Dáil Éireann

13/Oct/1999

Prelude

Order of Business.

Treaty of Amsterdam: Motion.

Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Bill, 1999: Report and Final Stages.

Partnership for Peace: Motion.

Ceisteanna–Questions. - National Stadium.

Ceisteanna–Questions. - Information Society Projects.

Ceisteanna–Questions. - Access to Intranet.

Ceisteanna–Questions. - Ethics in Public Office.

Priority Questions. - Area Based Partnerships.

Priority Questions. - National Conference Centre.

Priority Questions. - National Sports Stadium.

Priority Questions. - Tourism Industry.

Other Questions. - National Stadium.

Other Questions. - URBAN Programme.

Adjournment Debate Matters.

Partnership for Peace: Motion (Resumed).

Private Members' Business. - Nurses Dispute: Motion (Resumed).

Adjournment Debate. - Regional Airports.

Adjournment Debate. - Finance Act, 1994.

Adjournment Debate. - Crime Prevention.

Adjournment Debate. - Prison Assault.

Written Answers. - Constitutional Amendments.

Written Answers. - Public Prosecution System.

Written Answers. - Official Engagements.

Written Answers. - Garda Investigations.

Written Answers. - Confidential Documents.

Written Answers. - Official Engagements.

Written Answers. - Departmental Staff.

Written Answers. - Northern Ireland Issues.

Written Answers. - National Honours.

Written Answers. - Millennium Celebrations.

Written Answers. - Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion.

Written Answers. - Code of Ethics in Sport.

Written Answers. - Tourist Accommodation.

Written Answers. - Sports Capital Programme.

Written Answers. - National Drugs Strategy.

Written Answers. - Sports Anti-Doping Programme.

Written Answers. - Sports Capital Programme.

Written Answers. - Tourism Employment.

Written Answers. - Tourism Promotion.

Written Answers. - Sports Capital Programme.

Written Answers. - Swimming Pool Projects.

Written Answers. - Regional Tourism Authorities.

Written Answers. - Swimming Pool Projects.

Written Answers. - Sports Funding.

Written Answers. - Tourism Industry.

Written Answers. - Bord Fáilte Strategy.

Written Answers. - Drugs Task Force.

Written Answers. - National Conference Centre.

Written Answers. - Consultancy Services.

Written Answers. - Social Disadvantage.

Written Answers. - Tourism Tax.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Eircom Subscribers.

Written Answers. - Departmental Appointments.

Written Answers. - Consultancy Contracts.

Written Answers. - Office Accountability.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Equipment.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Recruitment.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Irish Seal Sanctuary.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Installation Aid Scheme.

Written Answers. - Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Leader Programmes.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Garda Stations.

Written Answers. - GNP Statistics.

Written Answers. - Job Qualifications.

Written Answers. - Departmental Appointments.

Written Answers. - Partnership 2000.

Written Answers. - Food Safety.

Written Answers. - Nursing Staff.

Written Answers. - Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

Written Answers. - HIV Infection.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Hospital Services.

Written Answers. - Drugs Refund Scheme.

Written Answers. - IVF Treatment.

Written Answers. - General Medical Services Scheme.

Written Answers. - HIV Infection.

Written Answers. - Hospital Accommodation.

Written Answers. - Products on Prescription.

Written Answers. - Orthodontic Service.

Written Answers. - Lottery Funding.

Written Answers. - Accident and Emergency Services.

Written Answers. - Speech Therapy Service.

Written Answers. - Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Written Answers. - Anti-Litter Campaign.

Written Answers. - Marriage Counselling Services.

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Code.

Written Answers. - Community Development.

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Written Answers. - Rights of People with Disabilities.

Written Answers. - Liquor Licensing Laws.

Written Answers. - Prostitution Offences.

Written Answers. - Registration of Title.

Written Answers. - Garda Deployment.

Written Answers. - Departmental Funding.

Written Answers. - Family Home Protection Act.

Written Answers. - Inquest Hearing.

Written Answers. - Registration of Title.

Written Answers. - Asylum Applications.

Written Answers. - Tourism Promotion.

Written Answers. - Sports Funding.

Written Answers. - Swimming Pool Projects.

Written Answers. - Tourism Revenue.

Written Answers. - School Secretarial and Caretaking Services.

Written Answers. - School Staffing.

Written Answers. - National College of Ireland.

Written Answers. - Cheapacháin Múinteoir.

Written Answers. - School Staffing.

Written Answers. - School Transport.

Written Answers. - Leaving Certificate Examination.

Written Answers. - Disadvantaged Status.

Written Answers. - Smoking in Schools.

Written Answers. - Pension Provisions.

Written Answers. - Higher Education Grants.

Written Answers. - Institutes of Technology.

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

The Taoiseach:  The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 8 – Motion re: Fourth Protocol to the Treaty of Amsterdam (A Proposal for a Council Regulation (EC) regarding the establishment of “Eurodac”); No. 27 – the Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Bill, 1999, Order for Report and Report and Final Stages; No. 9 – Motion re: Partnership for Peace and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council.

It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that (1) the proceedings on No. 8, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion after two hours and the following arrangements shall apply: (i) 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 20 minutes in each case; (ii) the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; (iii) Members may share time; and (iv) a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; and (2) the following arrangements shall apply in relation to No. 9; (i) 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 30 minutes in each case; (ii) the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; (iii) Members may share time; and (iv) a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed 15 minutes.

Private Members' Business shall be No. 73 – Motion re: Nurses (resumed – to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight).

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

Mr. Quinn:  Before we agree to that, is the Taoiseach in a position to indicate whether it is [282] the intention of the Minister for Health and Children to give the House some details tomorrow on the emergency arrangements?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That does not arise on No. 8.

Mr. Quinn:  It does. I just want to know, before we agree to this—

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will allow the Deputy to ask a brief question.

Mr. Quinn:  I just want to know whether the Taoiseach has considered this request and whether he will make a statement on the matter.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I have allowed the Deputy to ask a brief question. Can we deal with No. 8?

Mr. Quinn:  A Cheann Comhairle, I am trying to be helpful. We are ordering the business of the House and I want to know in that context, of which this is just one part to which we have to give our explicit agreement, will the Minister for Health and Children at some stage between today and tomorrow afternoon indicate to the public, through this House, what standby arrangements there are to provide—

An Ceann Comhairle:  As the Deputy is aware there is a Private Members' motion scheduled for tonight.

Mr. Quinn:  He does not have the information yet because the health service employees and unions—

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is not in order at this stage. I have to put the proposal. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 8 agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 9 agreed?

Mr. J. Bruton:  I understand Deputy Noonan has already proposed, on behalf of Fine Gael, and I suggest here, that the Standing Orders be amended to allow people to speak for up to 40 minutes on this subject. This is an issue upon which a referendum was promised to the people. We believe that since the Government is denying such a referendum, which it is legally entitled to do, the least it should do is allow a more full debate in the House than would occur on another issue. For that reason, I suggest the current time limit of 15 minutes per speaker should be amended to allow people to speak for up to 40 minutes on this subject.

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): The key point here is the amount of time that is provided for the overall debate so that there is adequate time for Members to contribute on this crucial subject. Will the Government say it is not intended to put a guillotine on the debate tomorrow evening and [283] that it will continue next week and for as long as is necessary?

The Taoiseach:  I do not accept Deputy Bruton's motion, but I will reply to Deputy Higgins. There will be no guillotine. The debate will continue next week if there are sufficient speakers.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Is the Taoiseach saying he will not accept my proposal?

The Taoiseach:  That is what I am saying.

Mr. J. Bruton:  I have to oppose this then because, if the Government promised a referendum, it is unreasonable, that it should force the debate through here without adequate time being allowed to individual speakers.

The Taoiseach:  Let me correct Deputy Bruton. The Government did not promise a referendum.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Fianna Fáil promised a referendum.

Mr. Shatter:  Fianna Fáil promised a referendum and deliberately misled the people.

Mr. Quinn:  In relation to the proposals—

Mr. Finucane:  Is the Taoiseach suffering from amnesia again?

Mr. Quinn:  —for No. 9, I understand the time allocation arrangements are the standard and the norm. However, everybody in the House would agree this is not a normal debate, bearing in mind the promise of a referendum and the U-turn that has taken place. In those circumstances, the suggestion by the leader of Fine Gael to reverse the normal time allocations in this debate without reference to any future debate, should be followed. I can understand why the Government Whip's office has tabled these time constraints. I am asking, in the light of the controversy surrounding the handling of this entire issue, that these normal time constraints should not prevail and that the Whips be asked to construct an alternative form based on the Fine Gael Party's suggestion or any other suggestion that might be made by the Taoiseach's Department and the Chief Whip.

Mr. Gormley:  The parties that are most opposed to PfP will have 15 minutes under these Standing Orders. That is not adequate. That is [284] why I support Deputy Bruton. We need at least 40 minutes to explore the issues involved. It is an extremely important issue. The Taoiseach has, unfortunately, done a U-turn on this issue. I ask him, on that account, to make provision for us to have a real debate.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  A Cheann Comhairle, I share the views of Deputy Gormley that the core argument here is to ensure that those who genuinely wish to present the alternative to the proposal to join PfP are afforded that chance here in this Chamber. I do not know the real agenda behind the proposition for giving speakers 40 minutes across the board in an open-ended debate. Certainly I would not be interested in participating in a filibuster. It is very important Members in the House recognise that there is a fundamental flaw in determining time on such debates. It is either—

An Ceann Comhairle:  A question to the Taoiseach.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I seek clarification and an assurance from the Taoiseach that Members who have a contribution to make will be afforded adequate time.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is engaged in repetition. He has put his question and I ask the Taoiseach to respond.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I ask the Taoiseach to answer that question.

The Taoiseach:  I was asked yesterday not to impose a guillotine or a fixed time to complete this debate and I accepted that. I was also asked that there be no time limit on the vote and I accepted that. Deputy John Bruton then asked that as many Members as possible be allowed to speak and I have accepted that. It is now being asked that Members should have a longer time to speak. I do not see the necessity for that. Every Member can speak on the debate. If some of the smaller parties are concerned because they have fewer members they can put their case to the Whips and perhaps arrangements could be agreed tonight. I see the sense in that, but I am not prepared to make other changes.

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

Question put: “That the proposal for dealing with No. 9 be agreed to.”

Ahern, Bertie.
Ahern, Dermot.
Ahern, Michael.
Ahern, Noel.
Andrews, David.
Ardagh, Seán.
Aylward, Liam.
Blaney, Harry.
Brady, Johnny. Brady, Martin.[285]

Tá–continued

Brennan, Matt.
Brennan, Séamus.
Briscoe, Ben.
Browne, John (Wexford).
Byrne, Hugh.
Callely, Ivor.
Carey, Pat.
Collins, Michael.
Coughlan, Mary.
Cowen, Brian.
Cullen, Martin.
Daly, Brendan.
Davern, Noel.
de Valera, Síle.
Dempsey, Noel.
Doherty, Seán.
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.
[286] Kitt, Michael.
Kitt, Tom.
Lenihan, Brian.
Lenihan, Conor.
McCreevy, Charlie.
McDaid, James.
McGennis, Marian.
McGuinness, John.
Martin, Micheál.
Moffatt, Thomas.
Molloy, Robert.
Moloney, John.
Moynihan, Donal.
Moynihan, Michael.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
O'Dea, Willie.
O'Donnell, Liz.
O'Donoghue, John.
O'Flynn, Noel.
O'Hanlon, Rory.
O'Keeffe, Batt.
O'Keeffe, Ned.
O'Malley, Desmond.
Power, Seán.
Roche, Dick.
Ryan, Eoin.
Smith, Brendan.
Wade, Eddie.
Wallace, Dan.
Wallace, Mary.
Walsh, Joe.
Woods, Michael.
Wright, G. V.

Níl

Allen, Bernard.
Barnes, Monica.
Boylan, Andrew.
Bradford, Paul.
Bruton, John.
Bruton, Richard.
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.
Dukes, Alan.
Durkan, Bernard.
Enright, Thomas.
Farrelly, John.
Finucane, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Frances.
Flanagan, Charles.
Gormley, John.
Hayes, Brian.
Higgins, Jim.
Higgins, Joe.
Higgins, Michael.
Howlin, Brendan.
Kenny, Enda.
McCormack, Pádraic.
McDowell, Derek.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
McGrath, Paul.
McManus, Liz.
Mitchell, Gay.
Mitchell, Olivia.
Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
Naughten, Denis.
Neville, Dan.
Noonan, Michael.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
O'Shea, Brian.
Perry, John.
Quinn, Ruairí.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Reynolds, Gerard.
Ring, Michael.
Ryan, Seán.
Shatter, Alan.
Sheehan, Patrick.
Shortall, Róisín.
Stagg, Emmet.
Stanton, David.
Timmins, Billy.
Yates, Ivan.

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

Question declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle:  On the Order of Business, Deputy John Bruton.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Is the Taoiseach aware that the disaster of the nurses' strike has already happened in that chemotherapy is being cancelled for cancer patients, that brain tumour operations are also being cancelled in Beaumont Hospital and that this disaster is already present this week.

[287]An Ceann Comhairle:  As this is a Private Members' motion, we cannot have an extended discussion. The Deputy must ask a brief question.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Will the Taoiseach ask the Minister to talk to the nursing unions to see if a solution can be found this week?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Quinn, a very brief question on the same matter.

Mr. Quinn:  I have been trying to get a response from the Taoiseach in respect of this matter; it is ancillary to the dispute. I think the public at large is entitled—

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot have statements, just questions.

Mr. Quinn:  I am trying to ask the Taoiseach a question. Will he make time available to enable the Minister for Health and Children to come to this House some time between now and tomorrow afternoon to inform the public what contingency arrangements have been put in place in the hospital services following the negotiations that are ongoing today between the relevant parties in the interests of some sense of understanding of what is going to happen? I suggest there is a precedent for this and I ask the Taoiseach if he is in a position to inform the House that such time will be availed of between now and the end of business tomorrow to enable the Minister for Health and Children to make that announcement? That is not related to the Private Members' motion.

The Taoiseach:  Discussions are taking place today. When the outcome of these discussions are known, procedures of the House will allow Members to raise the matter tomorrow. We will then see what the position is.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We must move on.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  I remind the House that this is the Order of Business.

Mr. Quinn:  I wish to clarify this point.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy must be brief.

(Interruptions).

Mr. Quinn:  Obviously the discussions must continue but will the Taoiseach give an indication in principle that if the Minister for Health and Children is in a position tomorrow afternoon to make a statement that such an opportunity will be availed of, that a statement will be issued and that we will not have to ask the same question on the Order of Business tomorrow?

[288]Mr. J. Bruton:  I support what Deputy Quinn has said about getting clear agreement on the emergency situation. However, even if this is obtained, chemotherapy treatments and brain tumour operations will still be cancelled and this will result in deaths. It is important that the Government and nursing unions, who have joint and shared responsibility in this area, should get together not just on the emergency plan, but to ensure an agreement is reached which will avoid this strike taking place.

Dr. McDaid:  What is the basis for that?

The Taoiseach:  Discussions are going ahead today. Hopefully the emergency proposals which the Minister and his representatives in the Health Service Employers Agency have requested will be agreed. There are provisions under Standing Orders if people wish to raise the matter tomorrow and we will see what happens then. We know the proposals and what the Minister is seeking and we will know today whether they are agreed.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I am not allowing any further questions. I have allowed the leaders to ask questions and I am not expanding on that. We are on the Order of Business, not Question Time.

Mr. Shatter:  Briefly, on a point of order—

An Ceann Comhairle:  No, the Deputy has had his opportunity and it will be open to him to speak again on the Private Notice Question on the motion tonight.

Mr. Shatter:  On a very brief matter—

An Ceann Comhairle:  No, will the Deputy resume his seat? Will the Deputy resume his seat?

Ms McManus:  On a point of information—

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Chair is on its feet trying to deal with this matter, so there cannot be a point of order until order is restored.

Mr. J. Bruton:  a Cheann Comhairle—

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Chair is still on its feet. Will Deputies resume their seats.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Deputy Shatter is trying to raise a point of order.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There can be no point of order when the Chair is on its feet.

Mr. J. Bruton:  How can you rule when you have not even heard the Deputy's point of order?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Chair is still on its feet.

[289]Mr. J. Bruton:  Deputy Shatter is entitled to speak, as is any of the other 165 Members.

An Ceann Comhairle:  This is the Order of Business. The Deputy should resume his seat.

Mr. J. Bruton:  He should not be silenced.

An Ceann Comhairle:  This is the Order of Business and he cannot speak when he is out of order.

Mr. J. Bruton:  He was ruled out of order before you heard him, Sir, and that is not acceptable.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Yes, because he wanted to continue a discussion that has been ruled out of order. The Chair allowed the leaders a brief question and answer session. Deputy Shatter had his opportunity last night and will have an opportunity tonight.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Deputy Shatter is entitled to be heard and I ask the Taoiseach to endorse me on that.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Leader of the Opposition should resume his seat. Deputy Bruton is now out of order.

Mr. J. Bruton:  I know that.

Ms McManus:  A Cheann Comhairle, on a point of order—

An Ceann Comhairle:  Right, what is the Deputy's point of order?

Ms McManus:  The Taoiseach has said that there is provision available to us to raise this matter tomorrow to ensure this vital information is transmitted to the public. What provision is there, Sir, because I am not aware that a provision is available to us to ensure that emergency cover—

Mr. J. Bruton:  On a point of order, how are you allowing this one and not—

Ms McManus:  —and information, that family doctors—

Mr. J. Bruton:  This is not funny.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is not a point of order. The Deputy should resume her seat.

Mr. J. Bruton:  It is discrimination and it is not acceptable.

Ms McManus:  A Cheann Comhairle—

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should resume her seat.

[290]Ms McManus:  This is an absolutely vital matter. Family doctors must receive the information they need.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should resume her seat. That concludes the Order of Business.

Mr. Howlin:  We have other matters which we wish to raise.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Order of Business has concluded.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the exercise by the State of the option provided by Article 3 of the fourth Protocol set out in the Treaty of Amsterdam to notify the President of the Council that it wishes to take part in the adoption and application of the following proposed measure:

a proposal for a Council Regulation (EC) concerning the establishment of ‘Eurodac' for the comparison of the fingerprints of applicants for asylum and certain other aliens (COM (1999) 260 final),

copies of which proposed measure were laid before Dáil Éireann on 6 October 1999.

The purpose of the motion before the House today is to seek approval for Ireland to opt in to the adoption and application of a proposal for a Council regulation concerning the establishment of Eurodac for the comparison of the fingerprints of applicants for asylum and certain other non-nationals. The Treaty of Amsterdam, which came into force on 1 May 1999, has added to the EC Treaty a new title, Title IV, which comprises, inter alia, measures on asylum. This proposed regulation falls within Title IV and it does not, therefore, apply automatically to Ireland or the United Kingdom, but is a measure into which Ireland or the UK may opt under the fourth protocol of the Treaty of Amsterdam.

There are two alternative forms of opting in. The State may either opt into taking part in the adoption and application of the measure from the outset under Article 3 of the fourth protocol or alternatively Ireland may opt into accepting the measure at any time after it has been—

Mr. Howlin:  On a point of order, is the script available?

Mr. O'Donoghue:  I hope there is a script and I think it is available. There are two alternative forms of opting in. The State may either opt into taking part in the adoption and application of the measure from the outset under Article 3 of the fourth protocol or alternatively Ireland may opt into accepting the measure at any time after it [291] has been adopted under Article 3(2) of the fourth protocol. A time limit is given for the exercise of the first form of opt in. The State must give notice of the exercise of the option of taking part in the adoption and application of the measure in question within three months of the formal presentation of the proposal. In addition, under Article 29.4.6 of the Constitution, the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas is required before the option can be exercised.

If Ireland does not opt in to the adoption and application of the measure from the outset, while we might participate in relevant meetings, we would not be able to opt in until such time as the negotiations have been concluded and the measures adopted, and our ability to influence the outcome of the discussions would be correspondingly limited. Essentially, this is why the Government, acting on legal advice, decided to exercise the option of opting in to the application of the measure at this time. Moreover, the United Kingdom formally notified the President of the Council on 7 October that it intends to opt in to the adoption of the measure.

The background to the Eurodac draft regulation may be traced back to 1996 when proposals were made during the Italian Presidency, to have an EU-wide mechanism for exchanging fingerprint data. The need for this measure arose from the fact that many applicants for asylum—

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): On a point of order, where is the Minister's speech?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I understand it has not yet arrived.

Mr. Howlin:  The issue is convoluted enough.

Mr. Kenny:  It is the Cahirciveen syndrome.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  I apologise to Members of the House. My understanding was that the speech would be available immediately I began speaking. I apologise and expect the script to be available in the House very shortly.

The background to the Eurodac draft regulation may be traced back to 1996 when proposals were made during the Italian Presidency to have an EU-wide mechanism for exchanging fingerprint data. The need for this measure arose from the fact that many applicants for asylum in the European Union were not properly documented and consequently there was a lack of evidence about their identity which made it difficult to establish whether they had previously lodged an application for asylum. The objective was to establish and maintain a fingerprint system, known as Eurodac, the purpose of which is to assist in determining the member state which is responsible pursuant to the Dublin Convention for examining an application for asylum lodged [292] in a member state and otherwise to facilitate the implementation of the Dublin Convention.

The draft regulation replaces the draft Eurodac convention and protocol which were respectively frozen when agreed by the Justice and Home Affairs Council in December 1998 and March 1999 pending the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam, when a different legal base would be appropriate. The Dublin Convention, which was signed in 1990 during the Irish Presidency and which came into effect in Ireland on 1 September 1997 gives effect by the countries of the European Union to the generally recognised international principle that persons seeking asylum should do so at the first opportunity available to them.

The Dublin Convention guarantees asylum seekers who arrive in the territory or at the borders of the member states that their applications will be examined fully by one country in accordance with that country's determination procedures. Broadly speaking, the purpose of the Dublin Convention is to lay down criteria for determining which member state is responsible for examining an asylum application. The effective operation of the Dublin Convention depends on the ability to identify asylum seekers and establish their first point of entry into the EU. Problems arise when asylum seekers arrive in a member state without documentation to show who they are or where they come from. As over 80 per cent of asylum seekers currently evade immigration controls and claim to be unaware of how they arrived in Ireland, identification of the appropriate EU country under the Dublin Convention is obviously very difficult at present. Ireland fully supports Eurodac as an essential tool to assist in the implementation of the Dublin Convention and of discouraging abuse of asylum procedures. In practical terms, the Eurodac system will provide a facility to determine whether an asylum seeker or illegal immigrant has claimed asylum in another member state. Without tools such as this the whole asylum process can be brought into disrepute, and persons who should receive protection may lose out.

