed?

The Taoiseach:  That matter was not discussed. On trade related matters, the trade balance is very much in our favour and the Canadians are very happy with that. A number of their Ministers with responsibility for technology and business were here with them. They undertook separate visits. In terms of agreements, trade and continuing developments, there was a good deal of business. I do not have the specific information on that, but IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and others were involved. Increasingly there has been an opportunity to transact more business with Canada and we have been moving in that direction for the past five, six or seven years. The trade figures on our side are very good and the investment figures are also quite good. The Canadians would like to see Irish business people try to balance up the situation and for them to engage in more activity in Canada. That has not been the case to date, although exports, mainly of software products, are high.

The Prime Minister invited me to visit Canada some time in the future, but a date has not been set for such a visit. It certainly will not be this year.

Mr. Howlin:  Canada is a partner with Ireland in the 11 country initiative to ban nuclear weapons. Was that issue discussed in terms of how the initiative could be advanced during the Prime Minister's visit here? In the context of the growing trade that is in Ireland's favour, which the Taoiseach outlined in response to the previous question, has further thought been given to expanding our diplomatic representation outside of Ottawa to other parts of that large country to ensure that trade continues not only to develop but to develop in Ireland's favour?

The Taoiseach:  The Minister, Deputy Andrews, or his officials had discussions on that matter. They have co-operated closely in working on that initiative of which the Minister, Deputy Andrews, was very much in favour. I do not think they made any further progress but the Prime Minister certainly has a personal interest and he [1112] is one of the people who has been promoting activity and progress on that area.

There was not any discussion or request about our representation, but it is an issue. Canada is an enormous country and, as in the case of China, we lose out because we are not based in a number of locations. That matter is being addressed in those countries. New embassies are being set up in Latin America. One will be set up in Mexico later on this year and we are considering setting up one in Brazil. They are costly—

Mr. Howlin:  They are very cost effective.

The Taoiseach:  They are. We have spoken about this a number of times during Question Time. Our representation on the trade side for China has been based in Singapore for all these years, which made matters impossible. A growing number of Irish people in the food area and agricultural produce area are doing business and there is enormous growth in that market. It has enormous potential. I do not know if Deputy Howlin met the Chinese parliamentary delegation that was here last week but it emphasised that point, and I mentioned it the other day during Question Time.

In relation to Canada, there was no particular discussion on our representation there, but as we move out to trade with other countries across the world, this is an issue we must consider. Technology and IT products are a huge market in the world and we are the second highest exporter of wide software products in the world. That is great news, but to stay at that level we must strategically use our trade people and representatives in our embassies and agencies. A decade ago the idea of transacting large quantities of business in China, Canada or Latin America would probably not have been very realistic but it is today. We are a big player in these markets and the multi-nationals here are big players in them. I support the idea of moving that trade house out and in that regard we are concentrating on Latin America, particularly on Mexico and Brazil.

Mr. Howlin:  I welcome what the Taoiseach said. In relation to the first part of my question regarding the initiative of the Minister, Deputy Andrews, to ban nuclear weapons, the Taoiseach said that the Prime Minister, Mr. Chrétien, has a particular interest in it. Perhaps the Taoiseach should also take the initiative to that level and see if Ireland could play a pro-active role in carving out international opinion in favour of banning nuclear weapons.

I welcome what the Taoiseach said on the second matter. Will he commit himself to pro-actively consider the representation of Ireland to Canada, given the unique population there some 14 per cent of whom say they are of Irish descent? Canada is an enormous country geographically and there is great potential for growing trade. I remember someone said to me some time ago—

[1113]An Ceann Comhairle:  This is Question Time, Deputy.

Mr. Howlin:  With the agreement of the Taoiseach, I will continue. It was said to me some time ago that the entire Irish foreign service is the equivalent of the numbers employed in the British Embassy in Washington. We get great value for what we have, but it is something we should consider expanding.

The Taoiseach:  We must consider how best it can be done by using our trade people and representatives in our agencies and embassies. In regard to China, we developed a particular model, which we are now using in trying to move matters forward. We will consider what would be the best approach in regard to Canada. We are already working on Latin America.

Mr. Barrett:  There are a number of Irish people in Canada who have been successful in business there. Will the Taoiseach consider contacting them to seek their advice as to what would be the best way of dealing with further representation in Canada? We have voluntary ambassadors, so to speak, in many countries and it is a shame that their expertise and loyalty to this country is not used more.

The Taoiseach:  I am always open to that. Some Members and I met a powerful Irish American economic group last night. This is the week of the Budweiser Derby, which started some 15 years ago and a huge number of Americans visit Ireland for the Derby. This week they include ten groups of business people, many of whom are here for the first time. Last year, when I was in Canada I had an ad hoc meeting with some Irish business people working there. The head of the top bank in Canada is from Ireland and there are several other prominent Irish business people working there. One gains great value in meeting these people.

Incidentally, this weekend I should have met a formidable group of Irish business people in Brazil, the number of whom surprised me. It is perhaps better known that there are a number of Irish business people in Argentina. Irish groups are anxious to help.

Mr. Yates:  We will have to get some footballers from them.

  5.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    the discussions, if any, he has had with the social partners on a possible replacement for Partnership 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15831/99]

The Taoiseach:  It is likely that formal negotiations with the social partners on a successor to Partnership 2000 will get under way in September or October. There has been a great deal of dis[1114] cussion already on matters which will have an important bearing on the orientation and content of a new agreement, in particular the consultations on the national development plan and the ongoing work of the NESC in devising a strategic framework to underpin the new agreement. I am confident that a successor to Partnership 2000 will be agreed, principally because all the participants accept the enormous contribution which social partnership has made to the turnaround in Ireland's economic fortunes in recent years.

Mr. Howlin:  Does the Taoiseach accept that partnerships which have worked to date have been vital for the regeneration of the Irish economy but it is time to reshape the style of partnership beyond a wage agreement, in order to offer a real redistribution in society to ensure those who have been excluded from the benefits can fully participate in the growing economic wealth? Will the Taoiseach assure the House that any new national agreement engaged in by the Government will be characterised by that approach?

The Taoiseach:  I will give that assurance. However, it would be wrong not to challenge what Deputy Howlin said. With the exception of the Programme for National Recovery, the second Programme for Economic and Social Progress and the subsequent PCW and Partnership 2000 focused on a broader theme of social issues such as education, health and other areas. The next programme will also be modelled on this approach. The inclusion of these areas in the social model has resulted in their improvement and contributed resources, which may not have happened otherwise.

It is equally true that each programme has contributed something new. The last programme included the fourth pillar of the community and voluntary sector. In discussions regarding the next programme, people are looking at how the national development plan fits into the growth of the economy. Deputy Barrett mentioned community development and enterprise and these were features of all the partnership initiatives. These should be looked at and renewed. I have made it clear that the democratic agenda of elected representatives should form part of these programmes and is central to their success. I will ensure it is included in the next programme.

Mr. Howlin:  I welcome the Taoiseach's reply. To ensure the democratic component is paramount, as he indicated, will he agree to a debate on the framework in which the next partnership agreement will be discussed in advance of embarking on any detailed discussions so the negotiations will have the imprimatur of this House? This will ensure all the factors about which he spoke are fully taken into account.

The Taoiseach:  Doing that in advance of discussions might not work.

Mr. Howlin:  It will not do any good afterwards.

[1115]The Taoiseach:  Perhaps it may happen at some stage during the process. Discussions on pay productivity etc. have been ongoing since January. There havebeen extensive discussions with the social partners on the national development plan. The Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance and I have just finished a round of detailed discussions with the social partners on that. Discussion on the other elements will commence in late September.

Mr. Howlin:  Does the Taoiseach accept that up to now the Oireachtas has been the least involved participant in these negotiations? That is a criticism of all previous Governments and not the current one which has not been involved in a partnership agreement yet. In the past an agreed deal has been presented to the Oireachtas by people who are not elected, who have rightly been involved. However, the involvement and input of the elected Members of the Oireachtas has been the least of all. Does the Taoiseach agree that is not desirable or acceptable?

The Taoiseach:  It is a difficult matter to resolve. The Executive fulfils its role and those who negotiate on behalf of the four pillars put it to those who they represent and receive their mandate, which has happened as regards the past four programmes. The Dáil debates the programme, ratifies it and has voted on at least one occasion. I do not have any difficulty with the Dáil or an Oireachtas committee putting forward their views on the areas for discussion. However, negotiations can only take place between the social partners and the Government of the day.

Mr. Yates:  Everyone would agree that one of the successful elements of previous partnerships was the trade-off in forfeiting pay increases through tax cuts. Does the Taoiseach think this has run its course or will it be an integral part of any new programme? Does he agree it is now widely acknowledged that what is really driving pressure on pay is the cost of housing and the proportion of net income taken up by this? Given that in the next decade we will need four extra houses for every ten which exist on the east coast, will the Taoiseach and his Government give leadership in making a major housing initiative part of any successor to Partnership 2000, to ensure uncompetitive pay pressures because of accommodation problems do not lead to a loss of competitiveness in the economy?

The Taoiseach:  The central issue is that the country remains competitive. We have increased our competitiveness on the world league table in recent years, which is an important indicator of how a country is performing. A successful economy driven by the co-operation of social partners has contributed to the pressure on housing. We have built 15,000 to 18,000 houses every year for a number of years and this year we will build more than 50,000 houses, between social and [1116] private housing. We must continue that using the land use, serviced land and other initiatives.

In some cases the cost of housing is part of the reason for pay pressure. Other reasons include skills shortages as some employers in some sectors find it difficult to employ suitable people. All of these elements create pressures. We will be seeking pay restraint and moderation so the economy will continue to develop. The current policy with regard to pay restraint and moderation is why the economy is performing so well and why nearly 1.7 million people are working. There will be changes under the new programme, but it must reflect the development of the economy in the next three or four years.

Mr. Yates:  As public service union leaders stated, an average couple, for instance a garda and a nurse, cannot afford a mortgage to buy a house in the Dublin area. This will drive pay pressures through the roof. Unless the Government brings forward and sustains a major initiative to deal with the infrastructural deficit and other direct housing initiatives, this will greatly undermine the competitiveness of the Irish economy. Does the Taoiseach accept that? Does he realise this question of accommodation is now a central economic issue for many people, particularly for those living along the east coast?

The Taoiseach:  Deputy Yates can be assured that the whole thrust of the national development plan is to ensure we invest the resources which are necessary for the continued development of the economy. We must do that. The reason is that we are on the verge of the new millennium, at the position where all the reports thought we would be in 2010, 2012 or beyond. Our rate of development, prosperity and activity; the ending of emigration, with net inflows into the country; the enormous amount of investment in the Irish economy – 11.5 per cent last year – and growth rates which have effectively doubled in 12 years have put us where we are now. We must deal with that in a major infrastructural way. That is what the national plan seeks to do in the next five years.

  6.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    the progress, if any, made with regard to the review of An Action Programme for the Millennium; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15833/99]

The Taoiseach:  The programme for Government – An Action Programme for the Millennium – is being continuously monitored to ensure the Government's programme is being implemented. The Government also monitors all aspects of the economic and social life of this country, so that we are in a position to respond to situations and needs as they arise.

The proposed review will commence shortly and will take account of the changed circum[1117] stances which have occurred since we came into Government. The review will be carried out over the summer months, and will be completed in the autumn, with a view to implementation in the forthcoming and subsequent budgets.

Mr. Howlin:  What form will the review take? Who will be involved in it?

The Taoiseach:  The review will look at the programme for Government to see which aspects of it we have not focused on to the extent we should have because of developments over recent years. It will examine the continued development of the economy and where the priorities lie today, as compared to two or three years ago when we drew up many of our plans.

In the first instance, my programme manager and the Tánaiste's programme manager will probably identify the areas. While we have not yet agreed who will put that together, it will probably be the people who did it two years ago.

Mr. Howlin:  Given the Tánaiste's specific comment on Ireland's huge infrastructural deficit, will that be a central part of the negotiations? Does the Taoiseach accept there is a requirement for an inordinately increased capital programme to be put in place immediately?

The Taoiseach:  That part of the infrastructural work has already taken place. We have had discussions and presentations in Government on the national plan. We have discussed it with the social partners. We must have it completed by the end of September. That work is ongoing.

The capital programme was increased by more than 25 per cent in the past two budgets, which was an enormous lift. The traditional figure here was between 2 per cent and 5 per cent.

Mr. Howlin:  That has been balanced by inflation and construction costs.

The Taoiseach:  The figure is now 20 per cent or 25 per cent. That will have to continue, in terms of the provision of roads, water, sewerage and other basic infrastructure, whether it is with Exchequer funding, European funding or public-private partnerships. Those will all have to play a role in the development of Irish infrastructure over the next five years.

Mr. Yates:  Is the Taoiseach aware of the Tánaiste's comments that any continuation or a revised programme for Government will, as far as she is concerned, involve a major opening up of competition in the taxi and pub sectors? Given the Taoiseach's efforts to restrict liberalisation of the taxi sector, have their conflicting—

Mr. Howlin:  That was a solo run by Deputy Callely.

Mr. Yates:  I think he received a little help from the Taoiseach. Have the Taoiseach and Tánaiste [1118] reached any sort of accommodation on the question of competition in the taxi and pub sectors?

Mr. Byrne:  The Deputy's concern is touching.

Mr. Yates:  If the Deputy were trying to catch a taxi he would know all about it.

The Taoiseach:  All the issues we need to discuss will be discussed. I know Deputy Yates and some members of his party want a huge clampdown on taxi drivers. However, it is not that lucrative to be a taxi driver, hackney cab driver or co-si. It is fine on a Saturday night but they are not all millionaires. If they were, they would be living far better lifestyles than the majority of them do.

Mr. Yates:  The Tánaiste is heading into a cul-de-sac and going nowhere. She will be told about her options again.

  7.  D'fhiafraigh Mr. O'Shea    den Taoiseach    cén t-athrú atá tar éis teacht ar líon agus ar mhéid na bhfeirmeacha beaga sa Ghaeltacht; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina leith. [14653/99]

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. S. Brennan):  De réir thorthaí dhaonáireamh 1996, bhí 1,348 feirmeoirí a shaothraigh 30 acra nó níos lú. Sin laghdú de 37 faoin gcéad i gcomparáid leis an bhfigiúr i 1991 de 2,141 feirmeoirí.

Mr. O'Shea:  Os rud é go bhfuil líon na bhfeirmeoirí beaga sa Ghaeltacht ag dul i léig go tapaidh, mar a mhínigh tú anois, an bhfuil sé sásúil go mbeidh orainn fanacht go daonáireamh 2001 chun a fháil amach conas tá cúrsaí ag dul?

Mr. S. Brennan:  Bhí daonáireamh ann i 1996 agus beidh an chéad cheann eile ann i 200i. Sin chomh luath is a bheidh ceann.

Mr. O'Shea:  Ach, os rud é go bhfuil na feirmeoirí beaga ag dul i léig sa Ghaeltacht agus gurb í an fheirmeoireacht agus an iascaireacht na slite beatha traidisiúnta ann, nach bhfuil sé in am don Rialtas an cheist a mheas agus polasaithe oiriúnacha a chur i bhfeidhm? Cuirim i gcás, scéim eile cosúil le REPS a chur in áit sa Ghaeltacht i dtreo is go bhfanfaidh an pobal agus go mór mhór na daoine óga sa Ghaeltacht.

Mr. S. Brennan:  Tá an Ghaeltacht mar phríomh chúram ag Aire na Gaeltachta. Níl agam anseo ach na figiúirí.

Mr. O'Shea:  Cur mé an cheist síos don Aire sin agus tá mé anseo inniu. CJá bhfuil an dualgas i ndeireadh na dála ar an ábhar seo? Ní fheicim aon Aire atá sásta an dualgas a ghlacadh chuige féin.

[1119]An Ceann Comhairle:  Sin deireadh le ceisteanna don Taoiseach.

We now come to questions nominated for priority to the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources.

  9.  Mr. Finucane    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources if he will give a commitment that the report of the national Common Fisheries Policy review group, which recommends significant Government investment over the next seven years, will be given serious consideration in the national development plan. [15974/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  I was very pleased to launch last week the first report by the CFP strategy review group, entitled National Investment Priorities for the Irish Seafood Industry. The review group recommends a total investment programme for the seafood sector of £365 million over the next seven years, of which the EU and Exchequer would contribute £199 million and the private sector £166 million. The group's report fully backs up BIM's analysis of the investment needs of the sector in the latter's Seafood Industry Agenda 2000-2006. The review group's own economic analysis points to the significant contribution which the sector already makes to output, exports, jobs and regional and local development. It underlines the potential for further growth and added value which will create lasting jobs in the regions.

The review group disagrees fundamentally and in detail with the conclusions of the ESRI that public investment in the sector should decrease. Instead, the group makes a compelling economic case for enhanced investment support for the sector, highlighting its importance for balanced socio-economic and regional development and an equitable distribution of economic activity.

I will be working with Government colleagues to secure the necessary investment support in the next round to underpin the development of the Irish seafood industry and, indeed, of the marine and natural resources sectors generally. The review group's report is another critical and well informed contribution to the current debate on national investment priorities. I endorse the group's analysis which, together with BIM's report, accords with my own assessment of future strategic directions for the sector and the communities which it supports. The challenge now is to secure the necessary investment support to consolidate this sector and position it to move ahead. The context is one of overall stiff competition for resources and many national challenges. I believe, however, we have a convincing and well [1120] founded case for support for the seafood sector over the next seven years.

Mr. Finucane:  This is the third report we have had in recent times. First we had the BIM report, then the Marine Food Council's report and, in recent times, National Investment Priorities for the Irish Seafood Industry, produced by the special task force reviewing the Common Fisheries Policy for 2002. All three reports are consistent in that they seem to indicate that the amount of EU and Exchequer funding will be about £200 million and Exchequer funding will be about £45 million.

Will the Minister assure the House that if there is a deficit with regard to EU funding, national funding will be increased? Does he agree it is vital that this £200 million is found in order to underpin the development of this sensitive industry which is centred in areas which are classified for Objective One status? Will the Minister give an assurance that he will do everything possible in the next few weeks in the context of the national development plan to deliver this £200 million to an industry which has been earmarked for funding on the basis of £28 million a year over the next seven years? It is a very small price to pay for the further development of this industry.

Dr. Woods:  The Deputy is correct in saying that the three different groups came to broadly similar conclusions as to the prospect of real opportunities in the industry and how they should be pursued. I disagree fundamentally with the ESRI analysis which is limited and flawed. The review group has concluded that the Irish seafood industry is a vital indigenous sector. In relation to the funds I will, in the first instance, be working to get the maximum possible investment under EU Structural Funds for fisheries post-1999. These were recently discussed at the Council of Fisheries Ministers. It is my priority to achieve a fair allocation of Structural Funds for the fisheries sector in the next round and to ensure that satisfactory financial regulations are agreed in the October Council meeting.

In relation to shortfalls, I will be putting it to the Government that the proposals are reasonable and right for the industry and that any shortfalls should be made up to try to achieve the objectives which have been set.

Mr. Finucane:  Was the Minister concerned, as I was, to read in the ESRI report its criticism of the whole fishing industry and funding for it? I concur with the Minister's sentiments in regard to the ESRI's submission. Is the Minister equally concerned that because the ESRI is respected as an astute body, its report alters the complexion of the national development plan with regard to other Ministers? I want an assurance from the Minister that he will work with might and main at the Cabinet table when the national development plan is being introduced to ensure that the £200 million is found for the industry for the next seven years.

[1121]An Ceann Comhairle:  We must move on to Question No. 10.

Dr. Woods:  I agree with the Deputy in relation to the ESRI. It is unusual for it to come up with such a flawed report.

  10.  Mr. Bell    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the discussions, if any, he has had with oil exploration companies generally and a company (details supplied) regarding the maximum possible use of Irish workers in exploration and development work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16004/99]

Dr. Woods:  As I have previously stated in the House, arising from discussions which I had with the Irish Offshore Operators Association and SIPTU, I arranged for my Department to set up and facilitate discussions between representatives of the Irish Offshore Operators Association, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Enterprise Ireland and the Irish Offshore Suppliers Association on the utilisation of Irish resources and services in the offshore petroleum industry. These discussions are ongoing. I am anxious that Irish involvement is increased and sustained over the longer term.

However, I must again point out that responsibility with regard to employment of workers and the provision of services and related issues are strictly matters for the exploration companies and their contractors. There are no powers available to require undertakings in regard to jobs or the provision of services with the oil companies involved in offshore exploration activities. As I have explained before, the imposition of such conditions on licence holders is precluded under EU legislation in force since 1968, Regulation 1612/68, in relation to the freedom of movement of workers.

It is Government policy to ensure that the Irish economy benefits to the maximum extent possible from offshore exploration activities within the constraints of EU legislation. I have continually impressed on the Irish Offshore Operators Association and the individual operators that Irish workers and suppliers of goods and services must be given opportunities to participate in such activities and I will continue to do so.

Mr. Bell:  I would not suggest that there should be restrictions within the EU. However, the information I have which was given in reply to a question on 8 December last by my colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, is that effectively the company referred to could be in the process of employing not only workers outside Ireland but outside the EU. In the event of that happening, what steps would the Minister take? What he said today was a repetition of the information given to Deputy Rabbitte on 8 December. The Minister said on that occasion that discussions had taken place [1122] between the Irish Offshore Operators Association and SIPTU and ICTU. What has happened in regard to those discussions? What positive reply or guarantee has the Department got from this company or other companies in a similar position?

Dr. Woods:  The company is currently involved in a further appraisal. In that connection a number of workers have been involved in the Killybegs area. Up to about the middle of June Killybegs handled a number of ships – I do not have the exact number – and has been turning boats around very quickly. They are getting a good share of the work and they seem to be doing a good job. However, the port would require some development to meet future needs in that sector. The helicopter services are operating out of Donegal airport. Deputies on both sides of the House did their utmost to try to resolve disputes that arose last year and the trade unions did their utmost to help us in that situation. Unfortunately things did not work out and the location was changed to Ayre in Scotland. Currently the work is divided between Ayre and Killybegs. It appears that Killybegs will be able to handle a great deal of the business for the future and is getting increasing business from the company.

Mr. Bell:  Will the Minister give the House an assurance that in the event of a large proportion of the workers concerned being non-EU or EU nationals they will be subject to the same conditions of employment and that the payment of taxes, social welfare contributions and so on will be subject to Irish law?

Dr. Woods:  They have to comply with EU regulations. The salaries and wages are those that apply within this region. The company has also taken on 20 people to work in office services onshore because the signs are good and it is making plans for the future.

Mr. Finucane:  Where?

Dr. Woods:  Some of them will be based in the head office in Dublin and others will work in places throughout the State where it plans to increase its developments. We want to encourage the maximum volume of business in Ireland.

  11.  Mr. Finucane    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources if the French authorities have furnished any epidemiological reports following the diarrhetic shellfish poisoning outbreak in September 1998; the amount of frozen Irish mussels in storage; and the total loss financially to the shellfish sector. [15975/99]

Minister of State at the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Byrne):  As I have previously advised the House, a health alert was instituted by the French authorities last Janu[1123] ary arising from two apparent outbreaks of illness in September 1998 which were allegedly associated with the consumption of mussels exported from Ireland. The symptoms associated with the alleged outbreaks of illness were reported as being consistent with those caused by diarrhetic shellfish poisoning – DSP. The French authorities indicated that a number of positive results had been obtained from the testing of Irish product for DSP.

My Department, in co-operation with the other relevant State agencies, has been pursuing this matter vigorously with the French authorities and the European Commission, with a view to establishing conclusively the association, if any, of Irish mussels with the alleged outbreaks of illness. Despite numerous requests, however, the French authorities have not to date furnished any epidemiological reports on the events of September 1998. It is of crucial importance for the Irish authorities to be given this information, so that the full facts of the matter can be definitively established. The French authorities are being pressed further at high level to forward the necessary data without delay.

Following the alleged incidents in France, and as a precautionary measure in accordance with normal practice, frozen Irish mussels produced between June and September 1998 were temporarily withdrawn from the market. I stress that Irish mussel exports in live or processed form were not affected.

I am advised that the amount of frozen product withdrawn, primarily in Ireland and France, was some 600 tonnes. As a result of pressure on the French authorities, agreement was reached that batches of the withdrawn product would be released where the Irish Reference Laboratory or an approved French laboratory obtained five negative results in testing for DSP. This testing process is now under way and I understand that more than 150 tonnes of the withdrawn product have been released to date. My Department is, however, continuing to press for sampling of the remaining stocks to be completed as quickly as possible, and decisions on its release taken without delay. Contact will be maintained at all appropriate levels with the French authorities until this matter has been fully and satisfactorily resolved.

It would not be possible, until testing of all withheld product has been completed, to estimate definitively the possible financial losses arising from the health alert, since it is only at that point that the amount of product actually lost to the market can be fully quantified.

Mr. Finucane:  Given that the DSP outbreak occurred in September 1998 and was reported in January, does the Minister regard it as a disgrace that an EU partner such has France has not to date given an epidemiological report on the outbreak, casting disrepute on Irish produce? This industry is worth £40 million and exports 80 per [1124] cent of its produce. Will the Minister lead the way, at the request of the aquaculture industry, and establish a molluscan safety committee to ensure progress is made in food safety?

Mr. Byrne:  The answer to that is, yes. I share the Deputy's concern. I consider it essential that all facts about alleged incidents of this kind are made available without delay. The length of time we have been waiting for the epidemiological reports is not acceptable. I assure the Deputy that my Department has been pressing the French authorities and EU fora to have this information provided. The matter will continue to be pressed until all relevant data have been made available.

I am in constant contact – almost daily – with the French authorities through my officials. One of my senior officials will meet the French authorities again tomorrow. Two weeks ago I met representatives of the industry, a week ago I met representatives of the Fisheries Research Centre and I have also met both at the same time because we can resolve this problem if we all work together. The missing piece of the jigsaw is the report the French should have passed to us. If it takes political action to resolve the issue, that is what will happen.

Mr. Finucane:  I accept the Minister's response. I am sure if a similar situation happened in this State and the French were looking for information, we would have responded long ago. When does the Minister hope to establish the molluscan safety committee?

Mr. Byrne:  I agree this problem is serious. I will treat the matter in an urgent manner.

  12.  Mr. Sheehan    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the plans, if any, he has for the future expansion of the aquaculture industry to meet the target of doubling the value of this sector within the life of the next operational programme in the years 2000 to 2006. [15976/99]

Mr. Byrne:  The recent reports by BIM, the CFP strategy review group and the IFA underline the potential for significant expansion of the aquaculture sector up to 2006 and beyond. They recommend investment support programmes to support ambitious but achievable targets for aquaculture output and value over the period.

The reports accord with my analysis of the scope for significant expansion of the sector which is in line with global trends. The value of aquaculture to the economy has quadrupled in the past decade to £60 million and is largely export driven. Irish aquaculture now contributes more than 25 per cent of raw material supply to our seafood processing sector and is also recognised in key overseas markets as delivering premium quality product. My objective is to position the sector to maximise the opportunities for sus[1125] tainable growth, value added and jobs with the necessary investment support. I am working to deliver that investment support in the context of current discussions on national investment priorities 2000-2006.

My strategic objective is to deliver sustainable development of the aquaculture industry, underpinned by the new licensing framework, which will create viable jobs and economic activity in coastal communities, and which will capitalise on the very significant export market opportunities for quality value added seafood products. The main challenge for the sector in the medium term is to reach a critical mass in output, volume and value. This will ensure the necessary economies of scale and continuity of supply are achieved for processing and exports. The development of new species and the application of leading edge technology are key objectives also for the sector. Investment support under the present operational programme has been critical to the achievements to date. Further investment support will underpin future expansion and diversification of this valuable indigenous sector.

Mr. Sheehan:  Does the Minister agree that, with the production of 8 million tonnes of fish annually from fisheries and aquaculture, the EU is the third largest fishing power after China and Peru? While 1.5 million tonnes were exported from the EU, 4.5 million tonnes were imported to meet the needs of the EU market. Does the Minister realise that the growth in Irish seafood production is market led and is not contained by catch restrictions?

We have seen a rapid expansion in the aquaculture industry. I am critical of the level of support the industry receives from the Government at present. If we are to capitalise on this valuable industry, we must meet its infrastructural needs. We are dragging our feet in meeting those demands if the industry is to capitalise on the valuable EU export market in the future.

Mr. Byrne:  The industry, particularly the producers, has given the Government a vote of confidence in that it has quadrupled the income from the aquaculture industry recently. No area demonstrates that better than the Deputy's area of Bantry, which I have often visited. I am in awe of the tremendous work done there by the industry. I assure the Deputy we will continue to support this industry because I share the view that it has tremendous potential. Because it has potential, we must invest in it. The industry is strong enough to continue to achieve what is possible and to take advantage of the fantastic European markets, which the Deputy mentioned.

Mr. Sheehan:  Does the Minister agree we are dragging our feet in terms of making a state-of-the-art infrastructure available to this industry? We have no immediate plans to improve the pier at Bantry, and Bantry Bay is the capital of the aquaculture industry. The pier is incapable of [1126] handling this huge industry at the moment. I appeal to the Minister to allocate funds immediately or, if at all possible, by the year 2000 to meet the demands of this ever-growing industry.

Mr. Byrne:  As the Deputy will know, I was in Bantry recently laying the foundation stone for a substantial factory and also opening an aquaculture factory, the result of £8 million investment in a small area. That money was deserved, well spent and will reflect well in the area with regard to wealth generation and jobs. I agree other pieces of the jigsaw must be attended to. The Deputy referred to the harbour pier at Bantry Bay. As the Deputy will know, I met representatives there on any occasion I visited.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We must now proceed to Question No. 13.

Mr. Byrne:  As the saying goes, saved by the bell. The Minister has also met these people and I am sure we have not heard the last from Deputy Sheehan on this matter.

  13.  Mr. Sheehan    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the plans, if any, he has for the future expansion of the forestry industry within the life of the next operational programme in the years 2000 to 2006. [15977/99]

Mr. Byrne:  The policy for the continued development of forestry is set out in the strategic plan, Growing for the Future, which was approved by Government and the EU Commission in 1996 and covers the period to 2035. The aim of the strategic plan is to develop forestry to a scale and in a manner which maximises the sector's contribution to national economic and social well-being on a sustainable basis, compatible with the best environmental standards. Continued investment to support delivery of forestry strategy has been strongly endorsed by the ESRI, the regional authorities, the Western Development Commission and ICTU.

There is an interdependence between forestry and agriculture, rural development, tourism, industrial policy and the environment. This is recognised in the new focus on rural development policy at EU level. Forestry development cannot be considered from a strictly sectoral point of view or on a strictly economic basis. Its typically long-time scales also mean that the benefits of investment in forestry are themselves long-term. The case for forestry is made on the basis of its economic, social and environmental benefit. The ESRI has endorsed the benefits of forestry as a carbon sink which has a significant role in meeting our commitment to reduce greenhouse gases under the Kyoto agreement. The optimum scale and rate of development of the sector will continue to be balanced with issues such as the availability of land, the production potential of the species and sites planted and the effect of acceler[1127] ated and concentrated forestry development on rural areas.

Forestry is a permanently renewable resource, maintained through the cycle of afforestation, harvesting and reafforestation and the principle of sustained yield – for example, maintaining a sustainable balance between timber production and timber harvesting.

Additional Information

The wider concept of sustainable forest management, which encompasses all the ecological, social and economic issues inherent in forestry, has been developing at national and international level in recent years. In this context, my Department is currently preparing a national sustainable development strategy which will set out all appropriate criteria and parameters for sustainable forestry development into the future.

The strategic plan for the forestry resource covers not only planting and harvesting strategies but also the processing of timber in both the industrial and craft sectors and associated activities such as transport, harvesting, and nurseries. All these activities provide additional employment and add value.

Mr. Sheehan:  Does the Minister agree that a further area of conflict in land policy is the competition between the incentives for afforestation and those to continue in farming? The aim under the Operational Programme for Forestry was to plant 25,000 hectares each year between 1996 and 2000, and 20,000 per year after that. While overall planting reached 24,000 hectares in 1995, the hectarage area in 1996 was 21,000 and in 1997 and 1998 it fell to 14,000 in each year.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  A question, Deputy Sheehan.

Mr. Sheehan:  The conflict may even increase under the disadvantaged areas scheme where payments will switch from headage payments to area payments in the next few years. What effect will that have on the forestry industry? Planting each year is less than half the target in the Operational Programme for Forestry, 1996-2000. What will it be in the next decade? Will it be zero on account of the switch to acreage payments to replace headage payments for cattle? What is the Minister's view on that?

Mr. Byrne:  The Deputy said planting levels fell to less than 14,000 hectares in 1997 and 1998. That is incorrect, the figure is even lower. I hate to admit it but in 1997 planting targets reached 11,500 hectares. I am happy to say they went up to 12,500 hectares in 1998, although I am still very unhappy. I assure the Deputy the points he raised are being taken into account. It is my intention that come 2035 – maybe we will still be in office then—

Mr. Sheehan:  Wishful thinking.

[1128]Mr. Byrne:  —the overall target of 17 per cent will be achieved.

It is interesting to note that we thought 7 per cent of the land was covered but when we introduced the forestry inventory programme, we found 9 per cent was covered. I intend to put forestry in a better position than REPS is at present so as to encourage farmers to see forestry as a real option. We must also consider the definition of a farmer because it seems to have a different definition in terms of REPS than under the forestry programme. I am looking for consistency.

A great sales programme must be undertaken by ourselves, Coillte and everyone involved in forestry to convince the farmer that forestry is a real option. We have not managed to do that yet. The farmer may be a little worried that if he becomes involved in forestry and moves away from conventional farming, people may talk about him after Mass on Sunday. We must undertake a sales programme in this regard.

I initiated a forestry forum and appointed Gerry Daly, who is famous for great gardening, as chairman. It has met five times already. I am convinced it will be able to advise me on how to take this further and to move closer to the targets proposed.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That concludes Priority Questions.

Mr. Sheehan:  I have another question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I am sorry Deputy, the Chair has no power in the matter as the six minutes allocated for the question are long since concluded.

Mr. Sheehan:  I am afraid the policy is in severe crisis.

Mr. Byrne:  It is in safe hands.

  14.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources if he has satisfied himself that the Irish fishing fleet will have access to adequate fishing grounds to meet its requirements; if Ireland's access to these grounds will be adequate in view of the increasing demands of EU partners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15970/99]

Dr. Woods:  I should clarify for the Deputy that the Common Fisheries Policy embodies the EU principle of free access to fishing grounds but that this is subject to quota entitlement and the 12 mile limit derogation. The fishing opportunities available to the Irish fishing fleet are in reality determined more by the state of quota and non-quota fish stocks in EU fishing waters and, for the commercially significant stocks, by the quotas [1129] allocated to Ireland under the Common Fisheries Policy. It is of course the case that Ireland's long-standing position is that our allocated share of fish stocks under the Common Fisheries Policy falls far short of a fair and equitable level. Ireland's case in that regard remains on the table and I am taking every opportunity to advocate and advance that case, as I did at the recent Fisheries Council of Ministers in relation to blue whiting quotas.

Within the framework of the CFP, we are working to develop additional fishing opportunities for the Irish fleet, notably to ensure full take up of existing quotas and the development of new commercial opportunities in non-quota deep sea species. The whitefish fleet renewal programme is supporting up to £70 million worth of investment in the fleet. This investment programme will considerably enhance the ability of the whitefish fleet to safely and efficiently exploit offshore and deep water fishing grounds. It will also enable the fleet to compete more effectively with the fleets of other member states in all fishing grounds.

I am pressing on an ongoing basis for change within the CFP framework which will improve the position of the Irish fleet. Key considerations are improved conservation measures and a level playing field on enforcement of quota and conservation rules by all member states. The 2002 review of the Common Fisheries Policy will be a vital opportunity to pursue further change in the interests of the Irish fishing industry. The national CFP strategy review group is working on a wide-ranging agenda which will inform our negotiating position in the run-up to and during the review.

Mr. Finucane:  The Minister mentioned blue whiting which has been in the news recently. What the Minister described as a major coup in the talks was described by a prominent leader of the fisheries sector as the opposite. He pointed out that part of our problem is that one vessel in Donegal caught about 17,000 tonnes of blue whiting while the overall quota we have been allocated is 24,000 tonnes. Overall, fundamental changes must take place in the review of the next Common Fisheries Policy. To what degree is the Minister confident that Ireland will get a significantly enhanced quota of the different species? We were sold out many years ago and we are still paying the price for that. The Minister is aware that many fishermen are describing the Common Fisheries Policy as a shambles as far as Ireland is concerned.

Dr. Woods:  Regarding blue whiting and the recent negotiations, it is true that a representative of the pelagic fishing industry said on radio that there was no point in going to the meeting as things had been stitched up in advance and that an agreement had been reached between other countries which was very much to the disadvantage of Ireland and the UK, although to a lesser [1130] extent. I pressed the issues very hard at the Council. The representative attended in the building while the Council meeting was taking place, but left for home in the belief that nothing could be achieved. Contrary to that view, in the course of the meeting we managed to increase our allocation by 50 per cent. This has been described as and regarded as a coup. It certainly surprised most people involved.

It was mentioned that one vessel caught 17,000 tonnes. Our problem is that—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  This issue might be more relevant to Parliamentary Question No. 21 which deals with blue whiting.

Dr. Woods:  The issue of blue whiting was negotiated under the Common Fisheries Policy and I think the Deputy was within his rights in raising it. We could catch much more blue whiting given the vessels we have. The problem is that we were not catching more blue whiting. Had we been catching more over recent years we would have got a better quota. We got the equivalent of the average of our best three years in terms of catches, which were the three most recent years. From that point of view we got the best we could have expected. The total allowable catch was also reduced which means the quantities for all countries were reduced, and this caused some confusion in relation to amounts.

Regarding the general principle of the CFP and what we can and are doing about it, we have a good strategy group in place. The Deputy referred to its first report which was excellent. We can be quite certain that with the industry so deeply involved in the area we will have the best possible advice. A recent European Parliament report on the regionalisation of the Common Fisheries Policy called on the Commission to propose that the 12 mile exclusive fishing limit be extended to 25 miles for all member states. We will certainly be pursuing this, as will the CFP review group.

  15.  Mr. Gilmore    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the changes, if any, in regulations or procedures which are planned following the reports of the marine survey office into a recent fire and berthing incident involving the Stena HSS; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16006/99]

Dr. Woods:  The marine survey office of my Department has carried out investigations into both incidents involving the Stena Line HSS. The first incident occurred on 4 March when the vessel collided with a mooring dolphin while berthing in Dún Laoghaire Harbour. An immediate inspection of the damage to the vessel was carried out by officials from the marine survey office and temporary repairs were effected in order to ensure that it was safe for the vessel to proceed [1131] to a port in the United Kingdom to have damage repaired. Following the damage caused by the berthing incident the UK authorities withdrew the vessel's passenger certificate until repairs were satisfactorily undertaken.

On 3 May 1999, a small fire occurred in lagging surrounding one of the vessel's engines as it approached Dún Laoghaire. The engine unit's alarm system detected the fire immediately, shut down the engine and the crew then operated the fire extinguisher system within the compartment. The deputy chief surveyor of the marine survey office boarded the vessel as soon as it was alongside in order to commence an initial investigation into the cause of the fire. Following this inspection, and after receiving assurances from the fire brigade that the fire was fully extinguished, the deputy chief surveyor was satisfied that it was safe for the vessel to return to service.

While I am concerned that these incidents occurred, I stress there were no injuries to passengers or crew.

As the HSS is registered in the United Kingdom and is subject to regular inspection and survey by the UK authorities, any changes to regulations or procedures in the operation of the HSS vessel are a matter in the first instance for the UK authorities. The marine survey office is liaising with the UK authorities in this regard. The marine survey office of my Department fully apprised the maritime and coastguard agency in Liverpool of the incidents. The marine survey office also recommended that the design of the fendering arrangements at the berth be re-evaluated and this recommendation has now been brought to the attention of the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company.

Mr. Bell:  The Minister is aware that a similar question was asked on 13 May 1999. In his reply on that occasion the Minister said:

It is my objective, in partnership with the company and the regulatory authorities in the United Kingdom where the vessel is registered, to ensure any lessons to be learned are implemented with a view to preventing a recurrence.

What lessons have been learned and what proposals has the Minister to implement them?

Dr. Woods:  I went to observe the moorings at the time. The marine survey office has given its views on the moorings to the maritime and coastguard agency in Liverpool. It has also recommended that the design of the fendering arrangements be re-evaluated. This recommendation has also been brought to the attention of the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company. There was a problem with the design which was not anticipated. It was under control, but the damage which occurred was not anticipated and the design of the mooring dolphin is being seriously examined.

[1132]Mr. Finucane:  After the incident on 4 March 1999, the Minister promised his Department would investigate the matter. When will this investigation be concluded? Are his officials satisfied that the mooring dolphin, which was designed by HSS Stena and approved by his surveyors, has been rectified and a similar situation should not occur again?

Dr. Woods:  Yes. That was the outcome of the investigation from the point of view of the marine survey office. On observation, I realise how the accident occurred in high winds in circumstances which were not previously anticipated. They were excellent mooring dolphins but because of the way the vessel rode up and came down at a particular angle because of the wind and the waves, as is the case with any docking, it took off part of the mooring dolphin which fell and damaged one of the lower compartments of the vessel. That was always well contained but, nevertheless, that should not happen. The design is being re-examined on that basis.

  16.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the value of ore from Irish mines exported in 1999; the amount of royalties paid to the State on the ore mined; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16012/99]

Dr. Woods:  According to CSO statistics, the quantity and value of exports from Irish mines in 1998, the last full year for which figures are available, were as follows:

Tonnes Value
Zinc ores and concentrates: 287,599 56,015,000
Lead ores and concentrates: 32,633 4,198,000
Gypsum and gypsum products: 59,576 7,708,314

A total of £1,012,101.24 was received in royalties and dead rents under the Minerals Development Acts in 1998. Dead rent is the minimum charge set for each rental period which must be paid where a royalties calculation would amount to less. This information is available to Deputies, together with other information relating to exploration and mining facilities, in a statutory report to the Oireachtas which is laid before the House twice yearly.