I stress that genuine asylum seekers have nothing to fear from this measure. It should ensure that their applications are processed speedily and that they will be accorded the necessary protection quickly. I also draw the attention of the House to Article 1(3) of the draft regulation which states: “Without prejudice to the use of data intended for Eurodac by the member state of origin in databases set up under the latter's national law, fingerprints and other personal data may be processed in Eurodac only for the purposes set out in Article 15(1) of the Dublin Convention.”

The following is a brief outline of what is contained in the draft regulation. It provides for the establishment of a central computerised unit within the Commission for comparing finger[293] prints of asylum applicants and certain other non-nationals. It further provides for the fingerprinting of three different groups of people to be transmitted to the Eurodac central unit and processed within the central database yet to be established: (a) applicants for asylum – Articles 4 to 7 – the draft regulation creates an obligation on member states to take the fingerprints of applicants for asylum and transmit them to the Eurodac central unit; (b) persons apprehended in connection with the irregular crossing of an external border – Articles 8 to 10 – the draft regulation creates an obligation on member states to take the fingerprints of persons apprehended in connection with the irregular crossing of an external border of the member state and transmit them to the Eurodac central unit to facilitate the implementation of Article 6 of the Dublin Convention which provides that “when it can be proved that an applicant for asylum has irregularly crossed the border into a member state by land, sea or air, having come from a non-member state of the European Communities the member state thus entered shall be responsible for examining the application for asylum”; (c) persons found illegally present within the territory of a member state – Article 11 – the draft regulation allows member states to use Eurodac if they wish to do so to check whether a person found illegally present in its territory has previously claimed asylum in another member state. This article does not create an obligation or a power in Community legislation for a member state to fingerprint persons found illegally within its territory. A member state can only take the fingerprints of the persons in question if it is permitted to do so under national law. No such provision exists in Irish law.

If the proposal from the Commission is ultimately adopted as a regulation it will have direct application in member states. Under Article 11 however the fingerprinting of persons found illegally present in a member state is an optional matter for each member state. Should it be decided to take the fingerprints of illegal immigrants in this situation legislation will be required to give effect to this in Ireland. There are no plans to introduce such legislation here.

The exchange of fingerprints through a central database should considerably improve the effectiveness of the Dublin Convention. It is a straightforward and efficient way of establishing the identity of asylum seekers who often lack adequate identification. In addition to establishing whether an asylum applicant has also applied for asylum in another member state Eurodac will establish whether he or she has made any previous applications for asylum under another name in Ireland. Clearly this will also assist in identifying any abuses of our welfare payments system. This regulation is necessary to allow Ireland, on the one hand, to retain its long and honourable tradition in the asylum area and, on the other, to deal effectively with abuses of the asylum determination process.

In 1998 Ireland received 64 requests for transfer from other member states under the Dublin [294] Convention, of which 49 were accepted. In the same period Ireland made 167 requests for transfer, of which 141 were accepted. Up to 30 September 1999 Ireland received 47 requests for transfer, of which 39 were accepted. In the same period Ireland made 165 requests for transfer, of which 128 were accepted. It is obviously difficult to establish the appropriate EU country when asylum applicants do not have the documents necessary to identify from where they have come.

The total number of asylum seekers transferred under the Dublin Convention since its ratification at the end of August 1997 is 27. No transfers have taken place under the Dublin Convention to date as a result of a ruling by the High Court in respect of section 5(1)(e) of the Aliens Act, 1953. This power has now been restored by the Immigration Act, 1999, and the regulations necessary to allow deportations to resume in accordance with the procedures set out in the Act will shortly be finalised.

The numbers seeking asylum here continue to rise. The total number of asylum applicants this year has already exceeded the total figure for 1998 with 4,636 applicants to 6 October. The numbers applying during 1999 increased from 234 in January to 453 in June but jumped dramatically to 571 in July, 963 in August, 938 in September and 259 last week alone.

The task force I established to deal with this matter is dealing with new and old applications simultaneously. At the rate of progress in relation to processing cases at first instance, based on application figures up to July this year, it was intended that the task force would have dealt with the entire backlog by July 2000 and from that date would be processing applications within weeks of arrival. However in light of the unexpected increase in the number of applicants, in August and September particularly, and if this level of intake is maintained, the resources available and nature of the operation involved, this timescale for processing applications cannot be achieved without a full review of the resources available for the task. I will be keeping this situation under review and, if necessary, I will seek additional resources to ensure the steady progress in eliminating the backlog, built up principally in the 1990s, is maintained.

There have been a number of important achievements in the asylum area during the past year which emphasise Ireland's continuing commitment to a transparent and fair asylum procedure in accordance with our international obligations. In February the Refugee Legal Service, an independent, comprehensive legal service to assist asylum seekers, was established and operates from the Refugee Applications Centre in Lower Mount Street. A sum of £1 million has been provided in the Estimates for 1999 for the service, which is ring-fenced in terms of funding and resources and will not interfere with the other commitments of the Legal Aid Board. In tandem with the opening of the Refugee Legal Service I have established an independent monitoring committee to ensure a quality refugee legal [295] service is provided and to investigate complaints from customers of the service.

I also established an interdepartmental working group to review the arrangements for integrating persons granted refugee status or permission to remain in Ireland, including the appropriate institutional structures for the delivery of these important services, which is due to report in the near future.

In February I obtained Government approval for the preparation of amendments to the Refugee Act, 1996, to make it workable. These amendments were brought forward as part of the Immigration Bill which was enacted on 27 July 1999. This clears the way for full implementation of the Refugee Act, 1996. It is hoped to have all sections commenced early in the new year. The House will be aware that detailed regulations are required for many aspects and that the Refugee Applications Commissioner and Refugee Appeals Tribunal must be appointed.

One of these amendments as set out in section 9(a) of the Refugee Act, 1996, as amended, provides that fingerprints may be taken by an officer authorised for the purposes of the Act of asylum seekers over the age of 14 years. Dublin Convention countries are exchanging fingerprint data of individual asylum seekers on a bilateral basis in an effort to bring more certainty into the Dublin Convention process. Because of the unavailability of fingerprint data in the State Ireland is unable to co-operate as fully with its Dublin Convention partners as those states do with each other in detecting duplicate applications EU-wide and ensuring applications are dealt with in whichever state is the proper one, which may be Ireland. My Department is working on the procedural measures necessary to implement this provision and, pending entry into force of Eurodac, it is intended to enter into bilateral agreements initially with some EU member states to exchange fingerprints of asylum applicants. It will also aid the detection of multiple fraudulent applications here.

In February I appointed two additional appeals authorities bringing the total number of appeals authorities to four. Although almost 1,000 appeals have been considered this year to date, more than 1,500 appeals are awaiting to be considered. I am making arrangements to appoint further appeals authorities to create a wider panel to be available to address this demand. My aim continues to be to minimise the time taken from the date of application to completion of the procedure in a refugee determination process which meets the highest EU and international standards.

Regrettably bogus or fraudulent claims are a feature of asylum processing systems throughout Europe. Any reasonable measures taken by member states which have the effect of speeding up the determination process and thereby quickly identifying genuine applicants are to be wel[296] comed. My information is that all other member states have procedures in place for fingerprinting asylum seekers and the Eurodac measure will take this step further by ensuring that the provisions of the Dublin Convention are operated fairly and effectively.

The detailed aspects of the regulation to give effect to Eurodac are still subject to negotiation by member states and the relevant institutions of the Union. It is best that Ireland is in a position to influence the final outcome of these negotiations. Acceptance of this motion in this House and in the Seanad will ensure that we are well placed to do this.

I commend the motion to the House.

Mr. Higgins:  (Mayo): During the course of the various debates and numerous discussions we have had in this House on the issue of refugees, I have always made the point that we have not sought to accommodate people who are not genuine refugees within the legally accepted definition of refugee or asylum seeker. What we have always advocated is a framework of open and fair procedures based on a sound legislative footing with an in-built independent appeals mechanism; a regime based on international refugee and human rights law standards. One has to acknowledge that there has been a dramatic surge in the numbers applying for refugee status in recent years, and this has undoubtedly put a strain on the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The problem however was that there was not a proper system in place because the Government used the excuse of legal challenge to the specification and qualifications for the post of independent commissioner as the reason for not implementing the Refugee Act, 1996.

Admittedly, an ad hoc arrangement was put in place by which retired public servants were hauled back from their retirement to help cope with the processing of the influx of applications. The physical and administrative arrangements looked shoddy and suspect. We had the embarrassing photograph, flashed around the world, of a queue of 2,000 people on Saturday, 11 October 1997, standing in pouring rain for several hours outside the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform at St Stephen's Green, in order to renew their identity cards. In spite of the political and public clamour for a proper statutory structure – on the basis that we were the only country within the EU not to have such – the necessary changes had to be dragged from a reluctant Government in grudging instalments.

It was the striking down of a section of the 1935 Aliens Act that finally provided the spur to the Minister to introduce legislation. A Bill, as the Minister has said, entitled the Immigration Bill, 1999, was published, designed to plug the deportation loophole. Despite Opposition objections the Bill was voted through the House on Second Stage and proceeded to committee. After several [297] hours on Committee Stage, the Government announcement came that it was going to introduce substantial amendments to essentially recast the Bill by introducing long overdue and a much sought after statutory arrangement for dealing with asylum applications.

Time and time again the Opposition, echoing the huge swell of public support, pressed the Government to introduce work permits for asylum seekers pending determination of their applications. Again, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform doggedly refused to yield, even to the united voices of IBEC and ICTU. Even from the point of view of sheer economic pragmatism, the Minister refused to relent even given the valid argument that there was a skills shortage evident through several sectors of the economy and also that by granting temporary work permits, asylum seekers could disperse throughout the country. The result of the Minister's refusal has been a concentration of asylum seekers in Dublin's inner city leading at times to unfortunate and well publicised outbreaks of racism.

Within the Government, there were two clearly divergent views. The Tánaiste and Progressive Democrats Leader, Deputy Harney, and her party colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy O'Donnell, stoutly asserted that asylum seekers must be given work permits. The Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, meanwhile, held the line that granting such permits would open the sluice gates. Thankfully, the Progressive Democrats persuasion won the day.

Mr. Howlin:  They normally do.

Mr. Higgins:  (Mayo): They always do, I think. If you couple the slovenly approach together with the well publicised deportations, threats to rush through legislation – like the Immigration, Trafficking and Employment Bill, promised in banner headlines – together with the Minister's threat to use redundant army barracks to house refugees, it all adds up to an image of an opulent but unfeeling and intolerant people.

Image is important and this image of the Irish people is totally at variance with the open and receptive attitude and approach of the vast majority. Therefore, I am almost hesitant and reluctant to sign up to the measure before the House today. However, in view of the facts that: it is a right, enshrined in the Amsterdam Treaty; it is the norm in other countries; in order to co-ordinate refugee policy; and to introduce a greater sense of cohesion, Fine Gael will not oppose this measure.

While we acknowledge that the amended Immigration Act has at last put the structure on a statutory footing, nevertheless, there remains a question mark over how the system still operates. In 1997, four asylum seekers were granted refugee status at appeal stage. In 1998, 40 succeeded at appeal stage. In the first five months of this year, 135 appeals were successful. I commend the Refugee Appeals Tribunal for overturning mani[298] festly wrong original decisions. What worries me, however, is why the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform got the original decision so wrong in every case.

All one has to do is look, for example, at the refusal by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to grant asylum to an applicant from Kosovo. The individual in question appealed the decision. His appeal was heard and granted in June of this year. The applicant was a member of the Democratic Party in Kosovo. He was arrested following a demonstration, held and interrogated for seven days. When he was released he was followed into a park by police who beat him badly and left him in a coma. He suffered internal bleeding and had to have major surgery. His father had paid 10,000 deutschmarks to enable him and his brother to flee to Ireland. For five days he travelled, changing from one container lorry to another, until he eventually arrived in this country. He applied for refugee status and his case was thrown out by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Yet, when Mr. Peter Finlay, one of the members of the Independent Appeals Authority, heard his case and saw the 24-inch scar on the man's stomach, he had no hesitation in declaring: “I am going to make this man a refugee. I usually reserve judgments, but exceptions have to be made. He has suffered hugely. He is entitled to certainty.”

What I worry about is how the original decision was so very wrong. The facts had not changed, they were presented to the Appeals Authority the same as they had been originally presented to the Minister's departmental officials. They were rejected by the Department only to be summarily, and thankfully, overturned by a discerning and compassionate Mr. Finlay. Supposing, however, that the applicant had not appealed? He would then have been bundled on a plane at Dublin airport, bundled again through two or three continental airports, to be greeted by the Yugoslav police who originally kicked him unconscious in the public park.

Each of the 135 people whose appeals were allowed up to May of this year have similar tales to tell. They were fully entitled to refugee status and met the criteria, but some individual, dealing with the original determination of the case, got it wrong. One must always allow for an element of human error. However, where human error compromises human rights or human life, it is a very serious matter. The system, therefore, should be constantly monitored and examined to ensure that such wrong decisions do not recur.

Unfortunately, the trend and pattern continues. Last week, I was visited by Angolan, Joao Nkutua Azowa, who has had to flee from Angola because of the very real threat to his life. As is so often the case when a country obtains its independence, the various liberation armies – having ousted the occupier – then indulge themselves in a bloody civil war. It is a case in Angola of the MPLA and UNITA factions being involved in a bloody con[299] flict. Joao Azowa is a member of the Bakongo tribe. In 1991 he was appointed as the person in charge of the Church of the Salvation Army Safeguard, which is an evangelical, philanthropic and charitable organisation. The role of the church is clear, it is to help the poor, the destitute and those who are the victims of the internal strike. His organisation was suspected of having UNITA allegiances. On 20 March 1997 he received an early morning visit from three MPLA officers. He was interrogated, blindfolded and beaten. Several days later, on 25 March, his home was attacked by gunfire. His daughter was shot dead. Joao was arrested and imprisoned. A friend organised his escape from prison. Having made his way to Dublin, he applied for asylum and has been refused. His application is currently awaiting determination at appeal stage. It is obvious from this man's well documented case that he should have been given asylum in the first instance rather than having to wait, wonder and worry what the final outcome would be.

The House will be aware that a European Council meeting entirely devoted to Justice and Home Affairs will meet in Tampere in Finland on Friday and Saturday of this week. One supports the call by Amnesty International to the Ministers to affirm that the harmonisation of asylum and immigration matters at EU level does not undermine international refugee and human rights law standards. One also urges that a clear distinction should be made between asylum and immigration matters in order to ensure that immigration control is not achieved at the expense of human rights.

The signals emerging are, however, quite ominous. There is a growing indication that the issue of re-admission agreements will be among the principal items dealt with at the summit. Essentially, these re-admission agreements will allow the EU to strike deals with certain countries to return speedily any of their nationals seeking asylum within an EU state after it can be established that the individuals in question are not at risk of immediate torture and death. One has to be worried by the indication and the stipulation that the prospect of torture or death has to be immediate. I share the concerns of human rights groups that this fast-track approach to processing asylum applications will lead inevitably to many asylum seekers being denied the protection from persecution to which they are entitled under international law.

The European Council for Refugees and Exiles has justifiably expressed the fear that the EU could view regimes with poor human rights records as safe third countries for failed asylum seekers. One understands that the high level working group on asylum and migration has recently prepared action plans which cater for the possibility of re-admission agreements being concluded with five countries, Afghanistan, Morocco, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Iraq. I am sure the House will agree that even a cursory glance at some of [300] the aforementioned countries and their human rights record speaks for itself in terms of the likely safety for deported refugees. I ask the Minister to, therefore, treat seriously the observations of Amnesty International on the issues under discussion to be decided at Tampere.

While one welcomes the harmonisation of policy on asylum issues, it seems, however, that what is happening is the adoption of only minimum standards which will result in the lowest common denominator of protection for refugees. Surely what should be aimed for is full compliance with international standards so that maximum protection is afforded to individuals in need of it. The precedence that EU asylum provisions will take over national legislation of member states requires that measures in the field of asylum respect fully the international obligations of member states under international refugee law and international human rights law. Again one would ask the Heads of State and Government Ministers to reaffirm their commitment to the 1951 UN convention on the status of refugees. The member states must commit themselves collectively to fair and satisfactory procedures for determining refugee status in order to identify those in genuine need of international protection. There must be a uniform system of fair hearings in a reasonable time, independent and expert decision-making bodies, individualised and thorough examination of claims, including individual interviews, availability of legal assistance and a right to appeal.

One appreciates that in emergencies, which crop up from time to time, temporary protection has to be used by States for certain categories of people who do not have immediate recourse to individual refugee status determination procedures. There is, however, anxiety that such temporary protection status can be ended by the host country much more easily than full refugee status. One shares the call by Amnesty International for members of Governments to affirm that any regime of temporary protection must always be based on the principle that international protection is a human rights obligation under international human rights law and refugee law and that such a regime should not deprive individuals of accessing a refugee determination procedure to exercise their legitimate rights to an individual examination of their asylum claims. Again, one accepts that such a temporary protection regime should be used only in exceptional circumstances.

I am not opposing the measure before the House, but we are at a critical juncture in determining at international level, particularly at EU level, where we will go in relation to refugee policy. What must be of paramount importance in determining the collective EU attitude is the issue of fundamental human rights. Rather than aim for a minimalist approach, we should be opting for the maximum common denominator approach. At the EU meeting I ask the Minister to ensure Ireland sends across this clear signal. The Minister has a role, an obligation and a clear [301] duty to set the highest standard at international level rather than adopt a minimalist approach.

Mr. Howlin:  Under Article 2 of the European Union Treaty, the member states set themselves the objective of maintaining and developing the Union as an area of freedom, security and justice in which the free movement of persons is assured in conjunction with appropriate measures with respect to external border controls, asylum, immigration and the prevention and combating of crime. The European Council is empowered to adopt what are known as flanking measures with respect to asylum relating to criteria and mechanisms for determining which member state is responsible for considering and determining any particular asylum application that might be presented to it.

The Dublin Convention of 1990 sets out the criteria for determining the appropriate member state. It has been made clear by the Minister, in his contribution, that the sole purpose for taking and comparing fingerprints, which is envisaged under the proposal the House is being asked to adopt, the Eurodac proposal, is to assist Ireland and the other member states in complying with its obligations under the Dublin Convention. The regulation before us is justified by the Commission and by the Minister on the basis that it is consistent with the aim of facilitating the application of the Dublin Convention in light of the fact that many applicants for asylum are not properly documented. As the Minister said, some 80 per cent declare themselves to be unsure of how they got into this country in the first instance and there is a lack of evidence of identity, which we accept would make it difficult to establish whether an applicant had previously lodged an application for asylum in another member state of the Union or to determine how he or she entered the European Union in the first instance. The purpose, therefore, is to ensure that an individual who applies for asylum in one state has not already had an application refused in another member state, that an individual who illegally crosses an external frontier from one state from outside the union has any asylum application dealt with in that state and that a person found illegally in the territory of one member state has his asylum application dealt with in the first state in which such an application was made.

This is the first example of an area which has been transferred from the third pillar of the Union, which is the Justice and Home Affairs Ministers meeting at intergovernmental level, to the auspices of the EC. The new Title IV of the EC Treaty, which deals with the Schengen ACQUIS, is not applicable to the United Kingdom and Ireland unless we opt in. Both countries announced their intention to be fully associated with Community activities in the field of asylum matters at a Council meeting on 12 March last. It is a requirement that every exercise of our right to opt in be approved formally by Dáil Éireann.

[302] I have given deep consideration to the Eurodac proposals, the essence of which requires the fingerprinting of asylum seekers. I understand that such fingerprints will be stored for ten years and then erased. That was the information given to me by the Minister yesterday. They will be erased earlier if the applicant becomes a citizen. If refugee status is granted, I understand the fingerprints will be blocked meaning that the data will be kept for statistical or comparative purposes only. I ask the Minister to confirm that is the case.

Under paragraph 3 of the regulations, the processing of fingerprints and other data by Eurodac may only be for the purposes set out in the Dublin Convention. However, as the Minister reiterated in his contribution this morning, member states may store and use the prints for any purpose authorised by its own national law. The Minister mentioned Article 1(3) of the draft regulation which states: “Without prejudice to the use of data intended for Eurodac by the Member State of origin in databases set up under the latter's national law, fingerprints and other personal data may be processed in Eurodac only for the purposes set out in Article 15(1) of the Dublin Convention”. While it is clear that under the convention the fingerprints may only be used for the purposes of the convention, it seems that it does not rule out the possibility of domestic law utilising such fingerprinting for other domestic purposes. I want the Minister's intention to be clear on this matter. Should the data collected be used for the investigation of national domestic crime and is it envisaged that such legislation will be contemplated by the current Administration?

I ask the Minister to clarify his reference to Article 11 which states that the draft regulation allows member states to use Eurodac if they wish to do so to check whether a person found illegally present in its territory has previously claimed asylum in another member state. The Minister stressed that this article does not create an obligation or a power in Community legislation for a member state to fingerprint persons found illegally present within its territory. A member state can only take the fingerprints of the persons in question if it is permitted to do so under national law. The Minister informed the House that no such provision currently exists in Irish law. Having read Article 11 again, it seems that it creates for member states a facility to check whether a person found illegally present in a territory had previously claimed asylum. How is this to be done if there is no data record? Paragraph 2 sets out the procedure for checking. Under Article 11, how can the cross-referencing be checked to see if such a person had applied, been refused or been processed in another member state if the domestic power does not exist and it is not envisaged will be created, to take a fingerprint? I ask the Minister to address that confusion.

Yesterday on the Order of Business I asked where stands the immigration trafficking Bill. We [303] often read headlines in the newspapers about dramatic legislation on this issue which is either promised or threatened by the Minister. Many readers probably think the legislation is already enacted. It is listed for Second Stage, but where is it? Will we see it in this session and will the fears and concerns expressed that legitimate supporters of persecuted individuals would come within its remit be taken on board by the Minister?

What happened to the right to work? I understand the Minister's heart was not in the Government decision. I know the tender view of the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and of the Tánaiste – I am not normally on the record as ascribing that characteristic to the Progressive Democrats – about giving a right to work to asylum seekers partly prevailed against the strong line taken in committee and publicly by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when he used his famous phrase that he would not “add to the pool factor”. I have said publicly that it is wrong for capable asylum seekers to be debarred from working pending the determination of their legal status. I know of specific cases of people who could make a contribution to this economy but who are debarred from doing so, yet employers are crying out for their skills and labour. It seems a bizarre mismatch that able, competent people are looking for a job when there is work available, particularly in my home town. We cannot match the two because the Minister believes we might attract in further labour. I hope we will progress further on this matter and I hope the Minister addresses that in his concluding remarks.

We must set all the individual measures in relation to a comprehensive immigration policy in a coherent framework. What we have seen over the past year is a piecemeal and reactionary response to issues as they arise. When part of the Aliens Act, 1935, was knocked down by the courts, the Minister brought in what he characterised then as emergency legislation to plug a loophole.

However, that emergency legislation which was needed to separate this issue from others coming before the House became fogbound when the Minister decided to graft on further legislation. So the emergency had somehow subsided and the Minister informed the House that the regulations under the Immigration Act, 1999, have yet to be drafted. Presumably, there is still an emergency although the solution conceived and drafted by the Minister is yet to have legal effect.

In terms of a framework of comprehensive immigration policy, surely this State must realise that we are a prosperous, mainstream European country. We have very low unemployment, less than 6 per cent, although we have considerable long-term unemployment. There is a skills shortage in a number of areas. In this context it is logical to have a coherent immigration policy based on acceptable domestic and international guide[304] lines and the rule of law and human rights. We do not have that. Asylum seekers or immigrants who want to live and work in Ireland, for whatever reason, cannot consult the criteria by which their application will be judged. The Minister promised an overarching framework but meanwhile we have the piecemeal approach which is a confusing mismatch of different policies, some advocated as liberal and others as conservative or draconian.

I hope a comprehensive policy statement and immigration Bill will be drafted soon. I will not instance individual cases. As they have contacted Deputy Higgins and probably many other Deputies, a number of asylum seekers have contacted me. I have brought all of those cases to the Minister's attention. What characterises all of them is the grave difficulty these people have in understanding how and when their applications will be processed and the uncertainty of their status. I welcome the improvements initiated by the Minister in processing applications. However, more needs to be done and I hope debates like this will spur the Minister on to providing whatever resources are needed to provide a reasonable timeframe within which applications for asylum can be humanely processed. The appeals mechanism also needs to be strengthened and expanded as it is in everybody's interests to bring these matters to finality.

I will return to the core of this debate. The contents of the Eurodac proposals cause me some disquiet for the reasons I have given. Normally in our jurisprudence, the only people who can be fingerprinted are people who are suspects in a criminal investigation or people who are convicted of a criminal act. It sends a dangerous signal if, uniquely among Irish citizenry or people in our national territory, asylum seekers are subject to fingerprinting because in the psyche of many people, to be fingerprinted is to be criminalised. There would be an outcry if any other group in society was singled out for fingerprinting. I am sure a cogent case could be made for fingerprinting many groups, if one was of that disposition. Therefore, I have the gravest misgivings about supporting the proposal to fingerprint asylum seekers and allowing it to be passed by this House.

I hope the Minister will answer the questions I put to him and allay my fears. On balance, the Labour Party, subject to the Minister's response, will not oppose his proposal. However, we do so following careful consideration and with the greatest reluctance.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  This proposal will give effect to the further criminalisation of asylum seekers in this State. I am very concerned at the proposition in this motion. The Minister said the purpose of the proposal for Ireland's approval of the adoption of and involvement in the Eurodac system is to facilitate the comparison of fingerprints of applicants for asylum and certain other aliens. How will this comparison be carried out? [305] What methodology will apply where the fingerprinting of asylum seekers will facilitate a comparison even though there was no fingerprinting process previously? There is an anomaly in the very notion. It is, in effect, a further measure that exacerbates an already uncomfortable climate for many people who come to our shores seeking asylum, the greater number of them deserving of a welcome and an opportunity.

Far from the answer sought by Deputy Howlin to his question to the Minister regarding other domestic uses of this proposed fingerprinting process, is the Minister's statement that, “In addition to establishing whether an asylum applicant has also applied for asylum in another member state, Eurodac will establish whether she or he has made any previous applications for asylum under another name in Ireland”. He then adds the telling line, “Clearly this will also assist in identifying any abuses of our welfare payments system”. This is but a glimpse of the intent of the Government and of the international community represented in Eurodac who will apply it in a myriad of ways. It represents a fundamental infringement of a basic human right.

As a public representative and elected Member of this House, I must ask if this is a measure we would wish to see applied to our young emigrants overseas, in Britain, the United States and other destinations where young Irish people continue to go year after year, either out of economic necessity or seeking work experience. They are not all going with visas and green cards in their pockets – the greater number of them are exiting these shores and entering other countries in exactly the same way as the group at which this measure is targeted. They are illegal immigrants in many other jurisdictions. This is a serious problem.

At this juncture, given the tenor of the contributions by the members of the two main Opposition parties, despite their declared reservations, it is clear that this measure will be passed. I have yet to be convinced. I am seriously and genuinely concerned. I work at the coalface of the asylum issue in my constituency and have had the experience of working with people who are seeking a new beginning on our shores, people who are fleeing persecution and oppression in other lands. I have no option but to appeal to the Minister at this late juncture to withdraw this proposal. I have no prospect of success in that appeal but it is my responsibility to make it on behalf of those who have worked on the asylum issue and the people who are seeking a fair, open and warm hearing from the Irish people.

The continuing agony of those who remain in a limbo land in this country should be recognised by the House. There must be a speeding up of the processing system and that should not be taken to suggest an approach that says “no” first and then must be persuaded to change. On the contrary, there should be a humane and understanding regime that reflects the dignity and fears of those [306] who are seeking asylum. It is a matter of weeks to the millennium. The Government has – this is not a disrespectful remark directed at the Minister in a personal way, far from it – an undoubted confidence deficit within the broad community which views with favour this opportunity for these people. It has a great deal of catching up to do in establishing its bona fides as a caring Government, open to the needs and hopes of people who have sought its help.

I hope that now, in the last weeks before the turn of the millennium, there might be a gesture in this regard from the Government which would reflect the wishes of a significant body of informed opinion. A grand gesture of accepting those who are currently within our shores could be made by Ireland which would truly reflect the Christian spirit that the millennium is ostensibly meant to represent. I urge the Minister to seriously consider my appeal this morning in that regard, even if he is unlikely to take note of my appeal vis-à-vis the proposal before the House.

I thank the Chair for the opportunity to speak on this issue and I hope my points have not fallen on deaf ears.

Mr. Higgins:   (Dublin West): I strenuously oppose this proposal by the Government. This is an extraordinarily sinister development. It is the first time we have encountered a proposal with such sinister implications. It is a formula for forcibly fingerprinting people who are in a vulnerable position and for transmitting that personal information to the police forces, immigration authorities and God knows who else in every country in the EU. It is a measure that would befit a totalitarian regime such as existed in Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany, not a country the majority of whose people will stand and defend democratic rights and personal freedoms. It is the type of measure that has featured in futuristic movies since the publication of George Orwell's classic “1984”.

It has extremely serious implications for people in a vulnerable position. We are aware that this Government takes no account of the vulnerability of the many people who come to Ireland seeking refuge. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister of State told the Dáil on more than one occasion two years ago that 90 per cent of applicants for refugee status were bogus. This was before their cases were heard. We cannot expect, therefore, any real sympathy from the Government for people who are forced to flee their homes and seek refuge elsewhere.

There are alarming developments in attitudes in some countries towards asylum seekers and refugees and the measure before House will have a direct impact on them. People will be aware of the results of the recent election in Austria in which the so-called Freedom Party under Jorg Haider made substantial gains. It is a distinct possibility that the Freedom Party and its leader will be in government either alone or in coalition [307]– hopefully neither – in Austria within the next few years. That party has an extremely racist approach to people seeking refuge. It is an openly hate filled, anti-immigrant policy.

The effect of this measure before the House is that information relating to people applying for refuge in this country can be transmitted to a state with such a Government or police force. Under the hateful Dublin Convention, therefore, this country will insist on sending somebody back to, for example, Austria where Haider and his party are in power. The person's fingerprints will already have been transmitted. One can see what a dangerous position that is for the vulnerable refugee or refugees. They could face being sent back to regimes where they would face certain death.

The Minister should consider the comments to the Dáil a few months ago of one of the Government supporters, the former Minister, Deputy O'Malley. He spoke about the treatment of people seeking refuge and asylum in Shannon Airport in years past who were bundled immediately back onto aeroplanes on which they had arrived and were sent back to the country from which they were seeking refuge. Deputy O'Malley said he had no doubt that some of those people were executed. That is the reality.

This is not a theoretical debate, we are talking about real people, real lives and a real threat to the lives of the most vulnerable people in Europe. By introducing this measure and, no doubt, later introducing legislation to forcibly fingerprint people in this position, the Minister is leaving such people open to that type of danger. That is the reality.

There is an increasing tendency among Governments and some right-wing political parties in Europe to scapegoat people seeking refuge, to blame them for many problems for which they are not responsible and to create in Europe an intolerant fortress in line with their desire to create a European army and economic unit that can exploit at will the raw materials and resources of the countries from which many refugees are forced to flee. However, when the victims of the regimes with which they so willingly deal arrive on these shores the reception they get is one of utter intolerance.

From the first day it took office this Government's attitude towards asylum seekers has been disgraceful. People are crying out for work and employers are crying out for workers. The Government grudgingly said some refugee applicants would be allowed to work but there has not been any extension or proper implementation of that since. That bespeaks the attitude of this Government. If this measure is put into effect for those seeking refuge here, I wonder how long it will be before this or a Government in the not too distant future will come into this House looking for the same right in regard to certain categories of Irish citizens residing in this State. We have a comparable position with the infamous multi-[308] agency vehicle checkpoints introduced recently by the Government. Citizens can be ordered out of their cars by the Garda and cross-checked by social welfare inspectors, a measure that arouses great anger among ordinary people. I hope their anger will result in this practice being discontinued. Will we see similar measures for certain categories of people but this time taking fingerprints?

This country exported millions of its people. In the eighties it sent tens of thousands of its youth, many from the Minister's constituency, across the seas. Politicians went on bended knee to the United States administration asking it to treat our illegal emigrants well and give them dignity and status. Have the right wing politicians who dominate this House any memory of, gratitude for or understanding from that experience for people in such vulnerable positions as the applicants for asylum are at present? I oppose the motion.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  I thank Deputies for their contributions. The Treaty of Amsterdam requires the Council to adopt minimum standards in the field of asylum in relation to procedures, reception conditions and to the refugee definition within five years. Ireland is in agreement in principle with the concept of a single European asylum system which should be based on the provisions of the Treaty of Amsterdam and its related protocols. As the Fourth Protocol provides that Ireland and the UK shall not take part in the adoption of measures pursuant to Title IV of the Treaty, Ireland is committed to effective co-operation in the justice and home affairs areas and while the various protocols attached to the treaty will obviously influence our position Ireland's approach will be a positive one within those confines. My priority is to ensure that persons genuinely in need of international protection will receive it.

Any proposals from Europe towards a minimum standard in the field of asylum seekers will be a further step towards strengthening our asylum procedures in Ireland. Before Ireland can exercise its opt in right to any EU harmonised system of asylum pursuant to Title IV of the Treaty of Amsterdam approval will have to be sought by way of motion to be moved in both Houses of the Oireachtas in accordance with Article 29.4.6 of the Constitution. Eurodac is a further step towards strengthening the purposes of the Dublin Convention by providing an effective tool to determine the members state which is responsible pursuant to the Dublin Convention for examining an application for asylum lodged in the member state.

We owe it to genuine refugees who are entitled to and deserving of protection to ensure that applications are dealt with quickly and fairly and that they are not identified simply as part of a large and well organised effort to evade immigration controls.

[309] I have outlined already some of the more recent important achievements in the asylum area over the past year. I have also put other measures in place since I came into office to ensure that our asylum procedures are fair, reasonable, transparent and in accordance with our international obligations and humanitarian tradition in this area. The one stop shop set up in Mount Street at present houses officials processing asylum applications, the independent appeals authorities, the refugee legal service and the Eastern Health Board's refugee unit and medical screening and additional staffing which I am keeping under review.

Some of the issues raised by Deputies demand a response. Not least of these is the right of asylum seekers to work. Unfortunately, the measure agreed by the Government has been misinterpreted by people in this country and deliberately misrepresented by international traffickers. The position as regards the right of asylum seekers to work in this country is as follows. The applicant must make an application for asylum prior to 26 July, 1999, be awaiting a final determination of his or her application and has been complying with his or her obligations as an asylum seeker. My understanding is that, to date, there have been some permits granted but very few. I want to make it abundantly clear in case there is any doubt about it, people who come to this country as asylum seekers do not have an automatic right to work. Such a right does not exist. It has been stated that is the position but it is not. The terms on foot of which asylum seekers are entitled to work have been clearly set out. I accept they are restrictive. There has been a considerable increase in the number of asylum seekers here in recent years and never has there been a higher increase than in the months of July, August and September this year. It must be recalled that six years ago it would be unusual to have 100 applicants. In the first week of this month alone there were in the region of 259 applicants. They are the facts. That is the difficulty I have in identifying genuine refugees.

Mr. Howlin:  Does the Minister know the number of work permits granted?

Mr. O'Donoghue:  My understanding is that the number of work permits granted is 11 and that there were 39 applications. That is the latest figure available to me. International traffickers are misrepresenting the position and getting unfortunate people to believe that if they come to this country they will have a right to work immediately. That is not something that exists without restrictions in any country I am aware of but this is the impression that is being created. That is not correct.

There were two initiatives last July. The other was the leave to remain to parents of Irish born children. That is something everyone will welcome. In recent times the British Government has announced that it is moving to direct provision. [310] There is little doubt but that announcement led people to move to this country to seek asylum. That is a fact. I emphatically reject the point raised by a number of speakers with regard to treating people unfairly. We have in place one of the most fair, open and honest systems for asylum seekers that exists anywhere in Europe. Every person's application is considered on its merits. Deputy Higgins instanced a case or two where a person's application was allowed on appeal but—

Mr. Higgins:  (Mayo): One hundred and thirty five.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  —the job of the appeals authorities is to make absolutely certain that if a genuine applicant slips through the net, he or she will get refugee status on appeal. I want to make it perfectly clear that there is a fundamental difference between a refugee and an illegal immigrant. A refugee is entitled to the protection of the State in accordance with the 1951 convention, and Ireland adheres to its humanitarian and international obligations in that respect. Unfortunately, an illegal immigrant is in a different category. An illegal immigrant is not entitled to stay; an illegal immigrant is obliged to leave. I accept fully that many such people may be quite unfortunate, and it would be wrong of me not to say that, but it would be equally wrong of me to tear up immigration law.

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): The Minister did not say that about his constituents in New York in the 1980s.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  That is not something which I can do. Deputy Joe Higgins attempted to compare this little island on the periphery of Europe with an open economy subject to the vagaries of economic movements around Europe and the world with what is the economic engine of the world, the United States of America. That is neither a valid nor a fair comparison. I have also heard comparisons made with Ireland in the latter part of the 20th century with the vast continent of Australia in the 19th century. That is not a valid comparison. Deputy Joe Higgins appeared to be under the impression that if an Irish person seeks asylum in the United States, for example, he or she will not be fingerprinted. I know of no country where a person seeking asylum does not have his or her fingerprints taken. That is the position. That there was not fingerprinting in this jurisdiction previously related more to the fact that we did not have a whole host of asylum seekers in the jurisdiction. It is a recent phenomenon. We have to balance our obligations to genuine refugees with our obligations to our citizens. That balance has to be reached. I cannot accept that just because an individual arrives on these shores, he or she should have precisely the same entitlements as a citizen of this country. That is not something which exists in any other jurisdiction [311] and I cannot understand why I am being asked continuously in this House and in committees of the House to introduce such a system.

With regard to the policies, in Deputy Howlin's words, being piecemeal, itty-bitty or reactionary, none of those statements is true. Deputy Howlin and Deputy Jim Higgins were in an Administration which presided over chaos in this area.

Mr. Howlin:  Rubbish.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  Thousands of applications were backed up and people did not know if their applications would ever be heard. If it had continued, the chaos could only have got worse. When I entered into this position—

Mr. Howlin:  We brought in the Referendum Act.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  —a couple of people were trying to handle thousands of applications. I opened a new office and a one stop shop. I provided legal aid, interpreters and the staff to deal with the applicants. None of that was done before. The roots of much of this problem lie with the maladministration of the rainbow coalition Government in this area during its period of office.

Mr. Howlin:  The Minister is in office two and a half years now. He should stand on his own feet.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  Of that I have absolutely no doubt.

In regard to legislation, the rainbow coalition Government demanded again and again that the Refugee Act of 1996 be implemented and I supported it here in this House. The Act was passed but the rainbow coalition Government did not implement it, and it had until June of 1997 to do so. I wonder why that was the case. It was for reasons of pragmatism. The provisions in that legislation were no longer reflective of the problem which existed and could not deal with it. That was the reason. I have said I was committed to implementing the Refugee Act of 1996 and that Act will be implemented shortly. The regulations in relation to the Immigration Act should be prepared within a matter of days. There was a problem with drafting but they will be prepared and it is true that, arising out of that, there will be deportations. That gives me no pleasure but I have to be honest and say the issue of deportations exists in every jurisdiction which has immigration law. That is the position.

I understand people have doubts about the issue of fingerprinting. I have said how it exists in other jurisdictions. I have explained how the Eurodac regulation will provide for the comparison of fingerprints taken here with fingerprints taken in another member state or a signatory country. The reason for that is to ensure that if an individual has made an application in another member state, it can be identified quickly and the [312] individual concerned returned to the state in question. This is not all one way traffic. If, for example, a person arrives in this jurisdiction first and then travels on to another EU state, the individual can be returned here.

With regard to internal matters – fingerprinting for internal purposes within the State – that is something which is law in accordance with the recent Immigration Act. While one cannot and must not confuse these fingerprints with fingerprints taken from suspected criminals, it is legitimate for those fingerprints to be utilised to ensure there are not multiple claims by one individual because that can lead to social welfare abuse. I am sure everybody will accept that if that can be prevented, it should be. This Utopian belief that one can have open borders and allow everybody to work and have no controls might have existed in George Orwell's mind, in one of his greater flights of fancy—

Mr. Kenny:  Work is a fundamental right.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  —but it is not something which exists in reality.

Mr. Kenny:  We have Nigerians and Pakistanis working in hotels.

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): Will the Minister give way for a moment? Is the Minister suggesting this will be brought in for Irish citizens claiming social welfare? Is that what he meant?

Mr. O'Donoghue:  No. There is evidence to the effect that some people – I do not want to tar everybody with this, it would be wrong of me to do so – are involved in multiple claims for social welfare. In the future we will have fingerprints of all people who apply for asylum in this country and it will be possible to prevent multiple claims. That applies only to a minority but it is something about which I and my officials are concerned.

Mr. Kenny:  Some used to go to Liverpool on the boat and claim duty free on the way back.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  With regard to the possibility of people being sent back to a country from which they can be forwarded to a country where they are fleeing persecution or even death, the non-refoulement rule is clearly set out and we may not, in accordance with the law of this country or the convention, send an individual back to a jurisdiction from where that individual could be sent on to a third country and possibly face persecution or death. They are part of the current rules and, therefore, I again reject Deputy Joe Higgins's comments in that regard.

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): Into the tender embraces of Jorg Haider in Austria, for example?

Mr. O'Donoghue:  I also want to deal with the issue of what Deputy Ó Caoláin, if I am quoting him correctly, described as a fundamental [313] infringement of an individual's human rights. There is no question of us interfering with any individual's fundamental human rights. Every individual, irrespective of the status he or she is found to have in accordance with our immigration law, will be treated with the greatest dignity and respect. That is, obviously, what must be expected of us as human beings. However, that does not mean, in turn, that the rules can be left unenforced.

I have read commentaries, some of which were quite personal – which does not worry me – in regard to this matter in various newspapers in recent years. However, those who are critical of our immigration laws fail to recognise that, while immigration law is an unpleasant business at the best of times, it is a necessary one, unfortunately. That has been recognised in every country in the European Union, and beyond, over a prolonged period.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  May I ask a quick question?

Mr. O'Donoghue:  Certainly.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Will the Minister respond to my appeal for the Cabinet to even consider making a special gesture, in the light of the upcoming millennium, to those who are here, some for a very protracted period of time, and whose limbo status continues to create great difficulties for them in their daily lives? Will he consider their position as a grand gesture and an international statement from this State?

Mr. O'Donoghue:  Ireland has made many international statements over the years in terms of its humanitarian obligations, many of which have been quite tangible, to say the least. I reiterate our position – we adhere to the Geneva Convention and the implementation of the Refugee Act, 1996. No individual coming to these shores who requires protection and who is a refugee will be denied it. All the existing procedures are geared towards assisting such an individual, to the best of our ability.

The position in regard to applicants for asylum outside of that is that we are endeavouring to ensure their applications are dealt with expeditiously. We are reaching the stage I promised, which is that we would deal with each application within a period of six months. I intend to fulfil that commitment. If that requires further resources in the light of the amount of applications now in hand, I will not be slow to put those resources in place.

I will monitor the situation quite closely. However, I must not send out the wrong signal. It is quite clear to me, this Administration and the officials working with me in this area that international traffickers are misrepresenting the law in this country to unfortunate people.

Question put and declared carried.

[314]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I wish to be recorded as dissenting.

Mr. O'Shea:  I move amendment No. 1:

In page 4, line 44, to delete “may” and substitute “shall”.

The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the Minister must designate events, rather than having the option to so do. My recollection was that she saw no objection to the amendment on Committee Stage and said she would return to it on Report Stage. I am seeking to ensure that events would be designated, rather than that they “may” be designated.

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera):  The amendment proposes, as the Deputy said, to change the word “may” to “shall” in the first line of section 2. This is designed to remove the discretion with which the Bill provides me, as Minister, in making the order designating certain events as events of major importance.

In responding to this proposal on Committee Stage, I indicated I was not opposed, in principle, to the amendment, but that I needed to take further advice on the matter. I have been advised by the Office of the Attorney General that there is some merit in retaining the element of discretion, as provided in the Bill. To accept the proposed amendment would oblige me to designate certain events as events of major importance to society, and it would be very difficult to be certain which, or how many, events should be designated. There would be a risk that parties that might use the opportunity to attempt to compel the Minister to exercise the power in favour of a particular sporting activity. The proposed amendment would not sit well with the extensive consultation procedures provided in section 3, which suggest that a sporting body might at least put forward an argument against designating a particular event.