Mr. Bell:  I asked this question previously under another heading. What increase in royalties does the Minister anticipate under the new arrangement made in conjunction with the development of the two new mines?

Dr. Woods:  The figures given reflect that production at the Galmoy zinc and lead mine was halted for 14 weeks in 1998. The Lisheen mine is expected to commence production later this year [1133] and is expected to produce 300,000 tonnes of zinc concentrates and 40,000 tonnes of lead concentrates for export when it reaches full production.

Royalties for both Galmoy and Lisheen are based on a percentage of revenue after deduction of certain production and transport costs. Concessionary rates apply in the first few years in recognition of the high capital costs and heavy debt repayment obligations in the early years, but the industrial mineral projects, such as gypsum, attract a royalty based on tonnage which is considered more appropriate to those products.

  17.  Mr. O'Shea    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the number of exploration licences issued for oil or gas exploration in 1999; the number of exploration wells expected to be drilled; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16015/99]

  38.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the number of exploration licences granted for Irish waters to date in 1999; his assessment of the exploration prospects in 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16010/99]

Dr. Woods:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 17 and 38 together.

The position remains broadly as I set out in replies to similar questions on 13 May 1999. To date in 1999, two petroleum exploration licences have been granted in the Irish offshore, one to Agip Ireland BV over six blocks and the other to Elf Petroleum Ireland BV over five blocks. Both were frontier exploration licences awarded under the south Porcupine round. Under these licences comprehensive licence-specific work programmes will be undertaken which will include the acquisition and processing of 2-D seismic data and the carrying out of special geophysical and geological studies where appropriate.

In addition, I have granted two licensing options this year, one to Marathon International Petroleum Hibernia Limited over six blocks in the Slyne Trough and the other to Enterprise Oil over one full block and four part blocks in the Donegal Basin. I am also currently considering an application for an authorisation over the Seven Heads.

Despite the serious impact on the exploration and production sector of the weak oil price throughout 1998, the industry's commitment to Ireland remains good and exploration licences are at a high level. Enterprise Oil achieved excellent results from last year's Corrib appraisal well, producing gas on test which flowed at a stabilised rate of 63 million cu. ft. per day. The company has already commenced drilling a second appraisal well there. The company also plans to drill an exploration well this year in the Slyne Trough under licence 2/93 and an application to this effect has been received.

[1134] Marathon has submitted a plan of development for the south-west lobe of the Kinsale Head gas field and it plans to bring this gas into production by year end. In addition, an application by Providence Resources for a lease undertaking over an area in the north Celtic Sea Basin is under consideration. An application by Marathon to re-enter the well drilled in the south-west lobe of the Kinsale Head gas field in 1995 has been approved.

Mr. Bell:  Mr. McGoldrick, the general manager of Enterprise Oil, stated in an article in The Irish Times on 3 May 1999 that discussions are taking place with Bord Gáis and perhaps other enterprises on the sale of the gas? Have these discussions been successful? Has an agreement been reached with Bord Gáis?

Dr. Woods:  That is a slightly different question, and I may not have the full information with me. It is heartening for possible developments that these discussions are taking place. It is indicative of the fact that the first appraisal well was very successful and the second well is under way. To the best of my knowledge, those discussions have not concluded. Various views on the outcome have been expressed by Deputies here and I will bear those in mind in any discussions in that regard at Cabinet level or with me.

As the Deputy will be aware, Bord Gáis is the responsibility of the Minister for Public Enterprise. Consequently, my Department will liaise with that Department on the outcome to any discussions.

Deputies and Senators have called for special provision to be made for the west in the distribution system. That is something which must be considered but to date there has been no outcome from those discussions.

Mr. Finucane:  Is the Minister satisfied with the licensing terms agreed in 1992 by the then Minister for Justice and Communications, former Deputy Ray Burke, and the then Minister for Energy, Deputy Molloy? Does he propose to re-examine that licensing agreement? Is he aware of the concern that those licensing terms were benevolent? Does the Minister agree that there are equal concerns about whether the gas will come ashore in Ireland off the coast of Mayo or in the UK? There is extreme concern about this issue in the west of Ireland at present.

Dr. Woods:  I would like to see the gas first. This is a difficult situation. I hope this field will prove successful but we do not yet know that it will. We have one successful appraisal well but we do not yet know about the second one. I hope we will find out about that during the summer; that would give us a very good indication of what might happen. The Deputy is correct to consider future prospects.

There are no plans at present to alter the terms. Only two companies came forward in the last [1135] allocation. I understand that in a reallocation now in view of the increase in oil prices, there could be a better level of application. We want to ensure the maximum level of development and to find as much gas and oil as possible. That is vital to our economy and it is particularly important that we bring the gas and oil onshore. I do not believe there is any prospect of this operation going directly to the UK, particularly in regard to gas. I expect most of the debate to focus on its location when it comes onshore. The company involved will obviously be concerned about price because of the associated high development costs.

  18.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources his views on the development plan for Killybegs produced by Killybegs Offshore Services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16014/99]

Dr. Woods:  I am firmly committed to the development of new infrastructure and facilities at Killybegs to service the needs of the fishing industry and to support potential new commercial opportunities for the port and the north-west region.

In addition to providing £1.5 million this year for essential remedial works at the existing piers, I have provided more than £800,000 for site investigations and survey work in connection with the provision of new berthage facilities outside the existing harbour. The results of these ongoing technical investigations will directly inform decisions on the location, scale and timeframe for completion of the new harbour development.

The feasibility study commissioned by Killybegs Offshore Services sets out a wideranging investment plan of up to £40 million for the port. It is focused primarily on new services for the fishing sector, commercial shipping traffic and potential opportunities which may arise in servicing the offshore exploration industry. The proposals include land reclamation, the provision of deep water non-tidal berthage and the development of an enterprise park.

I will have further consultations in the near future with the Killybegs Offshore Services group, the Killybegs fishing and processing industry and other port users on my plans for new berthage development and on progressing the range of other development proposals for Killybegs. I will also pursue the medium to long-term investment needs of Killybegs and its hinterland with Government colleagues in the context of the National Development Plan 2000-06.

Mr. Bell:  On 11 June, the marine correspondent of The Irish Times, writing on these developments, stated that a group of entrepreneurs wanted Killybegs to become the Aberdeen of the north-west. Is the Minister satisfied that the natural resources, which will I hope derive from drill[1136] ing and development, will not find their way to Aberdeen, rather than Donegal and the west coast? Is he satisfied that he and his Department have sufficient control over these matters to ensure maximum benefit for the Irish nation?

Dr. Woods:  All of the interested parties want to see development taking place within Ireland. We are currently dealing with exploration and appraisal wells. Developments are ongoing in Killybegs. Hence, the desire that the port be further developed. A report, undertaken by Coopers and Lybrand, set out a potential development scheme for the port. I strongly support those proposals. We want to make use of the port for exploration purposes and, in the event of any substantial finds, we want to ensure the bulk of the work will come into Irish ports.

Mr. Finucane:  I assume the Minister has held discussions with Mr. McGoldrick of Enterprise Oil to the effect that if the gas find is successful, it will not end up in Scotland in which the necessary infrastructure is in place. To what degree will the Minister avail of private-public partnerships to sustain a development in Killybegs which will cost in the region of £20 million? Given the type of funding available, it is not possible to sustain that type of investment.

Dr. Woods:  I invited interested parties in Killybegs to consider the possibility of private-public investment. To date, there is nothing very positive to report on that. An assistant secretary in my Department is currently pursuing possibilities in that area. One way or another, I envisage considerable development occurring in Killybegs.

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 Gerard Reynolds – the loss of 40 jobs at the Drumshanbo plant of Leitrim Foods Company Limited, County Leitrim; (2) Deputy O'Sullivan – the need for the Minister for Health and Children to support the efforts of the Mid-Western Health Board to open the new paediatric unit at the Limerick Regional Hospital without further delay; (3) Deputy Broughan – the sale of essential school property at Scoil Eoin, Kilbarrack, Dublin 5; (4) Deputy Ellis – the forthcoming redundancies at Leitrim Foods in Drumshanbo; (5) Deputy Kirk – the need to consider changing the legislation on the insurance sector to bring motor insurance costs more into line with other member states of the EU; (6) Deputy Creed – the loss of a teacher from 1 September 1999 at Scoil Naisiúnta Baile Mhuirne, and the continuing disadvantage of Gaeltacht national schools relative to Gaelscoileanna with [1137] regard to pupil-teacher ratio; (7) Deputy Coveney – the announcement by Novartis pharmaceutical company that it will not go ahead with a European Shared Service Centre that would have created 96 jobs in Cork. The matters raised by Deputies Kirk, Gerry Reynolds, O'Sullivan and Creed have been selected for discussion.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Seanad Éireann has passed the Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill, 1998, without amendment.

Debate resumed on the following motion:

That Dáil Éireann, pursuant to Article 29.5.2º of Bunreacht na hÉireann, approves the terms of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, signed by Ireland on 24th September, 1996, a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 10th June, 1999.

–(Minister for Foreign Affairs.)

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. N. O'Keeffe):  Our position on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation will not change as a result of participation in the PfP.

Legislation will have to be adopted to give full effect to the treaty. The legislation will, for example, make clear the prohibition on nuclear test explosions and will specify the penal sanctions for participation in such a test. It will also provide the national authority with the powers it requires to fulfil its tasks. Draft legislation will be presented as soon as possible.

I welcome the support for the new agenda initiative on nuclear disarmament expressed by Deputies here today. The Minister for Foreign Affairs indicated that the initiative enjoyed considerable success at last year's UN General Assembly. It is our intention to bring the resolution forward again this year in the hope that it will gather even more endorsements. We are also working very closely with the other co-sponsors to examine ways of bringing the initiative into the NPT process. Next year will see the first NPT review conference since it was indefinitely extended in 1995. This will afford us an opportunity to achieve concrete results in respect of nuclear disarmament.

Deputy De Rossa referred to the advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice in 1996. As the Minister pointed out, the ICJ opinion on nuclear weapons was central to the new agenda initiative and is cited in the text of the initial declaration and the resolution adopted at the United Nations.

The tests conducted last year by India and Pakistan clearly demonstrate the urgent need for the CTBT to enter into force and for all states to adhere to it. I made the position of the Govern[1138] ment and the people clear following the tests last year. We must make progress on the road to total disarmament and the CTBT is part of the process which will lead us there. I strongly urge India and Pakistan to adhere to the CTBT as soon as possible and without conditions.

Adoption of this motion will allow Ireland to ratify the CTBT and to participate fully in the conference to be held this autumn. The purpose of the conference is to find ways to bring the treaty into force as soon as possible. I hope it succeeds in persuading those whose ratification is necessary for entry into force to ratify as soon as possible and that the treaty will enter into force.

Question put and agreed to.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. N. O'Keeffe):  I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the terms of the economic partnership, political co-ordination and co-operation agreement between the European Community and its member states, of the one part, and the United States of Mexico, of the other part, a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 3 June 1999.

That Dáil Éireann approves the terms of the Euro-Mediterranean agreement establishing an association between the European Communities and their member states, of the one part, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, of the other part, a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 3 June 1999.

That Dáil Éireann approves the terms of the framework agreement for trade and co-operation between the European Community and its member states, on the one hand, and the Republic of Korea, on the other hand, a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 3 June 1999.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to present to the House, on behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, motions relating to the trade and co-operation agreements concluded by the European Union with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Republic of Korea and the United Mexican States, respectively. These agreements have been approved by the Government and require approval of the House before they can be deemed ratified.

In general terms, the agreements in question incorporate wide-ranging provisions for the progressive development of trade relations and other forms of co-operation between the European Union and each of the three partner countries. The agreements are comprehensive in scope and include provisions for co-operation in areas as diverse as transport, culture, agriculture, science and technology, the environment and combating trafficking in drugs and money laundering. [1139] Because the agreements were negotiated separately their terms and content will differ. Provision is made in each, however, for social co-operation and human rights and democracy. It is intended that these agreements will enter into force when they have been ratified by the member states of the European Union and the partner countries according to the respective constitutional procedures of each.

The agreement with Jordan stems from the European Union's desire to strengthen its relations with the countries of the Mediterranean basin. The Essen European Council of December 1994 reiterated the European Union's willingness to support the Mediterranean countries in their efforts to transform the region into a zone of peace, stability and prosperity. The Euro-Mediterranean conference held in Barcelona in November 1995 established a comprehensive partnership known as the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership between the European Union and its Mediterranean partners, namely, Algeria, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Malta, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey and the Palestinian Authority, through strengthened and regular political dialogue, the development of economic and financial co-operation and greater emphasis on the social, cultural and human dimension of their relations.

A central pillar in the economic and financial architecture envisaged in the Barcelona declaration is the creation by 2010 of a free trade area for the Mediterranean region. An essential feature in preparation for the free trade area is the conclusion by the European Union of Euro-Mediterranean association agreements with each of the countries of the region. The agreement with Jordan forms part of this process.

The objectives of the agreement are: to provide an appropriate framework for political dialogue allowing the development of close political relations between the parties; to establish the conditions for the progressive liberalisation of trade in goods, services and capital; to foster the development of balanced economic and social relations between the parties through dialogue and co-operation; to improve living and employment conditions and enhance productivity and financial stability; to encourage regional co-operation with a view to the consolidation of peaceful co-existence and economic and political stability and to promote co-operation in other areas of reciprocal interest.

Relations between the parties are to be based on democratic principles and respect for human rights which are stipulated as essential elements of the agreement. The agreement will establish a free trade zone between the European Union and Jordan progressively within 12 years from the entry into force of the agreement.

In the case of the Republic of Korea, the objectives of the agreement include the development of economic relations between the member states of the European Union and the Republic of [1140] Korea by increasing trade between the two sides, furthering scientific and technological co-operation and facilitating business co-operation. It also provides for co-operation in the field of development in favour of third countries and for the establishment of a regular political dialogue between the European Union and the Republic of Korea.

The Republic of Korea is the twelfth largest trading nation in the world. It was Ireland's thirteenth trading partner in 1997 and thirteenth largest export market. Irish exports to the Republic of Korea more than doubled to over £500 million in 1997 giving Ireland for the first time a favourable trade balance with the Republic of Korea. Exports in 1997 reached almost 100 times their level in 1984. Imports from the Republic of Korea, which had been rising steadily, jumped by 55 per cent in 1997. In the wake of the 1997 financial crisis in Asia, however, exports from the Republic of Korea decreased markedly and figures for the first ten months of 1998 were down by 37 per cent.

In spite of the difficult situation brought about by that crisis, the Republic of Korea remains a major international trading country. The economic outlook there has been improving steadily since the end of 1998. The Korean currency, the won, is recovering its value, its stock market was the best performing in Asia in 1998 and foreign currency reserves are being rebuilt. Interest rates are back to single figures, 8 per cent, and industrial production is showing decreasing rates of decline. This agreement will serve to strengthen and build on Ireland's already excellent bilateral relations with the Republic of Korea.

The third of these agreements is what is known as the global agreement with Mexico. The agreement is designed to advance the interests of the European Union and Mexico in the areas of trade and co-operation and will be of considerable benefit to Ireland in developing its bilateral relations with Mexico. Mexico is Ireland's most important trading partner in Latin America and Ireland has enjoyed a surplus in its trade with Mexico in recent years. In 1996 total trade was valued at £165 million, of which Irish exports accounted for over £100 million. The figures for 1997 show a small decrease in the total volume of trade at £159 million but with Irish exports rising to almost £107 million. As the House will be aware, the Government recently decided to establish at an early date a resident embassy in Mexico city.

The objective of the agreement is to consolidate existing relations between the parties on the basis of reciprocity and mutual interest. To this end, the agreement aims to institutionalise political dialogue, strengthen commercial and economic relations by means of trade liberalisation in conformity with the rules of the WTO and reinforce and broaden the areas for co-operation. Relations between the parties are to be based on democratic principles and respect for human rights which are essential elements of the agree[1141] ment. The agreement will be conditional on the observance of human rights and the European Union and Mexico are committed to this conditionality.

The agreement provides for the establishment of frameworks to encourage the development and liberalisation of trade in goods and services. It envisages co-operation in investment promotion, financial services, small and medium-sized enterprises, customs, information technology, education, communications and the environment. Sectors such as agriculture, mining, energy, transport, tourism, fisheries and statistics are covered. The agreement provides for co-operation against money laundering, drug trafficking and chemical precursors. Co-operation on the social front focuses on refugee assistance, human rights and democracy, poverty and health care.

I hope this summary outline of the objectives and main provisions of these important agreements will be helpful to Deputies. Ireland maintains excellent relations with the three partner countries mentioned. Acceptance of the agreements in each case will serve to further develop Ireland's relations with them. In approving these agreements, the House will also be endorsing a substantial step forward by the European Union in strengthening and developing its relations with those countries. I commend the agreements to the House for its approval.

Mr. G. Mitchell:  While we can agree to the motions, I want to raise a number of points specific to the EU agreements touched on by the Minister of State. When Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, I had occasion to visit Jordan, as part of a troika, and raise with its Prime Minister, on behalf of the Government, the banning of beef exports to Jordan. Although the level of trade in beef with Jordan is not very high, the ban had catastrophic implications for trade and jobs in Ireland. The response was neither direct nor the sort of response one would expect from a Head of Government. Unusually, I was referred to someone in a more senior position. However, we again received platitudes and an understanding that the ban had been lifted. My recollection is that it was not lifted.

I am raising this issue because friendship, trade and cultural contacts demand that when discussions take place between governments, each should consider the other's difficulties, be straightforward in their dealings and answers and not imply events which will not take place. I contrast this response with the manner in which we were received in Lebanon on the same issue where it was addressed in a matter of fact manner. The relevant people in Jordan could have been more helpful. There was no risk to health nor was there a large amount of trade involved, but this matter caused difficulties for us. I hope the EU and the Government will make it clear to the Jordanian authorities that such unilateral action is unacceptable and that we expect trade agreements to be adhered to.

[1142] I welcome the development of more structured relations with Mexico. The Minister of State noted that Mexico is our most important trading partner in Latin America and I am glad that we will soon appoint a resident ambassador to Mexico City. However, this issue has been ongoing for some time and the Minister of State should make the appointment. Mexico is growing, particularly in its role and influence in the North American Free Trade Association. People in Mexico have noted that the NAFTA agreement is working well, so Mexico is growing in importance and we should urgently develop relations with it.

When appointing an ambassador to Mexico, which I hope will happen sooner rather than later, consideration should be given to accrediting the ambassador to Cuba. It is time to improve relations with Cuba and this opportunity should be taken to do so. I do not mean this as a snub to anyone. However, we must examine our own foreign policy and an ambassador to Cuba could be based in Mexico.

These agreements, particularly the agreement with Mexico, show how the global economy is being regionalised. The EU is doing business with Korea, Jordan and Mexico. Last year I published a policy document seeking the creation of a transatlantic EU-North American foundation to be located in Dublin. I argued that Dublin could be to EU-North American relations what Geneva is to UN conventions and Helsinki is to security. Dublin is the natural centre for developing such relations. As the global economy regionalises, relations between the EU and North America, which in time may be between the EU and NAFTA, will become more important. In time these relations could be between the EU and MERCOSUR or the EU and ASEAN. Forty million Americans and 3 million Canadians claim to be of Irish origin. Ireland is the nearest English speaking country in the EU to the US and has developed traditional contacts and experience of negotiating at a high level in the US. As a result, we should be seeking to make Dublin the centre for negotiations and developing cultural, trade, scientific and other relations. I suggested setting up the EU-North American foundation in Dublin with a North American chairman and a European, I hope, an Irish, secretary general, and that the State should fund the estimated £2 million cost for the first two years. Thereafter, the foundation could be funded by governments which benefit from its research which could be carried out by a panel of Irish and American business people, academics, trade unionists and others so that we develop relations on a structured basis across the various strata of society.

Such a development would present Ireland with a golden opportunity, not least because 40 million Americans consider themselves to be of Irish origin. The opportunities of this development would also relate to the fact that, as the EU enlarges eastward, Ireland is becoming even more geographically peripheral as the centre of the Union moves towards central Europe. Therefore, [1143] Ireland should carve out a new role for itself. EU-North American relations will develop, an intention specifically referred to in many agreements between the EU and the US and Canada. As this occurs Dublin should be the centre for promoting that co-operation. Any studies carried out should be available to the Irish, US and Canadian Governments and Legislatures, but also to those of EU member states. We should confer this role on ourselves as the work needs to be done and no one is better equipped to do it than us. The will is there if we can wake up to the opportunity.

The Minister was interested in this idea and suggested that I come back to him on it, which I did. At some stage could the Minister outline what measures have been taken to advance this idea? I have set out why I believe it will work in the document which I made available to the Minister.

It is good to see EU agreements develop. Our primary concern should be to develop the agreements with applicant states waiting to join the EU so as to prepare them for membership as soon as possible. This issue cannot be put on the long finger. Sometimes we tend to look at enlargement in the context of the challenges it presents. If one adds together the population of the 11 or 12 applicant states – one cannot be sure if Malta is in or out of that group – it amounts to approximately 105 million people, yet the combined GNP of those states amounts to that of one medium-sized EU member state such as the Netherlands or Belgium.

The extent of the challenge is clear. However, it is a big opportunity to extend the current EU market of 350 million people to almost half a billion. Ireland, being a small open economy, can benefit greatly from that because it has developed the tools to do so. Even more important, the reason we need enlargement and to put it on a fast forward basis is that events in Yugoslavia are a timely reminder of the purpose of the European Union. The forerunner to what is now the European Union was founded shortly after the end of the Second World War with the sole objective of creating peace and stability in Europe so there would be no more war. Peace and stability are the essential prerequisites for prosperity.

Sixty million Europeans lost their lives in the first half of this century. As I have said time and again – I repeat it because it must be said – the purpose of the European Union is to prevent a recurrence of that terrible mayhem and to ensure that our children will not go out and kill French children and French children will not go out and kill German children. Think of the 60 million people who died – most of them were little more than children. We need to accept the applicant states in the European Union as much as they need to be part of the Union. Ireland and the European Union need peace and stability on the continent of Europe so that prosperity can continue and to ensure that countries are not sucked [1144] into a third world war which could commence, as the first two did, in Europe.

Ireland should not let others set the pattern for this process. It should adopt a leadership role. For too long we have simply reacted to the views of others. Let us put our view forward. Our view should be that enlargement should be fast tracked. Look at what has happened in Bulgaria. That country made great efforts to reform its economy, to put down the roots of democracy, to establish a market economy and to reform itself. However, the war in Yugoslavia has caused enormous problems and set Bulgaria back to a great extent. The lack of access across the Danube is a particularly large problem. Unless Ireland can ensure that the people of Bulgaria and the other applicant countries see a clear and reasonable entry date for their joining the EU, many of them will return to their old ways. That does not augur well for the rest of Europe.

I welcome these agreements but I urge the Government to advance as a priority the essential agreements which we need with the applicant states of the European Union.

Proinsias De Rossa:  I do not have much to say about these agreements other than to observe that it is important that the European Union establish such agreements with non-member states.

The agreement between the European Union and Jordan is intended to create a free trade area. That is important but I must enter a caveat. We should seek to ensure that the goods Ireland buys from these countries are produced in humane circumstances. We should ensure that agreements under the International Labour Organisation are being complied with. I am not suggesting there are breaches, particularly in Mexico, but I am not sure about the situation in Jordan or Korea.

I note from the background material provided by the Department on the agreement with Korea that there is no certainty that the crisis which occurred there some time ago has yet been resolved. It is important that we ensure, in so far as Ireland can do so within the European Union, that anything we do would assist these countries to overcome their difficulties. There is little point having trade agreements with countries if they are on their knees economically.

There is concern in a number of Asian countries that the urgency which existed when the crisis occurred in the first instance appears to have disappeared and that the restructuring being proposed in the context of World Bank aid and under the IMF criteria is no longer there. We must be conscious of these matters. It is all well and good to have agreements on trade but if the country with which we seek to trade is not in a position to do so or uses labour conditions which are inimical to the people involved in production, we should be wary about conducting such trade.

I welcome the fact that the European Union is engaged in making agreements such as these. However, there is a need to ensure that not only [1145] economic criteria but also social criteria, particularly with regard to labour conditions, are being applied in countries with which we have trade agreements.

Mr. Barrett:  I have no difficulty supporting these agreements. However, I wish to avail of this opportunity to mention the comprehensive partnership known as the Euro-Mediterranean partnership between the EU and its Mediterranean partners, which include countries such as Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

The purpose of this Euro-Mediterranean partnership was not only to increase trade between the EU and the Mediterranean partners but also to try to establish peace and stability in the region. Despite this, there have been continuous attacks on Irish troops who have been stationed in Lebanon in a peace keeping role for more than 20 years. In the recent past, we have seen the unfortunate death of one Irish soldier and serious injury to another. If these agreements are to have real meaning, all parties to them must accept responsibilities. Responsibility for these continuous attacks rests in Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

It is not good enough to pass motions ratifying agreements when there are serious attacks on people involved in peace keeping without some arrangement being put in place under which the EU makes clear its disgust and non-acceptance of the continuation of these attacks. The Defence Forces have lost many soldiers during their 21 years in Lebanon. These soldiers are there in a peace keeping capacity. I had the honour and pleasure of visiting that region on three occasions when I was Minister and I witnessed their work at first hand. Our troops are the greatest ambassadors we could have in terms of performing the role of real peace keepers. They do not go around armed with heavy equipment and ammunition. They involve themselves in the community, with orphanages and in other community activities and have done so for many years.

This occasion should not be allowed to pass without reminding people that agreements operate in two directions. When certain events occur, we should not lose the opportunity of reminding parties to agreements primarily set up to establish peace and stability in a zone or region of their responsibility under those agreements.

I saw the violent attack on the Fijian compound some years ago by Israeli troops which was nothing short of a scandal. A blue flag was flying representing the United Nations, yet mortars were lobbed into the centre of a United Nations compound. There was little outrage about this. I was pleased to see the Minister for Defence sending a reminder to people that they have obligations and that, no matter who they are pursuing, such attacks as I mentioned are made from within their region or country and that the people involved more or less have a free hand. I support Ireland's role in peacekeeping and there is much more we can do in future. At the same time, [1146] people must respect both the person who wears the blue beret and the role he or she plays.

I also welcome the establishment of the agreement with the Republic of Korea. It is interesting when we have short debates such as this that certain statistics are produced which often show what none of us realised, namely, the value of the trade we have with these countries. I noticed our trade with Korea doubled to more than £500 million in 1997. Our trade in the similar period with Mexico was £100 million. If I were asked with what country we did more trade, I would say Mexico. It is fascinating to see the opportunities available in places such as the Republic of Korea.

I had responsibility at one stage for marine matters. We have considerable exports of processed fish to Korea and there are tremendous opportunities to increase this trade in future. It brings home to us the need for the development of a secondary fish processing industry capable of processing the raw material to a point where it not alone has added value but creates jobs in areas where it is difficult to obtain employment. That certainly fits into a regional policy of encouraging people to remain in areas such as the west which have suffered rapid depopulation. We have opportunities to develop the fish processing industry to increase trade to places such as the Republic of Korea. Debates on agreements such as this give us the opportunity to re-examine what we are doing in terms of developing regional policy in this country to avail of growing markets in countries such as Korea.

Like the rest of Asia, Korea went through a rocky patch in past years but, as the Minister rightly said, progress was made during 1998. Its stock market was the best performing in 1998. This is a country with which it is in our interests to develop trade. We should examine the various opportunities and develop the type of businesses which will increase further our markets in places such as Korea.

I am pleased that, as part of the agreement with Mexico, mention is made of co-operation in working against money laundering and drug trafficking. Of all the scourges facing the country, even during the era of the Celtic tiger, drugs and drug trafficking are the worst. I welcome any agreement which prevents this terrible disease spreading further. I hope these agreements mean something in terms of dealing with this terrible problem of drug trafficking. It was obvious during the course of research conducted during the European elections – I congratulate Deputy De Rossa on his election to the European Parliament – that one of the key issues and among the top three items of major concern to the people is drugs. We sometimes spend a great deal of time debating issues, some more important than others, but we do not spend sufficient time informing the public as to what steps we are taking to deal with this ongoing horrible problem. If this agreement reduces the illegal importation of drugs into Ireland by one ounce, it is worthwhile. For that reason alone, I support it.

[1147] I am glad to have the opportunity afforded by these agreements to express my views. We have no difficulty in supporting them.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. N. O'Keeffe):  I join with Deputy Barrett in congratulating Deputy De Rossa on his election to the European Parliament. He is no stranger to it, having been elected once before.

I am grateful for the opportunity to present on behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government's position on these important EU agreements. I appreciate the courteous hearing I received from my Dáil colleagues for my opening remarks. I listened with close attention to the views expressed by those Deputies who contributed to the debate and am grateful for them. Much of what they had to say was relevant to the Government's position on the agreements and will be noted with care on this side of the House. There has been a worthwhile exchange of views on a subject of considerable importance, namely, the process of further developing the European Union's contractual economic relations with these third countries.

The agreements will come into force when they have been ratified by all parties concerned. By approving the three motions related to these agreements, the House will make its contribution to the evolution of this process. The advantages conferred by agreements of this nature are considerable. They were negotiated in detail by the Commission acting on behalf of EU member states. Negotiations can take several years to conclude. Their objectives and terms are, therefore, elaborate for clarity and precision. The scope of the agreements tends to be comprehensive, covering a wide range of economic, social and, as appropriate, developmental sectors. They provide a framework for more intensive relations with third country partners from which tangible benefits will flow to both sides. These agreements can confer real benefits on small European Union member states. The potential for Ireland in terms of increased trade will become clear. Each of the agreements we have considered today contains a human rights clause to which the Government attaches great importance. The clauses send out the correct political signals to all parties concerned.

I wish to comment on some of the remarks made. It is true that Irish trade with Jordan is relatively modest. It includes some Irish dairy products, but beef has been banned from Jordan for BSE reasons. There has been contact between Irish and Jordanian authorities with a view to resolving this difficulty and there was a ministerial visit to the country some weeks ago. Total trade in 1997 was worth £14 million, of which our exports account for £13 million, so we are doing reasonably well. The Government will open an embassy [1148] in Mexico at an early date. I note Deputy Gay Mitchell's comments in respect of Cuba.

With regard to the possible establishment of a transatlantic EU-North American foundation in Dublin, I understand the Minister for Foreign Affairs has already replied to parliamentary questions on this issue. I will be glad, however, to report Deputy Mitchell's remarks to the Minister. I listened with interest to the Deputy's comments about the serious problems that affect the economic and social life of some of the applicant countries for European Union membership.

With regard to humane standards of production in the workplace, I draw Deputy De Rossa's attention to the human rights dimension of these agreements which will be monitored at European Union and national level. The Government is conscious of the problem to which the Deputy referred.

I readily join with Deputy Barrett in condemning all attacks on Irish military personnel in the Lebanon and elsewhere. The Government has already raised its concerns about these attacks with the Israeli authorities. The House will be aware that the Minister for Defence, Deputy Smith, visited the Middle East in recent days. Deputy Barrett will appreciate that the issue of UN peacekeeping falls outside the scope of this debate and is really a matter for the Department of Defence.

I must inform Deputy Barrett that our trade with Korea amounts to £500 million while our trade with Mexico amounts to £107 million. The Government is confident that, with the opening of an embassy in Mexico, the prospects for further improvement in our trade flow will be enhanced. I welcome and fully support the Deputy's remarks on strengthening Ireland's trade relations with Korea. Everyone endorses his comments about the need to intensify the fight against the international scourges of money laundering and drug trafficking.

I thank the Deputies who participated in the debate on this motion, the substance of which is very important to Ireland and the European Union.

Question put and agreed to.

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  I move:

That it be an instruction to the Committee on the Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) Bill, 1999 that it has power to make provisions to amend and extend the law relating to the membership of vocational education committees.

Question put and agreed to.[1149]

Mr. R. Bruton:  On a point of order, given that it is intended to take Committee and Report Stages back to back, is the Leas-Cheann Comhairle in a position to inform the House about the provisions that have been made for the submission of Report Stage amendments?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There is no allocation of time in the Order of Business and Committee Stage may adjourn to another day if necessary.

Mr. R. Bruton:  What is the position if Committee Stage concludes before 10.30 p.m. and we move to Report Stage?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is a matter for the House to address at the conclusion of Committee Stage.

Mr. R. Bruton:  Therefore, there may be time to table amendments for Report Stage at that point.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is a matter for the House to decide, there is no guillotine on Committee Stage.

Mr. R. Bruton:  I appreciate that. I am merely inquiring about the arrangements to allow us to draft amendments for Report Stage.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  If the Deputy wishes to submit Report Stage amendments, Report Stage can be taken on another day.

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  That is not my understanding of the position because there are time constraints involved. As this is a short technical Bill, perhaps it would be sensible if we proceeded with Committee Stage to discover whether there are any outstanding issues. There are precedents for Committee and Report Stages to be taken in the same sitting, this is not unprecedented territory.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There are many precedents for taking Committee and Report Stages or all Stages of a Bill together. I suggest we proceed with Committee Stage and, on reaching its conclusion, if there are any outstanding issues we can decide how best to deal with them. In other words, we will not proceed with Report Stage without the agreement of the House.

Mr. R. Bruton:  That is fair. I am merely seeking to ensure we will have the opportunity to consider, draft and table Report Stage amendments if necessary.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That issue does not arise at this stage. It may or may not arise at [1150] the conclusion of Committee Stage, and we can address it at that point.


Question proposed: “That section 1 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. R. Bruton:  The Minister has decided that regional technical colleges should henceforth become institutes of technology. However, we are faced with the rather anomalous situation where no legal provision has been made for that change, which has been widely welcomed. We are establishing a new institute of technology in the absence of a mandate for institutes of technology, with the result that it will be set up as a regional technical college. That is not satisfactory.

We have sought to create a new direction for institutes of technology which is embraced from the name change from regional technical colleges to institutes of technology. That change has been broadly welcomed because it is evidence of a broadening of their mandate and represents a timely recognition of what they have achieved. These institutions require a broader mandate than heretofore. The Oireachtas, however, has not been given an opportunity to underpin their existing mandate by providing a new mandate.

It is extraordinary that we are trying to establish what will be the flagship of institutes of technology in north-west Dublin, an area where such an institution has long been needed, without making provision for defining the broad objectives it is meant to achieve. Instead, the definition in the Bill states that the institute of technology shall be a regional technical college. This is more than mere semantics because the Minister is essentially trying to pour new wine into old skins.

The aim of establishing a new institute of technology in Blanchardstown with a radical new mandate is not being achieved and the Oireachtas is being given no opportunity to spell out the objectives of this institution. As a result, Opposition Members have been obliged to table amendments on what should be the college's objectives, how its strategy should be undertaken and what sort of reportage would be expected of it. The only change the Minister is making to the old Regional Technical Colleges Act is that he is displacing the vocational education committees as the vehicle for recommending who should be appointed. On reading the Bill, that is the only change I could detect.

The Minister stated that this is a small technical Bill with which we will quickly dispatch, and that is part of the problem for Opposition Members. This is the last opportunity we will have to set out our stall in respect of the objectives that should be set by the Oireachtas, which is responsible for establishing this institute of technology. It is disappointing we do not have a more modern Bill to acknowledge the new role the Blanchardstown Institute of Technology will play, not to mention the new role to which institutes of technology in [1151] general aspire. It is important to make that point about section 1 because it underpins the strange anomalies that exist. We are setting up a flagship institute of technology as a regional technical college, which is something the Minister has dispatched from the general vocabulary on these institutes at this stage.

Mr. O'Shea:  I had the same difficulty with this section. I will not go into the details of my argument on this point now but it concerns my first amendment. Essentially, the sequence should have been the qualifications Bill and then this Bill. The points made by Deputy Bruton are valid because, if institutes of technology are to have a statutory existence, why do we need to amend legislation that will be changed when the qualifications Bill becomes an Act?

Mr. Naughten:  I support my two colleagues on this matter. As other speakers have said, this will be a flagship institute of technology. As the Minister outlined on Second Stage, the work being done to address educational disadvantage in terms of bringing people from disadvantaged backgrounds through the education system, which we discussed in the debate on the qualifications Bill, must be encouraged and welcomed. Rather than forging ahead and setting up proper structures for the institutes of technology, we are considering this Bill, which the Minister described as a small technical Bill.

Mr. Martin:  The situation is being grossly overstated. What we are dealing with here is a mechanism to put the new institute of technology in Blanchardstown on a statutory footing, and it is important we do that. At present, it is a limited company in terms of the hiring of staff and its development as a college. It will open its doors and take in students in September. That is why there is a sense of urgency about the matter. It is not something we are dispatching.

Comprehensive legislation was introduced in 1992. The 1992 legislation, particularly the Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992, facilitated a change of name for any college under its First Schedule. Section 3(4) of that Bill gave authority to the Minister, following consultation with the governing body of a college, to change the name of the college.

Regarding the mission statement of the new institute, the 1992 Act facilitates and provides for the Minister of the day to put an order before the House outlining the content of the mission plan of the college in terms of a strategy statement and so forth. The 1992 legislation is comprehensive and allows for this. There is no point in reinventing the wheel every time we endeavour to introduce legislation to establish an institute.

From time to time I have stated that we engage in ongoing consultation with institutes and colleges. The Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992, provides that the Minister may by order assign [1152] additional functions to an institute and such an order is subject to positive resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas. I would be happy to review, in consultation with all the institutes, the extent to which an explicit policy direction or order would be helpful on this matter.

I am not closing the door on issues that were raised in subsequent amendments that pertain to mission statements and so on of this institute. We have moved quickly in terms of securing funding – which most people did not think was available – for the new institute. If we had not set up the education and technology investment fund, the money would not have been available for the Blanchardstown institute and it would have been a non-event. Given that we were able to secure the funding so quickly and to progress matters so fast, the next part of the jigsaw is this legislation. There is nothing undesirable about that. It is a laudable objective and it is good that the House is dealing with it in this manner.

Mr. R. Bruton:  I am puzzled by the Minister's response. Is he saying this is a rushed job because the college must open its doors in September and that, rather than the Oireachtas giving timely consideration to the objectives its wants to set for the Bill, it must make do with pouring the wine into old skins? Is the Minister saying it is essential that the new institute is established on a statutory basis because otherwise it would not be able to do what it seeks to achieve? I find that difficult to accept. Even if it takes more time to introduce a satisfactory Bill, I would prefer to wait until we can produce such a Bill.

We spent a good deal of time in the Dáil and in Committee dealing with the objectives we set for the education institutions which govern primary and second schooling. We took great care to set out the objectives we believed those schools and institutes of learning should pursue. It is my understanding that none of those objectives set by the Oireachtas that govern issues such as equality of opportunity, access, priority for the disadvantaged and people with disabilities – important pillars on which colleges should be based and that should guide a governing body in deciding its mission, strategy and policies – will be provided for the institutes of technology. That is the difference between the Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992 and the later 1998 Bill. The 1998 Bill set out broad parameters to guide the way schools should deal with pupils. Everyone welcomed those broad objectives, but the Minister does not seem to realise the need to provide for similar objectives on a legislative basis for this sector. I thought this institute of technology would be underpinned by legislation which would set out broad objectives that would define its mandate.

I am not convinced by the Minister's arguments that we need to have legislation in place because we were proceeding at such breakneck speed and that it is better to have some legislation in place, unsatisfactory and all as it might be, than to slow [1153] matters down to a pace where we would proceed in a considered way. I do not accept that the establishment of the Blanchardstown institute would be held up if we had a more thoughtful and long-lasting statutory base provided for it.

Mr. O'Shea:  My position on this Bill is clear. The Labour Party and I are anxious to assist in every way possible to ensure this new institute is set up and that no obstacles are put in its way. I was the spokesperson for my party during the debate on the 1992 Bill. The issue of renaming a college was controversial and the Minister helped stir it up.

Mr. R. Bruton:  He was good at that.

Mr. Martin:  I did not start that.

Mr. O'Shea:  We sometimes like to forget such matters.

Mr. Martin:  The Deputy also pitched for it.

Mr. O'Shea:  We all know that power was provided for in legislation. The qualifications legislation was necessary to give statutory effect to the upgrading of regional technical colleges to institutes of technology. There are also other factors provided for in that legislation, including the awarding of powers which were delegated to the authorities. We are amending the existing legislation when it would be more efficient to provide for this new institute in the qualifications Bill.

Mr. Martin:  That is fundamentally different legislation. The qualifications authority Bill is about progression and the quality of all programmes involving further education. It would be totally out of place to put the establishment of one institute in the context of the qualifications authority Bill. I never use language such as “rushed” or “ill-thought out”. The 1992 Act provides a solid legislative base which is meant to facilitate the creation of new institutes where we deem it desirable. The Blanchardstown area was given priority in the Higher Education Authority study some years ago but very little progress was made then. We have made progress and the institute will open its doors this autumn. It is important it is legislatively underpinned.

There has been a great deal of overstatement, particularly from Deputy Richard Bruton. I accept that Deputy O'Shea is anxious to co-operate with the progression of this legislation. However, I do not believe we are putting the cart before the horse. It is important that this Bill is enacted in respect of Blanchardstown in its own right and incorporated in the body of legislation which underpins the governance of the other institutes of technology and is, therefore, part of that network. That makes sense.

Mr. O'Shea:  When the qualifications authority Bill becomes law and the Minister of the day [1154] wishes to establish a new institute of technology, will the same pattern have to be followed? Will the Regional Technical Colleges Act have to be amended, even though the qualifications authority Bill will then be an Act? That is the essence of the difficulty.