As Minister I would be directly accountable to this House for the exercise of the discretion afforded by the current wording of the section. Accordingly, I am not prepared to accept this amendment.

Mr. O'Shea:  I am disappointed by that response because, as the Bill stands, it is possible that an order will not be made under it for the first six months after its enactment. That would be regrettable because the reason this legislation is before us to afford certain concessions to the viewing public. If the Minister does not make orders, how will this affect the situation where, for example, the Act will only deal with events that are acquired in the future rather than ones which are in the ownership of particular broadcasters at the time the Act is brought into oper[315] ation? The Minister's arguments seem quite flimsy. It is more than reasonable to expect the Minister to make an order under this legislation.

Miss de Valera:  As I said in my initial reply, I said on Committee Stage that I had a certain sympathy with this amendment. That is why I undertook to examine the matter further, which I did. I am taking the advice of the Attorney General on this matter. The question of consultation is extremely important in regard to this Bill. We do not want to be seen to be curtailing what I wish to be a very extensive consultation process. It does not mean that the consultation process must take a long time. It does not need to nor will it take a great deal of time. I hope that, once the Bill is enacted, the consultation period will be completed within a two month period. I cannot take on board the question of retrospection. The Deputy referred to this and there is an element of that in a later amendment in his name. For the reasons stated, it is best to proceed as I have suggested and I am not prepared to accept the amendment.

Mr. Kenny:  I support Deputy O'Shea's amendment. Is the Minister prepared to give us the Attorney General's advice in this matter? Deputy O'Shea also tabled this amendment on Committee Stage. What clarification has the Attorney General given the Minister in this regard? Is it because, if the word “shall” is inserted – that the Minister shall by order designate certain events as being worthy of free to air coverage by a qualifying broadcaster – she might then change her mind and something initially considered of major sporting or cultural importance might not be seen to be so after a few years? Is it for that reason she does not wish to be as definite by substituting “shall” for “may” and because it allows her or her successor the freedom to have something included or excluded depending on what is the word? Will the Minister elaborate on the advice the Attorney General gave her? What did he say? How did he clarify that this should be “may” and not “shall”? I would like to know what the Attorney General said to the Minister. I would like to know the advice he gave so that we can, in the context of Deputy O'Shea's amendment, have this Bill as correct as we possibly can.

Miss de Valera:  I have already referred to that in my initial reply because Deputy Kenny wanted to know the advice of the Attorney General. I was advised by the Attorney General's office that there was merit in retaining the element of discretion as provided in the Bill because to accept the proposed amendment would oblige me to designate certain events as events of major importance to society and it would be difficult to be certain of which or how many events would be designated. There would be a risk that parties might use the opportunity to attempt to compel the Minister to exercise the power in favour of a particular sporting activity. The approach adopted by both [316] Deputies would also not sit well with the extensive consultation that is in mind.

I want to put Deputies' minds at rest on this. There is no reason not to expect that such an order will be made. That is the object of this Bill. It gives me the power to make such an order. That is the philosophy behind it. I wish to reiterate that I will be directly accountable to the Dáil on this. It will not be a figment of my imagination. I said on many occasions in the House that this will be done on foot of extensive consultation – some has already taken place between my Department and the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation even before the Bill is enacted. When it is, we will obviously be able to proceed further with public consultation.

Mr. O'Shea:  I find the Minister's logic circular. Surely there is no point in enacting this Bill if orders are not made under it. Surely there should be an onus on Ministers to make an order or orders. If an order is not made, where stands the public in terms of access to certain events on free to air television? What happens if an order is made by the Minister and, at a future date, a decision is taken to add to it, or another order is made adding to the list of events, or, for some unforeseen reason, an order is rescinded and an event is removed from the list of designated events? The logic is circular and weak and there is no reason for not making this change. The basic argument is that, as the wording stands, it could well be that the Minister would at no time make an order under the legislation. I accept that that is unlikely, but it is illogical to leave the provision whereby the Minister could make no order under the legislation.

Miss de Valera:  The purpose of the Bill is to empower the Minister to make such an order. That is what we have discussed since its publication and initiation.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Mr. O'Shea:  I move amendment No. 2:

In page 5, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:

(2) Subject to the subsequent provisions of this section, the first order shall be laid in draft before each House of the Oireachtas under this section within 6 months from the passing of this Act.

This is an amendment which I tabled on Committee Stage. As the Bill stands, there is no time limit for the making of the first order under the section, and this should be provided. My amendment on Committee Stage provided that the first order should be made within four months. We now suggest six months. The Minister said she would not tie the hands of the Oireachtas. All we ask now is that she makes her proposals within six months. On Committee Stage I said I would look again at my amendment and this is the [317] formulation at which we arrived. We seek for the first order to be made, not within four months, but within six months of the passing into law of the Bill.

Miss de Valera:  The purpose of amendment No. 2 seems to place a definite time between the enactment of the Bill and the making of an order designating events of major importance to society. I hope it will be possible to make an order in the timeframe envisaged in the amendment. However, I am not prepared to accept the amendment on principle as it would artificially cut short the consultation process which is envisaged in section 3. In any case, the wording proposed is neither appropriate nor acceptable.

Mr. Kenny:  Perhaps the Minister will clarify the mechanics of the consultation process? This obviously has a bearing on the amendment tabled by Deputy O'Shea. He now suggests six months and the Minister stated in her reply that that would artificially constrain the business. What are the mechanics of the public consultation? How is this to be brought before the public? How is it to be involved? Will it be by public meetings, advertising in the press or people in the Department or major sporting organisations being brought together to discuss their views on major sporting events? Is there a timescale in the Minister's mind on the process and, subsequently, on the analysis of the reports and indications of preference received from various organisations? When will we have a list of designated events? Will it be before the middle half of the year 2000 or will it drag on longer than that?

Deputy O'Shea's amendment is reasonable in the sense that the consultation process is already under way to an extent. How long will it take to complete the Bill and have it signed by the President, allowing a few weeks' latitude for redrafting at the end? The public is very interested in seeing what will emerge. The Minister may recall my outburst recently when I wanted, prematurely, to have a list which would have included the Ryder Cup. I received much correspondence from around the country from frustrated champion golfers who were not able to see this. Following whatever coincidences or intervention, Mr. Murdoch sent it to some parts of the country at least. As one who is interested in quite a range of sports and who has received quite a deal of queries from the public about this Bill – I was surprised by the amount – I would like the Minister, in the context of Deputy O'Shea's amendment relating to the period of six months, to clarify the mechanics of the consultation process, how it is to be operated and when she expects it to be completed. Then we can see whether the six months is an artificial constraint.

Miss de Valera:  With regard to the consultation process, the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation and my Department have already initiated consultation because we felt it could be [318] done in tandem with other work that is being done on the Bill. Once this Bill has passed through both Houses – and since it was initiated in the Seanad it will go back there for a final tidying up – we will go ahead with the further consultation process. That will take into account the views of event organisers, broadcasters and the general public. With regard to consultation at that stage, I would consider about two months a relatively good amount of time for people to consider and come back to us on it. It is something that has attracted a good deal of interest and support. Once we have correlated all that information, we will be in a position to draw up the list. I certainly hope we will be able to make the order within the time frame that has already been referred to here. That is the time scale we have in mind.

Mr. O'Shea:  I am still dissatisfied with the situation in the sense that theoretically it is possible under the legislation as it stands that no order will be made by the Minister. Remote as that possibility may be, that is my interpretation of what is here. Also, as is clear from the debate, all sides of the House support the thrust of the Bill and what it seeks to achieve. However, deadlines are important in terms of focusing action and thought. The rationale of the amendments which I put down, the amendment on Committee Stage seeking that the order should be made within four months, and this amendment which seeks to have the order made within six months, is precisely to achieve that. I am not questioning the Minister's good faith in terms of processes that are ongoing, but the people who sent us here generally get a better deal if there is a deadline by which certain steps must be taken which provide for measures that add to their quality of life and, in this case, the extent of their television viewing. It is particularly important to the less well off in our society that certain events are not the exclusive preserve of pay-per-view or subscription television. We support the Minister in what she seeks to achieve. I am just concerned that if there are no clearly stated deadlines, action will not be taken as quickly as it might otherwise be.

Miss de Valera:  I can understand the Deputy's concerns about this. Like him, I want to see this legislation enacted as quickly as possible. Therefore the list must be an effective list. This comes down to the whole approach to drawing up the list. I strongly believe in proper consultation, as does the Deputy opposite. It should not just be a cosmetic exercise so that we can say we have consulted people. I want genuine feedback from the public because they are the people who will decide on the kinds of sports they want to watch. That is what I want mirrored in this legislation. I assure the Deputy that I am looking forward to making the order and hope I can do so at the earliest possible moment. I am anxious that this should be done.

I am not saying that the amendment would cut short the consultation process but it could do so. [319] I do not wish to in any way stifle what I believe will be a very healthy debate on the major cultural and sporting events in this country. We have a tremendous history and heritage with regard to our sporting and cultural events. We have so much that could be included on the list. It must be remembered that we are talking about significant and major events. I am sure we will have very many suggestions as to what should be on that list, not least, perhaps, the Ryder Cup to which Deputy Kenny referred. Again, it is not a question of any of us here deciding that certain sporting events should be on the list. The whole purpose of having the list is to have a proper consultation process, as happened in Britain. We can learn from other countries that have gone through the process of transposing that part of the Television without Frontiers Directive into their own law. That is what we are doing with regard to this legislation and that is why I would not wish to do anything which could impinge on the consultation process. I assure the Deputy that what I want is to be able not only to see this Bill go through both Houses of the Oireachtas but to see it enacted in full.

Mr. D. Carey:  I will support the amendment. I am concerned that the Minister is postponing matters again. While she says her objective is to have the widest consultation, it is known what the main sporting events here are. That is well known to the Minister and her officials. There is no problem. If a person wants to get tickets for the All-Ireland from the GAA he telephones the GAA and the officials or the Minister will see that a person gets his tickets for the All-Ireland. Rugby is the same. The FAI is the same. It is quite certain special tickets—

Mr. Kenny:  I did not know that.

Mr. D. Carey:  Deputy O'Shea is trying to get the officials to tidy up this Bill as quickly as possible and get it passed. Deputy Kenny is talking about the exclusive Ryder Cup. As far as that game is concerned it has been studied and filmed again and again. Deputy O'Shea is trying to see that this matter is expedited. I appeal to the Minister to at least answer him positively. The Minister is arguing about using the word “could”. We want to get this up and running quickly. We are way behind the UK. This matter was spoken about, as far as I can recall, in 1996. I thought then that it would be quickly expedited. It is almost four years later.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Miss de Valera:  I move amendment No. 3:

In page 5, line 9, after “regard to” to insert “all the circumstances and in particular”.

The amendment requires the Minister to take all the circumstances into account, in addition to the criteria provided in section 2(2), when consider[320] ing whether to designate any event. Accordingly, I am prepared to accept the amendment, which has been proposed in my name and in the name of Deputy O'Shea.

Mr. O'Shea:  I compliment the Minister on accepting this amendment, which enhances the Bill. It was put down by me on Committee Stage and was discussed then.

Mr. Kenny:  I agree.

Amendment agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Foley):  It is proposed to take amendments Nos. 4 and 5 together for the purposes of debate.

Mr. O'Shea:  I move amendment No. 4:

In page 6, line 11, after “acquires” to insert “or enjoys”.

This issue was discussed on Committee Stage and I received a subsequent letter from the Minister. She has dealt with the matter in some depth and it would appear from the information she has given me that there is a difficulty as to whether a specific provision is mandatory. If sections of the EU directive are not mandatory any order made by the Minister under this legislation can be subject to court challenge. Will she elaborate on this aspect? How strong will such orders be?

Miss de Valera:  As indicated on Committee Stage, I am concerned that the addition of the words “or enjoys” in lines 11 and 17 of page six could be seen as giving the Bill retrospective effect in relation to contracts already entered into and might weaken it were it to be the subject of a legal challenge. As our broadcasters provide free to air coverage of events to which they have acquired the rights, I do not believe the amendment is necessary. On balance, it would be safer not to proceed with it and I therefore cannot accept amendments Nos. 4 and 5.

Mr. O'Shea:  Will the Minister address the point I raised about whether orders made under the legislation are weak in the context of a court challenge, especially given the point made in her letter to me that sections of the directive are not mandatory and do not have the protection of being mandatory in the context of such challenges?

Miss de Valera:  There are two issues here. In the first instance if the amendment was to be accepted it would weaken the Bill because of potential court challenges. Second, broadcasters, or at least our indigenous broadcasters, provide free to air coverage of events to which they would have acquired the rights. In view of this the amendment is not necessary. An order made under the legislation would enjoy the presumption of constitutionality but where a provision in the directive is not mandatory statutory legis[321] lation is necessary. This is a legal point and we need to tread carefully when interpreting it. I would not want it to weaken the Bill in the event of such a challenge and the inclusion of this amendment would do so. Given that our broadcasters provide free to air coverage, the amendment is unnecessary and acceptance of it could create a legal risk in the event of a challenge.

Mr. O'Shea:  The legislation does not address the situation where broadcasters have acquired the rights of certain events into the future. I am not aware of the extent to which they have obtained the rights to such events, but I am sure the Department has considered this. Is it the case that under the terms of the legislation certain events will be outside the remit of orders made by the Minister because of contracts entered into either before now or before the legislation is enacted?

Miss de Valera:  There cannot be retrospection.

Mr. O'Shea:  Based on the information and the legal advice the Minister has conveyed to me, I will not press the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 5 not moved.

Miss de Valera:  I move amendment No. 6:

In page 7, line 5, to delete “or (2)”.

This is a drafting amendment. I propose to delete “or (2)” on page 7, line 5. The original section 4(1) was deleted on Committee Stage. As a result there is a consequential amendment to section 7(1) and this amendment deletes the reference to section 4(2), which is now meaningless.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. O'Shea:  I move amendment No. 7:

In page 7, line 9, after “event” to insert “which shall be calculated having regard to the public interest which led to the designation of the event under this Act, in addition to normal market considerations”.

The amendment seeks to ensure that the public interest is brought to bear when making calculations prior to application to the High Court. Given that the Maastricht Treaty provides for free competition but the Amsterdam Treaty contains a protocol which refers to public service broadcasting, will the Minister confirm that legislation must reflect the public interest as well as the market? If the public interest is taken into consideration when arriving at a reasonable market rate for television coverage, it is important that the public interest be included as criteria for assessment to the same extent as the market.

Miss de Valera:  I recall the debate on this on Committee Stage when I indicated I was sym[322] pathetic to the proposal and would give it further consideration. The amendment seeks to ensure that when dealing with a commodity in which there is an inherent public good, the High Court takes this into account when reaching a decision. However, I have been advised by the Office of the Attorney General that to prevent the court from ordering the payment of a rate which would be available on the market would invite difficulties where the State had not made provision to compensate a broadcaster or an event organiser who would suffer a loss because of a difference between a reasonable market rate and a rate which would take account of the lower price obtainable where the public interest would have to be taken into account. As broadcasters operate in a free market at present, it would be more appropriate for them to pay the market rate than to look to the State for any difference in price.

The Bill seeks to interfere with the market to the minimum extent. While I have every sympathy with the Deputy's proposal, I cannot accept the amendment as it would weaken the Bill.

Mr. O'Shea:  The Minister did not refer to the protocol under the Treaty of Amsterdam. To what extent has that been taken into consideration in the context of drafting this section?

Miss de Valera:  That is not directly relevant to this issue. The difference in which the Deputy might be interested is the difference which might arise between what could be seen as a fair market price and the price arrived at as a result of the public interest in the matter. The whole question of compensation could come into play here, which would mean having to adopt a different philosophy. This is not the way forward because it would mean rewriting the Bill. I have given the matter a great deal of thought and, in the circumstances, while we talk about a fair market rate, we must endeavour to interfere with the market to the minimum degree. The Bill endeavours to achieve the fairest price possible, both for the general public who wish to view these sporting events as well as for the event organisers and broadcasters.

Mr. O'Shea:  I still feel strongly that the public interest should be used by the High Court as a measure in arriving at a reasonable market rate for particular events. In light of what the Minister has said regarding her examination of this issue and the legal advice she has received, I do not propose to pursue the amendment. However, if her only reason for not doing so is the extensive redrafting of the Bill—

Miss de Valera:  No, that is not the reason. The reason is that the philosophy behind the Bill would change and what we have at present is the way to go forward. I would not like to see the weakening of an otherwise strong Bill which should be given a chance to work.

[323]Mr. O'Shea:  I do not propose to pursue the amendment. I accept the Minister's bona fides in this regard and take on board the legal difficulties which she has outlined.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill reported with amendments and passed.

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

That Dáil Éireann approves participation by Ireland in the Partnership for Peace (PfP) and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), and that it further approves the terms of Ireland's PfP Presentation Document, a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 5th October, 1999.

When I became Minister, I reviewed the question of Ireland's participation in PfP. It was clear to me that there were sincerely held and divided opinions on the matter in this House and among sections of the wider community. I concluded that my initial priority should be twofold: first, to develop understanding and informed discussion of the realities of PfP and, second, to move discussion away from the polarised views and slogans which seemed to characterise a good deal of such discussion about PfP.

In the course of the past year, I encouraged the interest shown in PfP by the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. There were several particularly informative and constructive sessions of the committee during 1998. These sessions improved understanding of the issues within the Dáil. Testimony was heard from a range of speakers, including the ambassadors of the four PfP neutral states. I regard all such debate and information gathering as both healthy and necessary. In January of this year, and again in May, Dáil Éireann debated PfP.

To those who would claim that there has been insufficient debate, I say, look at the record of debates and statements in this House and elsewhere, including in the media. Look at the exceptional Explanatory Guide on PfP which was published under my direction in May of this year by the Department of Foreign Affairs and which was seen by other PfP nations as a model of its kind. The Explanatory Guide fully sets out the issues. The basic texts of PfP and the substance of the Attorney General's views on the question of a referendum, are annexed to the Explanatory Guide. The guide also reproduces in full the chapter on PfP from the previous Government's White Paper on Foreign Policy. The presentation documents of the four neutral nations in PfP are also included in the guide.

To those who claim that this Government changed its mind on PfP, I say, yes, we have, and we are not afraid to admit that we can change our minds in the light of new facts and changed [324] circumstances. My party openly and fully recast its views on PfP in crystal clear terms in its European election manifesto in which we restated our commitment to military neutrality. We emphasised our readiness to consider participation in the Petersberg Tasks under the Amsterdam Treaty and we stated our intention to join PfP subject to Dáil approval as a logical extension of our existing policy and not as a departure from it.

The origins of PfP lie in the situation in Europe following the end of the Cold War ten years ago. The divisions of the Cold War have been replaced by a new approach based on co-operative approaches to security. This development reflects principles of co-operation accepted by all European states, including Ireland. Traditional conceptions of security and defence within Europe have given way to strategies of conflict prevention, peacekeeping and crisis management. This evolution goes in the direction of Ireland's approach which has always emphasised conflict prevention and peacekeeping in its approach to international affairs. A clear example of this new approach to security issues can be seen in the approach of the European Union since the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. The EU's Treaty of Amsterdam has accorded priority to the Petersberg Tasks of humanitarian, rescue, peacekeeping and crisis management tasks. Further impetus to this approach has been given by the Cologne European Council conclusions of last June, which seek to develop the EU's practical role in preserving peace and strengthening international security in accordance with the principles of the UN charter and the OSCE.

At Cologne, the EU agreed to develop its role in the Petersberg Tasks on the basis of the Treaty of Amsterdam. Ireland wishes to contribute its UN peacekeeping experience by playing an active part in humanitarian, rescue, peacekeeping and crisis management tasks in support of the European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy. Ireland sees PfP as having an important role to play in co-operation and planning for participation in such tasks.

The ending of the Cold War has, of course, had many positive effects, but new and complex challenges have emerged. I need only mention the conflicts and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans throughout this decade. The world has changed considerably since the end of the Cold War, and even since PfP first came into being nearly six years ago. The European defence debate has moved away from confrontation between alliances. The defence challenges which EU countries face as we enter the new millennium are tasks of peacekeeping and crisis management. Ireland has a record second to none in UN peacekeeping and crisis management, and I am determined to see that record maintained and developed. It is against that background that I support Irish participation in PfP. I have consistently stated that Ireland's participation in PfP would be on our own terms, as set out in our pres[325] entation document. The motion before the House makes this clear.

I wish to recall several factors underlining the Government's decision in favour of joining PfP. For the past 40 years, Ireland has been actively engaged in UN peacekeeping. Peacekeeping is a defining element in Irish foreign policy and a matter of justified public pride. Irish peacekeepers have served over 46,000 individual tours of duty. We should not be afraid to learn about new developments in peacekeeping, nor should we be hesitant about imparting our own experience to others. Peacekeeping is an integral element of how we see ourselves in the world.

A major evolution in UN peacekeeping has been taking place. The reality is that the UN is increasingly reliant on regional security organisations to support and carry out missions on its behalf. In Bosnia and Kosovo, the UN, NATO, OSCE and the European Union co-operate as a matter of routine. Ireland has already moved into the new UN approach to regional peacekeeping through our participation in the SFOR operation in Bosnia and the KFOR operation in Kosovo. These operations are mandated by the UN Security Council, but are conducted on the UN's behalf by NATO. The regional approach is not confined to Europe: INTERFET in East Timor is a further example of a UN mandated crisis management operation led by a regional actor, namely, Australia.

The UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, has clearly identified the change in the character of UN peacekeeping which came at the end of the Cold War. He has reflected on the importance of the evolution of UN peacekeeping from the traditional patrolling of ceasefire lines to the modern, more complex operations of the post Cold War era, and has commented on the difficulties involved in this process. He has emphasised the importance of effective means to undertake peacekeeping in the post Cold War era. He has also observed that peacekeeping today requires not only rethinking the means but also the method of implementing the mandates set out by the UN Security Council. While noting that traditional observer missions may still be enough in certain situations, the UN Secretary General has specifically cited the joint UN-NATO peacekeeping and peace building mission in Bosnia as a model of credibility and legitimacy in peacekeeping. The importance of regional support for UN peacekeeping and conflict prevention should not be underestimated. There is now a practice of meetings at UN Headquarters in New York, chaired by the UN Secretary General, and involving a range of organisations from different regions such as the EU, NATO, OSCE, Western European Union, the Islamic Conference, the Organisation of African Unity and the Organisation of American States.