Mr. Martin:  The qualifications authority Bill may provide for the establishment of colleges. I will check that information. The core function of that Bill is the quality assurance of courses and their progression. It will also implement mechanisms to delegate authority to colleges to make awards. If an external review body decides a college is in a position to make awards, the qualifications authority Bill will facilitate that, and the same applies to degree awarding powers. I do not understand the Deputy's problem.

Mr. O'Shea:  It is simple. For example, if the establishment of an institute of technology is required in an urban area similar to Tallaght or Blanchardstown, under what legislation will that happen and what body will establish it? It will be under the remit of the qualifications authority Bill.

Mr. Martin:  That is not a difficulty. What will happen in the future is a matter for the Oireachtas and the Minister of the day. They will choose the mechanisms to legislatively underpin any new institution. I will check that for the Deputy.

Mr. O'Shea:  As the qualifications authority Bill stands, institutes of technology will be established under its remit, not by the route we are taking today.

Mr. Martin:  Yes, but there are reasons for that. It outlines a process in terms of awarding degrees and diplomas so the upgrading of colleges is not subject to the whim of a politician. There must be a process.

Mr. R. Bruton:  For example, if Coláiste Dhúlaigh were to aspire to institute of technology status, which is on the cards because it is developing many courses and the north-east of the city is not served by any institute of education, would it undergo this process—

Mr. Martin:  No.

Mr. R. Bruton:  —or, as we should be doing in this case, would it be dealt with as a different model from that which was thought appropriate for the legislative collectivisation of the 1992 batch of regional technical colleges as they then existed? This is an evolving area and the Oireachtas should set a new mandate for these new colleges as they face new challenges.

Mr. Martin:  The 1992 Act gives the Minister the power to set a new mandate for institutes of technology. We are moving away from relevant [1155] matters. However, the qualifications authority Bill provides the mechanisms whereby colleges can make different levels of awards. In the case of Coláiste Dhúlaigh, it would have to undergo rigorous external review mechanisms before the qualifications authority could make a decision. The qualifications authority Bill envisages a new era where education is more learner-centred than institution-centred and concentrates more on the level and quality of awards than on who provides them. If anything, Irish third level education has been bedevilled by the institutional approach. The reason this college was established so quickly after the Government entered office is to respond to the significant under-participation in third level education in north-west Dublin which has been illustrated in report after report. This is a bona fide exercise designed to legislatively underpin the institute before it opens its doors in the autumn.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We are having a Second Stage debate on the matter.

Question put and agreed to.


An Ceann Comhairle:  Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are related and both may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. O'Shea:  I move amendment No. 1:

In page 4, before section 2, to insert the following new section:

2.–The Institute established by this Act shall prepare a strategy statement as soon as may be after the establishment date and at least every three years thereafter and shall include therein its policies in relation to the following matters, in particular–

(a) educational strategy and in particular the improvement of retention rates within the Institute;

(b) the development of relationships with local industry;

(c) linkages with local second-level educational institutions and the local community generally;

(d) the promotion of adult and second-chance education.

This amendment arises in the context of the discussion on section 1. The Regional Technical Colleges Acts do not provide for strategy statements. The Labour Party favours a requirement that all regional technical colleges should produce strategy statements. Schools must make a school plan under the Education Act and universities must make a strategic development plan under the Universities Act, 1997. However, no such provision is made for regional technical colleges. We [1156] tabled this amendment so that this college will have a strategy statement and direction. What changes will there be in this regard when the qualifications Bill is enacted?

Mr. R. Bruton:  I strongly support Deputy O'Shea's proposal that there should be an explicit strategy statement and that the partners in education should have an opportunity to participate in the framing of that strategy statement. We had a very lengthy debate in this House on the merits of that approach for schools. It is important in that, not only does it get all the players to pursue consistent objectives, but it also becomes the vehicle for very considerable reform.

The making of strategy statements should be a key to budgetary developments for colleges. Ad hoc once-off applications for new courses to be added on is not a very satisfactory approach. It would be far preferable to see a very broad strategy statement with a set of objectives and new policy initiatives being developed by the college, with subsequent programmes. When colleges are developing new dimensions to their work, funding should follow the setting out of such strategy statements. That is true at primary, secondary and, even more so, at third level.

The presence of a strategy statement also gives those who would normally have an input into the development of colleges an opportunity to have their say, particularly members of the broader community. The Minister has frequently recognised the failure of our third level institutions to attract people from less well-off communities. Many of the reasons for that are cultural, in that the cultures of the various colleges do not support participation by people from less academically oriented backgrounds. There is a huge attrition rate in the first year, in particular. It is important the framing of a strategy by a college, such as that in Blanchardstown, should receive input from communities which have, at this stage, developed considerable experience in adult, continuing and further education. Such groups have a great deal to add to the framing of a strategy statement.

It is important that this approach, as outlined by Deputy O'Shea, should be adopted by the Minister. Perhaps, the wording of his amendment needs some further legal elucidation on Report Stage. For example, I would like input by the broader community to be enshrined into the process, rather than it being solely an internal matter dictated by the governing body and the insiders of the system. There must be a broader partnership, particularly for the Blanchardstown institute.

My amendment is complementary to Deputy O'Shea's. When one is new to education, one may have new insights, or perhaps one is just innocent. I was amazed, when looking at the Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992, that no attempt was made to define the colleges' mandate.

They have been very successful, have carved out a particular niche and have reached out to communities which did not previously go onto [1157] third level. It is very evident from the figures that they have been much more attractive to such communities. As third level participation has widened, the regional technical colleges have grown far more rapidly than the traditional universities. That is a very fine testament to their success. However, we should, in the way we did for schools and other bodies participating in the education system, give them a mandate, which would be the ten commandments or the stone to which the governing body would turn every so often to see the extent to which it is fulfilling the role given to it by the Oireachtas.

In this regard, I have tabled an amendment, which is by no means comprehensive and I have no doubt the Minister, with his access to the drafting capacity of his Department, could considerably improve it. I am proposing that the Oireachtas give the Blanchardstown institute a certain mandate. That mandate would include “promoting equality of access to and participation in education and in particular tackling the low participation arising from educational disadvantage or disability”. We would like to see that mandate enshrined in the policies and programmes adopted by the college as it develops.

It should also include “promoting successful participation in education by adults, and in particular adults who as children did not avail of or benefit from education in schools”. We have moved into a period in industry where lifelong learning is the key to survival, let alone progress. Jobs are changing extremely rapidly. The key to preventing many people from becoming tomorrow's unemployed is to invest in them while they are still at work. It is very important that an institute such as that in Blanchardstown has a very clear mandate to reach out to workplaces in its catchment area and to recognise that people may become unemployed if investment is not made in their education. Not only should its door be open to such people, there should be very clear supporting policies to ensure that adults returning to education after a long lapse have a chance to succeed. I would like the Oireachtas to statutorily give that mandate to the Blanchardstown institute.

The mandate should also include “building links with industry and with the community in developing education programmes, and, where appropriate, forming partnerships with them in the delivery of quality education which mixes theoretical learning with practical application”. The Minister rightly recognised on Second Stage that Blanchardstown and its surrounding area is something of an Irish silicon valley. There are many industries there which will be anxious to build links with the institute, particularly given the staff shortages in key skill areas. The Blanchardstown institute has already started to build those links.

It must equally recognise, as I said earlier, that it needs to build links with the surrounding community and industries which do not belong to the silicon valley belt. If we want to upgrade many of [1158] our traditional industries, we must get the message through to industry that, if it does not invest in the training and qualifications of its workers, it will fail. There is a golden opportunity for the Blanchardstown institute to reach out, not only to the silicon valley companies, which are well geared up to train staff and will simply look on this as a way of expanding their work, but to the many smaller companies which need to upgrade their workers.

I expect we will return to this in the education welfare Bill, but I am very keen to see institutes, such as the one in Blanchardstown, develop with employers the sort of flexible programmes that can give people who participated in programmes such as Youthreach real qualifications, with a mixture of on and off the job training. A college such as the Blanchardstown institute needs a mandate in that area and we should provide one.

The fourth element of the mandate set out in my amendment is “promoting best practice in teaching methods with regard to the diverse needs of students and the development of the skills and competence of teachers; and ensuring that appropriate quality management policies are in place to promote excellence in all of the Institute's activities”. In some senses that is taken for granted, but it was an important element that we introduced to the previous Bill, the Minister coming back from the Seanad with the Bill precisely to make such an amendment to the mandate he was giving to schools. Institutes are learning organisations and it is they who must search out and apply the most successful teaching methods, particularly those that are successful in reaching out to groups that have not previously participated at third level to the extent that we would desire.

The last of the broad-brush objectives I have set out in my amendment is to facilitate life-long participation in education. It is strange that, despite having had the Year of Life-long Learning a couple of years ago – and it made a mark at the time – we still have not succeeded in getting recognition of life-long learning in the statutory framework that sets out to develop our education system for the future.

I hope these two amendments will commend themselves to the Minister because they attempt not only to set out the broad-brush objectives, what we would like to see guide the governing body over the coming years, but also the very practical mechanisms, namely, a strategy statement with the participation of a wide range of groups in its formation. That would be a nice grouping that would set for the Blanchardstown institute a good mandate for the future. As we develop Oireachtas education committees on a long-term basis, it would give us the opportunity to look at how successfully this mandate was developed by the Blanchardstown institute, to learn for the next occasion when we come back to this House to, perhaps, celebrate the establishment of another institute of education to meet the needs of other groups.

[1159] I hope the Minister will support this approach. I am sure he will say he could add to it, and I would welcome him adding to it. In anticipation of what I suspect will be his response, that the Minister can influence programmes through his budgetary and other sanctioning approaches, let me say that that is not the same thing. We will not get another chance as an Oireachtas to set the basis on which we would like to see development. The Minister may have such an opportunity, but controls over budget and over individual programmes is a very incremental type of control, and it is not the sort of control I would like to see used to develop the broad objectives of the college. I hope these amendments will commend themselves to the Minister.

Mr. Naughten:  I support my two colleagues in both these amendments.

In his Second Stage speech the Minister set out a very ambitious policy for the institute of technology. However, that is only an aspiration. Where the Minister will have some control over the institute of technology, for us it is important that we enshrine that in the legislation before us. That is what we are trying to do in tabling these amendments. I hope the Minister will look seriously at the amendments. We are bringing a new emphasis to this new institute of technology. It is an ambitious emphasis and I hope it will work. However, it is necessary to have some structure in place. These amendments can facilitate putting that structure in place, and it needs to be written into the legislation.

The strategic statement about which Deputy O'Shea talks is something to which we should give serious consideration. We should ensure that all our institutes of technology and our third level institutes in general have such a statement because it will enable an input from the local communities served by the institute and from industry. Having only recently gone through the third level sector it was obvious to me that one of the biggest problems was that there was very little connection between universities and industry, particularly in UCD during the time I was there. I ended up with a degree in industrial microbiology without ever seeing industry. We need to have liaison between industry and third level institutes and also local communities, and we need to ensure that not only in relation to the institute in Blanchardstown but in relation to all the other institutes of technology throughout the country.

There are two things I would like to see included in Deputy O'Shea's amendment. The first relates to research which the Minister did not even mention on Second Stage. Research is the backbone of third level institutes, and in that context we are talking about industry. We are talking about a new approach in Blanchardstown, a new liaison between Blanchardstown Institute of Technology and the various industries located in the area. We need to ensure that those industries [1160] are willing to put funding into research and that the structures are in place for that.

The Minister also spoke about disadvantage. There are disadvantaged communities around Blanchardstown and in the Dublin area and this institute will target those people. However, I fear that people will tend to think that because this institute will bring people in through a new structure, we will forget about people outside the Pale. We need to look at distance learning in this new approach in this institute. Disadvantage is not only an issue in Dublin, it is an issue throughout the country. The qualifications Bill will ensure that that door is opened for communities throughout the country. However, it should be included here because one of the biggest problems is that the institutes and people in and around Dublin forget about what is happening outside the city.

Deputy Bruton made a very valid point about life-long learning and upskilling. Upskilling is crucially important. It is important that there should be a relationship between industry and the institute to facilitate staff to retrain because over the next couple of years there will be greater demands on people and they will have to be able to upskill. Numerous reports have stated that in five years' time the jobs people are doing today will not exist. Unless people are continually upskilling, they could be out of a job. This is particularly important in the case of people in their mid to late thirties because they will be in their late forties or early fifties by the time their jobs are gone and they will be coming back into the cycle again. Now is the time to ensure that those people are retrained and continually upskilled so that they can take up new jobs as they arise.

Paragraph (d) of Deputy Bruton's amendment relates to the promotion of best practice and teaching methods. We are talking about a new type of institute which will have new structures for bringing in people who will not be coming through the CAO system. Therefore, it is crucially important that these teaching methods are studied and if they are successful that they are implemented in other third level institutes around the country. I remember speaking recently to a lecturer at the Dublin Institute of Technology on the question of bringing in people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The institute has to put in additional resources and additional time for those pupils because it cannot afford to have them dropping out, because if they drop out and go back to their own communities, no one else from that community will attempt third level education. I hope when the Minister is talking about this new approach to Blanchardstown that he will ensure that funding will be available and that it will not be just the basic minimum funding that is available in the other institutes. Additional money should be put in place to tackle educational disadvantage to ensure these people come through the system and are successful. To [1161] do that we need a structure like that advocated by Deputies O'Shea and Richard Bruton.

Mr. Martin:  I am satisfied that the amendments, although they contain reasonable proposals, are unnecessary for a number of reasons. This Bill places the institute of technology in Blanchardstown within the statutory framework for all the institutes. It is important for the status of the institute within the wider group of institutes that its legislative basis differs as little as possible from the main Act.

Section 13 of the Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992, the principal Act in this area, provides for the preparation of operational programmes in the institutes. I have received, in my capacity as a member of vocational education committees, such operational programmes, which are in essence a strategy statement for the existing colleges. Those programmes must be related to the two academic years following the year in which they are made. The Minister has powers over their content. Following consultation, for example, the institutes have been provided with guidelines on the content of the programmes. They should include the education plan and mission statement of the institute, budgetary and financial overviews, skills shortages provisions, analysis of retention levels and proposals for new courses. In this way much of what the Deputies wish to achieve in the amendments is already provided for in the existing scheme.

There is a great deal of linkage with industry. The strength of the technological sector has been its ongoing collaboration from the outset with business and industry in that sector. More recently many colleges have appointed a head of development and industrial liaison officer to improve co-operation with industry and ensure that courses are industrially relevant. We have embarked on new initiatives in the past 18 months on skills issues in collaboration with industry. A clear illustration of that is the 18 month accelerated technician courses. There are also special summer courses within the institutes. Those arose as a result of proposals made by the technician task force which I established two years ago and which included representatives from industry and the institutes. It was driven by a former director. These new courses were pioneered from that type of collaboration. The support for the technician development centre and institute of technology in Tallaght was given in conjunction with local high-tech industry to provide short upskilling courses.

The expansion of continuing education programmes in the institutes in Cork, Dublin and Tallaght is complemented by tax relief on fees. New foundation qualifications have been developed by the NCEA. These are aimed at mature students who wish to return to education. There has also been a significant development in links with the post leaving certificate college sector, with a reserved number of places for entrants from this sector.

[1162] The Regional Technical Colleges Act, 1992, provided that the Minister may by order assign additional functions to an institute. The Minister can bring an order to the House to assign additional functions. That order is subject to the positive resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas. I commit myself to bring such an order before the House in relation to Blanchardstown which will incorporate the concept of the mission statement for the college and which will focus on local disadvantage and links with industry.

The site of the institute was not decided by accident but because there is much industry around it and because of high participation rates. I am prepared to bring a separate order before the House which will detail the strategy statement and mission statement of the college.

Mr. O'Shea:  In view of the undertaking which the Minister gave, I am happy to withdraw my amendment. Much good work is being done in the community. Yesterday we mentioned the home-school community liaison scheme. Parents are being reintroduced to the education system through that scheme. The linkage is not sufficiently strong, however, to give a clear pathway for people to re-enter the formal sector. I ask the Minister to make it clear to the institute that this area should be addressed.

Mr. Martin:  I will. Some of the institutes are doing that now by breaking down barriers with second level schools in their areas or in areas where there is significant socio-economic disadvantage – the BYTE programme in the Ballymun area is one such scheme. A number of institutes are now undertaking similar programmes.

Mr. R. Bruton:  I welcome the Minister's decision to introduce an order to the House assigning certain functions to the Blanchardstown institute of education. How does he see this developing? There are two dimensions to this. As well as a mission statement, a process must be started. That was the merit of the approach set out in the amendments. We sought to set out certain broad objectives to be pursued, against which we can judge the success of the institute, and to develop a clear strategy statement. It is necessary to ensure that the order the Minister introduces embraces those concepts. A process of involving a wider range of players in the development of the strategy needs to be put in place. I would like to see the scope of the Minister's proposals. Will he come back before the House with not only functions for the institute but a process which will embrace the broader approach outlined in the amendments?

The Minister said that this is a brand new approach to tackling problems at third level in terms of an institute which would be significantly different and which would do exciting new things. I was surprised when he said at the same time [1163] that he wants to minimise any difference between Blanchardstown and the other institutes. It does not make sense to design something innovative and then to say that it cannot be different in its legislative basis from its predecessors. This is a distorted form of snobbery. The Minister does not want to call it different in case people will see it as being inferior. It is the desire of this House for it to be regarded as different because it is superior and is doing things which have been neglected for a long time. That is at the root of the discontent – pouring this new institute into the old skins of the Regional Technical College legislation suggests that it is not different.

The Minister said that things are now radically different and colleges have developed significant links with industry. That is true at the high-tech end of the industrial scale but it is far from true at the low-tech end. An institute such as that in Blanchardstown should foster a more radical approach to the development of smallscale indigenous companies.

I recall the initiative of the chambers of commerce which developed the PLATO programme to upgrade company managerial skills. That was done entirely outside the education system. It seemed extraordinary at the time that a quintessentially skill and management development and educational role was being developed outside the education system. It was looking to middle management in other companies to develop programmes and polices to upgrade the skills of owner-manager companies and medium and low technology companies. It seems that part of the mandate for an institute such as Blanchardstown will be its role in filling that gap. If we do not develop owner-manager and small scale companies which have the management capability to look beyond survival and at where the opportunities lie in the longer term, we will end up with a type of dual economy with the strong high technology companies, which are largely foreign owned, with some associate Irish owned companies, which have moved across the threshold to become part of that scene, and another bloc of companies which are not as innovative. The Blanchardstown Institute is well placed, if given an explicit mandate in this sphere, to try to address those issues.

If one looks at analysis of where the skill gaps in Ireland lie, one will find it is very often in management capability and in that we have not developed successful management training programmes and approaches. It is important the Oireachtas gets a chance to put some type of frame on this. It will be easy for the Blanchardstown Institute or any other institute to form its alliances with the silicon valley companies, but we want to see something different. Just as we want to see something different in relation to the students coming through the colleges, we want to see something different in terms of the links with industry.

[1164] I am interested in the Minister's proposal to come back to the House with an order which will assign some additional functions to the institute. That is a hopeful sign but it does not fully respond to the two amendments. I would like the Minister to elaborate on how he will do that, the type of things he will include in the new order and the type of things which cannot go into it. For example, can the issue of framing a strategy statement be included in it? Is that a function under the terms of the Minister's power under the existing Act? Do we need to give him a slightly broader power on Report Stage to come back with an order not solely relating to functions, but to the broader approach and policy approach adopted by the institute?

Mr. Martin:  We would endeavour to go along that route. I have already given a mandate to the acting board of governors of the institute which embraces almost everything that has been said today in respect of disadvantage, industry and business links, quality teaching, skills shortages and so on. I envisage consultation with the governing body of the institute prior to the order being made and that there will be consultation with groups in the community and in the immediate hinterland of the college. It is worth mentioning that the acting board is chaired by a person who is involved in a major industry in the area and that it has plc representation as well. One can see that already much of what has been said is happening. The procedure would be that we would consult the institute and, as Deputy Bruton said, have a wider consultation procedure which could involve Opposition spokespersons as well. The order would then be brought to the House for debate and resolution in the autumn.

Mr. Naughten:  I welcome the point the Minister made. I know it will not happen in Blanchardstown but I had the experience in a third level institution where the head of a department would have nothing to do with industry because he felt it compromised the academic standing of the education he was giving his students. Resources were not received from industry and there was not any liaison with it. I fear that unless we copperfasten that link in legislation or, I hope, in the order, this may arise again at some stage in the future. The institutes of technology have led in terms of co-operation and participation with industry. Given that the legislation is before us, now is the time to ensure that type of liaison is copperfastened in it.

Deputy Bruton made the crucial point that on the one hand, the Minister said we want the structures regarding the legislation dealing with this new institute as similar as possible to what has gone before but on the other hand, we want the institution to be radically different in certain areas than what has gone before. How will we strike that balance? That is the question raised in both the amendments. I hope the order will help to strike that balance.

[1165] It is important that we have a certain amount of control like that to which the Minister referred on Second Stage when he set out the commendable objectives. However, I am afraid that if the Minister is not in office in a few months, the objectives may not be fulfilled. The next Minister's eye may not be on the ball in terms of that institute of technology. Although the goals have been set for the institute, they may not be reached unless we have a control mechanism in place.

Mr. R. Bruton:  I would like to be sure the Minister at least accepts the point I made about medium technology industry. The temptation for the Blanchardstown Institute will be to go for high technology—

Mr. Martin:  We have already identified that there will be apprenticeship in Blanchardstown.

Mr. R. Bruton:  It is wider than just apprenticeships in that the large deficiency in Irish based industry is in the management area. An institute such as Blanchardstown is well placed to provide a type of back-up in that area – an outreach service which would encourage companies which might otherwise struggle in the medium-term. If the Blanchardstown Institute is to make its mark, it must develop those type of exciting programmes, such as PLATO, in a small way which will reach out to owner managed and small indigenous companies and bring something new to them. I am not an expert in the field but the introduction of computer aided design, for example, to some Irish based operations would dramatically change their potential. There is a need for the Minister to be cognisant of that when introducing an order.

In terms of timing, we would like to see the order at an early date. The Minister rightly said the institute is at full tilt now and is preparing to take in students in September. I would be interested to know when the Minister envisages publishing an order for discussion and consultation so that we would have an early response from the governing body to the terms the Minister is considering. We would then have the chance to consult on what might be in such an order. It would be useful if the Minister came forward with his ideas at an early stage. If we were not taking all Stages of the Bill, I would be keen to see it before Report Stage. However, I do not know if the Dáil schedule would permit that.

Mr. Martin:  We have to consult the institute.

Mr. R. Bruton:  The Minister can consult but the process of development should be started. Draft heads could be produced for consultation.

Mr. Martin:  I envisage publishing an order for discussion and consultation in the autumn, which will be early in the next session.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[1166] SECTION 2.

Question proposed: “That section 2 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. R. Bruton:  Section 2 says “The Minister shall by order appoint a day to be the establishment day for the purposes of this Act.” I am surprised the Minister has not used the term “upon enactment”. What is the reason for this more cautious approach whereby the Minister will withhold establishment of the institute of technology until a later date? I thought once the Act was in place the process would be triggered.

Mr. Martin:  It is a question of having all the pieces in place. In other words, dissolution of the company must happen more or less simultaneously with the establishment of the college. This will happen very soon after the Bill is passed.

Mr. R. Bruton:  The Bill provides for the dissolution.

Mr. Martin:  There is not a big deal in this regard. My advice is that people are anxious to have all the “i”s dotted and “t”s crossed.

Question put and agreed to.

Section 3 agreed to.

Acting Chairman:  Amendment No. 2 has already been discussed with amendment No. 1.

Amendment No. 2 not moved.


Mr. R. Bruton:  I move amendment No. 3:

In page 4, before section 4, to insert the following new section:

4.–Section 15 of the Principal Act is hereby amended by the insertion of the following subsection:

‘(2) Notwithstanding subsection (1), the Minister may delegate to the Higher Education Authority or such other body constituted by order for the purpose of the payment of amounts to each college, as may be approved by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance.'.

I am keen to open the debate regarding the funding approach to the institutes of technology and in particular for this new institute. Under section 15 it is the Minister who has the sole relationship with the colleges. This was much like the old approach the Minister for Health took to some of the acute hospitals which were not under health boards. This issue concerns situations where there is a relationship between the Minister and a front line agency. In many areas we have seen the desirability of developing a more integrated [1167] approach to funding and developing specialist agencies outside the Department which develop a skill in monitoring and supporting the development of programmes by colleges. It certainly strikes me that the Higher Education Authority has developed such a skill and its track record is very well respected in the various bodies currently under its remit. It may be time to think about giving the Higher Education Authority the role of mediator between the colleges and the funding agency. This would give the Minister and the Department a greater opportunity to be a policy making body rather than a hands-on, fire brigade-type body which tries to respond on a daily basis to issues arising from colleges. It is similar to the reform of the Aireacht envisaged many years ago. There is merit in developing the sort of skills the Higher Education Authority possesses. It has depoliticised to some extent the relationships between the colleges and the Higher Education Authority compared to the situation pertaining when there is a direct link to the Department and the Minister. Many advantages have been gained from the establishment of the HEA.

It strikes me that we should be thinking not about the immediate change, which will be abrupt, but that the Minister should take upon himself the authority to delegate the power he currently has to a body such as the HEA. In an earlier draft of this amendment I included all other institutes of technology and acknowledged that the Minister may wish to have a different body constituted by order. However, those elements of the earlier draft were out of order because of the danger of imposing a charge on the Exchequer and of going beyond the scope of the Bill.

It is important to raise this issue of principle in relation to the development of the institutes of technology and I am interested to hear the Minister's view. It is my understanding that the Higher Education Authority has on occasion expressed an interest in playing such a role and it would be well able to respect the binary approach which has been a particularly important dimension of policy over the years and one the Minister and I are very keen to see retained. However, this does not necessarily preclude us from having a specialist authority, such as the Higher Education Authority with its name suitably adapted if necessary, doing this sort of work. My feeling is that the Higher Education Authority has done much good work and that the Department, due to the pressures on it, cannot do such work with equal effect. The work of the Higher Education Authority has depoliticised some issues which would otherwise have become causes célèbres with people hammering on the Minister's door, sometimes resisting desirable reforms and sometimes looking for things to which they were rightly entitled.

We must professionalise the approach being taken by the Department. In general the Department has sought to preserve far too much power [1168] and has not devolved enough power. The Department suffers as a result as it is trying to do too many things and satisfy too many demands.

I await the Minister's response with great interest as it is not very often we get an opportunity to discuss issues of broader principle in the development of our education system. We should examine the merits of change in this area, given that the Higher Education Authority has been signally effective and successful in the approach it has taken.

Mr. O'Shea:  This amendment raises a number of very important issues in terms of the structures which exist and which are about to be introduced to the sector and also in the manner in which funding is disseminated to the various institutions.

In 1992 two Acts, namely, the Regional Technical Colleges Act and the Dublin Institute of Technology Act, moved simultaneously through the House. All current institutes of technology receive moneys from the same fund, with the allocation being divided among the various institutes, with the exception of the Dublin Institute of Technology, the funding of which is separate. On Second Stage of the Education and Training (Qualifications) Bill I made the point that to facilitate the growth of colleges in terms of the validation over time of their qualifications, namely, national certificates and diplomas, and for colleges to then apply for review under the Universities Act, 1997, as the Dublin Institute of Technology has done, there should be an interim phase in which colleges, on being delegated powers to award their own certificates and diplomas, should be given an existence similar to that which the Dublin Institute of Technology currently enjoys. If the institutes of technology will have the opportunity to gain university status, which will be open to them following the enactment of the Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill [Seanad] as the Universities Act, 1997, is in place, this interim phase is important.

On the points raised by Deputy Bruton, the NCEA will cease to exist as soon as the Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill [Seanad] is enacted and the Higher Education and Training Council will take up many of the powers which the NCEA held to date. Essentially, the NCEA was a validating body. The universities validate their own qualifications and funding comes through the Higher Education Authority. The funding for the institute of technology sector has come directly from the Department heretofore and it appears that will continue. I favour the idea that all funding would come through the HEA. That will bring about inclusion. It will result in the review of Higher Education Authority funding to see how it may be used most effectively to serve students, which is most important. The quality and extent of qualifications must be in tune with the demands of the marketplace. However, the marketplace cannot be the only determinant. The humanities area must enjoy [1169] independence. That is important but it is a philosophical question into which I will not go now.

There are areas related to the finance of the third level sector which do not make sense, are inefficient and are unco-ordinated. Whereas I would not support the idea that one of the institutes of technology should be funded through the HEA, I certainly would favour the entire third level sector receiving its funding through the Higher Education Authority in time because the taxpayers and the students would get a better deal and it would be more efficient.

When the Regional Technical Colleges Bill, 1991, was being discussed there was a sub-agenda which did not arise often in the debate. It related to where the PLC students would go because a numbers game may apply with colleges. The PLC students are in the area of the education structure, to which they are best suited and from which they will receive the best education. My point is that all institutes of technology should have a growth path and we must make appropriate provision for them.

I have a constituency interest in this which I am not shy to talk about, but this involves a broader concept. As Deputy Bruton stated, the idea that all the institutes of technology should be financed through the HEA, cannot be achieved overnight and would involve a lead-in time but I cannot see the logic of not having such a provision after a reasonable period.

Mr. Martin:  There is no great argument about the content of the debate so far on this issue. The amendment is not necessary to achieve its objective because it could be achieved just as well by ministerial regulation made under section 1 of the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971. In other words, the Minister already has the power to bring the funding of institutes under the wing of the HEA. However, to transfer the Minister's functions as regards the institute in this way would be premature. There are other issues to consider – my comments relate to the whole technological sector coming under the Higher Education Authority for funding and regulation. We must take on board other issues such as the composition of the HEA, which would have to change to reflect the inclusion in its remit of the new institutes. Other structural and financial issues would also have to be considered, including the possible transfer of other powers of the Minister to the authority. These issues will require more extensive planning and legislation than is comprehended in this amendment. To that end, I have requested the Higher Education Authority to reconvene the working group to plan for the extension of the authority's remit to the institute.

It would also be entirely inappropriate to single out this institute for inclusion under the Higher Education Authority funding remit while retaining the status quo for all the other institutes. The transfer of the functions to the Higher Education Authority should take place in an orderly and [1170] comprehensive way not on a piecemeal basis. We can accommodate the wishes of the Deputies in the manner I have outlined. That is the correct approach to take.

Mr. R. Bruton:  I welcome the Minister's response, which seems positive. However, I want to push him further on it. I would like to look at “the blacks” of the report to see precisely what he said. I am not sure he said he believes in principle that this should happen. I think he said he does not need new powers to do it, and is asking someone else to look at it rather than expressing support in principle for the approach. I would like him to be a little more clear about this approach because it has many merits, some of which Deputy O'Shea and I outlined.

Mr. Martin:  I said I had no argument with the debate. That was my opening remark.

Mr. R. Bruton:  What does that mean?

Mr. Martin:  It means I am in favour of bringing the funding of the institutes under the HEA. The timing of this is an issue. I have asked the Higher Education Authority to reconvene a working group to work out the issues I outlined and, according to the Department's higher education section, it has done so. I would favour bringing the institutes under the Higher Education Authority but I have not yet given a commitment on the timing of the legislation. The Department has two or three other Bills in the pipeline.

Mr. R. Bruton:  I am quite happy with that. It is the right direction to take. While we obviously want to retain the binary system, which has been successful, one of the things Porter diagnosed as setting successful nations apart from those which do not succeed, albeit in economics, is the development of a sub-university sector which is closer to industry. That is a feature of many successful industrialising nations. No doubt I will be told by the Minister that our forebears who had the foresight to establish the Regional Technical Colleges were members of Fianna Fáil.

Mr. Martin:  They were.

Mr. R. Bruton:  We must see this develop. Retaining within the Department powers over budgets and programmes and the sort of minutiae which is involved here is not particularly healthy. The sooner the Minister gets this work moving, the better. Like other decisions taken years ago, I believe this one will prove fruitful in the long-term. It will result in a more rational allocation of funding, promote excellence and bring additional quality control pressures to bear which may be difficult to exercise from within the Department. Taxpayers, students and those devoting their professional careers to the institutes will benefit from the decision.

[1171]Mr. O'Shea:  Perhaps we are handing out too much praise but I welcome the Minister's response to this amendment. Where a particular institute has been awarded the power to validate its own national certificates and diplomas, as was the case with the Dublin Institute of Technology when the Dublin Institute of Technology legislation became law, has the Minister any problem in principle with such an institute standing alone in the funding area in the same way as the Dublin Institute of Technology? Funding for the Dublin Institute of Technology does not come out of the institute of technology pool per se, rather separate funding is provided by the Department.

Mr. Martin:  This is a new issue; that demand has not yet been made. The issue forms part of an overall debate in regard to the directions in which institutes want to move. I am in favour of maintaining the broad binary system and of having a broad framework which can oversee and facilitate the growth and development of colleges, both in terms of having the capacity and delegated authority to make their own sub-degree and degree awards. I am in favour of putting clear mechanisms in place for that purpose. It will be sufficient to put in place a framework which allows for development and growth in accordance with established and objective procedures.

In regard to funding, the idea of institutions coming under the Higher Education Authority would encompass everybody. I would find it anomalous if, in the future, we were to bring all institutions of technology, bar one, under the HEA. It would seem logical that we should deal with all of them under the one umbrella from a funding point of view. Staff grades and other aspects of the institutes are very similar. The staff all belong to the same unions so there are many practical issues involved. Perhaps we can tease out an amendment to the Higher Education Authority Act when we are considering the Higher Education Authority which would involve bringing the institutes under a new funding regime. All of the institutions, including the Dublin Institute of Technology, are currently funded in the same way.

Mr. O'Shea:  Dublin Institute of Technology stands alone.

Mr. Martin:  The same funding arrangements apply to it as to the other institutes.

Mr. O'Shea:  The Minister would not win much support for that interpretation of the current situation within the sector.

Mr. Martin:  That is the reality. The higher education section of the Department applies established funding mechanisms and procedures. I do not get involved in the details of the funding of institutes, nor has any other Minister for quite some time. Procedures are in place between the Departments of Finance and Education and Sci[1172] ence through which funding is allocated in terms of numbers, staffing, courses and so on. The fact that a particular Act was passed in regard to the Dublin Institute of Technology does not mean it gets a head start on other institutes in terms of staffing and funding.

Mr. O'Shea:  That may be an over-simplistic view of the situation. An allocation is made in relation to all other institutes of technology.

Mr. Martin:  It is not. All of the institutes submit their budgets to the Department and argue their individual cases. If new programmes are submitted, they will have staffing and funding implications. If this matter were transferred to the HEA, it would be responsible for the distribution of funding.

Mr. O'Shea:  I take the point that that might be the case in the future. If a particular college or institute of technology is allowed to award its own certificates and diplomas and subsequently wishes to expand, it will be unable to do so if it is kept within the family of institutes of technology in which other institutes are not moving in the same direction. Restrictions would have to be imposed on the type or level of funding such an institute should receive.

Mr. Martin:  That would not be a tenable position. I sense the beginning of a new campaign here. In fairness to him, the Deputy has fulfilled his constituency remit. To suggest that because a particular institution comes under the same legislative framework as other colleges, its capacity for growth is undermined or it is somehow contaminated, is simply untrue. The evidence of the past 18 months proves that.

The reality is that Waterford Institute of Technology has not ever received so much capital or current funding from any previous Government as it has from this one. The current structures did not inhibit that. The establishment of the educational technology investment fund was a great boon for Waterford because it put flesh on the institution's change of title. We can all change names but resources are the bottom line.

We must do away with this business of everyone watching everyone else. There is too much of the attitude in the sector that “if the other gang are not far enough behind me, I am not far enough up the ladder”. People are chasing after baubles, rather than concentrating on real issues such as resources.

The Waterford Institute of Technology is doing very well. The objective review carried out on it was very good. The fact that the review was objective is very important. As a Minister from Cork, I cannot interfere in the objective review of the Cork institute. Likewise, I cannot interfere with an objective review of the Waterford institute. It is very important that academic reviews are objective. It is not fair to say that because all of the institutes operate under the [1173] aegis of the Department, they are being inhibited in some way. The Waterford Institute of Technology is not being inhibited; it is growing quite dramatically. There is sufficient campus activity in terms of planning and design teams to keep it going for quite a while.

Mr. O'Shea:  The Minister was incorrect in stating that the institutes of technology come under the same legislation. Separate legislation is in place for the Dublin Institute of Technology. The problem in Waterford relates to regional deficit as distinct from one institution versus another. I put it to the Minister that if Waterford and the south-east region is to raise itself to the necessary level of degree provision, my proposal is the way to go. I am not merely referring to Waterford; the Cork institute might well raise itself to the same standard. If colleges reach a certain standard, their further growth will be inhibited unless they are accorded a stand-alone existence. Any institute which wants to move forward should be able to do so.

Acting Chairman (Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin):  I urge Deputies to confine their comments to the content of the amendment.

Mr. Martin:  In deference to the Chair, I will take up this debate again at a later stage with Deputy O'Shea. Institutions will not be held back because they come under the same funding structure. All of the universities operate under the same funding structure.

Mr. Naughten:  Deputy O'Shea made a very valid point. Certain institutes of technology, including the Dublin Institute of Technology, to which I referred in my Second Stage speech, do not even have proper computer facilities. Some students only get two hours access per week to computers in spite of the fact that they have an immense amount of project work to complete.

The required funding structure is not in place. The Minister is talking about a new approach and the provision of computer laboratories in Blanchardstown Institute of Technology but this will place it on a different level to some of the other institutes throughout the country which have not been upgraded to the same standard.

Mr. Martin:  They have.

Mr. Naughten:  I gave a particular example on Second Stage.

Mr. Martin:  Which one?

Mr. Naughten:  Dublin Institute of Technology, Bolton Street. Students only have access to computers one morning per week for one or two hours for project work. The same applies to Athlone Institute of Techology. Deputy O'Shea made a valid point. The development of these institutes has been restricted as the necessary resources are not readily available. Blanchards[1174] town Institute of Technology, in which additional resources are to be invested, is located on a 60 acre site.

Mr. Martin:  The largest ever investment programme in institutes of technology is under way. Every campus is being transformed because of the unprecedented level of investment released by the Government under the technology investment fund. More will be done. Extra land has been purchased in Galway, Waterford, Cork and Dublin where Grangegorman is on the agenda. We are doing all we can to increase capacity to allow the institutes to grow.

Mr. Naughten:  Perhaps the Minister will consider purchasing a site in Roscommon town for Athlone Institute of Technology.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Section 4 agreed to.


Mr. O'Shea:  I move amendment No. 4:

In page 5, subsection (4)(c), lines 26 and 27, after “professions” to insert “, local community interests”.

If this amendment is accepted, subsection (4)(c) will read:

five persons shall be appointed from among persons nominated for such appointment by such organisations as the Minister considers ought to be represented (having regard to the particular courses provided by the College) on the governing body and which have been invited by the Minister to make such nominations for the purposes of this paragraph, and such organisations shall be representative of industry, agriculture, commerce, the professions, local community interests and other interests which are appropriate to the activities of the College.

The thinking behind this amendment is that there is a great need for full community involvement in the governing body of the new college.

Mr. Martin:  It was our hope that the provision was broad enough to accommodate the Deputy's proposal but I have no difficulty in accepting the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. R. Bruton:  I move amendment No. 5:

In page 6, subsection (8), lines 6 to 8, to delete “an appropriate gender balance as determined by the Minister from time to time” and substitute “that in nominations for appointment under subsections (4)(a), (4)(c) and (5), at least one third or resultant appointments would be of each gender”.

[1175] Subsection (8) reads:

In making appointments to the governing body pursuant to this section the Minister shall have regard to the extent to which each sex is represented on the governing body and shall ensure an appropriate gender balance as determined by the Minister from time to time.

The current provision introduces a difficult process for the Minister in that he will make appointments from the persons nominated by the various bodies mentioned. There is a need to ensure the process of nomination is governed by a provision which provides for gender balance. A provision which stipulates a balance of one in three would not impose an undue burden. It would mean that where two or three persons are being nominated at least one would have to be female. A difficulty would arise where one person is being nominated, as happened in the case of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Leaving the section vague, however, is not satisfactory. There is a need to introduce a more explicit requirement.

Mr. Martin:  The same wording is used in section 6(5) of the 1992 Regional Technical Colleges Act. The institute is being firmly placed within the same statutory structure. This provision has worked well to date and ensured a gender balance of at least 40 per cent men and 40 per cent women on governing bodies by Government direction. There is no reason to assume that it will not work equally well in Blanchardstown Institute of Technology. The amendment could have a negative effect.

Mr. R. Bruton:  Is the Minister saying that at least 40 per cent of the members of every governing body are women?

Mr. Martin:  Yes.

Mr. R. Bruton:  The Department recently provided me with a report of a governing body of one of the institutes which I shall not name and, bar one or two, all are male.

Mr. Martin:  Which one?

Mr. R. Bruton:  I do not want to libel anyone—

Mr. Martin:  In appointing the new governing body of Cork Institute of Technology under the earlier Act the VEC of which I was a member I was informed that the figure of 40 per cent had to be achieved. It was achieved following negotiations with all the nominating bodies. This figure must be achieved on all State boards.

Mr. R. Bruton:  Will the Minister check the position before Report Stage?

Mr. Martin:  That is the position.

[1176]Mr. R. Bruton:  The Department provided me with reports of two governing bodies and the figure of 40 per cent has not been achieved in at least one. Perhaps the Minister will clarify before Report Stage that such a direction has been given.

Mr. Martin:  Such a direction has been given.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. O'Shea:  I move amendment No. 6:

In page 6, lines 12 to 21, to delete subsections (10) and (11).

This amendment simply seeks to delete the extension of time for the interim board. Under the amendment, the interim board could exist for two years when the full board would have to apply. Under the Bill, the interim board could last for five years, which is an excessive period. Two years is adequate for the interim board.