One of the new realities of the post Cold War age is that no one state or institution can by itself deal with the humanitarian, political, security and refugee crises that we have seen in the last few [326] years. That is a reality acknowledged throughout the international community – in the UN, in the OSCE and in the EU. New models of co-operation at the regional level have been endorsed by the UN and by the OSCE. PfP should be seen in that perspective. Co-operation has rightly replaced outmoded notions of competition between the various security institutions in Europe. Ireland's approach is based firmly on the principle of mutually reinforcing co-operation between security institutions. This principle has been endorsed by the UN Secretary General and by the OSCE at summit level. Bosnia and Kosovo have demonstrated that co-operation involving the UN, NATO, EU, and OSCE is not only necessary but is an everyday element in efforts to prevent conflict and maintain peace in those troubled areas.

It is Government policy that Ireland should stay in the mainstream of peacekeeping. Our Defence Forces must have a full voice in preparations for peacekeeping missions and, understandably, Ireland should not be absent from PfP, a forum in which best practice in peacekeeping is being discussed.

What does PfP entail? PfP is a voluntary, non-binding and co-operative security framework of co-operation between NATO and non-members of NATO. When it was launched in 1994 by President Clinton, it was seen primarily as a means of outreach and reassurance to the new democracies in Eastern Europe. PfP has, however, developed far beyond that aspect and is now a major framework for co-operation, training and preparation for UN peacekeeping, humanitarian tasks and crisis management. Currently 43 countries are involved in PfP, 24 of which are non-members of NATO. The participating countries include all of our EU partners, the neutral states of Austria, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland, and many countries from eastern Europe. There is no conflict whatsoever between participation in PfP and our policy of military neutrality. The considered advice of the Attorney General is that a referendum is not legally necessary. PfP has no implications for neutrality or sovereignty. This was also the view of the previous Government when in office. I would be interested to know why some members of that previous Government now take a different view.

Participation in PfP is based on the principle of self-differentiation, that is, a participating state itself selects the nature and scope of its participation in PfP. The other neutral states, for example, have focused on practical co-operation for peacekeeping and crisis management. New PfP states subscribe to the purposes set out in the PfP framework document which include the protection and promotion of human rights, rededication to the principles of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the safeguarding of freedom, justice and peace, the preservation of democracy, the upholding of international law, and the fulfilment of the obligations of the UN charter and OSCE commitments. The objectives [327] of PfP include matters such as democratic control of defence forces, which reflects the initial focus of PfP on the emerging Eastern European states. The objectives also focus on maintaining readiness to contribute to peacekeeping operations mandated by the United Nations or OSCE and there is a focus on joint planning, training and exercises to strengthen states' abilities to undertake peacekeeping, search and rescue and humanitarian operations.

Debate adjourned.

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

  1.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the reason a person from his Department is serving as secretary to the national stadium steering committee; the length of time the secretary has devoted to this task; and the cost to his Department. [1745199]

The Taoiseach:  As I informed the Deputy previously, the Government announced on 13 October last that it had agreed to commission a feasibility study for the development of a stadium for the new century, and appointed a stadium steering committee to oversee the process.

A consortium of consultants led by PricewaterhouseCoopers was appointed to conduct the feasibility study. I understand the study has just been completed and has been presented to the stadium steering committee. On receipt of the study from the steering committee, I intend to bring it at an early date to Government for consideration and decision.

The nature of this high-prestige initiative is such that it requires cross-departmental and cross-organisational co-ordination, and my Department is best suited to do that. There is a significant time commitment involved and the official who acts as secretary of the stadium steering committee has undertaken this task in addition to his normal duties. In addition to the administrative costs arising from the work of the stadium steering committee, the main cost to my Department will be that of the feasibility study, which, as I told the House previously, is £380,033.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Surely the Taoiseach does not need expensive consultants to tell him that if the FAI is going ahead with its 45,000-seater stadium in Tallaght, and if Croke Park is being developed independently by the GAA, there is only one sport left – rugby – that would avail of this proposed national stadium. Therefore, this proposal is not a runner.

[328]The Taoiseach:  The Government will await the report. The Deputy will recall that the Government initiated its report long in advance of the FAI issuing its proposal. Although I do not have all the facts yet, I understand that the feasibility study group also discussed this with about 30 other sporting organisations.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Is the feasibility study report based on the premise that the FAI will go ahead with its stadium and that the GAA will continue to use Croke Park separately? Or, is it based on the premise that somehow, by some most unlikely osmosis, Croke Park and the FAI stadium will cease to be relevant, and that they will all use this national stadium? Which is the assumption upon which £380,000 of taxpayers' money has been paid to this consultant?

The Taoiseach:  I had better place on the record the fact that it is not just a consultant. The Deputy would make it appear that one individual received £380,000. A team led by PricewaterhouseCoopers handled the financial and procurement aspects of the project. Mr. Michael McGreal, a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers, was the project director.

Mr. J. Bruton:  I am not interested in that.

The Taoiseach:  Their sports group in Tampa, USA, provided the specialist expertise in the area. The other members of the consortium are: Indicom, international economic consultants, the project management team; Devine Deflon Jaeger architects, USA; Scott Tallon Walker, architects, Dublin; Thorburn Colquhoun, engineers, Dublin; McKeogh McCollum, quantity surveyors, Dublin; and ETZ Sherry Fitzgerald, estate agents. At the outset, in their work, they would have assumed that both the FAI and rugby authorities would both certainly use the stadium, and that there would be some limited use by the GAA. Of course, last January the FAI stated that it intended building a 40,000-seat stadium of its own. I am sure it has taken the various alternatives into account in its assumptions, but we will wait to see the report.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Surely the Government does not need a gaggle of men in suits, all being paid extremely well, to tell it what anyone on the terraces knows – that this project will not go ahead as a genuinely national stadium without either the soccer authorities or the GAA participating.

The Taoiseach:  I will wait to see what the feasibility study says. It is the first time we have actually carried out a feasibility study on the desirability of a national stadium, which has been an aspiration of all sporting bodies. We should not consider sport to be about only three codes. It is not just rugby, soccer and Gaelic games. We have a big number of sporting bodies who do excellent work. They may not be as big or financially strong as the others I mentioned, but they do need [329] sophisticated facilities which are not currently provided. It is to be hoped, such facilities will be available, eventually.

Mr. Allen:  It is hardly likely that there will be 80,000 people at a tennis match.

Mr. Quinn:  Will the Taoiseach confirm that the initiative to undertake this study was – in part and according to reports – influenced by an offer of approximately £50 million each from two well-known business people? If that was the case, were any conditions attached to that offer? Were there any tax considerations, tax write-offs, or changes in tax legislation associated with that offer of – if the reports in the newspapers are correct – approximately £50 million each from the two people who were mentioned?

The Taoiseach:  As the Deputy is aware, the concept of looking at a national stadium is one that has been around for decades, and certainly since 1988. One individual has stated that he would give the State a sum of money. A figure of the order of what the Deputy said would be about what was stated. The only condition laid down – because they did not want any hand, act, part or involvement – was that it should be a state-of-the-art stadium for the new millennium.

Mr. Quinn:  There was no other condition?

The Taoiseach:  No other condition, or no other condition requested.

Mr. Allen:  Had the Taoiseach considered talking to the GAA realistically about the multi-functional use of Croke Park – taking into consideration the right of the GAA to say no – before he invested almost £400,000 in a feasibility study which is going nowhere? The Taoiseach must admit he set up the study, knowing the FAI was on the point of announcing a stadium. Is the Taoiseach aware that if the GAA and the FAI proceed, we will have a £200 million white elephant in Abbotstown?

The Taoiseach:  We will await the report. I did not know the FAI was going ahead with a stadium until I received a call on a mobile phone – when I was in Jerusalem – from a PR company acting on behalf of the FAI. Perhaps the Deputy was aware of that information but I was not until I received the phone call.

Mr. Allen:  The Minister should have been aware.

The Taoiseach:  I knew of their plans five, seven or ten years ago, but the Deputy and I know that those plans never came to anything. I wish them well if these plans do. Therefore, I did not know that. I do know the views of the GAA. I also know the site limitations in Croke Park as regards its capacity for accommodating a genuine national stadium – and so does the GAA. Those [330] views were expressed very clearly to me in 1994 when, as Minister for Finance, I gave the association £5 million and, subsequently, when we gave them money for the remainder of the stadium.

Mr. Allen:  Since the Taoiseach mentioned the limitation of uses, what are the limitations in Croke Park? The only limitation I am aware of is the ability to put an athletics track around it because of its dimensions. I do not know of any other limitations.

The Taoiseach:  I will enlighten the Deputy. Croke Park had no space for parking or any additional facilities. Neither can the GAA consider medical science, research and indoor training – issues that all sporting bodies have been pursuing for the past ten years – because the association has no more space there.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Is the Taoiseach aware that earlier in the year, around July, the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, indicated that the Government was prepared to plough nearly £11 million of taxpayers' money into soccer if the FAI did not proceed with its stadium project, with a view to bringing the FAI along with the national stadium proposal. Will the Taoiseach accept that bringing the FAI along with the Government's proposal could be seen as a bribe or a threat? Will he comment on that?

The Taoiseach:  That is a matter for the Minister with responsibility for sport. I know – because I played—

Mr. S. Ryan:  So did I.

The Taoiseach:  —and played at a competitive level for a League of Ireland club that is now defunct – that practically all grounds are badly strapped for cash. Practically all League of Ireland grounds are facing major difficulties. In recent years the Minister has provided funding for St. Patrick's Athletic, Cork City, Galway United, Shelbourne and Bohemians. Lottery money has been used to assist all those clubs. I am sure Deputy Allen, when he was Minister, helped most of the rest of the clubs.

Mr. S. Ryan:  In the context of the indication given, will the Taoiseach accept that money would be provided on the basis of the FAI not proceeding with its proposal and that going along with the Government's proposal constitutes a threat or a bribe?

The Taoiseach:  This is a matter for the Minister concerned. If the FAI goes ahead with building its stadium, it will find it difficult to secure the necessary resources for its clubs, which are badly strapped for cash.

Mr. Allen:  If the Government decided not to go ahead with a national stadium, more resources would be available for the FAI and other sports [331] to develop a regional and local sporting infrastructure. Surely the obvious answer is that such a decision would free up resources and would be preferable to building a white elephant.

The Taoiseach:  If they are allocated. We must await publication of the report. It is unfortunate that Ireland is probably the only member state of the European Union that does not have a proper national stadium. The fact is we are pathetically serviced in terms of a national stadium.

Mr. Quinn:  Will the Taoiseach clarify a point because he did not reply fully to Deputy Ryan's question. There seems to be an inconsistency in Government policy on this matter. On the one hand – the Taoiseach has not denied this – the Minister with responsibility for sport offered £11 million to the FAI on the condition that it would not proceed with its national stadium project, yet the Government, of which he is a Minister, gave £25 million to the GAA without any condition. Is that a correct statement and, if so, will the Taoiseach comment on why the GAA was treated differently from the FAI?

The Taoiseach:  Those are questions for the Minister with responsibility for sport. That is one of the ministries to which I would have liked to have been assigned, but it was not in place when I was looking for the job.

Mr. Quinn:  The Taoiseach could always make a swap.

The Taoiseach:  Perhaps I could hold the two. The Deputy will have to ask the Minister with responsibility for sport the content of the discussions. He has continued to allocate a good deal of money to association football at senior level, not to mention at junior and schoolboy level, and I hope we continue to do that. A condition laid down in respect of Croke Park was that it would build a national GAA stadium for the sports of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael and it provides that. Croke Park is used for camogie, ladies football, hurling, football and handball. The GAA will spend the best part of £150 million and the State gave it £25 million. Two enormous contracts are currently under way, the completion of the Canal End and the demolition and rebuilding of the Hogan Stand.

Mr. S. Ryan:  What about Hill 16?

The Taoiseach:  I hope that will remain. That is an enormous contribution by the GAA and it continues to develop its grounds on a regional basis. It probably has seven or eight grounds that can hold in excess of 50,000 people.

Mr. Allen:  Has a value for money analysis been carried out on the Abbottstown project? How many major events does he expect will be held in the stadium on an annual basis?

[332]The Taoiseach:  I purposely have not looked at any of the drafts because they have been changed several times, but I understand all that information is provided in the report.

Mr. Allen:  I thought the report was completed.

The Taoiseach:  No, I do not have the report. I understand the final report is with the advisory group.

  2.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the projects to be supported by the additional £7.7 million allocated to the Information Society Development Fund in July 1999; the amount expended since then; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17401/99]

  3.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the number of people who will work on the Information Society Policy Development Team; the work programme of the team; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17404/99]

  4.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    if he will provide details of the events to be supported by the Information Society Commission during the Netd@ys Initiative in November 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17402/99]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, together.

The information society represents enormous opportunities and challenges for Ireland. The Government is keenly aware of the importance of ensuring that Ireland takes full advantage of modern information and communications technologies, or ICTs, both in the fields of e-commerce and e-government. We need to respond quickly to make sure the benefits of the information society are availed of by Irish citizens and businesses. That is reflected in the Government's Action Plan on the Information Society published earlier this year and accessible on my Department's website.

In accordance with the recommendations of the action plan, implementation is monitored and guided by an interdepartmental group, with representation at assistant secretary level and by a four person team. This latter group, the Information Society Policy Development Team, works closely with CMOD in the Department of Finance and liaises as appropriate with expertise elsewhere in the civil and public services.

The team, the full complement of which has been in place only since summer, has produced a progress report on the action plan, worked with Departments to identify resource requirements for action plan projects for the remainder of this year, and prepared draft guidelines for Government websites to be issued this month, following consultation with Departments. The current main focus is on assessing resource requirements for action plan projects.

[333] In July, the Government agreed to the interim allocation of approximately £7.7 million for projects arising under the action plan for the remainder of this year subject to the assessment process. These include projects to provide Internet access to the public through the local library network, electronic filing of tax returns, and Netd@ys, an Information Society Commission initiative to promote Internet awareness. I am circulating in the Official Report a full list of the projects to which this funding relates.

This funding will be managed by the Department of Finance, not by the Information Society Commission. The Information Society Commission, like other Departments and agencies, will be allocated funding in respect of particular initiatives for which it is responsible under the action plan.

This funding relates only to anticipated expenditure on the projects in question to the end of 1999. Projects in question must be assessed and approved by an evaluation team, which includes representation from the Department of Finance and my Department. The evaluation process is under way at present. In approving funding for 1999, the Government also agreed in principle to further substantial expenditure on information society projects in the coming years. The amount of expenditure required is currently being assessed with a view to determining requirements for the Estimates in 2000.

Netd@ys is an annual international initiative to promote the effective use of interactive media in learning and teaching. In previous years, the initiative has been co-ordinated in schools in Ireland by the National Centre for Technology [334] in Education, NCTE. This year the Information Society Commission has teamed up with the NCTE to expand on the activities of previous years by involving not only the schools but the community at large.

Netd@ys 1999 will run from 13 to 21 November. Schools, libraries and other commercial and voluntary organisations are being encouraged to open their doors to the public over that period so that people can access and learn about the Internet. The Commission has also hired five mobile computer laboratories – or computer gyms, as they are known – which will be located at various places around the country to provide additional access points for the public.

Information material is being developed by the commission, in conjunction with the NCTE, to assist organisations participating in the initiative. Special information packs are also being prepared specifically for schools, which will include suggested ways to involve the broader community in the initiative.

The Information Society Commission will also launch a millennium project, e-wish for a new millennium, to encourage people to access a special website and to record their personal wish for Ireland as we enter the new millennium. In this way, a permanent record of the wishes of the Irish people will be created and a representative selection will be published on CD and on the Internet.

In addition to a contribution of £150,000 by the Government towards the Netd@ys initiative, the commission has also secured sponsorship from Eircom to help with the costs of the school packs, hiring the computer gyms and advertising, and RTE has agreed to become a broadcast sponsor.

Schedule of Resources of Projects* Commencing in 1999

Department Project Spending in 1999
£ Euro
Agriculture Food and Rural Development Preliminary work on e-commerce Projects 50,000 63,487
Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands Installation of websites 80,000 101,579
Central Statistics Office Access to statistics databases via Internet 80,000 101,579
Education and Science Secure Intranet for Education Sector 150,000 190,461
Rapid application of Education Technology Investment Fund and Schools IT 2000 70,000 88,882
Education & Training On-Line Project 600,000 761,843
Enterprise, Trade and Employment Department Interface Projects-Business database 174,000 220,934
Accelerate e-commerce activity among SMEs 200,000 253,948
Information Society Services Section 50,000 63,487
Environment and Local Government Electronic Local Government 250,000 317,435
Provision of Internet Access in Libraries 1,000,000 1,269,738
Health and Children National Client Eligibility Index 750,000 952,304
Health and Children/Social Community and Family Affairs GRO Initiative 70,000 88,882
[335] Department Project Spending in 1999
£ Euro
Justice, Equality and Law Reform Measures to alleviate the illegal and harmful use of the Internet 30,000 38,092
Electronic evidence in Courts – investigate scope for early enactment of legislation 30,000 38,092
Land Registry ICT based delivery of services. Preliminary work on electronic payments 30,000 38,092
Office of Public Works Preliminary work on e-commerce projects 60,000 76,184
Public Enterprise International Connectivity Project 500,000 634,869
Broadband Projects 1,500,000 1,904,607
North-South Digital Corridor 50,000 63,487
Electronic Signatures & Certification 50,000 63,487
Market Observatory 50,000 63,487
Sub Marine Licensing 50,000 63,487
Infrastructure and Regulatory Legislation 50,000 63,487
Electronic Services from DPE, including website development 50,000 63,487
Research 100,000 126,974
Associated staffing costs (including Telecoms attachés) 250,000 317,435
Revenue Electronic filing of tax returns 250,000 317,435
Social, Community and Family Affairs REACH Initiative
Citizens database
100,000200,000 126,974253,948
Taoiseach
(including Information Society Commission)
Secure intranet for Government Secretariat 50,000 63,487
E-mail for all 500,000 634,869
Information Society Policy Implementation Team 90,000 114,276
Netd@ys 150,000 190,461
Total 7,664,000 9,731,273

*The full implementation of many of these projects will require substantial funding in future years.

The Web Address for the Department of the Taoiseach is:– www.irlgov.ie/taoiseach

Publications, including:– *Implementing the Information Society in Ireland: An Action Plan, and Progress Implementing the Information Society – Second Report of the Interdepartmental Implementation Group can be downloaded from the site.

Indicative List of Projects for Consideration for funding in 2000

Department Project
Agriculture, Food and Rural Development Feasibility and implementation of projects to provide departmental services electronically
Provision of Internal E-Mail and Intranet
Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands On line sales system for heritage sites and cultural institutions
Interactive schools programme for heritage sites
Gaeltacht client database
Enterprise, Trade and Employment Electronic filing of annual returns by insurance companies
[336] Department Project
Filing of returns by credit unions electronically
Redundancy and insolvency payments project
Environment and Local Government Planning details available electronically
System to enhance electronic democracy
Pilot project on alternate approach to broadband communications facilities to the citizen.
Finance, Local Government and Health Agencies Public procurement Information Delivered Electronically
[337] Department Project
Foreign Affairs Information Database Provision of information to citizens and businesses abroad.
Consular service project-secure intranet to incorporate facilities to enable digitised/electronic processing of passports and visas.
Health and Children Pharmacist pilot project for submission of GMS claims electronically
Project involving issue of smart cards to individuals to determine limits in relation to pharmacy costs
Office of Public Works Development of web enabled property management service
Interactive marketing of Dublin Castle Conference Centre
Availability of statistical data electronically pertaining to drainage and flood relief schemes
Public Enterprise Communications Infrastructure Group-Establish industry communications infrastructure group
Draft legislation on telecommunications infrastructure installation/access
Revenue Phased release of further elements of ROS and other electronic services. Further promotion of Irish position in international developments in e-commerce.
Social, Community and Family Affairs Further development of electronic access to public services.
Taoiseach (including Information Society Commission) An examination of the issues involved in the development of fully integrated public services

Mr. J. Bruton:  Does the Taoiseach agree that the creation of an information society will create new forms of potential social exclusion? Does he agree three categories of people are likely to be excluded from the mainstream of society – older people who do not have the skills or the confidence to use the Internet, people who come from less well off households who cannot afford to buy a computer and people who do not have a typing skill and may not be able to use e-mail with the same speed and effectiveness as those who have that skill? Does the Taoiseach agree that the Information Society Commission should be given a targeted mandate to come up with solutions for [338] those three identifiable groups, rather than the general mandate it seems to have where it can be in favour of motherhood and apple pie and yet be a marketing executive's dream in terms of the new ideas that can be sold in the name of the information society? We need to get to grips with the real problems rather than this type of general stuff. An e-wish for the millennium seems to be absolute rubbish.

The Taoiseach:  I will pass on the Deputy's comments about e-wish.

Mr. J. Bruton:  That type of stuff is abusing taxpayers' money.

The Taoiseach:  It is not for me to defend it.

Mr. J. Bruton:  The Taoiseach is responsible for it.

The Taoiseach:  I am not. This is their way of trying to get children in the education system to show imagination under IT 2000, to use it in public libraries and to create an awareness of it. The Deputy is entitled to his opinion that it is rubbish, but they are entitled to try to promote it.

Mr. J. Bruton:  They are spending taxpayers' money.

The Taoiseach:  There are a number of projects but children who are excluded will not become part of an initiative if there is no idea behind it. That is what they are trying to do and I will not criticise them for that. The Deputy asked them to serve on a board and to give their professional time free to come up with initiatives.

Older people will be excluded because I cannot see them using the schemes in the libraries. There is a series of issues under the plan and they hope they receive attention, particularly among community and voluntary groups. Perhaps they are not doing enough in the older groups and I will raise that point with them. They have a series of measures for people who are unemployed, on training and community employment schemes, in FÁS centres and for those involved in community projects. Paragraphs 19 to 22 and 63 to 65 are lengthy to read out. I will raise the point about the elderly to see if anything further can be done in that area.

Mr. J. Bruton:  What about people who have no typing skills and lower socio-economic groups which cannot afford a computer?

The Taoiseach:  Almost all the centres are well resourced with modern technology for community groups and people in deprived areas. Part of the model under the European Social Fund for many years was that funding would not be available in these particular areas unless technology was part of it. I am not sure when that came in, but it is there a long time and is now in the drugs initiative area. The programme also caters for [339] people who come off drugs. The Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation insisted on that, as did the ESF. I will raise with them the Deputy's point about the elderly.

Mr. D. Carey:  Does the Government use the knowledge acquired on the information society abroad? Is the Taoiseach aware of hiccups in the information given by leaders in China, for example, who promote the information age society? He did not mention in his reply that Ennis is our information age town. His officials did not ask it for information when Deputy John Bruton tabled his question.

Mr. J. Bruton:  It cannot see outside the M50.

Mr. D. Carey:  Reports were given by Mr. McGing and other people that an information age society town in Ireland has 60,000 people, that the Government gave computers to every household and that all young and old people are computer proficient. Does the Taoiseach agree that giving such information to people when he is promoting Ireland abroad is not the best thing to do when it is not the truth?

The Taoiseach:  I am not sure what the Deputy is asking me.

Mr. J. Bruton:  He is telling the Taoiseach something he should know but does not.

The Taoiseach:  I heard what he said but I am not sure what he is asking me.

Mr. D. Carey:  When the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, and her party leave this country to promote Irish industry, for example, is a subordinate entitled to claim that every household in an information age town in Ireland with 60,000 people – I do not know where that is – has a computer and that old and young are proficient on it? That is how far advanced we are on information technology. Yet when Deputy John Bruton asked the Taoiseach about the elderly, the question was dismissed. Old people and those who are sick or who cannot go out to shop are back of the lamp. I want to know the Taoiseach's views on this, not the views of his officials in Merrion Street who have not given him the full information.

The Taoiseach:  I was given the information in Dublin Castle which is where the Information Society Commissioner is based. I hope the Deputy supports what happened in Ennis and the resources put into it. I do not know what information is used about it.

Mr. D. Carey:  The Taoiseach should look to his ministerial colleagues who are not supportive.

[340]The Taoiseach:  I hope the elderly are proficient in computer skills, including the Deputy. If anything else can be done to promote it, we will try to do so.

Mr. D. Carey:  I missed what the Taoiseach said but I will get it on the record of the House. I hope it was all right as I will use it in the local newspaper.

The Taoiseach:  It was.

Mr. D. Carey:  It will take the Taoiseach time to shake hands with the rest of Ennis.

The Taoiseach:  I am told it is the fastest growing town in the country.

Mr. D. Carey:  Since I became Deputy for Ennis, and that was 1982.

  5.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the number of people who will have access to the secure intranet which is being developed for the Government secretariat; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17403/99]

The Taoiseach:  The intranet for the Government secretariat will enable Ministers' offices to establish an electronic link with the secretariat. The first issue, which is being addressed at present, is to identify the appropriate electronic security to safeguard documents being transmitted electronically. These security features will in turn determine the computer and communications infrastructure on which the intranet will be based.

Designing and implementing the intranet will also involve a reappraisal of the existing manual methods for dealing with what is an almost exclusively paper-based system. The aim is to exploit the potential of the available communications and computing technology to allow for the electronic submission of documents, for streamlining the consultation processes which are part of Government procedures and for the transmission of Government memoranda, agendas and decisions. Consultations will be held with Departments in due course on the development of new processes and procedures which will be required. The intranet is intended primarily to provide facilities for Ministers' offices to link and conduct business electronically with the Government secretariat.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Who will access the intranet within the Government? Will it be Ministers' offices, political advisers to Ministers or the active press staff in the Department of the Taoiseach?

The Taoiseach:  This has all been examined as part of trying to make and use modern technology. Many Departments are already looking at how the information age can assist them and [341] my Department is monitoring developments in all areas. We hope to get a model of best practice. We have not got one yet, but that work is under way. I hope it is not just a matter for the Government but for the wider public sector and the private sector so that we all make the best effort to do this. We have no model and the detail the Deputy is looking for has not been agreed. Although it will take some years, the security of data will be looked at. By and large, we are mainly concerned with those who receive Government memoranda and the huge amount of paper used. We will extend the examination to the reduction of the mountains of paper used in the process of Government and the possible transfer of such documents electronically.

Mr. J. Bruton:  What is the Taoiseach's policy on access to Government memoranda? Will it be confined to those who have an official function as regards the memoranda in question or will others, including the press staff in the Government service, particularly those in the Taoiseach's office, who are very active, also have access to this information?

The Taoiseach:  I will not get into arguments about which Government Department is most active as regards Government memoranda. Those who should officially have the information will be the only ones who will receive it.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Those in the Taoiseach's office who brief the press will not have routine access to Government memoranda – is that right?

The Taoiseach:  Of course it is. The attempt to convert to a paperless society is a serious issue and one should not treat it frivolously. Many people are working to develop websites, technology etc. and the Deputy looks on it as a joke.

Mr. J. Bruton:  I do not.

The Taoiseach:  It is unfortunate that the Leader of the Opposition takes that view.

Mr. D. Carey:  Dirty tricks are not a joke.

Mr. J. Bruton:  I use the circular facility myself.

The Taoiseach:  I know the Deputy does but he also knows what we are trying to achieve.

Mr. J. Bruton:  I know what the Taoiseach is trying to do.

The Taoiseach:  It will take almost a decade to totally achieve this, as the Deputy knows.

Mr. J. Bruton:  It is more to do with disinformation than information.

The Taoiseach:  Unfortunately, the Deputy is wrong again.

[342]

  6.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    if he intends to introduce any changes to the Cabinet Handbook to further alert each Minister to the dangers of accepting gifts or hospitality that might appear to place him or her under an obligation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17744/99]

  7.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    if he has issued any instructions to Ministers regarding the circumstances in which they may accept gifts or hospitality from corporate interests who may be lobbying the Government for certain decisions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17745/99]

  8.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the plans, if any, he has to introduce changes to the Cabinet Handbook covering the acceptance by Ministers of hospitality or gifts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18774/99]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 6, 7 and 8 together.

The Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995, deals comprehensively with the matter of gifts to office holders. Section 15 provides that gifts which exceed £500 in value and which are given to an office holder by virtue of office be deemed to be gifts to the State. In these circumstances the gift, or in certain circumstances its value, is transferred to State custody or the Exchequer. The Act expressly exempts gifts given by a friend or relation of the recipient for personal reasons only.

Government guidelines prepared in accordance with section 15(4) of the Act provide that all officeholders are expected to adhere to the fundamental principle that an offer of gifts, hospitality or services should not be accepted where it would, or might appear to, place him or her under an obligation. The guidelines go on to make specific provision for dealing with such matters. Again the guidelines provide that the supply of property or services below £500 in value or made for personal reasons by a friend or relative are exempt.

Under the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995, each member of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann must make an annual statement of interests to be registered. Interests to be registered exclude living accommodation, etc., supplied by a relation or friend of the person for personal reasons only, unless its acceptance might reasonably be seen to have been capable of influencing him or her in the performance of functions as a Member, officeholder, etc. The Cabinet Handbook refers to the statutory requirements and contains a copy of the guidelines to which I have already referred.

It is evident that the treatment of gifts is addressed comprehensively in the statutory framework and the steps to be taken in different circumstances are clearly specified. The Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995, was a long time in preparation and strikes a fine balance between the [343] right of individuals to have personal lives and the need for accountability in the conduct of official business. I regard the balance struck as appropriate. I have no proposals by way of fresh legislation or addition to the Cabinet Handbook which would interfere with the balance so painstakingly evidenced and established in the Act.

Mr. Quinn:  Does the Taoiseach believe the Tánaiste and the Minister for Finance were in breach of the guidelines when they accepted free accommodation in the villa of a company that was making, had made or might have made representations with respect to some Government decisions or EU directives?

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is a matter for the Public Offices Commission to decide whether there was any infringement of the regulations. It is not a matter for the Taoiseach to decide in any case, whether there is an infringement of the rules.

Mr. Quinn:  A Cheann Comhairle, you seem remarkably well prepared to offer that opinion.

Mr. Flood:  He is diligent.

Mr. Quinn:  I am quite astounded at the liquidity with which—

An Ceann Comhairle:  The question was only allowed on the basis that it asks the Taoiseach if he is changing regulations.

Mr. Quinn:  My reason for asking the question is that it is generally held by the media and columnists that a breach did occur—

An Ceann Comhairle:  We are not the body under the Act—

Mr. Quinn:  —and since the Taoiseach offered an opinion in the newspapers that the breach was trivial, I wonder if he has any plans to change the regulations. I am quite astounded by your intervention.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I have ruled it is not a matter for the Taoiseach or any other body to decide. The House has appointed the Public Offices Commission to decide these matters.

Mr. J. Bruton:  On a point of order, I submit that there is a distinction to be made in respect of the Public Offices Commission which has an obligation in regard to Deputies, whether or not they are Ministers. However, the head of the Government has a responsibility in regard to Cabinet procedures and whether they are being complied with. The issue of Cabinet standards is for the Taoiseach to deal with, not the Public Offices Commission. It is appropriate to ask questions about that matter vis-à-vis the Cabinet Handbook.

[344]An Ceann Comhairle:  Questions were only allowed on the basis of what changes, if any, the Taoiseach might be proposing.

Mr. J. Bruton:  I accept that.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Matters which are the responsibility of the Public Offices Commission should be left to it and not decided in this House.

Mr. Quinn:  This matter concerns the Cabinet and the Government and 5(2) states that the Secretary General to the Government will in turn inform the Taoiseach if an inappropriate gift has been received and whether it should be refunded. A Cheann Comhairle, I know you are administering the rules as you understand them, but in this case I agree with the point of order made by Deputy Bruton. This matter concerns Cabinet guidelines and the responsibility for adhering to those guidelines rests in the first instance with the Secretary General to the Government who is obliged under the guidelines agreed in 1996 to inform the Taoiseach. In those circumstances and as the Taoiseach is on record as saying the breach was trivial, does he accept that is an accurate quotation – it must be as I think it was a live quote – and does he have any plans to change the guidelines? I would respectfully submit that I am in order.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Questions on changes in legislation are in order.

Mr. Quinn:  Since this matter concerns Cabinet guidelines the question is in order and it is in order for the Taoiseach to respond.

Mr. Gormley:  On a similar point of order, is it in order to ask about possible changes to the legislation?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Any question to the Taoiseach in relation to any changes he might have in mind are in order.

Mr. Quinn:  Can we get an answer to the first question?

An Ceann Comhairle:  As the Ethics in Public Office Act is monitored and regulated by the Public Offices Commission, it is not in order—

Mr. Gormley:  I am prepared to listen to the Taoiseach's answer to the first question and I will then ask mine, which I think is in order.

The Taoiseach:  On the matter of what I did or did not say, I said Members of the Government are aware of their obligations under the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995. I regularly bring those and the new Cabinet Handbook to the attention of my colleagues. They are aware of their responsibilities and obligations. Within the terms of the handbood and the terms of the Act, they must make a decision about what they deem to [345] be their responsibilities and obligations. My duty as regards the Cabinet Handbook is to make people aware of those obligations and to ensure that they comply with them if they deem it necessary. Deputies will be aware that it falls on the individual Member to make that decision.

Mr. Quinn:  A Cheann Comhairle, arising from the Taoiseach's reply, which you have allowed, following the “trivial” breach of the guidelines – I am using his words – did he raise this matter with the two Ministers in question? Have they followed the guidelines to the effect that they will make a refund as set out in article 5(2) for the value of the free gift they obtained or will they take any other action in accordance with Cabinet guidelines? Has the Taoiseach discussed the matter with them?

The Taoiseach:  Members must comply with the guidelines in the Cabinet Handbook and the Ethics in Public Office Act if they believe they must do so. The Deputy knows about the restrictions, obligations and the areas where the guidelines do not apply. One of the Members mentioned in this debate has already stated a position, the other person has not.

Mr. Quinn:  Did you discuss the matter with either of them?

The Taoiseach:  This issue was raised in late August. Members are aware and have been made aware by me on a number of occasions of both the Ethics in Public Office Act and the Cabinet Handbook. However, they should be carefully interpreted. People have friends and family, a person can spend time with family and a family member could have as much influence on something one does as a friend—

Mr. Quinn:  This was a company villa.

The Taoiseach:  —and they must decide whether that would influence their judgment.

Mr. Quinn:  Did the Taoiseach discuss the matter with them?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Bruton.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Will the Taoiseach outline his responsibilities as Taoiseach in regard to compliance by Ministers with the requirements of the Cabinet Handbook? Does he believe he has an obligation to satisfy himself about this or is it something he leaves to the Ministers concerned to make judgments about without any oversight by him?

The Taoiseach:  My obligations include ensuring that Members are aware of the requirements. Last year the handbook was updated and I strongly advised people that they had to abide by it. Where there is doubt, the Secretary General of the Government arbitrates. Where an issue is [346] brought to my attention and where I believe something should be complied with, I have an obligation to point that out.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Has the subject of Deputy Quinn's questions been brought to the Taoiseach's attention in a formal sense and has he adjudicated on the propriety of the acceptance of these gifts?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Chair understands that a complaint has been lodged with the Public Offices Commission on this matter.

Mr. J. Bruton:  I know and I do not wish to go into that. As my point of order suggested, I am not getting into the area of the Public Offices Commission. My question related to the Taoiseach's last answer in which he stated that he had an obligation to ensure that Ministers are aware of what is in the handbook, that they will report cases of doubt to the Secretary General and that, in cases of further doubt, he may adjudicate. Was this particular acceptance of a gift reported to the Secretary General and did the Taoiseach adjudicate as to whether this was appropriate? If so, what was the adjudication?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Chair must point out that the Cabinet guidelines have been incorporated into the Ethics in Public Office Act and these are monitored by the Public Offices Commission.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Will the Chair accept – I say this as somebody who has held the office of Taoiseach – that compliance with the provisions of the Cabinet Handbook, which is separate from—

An Ceann Comhairle:  This in incorporated into the—

Mr. J. Bruton:  No, the Cabinet Handbook instructions predate the ethics legislation. They are antecedent to it and they are policed by the Taoiseach of the day who makes the judgments. What judgment has the current Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, made about the propriety or otherwise of the acceptance of these gifts? Has he made any judgment and, if not, why?

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy is correct. I have responsibilities as head of Government. I am satisfied that members of the Government appreciate the importance of complying with both the requirements of the Cabinet Handbook and the ethics legislation. With regard to the issues raised by Deputy Quinn, the acceptance of hospitality from a friend on a personal basis has been acknowledged. It fails to be provided for in the Act but it has to be dealt with under the Act. Members of the Government are aware of that and, in due course, they will act on it. They are also aware of their responsibilities under the Cabinet Handbook.

[347]Mr. McCormack:  They know they have responsibilities but the Taoiseach does not enforce them. It is a free for all, take what you can.

Mr. Gormley:  The Taoiseach with recall that when the McEvaddy story broke, the Tánaiste was at pains to stress that Mr. McEvaddy—

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is a matter before the Public Offices Commission, I understand.

Mr. Gormley:  This is crucial to my question, the issue of exclusion.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Will the Deputy please ask his question?

Mr. Gormley:  The Taoiseach said that friends are excluded in this legislation. Does he agree that this is a serious loophole in that it is now possible for a Minister to claim that a mere acquaintance is a friend and therefore he or she can accept gifts from whomsoever—

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is again referring to the merits or demerits of a particular case.

Mr. Gormley:  I am asking a specific question about legislation. Does the Taoiseach believe this loophole must be addressed and what does he intend to do about it?

The Taoiseach:  Nothing. I am not sure there is a requirement to do more on it. This was debated at length and if one were to change the legislation further or attempt to make it tighter, one could reach the point where any Member of the House who happened to have a long time friend or family member who was wealthier than the Member could not visit or involve themselves with that person. There are provisions in the legislation where if the Member believes that somebody, even a relative or a friend, might create a problem under the Second Schedule of the Act, the Member is given the choice of bringing that forward. That issue has been looked at and arbitrated on. It is dealt with in the Second Schedule of the Act and it is up to Members to act on that. However, it is not necessary to change the legislation and make it more difficult.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The time for Taoiseach's questions has elapsed but I will allow a final supplementary from Deputy Quinn and Deputy Bruton. The Deputies must be very brief.

Mr. Quinn:  Has the Taoiseach, having made himself aware of what took place and studied what happened, that is, that people took a holiday in a villa owned by a corporation—

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot discuss a specific case.

[348]Mr. Quinn:  It arises from this, Sir. In light of what has happened and his knowledge, does the Taoiseach still hold the view that there was a trivial breach, to use his phrase, of the guidelines? If that is his view, has he brought it to the attention of—

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Chair understands that this matter is before the Public Offices Commission.

Mr. Quinn:  I must dispute this. We are talking about Cabinet guidelines—

An Ceann Comhairle:  —which are incorporated in the ethics Act.

Mr. J. Bruton:  It is the other way around.

Mr. Quinn:  However, the explicit policing of these guidelines is vested in the Secretary General to the Government who must report to the Taoiseach.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Chair has ruled on this matter on a number of occasions.

Mr. Quinn:  I believe the ruling is wrong.

An Ceann Comhairle:  A final supplementary from Deputy Bruton.

Mr. J. Bruton:  In regard to the gifts referred to in Deputy Quinn's question, has the Secretary General received a report on the matter? Has the Taoiseach seen the report and has he adjudicated on it?

The Taoiseach:  This matter comes under the ethics legislation and the commission will make a decision on it. What the Secretary General says to the Government is a matter for him and the Government and not for Question Time in the Dáil, as Deputy Bruton is aware. As it happens, this matter will be and must be dealt with under the Ethics in Public Office Act. That has been accepted.

Mr. J. Bruton:  The functions of the Taoiseach are not exercised by the ethics commission but by the Taoiseach.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That concludes Taoiseach's questions. We must proceed to questions nominated for priority to the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation.

[349]

  37.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    if he will make a statement on the future of area based partnerships; the strategy he has for minimising disruption to area based companies and their activities while the next national development plan is being formulated and agreed; and if the necessary funding will be available to ensure continuity for staff and projects. [19895/99]

  38.  Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    the assurances, if any, he will give the area based partnerships that the changeover period between the current local development programme and any subsequent programme will not affect the work of the partnerships or the community and disadvantaged groups with whom the partnerships work; the proposals, if any, he has for transitional funding for the partnerships; the money, if any, set aside in the Estimates for this purpose; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19988/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Mr. Flood):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 37 and 38 together.

I confirm that work is well under way on the new national development plan, but in the absence of final Government decisions on content, it is not possible for me to give any figures on future funding for local development type activities. However, the Government is fully committed to the fundamentally important task of tackling social exclusion in deprived areas and ensuring that the overall objectives of current programmes remain a priority.

Each area partnership-ADM community group carries out its activities under a plan which is prepared by itself and approved by ADM. The current operational programme for local, urban and rural development requires that all commitments to funding actions under these plans are made by the end of 1999. Actual spend can continue until the end of 2001 to ensure the successful completion of the current programme.

The board of ADM has recently made allocations, including some recent extra allocation of ESF funds, to partnerships which should allow activities under current plans to continue into next year by which stage arrangements for implementation of the upcoming national development plan, including social inclusion measures, should be in place and operational. Therefore, the 2000 Estimates will reflect that position and include provision accordingly for area based partnerships and community groups.

While it is difficult to finalise a comprehensive strategy to oversee the transition from the old to the new national development plans until the details of new social inclusion measures have been agreed with the EU Commission, the Government will endeavour to ensure that any disruption is kept to a minimum.

Mr. Allen:  Will the Minister guarantee that the 800 jobs in the 38 partnerships and the 400 jobs funded by the community employment scheme will be secured until such time as there is a final [350] decision on the new national development plan in order to protect the motivation and commitment of those involved and ensure that the partnerships have the confidence and ability to maintain the premises that are rented and meet their other obligations? Will he make a clear-cut, unambiguous statement regarding ADM and Exchequer funding?

Mr. Flood:  When we discussed this matter previously I undertook to meet representative organisations, including Planet and the chairs of the partnerships, which I did on 10 and 17 May 1999. We discussed the issues Deputies Allen and Moynihan-Cronin raised and I heard their concerns directly from them. In recent times I met the board of ADM to pursue these and other issues and I am pleased the board was able to confirm that it had allocated some additional funding, including that which had come to hand through the ESF funds, to the partnerships which will, according to ADM, allow the activities under the current plan to continue into next year.

I was also able to inform ADM that the 2000 Estimates which we will, no doubt, consider in this House shortly, will include funding which will be part of the new national development plan in relation to the future funding of partnerships. I am satisfied that the partnerships will be able to continue into next year without interruption. Both partnerships and community groups have made a considerable contribution towards dealing with social inclusion issues. It is the Government's objective to ensure no difficulties arise. There will be some loss of individuals from partnerships who seek to further their career as they would be entitled to do in seeking alternative opportunities, particularly based on the very considerable experience they would have gained through their work with the partnerships.

Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin:  I appreciate what the Minister of State said. He will be aware that we are reaching a stage where the groups need specific answers. I ask him to assure us and the partnerships that the figure included in the Estimates for transition funds for the partnerships is adequate to cover their operation costs. Does the Minister agree that, given the delay in the publication of the national development plan and the subsequent delay in agreement in Brussels, it may well be early in 2001 before any operational programmes begin to be implemented? What is the Minister's opinion on that?

Mr. Flood:  I assure the Deputy that my colleague, the Minister, Deputy McDaid, and I made a very strong and forceful presentation to the Minister for Finance who has responsibility for drawing together the national development plan. We are satisfied that we had some success in the manner in which we made our submission. I am happy that ADM is aware of the concerns of Members as regards funding and I am pleased it is able to support the views of Members through [351] the additional allocation to carry on into next year. I will continue to monitor the situation carefully to ensure that any arrangements that are needed to ensure its smooth transit with the minimum of disruption will be put in place. I welcome the inclusion of moneys in the Estimates for this programme. It will have a positive impact on the drawing down of funding which might have been lacking in the previous programme.

Mr. Allen:  Can I interpret the Minister of State's comments as saying to the partnerships, “Continue as you are at present and enter into commitments as regards the renting of premises and the appointment of staff”, and the 38 partnerships with 800 full-time staff can continue as they are until the national development plan is published and the funding becomes available? Is the Minister telling the partnerships to continue as they are?