Mr. Martin:  It is intended that there would be a full board as soon as the college is established on a statutory basis and students and staff come on stream. It would not be a case of keeping the interim board in place for five or seven years, but the section gives the Minister the flexibility to give the first governing body five years, if necessary, as it would be a green field situation.

Mr. O'Shea:  I wish to clarify the following point. Is the Minister saying that if there were insufficient staff or students to fill the board after two years and before five years, the board could be left unfilled or fully filled?

Mr. Martin:  The purpose of the section is to allow flexibility. The section establishes the first governing body of the institute in a manner which is as consistent as possible with the Regional Technical Colleges Acts. The term of office of the first members of the first governing body is limited to two years in section 5(9). However, as this is a start-up situation, circumstances may arise in which it would not be advisable to remove a governing body after two years. In such a situation the Minister may extend the term of office for a further period of up to five years. This is the term of office of all governing bodies in the institute of technology sector so it is by no means unreasonably long. An additional safeguard is provided in section 5(11) whereby an order extending the term of office of the governing body will require positive approval by the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Mr. R. Bruton:  I too am seeking clarification. My understanding is that the existing Regional Technical College Act provides that the governing body should include two representatives of the academic staff, one of the non-academic staff and two of the student body. What if a governing body passes the two year mark without including representatives of staff and students? Could such a body fail to trigger section 5(5), or give the [1177] Minister notice that it wants to appoint the staff and student representatives and obtain another five years without the appropriate, balanced representations of staff and students? That seems a valid concern.

Mr. Martin:  It can only obtain another three years on top of the two years.

Mr. R. Bruton:  Can the Minister give an assurance that there will have to be a balanced board before any extension is given? We are allowing the governing body to be established without student or staff representation. We do not want to see extensions provided without such representation. That would be ludicrous.

Mr. Martin:  That is obvious.

Mr. R. Bruton:  It seems possible from reading the Bill.

Mr. Martin:  The Minister would have certain powers regarding this matter. It would be unthinkable for a Minister to approve of a situation in which student or staff representatives were not on the board.

Mr. O'Shea:  I do not intend to pursue the amendment. On balance, the Minister's suggestion seems to have merit as the college develops. I do not know how it can be done, but I want to guard against a situation in which, for example, the academic staff is not amenable to student representations and finds methods of prevaricating so that the agenda cannot move forward. The concept of all sections moving forward is important. I can see practical difficulties arising. However, we need to guard against unnecessary delays in appointing student and staff representatives. I agree with the principle of allowing room to develop but I am a little concerned that three years allows for some type of exploitation of the situation, if some individuals are so disposed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed: “That section 5, as amended, stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Naughten:  I wish to refer to section 5(4)(a) dealing with the nomination of appointees by County Dublin Vocational Education Committee. Blanchardstown is on the border of County Dublin and County Meath. Why was County Meath VEC not included? I have not been prompted by Deputy Bruton but County Meath VEC should be represented as many of the students will probably come from that county.

Mr. Martin:  Section 5(14) deals with this issue. It states:

If the region likely, in the opinion of the Minister, to be served by the College includes all or part of the functional area of one or more [1178] than one vocational education committee, other than the County Dublin Vocational Education Committee, the Minister may direct that one or more than one, but not more than four in all, of the persons to whom paragraph (a) of subsection (4) relates, shall be nominated by such of those other committees as the Minister may specify.

Mr. Naughten:  I note that section. The trouble is that we are talking about “likely” and “may”. There will be many students from County Meath as Blanchardstown is on the county border. It would be similar to reconstituting the governing body of Athlone Institute of Technology without including anyone from County Roscommon, which is two miles away. That would not make sense. The Minister should consider this issue.

I also wish to refer to the matter of student representation on the governing body, dealt with in section 5(5). The academic staff on the governing body of some colleges may not be amenable to student representation. I am aware of one university in which the president of the student union, who is automatically a member of the governing body, did not become a member of the governing body for eight months. The president was elected in March, took office in July but was not a member of the governing body until the following January. The previous union president had already left college so there was no student representative on the governing body for six to eight months. That student representative then left after a few months so the president of the student union was only there for a couple of months when her term of office expired.

This is the problem with the original Act which stipulates that two persons, one woman and one man, being registered students of the college, shall be chosen in accordance with regulations made by the governing body. I am dubious about the intentions of some governing bodies. This may not happen again but it has happened and we want to avoid a recurrence. The Minister should examine the legislation to see if we can include such a safeguard in the Bill. It is crucially important that students are represented on the governing body. I made this point on the Education Bill and the Minister is very positive on this matter.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.

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

Acting Chairman:  Deputy Broughan is due to speak but he is not present. I call Deputy Ring.


Mr. Ring:  I wish to share my time with Deputies Coveney, Crawford, Donal Carey, Boylan and Ulick Burke.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Ring:  I congratulate Deputy Flanagan on bringing this Bill before the Dáil. As Deputy Broughan has just arrived I will yield to him.

Mr. Broughan:  I thank Deputy Ring. As usual, he is most helpful and co-operative.

I welcome the Bill introduced by Deputy Flanagan on behalf of the Fine Gael party. I particularly welcome the important definitions of bribery and secret commission. Sometimes there appears to be sufficient powers in place to deal with political bribery and corruption. Last night my colleagues, Deputy Moynihan-Cronin and Deputy Ferris, mentioned the definition of the presumption of corruption in section 2 of the prevention of corruption legislation of 1932 and referred to the legislation introduced by a former and, I hope, future colleague in this House, Eithne Fitzgerald, in relation to ethics in Government. There was an attempt in that Bill to deal with the issue of special advisers and their role.

I sometimes believe that the ethics legislation and the Bill before the House tonight represent a feeble response to the barrage of allegations which have been made in recent years and which are being investigated in the tribunals. The rainbow Government made major efforts, through the establishment of the Criminal Assets Bureau, to introduce a regime which would make political corruption amenable to swift investigation and punishment.

One of the problems that Government dealt with was the double standard in the Irish media and public life. I remember being severely criticised in an editorial in The Irish Times in relation to a whistleblower section, section 153, which Deputy Quinn attempted to introduce in the Finance Bill, 1995. The former Deputy, Michael McDowell, who is responsible for issuing a fine report today, and the current Minister, Deputy McCreevy, were very unhappy that the rainbow Government was attempting to provide support for accountants and lawyers who wished to act in a legal manner in the discharge of their duties.

More than two millennia ago, the philosopher Plato tried to address the question of how to run a state without corruption in his philosophical tract on politics, “The Republic”. He concluded that politicians should have neither families or property so that when they reached a certain level it would be impossible to influence them through money or otherwise.

Political parties are heavily dependent on corporate funding and significant personal donations. The last six weeks were ruinous for all political parties, particularly the two largest parties, due to the cost of the recent elections. I was most unhappy that there was no limit on spending [1180] in the European elections and, consequently, in the local elections. There were massive poster campaigns and the Fianna Fáil Party was able to book the back page of local newspapers throughout the country to highlight their candidates. It must have been a hugely expensive exercise. Where did the money come from? The decision not to have spending limits was deliberately taken to secure an advantage over smaller parties such as mine.

He who pays the piper calls the tune. Parties which are heavily dependent on big business, builders and developers, such as the Government parties and, at times, Fine Gael, will find it difficult to resist attempts to gain unfair influence. The recent troubles we have had with three or four senior politicians being obliged to appear before tribunals can be directly traced to the dependence of politics on the corporate and business sector. The solution is simple. Deputy Fleming, in one of the recent reports of the committee on the Constitution, said all corporate and business donations should be banned. I agree. Deputies should be paid a decent salary, probably significantly higher than their current salary, and given appropriate staff. All donations should then be banned.

When one is engaged in fundraising, holding race nights, fashion shows and other enterprises – something every Member will have to do after these extremely expensive local elections – even a small donation, such as a £100 advertisement in the race night programme, places the politician under an obligation. It is difficult to tell somebody prepared to fund the political party and who comes to the politician with a problem, perhaps related to an aspect of planning or development, to get lost. That is the central problem and it can only be dealt with by banning political donations. That would also prevent the recurrence of the scenes at the McCracken tribunal a few years ago when State cars carrying Ministers were lined up in the grounds of Dublin Castle.

The great philosopher of the socialist movement Karl Marx said that the economic powers of a society are reflected in its parliament. By that standard this Parliament, which has approximately 23 direct representatives of the workers, is an ideal example of what happens when the great economic forces in a society dominate its affairs. That is the problem we face.

I commend Deputy Flanagan for bringing this Bill before the House, for defining corruption and for attempting to secure a level playing pitch in relation to white collar crime, particularly as it affects the political scene. Last night, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, heavily criticised the Bill for its technical shortcomings. Some of the omissions he mentioned were dealt with by my colleagues, Deputy Ferris and Deputy Moynihan-Cronin. While some of the criticisms should be taken on board by the sponsor of the Bill, the legislation is a good basis to begin improving the law on corruption.

[1181] However, Deputy Flanagan and the Fine Gael Party should be prepared to go further and take on board the sad lessons to be drawn from the scenes in Dublin Castle over the past 18 months and in previous tribunals and eradicate any threat of corruption to this political process.

Ms Hanafin:  I wish to share time with Deputies McGuinness, Michael Kitt and O'Flynn.

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

Ms Hanafin:  Bribery and corruption date back as far as the Garden of Eden. Coupled with greed, they have given rise to many problems in the past 2,000 years. That is why legislation has been introduced, especially over the past century, in many countries, including Australia and the UK, to try to define bribery and corruption, the principles and persons involved and all the elements necessary to them. It is worrying that, in democratic societies at the end of this century, the abuse of power and the growth of greed has forced the introduction of new measures to prevent corruption and to improve standards. Nowhere is this more relevant than in public office, be the people involved public representatives or public officials. The principles of fairness and equality should apply to us all in our dealings with everyone and high standards are demanded of us all. In that context, it is unfortunate that Bills such as Deputy Flanagan's need to be introduced, but I welcome his contribution to the debate on the prevention of corruption.

The Bill seeks to amend the law on corruption – an area in which we have had much law dating back to 1916 – by creating new offences of bribery and secret commissions. That the law in this area dates back to 1916 and that 1914 and 1916 gave us laws relating to fraud and larceny with which we are grappling and which are impossible for juries to interpret means there is a need for the law in this area to be updated. I accept the Bill is a contribution to the overall debate, but it is not sufficient in itself to tackle the problems.

Section 2 creates a new offence of bribery. An offence of bribery already exists in common law which recognises a doctrine of joint enterprise where people are acting together. If Billy sends Jack to accept money for him, both Billy and Jack are guilty, and this principle is already well established. Section 2 seems to presume this is not the position. Even if the section were included and passed, I do not believe any person would be found guilty as a result of it who would not have been found guilty under common law as it exists.

Section 3, which deals with secret commissions, section 4, which deals with the abuse of public position, and section 5, which deals with the abuse of public office, are drafted in very wide terms. I note this because, of all things, criminal law demands certainty, and the offences drafted here appear to be vague and uncertain and would undoubtedly lead to prolonged and expensive liti[1182] gation. Section 7 seeks to say that certain things would not constitute a defence. It appears to ignore the fact that mens rea is an essential element of every criminal offence. The guilty mind and intent must exist. I am not sure this is catered for in section 7.

Despite the fact our legislation dates back to 1916 and the offence has stood the test of time, it needs to be updated, but not in a piecemeal manner. There is a need for a complete review of all areas of fraud, forgery and corruption. The principal comment which could be made on the legislation in the area is not that the offences are deficient or inadequate but that prosecutions for corruption have been relatively rare. Is that because the incidence of corruption is rare or is it in part due to a deficiency in examining and investigating this type of crime? I hope any review of the law by the Minister will also examine the powers of investigation so that people suspected of being involved in such crimes can be brought to justice.

When one thinks of crime, one thinks of handbag snatching and more serious crimes. White collar crime is a hugely neglected area in legislation because it is not as visible as handbag snatching, yet more money can be taken and more damage done. Legislation has not covered us with distinction in catering for this area. A report by Peter Maguire SC on fraud and fraud offences has been ignored for a number of years with little action taken. Various Governments over the years have commended the report but have not acted on it. We have been more proactive in recent years, especially with the establishment of the Criminal Assets Bureau which deals with the financial end of white collar crime. However, we also need to deal with the other elements.

I was disturbed that Deputy Broughan should choose a debate on corruption to speak about legitimate party fund-raising and expenditure. To refer in his contribution to a debate on corruption to political parties taking out advertisements in newspapers is seeking to link the legitimate with the illegitimate, the legal with the illegal.

Mr. Broughan:  He who pays the piper calls the tune.

Ms Hanafin:  The advertisements taken in whatever newspaper by whatever party are a legitimate expenditure declarable by those parties. Deputy Broughan's remarks do not add to the debate nor do they add to the spirit of the changes in legislation needed which have been contributed to by Deputy Flanagan. I acknowledge that, despite the fact that we live in a democracy, we are living in troubled times because there are suspicions about politicians and public figures. Let us at least try to confine our comments and criticisms to breaches of the law, offences committed and irregularities where they exist and not implicate people where it is inappropriate.

[1183] I welcome Deputy Flanagan's contribution to the debate and look forward to a more wide-reaching Bill from the Minister to update the legislation as it has existed since 1916.

Mr. McGuinness:  I welcome the Bill as an opportunity to debate the wider question of corruption, not just in the political system but in general. Corruption is the one factor which has shattered public confidence in the system, institutions and other trade and activity in the State. The whiff of corruption in public life and recent scandals have caused the public to be more cynical and less respectful of the political system and politicians.

Deputy Broughan said he who pays the piper calls the tune. That brings into question the integrity of the politicians we elect. Deputy Broughan put forward one side of an argument which includes some politicians, but the bulk of politicians are included in the other side of the argument which says that they do an excellent job on behalf of the people they represent and that they are tarnished by a small number of people who have engaged in activity other than the parliamentary variety at national and local level.

That must be made clear because, whenever a person speaks of corruption, people immediately think of political corruption, yet there is much more corruption outside the political arena which has not been identified or defined. A definition of corruption is part of the proposal outlined by the Minister. This is important in identifying and dealing with corruption and transposing that into legislation. In defining corruption, it must be ensured that tackling it is dealt with in detail in legislation so that it cannot be challenged and that it cannot be doubted what this House is trying to achieve.

That we have tribunals is almost an indication that the laws relating to corruption are not adequate to deal with what has been happening in the private and public sectors. There is a need to review all of the laws which relate to public servants, public representatives or those involved in the commercial sector where corruption also exists. Perhaps the reason that there is such cynicism abroad in respect of the outcome of the tribunals is because few people have been prosecuted or brought to book for their wrongdoing in relation to corruption or fraud. If our existing laws work effectively, they will help to uncover those involved in corruption and bring them before the courts where they will be penalised for the wrongdoing in which they have been engaged.

Until the State takes the concept of corruption by the scruff of the neck in terms of introducing or bringing those involved in corruption to court in order that they can be prosecuted, sent to prison or given the appropriate punishment for the level of corruption in which they are involved, corruption will continue. We must move away from merely pointing the finger at the political system and deal with corruption and fraud in a [1184] more comprehensive way. Many existing laws deal with various aspects of corruption and they must be strengthened by way of policing. As part of our efforts to improve policing and introduce new legislation, we must engage in an in-depth analysis of the nature of corruption, how it should be defined in law and how we bring those involved in it to court.

I support the general thrust of the debate. However, I await the more comprehensive legislation promised by the Minister.

Mr. O'Flynn:  There is a need to amend the existing anti-corruption Acts which have been on the Statute Book since the first such Act was passed in 1906. Members are aware the Minister is currently preparing an amendment Bill which will be introduced later this year. That Bill will be timely and comprehensive and it will be in line with the thrust of the Council of Europe Agreement establishing the Group of States against Corruption. The Minister's Bill will propose the introduction of major improvements to laws in this area, it will enable us to meet our international obligations and it will allow Ireland to become a party to three important international agreements on anti-corruption measures. Participating states will be monitored to ensure they adhere to Council of Europe standards.

There is major and understandable public concern about corruption and fraud. It is important that the law relating to corruption and fraud be modernised and strengthened. We are all aware of public cynicism in business and public affairs following a succession of scandals over a long period. That cynicism is more and more in evidence. There is a demand that the actions of those involved in bribery, corruption, backhanders and illegal commission be criminalised.

There are some aspects of the Fine Gael Private Members' Bill that would find general acceptance among Members. I could support the thrust of some of its proposals. The intent of the proposed amendment would appear to be a genuine desire to address the many anomalies in existing legislation. This is inspired by public outrage at the perception of the abuse of public office by officials and the apparent existence of fraud in some businesses.

In response to this disquiet, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy John O'Donoghue, initiated the establishment of the Criminal Assets Bureau while in Opposition. The then Government fully accepted the measures he proposed. It is generally recognised that this was a major and effective innovation and was then, and is now, instrumental in recent major successes in the ongoing battle against crime. The Minister received the support of the House earlier in the year when he suggested that his proposals should be sent to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service.

I cannot fault some of the aims of this Bill. Under section 1, it seeks to define “advantage“' and under section 2, the act of bribery is [1185] addressed and there is also a definition of those who may be perceived to be guilty of having taken bribes. Section 3 refers to taking secret commissions. Section 4 relates to the abuse of public position and in section 5 there is reference to the abuse of public office.

Under section 6, however, a person accused of an offence under the Act – such as receipt of a gift or sum of money – would be presumed to be corrupt until that person can prove otherwise. That flies completely in the face of existing legislation which has a built-in tradition of innocence. In Ireland, the law presumes that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Long may this yardstick continue to be used. I could not support legislation which contains such a provision.

I am not satisfied with the terms of section 7 which appear to limit the grounds on which a person may fight an accusation of bribery. The fines and penalties imposed for corrupt activity are outlined in section 8. Section 9 cites the short title of the Bill.

I would argue strongly that there is need for a more clear and unambiguous statement of some of the points covered in the proposals before us. The definition of corruption is very imprecise and it is contradictory in some cases. Corruption is clearly defined in section 1 as being “the corrupt acceptance or conferral of an advantage”. In that section, “advantage” is stated to be “an inducement or a reward”. The wording clearly states that the acceptance is the corrupt action. However, that is wide open to misinterpretation and it is far too vague. Does the wording mean that those who would seek to influence people to act in breach of their duty are not guilty until the corrupt action has been completed? Are they absolved of all sin if their dishonest intent does not come to fruition? Is dishonesty only dishonesty, when one is caught out after having succeeded in putting in train a course of action which is wrong and immoral? I do not believe so and neither does any other Member.

I would argue that the implementation of such a provision is not the real intent of those who prepared this amendment. I am sure they did not intend to confine the terms of the amendment to only those who are caught. They must surely have intended to bring to justice those engaged in the initial stages of corruption as a deterrent to those who would attempt to tread the same path. If persons are proven to have engaged in an attempt to pervert the systems laid down in law, they are guilty even though their efforts have not borne fruit. Unfortunately, under section 1, this does not appear to be the case. This section provides for the clear definition of words used in the Bill. I am sorry to say that it does not succeed in its aims. The definition of “corruption” is open to interpretation and this cannot be tolerated in a Bill that seeks to address the whole area of corruption.

I draw Members' attention to the wording of section 2 which refers to “corruptly accepting, soliciting or agreeing to accept, or promising to [1186] confer an advantage or a reward”. This is a wide-ranging outline of what was intended by those who submitted the Bill. Unfortunately, however, it is at variance with the definition of corruption in section 1. In that section, corruption is defined as being “a situation where an advantage is accepted and conferred”. Do the advocates of the Bill not realise that this difference in definition flaws its intent? If they listened to the Minister's contribution they can be under no illusion. I ask that they wait until he submits the Bill he is currently preparing to put before the House. I am confident that his Bill will address every matter contained in the proposals before us and I am sure he will take a number of those proposals on board. I ask the Opposition to consider not pressing this matter to a vote, to accept the Minister's side of the argument and await the introduction of his Bill in the autumn.

Mr. M. Kitt:  I welcome the opportunity to discuss the proposal put forward by Deputy Flanagan to amend the prevention of corruption Acts. During the debate last evening, many Members referred to corruption in respect of planning matters. It is relevant that the Flood tribunal is currently dealing with some of the issues and another tribunal is dealing with different issues.

Regarding corruption in relation to planning laws and planning permission, the allegations made about section 4 motions are unfair to the majority of councillors and councils. It does not follow that every local authority is corrupt because allegations, the subject of a tribunal, were made about certain issues, particularly in the Dublin area. There was criticism of section 4 motions passed by my county council in 1975 when I was elected to it. At the time it was almost impossible to build a house in Connemara or west Galway and it was necessary to pass a number of section 4 motions in relation to dwelling houses for the local people of the area. Many parties, including mine, believe it is necessary to ensure as many farm families as possible remain in rural areas and I make no apologies for putting forward that proposal at local authority level.

Planning in County Galway was the subject of the current affairs programme, “7 Days”, in 1980. It examined a number of section 4 motions in relation to dwelling houses and corruption was not found to have taken place. The debate revealed that one of the main issues in planning, and it is still an issue today, is the lack of staff in local authorities to deal with planning matters. I support the call for more staff for local authorities made by Deputy McCormack last night. Lack of staff will not give rise to corruption but it causes delays in arriving at decisions on planning matters.

We have set up a tribunal to inquire into planning matters and another to inquire into other matters and we should await their findings. I notice that a motion on membership of An Bord Pleanála is included on tomorrow's Order Paper. An Bord Pleanála has been criticised, not without [1187] justification, for delays in decisions on planning matters. It requires extra staff to deal with the large number of appeal applications submitted to it.

The question of a section 4 planning regulation is a thing of the past, but that is not to say that councillors should not use whatever section of the planning law is necessary in dealing with local issues. I refer particularly to issues such as the location of ESB pylons, which was the subject of a planning motion in Cork, motions on landfill sites, which will be a major issue in the future, or the location of mobile phone masts, which is another major issue throughout the country. Councillors will support those sections of the planning law to try to prevent the location of something the local community do not want and I do not see how councillors could be blamed for that.

I will support any measures to improve the law on corruption and its implementation. A council of Europe Agreement was debated last week and the Council of Europe is concerned mainly with human rights, justice, concern for minorities, discrimination and, above all, democracy. The Minister told us he is preparing a prevention of corruption (amendment) Bill, which will enable Ireland to become a party to three important international agreements on corruption.

It is important to expand the scope of the Bill to cover categories of persons not covered by it at present, for example, members of the Dáil and Seanad. I commend Deputy Flanagan on that section of the Bill. Section 4 is interesting and creates a new offence of the abuse of public position. It appears the offence is based on dishonesty rather than corruption but it is something we would all support. I hope the Minister will consider that section in a favourable light.

Section 5 creates a new offence of the abuse of public office – that subject deserves attention. The Minister raised a question about the term “public official” and the definition of who is a public official. As well as local authority staff, would it cover civil servants and politicians? When one of the tribunals was examining planning issues, it interviewed a number of people who could be described as public officials, but I do not believe there is a specific definition of who is a public official.

I welcome the section on penalties. If we are serious about tackling corruption, which I am sure all Members are, we must provide in legislation for the imposition of adequate penalties. Some reform on the law on corruption has been introduced. I refer to the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995. Perhaps that Act could be improved and it might have been improved when we debated that legislation.

Deputy Broughan suggested that parties should not fundraise and that resources should be made available by way of providing decent salaries for public representatives funded by the taxpayer. I agree with much of what he said, but it is regret[1188] table he did not initiate that when his party was in Government. I often wondered why the threshold in relation to donations to political parties was pitched rather high at £4,000. That is a matter we could consider when the Minster introduces his Bill on this area. The small scale fundraising activities in which political parties engage, whether race nights, golf classics or whatever, are very small compared to the donations made directly to parties' headquarters.

We need proposals to improve the Prevention of Corruption Acts. I hope the Minister will respond positively when he has an opportunity to introduce his Bill and that he will take on board some of the issues raised in Deputy Flanagan's Bill. We must make improvements in our law to meet our international obligations and commitments. The Minister has already brought forward the terms of a Council of Europe agreement against corruption and we now need to improve the law.

The question must be raised as to whether the proposals in Deputy Flanagan's Bill will improve the law. The Minister believed they would not and that they may weaken existing law. I hope the legislation promised by the Minister will be introduced shortly and that we will have an opportunity at that time to debate it and put it on the Statute Book as quickly as possible.

Mr. Ring:  I wish to share my time with Deputies Coveney, Crawford, Donal Carey, Boylan and Ulick Burke.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is agreed.

Mr. Ring:  I compliment Deputy Flanagan on introducing this Bill. He has spent many hours preparing it and I am disappointed that the Minister did not accept it. When Fine Gael was in Government with the Labour Party and Democratic Left in the rainbow coalition, Deputy O'Donoghue was the Roy Keane of Fianna Fáil. There was not a week when he did not have a Private Members' Bill before the House. He was the expert on Private Members' Bills. On some occasions when the rainbow coalition was in Government and it considered legislation was necessary, it accepted his Bills. If ever legislation was necessary, this legislation is necessary. That is why I compliment Deputy Flanagan for bringing this Bill before the Dáil. The country is awash with tribunals. I listened to what the public had to say while canvassing in the recent local elections. One knows a Fianna Fáil house because the first words the occupants say are “you are all at it”. Fine Gael supporters will ask, “what are you doing about corruption and the people taking money?”. Fine Gael, and Deputy Flanagan, responded to that cry by introducing this Bill. I am disappointed the Taoiseach and the Minister, who was the Roy Keane of Fianna Fáil when in Opposition and the best man I ever met for introducing Private Members' Bills, will not accept this Bill. Any amendments the Government felt were [1189] necessary could have been tabled for Committee Stage. It should have accepted the Bill in principle.

Those who approach public representatives and officials who work for county councils and the State have an unfair advantage. While there is not a great deal of corruption, it occurs among public representatives and officials. The media seem to concentrate on public representatives. I wish some public officials, including county managers and planning officers, would have to go before the people, not as often as public representatives – perhaps every ten years – to retain their jobs. They would have to give reasons why they granted planning permission to builders who could be making major contributions to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Nobody makes a contribution of £50,000, £100,000 or £150,000 if they do not get a kickback. I am not in that league and have not met many builders like that.

I hold clinics in Westport, and throughout the county of Mayo, and those who visit them are usually looking for £5 or £10 and in some cases their rights from the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs which is taking every penny it can from the small farmers and people living on housing estates. The Minister introduced legislation earlier this year to give officials from the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs powers to stop people's cars to search their boots to check if they were carrying tools or hatchets and were going to work or to claim social welfare. Yet, there are many bank accounts containing money from unknown sources. Those responsible do not seem to appear before the courts half as quickly as the poor person on social welfare.

There is one law for the rich and another for the poor. The rich look after the rich and the poor have nobody to look after them. That is why so many people did not vote in the recent elections. It was not because they did not like the candidates or that they were too lazy but because they feel politicians, in the Oireachtas and on county councils, are only looking after the rich. Perhaps the political parties learned a lesson from the election of Dana. That is why so many voted for Dana, Marian Harkin and other independent candidates.

I compliment Deputy Flanagan on introducing this Bill. I want to see the Minister, the Roy Keane of Fianna Fáil, introduce proper legislation quickly. We have made an effort and it is now up to him to do the same. If he is as good as he was when in Opposition, I hope he will be true to his word before the House rises for the summer recess.

Mr. Coveney:  I congratulate Deputy Flanagan on introducing this Bill. The greatest challenge facing the body politic is that of building trust between the public and those who represent it. It is ironic that at a time of prosperity when there is a huge feelgood factor as regards our economy, many people are disillusioned by their legislators, [1190] which is clearly shown by the fact they are not voting in large numbers.

Although consecutive Governments have contributed to the successful growth of our economy, there is, more than ever, a widespread cynicism of politicians and politics. The link between big business and politics and corruption and public life is a source of a huge amount of anger for so many people. Perhaps even more humiliating for us is the fact that corruption and politics seem to be the butt of every second joke in conversation in pubs.

We are the legislators for this country and if we are to be trusted and taken seriously, we need to introduce legislation to tackle and stamp out corruption of all kinds, particularly in public life. Fine Gael is leading the way by introducing a Bill which would ensure the threat of prosecution would be a strong deterrent against corruption in commercial and public life.

As was said last night, this Bill is the first since 1916 to deal with corruption. That legislation was enacted in a completely different era and is completely outdated. This Bill is timely and comes before the House against a backdrop of expensive and revealing tribunals examining that which this Bill seeks to stamp out. It comes at a time when many genuinely believe the law for the rich and influential is different from the law for those who are not.

So many people in the past six months have asked me if those who are discovered to be corrupt will be punished after the tribunals or if legislation is in place to ensure that corruption will be punishable by law. Fine Gael is responding to this by introducing a Bill to deal with those who should not be in public life or business because of their dishonesty. That is why it was so frustrating to hear the Minister reject this Bill last night. I accept that perhaps other parties may wish to alter certain aspects of this legislation but surely this would be possible on Committee Stage.

This Bill creates new offences not dealt with in present legislation. For the first time, bribery is defined under statute, in response to the requirement for a modern definition. Abuse by a public official of his or her duty is defined and clarified. Payment of secret commissions and kickbacks are also outlined and dealt with in this legislation.

I often wonder what those in their late teens and early twenties – those who have started reading newspapers in the past year or 18 months – think of politicians. They have read articles about tribunals, dishonesty, the link between big business and public servants and calls for something to be done about corruption. It is no wonder they are voting in such small numbers at election time. Fine Gael has responded with a sensible, well thought out Bill and I ask the House to accept it.

Mr. Crawford:  I thank my colleagues for sharing their time. Deputy Flanagan has introduced this Bill at an opportune time. In the recent elec[1191] tions many thousands, in all constituencies, did not vote because of cynicism towards politics and what they are being led to believe is happening everywhere. Deputy Flanagan's efforts to amend corruption legislation are welcome. The Minister's refusal to accept the Bill is questionable, given he demanded a great deal when in Opposition and promised zero tolerance. It was clear when canvassing in the recent elections that there is a great deal of fear in rural areas. As you know, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, in Ballybay some filling stations have been robbed two or three times, despite the owners taking security precautions. Others have been robbed in broad daylight by people wearing balaclavas. When they see people at national level getting away with what they regard as crimes, they believe crime is acceptable.

The Flood tribunal will make some information public. However, it unfortunately gives credence to the belief that corruption is widespread. Corruption is not widespread throughout public life. By international standards, Ireland is not perceived as a corrupt country.

For those reasons, it is important this Bill has been brought forward. It is the first dealing with corruption since 1916. It deals with bribery, secret commissions, payola and the misuse of information for personal gain.

It is clear that corruption encourages criminal activity, undermines confidence in democracy, wastes public resources, distorts trade and fosters a black economy. Corruption retards economic development, debases standards and, ultimately, undermines confidence in the democratic system. There is a large degree of public cynicism regarding the operation of business and public life.

Despite the many tribunals established over the past ten years, our corruption laws have become obsolete, outdated and even irrelevant. This Bill, introduced by Deputy Flanagan, ensures that the law and the threat of prosecution can now represent a very strong deterrent against corruption in business and public life. Against this background of growing public concern and cynicism about business and public life, with continuous scandals and allegations of malpractice throughout society, the Bill is both appropriate and timely.

Deputy Kitt spoke at length about the problems with planning and the need to give An Bord Pleanála extra staff. I agree with him, but that is not an answer to this problem. An application for a private house, which was intended to be built 12 or 15 months ago, was eventually brought before An Bord Pleanála and a decision was deferred for eight months. It is impossible to explain this to people who had hoped to be in their new home by now.

Farmers who make genuine mistakes in filling our very complicated forms may be banned from payment for two years. However, we learn in the national media that senior personnel in this country were exempt from tax on millions of pounds, through special dispensations. Someone has [1192] already asked if any of these people will be punished or will pay for their activities.

Deputy Flanagan's Bill is timely. I am extremely disappointed it has not been accepted. If it needs to be amended, it is possible to amend it. When we were in Government we accepted Opposition Bills, utilised them, amended them and brought them forward. Some of those Bills are being used against major criminals.

Criminal activity of this nature is not widespread among Members of this House, senior civil servants, planners or any other group in the State. However, if the steps proposed in this Bill were taken, such activities would soon be reduced to nought, to the zero tolerance which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has often talked about but has failed to deliver.

Mr. Boylan:  I join other speakers in congratulating and complimenting Deputy Flanagan on bringing forward this Bill in Private Members' time. He has done an excellent job in drafting it, with limited advice and help. I am sure he put a great deal of time and effort into it and that his legal qualifications were a major influence in his drafting of the Bill.

I agree with the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, that both sides of the House are at one in their desire to stamp out fraud. However, I disagree with him when he says he cannot accept the Bill and when he asks Fine Gael not to push for a vote tonight. He is wrong in that and has made a major tactical mistake. He should accept the Bill on its merits. Any Bill which comes through this House, whether it is introduced by the Government or the Opposition, is subject to amendments when wiser counsel prevails in this Chamber. That is the purpose of this Chamber and of debate. The Minister said he will introduce a stronger and better Bill in the autumn. It is a weakness of this Government that it is inclined to put issues such as this on the back burner. That is not good enough. People want us to deal with this issue now. Candidates in the recent local elections received that message, among others, when they spoke to constituents on their doorsteps and asked them about problems and issues. For that reason, we must compliment Deputy Flanagan.

There is a perception that this country is awash with fraud. Nothing could be further from the truth. The work of the tribunals must be followed through to the end. However, they are receiving a great deal of publicity because the high profile politicians involved, who were once very senior Members of this House, acted in a corrupt manner and tarnished the good name of this House. I am intensely annoyed by the propaganda which says “They are all the same”. That is an insult to me and all other current Members of this House because we are not all the same, we do not deal in such business and we have no part in such carry-on. I am insulted when that statement is made to me and I do not accept it. I want the tribunals to complete their work and the people [1193] concerned to be punished because they have done serious damage, not only to this House but to the good name of this country.

As a public representative for 25 years this month, dealing with the local authorities in my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan, and, in a broader plane, dealing with people in the public area on behalf of constituents, such as banks, solicitors, investors, insurance brokers and so on, I have only found honest, decent, hard working, genuine people who were only too willing to help me and the people I brought to them. People should not be afraid there is a conman around every corner, ready to take their money. Such people exist but I am amazed people cannot see these fraudsters coming. They are very easy to recognise in many cases – they have broad pinstriped suits, flowery ties and soft hands – and people should beware of them. I advise people to deal locally with the people they know, and then they need have no fear. I am amazed by the number of high profile, otherwise astute, people in this country who had the ability to amass vast amounts of money but who handed it to fraudsters to invest. They did not ask them what they were doing with their money or what it was yielding. I cannot understand that.

Ordinary members of the public should have no fear that the country is awash with people who are prepared to defraud them, but they should be careful. The purpose of this Bill is to protect the innocent, ordinary people, whom it is our duty to protect, and to ensure that these con artists and fraudsters, whatever profession they are in, are dealt with effectively, so that others who might think of going down the same road will be deterred by fear of the punishment that was meted to out to those who were caught red-handed.

Another issue is the practice of treating ordinary people as criminals, which annoys me intensely. Deputy Ring mentioned the area of social welfare, where social welfare officials almost count the cups on the dressers of ordinary, poor people who are trying to rear a large family on a small income. That is not good enough. It is time we moved away from that and treated these people as human beings.

Another section of the community whose members are deemed to be criminals is the farming community. I am outraged by that. When honest, decent, hard working people make an application for the various headage payments and grants that are part of their income, if one digit or letter is wrong in the ear marking or digital number of the animal for which they apply, they are deemed to have made a false application and are penalised. The farming community did not want this as part of its income, all it wanted was fair prices, but Brussels decided there would have to be supplementary payments to compensate for falling prices. It is outrageous, scandalous and an insult to hard-working decent people that somebody hidden away in an office can decide that they have made a false declaration when they D506–D5

[1194] have made a genuine mistake under difficult circumstances. Applications are deemed to be fraudulent and the penalty is that payments are withheld for two years. I do not accept that this is right.

That is why there is a perception that there is one law for the poor and another for the rich and why many disillusioned people did not bother to vote at the last local election. That is not good for democracy. We are on the slippery slope of dividing our people between rich and those who do not have so much. We must make sure that does not happen and people must be assured that everybody will be treated equally before the law. I commend Deputy Flanagan. He is obviously listening to what people are saying and has moved in time. I hope, even at this late hour, the Government will have a rethink, accept this Bill, produce amendments and let us debate them.

Mr. U. Burke:  I thank my colleagues for sharing their time. I congratulate Deputy Flanagan on bringing this Bill before the House.

At the European and local elections we saw for ourselves the apathy and scorn of the electorate towards politicians and politics and sectors in society who are prospering at the expense of the poor. I have served for two years in this House, and if we were to analyse the use of time here within that period, scarcely a week has passed during which we have not spent an enormous portion of our time discussing tribunals, inquiries or individuals, and trying to track down who said what about one scandal or another. When the history of the twentieth century is written, this part of the century will be shown as a period in which the culture was one of rampant sharp practice in business and in politics. That is the culture of our time. When we analyse who was involved, we will find out that big business, the banks and individuals made enormous amounts of money in a very short time and that money was not earned in the way ordinary workers have to earn their money. Allied Irish Banks had 53,000 bogus accounts and failed to pay the tax due on them. The officials there have still not identified the people responsible. They are passing the buck. Some have retired, and some have gone to ground and cannot be traced.

The first tribunal was the beef tribunal, the Goodman tribunal. None of the higher executives of that company were tracked down. We had to go down to the assembly line, to the packers, and they were made the scapegoats. No white-collar individual who has cheated and who has been shown to have been fraudulent in business has ever been sent to gaol while the person who lifts some item of little value from a shop is brought through the courts and sent to gaol, rightly, but where is the justice in that? I hope this Bill will in some way redress the imbalance in the justice system.

The Department of Agriculture and Food singles out people who have made a genuine mis[1195] take and labels them fraudulent. Like many other public representatives in the House, I make representations. I sat in Agriculture House on three occasions before three senior officers making representation on a legitimate application under the rural environment protection scheme. The senior officer there told me I was a cowboy for aiding and abetting a fraudulent claim. I very much resented that. I walked out disappointed. At a later date that same senior officer of the Department of Agriculture and Food was publicly named as someone who had made a fraudulent claim to Europe on behalf of the Department of Agriculture and Food. That individual is still in office and will remain so. I hope I will get the opportunity of meeting him some day again when I can point the finger at him and ask him who is the cowboy now.

If we think legislation will quickly resolve white-collar fraud and crime we are wrong. The one real effort in this respect was the establishment of the Criminal Assets Bureau. I congratulate the former Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen, on that initiative. It is the only limb of Government which seems to be effective in tracking down and bringing to justice some of the real fraudsters. I hope its work will continue and that the necessary resources will be provided by this and successive Governments so that, whether they are here or in some haven abroad, those people will be tracked down. It is regrettable that so much money is being spent on tribunals and inquiries. What does it achieve? We will know the facts but there will not be redress.

I hope the Minister will reconsider his position with regard to this legislation and accept it in good faith as a partial remedy for some our ills.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Miss M. Wallace):  I and the Government agree with the sentiments of this debate. The law on corruption needs reform. All sides of the House agree on that and, as a consequence, the right proposals for reform would get support from all sides of this House. The origin of the proposals is not the issue. Nobody outside this House really cares whether a Bill to reform the law on corruption originates with the Opposition or with the Government. What they care about is simply that any necessary reform should be implemented as soon as possible.

It is important to mention the points made by the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, yesterday in explaining his concerns about the Bill. As he pointed out, the Bill borrowed concepts from the provisional report of the UK Law Commission in circumstances where the commission in its final report recommended against those provisions. The Bill also draws inspiration from Australian legislation which is even older than most Irish law on corruption – and this in circumstances where the Opposition, with some justification, criticises Irish law as outdated. In addition, the Bill seeks [1196] to implement two recommendations from an Australian report.

I accept that we can learn from the laws and experiences of other countries, just as other countries can sometimes learn from Irish initiatives. There is a great deal of international interest, for example, in the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Proceeds of Crime Act. We have to be careful, however, in transplanting into Irish law provisions enacted in other countries because these provisions will have been enacted in a different legal environment and in unique circumstances. In Australian law the offence of bribery is confined to public officials and secret commission offences, proposed in this Bill, were as a consequence enacted to deal with bribery in the private sector. In contrast, Irish law on corruption does apply to the private sector.

We have to look not only at offences provided for in other countries but also at the context in which they were provided for. The same point applies to proposals for reform in other countries. We can learn from such proposals and we should not be slow to copy good ideas, but we have to do this in an Irish context, taking existing Irish law and circumstances into account.

The Bill also gives rise to a large number of drafting difficulties. Purely technical drafting difficulties could be overcome, albeit with amendments on a considerable scale, but many of the difficulties reflect the more fundamental underlying difficulties surrounding the Bill which have been referred to in this debate by the Minister.

As the House knows, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform clarified earlier this year that he is preparing legislation in this area. A speaker earlier referred to Fine Gael leading the way on this. Most Members of the House know that the Minister had a useful exchange of views with the Committee on Finance and the Public Service earlier this year and many positive suggestions were made. The House will also be aware that the parliamentary draftsman is preparing the text of the Bill which the Minister discussed with the committee.

We need to reform the law on corruption for many reasons, particularly to enable the State to become a party to three international agreements on corruption while significantly strengthening domestic law. It will be important from Deputy Flanagan's point of view that the Minister is considering if further measures should be included in the legislation. The views expressed in this debate and the objectives of the Bill before us will be borne in mind.

All sides of the House understand the process – we have all introduced Bills from Opposition. Much hard work is put into them and it is not easy. The Minister clearly outlined his concerns last night, the difficulties he had with the Bill and that his proposals for legislation have been outlined to the committee.

Ideas and proposals such as those put forward in the course of this debate are always welcome. The Minister will listen to suggestions for [1197] improvement no matter which side they come from. I am sure the proposals will provide a basis for this House to agree in detail what it already agrees in principle – that there should be proper reform of the law on corruption.