Mr. Flood:  They must be guided by the instructions they receive from ADM and they must respond to it. No decisions have been taken on the totality of future local development funding. The national development plan has not yet been put in place and further discussions must take place on many aspects of it, including social inclusion measures. I do not want to mislead anyone and say that the partnerships and community group support will be the same as it was in the previous plan. That clearly is not the case.

Mr. Allen:  Therefore, until the publication and implementation of the new plan they can continue as they are.

Mr. Flood:  I do not give the authority to partnerships to enter into—

Mr. Allen:  The resources will be there.

Mr. Flood:  As I have outlined, the resources have been provided by ADM with some additional resources to enable partnerships and community groups to continue with their work but they must abide by any strictures set down by ADM. That is the orderly way in which we manage the partnerships and community groups but I am satisfied that ADM has made considerable progress with regard to the funding to which the Deputy referred.

Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin:  Everyone is aware that the ADM has provided transitional funding but this does not let the Government off the hook. I want the Minister to give an assurance that there will be sufficient funding available to the partnerships to ensure a smooth transition, that the core activities of the partnerships will continue and that the base staff are kept in place. We cannot continually depend on the ADM to provide funding for the partnerships.

[352]Mr. Flood:  Additional funding has been provided to partnerships and community groups by ADM.

Mr. Allen:  How much?

Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin:  Can the Minister of State quantify it?

Mr. Flood:  I am not in a position to quantify the amount.

Mr. Allen:  That is the question.

Mr. Flood:  We cannot assume that the partnership and community group structure as currently organised will continue exactly as it is in the next programme. That would be to pre-empt negotiations with the social partners and those relevant aspects of the development plan. There will be changes. I have indicated to Planet and its representatives that there will be a change in terms of the partnership and community group structures.

Mr. Allen:  How can the Minister of State give assurances if he cannot tell us how much it will be? Will it be £5, £10, £1,000 or £1 million? Have staff been told their contracts are terminating? Can the Minister confirm that?

Mr. Flood:  I do not want to give a figure off the top of my head, but it is in the millions.

Mr. Allen:  The Minister of State should have the figures.

Mr. Flood:  It is certainly in the millions. It might amount to—

Mr. Allen:  Might.

Mr. Flood:  —close on £5 million. If the Deputy wants a specific sum I will provide him with that. He does not have to panic about it. I will make it—

Mr. Allen:  I am not panicking but that is the key factor.

Mr. Flood:  —available to the Deputy but I want to repeat—

Mr. Allen:  I'm not panicking. It is the staff who are panicking.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Will the Deputy cease interrupting?

Mr. Flood:  I will provide that information to the Deputy as requested. Change will be introduced in the partnership and the committee group structure as operated under the previous plan. I have already had discussions with Planet [353] to inform them of that fact so it will not be identical to the previous programme.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Question No. 39.

Mr. Allen:  Will staff contracts be maintained? The Minister does not know.

Mr. Flood:  I know very well.

Mr. Allen:  Contracts will not be maintained.

  39.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    if he will make a statement on the development of the national conference centre. [19896/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  The Operational Programme for Tourism, 1994-99, includes provision for 33 million ecu – approximately £26 million – in European Regional Development Fund grant aid for the construction of a conference centre in Dublin capable of handling up to 2,000 delegates.

Following the failure of processes in 1995 and 1996 to secure an appropriate proposal, a new tender procedure, organised by Bord Fáilte, under the direction of the independent Management Board for Product Development, and conducted in accordance with EU Council Directive 93/37/EEC, was launched in September 1997. This process culminated in June 1998 in the selection of the proposal submitted by Spencer Dock International Convention Centre Ltd., to go forward for European Regional Development Fund grant aid to develop the conference centre at a site in Dublin's Docklands.

In September 1998, the Government agreed to making a submission to the European Commission recommending formal approval for a 33 million ecu European Regional Development Fund grant towards the cost of developing the project. The Commission's approval, in principle, for the grant was received in April 1999.

Since then, and following consultations between the developer and Bord Fáilte, I have been in correspondence with the Commission about how the construction schedule for the project can be accommodated within the various operational programme and CSF deadlines. Final contractual details from the developers are now urgently awaited by the Commission so that they can finalise their consideration of the case for extension of permissible time limits for grant drawdown.

Bord Fáilte is continuing negotiations with the developers with a view to finalising agreement on the necessary contracts by 15 October. With only a couple of months left to the end of the current CSF, including deadlines for commitments under the Operational Programme for Tourism, every effort is being made to have the required contractual details with the Commission for their consideration as soon as possible.

[354]Mr. Allen:  Is the Minister as confident now as he was six months ago that the national conference centre will go ahead? Is the proposal to build the centre dependent on other projects going ahead on the same site which are part of the appeal to An Bord Pleanála? When does the Minister expect to have a commencement and finalisation date for the project?

Dr. McDaid:  My commitment to this project remains as strong as ever. We are totally committed to the national conference centre going ahead. This project is now at a very delicate stage and it is a sensitive issue. We now have a date, 15 October, and contractual documents have to be signed by that date, depending on whether the developers want to go ahead and sign them. I have to admit, however, that this is a delicate situation. The developers say this project was always dependent on tax and other issues. They were always a matter for debate. A contract remains to be signed by Bord Fáilte and the developers. In addition, the Government and the European Union must agree because the Commission requires to at least have sight of a contract between them and the construction company that would be legally binding to allow us get the required extension for the drawdown of the EU funds, but this matter is at a delicate stage.

Mr. Allen:  The Minister scrapped a stand alone project in Ballsbridge. He is now telling us that the proposal he accepted in 1998 was dependent on other events taking place, and the project may now fall or stand on these events. He tells us a contract may or may not be signed in two days. Surely the House is entitled to know the facts as the Minister currently sees them. Is he confident that a contract will be signed in two days' time or is this project now wholly dependent on other events happening and the outcome of a Bord Pleanála hearing? Is this whole issue now an awful mess?

Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin:  What about the money?

An Ceann Comhairle:  These are priority questions.

Dr. McDaid:  This project was open to a tender process and it was decided independently. I did not make any decisions on the location of the national conference centre.

Mr. Allen:  You are the Minister.

Dr. McDaid:  I brought it back on track and secured the £26 million grant.

Mr. Allen:  It is not secured. It is on a wing and a prayer.

[355]

Dr. McDaid:  It was not up to me in the first instance to do that. We secured it with regard to our Department.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Subject to the EU.

Mr. Allen:  It is not secured.

Dr. McDaid:  It was always a matter of it going out to tender and the tender process indicated that the Spencer Dock company should get the contract.

  40.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    his views on the development of a national sports stadium. [19897/99]

Dr. McDaid:  On 13 October 1998, the Government agreed to the commissioning of a feasibility study for the development of a national stadium, and to the establishment of a stadium steering committee to conduct the feasibility study and to make recommendations based on the findings of the study.

The steering committee is chaired by Mr. Dermot Keogh and includes representatives from major sporting organisations, including the FAI, the GAA and the IRFU as well as representatives from the private sector and a number of Government Departments. Through this process, the major sporting organisations are in a position to bring their own perspectives to bear.

Following a tendering process carried out under EU procurement directives and Government contracts procedures, a consortium of consultants led by PricewaterhouseCoopers was appointed to conduct the feasibility study. The study examined a range of issues relevant to the feasibility of developing and operating an 80,000 seat stadium, including the economic, social and other benefits that can be expected to be derived, analysed the potential demand for use of the facilities from various sporting, entertainment and other commercial categories and possible locations for the stadium.

I understand the feasibility study has recently been completed and has been presented to the Stadium Steering Committee and that it will be brought to Government for consideration and decision at an early date.

Mr. Allen:  This matter was the subject of a number of questions put to the Taoiseach earlier today by my party leader, Deputy John Bruton. I am amazed that 11 teams of consultants were hired at a cost of £400,000 to prepare this report at a time when the FAI is going ahead with its stadium and Croke Park is continuing with its project. I want to ask the Minister about the offer, bribe or threat made to the FAI that he would make £11 million available if it withdrew its proposal for the stadium in Dublin west. Will he consider scrapping his madcap idea of providing a £200 million white elephant in Abbotstown and [356] making those resources available to the national bodies for local and regional development of sports infrastructure? What is the status of the offer – which I classify as a threat – that they will get the money if they back down, but that they will not get the money if they do not?

Dr. McDaid:  I suppose the Deputy is feeling the heat from the previous Administration's lack of commitment to sport. There has never been, in the history of the State—

Mr. Allen:  Answer the question.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Answer the question.

Dr. McDaid:  —the political will to go ahead with major sporting infrastructure. We are not afraid to undertake studies which will ensure that taxpayers' money is well spent.

Mr. Allen:  The Minister will be known as the Minister for studies and consultants' reports.

Dr. McDaid:  As regards the issue of the £11 million bribe, I met a deputation from the FAI. I love soccer, just as I love all other sports, as does the Deputy. We are very fortunate that the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance also love sport. I will explain the situation to the Deputy. Many of us would agree that our national soccer infrastructure is in quite a dilapidated condition. In other countries one sees families bringing children to matches on Sundays. I would love to see that happening in this country, where people could spend a day at a soccer match, just as it used to be. Unfortunately, however, the national infrastructure is very dilapidated. I want to expedite change in that area as soon as possible.

When I met the FAI, it gave me a list which included a requirement of £11 million to bring a number of clubs – perhaps ten – up to standard. A total of £14 million was given out this year. We estimated that to get our soccer clubs up to standard would possibly take 20 years. I told soccer clubs that we are going ahead with the national stadium and that we also need to bring this up to standard. In other words, I more or less asked them which they would prioritise. I said I would prioritise the national infrastructure – I have no hesitation in saying that. However, that does not stop me from continuing to give as much money as I can to the FAI clubs, as I did with Bohemians, Shelbourne, St. Pat's and others.

There is no point in people trying to drive a wedge between me and my friends in the FAI, because it will not rub off. I have very good friends in the FAI. I will take this opportunity to say how desperately Tony O'Neill, who passed away last week, will be missed.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Hear, hear.

Dr. McDaid:  He was another very good friend of mine. On any occasion I can, I have discussions with my colleagues in the FAI. The Government [357] will continue to try to provide an up-to-date state-of-the-art infrastructure for sports, whether at local, national or international level.

Mr. S. Ryan:  After that speech—

An Ceann Comhairle:  We must move on to Question No. 41. The time for Question No. 40 has been exhausted.

Mr. Allen:  The Minister used up all the time.

  41.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    the plans, if any, to radically improve performance of tourism in rural areas, particularly the north-west and the Border region; and the reason for the poor performance of the United Kingdom market in July and August 1999. [20060/99]

Dr. McDaid:  While growth in tourism over the past ten years has been unprecedented – visitor numbers to Ireland have doubled to 5.7 million and foreign exchange earnings have tripled to £2.3 billion – there is still scope for further expansion in tourism revenue and employment in all regions, including the Border region.

Mr. Allen:  On a point of order, there are guidelines. We got a set of rules for Question Time which set out the time allocations for questions and responses. I asked a simple, straightforward, short supplementary question and the Minister used up the rest of the time waffling—

Mr. S. Ryan:  It was a filibuster.

Dr. McDaid:  It was a page and a half.

Mr. Allen:  —and filibustering. He even drew down the memories of the dead. As a result, I could ask no further supplementary.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is not a point of order.

Mr. Allen:  I deserve the protection of the Chair or extra time.

Mr. S. Ryan:  We will play four minutes extra time.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy does not need any protection from the Chair. The Chair applies the rules as laid down by the House.

Dr. McDaid:  I gave the Deputy the proper answer. That is why he is trying to—

Mr. Allen:  The Minister filibustered. I asked if it was a threat or a bribe.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Minister must continue to reply to Question No. 41. The Deputy should not be disorderly.

[358]Dr. McDaid:  The Deputy finds it difficult because I answered the question.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We are on Question No. 41. Will the Minister continue?

(Interruptions).

Dr. McDaid:  The Border region has received tourism support over the past five years from a range of programmes, including the tourism operational programme 1994-99, the Northern Ireland-Ireland INTERREG II Programme, the special support programme for peace and reconciliation and, of course, the International Fund for Ireland. It is estimated that well over £130 million in grant assistance has gone into tourism development in the region from those sources since 1994.

My strategy for tourism development under the national development plan will be based on the needs of areas, having regard to whether an area is a developed, developing or undeveloped tourism area. The key national objective for tourism product development will be to provide an appropriate product base capable of supporting sustainable tourism development through enhancing or building up an interesting mix of tourism products, especially in developing and still underdeveloped tourist areas such as the Border region.

As more detail emerges regarding future Community initiatives for the Border region, I look forward to continuing EU support for tourism development. Meanwhile, I received the report of the Donegal Task Force in July and, as I stated recently, I will be having the priorities identified in the report considered by my Department in the context of the drafting of its input into the operational programme for the Border, midland and western regions in the next national development plan.

According to the latest official figures issued by the CSO, there was strong growth in visitor numbers from Britain in the first six months of the year, with an increase of over 10 per cent to 1.6 million. As yet, the CSO has not provided any indication of the performance of the British market in July and August. However, I understand from Bord Fáilte that information from the carrier companies and Aer Rianta for the months referred to by the Deputy indicate a decrease in cross-channel arrivals of 3.2 per cent in July and 3.4 per cent in August, when compared to the same periods in 1998. In both cases, modest increases in air traffic – 3.3 per cent and 2.9 per cent respectively – were offset by decreases in arrivals by sea of 10.7 per cent and 11.1 per cent.

It is too early to identify with any degree of confidence the reasons for the decline in visitor numbers in the months in question or whether it represents a departure from the general growth pattern of recent years. However, I understand that Bord Fáilte is of the view that it may be linked to increases in fares and strikes or mal[359] functions of ferries. Bord Fáilte is monitoring the situation carefully and I expect to have a clearer picture by the end of the year. In the meantime, however, Bord Fáilte is confident that the forecast growth of 8 per cent in overall visitor numbers from Britain this year will be achieved. Access capacity between Britain and Ireland has never been better and, by offering a high quality, competitively priced product, we can ensure that Ireland remains an attractive destination for British visitors.

Mr. Perry:  I am still somewhat in the dark after that reply. Does the Minister have any plans to address the serious downturn of 12 per cent in cross-channel sea arrivals in July and August? There have been indications that the increase in ferry charges to compensate for the loss of duty free sales could be one of the main reasons for the huge downturn in traffic. Has the Minister any plans to seek EU funds as compensation for the loss of tourism revenue if there is evidence that such loss was directly linked to the termination of duty free sales? What plans has the Minister to address the serious concerns expressed by hoteliers, particularly in the Sligo and Border county regions, about the huge investment in that area by private investors to generate business? The Minister mentioned the downturn was as a result of strikes and the non-functioning of ferries. Perhaps he could explain that further. It is a worrying sign that there is a 12 per cent reduction in the number of ferry passengers coming into Ireland. Many people who arrive by ferry travel on to the west and spend considerable amounts of money in the region. If they arrive in Dublin by air, they may not travel to the west.

Dr. McDaid:  I agree that we must monitor the situation given that there was a dip in July and August, but I hope this is due to the fact there were strikes and malfunctions on a particular ferry which caused disruption. We will monitor the situation. It could be a trend. This is a business in which trends develop. We will monitor that over the coming months.

I will not provide funds to make up for any shortfall. This is a competitive business. I understand hoteliers in the Border and Sligo regions may have had a leaner season than usual. That is acceptable. However, the Deputy must understand the situation which prevails at the moment. Border counties, especially the Deputy's and my own, would have for many years benefited from tourists from Northern Ireland. With the current exchange rate between the pound sterling and the punt, people from the North have told me they can, with £800, get a very good holiday abroad here because £800 sterling is worth about IR£1,000. People must understand the situation with the exchange rate. People from the North are taking the opportunity of coming to the Republic to book a holiday abroad. Some of them have also told me that, when they come back, [360] they can also fill up with petrol here. All these factors must be taken into account.

That does not get away from the fact that hotels and people involved in tourism in the Border and western areas must be competitive. One can see at the back of The Irish Times or the Irish Independent weekends being offered in Dublin for £29 or £39 per head. That is competitive. There is competition not only from abroad but also from within, and the people in the Border and Western areas will have to be equally as competitive if they are to gain a share of that market.

Mr. Perry:  Will the Minister comment on the Tánaiste's announcement last week that she advocates the promotion of Shannon as a stopover and that she hopes numbers coming into the airport will reach 750,000? That would be of huge benefit for tourism in the western region.

Dr. McDaid:  The Government is committed to developing the country to spread economic growth. We are all committed to that. Even the Deputy, if he were in Government, would be committed to that. The Tánaiste is focusing, through IDA Ireland, on developing other regions besides the east coast, and I applaud her for that.

  42.  Mr. J. O'Keeffe    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    the up to date position in relation to plans and funding for a national stadium; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19830/99]

  58.  Mr. Gilmore    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    when he will receive the report of the working group established to examine the feasibility of a national stadium; if it is intended to proceed with the project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19915/99]

  64.  Mr. S. Ryan    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    if he will commit substantial grant aid towards the construction of the FAI's proposed stadium in the event of it securing planning permission. [19961/99]

  66.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    if the sum of £380,000 for the feasibility study on a stadium for the new century has been paid; and, if so, if an adequate return has been obtained from this expenditure. [17322/99]

  69.  Mr. S. Ryan    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    the Government's proposals, if any, for a national sports stadium in view of the decision of the FAI to proceed with its own proposals for a stadium. [19962/99]

[361]Dr. McDaid:  I have already given this reply to Deputies and, at the risk of being accused of filibustering, if they want, I can read the reply again. I will read the last part as an add on if they wish.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The question was in the name of Deputy Allen, so perhaps we can take supplementary questions.

Mr. S. Ryan:  I have other questions on a related subject.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Allen will ask a question first. Questions Nos. 42, 58, 64, 66 and 69 are being taken together.

Mr. Allen:  Assuming the FAI will proceed with its stadium in west Dublin and the GAA will have its ultra-modern stadium in Croke Park completed shortly, if the Minister decides to press ahead with his white elephant 80,000 seater stadium in Abbotstown, who will use it? Has a cost effectiveness analysis of this project been conducted?

Dr. McDaid:  I hope the Deputy lives to regret the day he called it a white elephant. He is a sportsman and I am sure we all want to see a national stadium and our sporting infrastructure upgraded.

Mr. Allen:  I asked a simple question.

Dr. McDaid:  We are the only country in Europe which does not have a national stadium. There may have been people like the Deputy in other countries who criticised everything before it started. I would prefer to have the Deputy's support on this issue.

Mr. Allen:  I asked the Minister a question.

Dr. McDaid:  The Deputy keeps calling it a white elephant. I look forward to the day we have this national stadium because it is something in our sporting infrastructure of which we would all be proud.

Mr. Allen:  Who will use it?

Dr. McDaid:  It has been talked about in the past but there is now a golden opportunity, with the economy in its current state, to proceed with it, and I am sure we would have the support of all sides of the House for that.

Regarding who will play in it, we have commissioned a feasibility study which is not money ill-spent. There must be a feasibility study, if one is spending taxpayers' money, to discover exactly what reasons we have for it and how the stadium could and should operate. That is the reason we appointed a steering committee and gave it funding to conduct a feasibility study.

Mr. Allen:  Any answers?

[362]

Dr. McDaid:  This has been on the cards for ten years and, when we have the feasibility study at least, then perhaps the Deputy will have an opportunity to ask some relevant questions on this matter.

Mr. Allen:  The Minister did not answer the question.

Mr. S. Ryan:  I raised this earlier with the Taoiseach but the relevant Minister is now present. Regarding the Minister's undertaking earlier in the year, possibly around July, that he was prepared to give £11 million to the FAI, did he make it a condition that the FAI would abandon its project and row in with the national project? Would he develop on the statement he made? Does he accept it could be seen as a bribe or threat to the FAI that, if it did not go along with the Minister's plans, it would not receive the cash?

Dr. McDaid:  No, I did not make it a condition. As I have already explained, the FAI estimated that it would cost approximately £11.5 million to bring a certain number of its football grounds up to standard because they are in a dilapidated condition at present. We are proceeding with our national stadium and it is proceeding with its arena project. I wish it well with that and I have no problems with it. However, I have made known to the FAI my views on this matter, that I would have liked it to have been on board with the national stadium. However, in no way was I making it a condition and that I would not otherwise grant it £11 million for upgrading its stadia. I gave Shelbourne and Bohemians approximately £600,000 out of national lottery funding this year. It will take approximately 20 years to bring the stadia of FAI clubs up to scratch. The £300,000 grant I gave to a number of them on this occasion is only a fraction of what is being asked of me for one club. One can imagine the length of time it would take to refurbish the stadia on that basis.

The matter of the national stadium is running concurrently and is the subject of a feasibility study at present. I am confident that, with the support of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance, with the economy in its current state and with the exceptional offer from J. P. McManus, we will proceed with the project. If we do not do so now, it will never happen.

Mr. S. Ryan:  I note and welcome the allocation of £14 million for the development of clubs throughout the country. Given that the FAI is, next to the GAA, probably the largest sporting body in the country, consisting of 4,343 clubs, 10,581 teams—

An Ceann Comhairle:  Ceist, le do thoil.

Mr. S. Ryan:  I will develop it. There are 187,000 players affiliated to the FAI throughout the four provinces. Will the Minister give a commitment that the FAI will be entitled to a sub[363] stantial State grant, possibly as much as £20 million, towards the development of its arena project which includes a national training centre? Will he give a commitment on behalf of the Government that such a grant will be forthcoming for this arena project on account of all the people involved and the great facilities they are providing to youth and sport generally.

Dr. McDaid:  I am familiar with the figures. The Deputy is correct. It is the second largest organisation in the country. As far as I can recall it also received the second largest number of national lottery grants this year – 17 per cent to my knowledge. I cannot make any commitment because the FAI has not asked me or the Government for any commitment towards the arena project. It has told me it will build the arena project at its own expense and has brought in outside consultants to do that. It has not asked for a single penny. It has indicated that down the road, it may look for some funding after the arena project has been finalised but, to date, it has not asked for any funding. With due respect to the Deputy, it is a matter for the FAI to ask me to make a commitment whenever it feels it should do so.

Mr. Perry:  Does the Minister agree that it does not make economic sense to duplicate facilities, given that there is such a big investment in the new Éircom stadium in Dublin? Is the Minister not also aware that in north-west Sligo there is a huge totally derelict ground which made an application to the Minister's office for funding for a major stand which was refused. While there are state of the art facilities in the capital, people around the country are entitled to equally good facilities within driving distance. I welcome the ambitions and the talk about the development of soccer in the region. It is disappointing that one of the oldest soccer clubs in the country, Sligo Rovers, has totally inadequate facilities.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Cheist, le do thoil.