Mr. Higgins:  (Mayo): Last week there was brief debate in this House on a Council of Europe resolution adopted to enable Ireland to participate in an international accord to supervise and monitor corruption legislation in the member states. We had a nerve signing that instrument. To set ourselves up as arbiters of what functions well and what does not, as monitors or supervisors of the performance of other countries, given the abysmal track record in this State, takes some neck.

Look at the measure before the House this evening. As Deputy Flanagan pointed out, we are talking about amending legislation which goes back to 1916, preceding the establishment of this State. This is an area which has been ignored for 80 years and where there has been promise after promise but no action.

Look at the Minister's promise last night. Legislation was again envisaged. That has been reiterated by the Minister of State tonight; the draftsman is looking at it. At the same time, in the list of Government legislation published three weeks ago, the three promised Bills are relegated to legislative 'also rans'. There is the Criminal Justice (Fraud Offences) Bill – number 10 on the C list. We are told that publication will not be expected before the end of 1999. The Prevention of Corruption Bill, the one to which the Minister alluded and on foot of which he is shooting down this legislation, is not expected to be published until late 1999. We were told that the proceeds of crime Bill may be published, if we are lucky, by mid-1999. It is now mid-1999 and there is not a word about it. We are now told that it will be published in late 1999.

A headline dated 24 March 1998, attributed to Deputy O'Donoghue, stated that accountants and solicitors would be obliged to report suspicions. That was 16 months ago. In the article he tells us about the precise legislation he now promises to have on the Statute Book by the end of the year. He was going to have it on the Statute Book within a matter of weeks when the article was written 16 months ago. It is a case of “live horse and you'll get grass”.

This Government is not serious about dealing with white collar crime and corruption. It is not serious about the well intentioned legislation which comes from the Opposition. That does not apply to all Ministers but Deputy O'Donoghue stands out as being singularly unwilling. I tabled a Bill to provide for the attachment of earnings – the Enforcement of Court Orders Bill. One quarter of the prison population – 2,500 people – end up in Irish jails every year because they do not pay fines, discharge their civil debts or are in contempt of court. There is a huge cost involved in collecting them, delivering them and [1198] releasing them. It makes a farce of the prison system as well as leading to chronic overcrowding. I introduced a simple measure which would have enabled the fine to be deducted at source. In all these cases sentences were non-custodial, a fine was looked upon as the appropriate penalty and a custodial sentence only came into play in the case of default. The Minister turned that down because he was coming before the House with his own legislation. Five months later there is no sign of it.

Deputy Neville introduced the Registration of Sexual Offenders Bill. We have been told time and again that there will be a register of sex offenders. Exactly 13 months ago the Minister was presented with the report of an expert discussion group which he had commissioned to look at the law on sex offenders. It made recommendations about what should be done, the first of which was that there should be a register. We are still waiting for one 13 months later. The Minister had neither the magnanimity or good grace to accept the solid legislation introduced by Deputy Neville.

The Minister refused to accept the humane legislation introduced by Deputy McManus which dealt with asylum seekers. The late Deputy Upton introduced a Bill which would give effect to much of what the Minister has published by way of legislation to date. The late Deputy's legislation was entitled the Licensed Premises (Opening Hours) Bill. It gave effect to most of the recommendations of the group presided over by Deputy Flanagan but again the Minister turned down this legislation. Contrast that for example with the receptiveness of other Ministers. For example, the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Woods, recently accepted the Activity Centres (Young Person's Water Safety) Bill from Deputy Finucane. The Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Kitt, accepted the Whistleblower's Protection Bill from Deputy Rabbitte. The ticket touts Bill tabled by Deputy Naughten was rightly accepted by the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid.

This legislation sets out to plug a manifest vacuum in our laws on corruption in terms of bribery, unwarranted and secret commissions and payola. It is not perfect by any manner or means but it is a solid basis on which to build. The Minister has blown it out of the water and turned it down on the basis that he will bring his legislation forward, he hopes, before the end of the year.

From the point of view of our attitude to white collar crime and the type of situation Deputy Flanagan is trying to address, we have a culture of our own. Not only do we not deal comprehensively, forcefully and effectively with the perpetrators of such crimes, we reward them. Look at the situation, for example, in relation to Goodman which involved multi-million pound fraud and the Irish and European taxpayers. He was chosen to lead the beef and, indeed, food industry [1199] in this country. The man was disgraced and we had to introduce special legislation to keep the show on the road and to salvage the beef industry. He is a man who in any other jurisdiction would have been dealt with by way of a firm court sentence. Yet he is now back in command of his empire and, as Deputy Flanagan said, only two junior officers in the Rathkeale plant paid the ultimate price and were sent behind prison bars.

Patrick Gallagher of the Gallagher bank was jailed in the North of Ireland but not in the South. The DPP wrung his hands in agony and frustration because we do not have a test Act similar to that in the North. AIB which ripped off its customers and was responsible for the manipulation of DIRT thereby allowing 53,000 account holders to walk free from their liabilities in respect of DIRT, is allowed to return record profits again this year. NIB ripped off its customers by charging them charges over and above the norm and not notifying them. It is also guilty of manifest abuse in the use and abuse of illegal offshore accounts and yet it is still trading and there is not a word about it. There is also the laxity of our fraud laws whereby more than 40,000 companies were enabled to evade responsibility to the Revenue Commissioners. Some £20 billion was laundered through our banks and financial institutions, much of it by the Russian Mafia.

There is, for some reason or another, a culture of acceptance of white collar crime and when it comes to dealing with it, we are distinctly lax. It is very much the brown envelope, the kick backs, the backhanders and the grease the palm attitude. It is and has been taken for granted. At a time when we are trying to clamp down on abuse in many areas, we have shown a singular incompetence and unwillingness to deal with this area. That is the reason I was appalled at the dismissive, discourteous and curt attitude of the Minister to Deputy Flanagan's measure.

It is a measure into which a considerable amount of forethought has gone and one which is designed to deal with the glaring vacuum in our legislative requirements. It is a measure which is built on a model which operates very successfully in another jurisdiction and is one which could be refined and perfected with an nth of the amount of time the draftspeople would be given to draft the Minister's perfect legislation which will arrive in good time.

No legislation is perfect and tomorrow we will deal with an 11 page amendment to the Immigration (No. 2) Bill from none other than the Minister. The main reason the Bill has been held up is because of indecision on the Minister's part. We had a series of kick starts, amendments, counter amendments, withdrawal of sections and finally the parachuting in of a huge new tranche of amendments which, effectively, redraft, redesign and reorientate the Bill. Yet this is the Minister who is not prepared to accept in good faith a legislative measure drafted with considerable speed and expertise at a huge trouble and [1200] designed to deal with a manifest area which is not being dealt with at present. The Minister does not have the good grace to accept it and allow us to do what we will do to his legislation, the Immigration (No. 2) Bill, tomorrow. It is a bad night in the fight against corruption.

Mr. Flanagan:  I thank Deputies from all sides who contributed to the debate which was informative and constructive. I regret the contribution of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and that he announced straight away that he would not give the Bill a second reading. I find the reasons put forward by the Minister less than convincing. The contrast between what the Minister said last night and what a number of his party Deputies said this evening is somewhat significant in so far as all the Government backbenchers who spoke welcomed, if not every section, most sections. Any difficulties in which the Minister finds himself with the Bill could and would have been addressed if it had been referred to an all-party committee for further consideration. I thank the Labour Party for supporting the measure, and Deputy Ferris for his most constructive and positive contribution last night.

I am pleased this debate did not see any high moral ground grandstanding. In this regard, it is significant that we moved this Bill after and not before or during the recent election campaign. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform takes serious issue with the definitions proposed and he had a problem with section 2 dealing with bribery. His objections, however, go no further than that the offence of bribery was not enshrined in British law following its consideration by a 1997 discussion document of the Law Commission of the United Kingdom. Because of the rejection by the Minister of the new proposals, we will continue not to have a statutory definition of bribery incorporating procuring a breach of duty by deception or by threats of intimidation. Similarly, there will not be a law banning the practice of the payment and receipt of secret commissions or outlining the practice of kickbacks and payola.

I condemn the fact the Minister did not signal his intention to legislate in this area in spite of his rejection yesterday of our measure. He appeared to reject any notion in the shift in the burden of proof on to the defendant as contained in section 6. Without a presumption of corruption, once it is established that a payment of money or money's worth has been made, corruption would and always will be extremely difficult to prove. On the other hand, if there is an innocent explanation, the persons involved in the grant of and the reception of the gift should have little or no difficulty in offering such explanation on the basis of the facts involved. Many reports and commissions on legislative proposals in other jurisdictions examined this matter and remain satisfied that the presumption of corruption is in the public interest and does not result in an injustice.

[1201] It is a pity this Bill was not referred to an appropriate committee of the House where the definitions could be firmed up and appropriate amendments made. It is a lost opportunity. I would have welcomed the input not only of the Minister, but of other Members in such an all-party forum. I know the Minister had discussions with the Oireachtas Committee on Finance and the Public Service on reforming the anti-corruption code and is preparing amendments to broaden the scope of the ethics in Government Acts to include TDs, Senators and MEPs. Alongside this I understand a new public office commission is being considered, although I am surprised that there was no reference to this last night. I am also surprised that there was no mention of the promised Bill on standards in public office, about which there has been so little debate of late. Moreover, I would have thought that if the Government was serious about the issue all [1202] strands could be drawn together under the Committee on Finance and the Public Service or the Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Right and a Bill produced for enactment. Regrettably this is not the case. It seems that new initiatives on the part of Government are only considered and mentioned by way of hasty and defensive reaction once the spotlight is shining. Tribunals of inquiry, investigations and allegations of malpractice have had little or no effect or impact.

I am pleased that I initiated debate on these important issues. I regret very much that the Minister has not chosen to give the Bill a second reading and I look forward to a vote on it. I urge Independent Members and the Fianna Fáil Members who spoke in favour of the Bill to allow it a second reading and go for consideration to an all-party committee of the House.

Question put.

Barnes, Monica.
Barrett, Seán.
Bell, Michael.
Belton, Louis.
Boylan, Andrew.
Bradford, Paul.
Broughan, Thomas.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Bruton, Richard.
Burke, Liam.
Burke, Ulick.
Carey, Donal.
Clune, Deirdre.
Connaughton, Paul.
Cosgrave, Michael.
Coveney, Simon.
Crawford, Seymour.
Currie, Austin.
D'Arcy, Michael.
Deasy, Austin.
Deenihan, Jimmy.
Dukes, Alan.
Durkan, Bernard.
Farrelly, John.
Ferris, Michael.
Finucane, Michael.
Flanagan, Charles.
Gilmore, Éamon.
Hayes, Brian.
Higgins, Jim.
Higgins, Joe.
Hogan, Philip.
Howlin, Brendan.
McCormack, Pádraic.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
McGrath, Paul.
McManus, Liz.
Mitchell, Olivia.
Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
Naughten, Denis.
Neville, Dan.
O'Shea, Brian.
O'Sullivan, Jan.
Penrose, William.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Reynolds, Gerard.
Ring, Michael.
Ryan, Seán.
Sargent, Trevor.
Shatter, Alan.
Sheehan, Patrick.
Stagg, Emmet.
Stanton, David.
Timmins, Billy.
Yates, Ivan.


Ahern, Dermot.
Ahern, Noel.
Andrews, David.
Blaney, Harry.
Brady, Johnny.
Brady, Martin.
Brennan, Matt.
Brennan, Séamus.
Briscoe, Ben.
Byrne, Hugh.
Callely, Ivor.
Carey, Pat.
Collins, Michael.
Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
Coughlan, Mary.
Cowen, Brian.
Cullen, Martin.
Davern, Noel.
de Valera, Síle.
Dennehy, John.
Ellis, John.
Fahey, Frank.
Fleming, Seán.
Flood, Chris.
Foley, Denis.
Fox, Mildred.
Gildea, Thomas.
Hanafin, Mary.
Haughey, Seán.
Healy-Rae, Jackie.
Jacob, Joe.
Keaveney, Cecilia.
Kelleher, Billy.
Kenneally, Brendan.
Killeen, Tony. Kirk, Séamus.[1203]


Kitt, Michael.
Lawlor, Liam.
Lenihan, Brian.
Lenihan, Conor.
Martin, Micheál.
McCreevy, Charlie.
McDaid, James.
McGuinness, John.
Moffatt, Thomas.
Moloney, John.
Moynihan, Donal.
Moynihan, Michael.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
O'Dea, Willie.
O'Donoghue, John.
O'Flynn, Noel.
[1204] O'Hanlon, Rory.
O'Keeffe, Batt.
O'Keeffe, Ned.
O'Kennedy, Michael.
O'Malley, Desmond.
O'Rourke, Mary.
Power, Seán.
Roche, Dick.
Ryan, Eoin.
Smith, Brendan.
Smith, Michael.
Wade, Eddie.
Wallace, Dan.
Wallace, Mary.
Walsh, Joe.
Woods, Michael.
Wright, G. V.

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

Question declared defeated.


Question again proposed: “That section 5, as amended, stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Naughten:  I spoke to the Minister since I raised the point about student representation on the governing board. I take it the situation to which I referred will not arise again and I accept that. On the first point I raised about County Meath VEC, section 5(14) covers the representation of additional vocational education committees, but it is important that the Minister ensures that County Meath VEC is one of those represented on the governing body. At a later stage Dún Laoghaire VEC, County Kildare VEC or another VEC may be represented also depending on the number of students from those areas who attend the college. As the institute we are discussing is on the Meath border, Meath VEC is entitled to representation on the board. I urge the Minister to ensure that is done.

Mr. R. Bruton:  On the model being established for the governing body, the Minister will say it is important to maintain continuity with preceding models. How successful has this structure been? Section 5(4)(b) proposes the nomination of a representative of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. The modern concept of social partnership recognises that both employers and employees should be represented. It seems that at a minimum, we should ensure representation from both IBEC and ICTU if we are to have a balanced governing body. That would reflect current thinking and I would be interested to hear why the Minister is taking this approach.

One must also ask why the governing body of a new institute should be structured in this way, with representation comprising a large number of VEC nominations and reflecting some organisations which the Minister identifies. It strikes me that this is an unwieldy type of board for any body, that modern legislation should provide for a smaller, effective and purpose-built governing body. Most recent bodies established under legislation have opted for boards with smaller numbers, with selection based on proven competence and the striking of a balance.

The Minister has chosen to change the present regional technical college governing body structure in just one respect. That is the only innovation the Minister is making in this section. Heretofore, the vocational education committees recommended board membership for the governing bodies of institutes of technology. The Minister is dropping that provision. He not only drops it in the formulation of section 5 – section 5(7) states that if it is not already clear, vocational education committees are being explicitly ruled out from making recommendations. There seems to be a certain degree of imbalance in the Minister's actions. He is maintaining the existing structure of the governing body with representation for the vocational education committees, but he has decided to prevent vocational education committees recommending representatives. That is a not altogether a frivolous point.

The Minister is proposing that nominations from organisations be representative of industry, agriculture, commerce, the professions and the local community. It seems that a local VEC would be better equipped than the Minister to make such recommendations. It puzzles me that the Minister feels it is necessary to change the existing structure of the governing body in only one respect. He should either be consistent and not make any changes to a successful model or he should consider the model afresh. In the latter instance, I would have expected to see a smaller, more effective and purposeful governing body. Neither approach seems to be adopted here. The Minister is making a small change but is doing nothing radical which would suggest he envisages a dramatically different approach to the structure of governing bodies. I would welcome the Minister's comments on those elements of the Bill.

[1205]Mr. Martin:  I was of the understanding that we had previously discussed all the generalities of this section. Members have obviously reflected very earnestly on the section and have come up with fresh insights into the composition of governing bodies. Suffice to say that existing institutes of technology governing bodies have worked very well. Section 5(4)(c) covers the issue of representation from industry and other areas of economic life such as agriculture and commerce. That is well covered in the 1992 Regional Technical College legislation and in this section.

All existing institutes of technology were originally established by vocational education committees. The 1992 Act represented a movement away from regional technical colleges' jurisdiction under the vocational education committees to self-governance. For practical purposes, we would significantly delay placing Blanchardstown on a statutory footing if we were to require a VEC to recommend membership of the governing body over the next three to four months.

Mr. R. Bruton:  That is not a very credible explanation. In regard to the original governing bodies, the legislation provided that an interim body would be appointed on the recommendation of the VEC. That constitutes the first element of the original section 6(3). Not only that, but VEC recommendation is also built into section 6(4) which provides for the establishment of permanent governing bodies. The recommendation of vocational education committees was included even where a fast track approach was required to get a body up and running and provision was also made for that in the longer term. If the Minister feels that vocational education committees have particular insights, which I can certainly see would be the case in regard to recommendations from local organisations which might validly represent the interests of industry, agriculture, commerce and so on, it would seem they are in a far better position than him to recommend appropriate people for the governing bodies.

Mr. Martin:  The vocational education committees do not do that in practice.

Mr. R. Bruton:  They do under section 6 of the Act. The Minister has made an explicit change in regard to VEC recommendations. He has not directly transposed the provisions of section 6 of the Act into section 5 of this Bill. It is understandable that he has made provision for the fact that students and the academic body are not fully established. However, he has also made an explicit provision to remove the scope of the vocational education committees to make recommendations on the composition of the board from this legislation. I do not understand that. The Minister seems to be saying that he is doing it because he is fearful the vocational education committees might delay the process. I would argue that the vocational education committees [1206] are closer to the action and would be in a position to come up with recommendations more quickly than the Minister.

The Minister did not address the reason ICTU and not IBEC should be represented on the governing bodies. It would seem that in order to strike a balance in terms of social partnership, both organisations should be represented.

Mr. Martin:  I have said all I have to say on the section.

Mr. R. Bruton:  I have asked legitimate questions.

Mr. Martin:  I have already answered them.

Mr. R. Bruton:  The Minister has not answered them. He is making provision in section 5(7) to remove provisions in the Regional Technical Colleges Act in regard to the appointment of governing bodies. He has not offered justification as to why he is doing that in respect of this institute when it does not equally apply to other institutes. The Minister has consistently maintained that he does not want to change the existing Act because he wants to ensure continuity. Yet, he is providing for changes in this section which clearly breach continuity.

Mr. Martin:  I have explained the matter to the Deputy. I was a member of a VEC when the new governing bodies were being formed. Existing institutes of technology formerly operated under the vocational education committees. The previous hue and cry was that vocational education committees were very angry that institutes of technology were becoming self-governing. In order to maintain linkage, these provisions were put in place. There was also a very strong carryover in terms of institutes having been historically initiated under the vocational education committees.

We are talking here about the first governing body of the Blanchardstown Institute of Technology. In terms of the representation of industry and business and agriculture, it is not the case that the VEC plucks names out of the air. There is a genuine consultation process. In cities the chamber of commerce tends to represent industry and business on the governing body. We are entering an era when governing bodies will want a greater say in terms of who is represented but there is no big deal about this. It does not have profound significance.

Mr. R. Bruton:  While I accept the Minister's point, all day we have been struggling with the fact that he does not want to establish an institute under a Bill which sets out the objectives that we want to see achieved and which provides for the appropriate structure and functions. He is insisting on continuity. It is not surprising, therefore, that eyebrows are raised when one discovers that there is continuity in some respects only. Per[1207] haps there is a need to look at the development of governing bodies at a later stage. The structure proposed is anachronistic. It may have been a reasonable compromise at the time because of political pressures. I would prefer to see a different structure if we were starting from a green field.

Question put and agreed to.


Question proposed: “That section 6 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. O'Shea:  I have a difficulty with subsection (2) which reads:

All moneys, stocks, shares and securities transferred to the College by this section that, immediately before the establishment day, are standing in the name of the Company shall, upon request of the College, be transferred into its name.

Have stocks, shares and securities been donated to the institute in question or is this just standard verbiage which has no relevance?

Mr. Martin:  This is the standard legal text in all Bills.

Mr. O'Shea:  Have stocks, shares and securities ever been donated to an institute of technology or regional technical college?

Mr. Martin:  I do not know the answer to that question but this is the standard provision in legislation. I will not delete it.

Mr. O'Shea:  Deputy Gilmore said they should be advised to buy shares in Telecom Éireann.

Mr. Martin:  That could well happen given the egalitarian nature of the Minister for Public Enterprise.

Mr. O'Shea:  Much of the verbiage in legislation has no relevance and every effort should be made to cut down on it. Legislation should be as brief as possible.

Mr. Martin:  I accept that.

Question put and agreed to.

Section 7 agreed to.


Question proposed: “That section 8 stand part of the Bill”.

Mr. Naughten:  This section deals with pending legal proceedings. Is this the standard legal text in legislation or is it the case that legal proceedings are pending against the company [1208] involved which will become known as Blanchardstown Institute of Technology?

Mr. Martin:  There are no proceedings pending that we are aware of. This is the standard provision.

Question put and agreed to.


Mr. Martin:  I move amendment No. 7:

In page 8, between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following subsections:

“(5) Subject to subsection (6), the Local Government (Superannuation) Act, 1980, shall apply to the College and its officers and servants (including the Director) as if it were a local authority and they were officers and servants of a local authority.

(6) The functions conferred on the Minister for the Environment and Local Government by the Local Government (Superannuation) Act, 1980, or any instrument made thereunder, shall, for the purposes of that Act as applied to the College by subsection (5), be performable by the Minister and not by the said Minister of the Government.

(7) Schemes and regulations made before the commencement of this section under the Local Government (Superannuation) Act, 1980 (including modifications to such schemes and regulations made under section 11(8) of the Principal Act) shall, subject to any modifications which the Minister may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, specify by order, apply to the officers and servants (including the Director) of the College.

(8) Subsection (8) of section 11 of the Principal Act shall not apply to the College.”.

The superannuation schemes relating to the staff of institutes of technology are currently administered by the Department of the Environment and Local Government under the Local Government (Superannuation) Act, 1980. It is an objective of my Department and the Department of the Environment and Local Government to transfer the functions under the Act to the Minister for Education and Science. There remain issues to be resolved, not least issues to do with resources. As the Blanchardstown Institute of Technology is a greenfield project, it is proposed to provide for this arrangement from the outset. The effect of the provision is that the Minister for Education and Science will make amendments to the existing superannuation schemes rather than negotiate such amendments with the people concerned and then request the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to make the necessary changes.

[1209]Mr. R. Bruton:  This amendment appears to alter the basis on which negotiations will take place between pensioners and the State. The Minister is separating categories of employees of one institute of technology from another. Will different approaches to the industrial relations approach be adopted by the Department? Will separate dealings be opened with the unions representing retired persons?

Mr. Martin:  Up until now all negotiations took place with the Department of Education and Science.

Mr. O'Shea:  Am I correct in stating that there will now be two schemes in operation – a superannuation scheme under the auspices of the local authorities for existing colleges and another under the auspices of the Department of Education and Science? Are there cast iron guarantees that no one in the new institute will lose out? In the 1980s local authorities did not accumulate a pension fund to meet future pension liabilities. To the best of my knowledge, the Department of the Environment and Local Government assumed responsibility for these liabilities.

Mr. Martin:  Cast iron guarantees can be given to those who work in Blanchardstown Institute of Technology. Historically, the superannuation schemes have been administered by the Department of the Environment and Local Government. Discussions are ongoing between officials of my Department and the Department of the Environment and Local Government to place them within the remit of the Department of Education and Science. The implications of this are being discussed. It is hoped to bring these discussions to a conclusion shortly.

Mr. O'Shea:  Can cast iron guarantees be given that the terms that will apply to those who work in the new institute will not be less advantageous?

Mr. Martin:  The same scheme will apply.

Mr. Barrett:  Does the Minister have any proposals relating to the future funding of superannuation schemes in terms of the necessary changes needed? The funding of pensions in the public service comes from day to day spending. This issue is causing great concern throughout Europe in terms of meeting euro targets and so on. The time may come when our overall debt is calculated on the basis of outstanding pension liabilities.

This matter has been left in abeyance throughout the public service for many years. When new legislation is being introduced, those employed because of this change are entitled to the same benefits as their counterparts. No one is suggesting that people should be disadvantaged in terms of their future pensions or remuneration. However, as a general principle, no attempt has been made to put any of these matters on a proper funding basis. I am not solely blaming this [1210] Minister as this applies across the public and Civil Service.

There are pensioners who, because of changes in the way matters are structured due to national agreements and social partnership, find that they are not receiving the pension they thought they would receive. For example, productivity payments in the public service will not be subject to an increase in pensions. It is unfair on those who spend their working lives in the public service to find that the rules could change midway through their retirement. This is another example of what can happen when one is dealing with day to day spending and the funding of pensions.

Does the Minister foresee a situation whereby, through the NTMA, moneys from Departments could be put into a fund which would make proper investments with guarantees for existing office holders that they will receive the pensions to which they are entitled? If these matters were properly funded we would not face the situation which will arise in the future. For example, what if an agreement is reached similar to those in the private sector whereby productivity bonuses are paid through the refund of a tax lump sum where targets are exceeded? If once-off payments are made to public servants as part of that national agreement no provision will be made for pensions. This will cause a serious problem in terms of recruiting people into the public and Civil Service on the basis of job security, job satisfaction and, particularly, guaranteed pensions.

This matter applies overall and not just to this legislation. Departments must face up to the reality that we will have to build up a fund for the payment of future pensions with guarantees of certain benefits. The position of the past few years will multiply and there will be many disgruntled civil and public servants who find that they left their employment on the understanding that, if those who followed them received salary increases by upgrading or whatever, their pensions would also be increased. That cannot be guaranteed in the future, given the new structures on productivity and once-off bonuses. Does the Minister have proposals in this regard?

Mr. Martin:  This issue is a matter for the Minister for Finance, as Minister with responsibility for the public service, and he is dealing with it on an ongoing basis. This issue is of concern to successive Governments and that is where the matter rests. The Minister for Finance has raised this matter with Ministers and he is dealing with it. However, the matter is not of immediate concern to this amendment.

Mr. Barrett:  It is relevant to those who will be employed.

Mr. O'Shea:  Is it the case that those who retired before the last pay agreement receive less in their pensions than those who retired since the agreement? I am talking about those working in the institute of technology sector. Are there dif[1211] ferences in the levels of pensions paid and, if so, will those differences be resolved?

Deputy Barrett made an important point. Some people feel short-changed in terms of their pensions following the last pay round and there is a great sense of betrayal. We are talking about people who devoted their careers to the public service, in education, health, Departments and so on. No Government can welcome a situation in which those who have been good and loyal servants of the State feel betrayed in terms of pension parity. I agree that this matter is not directly relevant to this amendment. However, can such a situation arise in the future?

The Minister may say that this is a matter for the Minister for Finance, but there is an obligation to those who work in the remit of the Minister's budget that they do not have to fear a situation which may arise in which, because of agreements, those who become pensioners after the agreements leave the service better off than those who left before them.

There is an ongoing injustice in the context of index-linked pensions.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Kirk):  We are branching into an area of discussion not intended by the amendment.

Mr. Barrett:  It is intended by the section.

Acting Chairman:  It is on the section but we are opening a debate on superannuation and pensions.

Mr. O'Shea:  I accept your ruling, Acting Chairman, but in discussing this Bill we have an obligation to consider the rights of those who will receive pensions in the future. In so far as we can, we should seek to safeguard their position in terms of pension parity. I will not argue the issue but Deputy Barrett made a fundamental and important point. One could read from the Bill that the present difficulties could arise in the future. The Minister should consider whether we can guard against such an eventuality by perhaps introducing a Report Stage amendment. Other Members cannot do so because of the implications of a charge on the Exchequer.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 9, as amended, stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. R. Bruton:  This section deals with provisions relating to staff. One of the issues which will have to be addressed – the Minister did not address it on Second or Committee Stage – is that if Blanchardstown Institute of Technology is to cater for students from more disadvantaged backgrounds than has been the rule, it is important that there be programmes to support the students after they arrive in the college. There should also be foundation courses to support [1212] their recruitment to the college and to sustain them through their first year.

The conventional ratios applied by the higher education sector to staffing for certain courses will have to be modified to make allowance for the fact that more intensive support will be required for certain students if they are to survive and successfully complete courses in the Blanchardstown institute. How will that be provided for? The Bill appears to assert that Blanchardstown institute is on a par with every other institute. The Minister said earlier, in the context of the discussion about Dublin, Waterford and Athlone, that no one college can steal a march and that the rules sanctioned by the Department of Finance and other bodies are applied relentlessly to all institutes. That approach cannot be applied to Blanchardstown if we genuinely want it to break new ground. It is important that the Minister outlines his thinking on this issue.

There is another issue in relation to staffing. There appears to be ongoing tension within this sector between permanent staff, who establish strong rights of permanency when they become permanent, and temporary staff who retain yellow pack status, as it were. How can a strong educational sector be developed with the encumbrance of that twin approach of permanent status which is almost beyond any interference and temporary status that does not allow people to develop their skills properly? A middle way will have to be developed whereby people of quality can be attracted into the regional technical colleges or institutes of technology without them being locked in with their rights only secured if they become permanent. They then become a fixture and it is difficult to maintain their freshness in terms of research and so forth. How will the Minister approach that problem?

We have, unwittingly, created a strange dichotomy between staff who have permanent status and temporary staff. It is creating friction in the system. As a result, many institutes try to expand on the basis of temporary staff and avoid giving permanency. That hampers their development. A way must be developed to facilitate the free movement of staff from the institutes of technology into jobs in the private sector without eroding their rights and which permits their return to the institutes. The pension issue is not irrelevant in that context.

Carriage of pension rights will be important if the way of the future will be, as I suspect, to attract people from industry into institutes of technology and to allow institute staff to leave the institutes and spend time in the industrial sector, perhaps returning later in their careers. It is necessary to develop salary and pension arrangements to facilitate that. That will be the way of the future. Existing arrangements for employment contracts for people within the sector are not sufficient for the type of dynamic education sector we are attempting to develop.

I am anxious to hear the Minister's response to these points.

[1213]Mr. Martin:  With regard to funding and the remit of the college with regard to disadvantage, the budget provided additional funding for the first time for institutes of technology to deal with retention and the prevention of drop outs. That funding is available for Blanchardstown. It could take the form of the appointment of additional tutors, mentoring and so forth for the first year intake of students.

There is also flexibility in the Department's funding to apply certain projects or measures to given institutes if they are in a particular niche or if they have a specific remit. From the outset, we acknowledged that there will be a need for foundation courses and that there must be a strong link with the post-leaving certificate colleges in the hinterland. That is why the post-leaving certificate sector is represented on the acting board.

Considerable progress has been made with regard to permanent and temporary staff as a result of the implementation of the PCW agreement. The permanency versus temporary ratio is now 80 per cent – 80 per cent of the staff are permanent – which is a significant improvement on that which pertained heretofore. However, it is important that institutes retain flexibility in relation to part-time staff. In the colleges of the future there will be a greater percentage of modular and part-time programmes and we must not impair the capacity of institutes to respond to that evolving situation.

It is important that there be career paths for part-time and temporary staff in institutes of technology and that they can, if they wish, progress into permanent positions. The PCW has improved the situation dramatically. Unfortunately, however, as a result of the complexity of the PCW generally, the discussions on it have only been brought to a conclusion in the third level sector in the past year. It is now feeding into the process.

Mr. R. Bruton:  I welcome the fact that the PCW has resulted in progress with regard to the permanent temporary ratio. However, we need to develop a new model. The Minister is correct that a career path for temporary staff must be developed. That career path would mix teaching roles with industrial roles. If the only model is either being permanent or temporary, it is insufficient.

The Department has to be more creative in developing systems whereby institute staff can develop certain rights which they can carry with them into industry and back into the institutes if they return. The distance between the rights of temporary staff and those of permanent staff is too wide in the present arrangement. As well as increasing the rights of one and reducing the rights of the other, the development of some type of model that spans them must occur. There is no doubt that as time passes people who become career institute staff will not have the dynamism that will be required. The Department will have [1214] to require people to be involved in other activities in order to maintain their freshness.

I accept that there is financial flexibility to deal with this new concept of retention. The Minister has set aside £3 million for this purpose. However, that sum is a drop in the ocean given the size of the institutes involved. What is needed is an agreement by the Department of Finance that Blanchardstown institute will be different. There will have to be a break from the traditional models or ratios.

Has the Minister secured agreement from the Department of Finance, which ultimately has the power to block this arrangement, that the type of programmes and support to be provided in Blanchardstown will require different staffing ratios from conventional institutes? It will not be a case of one-off projects for niche operations. The Minister's description sounded nice but in the cold light of day that means little real sanction of additional support for Blanchardstown compared to other institutes which are not trying to do something as novel and important. Has he receceived any undertakings that the Department of Finance will accept different pupil-teacher ratios, for want of a better phrase, in relation to the programmes being developed in Blanchardstown?

Mr. Martin:  The Government has accepted it and that is why in the budget, for the first time, specific funding was set aside for—

Mr. R. Bruton:  That is for everyone.

Mr. Martin:  It gives us flexibility to deal with Blanchardstown, and other institutes of technology also need it. There is £1.5 million for retention and £1.5 million for disadvantage and there is linkage between the two in respect of Blanchardstown. To a certain extent we are entering a greenfield situation because we have asked the institutes to come forward with proposals as to how—

Mr. R. Bruton:  We are talking about £400 million worth.

Mr. Martin:  The quality of the intervention is as important as the amount of money spent on it. This is not an issue of throwing money at the problem. We must be clear that the strategies with which the institutes come forward will work.

There is some evidence that increased tutoring in first year in smaller groups, in addition to lectures, could have a significant impact on helping students to stay on in college. Additional funding for counselling services in colleges could also have that impact and that would be a factor in Blanchardstown. Many students in first year in colleges may need a helping hand because of suddenly being thrown into an independent context in third level from a situation of dependency in second level. I am satisfied I have the financial flexibility to deal with those issues in Blanchardstown.

[1215]Mr. R. Bruton:  If Blanchardstown Institute of Technology devises strategies which support recruiting people from disadvantaged backgrounds, retaining them in college and making them a success, is the only pot from which it can draw the necessary funding for such strategies this £1.5 million fund? If that is the case and it is competing with institutes of technology throughout the country for that money, all of which will have equally ambitious plans which will run far beyond the capacity of the fund, Blanchardstown will not receive anything extra and the model the Minister is trying to develop will not come about. It is necessary to obtain acknowledgement from the outset from the paymasters in the Department of Finance that this is a different case and that the ratios which apply must be different from those to which the Department has become accustomed and which have become encrusted in precedence, which its officials are so good at citing.

Mr. Martin:  There is a great deal of flexibility with the third level budget in terms of dealing with institutes of technology. Earlier in the debate we spoke of one college not receiving as much because of its being in competition for funding with other institutes. That does not apply in this case. The same pupil-teacher ratio does not apply as at primary level. There is general funding in terms of places, numbers in colleges, salaries of staff etc.

I am satisfied we have the sanction – for example, if the Blanchardstown Institute of Technology comes forward with innovative programmes to deal with disadvantage, it will be supported and the sanction exists for that. It took a Government decision to sanction the building of the college. The setting aside of £20 million from the technology fund also required Government sanction. In giving that sanction there was a requirement that up to 30 per cent of students would be mature and second chance students. That was part of the Government decision so the Government has already decided that. I am satisfied all the mechanisms are in place to meet the issues the Deputy raised.

Acting Chairman:  We are spending an inordinate amount of time on this section.

Mr. Naughten:  This is very important legislation.

Mr. Martin:  It is phenomenal. I did not realise its significance.

Mr. Naughten:  Can I infer from what the Minister said that, if other institutes of technology come forward with similar innovative projects, funding will be made available? If that is so, does the Minister envisage that some of the institutes of technology, when they see what is happening in Blanchardstown, will try to jump on the bandwagon, so to speak, causing a huge rise in demand [1216] for this type of funding and possibly resulting in resources not being available to satisfy the demand?

Acting Chairman:  I see potential for going off on tangents.

Mr. Martin:  I would have no problem with a replication of the best model of practice if Blanchardstown established one. It is not jumping on the bandwagon.

Mr. Barrett:  The tuition in institutes such as Blanchardstown, which can develop courses to give people skills for employment, often involves people from the private sector, as mentioned by my colleague, Deputy Richard Bruton. Full-time staff are needed, as is administrative back-up. One aspect of our system – there is nothing in the section to suggest it is different – is that everything is geared towards the assumption that people involved in teaching—

Mr. Martin:  There is misunderstanding about the purpose of the section. It is not concerned with the staffing of the institute as such. We have established a company to run the college in the interim. Staff for Blanchardstown are employed under the auspices of the Institute of Technology, Tallaght. The section provides that when they transfer to Blanchardstown they will have the same pension rights and other rights. That is the purpose of the section, it is not concerned with anything else.

Mr. Barrett:  My point is related to staffing. It may be necessary to employ people in the private sector with certain skills which are deemed necessary to be passed on to students in third level colleges such as Blanchardstown, but these people may not be interested in a permanent position. The world is changing and people in future may work in different places on different days of the week. These people are employed in a temporary capacity. To ensure they continue to apply their skills, they need secure pensions, for example. There is no provision whereby an institute of technology can pay such a person for a certain number of hours' lecturing and, in addition, contribute to that person's pension fund. While that person will devote a certain number of hours, they must think of their future. There is no flexibility to make it worth their while to continue lecturing one or two days per week, passing on their essential skills to students, by ensuring they receive remuneration which includes contributions to their pension.

Mr. Martin:  That is not provided for at present.

Mr. Barrett:  No, and neither is anything provided in this section.

Mr. Martin:  No.

[1217]Mr. Barrett:  That is a terrible shame. The Minister should consider the matter. I see this happening in universities and it is now advancing into diploma courses.

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy is successfully broadening the debate.

Mr. Barrett:  Students in diploma courses find that lecturers employed to deal with specific aspects of the course can leave after two months. Another person is then employed, with the result that there is no continuity and students become frustrated. In many cases that is because the tuition is of a bad quality, but also because lecturers are changing. These are not permanent academic staff but people employed because they have various skills, be it in sports management, psychology or whatever, which form part of the course. Such people lecture for a while but then drift away because it is a hobby. Good people are needed.We will be more successful if we can find a way to include in the remuneration package offered to them, a means to fund their personal pensions.

Question put and agreed to.


Question proposed: “That section 10 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. R. Bruton:  Section 10 provides for an exemption from capital gains tax. I wish to clarify what is being provided. Do I take it that the previous company will be solely exempt from capital gains tax? How stands the institute in respect of the commercial exploitation of some of its research work? Will the gains from the commercialisation of research ideas, which are part of the remit of the institutes of technology, also enjoy the exemption from capital gains tax?

Mr. Martin:  This section is designed to deal with what will happen in the immediate future. It involves the transfer of the assets and properties of the existing company to the institute.

Mr. R. Bruton:  Will the activities of the institute be taxable in respect of the commercialisation of its research work?

Mr. Martin:  The institute can apply in its own time for charitable status. I will send a note to the Deputy on that matter.

Mr. O'Shea:  Despite the Minister's statement, I am baffled by the necessity for this section. I take it this is merely a measure to end the affairs of the existing company. Provision was made in the 1992 Act in respect of the establishment of campus companies where liability for projects that go awry will not rest with the governing body but with the company involved. I understood the company in this instance is a non-profit making [1218] organisation and was merely doing an interim job in terms of ensuring that the institute gets up and running. How can an organisation of that sort be liable for capital gains tax?

The Minister clarified the other point of concern to me, namely, that existing institutes of technology are not affected by capital gains tax. If one considers the recent situation in Waterford when the college purchased a piece of land, some of which had to be disposed of, do I understand that any gain from the sale would not be subject to capital gains tax and that the money is to be passed on to the Department?

Mr. Martin:  Yes.

Mr. O'Shea:  How then can a company which is effectively performing a public function at the Minister's behest be subject to capital gains tax? Is there not a need for the Minister for Education and Science to urge the Minister for Finance, by means of the next Finance Bill, to end the difficulties which may arise in this area?

Mr. Martin:  Difficulties will not arise. As is the case with other Bills, this section is as a result of the parliamentary draftsman endeavouring “to be sure, to be sure”.

Mr. R. Bruton:  If there is a realizable gain it will be taxable.

Mr. Martin:  The answer is that the company will not be liable.

Mr. O'Shea:  In any event, there will not be any capital gain that is taxable. It is baffling that a company performing a public function at the behest of the Minister can be liable to capital gains tax. Is it the Minister's advice that any profit made by the company on the disposal of land or any other asset could be subject to capital gains tax? If that is not the position, what is the need for the section?

Mr. Martin:  It could be subject to capital gains tax.

Mr. R. Bruton:  If I make a gift to Deputy O'Shea and it is transferred to him as a gift at its market value, the difference between the price at which I acquired it and that at which I gave it to the Deputy is a taxable capital gain on my part. Therefore, the company which transfers the asset to the institute will be liable for any capital gain it realises even though that transfer was in the form of a gift. That is where the taxable gain arises and that is why the provision is necessary. However, I presume the institute will not be liable because it will qualify for charitable status.

Question put and agreed to.


Mr. R. Bruton:  I move amendment No. 8:

[1219] In page 8, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following subsection:

“(4) The Dún Laoghaire Vocational Education Committee shall have an administrative area which is identical to the administrative area of the council of the county of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown.”.

Somewhat of an anomalous situation is developing in respect of vocational education committees and local authorities. The reform of local authorities in Dublin established four authorities: Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, South Dublin, Fingal and Dublin Corporation. However, there are only three vocational education committees. One of these, Dún Laoghaire Vocational Education Committee remains but its remit continues to be confined to the traditional area of the Dún Laoghaire borough. The new Dún Laoghaire local authority has a wider geographical area which covers the Dún Laoghaire borough and Rathdown. Two of the world's leading experts on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown are present in the Chamber and they would be better able to explain the situation.

An anomaly exists and the amendment provides a mechanism for its correction. The amendment will ensure that, in future, the functional area of Dún Laoghaire VEC will coincide with that of the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown local authority. Amendment No. 9 in the name of Deputy O'Shea is perhaps more eloquent in that it advocates a change in the title of the VEC to “Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Vocational Education Committee”. It is time to introduce rationality to this matter because there is no point in the local authority overseeing one catchment area while two vocational education committees are obliged to operate within it. That does not make sense and the amendment offers a good opportunity resolve this matter.

Acting Chairman:  I must point out that amendments Nos. 8 and 9 are related and may be taken together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Gilmore:  I support the amendments in the names of Deputies Bruton and O'Shea. I spoke about this matter on Second Stage. I am currently a member of Dún Laoghaire VEC. There is an AGM of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council on Friday and it remains to be seen if my tenure on the VEC will continue.

Mr. Naughten:  The best of luck to the Deputy.

Mr. Gilmore:  As Deputy Bruton stated, there is an anomaly in that the existing Dún Laoghaire VEC covers only the area of the old Dún Laoghaire borough. Following the establishment of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, it was expected that consequential legislation would be introduced to establish vocational education committees with administrative areas which [1220] coincided with those of the new local authorities in Dublin. That legislation has been long promised but it has not been introduced.

I am aware that Dún Laoghaire VEC made a case to the Minister that a Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown VEC should be appointed following this year's local elections. For a time it appeared the Minister intended to accede to the proposal for a separate VEC for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and that this would be appointed by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. For some reason, that proposal appears to have disappeared.

The situation in which we now find ourselves is ridiculous. On Friday, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council will appoint a VEC to deal with half of its administrative area. The schools in Dundrum and Stillorgan, which are in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county, will be outside that VEC. They will be part of the old County Dublin VEC. In addition, the areas around Dún Laoghaire, such as Cabinteely, parts of Ballybrack and Shankill, which are part of the greater Dún Laoghaire area, will remain in the County Dublin VEC area.

A student applying for a scholarship who is living in Shankill would not be entitled to apply to Dún Laoghaire VEC. He or she would have to apply to the County Dublin VEC, which is based in Tallaght. A range of anomalies are created by this legislation, but we have an ideal opportunity to address them. These vocational education committees are about to be appointed and this is an ideal opportunity for the Minister to regularise the position in relation to the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area and to legislate for the establishment of a Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown VEC. It would be a simple matter to do that. The area is quite well known. There are two sets of schools, the schools in Dundrum and Stillorgan, which would become part of the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown VEC area. It would make sense if the VEC area coincided with the county area. That is the purpose of these amendments, otherwise a VEC will be appointed which will cover only half of the county area and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown will be entitled to appoint a few members to the county VEC to look after the rest of the area.

This is the ideal time to tidy up a problem which has been outstanding for some time. I asked the Minister on Second Stage to do this on Committee Stage. I must express some disappointment that he did not table an amendment on Committee Stage to give effect to that. I ask him, therefore, to accept the amendments tabled by Deputies Bruton and O'Shea.

Mr. Barrett:  I support the Fine Gael amendment in the name of Deputy Bruton and the Labour Party amendment in the name of Deputy O'Shea. I had the pleasure of serving on the County Dublin VEC because I was a member of Dublin County Council, not Dún Laoghaire Borough. The boundaries in the area I represent are so crazy that they are unbelievable. I lived in Arnold Park at one stage, which has 100 houses [1221] and the estate is designed in a horseshoe shape. An imaginary line runs through it, which was the boundary between what was then Dún Laoghaire Corporation and Dublin County Council. This matter poses a problem not only for a student living in Shankill, a student living on one side of Arnold Park must traipse off to Tallaght to apply for a grant to a third level college while a student who lives two doors away must apply to Dún Laoghaire VEC for such a grant. People do not understand why that is the case.

To add insult to injury – the Minister had nothing to do with this – whoever drew up the boundary lines for the local elections reverted back in some areas to the old imaginary line of Dún Laoghaire Borough. We now have a ridiculous imaginary line running through Arnold Park and other places, where one side of a road is in the Dún Laoghaire electoral area and the other side in the Ballybrack electoral area.

The problem posed by the boundaries extends beyond students who wish to apply for grants or second level education, it also relates to adult education programmes. Dún Laoghaire VEC manages adult education programmes for people who live in houses on part of a road and people in Tallaght, who at this stage do not have a clue about where the boundary starts or finishes, manage such programmes for people who live in houses on another part of the same road.

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has ten Dáil seats, the equivalent of two constituencies in Donegal, which has six Dáil seats—

Mr. Gilmore:  Another example is Cork city.

Mr. Martin:  It has only one VEC.

Mr. Barrett:  —and Sligo-Leitrim, which has four Dáil seats. Three counties have the same number of seats as Dún Laoghaire council area and we are talking about having two vocational education committees where there should be only one. Can the Minister imagine Donegal, Sligo or Leitrim not having a county VEC? Galway has nine Dáil seats, one less than Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. We are covering a huge area; an area with ten Dáil seats.

In Deputy Gilmore's Second Stage contribution he pointed out that the chief executive of the Dún Laoghaire VEC is retiring this year. This is the ideal opportunity to clarify the situation and let the County Dublin VEC look after the South Dublin County Council and Fingal areas because they are close to the centre of the administration of that VEC, which is in Tallaght. We have the necessary structures in Dún Laoghaire. It is not a question of developing a new bureaucracy. All that needs to be done is to reallocate the activities from the County Dublin VEC to the Dún Laoghaire VEC.

If we allow this legislation to go through, we would be laughed at. We are talking about Dún Laoghaire having 14 members and the council nominating people to County Dublin VEC. That [1222] is a joke. The Minister was prepared to listen to reasonable arguments I made during Committee Stage debates on education Bills, and I ask him at this stage not to allow this foolish situation to continue.

As the Minster is aware, a great deal of good work can be done by vocational education committees. We are talking about a natural local authority area and vocational education committees providing assistance to youth clubs and sporting clubs, the development of adult education programmes and the appointment of representatives to boards of management of community schools. If this matter is not addressed, we will have a ridiculous situation where, for example, the County Dublin VEC would nominate representatives to the board of management of the Cabinteely community school. That does not make sense.

I support these amendments and I hope the Minister will accept the valid points made by Members in support of them. We are not making a special plea, what the amendments seek is common sense. I hope we can leave the Chamber this evening with the knowledge that there will be a new Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown VEC, particularly as we are about to appoint members to the Dún Laoghaire VEC in the next few days. If that cannot be done in the next few days, perhaps it could be done in the next few months. It would be good if that was provided for in the legislation and appropriate arrangements made.

Mr. Naughten:  I support these two amendments. If they are accepted by the Minister, that may cause a problem in terms of the negotiations that are ongoing regarding the control of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown VEC in terms of how VEC seats will be divvied out.

Mr. Martin:  I am getting worried about the Deputy, he is straying all over the country tonight.

Mr. Barrett:  He is one of our national politicians.

Mr. Martin:  He is.

Mr. Naughten:  I am sure everyone accepts this is a ludicrous situation and it is making a joke of local government. If this were to apply throughout the country, I might be a member of Westmeath VEC because my part of the constituency is served by Westmeath and second level students or post leaving certificate students in that area are served by Athlone and Westmeath VEC. That would make a case for my having an opportunity to be a member of Westmeath VEC.

I hope we will debate the Youth Work (Amendment) Bill later this year and the role vocational education committees will play in relation to it. We are still awaiting that legislation. There will be a role for vocational education committees in that legislation and we will have one [1223] county council, two vocational education committees and appointments being made willy-nilly. This is the ideal opportunity to rectify this matter.

Mr. O'Shea:  At the risk of being accused by the Minister of rambling all over the country, I will make a short contribution. As someone who is not a resident or representative of the constituency we are discussing, I think the arguments made by Deputies are sensible. Their aim is to give better and more efficient service to those availing of vocational education committees. It seems that a Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown VEC in co-existence with a county council – in other words, their functional areas would be identical – has to benefit the people living in that area. Sometimes an opportunity arises to do the right thing, something for which people have waited a long time. I do not see why the Minister cannot accept these amendments, or submit his own on Report Stage. The Minister should see the sense in accepting the principle of these amendments. Obviously, the time to act is when the new vocational education committees are appointed. I do not know what the Minister's response will be but I hope it is a sensible one. We are exhorting the Minister a little, so as to help him along. As Deputy Barrett said, the Minister can be quite constructive at times. This is his opportunity, at this late hour, to really shine.

Mr. Martin:  I met with Dún Laoghaire VEC about six months ago and I wondered what it was about. The first question I was asked was whether it would continue as a VEC or was I going to abolish it. That was its main concern as it was thought it would be abolished by the last Government. I have given a new vote of confidence in the VEC structure.

Mr. Barrett:  That was before the rainbow coalition.

Mr. Martin:  It was not.

Mr. Barrett:  It was before Deputy Gilmore and I arrived on the scene.

Mr. Martin:  I accept the Deputy's influence was benign. The VEC is still in existence and will continue that way. The purpose of this section is to resolve a difficulty that is immediately created for the structure in the Dublin-Dún Laoghaire region by the Local Government Act, 1992. Effectively, as the law stands, while County Dublin VEC and Dún Laoghaire VEC as statutory corporate bodies were retained after the enactment of that Act, the law provides no mechanism to appoint members to the committees. To deal with this issue, the law will require amendment, as proposed in section 11.

A vocational education (amendment) Bill is in preparation in my Department and I intend to publish it before the end of this year. The wider [1224] issue of the structure of vocational education in Dublin-Dún Laoghaire will be addressed in that Bill and the issue will be resolved. Those issues have been outlined by Deputies who have articulated a great deal of common sense. However, it is important that there is consultation with the councils involved and other interested parties prior to amending legislation.

The issues to be considered include whether to divide the existing County Dublin VEC in two to accommodate the counties of Fingal and south Dublin and the functional areas of the vocational education committees. I have an open mind on these issues. However, the effect of the Deputies' amendments would be to pre-empt the outcome of the consultations that are taking place and will take place. I propose, as provided for in the Bill, to address the immediate problem associated with the composition of County Dublin VEC and Dún Laoghaire VEC but to make no change in the status quo, pending the enactment of the vocational education (amendment) Bill. In this way the immediate problem of appointing committees can be resolved. The areas concerned will have fully functioning committees and the wider issues will be fully addressed in the next few months.

There will be wider implications if the amendments are accepted. We would be transferring staff from one employer to another and transferring schools etc., all of which necessitates considerable change. The new Bill will resolve this issue once and for all. The contributions of Deputies, particularly those from the Dún Laoghaire area, will be taken on board and we invite them to consult with us in terms of resolving the issues. They will be resolved and the new Bill is the appropriate context in which to do that. In this Bill we are endeavouring to allow for the immediate appointments of committees given the difficulties arising from the deficiencies of previous Acts.

Mr. Barrett:  I note what the Minister said. Unfortunately, however, we do not have a guarantee that the Minister will not be on his way to Brussels next week as a Commissioner or there could be a reshuffle and he could become Minister for Finance. When dealing with legislation those of us who feel strongly about certain issues want some guarantees. I am not suggesting that I do not accept the word of the Minister. However, circumstances change and the Minister may even be on the Opposition benches by then – that is a matter for another day.

While there may be an immediate problem, that matter can be overcome by inserting a provision in this Bill that the arrangements being put in place will only last for a period of two years, pending the setting up of a Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown VEC. That gives us a guarantee in this Bill without interfering with the immediate problem of the selection of personnel under the existing arrangements. It would also give us a legislative guarantee that this will happen.

[1225] If the Minister is saying it will be impossible to establish that VEC in the next week or month, legislative provision can be made in this section which will make it clear the arrangements being proposed by the Minister are for a period of 12 or 18 months or two years and that the establishment of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown VEC will commence after that. This gives us a guarantee and allows the Minister expand on the nitty-gritty of the transfer of assets from one VEC to another in the vocational education (amendment) Bill. At least we could tell our constituents that the newly elected council is carrying out an interim arrangement pending the enactment of future legislation. There will be no doubt because it will be legislated for.

If it is not achieved, the Minister of the day will have to come to the House and extend the period or vote through the continuation of the two vocational education committees. At least we would leave here with the guarantee of a Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown VEC within a period of at least two years. I ask the Minister, if he cannot do it immediately, to at least give us that legislative guarantee by accepting my amendment or one similar to it on Committee or Report Stages.

Mr. Gilmore:  With respect to the Minister, he is making a serious mistake on this matter. This has been an issue since 1993 when the new county councils were established. It was anticipated at that time – there was no secret about it – that the logic of the local government reorganisation in Dublin was that there would be vocational education committees which would correspond to the new counties. It was not done at the time in the legislation because, even back then, there was talk about a vocational education Bill being published. While the Minister now says it will be published before Christmas—

Mr. Martin:  That was shelved by the last Government when the regional education boards proposal was made.

Mr. Gilmore:  The Minister is wrong. The last Government, as I recall it, had started the process of reorganising vocational education committees.

Mr. Martin:  It had not.

Mr. Gilmore:  For example—

Mr. Martin:  The Deputy means the dissolution of them, not the reorganisation of them.

Mr. Gilmore:  —the amalgamation of the town vocational education committees with the county vocational education committees. I thought it was significant that the Minister referred in his response to the issues that would arise in the creation of two vocational education committees in Fingal and South Dublin in the old Dublin county area. The proposed amendment does not affect that; in fact, it remains silent on what should happen in Fingal and South Dublin. [1226] All we are saying is that that portion of the County Dublin VEC which serves the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area should become part of a wider Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown VEC. As Deputy Barrett pointed out earlier, all that is required is for that to be done. There is already a headquarters and a chief executive officer. As Deputy Barrett pointed out, the current chief executive officer is about to retire, and I repeat the tributes I paid to him on Second Stage, but a new chief executive officer is about to be appointed. It can be made quite clear that the new chief executive officer is being appointed to the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown VEC, rather than to the Dún Laoghaire VEC.

The problem the Minister will have if he leaves this to the new legislation is that, on Friday, a new Dún Laoghaire VEC will be appointed and new members will be appointed to the County Dublin VEC. That is what is listed on our agenda for the county council meeting on Friday. If the Minister is still in office at the turn of the year, he will introduce a vocational education Bill which will provide for some possible reorganisation of the Dublin vocational education committees. If he decides at that stage to constitute a Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown VEC, he then has the problem that there is already in place a Dún Laoghaire VEC, which will have been appointed six months previously by the county council; a new chief executive officer will have been appointed to the Dún Laoghaire VEC, rather than to the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area; and a Dublin county VEC will have been appointed for the entire Dublin county area. He will find himself in a situation where there will automatically be interests who will work against the reorganisation he is talking about.

The reality is that it will be five years before this reorganisation will take effect because, once a Dún Laoghaire VEC and a Dublin county VEC is in place, they will remain in place for the full five year term of the local authority. It will be five years time before this long overdue—

Mr. Martin:  It will not be.

Mr. Gilmore:  —rationalisation of the VEC set-up in Dún Laoghaire will take effect. The Minister should seize the moment and do it now.

The Minister's amendment, with which we will be dealing next, appears to provide for some kind of an interregnum. It appears it is not anticipated that the new vocational education committees will be in operation straight away. The Minister's amendment is allowing for some kind of carry over of the existing committees, pending their replacement. Since there is to be some sort of interregnum anyway, why not allow that interregnum to take place and put in place the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown arrangement for which we have argued?

Mr. Martin:  I am willing to be reasonable here but some of the comments which have been made [1227] are not tenable or valid. The purpose of the next amendment is to provide that the existing vocational education committees stay in operation until the new Act is enacted. We have said consistently that once the new Act is in place, the committees that have been appointed now will cease to exist and new committees will be appointed.

I would be prepared to go along with Deputy Barrett's suggestion, if the House would agree to the following verbal amendment:

In page 8, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following subsection:

“(7) This section shall cease to have effect two years after the commencement of this Act.”.

We want to do it faster than that. However, that amendment takes on board the Deputy's valid point that we do not have any guarantees in life and would force the issue if nothing happened in the intervening period. I wish to respond to the points made by Deputy Barrett, which I thought were valid. It is not what Deputies want but I would prefer to make that verbal amendment, if that is agreed.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  If it was the intention of the House to complete the Bill tonight, a verbal amendment would be the right way to proceed. However, if the House is not going to deal with Report Stage tonight, the Chair would prefer if the Minister submitted his amendment on Report Stage. However, that does not mean we cannot—

Mr. R. Bruton:  We are making very good progress on the Bill.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I do not know whether the House is aware that the Adjournment is at 10.30 p.m. However, if the House wishes to complete the Bill tonight, we can accept the following amendment:

In page 8, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following subsection:

“(7) This section shall cease to have effect two years after the commencement of this Act.”.

Mr. Gilmore:  I want to be clear about what that means. Does it mean that, in two years' time, the VEC appointed by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council on Friday will cease to exist? Will the county VEC, which is appointed by the three local authorities, also cease to exist? I think I know where the Minister is—

Mr. Martin:  The Deputy's point is valid. It means it would have to be legislated for again. Deputy Barrett's point is that this could go on forever. I am giving a commitment tonight that we will have this sorted out in six months, in that [1228] we will have a new Act. Deputy Barrett's response was that I may not be around, as there are no guarantees in life. In order to meet that valid point, this is, in essence, forcing the Oireachtas to deal with this again if it has not dealt with it within two years, as it should be. We are all agreed it should be dealt with. We are putting in this safeguard to prevent it being put on the long finger. It will act as a catalyst which will force the legislature to deal with the issue.

Mr. Gilmore:  Does it mean we could end up without a VEC in two years' time?

Mr. Martin:  No, the committee would remain in place as a statutory body but there would be no membership.

Mr. Barrett:  Like Deputy Gilmore, I would prefer if either amendment were accepted. However, half a loaf is better than no bread and we will have made some progress if I get a guarantee written into the legislation that this matter will be resolved, at the very latest, within two years. We can then answer those who ask what is going on here. Given that the Minister has put on the record that he hopes to have this resolved within six or 12 months, it is reasonable to allow a two year period for all the other bits and pieces that have to be done. It will force whoever is Minister for Education at that time to deal with the issue.

Amendment No. 8, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 9 not moved.

Mr. Martin:  I move amendment No. 10:

In page 8, between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following subsections:

“(6) The persons holding office as members of the County Dublin Vocational Education Committee and the Dún Laoghaire Vocational Education Committee by virtue of section 19 of the Local Government (Dublin) Act, 1993, shall continue to hold office until the commencement of the term of office of the persons elected in accordance with this section.

(7) The term of office of the persons elected to be members of the County Dublin Vocational Education Committee in accordance with this section shall commence on the 7th day after the last day on which an election of persons for that purpose is held.

(8) The term of office of the persons elected to be members of the Dún Laoghaire Vocational Education Committee in accordance with this section shall commence on the 7th day after the day on which an election of persons for that purpose is held.”.

[1229] This is a technical amendment. It seeks to address a difficulty which arises from the fact that County Dublin VEC and Dún Laoghaire VEC remain in place, although the county council which placed them has been dissolved. The VEC Acts provide that the term of office of the members of the committee ends after local elections at the first annual meeting of the council which elected them. As the council in this case no longer exists, this amendment removes any doubt about the transition from the present committees to the new committees.

Mr. Gilmore:  The annual meeting of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is due to take place on Friday morning next. Will it be in a position to appoint a Dún Laoghaire VEC and two members to the County Dublin VEC which is intended? What is the status of this legislation? Is this legislation going to be through before Friday?

Mr. Martin:  It will not be.

Mr. Gilmore:  It will not be, until we get this law enacted. The appointment of a Dún Laoghaire VEC is on the agenda for Friday.

Mr. Martin:  It will have to be deferred.

Mr. Gilmore:  Until when?

Mr. Martin:  Until we get this Bill through.

Mr. Gilmore:  How long does the Minister anticipate that will be?

Mr. Martin:  If we get it through tonight I will have it in the Seanad next week and it will go through then.

Mr. Gilmore:  I will not delay it any longer.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Martin:  I move amendment No. 10a:

In page 8, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following subsection:

“(7) This section shall cease to have effect two years after the commencement of this Act.”.

Amendment agreed to.

Section 11, as amended, agreed to.


Mr. Martin:  I move amendment No. 11:

In page 8, before section 12, to insert the following new section:

12.– (i) In this section–

[1230]“the Act of 1925” means the Local Government Act, 1925;

“the relevant restriction” means the restriction on holding any office of profit or being employed for remuneration contained in section 70(1) of the Act of 1925 (as applied by section 26 of the Act of 1930) and continued in operation by section 21(5) of the Local Government Act, 1955.

(2) The relevant restriction shall have effect as if the words in section 70(1) of the Act of 1925 “, or of any other local authority whose functional area is, or is situate in, the same county or county borough as that of or within which is situate the functional area of such local authority or in any county or county borough adjoining to that county or county borough' were deleted.”.

This is an amendment aimed at removing what I consider to be an excessive restriction of the freedom of employees of vocational education committees to engage in political activity in their local areas. At present an employee of a vocational education committee is statutorily debarred from being a member of that committee. He or she is also debarred from employment with another local authority or another VEC the functional area of which is situated in the same county or county borough, or in an adjoining county or county borough, as the committee. I consider this second restriction is too broad and an infringement of the democratic rights of the staff. In so far as the restriction applies to membership of and employment by the same committee, it is reasonable. However, I am satisfied that there is no compelling rationale in preventing employees of vocational education committees from becoming members of local authorities in the same or in an adjoining county or county borough. Accordingly, this amendment will allow employees of vocational education committees to become members of local authorities, including vocational education committees in the same or adjoining county or county borough. The restriction in respect of membership of and employment by the same VEC will continue to apply.

I received representations from all parties in the House on this. This is a reasonable resolution of the issues that arose.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. R. Bruton:  I move amendment No. 12:

In page 8, before section 12, to insert the following new section:

“12.–Vocational Education Committees shall include in their membership representatives of parents and of teaching and non-teaching staff in accordance with regulations [1231] made by the Minister for the purpose of this section.”.

I am sure the Minister will agree to this because I know he is anxious that parents and teaching and non-teaching staff would have representation on the vocational education committees.

Mr. Martin:  We intend in the forthcoming Bill to make provision for this. In the meantime I have communicated with all county and city managers to put this in place.

Mr. R. Bruton:  It is not ideal, but in view of the position I will withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


Mr. Martin:  I move amendment No. 13:

In page 8, after line 37, to insert the following subsection:

“(3) The Vocational Education Acts, 1930 to 1993, and section 11 may be cited together as the Vocational Education Acts, 1930 to 1999, and shall be construed together as one.”.

Amendment agreed to.

Section 12, as amended, agreed to.

Title agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  On Report Stage, amendment No. 1 is in the name of Deputy Richard Bruton.

Mr. R. Bruton:  In view of the lateness of the hour and the valuable debate we had on Committee Stage, I do not propose to move my amendments. I accept the Minister will make an effort to accommodate these in the future, but the Bill would have been better if we had adopted what could be described as a more green field approach and tackled some of the anomalous provisions in the old Act.

Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.

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

Mr. R. Bruton:  I thank the Minister for the debate which at times wandered off the subject. Nonetheless it was a useful debate about a sector [1232] of our education system which has been exceptionally successful and which we should be keen to see develop in a very constructive way. It is very positive that the Minister will be coming back to the House with an order establishing clearly the mandate the Oireachtas seeks to give to the new Blanchardstown institute. We look forward to the introduction of that order later in the year and I thank the Minister for the constructive approach he has taken to the Bill.

Mr. O'Shea:  I too compliment the Minister on his constructive approach throughout the debate. He made a more than reasonable effort to allay the various concerns expressed on this side of the House. It falls to me to wish him well with the legislation as it moves on through the Seanad and is passed into law. Obviously, we wish the new institute of technology every success in growing and playing a significant part in the growth and development of the Blanchardstown area.

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  I thank the Deputies for a very constructive and enjoyable debate during which new insights were advanced. I welcome the constructive ideas that came forward. I look forward to the successful operation of this institute and hope it will have a fundamental impact on activity and performance elsewhere within the system.

Question put and agreed to.

Mr. Kirk:  I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this most important of issues. Anybody who runs a constituency clinic or is in contact with young people will realise that there is what borders on a simmering anger among young people generally at the exorbitant cost of motor insurance. Young people who are taking their place in the workforce for the first time are finding it increasingly difficult to pay the cost of insurance premiums. In some instances the cost of insurance is greater than the cost of the vehicle they have purchased to get to and from work.

The insurance industry will say the accident statistics are against this sector of the motoring public. The Government, particularly the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, has made commendable efforts to cultivate a greater sense of responsibility and a better sense of all round safety and driving ability on our roads. That is to be commended given the growth in the number of vehicles on the roads.

I propose tonight to ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, who has general responsibility for the motor insurance industry, if a request will be made of the Irish [1233] Insurance Federation to ask insurance companies to consider the possibility of introducing a family unit policy arrangement for father, mother and children, taking a more integrated approach to the provision of motor insurance cover.

By approaching the matter on the basis of the family unit we could lower the cost of motor insurance while simultaneously cultivating a greater sense of responsibility among young drivers. If parents are prepared to oversee the earlier years of young motorists, that will help to improve road safety and ensure that driving standards are of the highest calibre. The Minister should ask the insurance industry to examine that proposal. If it could do that successfully it would be worthwhile.

There may not be a precedent for such an approach but that should not prevent us from adopting an innovative attitude to the issue. In a newspaper today there was a headline which claimed that compensation cost every citizen £5 per week. That amount is based on a survey based on the figures for 1997. That statistic illustrates the serious problem with liability insurance, particularly motor insurance.

I thank the House for the opportunity to raise this issue and hope that due cognisance will be made of these observations.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. N. O'Keeffe):  I remind the House that my Government colleague, Deputy Treacy, Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, who is currently at an OECD meeting, provided a comprehensive statement in the Seanad on 19 May on progress being made in devising policies and programmes to reduce the burden of insurance costs, including motor insurance costs, on consumers and the economy. I propose to reiterate the relevant parts of that statement to the House in response to Deputy Kirk's motion. I preface my remarks by confirming that, as far as implementation of EU legislation on insurance is concerned, Ireland has complied with all relevant legislation in that regard.

It is generally realised that liability insurance premiums, including motor insurance costs, are higher in Ireland, in gross and average terms, than in other EU countries, including the UK.

In devising effective policies and programmes to reduce the insurance cost burden, it is necessary to identify the key factors contributing to the high cost of liability and motor insurance in Ireland. Empirical research carried out by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has found that the main cost factors are a high claims propensity among the Irish public; high delivery costs of personal injury claims, including legal costs; high levels of medical inflation; and disproportionately high awards of [1234] general damages in smaller personal injury claims.

The cost of delivering compensation has a major bearing on the premium rate ultimately charged in the marketplace. At the end of the day, while good risks always attract cheaper quotations, prudent insurers must set their premium levels to match the compensation pay-out and other costs. There are also disadvantages caused by economies of scale on insurance operations in Ireland – a much smaller pool of insurance risks relative to other EU member states.

In 1995, an in-depth study of insurance costs in Ireland by Deloitte & Touche was commissioned by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to identify key factors contributing to high insurance costs, to evaluate their economic impact and to make recommendations aimed at reducing these costs. The consultants' 1996 report found that the main contributory factors in rising premium costs were the high legal costs component of small claims settlement, the faster rate of medical inflation, and the high level of general damages awards relative to special damages in smaller claims.

The report assessed the Irish motor insurance market on consumer choice and price competition. It found that there was not a uniform market price for motor insurance due to factors such as differing assessments of claims histories by insurers, strategies towards niche markets and specialisation and segmentation of the market. Within these parameters motor insurers quoted widely differing premiums for similar risks. This is characteristic of a competitive market. While mature drivers with good safety records benefit from competition between insurers in segments of the motor insurance market, the consultants' survey found that young drivers were regarded as a high risk category and certain insurers refused to quote for them.

It is abundantly clear from the empirical evidence that the primary focus of initiatives aimed at reducing the cost of motor insurance must be to reduce the frequency of accidents and the associated cost of claims. The key to reducing insurance costs for young drivers is to create appropriate conditions for improving their standards of driving and their appreciation of road safety.

Initiatives are in place to improve driving standards and safety awareness among all drivers. The Irish Insurance Federation, in conjunction with the Driving Instructors Register, has introduced a scheme of insurance premium discounts for the young driver on completion of a required number of driving lessons. The National Safety Council, in co-operation with the Garda, continues to promote anti-speeding and anti-drink driving media campaigns, including road safety education programmes for secondary school students. The Minister of State has also exhorted [1235] the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to expedite his Department's examination of a graduated licensing system for learner drivers based on the Ontario model which could have a significant impact if introduced here.

The re-establishment of the Motor Insurance Advisory Board by the Minister of State was a major initiative aimed at providing information and advice on trends in motor insurance costs and policy recommendations for addressing those costs. The expanded membership of the new board, which includes a member representing young drivers' interests, is broadly representative of all the interests concerned, including road safety education and enforcement experts.

Certain concessions to young drivers have been introduced previously by major insurers in the Irish market against the background of increasing underwriting losses in motor insurance. The 1997 annual insurance report prepared by the Department showed that motor insurance underwriting losses increased from £90 million in 1996 to £114 million in 1997. The deteriorating underwriting situation resulted in some insurers implementing increases in certain insurance categories in 1998.

In those circumstances there is clearly no soft option for reducing motor insurance premiums for young, inexperienced drivers. As a group they represent a very high risk for insurers and many insurance companies are reluctant to quote for that risk. As in any other branch of insurance risk, reductions in premiums can only be achieved by improving safety standards. In the case of young Irish motorists, the inculcation of safer driving standards in driving skills and the early acquisition of a driving licence are the keys to reducing their high accident rate which, in turn, should lead to lower premium quotations.

I thank the Deputy for the further opportunity to inform the House of the current state of progress of our efforts to effect a moderation in the burden of insurance costs on economic activity and, in particular, on small business and the motorist. The consistency of the Deputy in raising this matter must be admired.

Mr. G. Reynolds:  I wish to share time with Deputy Ellis. I welcome the opportunity to raise this matter in the House.

We were devastated by the news that 40 jobs were to be lost in Drumshanbo. The employees have been informed that these job losses will take place next Friday. There is a young workforce at Leitrim Foods in Drumshanbo and, unfortunately, the chances of those young people being re-employed in County Leitrim are extremely slim. In the past 18 months in County Leitrim, 100 jobs were lost in Ballinamore and now 40 will be lost in Drumshanbo.

[1236] The Government established a task force 12 months ago but it has not yet reported.Unfortunately, that will not save the jobs of the 40 people who face job losses next Friday week. I call on the Government, particularly the Tánaiste, to intervene in this matter in Drumshanbo to see if it is at all possible to save these jobs. If they are not saved, it is highly unlikely these young people will be re-employed in the county. County Leitrim has a difficulty in that it needs people and jobs. It has less than 700 industrial jobs and these 40 to 50 jobs losses are equal to 500 in an urban centre. It is a devastating blow, particularly to the young people and their families.

I understand the Tánaiste is on a trade mission to the United States, and I hope she is successful. I also hope she is successful in bringing further employment to County Leitrim because we are fed up seeing jobs being created elsewhere. County Leitrim seems to be the only county losing jobs. Not only do we need job creation but policies should be put in place so that we can have sustainable jobs. I hope the reply we receive from the Minister tonight will give some hope to the people facing a difficult time in the coming weeks.

Mr. Ellis:  I thank Deputy Reynolds for allowing me to share his time. We both tried to raise this matter on the Adjournment but he was successful. I sympathise with the workers in Drumshanbo who have been issued with redundancy notices for next Friday week. We are all shocked that this company, which is part of a major food processing company, has been unable to continue its operations in Drumshanbo. In light of that, there is a need for the IDA and Enterprise Ireland to take immediate action to provide jobs in County Leitrim. We have had considerable job losses, despite the gains in other parts of the country, and there is a need to bring sustainable jobs to the area. When I say that, I mean jobs of a high skill nature. Some of the jobs which the county has secured in recent years are in highly competitive markets, such as the food market in which this company was engaged. We all know that when one is operating in a very competitive market, there is a grave danger that job losses can occur at short notice.

A task force was put in place following the Ballinamore textiles saga, and I call on that task force to report immediately to the Government so that we may seek positive action by the Government, IDA and Enterprise Ireland. The loss of these jobs cannot be sustained by the county. While we may have had some good news today as regards the new tax incentives which will be available in the area, there is no use putting those incentives in place if we do not have the necessary back-up from the job creation agencies to ensure we reap the benefit of them.

[1237] The only way we can maintain our county is if we get special priority treatment from the IDA and Enterprise Ireland. I spoke to the Tánaiste about this matter prior to her leaving for the United States and she assured me she will do everything within her power to endeavour to have replacement jobs found as quickly as possible. Having spoken to the company, I believe there is no prospect that it will be able to continue.

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  I thank Deputy Reynolds and Deputy Ellis for raising this important matter. I very much regret this development and extend my sympathy to the workers of Leitrim Foods and their families. The loss of an industry, whatever its size, is a traumatic experience. This loss will affect not only the workers, their families and the local economy, but also the wider rural community. The decision to close Leitrim Foods was made by the management of this concern on commercial grounds.

The House can be assured, however, that every effort is being made and will continue to be made by Enterprise Ireland to obtain an alternative enterprise for the Drumshanbo facility. Towards this end, discussions are taking place on an ongoing basis, but at this stage it is essential of course that this process should not be prejudiced in any way. I will, of course, remain in close contact with Enterprise Ireland on the matter.

I understand that the closure affects the ready meal and sauce manufacturing element of the enterprise and that the burger operation is scheduled to continue in different premises from September next. I also understand that the reason for this closure is that the level of sales necessary to make the company viable did not develop. Trading conditions for an enterprise, such as Leitrim Foods, are always fraught with an element of risk and, as is the case with industry in general, the extent to which our food industry can maintain and expand its market position will be determined by its ability to function successfully in today's competitive climate. It is recognised that the food industry is particularly competitive.

The current development strategy for the food industry, the food sub-programme, has enhanced the competitiveness of the sector and considerable progress has been made across the sector in positioning it to meet the competition. The range of support measures has encouraged greater productivity and increased efficiencies. Allied to the market-oriented nature of the strategy, these have assisted the industry to increase total output by £2.2 billion and exports by £1.I billion over the 1994-98 period.

The Food Industry Development Group, established under the aegis of my Department, has also highlighted the need for continuing attention to competitiveness and market orientation. The group's report points out that the competitive [1238] pressures on the industry will increase and that the extent to which it can meet growth opportunities depends on its competitiveness and capabilities in terms of price, quality, variety, innovation and service. The group recommends building on the actions undertaken in the food sub-programme.

Ms O'Sullivan:  I welcome the fact the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, is in the House because his efforts will be important in this regard. It is essential a paediatric unit is opened in Limerick Regional Hospital before the winter. As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will know, there tends to be a rush on hospitals in the winter, particularly on paediatric wards dealing with sick children, which tend to be quietest at this time of the year. It is essential that work is done to put this unit in place by the autumn so it will be available for the inevitable winter rush.

Last winter there was gross overcrowding in the paediatric unit of Limerick Regional Hospital. That situation cannot continue for another winter not only for the sick children who are very vulnerable but also their parents who must sit on hard chairs between beds. There is also a danger of cross infection where sick children are close together.

I want to ensure the unit is open in the autumn. There is no reason it should not be because the building is ready and the unit is waiting to be opened. Sums have been done and those involved are ready to order the equipment needed to open the unit. All that is needed is the funding to employ the extra staff and provide for the opening of the unit. At present a maximum of 32 beds, although generally the number is 25, are available to children in the Limerick Regional Hospital. They are divided into two areas with smaller babies in one area and older ones in another. The staff are over-worked and conditions are not acceptable for sick children. The new unit will have 53 beds, 29 private rooms, a day unit and a high dependency unit as well as facilities for parents.

We should not have to wait any longer for this unit. I say that in the context of everything being ready and, in particular, in light of the huge budget surplus which is being predicted again this year. It has been predicted that we will have an extra £1.5 billion apart from the extra money made on the sale of State assets. To open the unit, we are looking for a minuscule fraction of that budget surplus. We are talking about less than £400,000 in the current year and £1.581 million in a full year. Even if the State buys Farmleigh House for £24 million – I note Vincent Browne said we should not spend money buying it because of the various other needs – and we forget about the sale of assets, if we get the £400,000 [1239] which we need this year, we will still have a ten figure surplus of £1,476,600,000, if my figures are correct. We are looking for a tiny amount and it is crazy not to allocate that funding. The Minister for Health and Children should fight his case with the Minister for Finance and he would have the country behind him. He should get money for units such as this, for the elderly, the mentally and physically handicapped and for waiting lists. I am sure there are many other needs. I honestly believe we should spend this surplus money on current needs and not just retain it in the coffers of the State. I think we have the second lowest debt among EU member states after Luxembourg. There is not a reason not to spend the money. The Minister would be the most popular holder of that office if he spent it and I urge that the money be made available this year for the opening of the paediatric unit in Limerick Regional Hospital.

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  On behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Brian Cowen, I am pleased to have the opportunity afforded to me tonight by Deputy O'Sullivan to address the House on the issue raised in relation to the opening of the new paediatric ward in Limerick Regional Hospital.

This hospital was originally built to cater for the needs of the health service of the 1950s. Because of a number of factors, including demographic changes, advances in medical technology and increased consumer expectations on the level of service which should he provided in our hospitals, it was clear by the early 1990s that the hospital was not prepared to meet the needs of the health service for the new millennium. This was because major capital developments did not take place on the site until the current redevelopment commenced in December 1995 when phase 1 commenced at a cost of approximately £20 million, including building fees and equipping. In August 1997 phase 2, which includes the new paediatric unit, commenced and the cost of this phase was also approximately £20 million, bringing the combined capital cost of these two phases of the redevelopment to in the region of £40 million.

The building works for phase 1 were completed last year and although most of the building works on phase 2 have already been completed the builders are not expected to hand over the paediatric unit to the Mid-Western Health Board until later this month. Some furnishing and equipping work will then have to take place before the paediatric unit will be able to accommodate patients at an acceptable level of care and the Mid-Western Health Board expects this will take a minimum of three to four months.

I hope the Deputy will understand that new units completed under major capital developments are normally commissioned on a phased [1240] basis as the additional Revenue funding required becomes available. In this regard, the Minister made £0.55 million available to the Mid-Western Health Board for commissioning of new units in 1998 and provided an additional £2.5 million for this purpose this year, bringing the total available for commissioning in 1999 to £3.05 million.

To enable the full commissioning of all the new units completed under phases 1 and 2, the Department of Health and Children has been involved in discussions with the Mid-Western Health Board to agree a programme of transferring services to the new facilities in a manner which maximises the impact of the available funding. One of the Minister's prime objectives in the forthcoming Estimates campaign will be to secure funding to enable the commissioning of phases 1 and 2 to be completed to ensure that the people of Limerick and the mid-west have access to the state of the art health care facilities which they deserve, including those in the new paediatric unit.

In this regard the Minister has asked me to put on record the additional funding which he has provided to the Mid-Western Health Board this year. Under the 1999 waiting list initiative £819,000 was provided for additional procedures in a range of specialities, including cardiology, ENT, gynaecology, ophthalmology, orthopaedics and general surgery. An additional £800,000 was also provided for the development of cancer services including oncology, haematology and palliative care. On the capital side he provided £410,000 for replacement equipment and minor capital works. This level of funding clearly demonstrates the commitment of the Minister to the ongoing development of acute hospital services in the region and he is confident the current discussions between his Department and the Mid-Western Health Board on the commissioning of the new units at Limerick Regional Hospital will be successful in achieving the earliest possible opening of the new facilities.

I thank the Deputy for raising the matter.

Mr. Creed:  I thank the Chair for the opportunity to raise this matter. In raising it I am returning to a theme I have raised previously on the Adjournment and on Question Time. I feel genuinely committed to the issue as I think primary schools in Gaeltacht areas are experiencing educational discrimination. I have no doubt that in time reality will dawn. I have raised this matter with the Minister, the Minister of State, and their predecessors and I will continue to raise it until that disadvantage is resolved.

A number of years ago Ballingeary which is in a Gaeltacht area, lost a primary school and that was when I first became aware in a very practical way of the educational disadvantage in terms of [1241] funding and pupil-teacher ratio which primary schools in Gaeltacht areas suffer relative to their counterparts, the Gaelscoileanna. It must be remembered that pupils entering Gaelscoileanna do so of the one mind, willing to embrace Irish, and State policy is supportive. However, in many Gaeltacht communities throughout the country, something I am sure the Minister of State will appreciate, pupils enter primary schools, some of whom speak Irish as their mother tongue, some of whom, like the majority of pupils, have a sympathy towards but not a great familiarity with Irish while in many Gaeltacht regions a significant portion of pupils are non-nationals and have no familiarity with the language. Because of this there is a significant educational disadvantage in classrooms in Gaeltacht primary schools which can only be resolved through a commitment to providing them with a pupil-teacher ratio, capitation and all other supports similar to the most favourable levels pertaining in Gaelscoileanna.

This problem has again raised its head in my constituency in the Gaeltacht primary school in Baile Mhuirne. I understand from research I have carried out that there are three primary schools in Gaeltacht areas in a similar situation, namely, in Ring in County Waterford, in Baile Mhuirne and in County Donegal. I know Rome was not built in a day and I understand the consequences of delivering equalisation between primary schools in Gaeltacht areas and Gaelscoileanna in one fell swoop is not on. However, there should be a phased approach which would show Gaeltacht primary schools that the disadvantage they are under is recognised and will be tackled in a manner which will not deliver a similar pupil-teacher ratio overnight but which will guarantee that until such time as enrolment drops below the enrolment level required in Gaelscoileanna the number of teachers currently serving in Gaeltacht primary schools will not be reduced.

For the primary school in Baile Mhuirne to retain the teacher who is about to be lost on 1 September 1999 it would be necessary to have had an enrolment of 155 pupils. However, the enrolment in September 1998 was 146. This is the figure necessary to retain six teachers and one remedial teacher. In Gaelscoileanna, 122 pupils are necessary to retain six teachers. Because of all the other factors found in a classroom in a primary school in a Gaeltacht area, I firmly believe the pupils in the Gaeltacht are at a significant educational disadvantage relative to those in Gaelscoileanna, quite apart from the more favourable pupil-teacher ratio.

In the context of Baile Mhuirne and all Gaeltacht primary schools, where some parents of pupils speak to their children through Irish while some have a passing knowledge or are not familiar with the language, I am asking the Minister to move towards equalisation over a period of years and for a commitment that the services of [1242] individual teachers will not be withdrawn until such time as enrolment drops below the figure required in Gaelscoileanna.

I give notice to the Minister and the Department that I will continue to pursue this matter until it is satisfactorily resolved.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Mr. O'Dea):  The Deputy has raised two matters. 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 the school in question is a principal and five mainstream class teachers based on an enrolment of 155 pupils on 30 September 1997. The school also has the services of a shared remedial teacher. The enrolment on 30 September 1998, on which the staffing for the 1999-2000 school year is based, was 146 pupils. Unfortunately, this figure does not meet the retention requirement for the fifth mainstream class teacher. This is despite the fact that the retention figure was reduced from 155 under the 1998-99 staffing schedule to 150 under the 1999-2000 staffing schedule.

The Deputy refers to the continuing disadvantage of Gaeltacht national schools relative to Gaelscoileanna. At the outset, I must acknowledge that Gaelscoileanna enjoy a more favourable overall pupil-teacher ratio than that which applies in all other mainstream primary schools, including those which operate within Gaeltacht areas. The rationale for this lies in the desire to cultivate and rejuvenate the Irish language within society. Clearly, the fulfilment of this task is infinitely more achievable within Gaeltacht communities. Here a combination of factors, including historical attachment to the Irish language, an inherent sense of cultural identity derived from speaking the native tongue and a sheer delight in conversing in fluent Irish, have ensured that the Irish language is thriving within these communities.

While the attachment of Irish people to the Irish language is not in doubt, unfortunately the same impetus does not always exist in non-Gaeltacht communities. However, the Gaelscoileanna movement has presented an opportunity for the proliferation of the Irish language among non-Gaeltacht communities. This opportunity must be seized so that every citizen of the State will be able to learn in an all-Irish environment. It is, accordingly, fitting that incentives such as a more favourable pupil-teacher ratio are offered to Gaelscoileanna to assist in strengthening and developing the spread of the Irish language among non-Gaeltacht communities. Successive Governments have positively discriminated in favour of Gaelscoileanna over the years.

[1243] On a general note, I can assure the Deputy that the Government is committed to further reducing the pupil-teacher ratio. The pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools has been significantly reduced in recent years and now stands at 21:1. This ratio will be further reduced in the next school year as a result of the substantial improvements we have implemented to the 1999-2000 staffing schedule.

If Deputy Creed studies the official reply [1244] which he received, he will note that this reply is somewhat different. He can expect some developments in this area because I am informed that the Minister will be making a general policy statement on this matter in the very near future.

Mr. Creed:  I look forward to that with anticipation.

The Dáil adjourned at 11.03 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 24 June 1999.


  8.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    the membership of the Millennium Committee; the number of times it has met; its goals and objectives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15836/99]

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. S. Brennan):  The National Millennium Committee comprises the following members:

Mr. Séamus Brennan, T.D. Government Chief Whip and Minister of State (Chair)
Mr. Richard Holland Principal Officer, Department of the Taoiseach
Mr. Peter Barry Former Minister
Mr. Lochlann Quinn Chairman, AIB Group
Mr. Howard Kilroy Governor, Bank of Ireland Group
Ms Eithne Healy Chairman, Dublin Theatre Festival
Ms Deirdre Purcell Journalist/Author
Ms Patricia O'Donovan Deputy General Secretary, ICTU
Ms Monica Mc Williams Northern Ireland Women's' Coalition
Mr. Derek Keogh Chairman, Millennium Festivals Limited
Mr. Brian Murphy Chairman, Office of Public Works
Mr. Paul McGuinness Manager, U2
Mr. Ronan Keating Boyzone
Mr. Joe Barry Former Director-General, RTE

The National Millennium Committee was established to examine and make recommendations on projects of national significance for inclusion in the Government's millennium programme and to recommend a system for supporting projects at local and community level. Since the committee was established in November of last year it has met on nine occasions.

The committee has received more than 560 project proposals for consideration and to date, on the basis of its recommendations the Government has approved more than £5 million of matching funding for millennium projects.

  19.  Mr. Bell    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources if he has received the report of the task force on radioactive dumping in the Irish sea which was expected in June 1998; when he will publish the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16008/99]

  48.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the amount of radioactive dumping which has taken place around the Irish coast; the progress, if any, made to address this dumping; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16041/99]

[1246]Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 19 and 48 together.

As I previously informed the House the task force was asked to review and assess the information becoming available on the dumping of radioactive materials in the maritime area. Based on the outcome of this review, the task force is to advise on survey-monitoring and management measures to ensure maximum protection for our marine resources and restore public confidence in the quality of the marine environment.

I understand that the report of the task force is being finalised at present and will be presented to me in the very near future. I will arrange to have the report published as soon as possible thereafter.

  20.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the outcome of the review to identify the best means to regulate jet skis and fast power boats. [15712/99]

  42.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the progress, if any, made to address the issues of public concern regarding the use of jet skis and speed boats in bathing areas; the time schedule involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16034/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 20 and 42 together.

Action is being taken on a number of fronts to address the problem of indiscriminate use of jet skis and fast power craft.

My Department's marine safety working group, which is chaired by the director of the Irish Marine Emergency Service, has introduced a safety code for jet skis which is being widely disseminated to interested parties. It is intended to follow this up with more comprehensive educational material.

I also understand a number of local authorities are considering how best to advance locally based solutions with a view to ensuring that jet skis are not a danger to swimmers and other water users. In particular, Fingal County Council has recently introduced by-laws for beaches in its area which, among other things, will address the control and regulation of jet skis. The Fingal council is also considering how best to regulate the use of jet skis in certain estuarine waters within its jurisdiction.

Experience in Ireland and abroad has shown that locally based plans to address the use of jet skis and fast power craft must be developed in conjunction with water users. I consider that the approach adopted by Fingal County Council is a useful initiative which I believe will serve as a model for further action in other sensitive areas.

[1247] The review being undertaken by the Marine Institute into safety in the water leisure sector is not yet complete but I have asked that it be expedited. That review will include an examination of the options for the management and regulation of jet skis and fast power craft.

In the light of the review and of the Fingal County Council model, my Department will liaise with other coastal local authorities with a view to determining jointly with them whether and how the Fingal model might be applied in their cases.

  21.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the serious concern expressed by fishermen's organisations in the north-west regarding the inadequacy of the blue whiting quota allocated to Ireland at the recent meeting of the Council of Ministers; the steps, if any, he is taking to have the quota increased; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16013/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  I am very pleased to have this opportunity to brief the House on the outcome of my negotiations at the recent fisheries council on the blue whiting quota allocation.

To fully appreciate the outcome of those negotiations for Ireland, the House should be aware of the background and circumstances in which we were operating.

The Commission's proposal for allocating the EU blue whiting quota emerged at the end of May. My fundamental opposition to the Commission's proposal and that of the Irish fishing industry was made clear from the start. The commission's proposal from all perspectives was questionable and inequitable. The commission's allocation methodology was seriously flawed and skewed in favour of other member states, giving some of them quotas equal to 150 per cent of their highest ever catch. Ireland on the other hand was being allocated the equivalent of only 40 per cent of its average catch over the last three years. The House should be aware however that, with the exception of the UK, all other member states were in favour of the commission's proposal. We were facing into council with the very strong prospect of a done deal based on qualified majority. I took immediate and sustained action before the council to ensure that the German Presidency was fully aware that this was a matter of vital national interest for Ireland and that in this case qualified majority could not be allowed to roll over the direct interests of a small member state. The Taoiseach was in contact with Chancellor Schroeder before and during the Cologne Summit and I maintained intensive dialogue with Minister Funke before and at the Fisheries Council. I also kept the fishing organisations fully briefed on the action I was taking to have this seemingly unstoppable proposal reversed.

[1248] I am pleased to say that our very intensive negotiating strategy paid dividends. The German Presidency accepted the compelling nature of the Irish case and that a vital national interest was at stake for Ireland. The outcome, which was achieved by the presidency through an increase of 17,000 tonnes in this year's overall blue whiting total allowable catch, resulted in an additional 10,000 tonnes for Ireland bringing our allocation to 24,000 tonnes. The critical consequence of this was the resultant 50 per cent increase in Ireland's permanent allocation key for future years raising our permanent share of the blue to 16 per cent and putting us ahead of France and Spain. Ireland's allocation is equivalent to the average of the industry's best three years in the fishery before 1999 and significantly improves our position in the hierarchy of permanent shares of this stock. I believe that those fishermen and processors directly involved in the blue whiting fishery recognise that this is a very good outcome against the odds. It does not mean that we can afford to be complacent about the difficulties which Ireland experiences under the Common Fisheries Policy but it does show that with a sustained and well supported case an equitable result can be achieved.

  22.  Proinsias De Rossa    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the assessment, if any, his Department has undertaken on the implications for Irish mining and, in particular, for employment levels in mines arising from the fall in the price of zinc on world markets. [16017/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  Rising and falling of metal prices is a normal cycle of the metal markets and does not have any short-term effect on employment unless mines are put on care and maintenance. This has not happened in Ireland. In times of high prices substantial profits may be made; when prices are lower that is much more difficult. The normal business planning process must take account of these fluctuations, and does. Equally the assessment of viability of a proposed mine which is undertaken before the granting of a state mining facility takes account of this feature of the market.

Improvements in mining technology and efficiency over the decades has resulted in reductions in employment in the mining industry worldwide. Irish mines have had to follow this trend to remain competitive in a world market.

I will, of course, continue to keep this matter under review.


  23.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the number of fish coun ters installed; the locations in this regard; and the number to be installed. [15959/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  A total of 21 fish counters are already installed around the country and a further 14 will be in place by the end of the year 2000. I am providing the Deputy with a table which sets out the location and current status of all 35 counters. The current investment in fish counters is being supported by the tourism angling measure of the operational programme for tourism.

The national fish counter programme is a vitally important element of salmon management policy. By providing essential data on salmon numbers and distribution it will enable real time management to be applied to the salmon resource. The fish counter programme underpins the current salmon conservation measures, the proposed salmon tagging and quota scheme and the catchment management approach. All of these are key components of an integrated and effective salmon conservation and management programme.

  24.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the number of mining licences granted in the past two years; the number of positive results arising from exploration on foot of these licences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15969/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  Three State mining facilities, two licences to Tara and the Lisheen mining lease – have been issued in the period from 24 June 1997 to date. Also, the Irish Gypsum lease was extended by supplemental indenture to allow continued working in the Knocknacran quarry. SMFs are issued only after successful exploration which has identified an ore body. The application for SMF must show the viability of the proposal economically and environmentally and must be in parallel with any necessary applications for planning permission from the local planning authority and integrated pollution control licence from the Environmental Protection Agency. There are 18 SMFs currently extant.

The only exploration carried out under an SMF is to ascertain the exact location and grade of minerals so as to optimise the mining process and increase the available knowledge of the size and grade of the ore body. It is usual for a company holding an SMF not to publicly release results from their ongoing exploration although expenditure can be considerable, more than £1.7 million in 1998.

Arcon International Resources Plc. however announced earlier this year that exploration since 1995 has increased the reserve and resource base of its deposit at Galmoy, County Kilkenny, by more than 60 per cent to more than ten meg[1250] atonnes. It announced further good drilling results in early June.

The normal authorisation for exploration for minerals is a prospecting licence under the Minerals Development Acts which specifically preclude the licensee from extracting minerals for sale or reward or other disposal. At present there are some 400 PLs and turnover is between 60 and 80 per annum. They are normally of six year duration but may be surrendered early or renewed depending on circumstances.

Full details of all PLs and SMFs are contained in the six monthly report which I lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas under the Minerals Development Acts.

  25.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the action, if any, taken by his Department to recover £180,000 from four State solicitors which has been retained by them following fisheries prosecutions. [15962/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  Local State solicitors are appointed on contract by the Attorney General. The recovery of costs awarded in fisheries prosecutions which have been retained by certain State solicitors is, therefore, a matter for the Attorney General and the Chief State Solicitor. In the circumstances, and as legal proceedings to recover the moneys in question have been instituted, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further.

  26.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the status of the Government's case taken in the European Court of Justice against the EU decision to ban drift netting for tuna; if the Government is supporting the tuna fishermen who first took the matter to the court and involved themselves in legal expenses; and his views on whether the case of the tuna fishermen would be stronger if the Government had initiated the action. [15960/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  As I advised the House on 13 May last, Ireland's intention to intervene in support of the case taken by the French tuna industry against the drift net ban was notified to the European Court before the 7 February 1999 deadline. I understand a favourable ruling by the Court of First Instance on the admissibility of the plaintiff's application has now been made and official notification of the ruling is expected shortly. Detailed work on the preparation of Ireland's submission in the case is under way and my Department will work closely throughout with the Irish tuna fishing industry which also intends to intervene. I can assure the Deputy that a robust intervention by Ireland will be made in support of the case against the ban.

[1251] While the strength of the case against the council decision to ban driftnetting stands on its own merits, the fact that the Irish Government and the Irish tuna industry are backing up the French case will lend significant weight to the proceedings. The European Court of Justice is required to consider whether, among other matters, the council decision was valid, justified and consistent with the EU treaties on the basis of all the facts and arguments presented to it. The more parties which intervene the better in my view. Our intervention together with that of our own tuna industry will ensure that the implications for the Irish as well as the French fishing industry are comprehensively aired in court.

  27.  Mr. Bell    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the information available to his Department regarding the extent of the gas discovery made by a company (details supplied) in the Corrib Field; if it is regarded as commercial; the outcome of any such meetings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16009/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  As I have explained previously on 11 February and 13 May this year, the position in relation to the Corrib field is that Enterprise Oil and its partners Saga Petroleum and Statoil Exploration (Ireland) Limited drilled an appraisal well last year and produced gas on test which flowed at a stabilised rate of 63 million cubic feet of gas per day. The Deputy may be aware that Saga recently sought my consent for the assignment of part of its interest in the two licences covering the Corrib field to Marathon.

It is not possible to give precise figures for the size of the gas accumulation at this stage and this will not be possible until the accumulation has been fully appraised. A further appraisal well was commenced on 1 May and is currently drilling. The Deputy will appreciate that all data to hold all data from the well must remain confidential. Additional appraisal work may be undertaken in the light of the results of the current appraisal well.

A lengthy and thorough evaluation of all data obtained will be necessary to ascertain if the find is commercial. The final decision as to whether the field is commercial will depend on such factors as the size of the field, the quality of the reservoir, the quality of the gas, flow rate of the well, the market price and the cost of development of the field.

Should the results of their appraisal programme show that the gas can be commercially produced it will be necessary for Enterprise Oil to apply to me for a petroleum lease and submit a plan of development for the field for my approval.


  28.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the measures, if any, available to marine survey office inspectors if they are not satisfied with compliance of safety standards of a passenger vessel on inspection; the number of inspectors employed in the marine survey office; the number of inspection checks carried out after a licence or certificate was issued; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16033/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  The owner or operator of every passenger vessel is statutorily required to have a passenger ship certificate or passenger boat licence in respect of the vessel. Certificates and licences may be issued following a survey by my Department's marine survey office. To operate a passenger vessel without a certificate or a licence is an offence under the Merchant Shipping Acts.

Passenger certificates, in respect of vessels carrying more than 12 passengers, are issued annually following a dry dock survey. Passenger boat licences, in respect of vessels carrying 12 or fewer passengers, are issued every two years following a survey. In either case, the owner is required to notify the Marine Survey Office of any change to the condition of the vessel after completion of the survey.

Large passenger vessels, operating year round services, are visited by a surveyor two to three times per annum in addition to the annual survey. Apart from the annual survey, smaller passenger vessels, operating summer only services, are usually subject to one other check in high density passenger areas, during peak season. Spot checks are also carried out by the gardaí on a regular basis with regard to the number of passengers being carried on passenger vessels.

There are 12 surveyors and three trainee surveyors employed in the Marine Survey Office of my Department.

  29.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the status of his proposal for local fishery harbour management boards; and when legislation will be introduced following submissions received by his Department before 30 September 1998. [15966/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  The five fishery harbour centres are currently managed and operated by my Department, under the Fishery Harbour Centres Acts. It is generally agreed, however, that this arrangement is unduly centralised and lacks the commercial and operational flexibility required to respond effectively to local circumstances and needs.

I have announced that I intend to develop a new management structure for the five existing [1253] fishery harbour centres, and that Dingle will be incorporated in the new arrangements. The intention is to remove the day to day management of the centres from the Department in line with the principle of subsidiarity. I am anxious to promote local involvement and initiative in development strategies, and to facilitate a more commercial approach to delivering services to the fishing industry at local level.

The new management structure will be predicated on local involvement through boards which will have an input into all issues affecting maintenance and development of the harbour centres. Appropriate levels of co-ordination between the centres will be necessary also to ensure an overall consistent national approach to fishery harbour infrastructure needs.

Interested parties were invited last year to submit their views on the most appropriate new management arrangements for the fishery harbour centres. My Department is now drawing up proposed new arrangements for my consideration. I have asked the Department to finalise these as a priority and it is my intention to put proposals to Government for the necessary legislative and administrative change as soon as possible.

  30.  Mr. Sheehan    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the plans, if any, he has to enable the trawler fleet to engage in fishing for non-quota species including black scabbard, blue ling and grenadiers. [15972/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  The sustainable development of the Irish fishing industry depends, among other matters, on the development of alternative methods of fishing and of diversification of fishing effort towards non-quota species.

Under the programme for the renewal of the whitefish fleet, strong emphasis is put on developing non-quota opportunities including black scabbard, blue ling and grenadiers. Vessels availing of grant aid and tax incentives under the programme must include in their catch projections a minimum of 30 per cent non-quota species. In line with trends elsewhere, it is envisaged that the larger new whitefish vessels under the programme for the renewal of the whitefish fleet will actively participate in developing national track record in the non-quota deep water species.

I have also provided funding for BIM to carry out fishing trials on deep water non-quota species such as Greenland halibut, black scabbard, blue ling, orange roughy and grenadiers. The trials to date show that successful commercialisation of deep water non-quota species is achievable. These trials are set to continue this year and in 2000, targeting a variety of fishing grounds and non-quota species.


  31.  Mr. Finucane    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the Common Fisheries Policy with its concept of a common pond where all member states have access is both unique to the EU as well as a direct threat to Ireland's fishing industry; and if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that, according to a study conducted by the Marine Institute, it is anticipated that a collapse of fish stocks like that observed in Canada will occur within a few years unless the Government takes immediate action towards obtaining sovereignty over Irish waters as well as a monopoly on stocks within a 12 mile zone. [15965/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  Equal access to fishing grounds is in fact a concept which stems from the fundamental EU treaty principle of non-discrimination among member states. However the concept is overlaid in the Common Fisheries Policy by the explicit derogations in respect of the six and 12 mile limits; the limitations on access by Spain and Portugal to the Irish Box; and by the arrangements for allocation of national quotas through relative stability. Relative stability itself is in legal terms an explicit derogation from the treaty principle of non-discrimination and, allowing for Ireland's longstanding difficulties with quota allocations under the system, any fundamental shift away from the principle of relative stability itself and the operation of the Hague Preference could produce a result much less favourable to Irish fishing interests. We need to work to improve the system rather than abandon it.

The existing arrangements under the CFP regulation which allow for exclusive coastal state access in the six mile limits and virtually exclusive access in the six-12 mile limit are unlikely to be removed in the 2002 review. The debate is more likely to centre on extending those limits somewhat beyond 12 miles for all member states to reflect the socio-economic importance of coastal fisheries and conservation of inshore fish stocks. I welcome the prospect of that debate.

It is also the case that the nature of fisheries resources means that unilateral management by individual states is no longer a realistic option and the international trend is increasingly towards co-operation and common rules on conservation and management of fish stocks. Overfishing is the single most dangerous threat to national, EU and international fish stocks as the Canadian experience in the early 1990s in its own cod fisheries vividly underlined. Within the CFP framework the immediate goals are the uniform enforcement of conservation and quota rules across the EU and much more effective and productive co-operation between member states in fisheries management on a regional as well as EU-wide basis.


  32.  Mr. Shatter    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the progress, if any, made to date by the Central Fisheries Board on implementation of the water quality action programme announced in August 1997. [15964/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  Steady incremental progress has been made by the Central Fisheries Board to implement the water quality action plan as detailed in my reply of 11 February last. In a further update on those various initiatives now in place, I can advise that I have again made funding available this year to the regional fisheries boards to recruit a team of temporary environmental officers for the critical summer months when risks to fish stocks and habitats are greatest. This proved an effective initiative on the ground last year and, together with the ongoing work of the CFB's environment co-ordinator and the inland fisheries forum on water quality which is to be shortly convened by the Central Fisheries Board, will contribute in a practical way to pollution prevention and awareness strategies this season.

  33.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources if he has satisfied himself that the marine sector is taking appropriate steps to deal with any potential difficulties arising from the year 2000 computer problem. [16011/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  Year 2000 compliance is a major challenge facing the marine sector in common with all other business interests. We are all aware of the potential for failure of computer systems on or after 1 January 2000. We also need to be aware and act on potential problems with embedded systems which are used to control and monitor various marine equipment and systems. Everyone in the marine sector is tasked with tackling the problem.

The year 2000 issue is being tackled on two fronts, namely in the Department's own search and rescue communications systems and within the marine industry itself. A number of key steps have been taken by my Department in an effort to minimise disruption to the marine sector from the Y2K computer problem. As previously advised to the House my Department and the Irish Marine Emergency Service have made considerable progress with their action programme to address the Y2K compliance issues.

The Department's IT systems, office equipment and other plant are being upgraded and non-compliant equipment is being replaced. Communications links between Dublin offices and remote locations are being upgraded. The emphasis is now turning to the establishment of contingency plans in respect of critical business processes.

[1256] In line with Government action generally my Department initiated an awareness campaign, targeting the marine sector, on the need for plans of action to deal with the Y2K problem. A marine notice issued on 28 September last setting out guidelines for practical corrective strategies. The notice set out a basic strategy which may be adopted in achieving Y2K compliance, with particular emphasis on the shipping sector. The fisheries sector has also been targeted under the awareness campaign.

Ultimately responsibility for year 2000 compliance rests with each participant in the marine sector. I can assure the Deputy that appropriate action is being taken, both within my Department and the agencies under its aegis, to ensure timely compliance of relevant systems for the year 2000.

  34.  Mr. Shatter    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the reason the tagging and quota scheme as recommended by the salmon management task force was not introduced on 1 May 1999; and when he will introduce this key component of conservation and management measures. [15963/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  While the intention had been to introduce the salmon tagging scheme this year, work in progress by the tagging working group pointed to the need for further consultation as well as clarification and resolution of a number of practical and legal aspects of the scheme. I have accordingly set a new target date of January 2000 for introduction of the scheme. To facilitate and expedite the process on a consensus basis, arrangements are being finalised for the establishment of the national salmon commission and I have also announced that the report of the salmon tagging working group will be published as quickly as possible which will inform further progress.

  35.  Proinsias De Rossa    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the plans, if any, he has to reduce the number of vessels carrying nuclear waste passing though the Irish Sea in view of the potential dangers of these vessels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16016/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  The position remains as I advised the House on 13 May last which is as follows.

There is no information in my Department's records to indicate that any vessels which were carrying nuclear waste or nuclear materials passed through the Irish Sea during the previous 12 months.

Work is continuing apace on implementing the decision of the IMO Assembly in November 1997 that the INF code which governs the transport of [1257] irradiated nuclear fuels by sea should be made mandatory for the future.

The European Union has adopted a directive requiring all vessels carrying such materials bound for or leaving a community port to comply with strict notification procedures and controls.

I signed the regulations transposing the directive in question into Irish law on 21 April 1999 as required under the terms of the directive even though such vessels do not use Irish ports or transit Irish waters. The EU controls in question now apply to all vessels en route to Sellafield.

  36.  Mr. Sheehan    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the plans, if any, he has to remove the wreck of the Bardini Reefer from the entrance of Berehaven Harbour, Castletownbere, County Cork. [15971/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  The position of the Bardini Reefer which sank in the approaches to Castletownbere in 1982 has been marked and buoyed by the Commissioners of Irish Lights. It is marked on navigational charts. The advice available to my Department is that the wreck does not constitute a serious danger to navigation.

Primary responsibility for wreck removal rests with the owner of the vessel. I am advised that the company which owned the Bardini Reefer has been liquidated. In these circumstances the significant costs of removing the wreck would have to be met by the Exchequer and there are no plans at present to have the wreck removed.

  37.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources if he will re-open the inquiry into the deaths of fishery officers at Ballycotton; and the consideration, if any, he will give to the Kirwan report in conjunction with the inquiries set up. [14303/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  A full formal investigation into this tragic accident was carried out by a district justice with two nautical assessors under section 466 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, and Captain Kirwan's report was available to the investigation team. The report of this formal investigation was published on 17 July 1991. I have no plans to re-open the investigation.

I should mention that I decided, when Minister for the Marine in 1992, that all future reports on marine accident inquiries should be published and that is now established policy.

I have also recently obtained Government approval to the general scheme of a Bill to establish an independent marine casualty investigation board with enhanced powers to investigate marine casualties and to publish expeditiously reports of the board's findings. The general scheme is with the parliamentary draftsman's office to [1258] draft the Bill with a view to its introduction in the Oireachtas.

  39.  Mr. J. O'Keeffe    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources if moneys will be made available to fund the plan of the strategic review group on fishery policy; when the report will be published; and if any shortfall of EU funding will be made up by the Exchequer. [16036/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  As I advised the House in my earlier reply, the report by the CFP strategy review group on national investment priorities for the Irish seafood industry is a critical and well founded contribution to the current debate on national investment priorities over the next seven years. I published the review group's report last week and I am committed to working to secure the necessary EU and Exchequer investment support to allow the seafood sector to consolidate and move ahead.

  40.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources when the two shellfish co-ordinators will be appointed. [15973/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  I recently announced that I have approved funding for the recruitment by BIM of two quality assurance programme co-ordination officers to co-ordinate and support delivery by my Department, the Marine Institute, BIM and the shellfish industry of the national sampling and quality control programmes for bivalve molluscs. BIM has commenced the recruitment process and I am advised that the successful candidates will be appointed shortly.

  41.  Mr. J. O'Keeffe    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources if he will publish the review (details supplied) of regional ports and harbours in view of the urgent need to put in place development decisions and funding arrangements for harbours such as Baltimore, County Cork. [16035/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  It is my intention to publish the KPMG consulting report on the review of State regional ports and harbours, which I have just received, as soon as possible. I am currently considering the reports findings in conjunction with my Department prior to presentation to Government.

In relation to development plans for harbours, including Baltimore Harbour, and their financing I do not wish to pre-empt the outcome of the review which addresses issues such as future ownership, management options and beneficial [1259] activities-operations. The development requirements for the harbour will also be assessed in the context of the overall priorities for coastal infrastructure development and in light of available funding under the National Plan 2000-2006.

  43.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if she has considered the establishment of any general scheme for the compensation of persons who have suffered injury or death as a result of asbestos; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16151/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. T. Kitt):  The Health and Safety Authority is the State body charged with responsibility for the administration, enforcement and promotion of all workplace health and safety legislation. The authority currently administers and enforces legislation on the protection of the health and safety of workers from exposure to asbestos and restrictions on the marketing and use of asbestos.

Irish occupational safety, health and welfare legislation is concerned solely with the prevention of occupational injury and ill-health. Matters relating to compensation for persons arising in connection with occupational death or injury are outside the ambit of that legislation, and are also outside the remit of both this Department and the Health and Safety Authority. Neither I nor the authority have any plans to introduce a general scheme for the compensation of persons who have suffered injury or death as a result of exposure to asbestos.

I should point out to the Deputy that matters relating to general occupational injury and disability benefits come within the aegis of the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs.

  44.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the progress, if any, made regarding an application for a foreshore licence lodged on 20 January 1999 by Waterford County Council for the proposed sewerage scheme at Tramore, County Waterford. [16242/99]

  45.  Mr. O'Shea    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources if the application for a foreshore licence by Waterford County Council will be processed in relation to the proposed new sewerage scheme at Tramore, County Waterford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16038/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 44 and 45 together.

[1260] In accordance with standard practice, Waterford County Council was requested on 21 May 1999 to publish in a local newspaper notice of the application for a foreshore licence and the availability of an environmental impact statement in relation to the proposed works, in order to allow the public the opportunity to comment.

Any comments arising from that process will be referred to the council for its response before I am able to consider the application fully and make a decision.

  46.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the individuals responsible for the upkeep, repair and maintenance of the safety railings and steps to Dublin Bay foreshore from the Clontarf promenade; if an inspection of the area from Alfie Byrne Road to the Timber Bridge will be arranged; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16039/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  The upkeep, repair and maintenance of the safety railings and steps referred to are the responsibility of Dublin Corporation. It is a matter for the corporation to consider if an inspection of the area referred to should be arranged.

  47.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the way in which the new licensing framework for aquaculture takes into consideration the compatibility of other local interests and local economic activity; the mechanism, if any, in place to accommodate individuals or small community groups who wish to put forward their case against the aquaculture industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16040/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  The aquaculture licensing arrangements now in place under the Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1997, involve extensive public consultation and an independent appeals mechanism.

All licence applications must be publicly advertised including the publication of a full environmental impact statement in the case of all salmon farm development, and objections to and submissions on the applications must be carefully considered in consultation with the applicants before licensing decisions are made. The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, the Marine Institute, Bord Fáilte Éireann, An Taisce, Údarás na Gaeltachta, the Commissioners of Irish Lights, the Central Fisheries Board, the relevant regional fisheries board and local and harbour authority are formally consulted by my Department on licence applications, as required by the relevant regulations, and their responses are carefully considered before licensing [1261] decisions are made. Applications for licences generally are considered on a day by day basis so as to take account of all relevant factors.

Licensing decisions are governed in particular by section 61 of the 1997 Act, which specifies key matters to be taken into account, such as competing beneficial uses of the areas sought for the proposed aquaculture, the likely ecological and environmental effects of the proposed aquaculture and the likely effects of that aquaculture on the local economy and on the heritage value of the area in question. All licensing decisions, except those for trial licences, must be publicly advertised so as to enable applicants and other interested persons to appeal the decisions to the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board if they should so wish. The board is equally governed by section 61 of the 1997 Act in making its own decisions on appeals. Trial licences are not appealable because of their short-term duration and experimental nature.

  49.  Mr. McGinley    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources if he will extend the drift net fishing season by one week due to the fact that the issuing of some of the licences was delayed at the beginning of the season. [16065/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  I understand that the Deputy is referring to salmon drift net licences in the Northern Regional Fisheries Board area. I am advised that the licences were issued one day late by the regional fisheries board. I understand, however, that the board's chief officer had advised all the fishermen affected that they could commence fishing on 1 June, the opening date of the season, pending postal delivery of their licences. On that basis there are no plans to extend the season.

  50.  Mr. Killeen    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if she has satisfied herself that the arrangement for Aer Lingus services to Los Angeles in 1999 comply with the terms of the Ireland-US Bilateral Air Agreement and its stipulation that 50 per cent of non-stop scheduled flights by each airline to and from the US and Ireland within the same 12 month period must operate non-stop to and from Shannon; and if she will provide assurances that the 1999 precedent will not be used by other transatlantic airlines or by Aer Lingus when it enters a strategic alliance to side-step the equal share out of direct flights between Dublin and Shannon as stipulated in the amended 1993 agreement. [16073/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  My Department monitors the North Atlantic operations of all carriers operating services into Ireland to ensure that they comply with the Shannon stop policy.

[1262] The arrangements governing this policy which were agreed with the United States in 1993 were designed to ensure that during any given IATA 12 month season, i.e. 1 April to 31 March, any airline serving the Ireland-US market must, taking all of its flights on all routes together, operate at least as many flights to Shannon as to Dublin.

The Aer Lingus Los Angeles service operates Shannon-Dublin-Los Angeles and Los Angeles-Dublin-Shannon. Since Dublin is the last point of departure and the first point of arrival within the State, both legs are regarded as Dublin flights for the purposes of the overall 50/50 stipulation outlined above.

Taking all Aer Lingus North Atlantic flights together, however, the airline does comply with the requirement that at least 50 per cent of all of its flights are Shannon flights.

  51.  Mr. Aylward    asked the Minister for Defence    the plans, if any, he has to bring the gratuity payment to non-commissioned officers in line with that paid to commissioned officers which is based on 78 weeks service. [16050/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  The level of retirement gratuity payable to non-commissioned personnel will be considered in the context of a general review of military superannuation arrangements to be undertaken in the light of the final report of the Commission on Public Service Pensions. The commission's final report is expected later in the year and will be considered by the Government once it has been received. I should say that it was open to individuals and groups to make submissions to the commission and I understand PDFORRA was among the groups to do so.

  52.  Mr. Crawford    asked the Minister for Defence    when a person (details supplied) in County Monaghan will be informed if his contract with the Army will be extended or a new contract given; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16051/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  The person referred to was due to undergo a further medical examination yesterday. A final decision on the renewal of his contract will not be made until the results of this examination are made available.

  53.  Mr. Aylward    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if an application under the early retirement scheme from farming by a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny will be re-investigated in view of the circumstances. [16061/99]

[1263]Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  To be eligible to participate in the scheme of early retirement from farming an applicant must have been engaged in farming as his or her main occupation in the ten years prior to the date of the final transfer of all eligible land. This means that the applicant must have obtained at least 50 per cent of his or her income from farming or a combination of farming, forestry, on-farm tourism and crafts. In the latter case farming must account for at least 25 per cent of total income. Income from the letting of land for 11 months or more in any given year, counts as non-farm income.

The examination of the application in this case showed that all the applicants lands were rented for 11 month periods during years 1981 to 1992 inclusive. In the circumstances, the applicant does not meet the requirement to have been engaged in farming as a main occupation in the ten years prior to the final transfer of land and the application cannot be accepted.

  54.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    when he will announce the re-introduction of the control of farmyard pollution grant scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16062/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  I expect the European Commission to formally approve the national scheme for control of farm pollution in the near future. I will introduce the new scheme as soon as the Commission approval has been received.

  55.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if additional staff dealing with applications for the installation aid scheme will be provided in his Department's offices in the midlands to deal with the backlog and avoid the delays being experienced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16063/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  My Department continuously examines the deployment of its staff resources so as to ensure the best possible service to farmers and other clients.

A competition for the recruitment of assistant agricultural inspectors in my Department is at present being conducted by the Civil Service Commission. When the results of this are available my Department will again review its priorities and consider deployment of staff throughout the country.

  56.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will financially assist the College des Irlandais in Paris with its building costs. [16037/99]

[1264]Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Cullen):  I am aware that the College des Irlandais in Paris wishes to carry out a programme of refurbishment and upgrading and that it requires funding of the order of £5 million to do so.

The question of the State providing financial assistance is under discussion between the Office of Public Works and the parties involved. A decision has not yet been made.

  57.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Finance    his response to the submission relating to rates made by a Montessori school (details supplied) in County Wicklow; and his views on the case made by this school. [16048/99]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  I have received the submission referred to by the Deputy. Under existing valuation legislation the school is liable for the payment of rates. Amending legislation would be required to remove this rates liability. The Deputy will be aware that the Government approved the drafting of new legislation and this is expected to be available for publication later this year. The Government has yet to consider a number of issues relating to the proposed legislation. It is within this context that the submission made by the school mentioned will be considered.

  58.  Mr. Gilmore    asked the Minister for Finance    the amount of VAT charged on Telecom phonewatch systems; the plans, if any, he has to abolish VAT on these systems; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16106/99]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  The situation is governed by EU VAT law with which Irish VAT law must comply and the monitoring charge for the Telecom phonewatch system is subject to VAT at the standard rate of 21 per cent.

In the case of installation costs the reduced rate of 12.5 per cent applies. The reduced rate covers the full cost of installation, subject to the rule that the VAT exclusive value of the goods does not exceed two thirds of the VAT exclusive charge to the customer. This is to avoid goods subject to 21 per cent being charged at 12.5 per cent under the guise of installation costs.

I have no proposals to amend these VAT rates, which are moreover, subject to EU VAT rules.

  59.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    when work will commence on the EU plant and veterinary office building at Grange, County Meath. [16113/99]

[1265]Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  Work will commence on the construction of new offices for the European Union Food and Veterinary Office at Grange, County Meath as soon as the European Commission confirm a date for signing of the necessary legal documentation.

  60.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Health and Children    his views on the establishment of an adequate schooling system for phlebotonists; the definition of a trained phlebotomist eligible for employment in hospitals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16052/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  At present, the training and definition of a phlebotomist is a matter for each individual employer. I acknowledge that this is not ideal and a working group has recently been established to examine the issues raised by the Deputy on this question. Membership of this group consists of representatives from my Department, the Health Service Employers Agency, the Phlebotomists Association of Ireland and the three unions representing phlebotomists, IMPACT, SIPTU and the Irish Nurses Organisation. This group is examining issues relating to training and qualifications and is seeking to regularise the qualifications of phlebotomists in the health service.

  61.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if he will co-operate with Brainwave, the Irish Epilepsy Association, by resourcing its clinics; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16053/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  Epilepsy is treated at primary, secondary and tertiary care levels and a broad range of services exists to cater for persons with this condition. Highly specialised care is available in major acute hospitals with neurology departments or from visiting neurologists.

General practitioners and public health nurses are available to provide information, guidance and counselling for people with epilepsy and people who suffer from epilepsy are entitled to a long-term illness card to pay for medication relative to this condition.

The funding of voluntary agencies, such as Brainwave, the Irish Epilepsy Association, for the provision of health services to people with physical and sensory disabilities is a matter for the relevant health boards in whose functional area the services are being provided. Brainwave has in the past received funding from each of the health boards for the provision of their services, including the provision of information packs for general practitioners. 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, pub[1266] lished 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. 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. The allocation of funding to services specific to persons with epilepsy will be considered by boards in this context. This year £3 million – £6 million full year cost in the year 2000 – has been provided for the development of services.

  62.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of hours per week worked by resident hostel supervisors in the Mid-Western Health Board region; the payment per hour; the situation in relation to the official dispute of the resident health supervisors in that area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16054/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  Resident hostel supervisors employed by the Mid-Western Health Board are contracted for a 39 hour week. The rate payable per hour is from £6.19, at the first point on the scale, rising to £6.56.

I have been advised by the chief executive officer of the Mid-Western Health Board that the present position in relation to the dispute is that a conciliation conference, under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission, was held on 27 May 1999. Arising from this conference, a proposal has been made to both sides in the dispute by a senior industrial relations officer from Labour Relations Commission. These proposals are under consideration at present by both sides and, if accepted, will resolve the dispute. I have been advised that any further comment, at this stage, might be counter productive.

  63.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if psychologists will be appointed to Our Lady's Hospital, Crumlin, Dublin 12, to deal with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children. [16055/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  I have made inquiries of Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin, in this matter and I understand that a post of psychologist was recently advertised.

I further understand that the applications received in response to the advertisements are at present being reviewed and that interviews are expected to be held in the near future.


  64.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Health and Children    his views on the need to grant a pharmacy contractor agreement to St. James's late night pharmacy; the likelihood of this being granted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16056/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  Under the Health (Community Pharmacy Contractor Agreement) Regulations, 1996, the determination of an application for a community pharmacy contractor agreement is a matter for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board. It is also a matter for the chief executive officer to determine if there is a definite public health need, under the regulations, for community pharmacy services in a particular area.

  65.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason some health boards do not allow free medication for blood pressure and high cholesterol for diabetics; if he will ensure uniformity of provision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16057/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  Under the Health Act, 1970, a health board may make arrangements for the supply without charge of drugs, medicines or medical and surgical appliances to persons suffering from a prescribed disease or disability of a permanent or long-term nature. Diabetes mellitus and diabetes insipidus are among the prescribed conditions covered in this scheme. The operation of the scheme is primarily a matter for the relevant health board.

  66.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when the project team for phase 2B of Mullingar General hospital will be put in place; the timescale involved for the team to complete its work; the approximate date for the commencement of the fitting out, equipping and staffing of the hospital; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16058/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  Membership of the project team for phase 2B of Longford-Westmeath General Hospital is currently being finalised and will be put in place as soon as possible. The project team will be asked to complete its work without delay, but it will be a matter for the team itself to determine a realistic timescale for its work.

The timescale for commencing the fitting out, equipping and staffing of the development is not yet clear. It will depend on such factors as the agreed functional content of the project, the time required for planning and design and on the availability of capital funding for phase 2B.


  67.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason the CAT scan at Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe, County Galway, is not in use at weekends; the plans, if any, he has to rectify this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16107/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The provision of medical services in this instance is the responsibility of Portiuncula Hospital. I have asked the chief executive officer of the hospital to investigate the position in relation to this case and to reply to the Deputy directly.

  68.  Mr. Barrett    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the plans, if any, he has to ensure that the national action plans for the years 2000 to 2006 will result in no diminution of services to people with disabilities. [16108/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  My Department's proposals in relation to the National Development Plan 2000-2006 take account of the needs of people with disabilities. A major feature of Government policy in relation to social inclusion is to ensure people with disabilities have equal opportunities to participate fully in all aspects of society. In the health field, various programmes which are responsive to the needs of people with disabilities are provided by the State via health boards and the voluntary sector. To maintain this Government's commitment to people with disabilities, I have pointed out that funding must be maintained at least at its present level, with substitution of Exchequer funding where appropriate, in the case of cessation or reduction in EU support.

  69.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if medical practice conforms in full with the Oviedo convention on biomedicine; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16112/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  Medical practice in Ireland accords in general with the principles contained in the convention. The detailed regulation of medical practice is of course the responsibility of the relevant professional bodies and of the medical council.

Ireland is not a signatory to the Council of Europe Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine because there are difficulties with certain articles which have implications for unused embryos. The question of Ireland signing the convention, with formal reservations in respect of any provision which does not accord with the legal position in this country, is under consideration at present.


  70.  Dr. O'Hanlon    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the manner in which the new drugs refund scheme will operate in the general medical services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16114/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The new drug payment scheme will replace the drug cost subsidisation scheme and the drug refund scheme, with effect from 1 July 1999. Services to medical card holders under the general medical services scheme will not change.

The new drug payment scheme will effectively merge the best elements of the two existing schemes and is designed to significantly improve the cash flow situation for families and individuals incurring ongoing expenditure on medicines.

Under the drug refund scheme, families and individuals pay the full cost of their prescription medicines and may, at the end of the quarter, claim reimbursement from their health board of expenditure over £90 in that calendar quarter. Many families and individuals have very heavy expenditure on drugs and medicines in a quarter and have to wait a further six weeks from the end of that quarter before they receive a refund. This can cause considerable cash flow problems for a significant number of families and individuals. This will not happen under the new drug payment scheme. From the introduction of the new scheme, no individual or family will have to pay more than £42 per month for prescribed medicines. It means that families and individuals will, for the first time, be able to budget for the cost of medicines. Families and individuals will know that, whatever the size of their drugs bill, they will not have to pay more than £42 per month. In addition, there are families where, although one member may qualify for a drug cost subsidisation scheme card, combined expenditure on medicines by other members, which can be considerable, cannot be recouped until the end of the quarter. With the new drug payment scheme, no family will have to pay more than £42 in any month for prescribed medicines. The new scheme will be of significant benefit to such families.

The fact that the drug payment scheme will operate on a monthly basis has distinct advantages over the current drug refund scheme. Under the drug refund scheme, a family or an individual could, for example, in one month have expenditure of say £80 but no expenditure in the other two months. They would not have been entitled to a refund. Under the new scheme, they will only have to pay £42 in that month.

There are no qualifying criteria for inclusion on the new drug payment scheme. Where expenditure by a family or an individual exceeds £42 per month on prescribed medicines, the balance will be met by the State. This is in contrast to the old drug cost subsidisation scheme where patients had to be certified by their doctor as suffering from a condition requiring ongoing expenditure on medicines in excess of £32 per month.

[1270] I am satisfied that the new scheme will be easier to use that the drug refund scheme and will be more inclusive than the drug cost subsidisation scheme, bringing overall benefits to a greater number of people.

  71.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if, further to his commitment in an Adjournment Debate of 13 May 1999, his officials have completed their examination of the Children in Hospital Ireland report, children being cared for in the adult wards; the discussions, if any, which have taken place with the chief executive officers of the health boards and of the major acute hospitals on the report; when his officials will meet representatives of Children in Hospital Ireland; the steps, if any, he will be taking to address the problems highlighted in the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16119/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The review being undertaken by my Department of the report referred to by the Deputy is under way but is not yet completed. The review includes a detailed consultative process with a paediatric professional body aimed at assisting my Department in determining the nature and extent of discussions to be entered into with service providers with regard to the findings of the report.

I do not anticipate that the review process will be of extended duration and the Deputy will appreciate that pending its completion, the introduction of initiatives at this stage in response to the findings of the report would be premature.

I assure the Deputy meanwhile, that officials of my Department will initiate discussions with representatives of children in hospital, Ireland as soon as the review is completed.

  72.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if he has satisfied himself with the present availability of a doctor for one day per week and a counsellor for half a day per week in the community drug centre in Darndale, Dublin 17; and if he will make extra dedicated resources available to the health board to tackle this problem. [16148/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The provision of drug services in the Dublin area is the statutory responsibility of the Eastern Health Board in the first instance.

However, I understand from the Eastern Health Board that it provides more than 50 treatment locations throughout its area. As part of its strategy the board in conjunction with local communities provide locally based satellite services. These services consist of a multidisciplinary team on a sessional basis which includes a GP, nurse, counsellor and general assistant.

[1271] The service for Darndale was established in 1998 and at present provides a treatment service for 22 local residents. The service provided is as follows:

G.P. Wednesday 2.00 – 4.30pm
Nurse Wednesday 2.00 – 4.30pm
Counsellor Wednesday and Thursday all day
Community Welfare Officer Monday 2.00 – 5.00pm

The board acknowledges the need for further GP sessions and as such the GP co-ordinator for the area is actively trying to recruit GPs locally in order to increase the number of sessions available to community based projects.

  73.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if the new swipe cards will be issued in good time for the new drugs refund scheme due to commence on 1 July 1999; if he has cleared the arrangements with the pharmacists and unions involved; and if he will defer introduction to ensure proper preparations are in place. [16149/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  With effect from 1 July 1999 the existing drug cost subsidisation and drug refund schemes will be merged into one new drug payment scheme, with a threshold of £42 per month per family unit. Where expenditure by a family or an individual exceeds £42 per month on approved medicines, the balance will be met by the State. To participate in the scheme, patients must register with their health board. Patients who have registered in compliance with the registration form will receive a drug payment scheme card shortly. There will also be a facility for on the spot registration for the scheme in community pharmacies, in situations where the patient has not already registered and where he-she can provide the pharmacist with all the necessary details, including his or her RSI number.

The IT system for the scheme will provide a swipe card, which will enable individuals or members of the same family to use different pharmacies within a month. Pending the full introduction of the IT system for the new scheme in pharmacies, it is recommended that users of the scheme purchase all their prescribed medication in the same community pharmacy each calendar month. If they so wish, a different community pharmacy can be used the following month. In the initial stages, in the event that an individual or family member has occasion to use another community pharmacy in the same month, and the total expenditure exceeds £42 he or she should retain their receipts for submission to the relevant health board which will reimburse the balance of the expenditure.

[1272] Officials of my Department have had extensive discussions with the Irish pharmaceutical union on the operation of the new scheme and the concerns expressed by the Irish pharmaceutical union in the course of discussion have been taken into account when finalising the details of the scheme. I understand that the matter will be put to a ballot by the Irish pharmaceutical union on 27 June 1999 and I am hopeful of a positive outcome. I would like to assure the Deputy that I remain committed to the principle underpinning this scheme, namely that, with effect from 1 July 1999, no individual or family will have to pay more than £42 in any calendar month for approved, prescribed medicines.

The primary aim of the new drug payment scheme is to bring about important improvements in the drug refund scheme and the drug cost subsidisation scheme. The new scheme will effectively merge the best elements of the two existing schemes and is designed to significantly improve the cash flow situation for families and individuals incurring ongoing expenditure on medicines.

The new drug payment scheme is for everyone. To qualify under the old drug cost subsidisation scheme, patients had to be certified by their doctor as suffering from a condition requiring ongoing expenditure on medicines. There are no qualifying criteria for the new scheme.

Under the drug refund scheme, families and individuals pay the full cost of their prescription medicines and may, at the end of the quarter, claim reimbursement from their health board of expenditure over £90 in that calendar quarter.

Many families and individuals have very heavy expenditure on drugs and medicines in a quarter and have to wait a further six weeks from the end of the quarter before they receive a refund. This can cause considerable cash flow problems for a significant number of families and individuals. The new scheme 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.

  74.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if he will consider establishing a residential drug treatment centre for Dublin's northside as a first phase of a process of rehabilitation from drug use; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16154/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The provision of drug treatment services in the Dublin area is the statutory responsibility of the Eastern Health Board in the first instance.

However, I understand from the Eastern Health Board that the provision of in-patient detoxification beds in its area is an important part of the range of treatments available for drug misusers. Currently there are 17 such beds in the [1273] Cuan Dara Unit, Cherry Orchard and ten beds in Beaumont Hospital. This level of provision compares favourably with international figures and will be augmented this year with the provision of a stabilisation unit in Cherry Orchard Hospital consisting of 12 beds and a downstream unit in St Mary's Hospital consisting of 20 beds which gives a total of 32 further beds.

The board also assists financially a number of organisations who provide residential drug treatment i.e. the Coolmine Therapeutic Centre and the Merchant's Quay project. Individuals and families from Dublin's Northside do and will have access to these services.

At present, the board is in the process for drawing up a rehabilitation strategy. This process involves extensive consultation with community-voluntary groups, local drug task forces and other interested parties. The process is due for completion in August 1999.

  75.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if his Department will investigate the delay by the South-Eastern Health Board in going to tender for the construction of an acute psychiatric unit on the grounds of St. Luke's Hospital, Kilkenny; and if he will issue a full statement in view of the public concern. [16163/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The proposed 45 bed psychiatric unit at St Luke's Hospital will provide the inpatient acute psychiatric service for the Carlow-Kilkenny catchment area.

The South-Eastern Health Board has submitted recommended lists of general building contractors for admission to the tender lists for the development of the project and are seeking formal approval to proceed with the invitation to tender for both general building contractors and mechanical and electrical services contractors. The acceptance of tenders and the commencement of construction are currently being considered in the context of the health capital programme for 1999. A contractor has not yet been selected and it is not possible at this stage to give a precise timetable for the project.

  76.  Mr. Barrett    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    the average waiting time for a driving test in Dublin city and county for each of the years 1997 to date; and the number of testers employed. [16060/99]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy):  Relevant information on the deployment of driver testers, who are assigned to regions and not to individual test centres, is set out in the following table.

[1274] Number of Driver Testers Assigned

Region 1997* 1998* 1999**
North Leinster 16 16 22
South Leinster 16 16 22
Total 32 32 44

*at 1 January; **at 22 May

A further nine new testers are currently undergoing training; seven of these will be additionally assigned between north and south Leinster regions. These additional testing resources being applied should bring progressive and substantial improvement in waiting times in Dublin.

While average waiting periods have not been compiled for individual test centres due to limitations in the IT systems involved, information on the national average waiting time is set out in the following table. Based on other known data in relation to the Dublin test centres, the average waiting period at these centres would be longer than the national average.

National Average Waiting Period for Driving Test

Year 1997 1998 1999
Waiting period 16 weeks* 20 weeks* 27 weeks*-29 weeks**

*at 1 January; **at 22 May.

  77.  Mr. Hayes    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    the number of sales transacted under the tenant purchase scheme during 1998 and in each of the five previous years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16099/99]

  78.  Mr. Hayes    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    the number of transactions under the shared ownership scheme operated by local authorities in 1998 and in each of the five previous years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16100/99]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 77 and 78 together.

Statistics on shared ownership scheme transactions and tenant purchase scheme sales for 1998 and the preceding five years are published in my Department's Annual Housing Statistics Bulletins, copies of which are available in the Oireachtas Library.


  79.  Mr. Hayes    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    the response of his Department to a recent report carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute, Social Housing in Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16101/99]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy):  I welcome the publication of this comprehensive report which was prepared with part funding from my Department and which will be carefully considered by my Department and local authorities.

I regret that some sections of the media sought to sensationalise the problems highlighted in the report while at the same time ignoring its many very positive aspects. The report underlined the fundamental contribution that local authority housing has made to Irish society and recognised the considerable progress that has been made by many authorities in the management of their estates in recent years.

  80.  Mr. Finucane    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    if he will approve extra staffing to Limerick County Council to allow it to effectively take over responsibility for extra group water schemes. [16102/99]

Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey):  It is open to Limerick County Council having regard to budgetary and personnel circumstances to recruit and deploy staff to deal with the rural water programme. There is no record in my Department of any request from Limerick County Council for the approval of additional staff for the administration of group water schemes, in so far as this may be required.

  81.  Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    the means testing criteria used in assessing the parents of students who apply for the summer student job scheme, including disregards for VHI pensions and mortgage interest relief; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16069/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  To qualify for participation in the students summer jobs scheme, students must satisfy a means test which is broadly similar to that currently applying to applicants for unemployment assistance. In assessing means, account is taken of the parents' gross income less income tax, PRSI, superannuation, private health insurance, union fees, rent or mortgage payments and some travel costs. The weekly means are assessed at 17 per cent of the net family income or by dividing the net weekly income, less a parental allowance of £105 – £95 in the case of one-parent families – by the number of non-earners, e.g. children in the household, whichever is the lower. Those with weekly means [1276] assessed at £65 or less are issued with a job certificate.

I should mention that students in receipt of higher education maintenance grants or whose parents' sole source of income is a social welfare payment automatically satisfy the means test.

  82.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    when he notified the European Commission that the Government's legal implementation of EU directives on open contracting that delivery of social welfare cheques is a social and not a commercial service; if the EU Commission agrees with the Government's interpretation; and if the Government has satisfied itself that it has no outstanding legal liabilities on this matter. [16097/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The existing contract under which certain social welfare payments are paid at post offices will reach the end of its current term in December next. As a matter of clarification for the Deputy such payments are made through the use of payable orders or the social services card and do not involve cheques.

The Government have decided in principle to extend the term of the existing contract for an additional period of three years. As a prerequisite to giving effect to this decision, my Department is at present in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General regarding the legal issues to which this gives rise.

My Department has not issued to the EU Commission any notice of the kind referred to by the Deputy. Once the process of consultation with the Office of the Attorney General has been completed, my Department will issue to the EU Commission such notices or reports as may be required. Needless to say, the Government intends to fully comply with its obligations in EU law in all matters relating to this procurement.

  83.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    if the interests of people working in the home which is not currently an insurable form of employment will be considered by the recently appointed working group on social insurance in order to ensure that social insurance rules take due account of the constitutional recognition of the role of those who work at home. [16098/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  As I have already informed the House, my Department has recently set up a working group on social insurance which comprises representatives of the IBEC, ICTU and the community and voluntary pillar as well as officials from my Department. The purpose of the group, which meets for the second time later this week, is to examine issues relating to the [1277] ongoing development of the social insurance system as it relates to employed contributors. This will include an examination of the degree and types of social insurance cover provided to existing employee contributors as well as the possibility of providing and financing new benefits under the system.

In this regard, the group will be giving consideration to the possible introduction of social insurance benefits for insured persons who have to temporarily leave the workforce to care for children or incapacitated persons. Such benefits could include a carer's benefit which is being examined as part of my ongoing response to the 1998 review of the carer's allowance which provided the basis for the Government's £18 million package of measures for carers introduced in the 1999 budget. The group will focus on the appropriateness of the current social insurance system, including funding arrangements, in the context of a rapidly changing economic and social environment. It is hoped that the deliberations of the group will inform all parties on the issues involved and explore the level of consensus among the social partners involved as to future priorities.

The fundamental principle of social insurance is that employees, their employers and the self employed make social insurance contributions while economically active. These contributions are used to pay the pensions of retired contributors and short-term benefits such as unemployment and disability benefits to contributors who are temporarily out of the workforce. While persons working in the home are not compulsorily covered by the system there are a number of arrangements in place which cater for the position of former contributors who have had to leave the workforce for homemaking purposes, including the care of children and incapacitated persons, or for other reasons.

Former contributors who cease to be compulsorily covered by social insurance can opt to become insured on a voluntary basis and pay voluntary contributions. These contributions provide continuing cover for the pensions which the employee or self-employed contributor was covered for when working. This option is available to all former contributors, subject to certain conditions, who are working in the home or are outside the formal workforce for some other reason.

There are, in addition, special arrangements for homemakers which enable persons who work in the home to qualify for an old age (contributory) pension. One of the qualifying conditions for this pension is that the person must have a minimum yearly average number of contributions. From April 1994, contribution years spent out of the workforce caring for children up to the age of six (increased to age 12 from April 1995) or incapacitated people may be disregarded for the purpose of establishing the yearly average number of contributions for old age (contributory) pension pur[1278] poses. A maximum of 20 years can be disregarded in this way.

Finally, former employee contributors who have left the workforce to care for persons who require full time care and attention and who are in receipt of carer's allowance receive credited social insurance contributions which enable the contributor to continue social insurance cover for all the benefits and pensions which they were formerly covered for when working.

  84.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    if he will introduce a scheme whereby pensioners can travel free on scheduled services at peak hour where they can show an appointment for hospital or other evidence that they require to travel at peak hour. [16143/99]

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 the 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.

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, has commenced in order to assess whether the objec[1279] tives of these schemes are being achieved in the most efficient and effective manner. It is expected that the review will be published by the policy institute in October/ November this year. The conclusions of the review will then be considered in a budgetary context, as appropriate.

  85.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    the reason for the disallowance of the claim for maternity benefit for a person (details supplied) in Dublin 17; and if he will make a statement on the reason for this ruling. [16144/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  To qualify for maternity benefit a person must be entitled to leave under the Maternity Protection Act, 1994 or be self-employed and must satisfy certain PRSI conditions.

The person concerned applied for maternity benefit on 24 February 1999. Based on the evidence available to the Department it appears that she is not in employment or entitled to maternity leave covered by the Maternity Protection Act, 1994. Her application was, accordingly, refused.

She was notified of this decision and the reasons for it on 28 April 1999. It is understood that the person concerned is undertaking an unfair dismissal case against her former employer. Such disputes are processed under procedures established under the Unfair Dismissals Act, 1977. If her action in this regard is successful, she should advise the Department and her entitlement to maternity benefit will be reviewed.

She is currently in receipt of disability benefit at £80.10 per week and payment will continue as long as she satisfies the conditions for its receipt.

  86.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    if he will consider entering negotiations with Cablelink to arrange golden years concessions or free service for pensioners who currently pay in full for these services. [16146/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The free TV licence scheme is available to people aged 66 or over who are in receipt of a welfare type payment and who are either living alone or who otherwise satisfy this condition.

Certain people with disabilities under that age who are in receipt of certain welfare type payments also qualify. In addition, widows-widowers between the ages of 60 and 65 whose late spouses had been in receipt of the free TV licence scheme retain their entitlement.

The range of the free schemes currently available does not include assistance towards the cost of cable television or other forms of deflected [1280] television systems. This would involve additional expenditure which could only be considered in a budgetary context.

  87.  Mr. Barrett    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the consideration, if any, he will give to requests to allow a longer period of maternity leave to women who give birth to twins, triplets or quadruplets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16066/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  The Maternity Protection Act, 1994, transposes the employment rights aspects of the EU Pregnant Workers Directive (92/85/EEC) into Irish law.

Article 1 of the directive states that its purpose is to implement measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of pregnant workers, workers who have recently given birth or who are breastfeeding. In this context, it requires that pregnant employees are entitled to at least 14 consecutive weeks' maternity leave in respect of each confinement. This period must include a minimum term before and after confinement. Sections 8 and 10 of the Act fulfil these requirements.

My Department is currently reviewing the provisions and operation of the Maternity Protection Act, 1994. One of the issues raised in the context of this review in an increase in the minimum period of maternity leave. The question of longer periods of leave in respect of multiple births can be examined in the context of this review.

The Deputy may also be interested to note that the Parental Leave Act, 1998, provides an entitlement to parents to 14 weeks' leave to enable them take care of their young children. This leave may be taken as a continuous block of 14 weeks or, by agreement with an employer, in smaller blocks over a period of time. This entitlement accrues in respect of each child born or adopted after 3 June 1996. In circumstances where an employee is entitled to parental leave in respect of more than one child, the employee cannot take more than 14 weeks' parental leave in any 12 months. This restriction does not apply, however, in the case of multiple births. In such cases parents can, if they so wish, avail of substantial periods of time off from work in the early months of their children's lives.


  88.  Ms O'Sullivan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that findings presented at a conference in Dublin on 16 June 1999 dealing with the provision of health and social services to prostitutes suggested that finding alternatives to custodial sentences is crucial in assisting women to get out of prostitution; the plans, if any, he has to provide these alternatives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16042/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  The recent conference, referred to by the Deputy, was organised by the Eastern Health Board for its staff and an invited group and did not include any personnel from the probation and welfare service of my Department. However, I am aware that the reference to “funding alternatives to custodial sentencing” is a select piece, taken out of context, from a paper presented by the project worker with Ruhama.

The Ruhama women's project which is based at the Mercy Centre, 23 Herbert Street, Dublin 2, works with and on behalf of women involved in prostitution. It organises both individual and group counselling for women, assists in the area of prevention and rehabilitation directly and in liaison with other agencies, raises awareness about the problem and engages in research and integration between European countries.

The Ruhama women's project has a partnership arrangement with the probation and welfare service of my Department and funding of £50,000 has been provided each year during the life time of the European Union – human resources community initiative employment – NOW Programme, which also approved EU funding of approximately £200,000.

My Department is currently considering a proposal received from the Ruhama women's project for funding, when funding from the European Union ceases i.e. for the year 2000. The proposal includes amongst its aims and objectives a Court diversion programme for women which is based on research undertaken in the United States.

  89.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if his attention has been drawn to the long delays in holding inquests particularly in the case of suspected suicides; and the steps, if any, he will take to speed up the process and to introduce a protocol of procedures for the coroners courts dealing will suicide cases. [16043/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  As the Deputy may be aware, I have no official responsibility concerning the holding or scheduling of inquests as coroners are independent in the exercise of their judicial, or quasi-judicial, functions.

As regards new procedures for coroners courts, in December last, the Government approved my proposals for the establishment of a working group to undertake a comprehensive review of the coroner service.

It is expected that its report, which will be available at the end of the year, will examine all aspects of the service including the matters referred to by the Deputy.


  90.  Mr. Higgins (Mayo)    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of attacks on off duty prison officers reported to the gardaí in each of the years 1997 and 1998. [16044/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that one off-duty prison officer was physically assaulted during the specified period. This assault took place in 1998. The assailant was unknown to the officer, and I understand that there was no evidence to suggest that the assault was committed because of his occupation.

I also understand that in the same year an off-duty prison officer was approached and verbally abused by a former inmate of a prison in which he worked. This person was subsequently charged with assault and breach of the peace.

  91.  Mr. Higgins (Mayo)    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the average cost of keeping a prisoner in jail. [16045/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  The overall average annual cost of keeping an offender in custody is £53,400.

This figure is calculated by averaging out the current running costs of the prisons and places of detention against the average number of offenders over a certain period, in this case the year 1998. These running costs include certain items which are fixed no matter what the level of prisoners in custody, i.e. mainly officers' wages but also such items as lighting and heating. Therefore, it cannot be assumed that each increase by one in the prison population will result in increased expenditure of £53,400 per annum. Taking the fixed costs into account, the additional expenditure would be more in the region of £17,740. Neither, due to economies of scale, would there be a direct pro rata relationship with changes in the number of prisoners in other areas of expenditure such as overtime, education, work and training. The only area which would see such a relationship is the prisoners' gratuities subhead, expenditure on which is linked directly to the number of sentenced prisoners in custody.

  92.  Mr. Higgins (Mayo)    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the amount of overtime paid to the top ten recipients in the prison service for the first three months in each of the years from 1996 to 1999. [16046/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  The amount of overtime paid to the top ten recipients in the prison service for the first three months in each of the years from 1997 to 1999 are as follows;[1283]

Year. Institution Grade Amount £
1997 Mountjoy Chief Trades Officer 1 9,631.17
Mountjoy Prison Officer 9,381.97
Mountjoy Prison Officer 9,124.62
Mountjoy Assistant Governor 8,718.82
Mountjoy Assistant Chief Officer 8,590.94
Castlerea Assistant Chief Officer 8,123.84
Castlerea Assistant Governor 8,092.52
Mountjoy Chief Officer 2 8,083.25
Mountjoy Chief Officer 2 7,804.95
Portlaoise Trades Officer 7,584.90
1998 Mountjoy Prison Officer 13,285.03
Mountjoy Prison Officer 11,791.51
Wheatfield Prison Officer 11,306.99
Mountjoy Prison Officer 11,098.76
Portlaoise Trades Officer 10,878.56
Portlaoise Assistant Chief Officer 10,774.31
Mountjoy Prison Officer 10,397.96
Portlaoise Assistant Chief Officer 10,397.96
Mountjoy Chief Officer 2 10,329.48
Mountjoy Prison Officer 9,901.16
1999 Mountjoy Prison Officer 11,345.94
Portlaoise Trades Officer 10,964.12
Portlaoise Prison Officer 10,470.42
Mountjoy Trades Officer 10,411.37
Mountjoy Prison Officer 10,379.59
Portlaoise Prison Officer 10,360.79
Portlaoise Assistant Chief Officer 10,318.69
Mountjoy Prison Officer 10,267.38
Portlaoise Assistant Chief Officer 10,254.34
Portlaoise Assistant Chief Officer 9,919.45

Information requested regarding payments made during 1996 is unavailable as computerised records only exist from 1997 onwards.

In examining the trend in the amounts paid in overtime over the period in question, account must be taken of the impact of general and special pay increases, the increased amount paid does not mean that the number of hours overtime worked increased to the same extent.

  93.  Mr. Higgins (Mayo)    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of people in prison; and the number of staff employed in prisons. [16047/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  On Friday 18 June 1999, there were 2,840 persons in custody in Irish prisons and places of detention with a total of 2,941 serving staff, of which 2,344 are at prison officer grade. In addition vocational educational committees employ approximately 172 whole time equivalent teachers for work in prisons and places of detention.

The issue of staffing strength will be kept under review in the light of the work of the dedicated staffing and operational review team which is carrying out a staffing assessment of each institution at present, and in the light of developments in regard to prisoner accommodation.


  94.  Mr. Finucane    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if Limerick County Council has appointed a design team for the refurbishment of a district court (details supplied) in County Limerick; the reason for the delay; and when the refurbishment works will commence on the courthouse. [16105/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  I refer the Deputy to my reply to Parliamentary Questions No. 300 of 1 December 1998. The design team for the refurbishment of the courthouse concerned has not been appointed as it is not possible at this stage to say when refurbished work will be carried out. As I mentioned in my earlier reply, refurbishment projects are prioritised on the basis of certain criteria, including office locations, the number of sittings, caseload, etc. On this basis the venues located in county towns are getting priority as they usually accommodate the District and Circuit Courts and the High Court on Circuit and the offices of the District and Circuit Courts. Accordingly, major refurbishment work is expected to commence on the Circuit courthouse in Limerick later this year.

However, I am committed to providing modern court accommodation in the area in question as quickly as possible.


  95.  Mr. Dukes    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when a decision will be made in the case of an application (details supplied) to his Department by a Moldovan national to study here in view of the fact that an appeal against his Department's original decision to refuse the child a study visa was first submitted in September 1998 and the child's parents are extremely anxious to finalise details of her schooling arrangements for the next academic year. [16109/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  I regret that due to an oversight the decision on this appeal was not communicated to the applicant. However, having reviewed the matter, my Department is now prepared to approve a visa subject to confirmation that the applicant has been accepted as a pupil for the coming academic year in the school specified in the original visa application.

  96.  Mr. G. Reynolds    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when a person (details supplied) in County Leitrim will be provided with title deeds from the Land Registry. [16118/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  I am informed by the Registrar of Titles that this dealing refers to an application for first registration which was lodged on 19 February 1999. I understand that due to their complicated nature, these dealings can take time to process and, accordingly, it is not possible at this time to estimate a completion date. However, I assure the Deputy that the application is being expedited by the Land Registry.

  97.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if she will establish a working group in conjunction with the local community in Dublin 17 with the aim of establishing a motor project whose purpose would be to provide an alternative for the many young people who are at risk of becoming involved in joyriding in view of the fact that previous efforts by the community alone were unable to overcome problems such as insurance. [16155/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  Since coming into office, I have given a high priority to the diversion of young people who are at risk of becoming involved in crime. In that time, I have doubled the number of Garda special projects from 12 to 24 and there are a number of proposals for other projects before my Department. The projects are tangible crime prevention measures and are run [1286] in conjunction with youth organisations. One such project is operating in the Dublin 17 area.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that a forum has been established in the Coolock area to examine the problem of joyriding. The forum is chaired by the local Garda community relations sergeant and includes representatives from Dublin Corporation, the local Garda special project, and the local community.

I understand that a sub-committee of the forum considered the establishment of a motor project and concluded that such a project was not feasible, due primarily to the financial cost. I am also informed that the forum is currently pursuing the issue of better estate management through environmental design. Under such an approach, the problem of joyriding could be tackled by such means as speed ramps, the widening of footpaths to reduce road widths, and other road modification measures.

  98.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he has satisfied himself that the sentences for crimes relating to the illegal taking of cars, joyriding and burning out of cars are a sufficient deterrent to these crimes; if his attention has been drawn to the persistent phenomenon of the revolving door in respect of offenders arrested for this offence; and the plans, if any, he has to undertake a review of the effectiveness of the law and its enforcement in respect of these offences. [16159/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  The offence of unauthorised taking of a mechanically propelled vehicle commonly referred to as ‘joyriding' is a criminal offence under section 112 of the Road Traffic Act, 1961, as amended. The legislation pertaining to the investigation of criminal damage, burning out cars, is defined under section 2 of the Criminal Damage Act, 1991.

The penalties available to the courts for these offences include fines, terms of imprisonment, or both, or disqualification and orders on a defendant's driving licence.

The annual reports of An Garda Síochána shows the number of unauthorised taking of vehicles as 13,793, provisional, in respect of 1998, 13,589 in 1997 and 13,405 in 1996. These statistics contrast with the 1983 total of 19,484 cases of unauthorised taking.

I have been assured by the Garda authorities that the legislation in force is adequate to cover the present situation. I should state however, that any amendment to road traffic legislation is matter for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government who is responsible for all road traffic legislation.

I have been further assured by the Garda authorities that the strategies currently in place to combat joyriding and other criminal damage are reviewed periodically and changes to tactics are made where necessary to ensure continued effectiveness.

[1287] With regard to the Deputy's concern about the operation of a revolving door in respect of offenders convicted of these offences, I wish to assure the Deputy that persons serving sentences for persistent offences related to so called joyriding offences are not granted early temporary release except in the most exceptional circumstances.

  99.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    if a grant will be allocated to a club (details supplied) in County Cork which is undertaking a major development of its facilities at Riverstown; and when a decision will be made. [16059/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  An application for financial assistance under the sports capital programme has been received from the club in question. This is one of almost 1,900 applications received 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 received and the level of work involved in evaluating them, I have not been in a position to make final announcements on the 1999 round of grant allocations before now. However, I hope to do so in the near future.

  100.  Mr. G. Reynolds    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will change the criteria of the third level institutions where they charge fees if a student decides to change a course without completing the original course or failing the course; and if he will allow free fees to students changing courses for reasons other than failure. [16074/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  Under the terms of the free fees initiative the Exchequer meets the tuition fees of eligible students who are attending approved full-time undergraduate courses – other than ESF aided courses in the institutes of technology – which must generally be of at least two years duration at approved colleges. Students who are repeating a year at the same level are generally not eligible for funding. However, these conditions may be waived in exceptional circumstances such as cases of certified serious illness.

Students who have previously pursued but not completed a course which has not attracted any Exchequer funding may be deemed eligible for free fees subject to compliance with the other conditions of the free fees initiative. Also, students who have pursued a course of third level study which has attracted Exchequer funding – fees, maintenance, tax relief, subsidy towards [1288] course cost – and who have not secured a terminal qualification and subsequently resume third level studies, may be eligible for free fees having completed, at their own expense, the equivalent period of time spent on the first course of study.

Any extension of the free fees initiative to provide free fees for repeat year students would have to be considered in the context of other competing demands and priorities in the third level sector. I have no immediate plans to provide free tuition fees in respect of such students.

  101.  Mr. O'Shea    asked the Minister for Education and Science    his observations on the 1999 higher level leaving certificate geography paper; the proposals, if any, he has in regard to widespread concerns that the paper was too difficult; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16075/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  As the Deputy is aware, the content of leaving certificate and junior certificate examination papers has been the subject of much comment and analysis in the media in recent years. It is important that we view all such comment in a balanced way, having due regard for the need for validity, reliability and the maintenance of appropriate standards in our examination system.

As outlined in Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools 1998-99, at senior level it is recommended that geography should be taught from motives which include, but which go beyond, the narrow and traditional objectives of imparting geographical knowledge and the training of students in the recall of facts.

The syllabus goes on to note that the student should be taught to acquire facility in the use of the geographer's mode of inquiry and skills, namely the reading and interpretation of aerial photographs, maps, pictures, tables and graphs and other written sources of materials as well as an involvement in the field work process of observation and recording. Thus, while imparting a body of knowledge that is useful and meaningful to the student, the geography teacher must also be aware of his/her role in developing the students appreciation of abstract concepts and in gaining the facility in such matters as comprehension, analysis, synthesis and the application of information.

Applying the above criteria, the examination paper in geography, higher level, for 1999 falls within the given parameters of the stated aims and teaching objectives of the programme. It is also noteworthy that all topics on the examination paper have been examined on previous occasions, while many topics have been asked on numerous occasions.

Each year teacher representatives submit observations on examination papers to the Department. It is Department policy to refer such [1289] observations to the chief examiner for consideration and discussion, as appropriate, with the panel of advising examiners. Due allowance is made in the marking of scripts where any shortcomings in a particular paper or in a particular question are identified through this process.

  102.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the schedule of publication of legislation for the remainder of 1999 and 2000; the sections of the Education Act, 1998, which have to be commenced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16076/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The Government's legislative programme as it relates to my Department includes six Bills. The Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill, 1999, is at present under consideration by this House and I expect that it will be enacted in the near future. The Education (Welfare) Bill has been published and debated by the Seanad. It will be debated in this House in the next session with a view to enactment by the end of the year. The Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) (Institute of Technology Blanchardstown) Bill is in the process of enactment and I expect that it will be enacted in this session. The general scheme of a teaching council Bill has been referred to the parliamentary draftsman's office and I expect to be in a position to publish that Bill during the summer recess. Enactment of the Bill is likely early next year. It is also my intention to publish in the autumn a Vocational Education (Amendment) Bill with a view to its enactment by the end of the year. Finally the general scheme of the youth work (amendment) Bill has been referred to the draftsman with a view to publication later this year.

Work is proceeding in my Department in implementing the Education Act, 1998. Implementation requires in many cases consultation with the education partners and consideration of organisational and resource issues. At present 21 of the 59 sections have been commenced. As the Deputy will be aware the Act itself requires that all its provisions must be commenced by the end of next year.


  103.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the intake to the colleges of education for 1999 to 2000 broken down by intake to the B.Ed. course and the post graduate course; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16077/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The precise intake to the colleges of education for primary teachers for the 1999-2000 year and the question of running a further training course for degree holders is the subject of ongoing discussions involving the colleges, the higher education authority and my Department. In this context my Department informed the colleges in 1998 that the 1998 level of intake, 1,000 approximately, will need to be maintained for the next three to four years. The Deputy will appreciate that the level of intake at the time I took up office was 500.

Should it be decided to run a further training course for university graduates this will be announced publicly.

  104.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of teaching days at primary level undertaken by untrained personnel in each county for each of the months of 1999 to date; the corresponding figures for 1998; the number of these days as a proportion of all substitute days in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16078/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The information being sought by the Deputy is being compiled in my Department and will be forwarded to him as soon as possible.

  105.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of primary teachers on long-term leave by way of career break, study leave or other leave; the number for each of the previous four academic years; the number involved in job sharing during the same period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16079/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The information requested by the Deputy is set out as follows.

Primary Teachers on long-term leave

Career break Study leave Other leave Job sharing
1998/99 555 10 19 88
1997/98 558 14 34 54
1996/97 473 16 22 42
1995/96 504 11 4 38
1994/95 371 34 13 N/A

[1291] It should be noted that the job sharing scheme for primary teachers did not commence until the 1995-96 school year.

  106.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of primary teachers who have resigned or retired in 1999; the corresponding figure for each of the previous five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16080/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  A total of 311 primary teacher retirements have been processed to date in 1999.

Corresponding figures for the past five years are as follows: 1998, 556; 1997, 574; 1996, 413; 1995, 405; 1994, 379.My Department does not maintain records of the number of teachers who resign each year.

The impact of the early retirement scheme for primary teachers which was introduced in 1996 is reflected in the figures outlined above.

  107.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the average number of substitute teachers required on any given day in primary schools; the steps, if any, taken by his Department to assist schools to organise substitution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16081/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The average number of substitute teachers required daily in primary schools is 920.

The appointment of substitutes to replace teachers who are absent on approved leave, including sick leave and maternity leave, is a matter in the first instance for the authorities of the schools concerned.

Since coming into office, I have been concerned to address the issue of substitution within the primary system. I am aware that some schools experience difficulties in recruiting trained substitute teachers due to a shortage of available trained personnel. For these reasons I have introduced a range of measures designed to boost substantially the supply of trained primary teachers.

In addition to ensuring that there were over 1,000 places available in the colleges of education in the current academic year which is up from 500 in 1997, I have also decided that recognition as trained teachers be extended to B.Ed. graduates of St. Mary's College, Belfast, who have studied Irish to honours level as an academic subject as part of their teaching qualification.

I further decided that all primary degree holders who also hold the higher diploma in education are recognised as fully trained for the purposes of providing substitution service. Similarly, Montessori trained teachers who successfully completed the course of three years duration at St. Nicholas, Dún Laoghaire, which is recognised by the [1292] NCEA have been recognised as trained substitutes since September 1998.

I am confident that these measures will ensure that the shortage of trained substitutes, which has been a feature of the primary system for some years, will be eliminated over the next number of years.

  108.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when work will commence on the erection of a new school at Coláiste Choinn Torc, Castlepollard, County Westmeath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16082/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  County Westmeath Vocational Education Committee has instructed their design team to carry out a site investigation and prepare a site suitability report on a specific site for the proposed new school at Coláiste Choinn Torc, Castlepollard, County Westmeath.

As negotiations are still in progress regarding the acquisition of the site the design team are not in a position to indicate when work will commence on the erection of the proposed new school.

  109.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if his Department has given approval for the nature and type of safety works which need to be carried out at Taghmon national school, Mullingar, County Westmeath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16083/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The provision of adequate car parking at the front boundary of Taghmon national school, Mullingar, County Westmeath will require planning permission and the feasibility of the proposals is currently being determined in my Department.

My Department is also processing an application for works required to be undertaken to the GP room floor.

  110.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the refurbishment and renewal works to be carried out at Dysart national school, Mullingar, County Westmeath; if appropriate upgrading of the sewerage system will also be attended to; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16084/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The enrolment trends and long-term accommodation requirements at Dysart national school, Mullingar, County Westmeath are currently being assessed in my Department.

When this process is complete and all options have been fully considered, my Department will be in a position to indicate the extent of the works required at the school.


  111.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position in relation to Coralstown national school, Mullingar, County Westmeath; if the position has advanced from that outlined by him in replies to parliamentary questions in January and February 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16085/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The planning documentation for the project is at present being drawn up by my Department's technical staff.

  112.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the average class size in primary schools designated as disadvantaged; and the average class size in primary schools not designated. [16103/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  In the school year 1997-98 the latest year for which data are available – the average class size in primary schools designated as disadvantaged was 23.9.

The average class size in primary schools not so designated was 26.5.

  113.  Mr. Finucane    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will allow an extra teacher in September 1999 and not September 2000 for St. Joseph's national school, Ballybrown, Clarina, County Limerick, in view of the fact the extra teacher is urgently required. [16104/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  I am pleased to inform the Deputy that, as a result of the substantial improvement I have implemented in the staffing schedule for the 1999-2000 school year, this enrolment entitles the school to appoint an additional teacher with effect from 1 September 1999.

  114.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he has received a request to make a pay award to plumbers employed by vocational education committees under PCW analogues; and the reason for the delay in sanctioning the award. [16150/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The 1997 craft analogue award under clause 2(iii) of the PCW agreement for craftworkers employed by the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee has recently been finalised. My Department issued a circular on 18 June 1999 to the VEC advising them of the new pay scales. This award includes the plumbers referred to by the Deputy.


  115.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will establish a working group in conjunction with the local community in Dublin 17 with the aim of establishing a motor project whose purpose would be to provide an alternative for the many young people who are at risk of becoming involved in joyriding in view of the fact that previous efforts by the community alone were unable to overcome problems such as insurance. [16156/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The Youthreach programme for unqualified early school leavers provides some 7000 places offering integrated education, training and work experience for young people who have left school early, and operates in over 130 centres throughout the country provided by FÁS and the vocational education committees. In that context, there are centres in Bonnybrook and Darndale as well as a traveller training centre in Belcamp.

My Department will be happy to examine additional proposals to meet needs in the area in discussion with other agencies, with a view to ensuring an integrated area-based response to needs. Proposals should be submitted in the first instance to the relevant VEC for discussion.

There are three CARLINE projects in place elsewhere in Dublin at present being funded by my Department which cater for early school leavers, and which use motor vehicles as a core vocational discipline. My Department considers that future needs in this area would be best met in the context of integrating such approaches into the existing system.

  116.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he has received any complaints from schools or individual students regarding the higher level geography paper in the 1999 leaving certificate examination; the nature of the complaints; the way in which he will deal with them; if the format of the exam was changed by his Department; if so, when the booklet outlining this information was issued to the schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16162/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  In the four days following the leaving certificate geography higher level examination on Monday 14 June, the examinations branch of my Department received about 15 telephone calls from parents, students and teachers in relation to this examination. Comments were varied in nature but concentrated on two areas. Concerns were expressed that the compulsory question one had been reduced from a three-part to a two-part question. There was also comment that, in the regional geography section, which contained four questions of which candidates had to answer one, [1295] the candidates were asked to divide a country into regions using one of five given countries as an example rather than allowing them to choose one country themselves from among the 14 countries stated in the syllabus. Callers were asked to put their complaints in writing and were told that all points made would be given full attention in the finalisation of the marking scheme at the examination conference.

As the Deputy will be aware this process [1296] involves a full analysis of the examination paper by the team of markers with a view to finalising a marking scheme appropriate to the paper. Due allowance is made in the marking of scripts where any shortcomings in a particular paper or in a particular question are identified through this process.

Apart from ensuring that this process takes place, the Deputy will I hope agree that it would be entirely inappropriate for me, as Minister, to intervene directly in the marking of scripts.