Mr. Perry:  While we are talking about spending £200 million, would it not be advisable to do an assessment of the needs and demands of the region and bring up the facilities in different counties before we start duplicating a facility that is being funded by private investors and by the FAI itself? Why are we duplicating it here in Dublin?

Dr. McDaid:  The Deputy has a point but I disagree with him. This is the only country in Europe that does not have a national stadium. I have always indicated that if the private sector came forward with a reasonable and substantial offer we would listen. The private sector, with Mr. J. P. McManus, has put forward a substantial offer with no strings attached. He said the country has been good to him and he wants to give [364] something back. That is the only way I would go ahead. We will have a national stadium on that basis. The private sector has made a substantial offer and the country needs it. I understand what the Deputy is saying about Sligo Rovers, and if I and the Government are spared, we will look after Sligo Rovers and all the rest before we are finished.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Given that the Government gave £25 million to the GAA for the development of Croke Park, which I very much welcomed, would the Minister not agree that in equity and fairness a substantial grant should be made available to the FAI for the development of its arena, on the basis of an application from it? Second, in the context of the national stadium, given that we are reluctant to allow soccer to be played in Croke Park, what discussions, if any, has the Minister had with the GAA on the possibility of allowing rugby to be played there and using Croke Park as a national stadium as an alternative to the Government's proposed national stadium?

Dr. McDaid:  It is not the job of any Minister to tell national governing bodies what they should do. I am here to formulate policies on sport. Regarding rugby or soccer in Croke Park, my views are well known throughout GAA circles. Soccer and rugby and all the rest should be played in Croke Park. However, I am not here to tell the GAA authorities what to do. I submit that there have been tremendous steps forward in GAA thinking in recent years, particularly with the accession of Joe McDonagh as President of the GAA. I hope that will continue into the future. I have also said in the past that I believe a financial reality will one day dawn there and these games will be allowed to be played. Let us face facts. Cultural change here is very slow. It probably takes 50 years to get a process through. I have not had discussions with the GAA, because that is a matter for the GAA.

Regarding the second part of the question, there has not been a submission to me from the FAI. That does not mean I do not expect one in the near future. I know Pat Quigley and I know Bernard Byrne. I know they are cute enough to know they have enough money to go where they are going now. The Deputy should not think I do not expect to be hit with an application in the hear future. I can do nothing until that time arrives.

Mr. Allen:  At the risk of pushing the Minister into another bout of hyperventilation, in the context of Croke Park developing its stadium at a cost of about £120 million and the FAI going ahead with its stadium in Dublin West, who does he see using the Taj Mahal in Abbotstown? Will it be used for tiddlywinks? Who will use it? Has the Minister done any cost effective analysis on this project?

[365]Dr. McDaid:  We await the results of a feasibility study on this matter which will be brought to Government. The Deputy will then have a chance to ask appropriate and meaningful questions on the issue. The national stadium which is envisaged is a stadium which will have an outdoor and an indoor area to it. It will encompass all sports, not just the FAI, GAA and IRFU. I see other sports being encompassed in this area as well.

Mr. Allen:  Tiddlywinks?

Dr. McDaid:  Yes. If a tiddlywinks championship happens to be held, I am sure we could facilitate it as well. I can see everything happening in the national stadium. If the Deputy could possibly wait for another few weeks, I can update that information.

Mr. Allen:  How are we going to fill it? Is the Minister expecting to get 70,000 or 80,000 people.

  43.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    his views on the development of a second URBAN programme. [19892/99]

  59.  Proinsias De Rossa    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    the position regarding the continued operation of and funding for the URBAN programmes in Dublin and Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19913/99]

Mr. Flood:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 43 and 59 together.

URBAN is a Community initiative of the European Commission under which assistance is made available for integrated development programmes for a limited number of geographically defined deprived urban areas throughout the EU. The programme has total funding of approximately £21 million of which the EU element is £15 million over the period 1994-99. In Ireland the areas that have benefited from the operational programme for URBAN were north Dublin, including Ballymun, Finglas and Darndale; south Dublin, including west Tallaght and north Clondalkin; and the north side of Cork City.

URBAN funding is disbursed in accordance with plans submitted by individual URBAN steering groups. Under the EU guidelines all funds must be committed i.e. subject to legally binding contracts by 31 December 1999. It is expected that all available funding will be committed by the stipulated deadline, and funding should be taken up by June 2000.

The position, therefore, regarding the continued operation and funding of the URBAN I Community Initiative is that funds will be available into 2000 in respect of projects for which legally binding contracts have been entered into by 31 December 1999. As all URBAN I funds are [366] due to be committed by the end of this year and as all projects submitted by the three urban groups were submitted on the basis that they would be sustainable, the question of continuing funding does not, therefore, arise.

Ireland, supported by Portugal and Italy and the European Parliament, succeeded in convincing the EU to have a new URBAN initiative in the post 1999 period. The new initiative will be known as URBAN II and it is expected that, like URBAN I, it will operate on the basis of a call for applications to be made under EU guidelines. The guidelines relating to URBAN II are expected to be issued by the EU Commission before the end of the year. Until they have been issued, it is not possible to make any firm commitment regarding the URBAN II programme.

Mr. Allen:  It is good to know that URBAN II will follow URBAN I. The final proposals will be published by the end of the year, so it is clear the Government has discussed with its EU partners the parameters under which URBAN II will operate. Will it operate on an area or project focused basis and will it be extended to towns and cities with populations of under 200,000, thus extending the number to be included?

Mr. Flood:  The current URBAN I initiative stipulates that cities and towns must have a population of 100,000 or more to meet the eligibility criteria. I understand the Commission has decided that cities and towns with populations of 50,000 and over will be eligible for inclusion in URBAN II. The reduction in the size of population criterion will either result in an extension of the areas currently benefiting from urban initiatives or an increase in the number of applicants.

Mr. Allen:  The recently announced initiative excludes the deprived areas in the bigger cities. What proposals does the Minister of State have to compensate them, given that they will now be dependent on a more broadly based URBAN II programme? Apart from URBAN II, what are his proposals to deal with the deepening problem of deprivation in urban areas?

Mr. Flood:  The Government is committed to direct intervention into the urban areas of disadvantage. That is a central core of the remit of the Cabinet sub-committee on social exclusion and drugs. On a number of occasions the Taoiseach has indicated to the House the Government's commitment to provide significant resources to enable us to intervene in areas of urban deprivation. I have considerable responsibility in this regard, not just in the misuse of drugs area but also in the projects we have introduced, including the integrated services project. The Government recognises that much ground must be made up to enable people in those areas benefit from the economic and social progress under way.

[367]Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin:  Will the Minister of State indicate the way in which the areas concerned benefit from the urban programme? How many people have benefited? What changes does he consider appropriate for URBAN II? Many changes will have to be made because on the basis of the figures he has outlined only Limerick would have a sufficient population to apply for the second round. Urban deprivation occurs in many smaller towns with populations of less than 100,000. In view of this, major changes would have to be made in selecting the criteria for URBAN II.

Mr. Flood:  I agree with the Deputy that deprivation is found not only in the larger urban areas, but also in other areas across the country. The national development plan will contain proposals to tackle this. URBAN is a special initiative with which the Deputy and other Members will be familiar. I referred earlier to the three areas which have benefited so far. The programme has made a considerable impact here. Having learned from this experience the extensions outlined in my reply will benefit other areas.

The greatest impact on social exclusion will be made by the Government's commitment to tackle areas, be they large or small, which suffer from disadvantage and social exclusion. The Taoiseach has given a firm commitment that resources will be available to tackle social exclusion in any area where it is found. The Cabinet sub-committee on social exclusion and drugs is working on that.

Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin:  How many will benefit?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy, we are gone beyond Question Time. I will take two very brief supplementary questions from Deputy Allen and Deputy Gay Mitchell and a final reply from the Minister of State. I would prefer if the Minister of State did not answer questions made by way of interruption.

Mr. Allen:  Has an analysis of the effectiveness of URBAN I been undertaken and, if so, will the Minister of State publish any report in that regard? Will he assure the House that the ongoing projects under URBAN I will not be terminated in a move to new areas and that they will continue into the foreseeable future where they have proven to be effective? Will the programmes deemed as ongoing in deprived areas continue? It is not all about drug prevention in these areas and I regret that when we refer to them we talk about drugs.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Gay Mitchell to ask a brief supplementary question.

Mr. G. Mitchell:  Does the Minister of State agree that the need to have a centre is at the heart of any urban renewal initiative in Dublin? In view of this does he agree it is necessary to bring back the villages of Dublin, such as Inchicore, Dol[368] phins Barn, Rialto and Crumlin, which he will visit, if he has not done so already? Does he also agree that this—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  A brief question. We are gone well beyond Question Time.

Mr. G. Mitchell:  —is central to urban renewal and that it needs to be done in Dublin?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I call the Minister of State for a final reply.

Mr. Flood:  I apologise to Deputy Moynihan-Cronin for not answering her question about the number of people who benefited. Essentially, under the previous programme the criterion was approximately 100,000 per area, and as there were three areas this amounted to approximately 300,000 people. For example, in my area of west Tallaght and north Clondalkin, groups—

Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin:  Did they all benefit?

Mr. Flood:  Yes. Many projects have come to fruition that have made a direct impact. Deputy Allen requested information on ongoing progress. All the projects can continue to draw down funding for the lifetime of the programme. Some of the projects deal with infrastructure and in respect of most of them construction is under way. Some have been completed while others are beginning. Contracts have been signed and legal commitment must be entered into before the end of the year. When that happens the moneys will be committed to them.

Mr. Allen:  I am concerned about the training and education programmes.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Allow the Minister of State to conclude.

Mr. Flood:  Our experience and learning will roll into URBAN II. Deputy Mitchell's comment refers to two areas, core village areas, which can be found in urban centres, such as Inchicore, Crumlin and many others, as well as villages in County Dublin, such as Saggart, Newcastle, Rathcoole and so on.

I agree with the Deputy that these areas should be strengthened, supported and promoted. In so far as my responsibility in dealing with local development is concerned, I would be keen to support any proposals put forward along the lines suggested by Deputy Mitchell.

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 [369] case: (1) Deputy O. Mitchell – the need to introduce legislation which would enable national infrastructure projects, with full planning permission, to proceed while court challenges dealing with compensations issues are dealt with; (2) Deputy Ring – the provision of the ferry service to Clare Island in County Mayo; (3) Deputy G. Reynolds – the increasing number of robberies on business premises in the Counties Sligo, Leitrim, Longford, Roscommon and Cavan; (4) Deputy Kirk – the need to introduce minimum safety standards for all boats in view of the unfortunate catalogue of tragedies at sea; (5) Deputy Connaughton – the need to discuss the closure of Gurtymadden post office, Loughrea, County Galway; (6) Deputy Cooper-Flynn – the further development of Knock Regional Airport and the decision by Aer Lingus to discontinue its service to and from Knock at the end of October 1999; (7) Deputy Deenihan – the need to allow for the export of live cattle from Fenit port in County Kerry; (8) Deputy Shortall – the circumstances surrounding the introduction of section 19 of the Finance Act, 1994; (9) Deputy O'Sullivan – the need to allocate additional funding to local authorities to meet the demand for grants to adapt homes for the needs of people with disabilities; (10) Deputy Jim Higgins – the circumstances surrounding an alleged serious assault on a nun by a convicted rapist at Wheatfield Prison; (11) Deputy Kenny – the social and economic consequences of job losses in the Cong area of County Mayo and the efforts being made to establish industry in the locality; (12) Deputy M. Higgins – the closure of a sawmill by Coillte in Cong with the loss of jobs in an area of few substitute employment opportunities; (13) Deputy Finucane – that the Minister for Education and Science confirms that the Department of Education and Science's planning department will submit as a matter of urgency to Limerick County Council the revised proposals for the services water and sewage in order for planning permission to be given for Gaelscoil Ó Doghaill, Caislean Nua Thiar, Contae Luimnigh, which has received approval for construction since 1995.

The matters raised by Deputies Cooper-Flynn, Shortall, Gerard Reynolds and Jim Higgins have been selected for discussion.

Debate resumed on the following motion:

That Dáil Éireann approves participation by Ireland in the Partnership for Peace (PfP) and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), and that it further approves the terms of Ireland's PfP Presentation Document, a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 5th October, 1999.

–(Minister for Foreign Affairs.)

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Andrews):  I outlined the various reasons we might join Part[370] nership for Peace, setting out pertinent and relevant questions relating thereto. I was focusing on the readiness of Ireland to contribute to peacekeeping and humanitarian operations generally under the various regional organisations and, of course, at all times UN mandated.

Ireland is a confident nation, proud of its heritage and keen to co-operate to help alleviate the problems of the international community. Our approach to international affairs has been built on international co-operation and the search for stability. Partnership for Peace is compatible with that strategy. We should not opt out of our traditional vocation of international engagement in co-operative efforts to solve the problems of the international community. In particular, we should be aware of inhibiting our Defence Forces from playing a full role in peacekeeping under changing conditions. We neither need nor wish to join military alliances, but we do need to co-operate actively with the principal regional organisations involved to maintain peace and security in Europe. We will do so in keeping with our distinctive peacekeeping traditions.

A number of relevant questions have frequently troubled people about Partnership for Peace, not unreasonably. Some questions are answered but still leave further questions in the minds of people. One question that arises is whether there is an institutional link between the Partnership for Peace and the European Union. The answer to that is no. But it is a reality, explained by the Government on a number of occasions, that any substantial Petersberg operation initiated at the request of the EU may have to depend on NATO's infrastructural resources. The EU is not a military organisation. The Western European Union is largely dependent on NATO for such peacekeeping necessities as airlift, communications and other infrastructural support. PfP is a point of contact with NATO for other neutral States as Austria, Finland and Sweden have demonstrated. All three EU neutral states, and Switzerland, have become actively involved in PfP's planning and review process for the Petersberg Tasks.

Another frequently asked question is, “does PfP participation entail acceptance of nuclear deterrence?” Again the answer is no. Nuclear deterrence arises only for the members of NATO. Sweden, which is a co-sponsor with Ireland of the important United Nations nuclear disarmament initiative which I launched last year, is an enthusiastic participant in PfP. Participation in PfP will not limit our ability to speak out in favour of nuclear disarmament.

Other fundamental misunderstandings have persisted regarding PfP. It is not true that participation in PfP would adversely affect Ireland's involvement in United Nations peacekeeping. It is not an issue of either/or. PfP plays an important role in enabling participating states to develop capacities, training and inter-operability for UN peacekeeping. It is not true that participation in PfP would oblige Ireland to engage in peace [371] enforcement operations. Irish involvement in any peacekeeping or peace enforcement operation is voluntary, is subject to Dáil decision and requires a UN Security Council mandate. Participation in PfP does not alter this situation.

It is not true that Ireland would be obliged to participate in exercises. Any participation in PfP exercises would be entirely voluntary and at our discretion. In any event, we have served alongside NATO countries in UN peacekeeping missions for over 40 years and I see nothing inappropriate in training with such countries for peacekeeping purposes.

Ireland's presentation document is clear in its focus and self-explanatory in its content. In accepting the invitation to participate in PfP, Ireland is solemnly restating its commitment to the development of a just and peaceful international society based on the rule of law, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the peaceful settlement of disputes. PfP and the co-operative values which underlie the partnership are compatible with these commitments and objectives. The presentation document sets out Ireland's policy of military neutrality. Ireland does not intend to become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Ireland's military neutrality is not frozen in time and isolated from the evolving realities of the new Europe. We should not allow misplaced fears to obstruct our involvement in co-operation for peacekeeping.

Our decision to participate in PfP is in full accordance with the policy of military neutrality which has always been pursued in tandem with full and active support for collective security based on international law.

Mr. Gormley:  On a point of order, will the Minister give way—

Mr. Andrews:  Ireland shares the values set out in the PfP Framework Document, including protection and promotion of fundamental freedoms and human rights, and safeguarding of freedom, justice and peace through democracy.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Does the Minister wish to give way?

Mr. Andrews:  No.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Minister does not wish to give way.

Mr. Andrews:  The Deputy has done everything to misrepresent this at every opportunity. He misled the debate in a very unfortunate and irresponsible fashion. In the ordinary way I would be prepared to give way but not in this instance.

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): The Minister said we have no intention of —

[372]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Minister is not giving way, Deputy. The Minister to continue.

(Interruptions).

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Higgins is being disorderly. The Minister must be allowed to continue without interruption.

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I am in order.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  It is not a point of order.

Mr. Andrews:  In joining PfP, Ireland, in common with the other PfP nations, reaffirms its commitment to fulfil in good faith the obligations of the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Equally, Ireland reaffirms its commitment to the Helsinki Final Act and all subsequent documents of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe – OSCE.

(Interruptions).

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): I am in order.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Higgins, it is not a point of order to comment on the content of the Minister's speech. Provided the speaker is prepared to give way, but the speaker has expressed a wish to continue without giving way. I am calling on the Minister and I would ask Deputy Higgins to resume his seat, please.

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): The Chair was giving way—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Chair is implementing the Standing Order. If the Deputy reads the Standing Order he will see that it is the Minister's prerogative whether he wishes to give way.

Mr. Andrews:  The presentation document makes clear that participation in PfP will in no sense inhibit our full commitment to disarmament and arms control. In joining PfP, Ireland reaffirms its commitments and obligations in this area.

(Interruptions).

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Minister has expressed the view to the Chair that he did not wish to give way.

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): We just wish to—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Higgins, the Chair will have to take appropriate action if you continue to interrupt.

[373]Mr. Andrews:  Our presentation document takes full account of the fact that in May 1997 the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council comes into being as the political framework for PfP. The Taoiseach publicly welcomed this development as long ago as 24 May 1997 – a fact which critics of the Government's approach seem to have forgotten. The EAPC is a flexible and voluntary forum, involving all PfP nations, for consultations and co-operation on political and security related matters of common concern, including regional issues, arms control, peacekeeping, civil emergency planning and scientific and environmental issues.

I welcome the intention of the EAPC to examine ways in which it might support global humanitarian action against mines. I also welcome the initiative taken by the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council earlier this year to examine how it might contribute to controlling the transfer of small arms, recognising the high number of innocent civilian casualties caused by the use of mines and small arms.

The presentation document makes clear that the central focus of our participation in PfP is co-operation for peacekeeping. Based on our experience, Ireland is prepared to participate in and contribute to co-operation in the PfP framework in such areas as inter-operability, planning for peacekeeping and peace support, communications, command and control, operational procedures, logistics and training. We have also followed with interest PfP's focus on civil-military co-operation in peacekeeping and on the humanitarian aspects of peacekeeping.

In the context of humanitarian operations it is fair to say Irish Defence Forces personnel have been actively involved in a very brave, generous and decent manner in humanitarian assistance. They provide assistance to the civil authorities in response to natural or other disasters. In the context of their international peacekeeping role, Irish peacekeeping contingents have engaged in humanitarian efforts aimed at assisting local communities to develop a self-help philosophy. Irish Defence Forces personnel have served on a voluntary basis with UNHCR and Irish aid agencies on several continents. As a former Minister for Defence, I salute the great contributions made by members of our Defence Forces in Honduras, Africa, East Timor, Somalia, South Lebanon and the many other areas which readily come to mind. In the early 1990s members of our Defence Forces assisted in relief operations in Russia. In the light of this accumulated experience, we are interested in the development of co-operation and the exchange of experience and expertise in the area of humanitarian operations. We have many insights and skills to share in the humanitarian area.

How can Ireland contribute to Partnership for Peace? PfP does not involve any change to the current situation whereby a UN mandate and Dáil approval are required for participation in peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations. [374] The presentation document makes clear that the following assets could be made available for PfP activities subject to national decisions in each case. Defence Forces assets for training, education and exercise purposes could include an infantry company group, leading to an infantry battalion group, battalion staff elements and specialist detachments, for example engineers, logisticians and exchange personnel. Facilities for peacekeeping co-operation in the PfP context could include the UN training school at the Curragh which I established as Minister for Defence, language laboratory resources with their associated infrastructure and a limited training area.

As participants in PfP, we will begin to consider participation in PfP activities for the two year period 2000-01, based on the approach set out in our presentation document. The Department of Foreign Affairs will be the primary point of contact with the NATO secretariat, in co-operation with the Department of Defence. In due course we will arrange to take up office accommodation alongside all of the other PfP nations in the PfP wing adjacent to NATO headquarters in Brussels. For the purposes of representation at the periodic meetings of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, I envisage that we will accredit our ambassador to Belgium for this purpose. The other neutral PfP states have made such arrangements. It is also envisaged that Ireland will be represented at the PfP co-ordination cell at Mons, where we already maintain a military liaison officer for SFOR and KFOR. These developments will have administrative and cost implications which will be matters for the Foreign Affairs and Defence Votes. They are currently under discussion, but contrary to the scare stories about costs which have been put about in recent weeks, they will be modest, balanced and proportionate to our involvement.

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): We cannot believe the Minister.

Mr. Andrews:  I do not expect the Deputy to believe me on anything.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please Deputy Higgins, allow the Minister to continue without interruption.

Mr. Andrews:  Deputy Higgins should carefully read the Fianna Fáil manifesto.

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): There is a lie in the document.

Mr. Andrews:  It bears close examination and scrutiny. The Deputy is misrepresenting the document.

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): The Army says—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please, Deputy.

[375]Mr. Andrews:  These developments will have administrative and cost implications which will be matters for the Foreign Affairs and Defence Votes.

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): Leas-Cheann Comhairle, will you ask the Minister to give way for one minute, please?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy has to allow the Minister to continue.

Mr. Andrews:  They are currently under discussion, but contrary to the scare stories about costs which have been put about in recent weeks, they will be modest, balanced and proportionate to our involvement.

This motion is the culmination of a process of debate and analysis which I have actively encouraged since becoming Minister for Foreign Affairs. I have encouraged and made myself available for debate in this House. I have set out my views on PfP in the media, in newspapers and on radio and television. I have encouraged discussion in my party and in the Government. I have addressed the issue on numerous occasions in the House and elsewhere.

Mr. Gormley:  The Minister has done a huge U-turn.

Mr. Andrews:  Deputy, I beg your pardon.

Mr. Gormley:  The Minister has done a U-turn.

Mr. Andrews:  I have not. I have been totally consistent on this matter.

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West):“We oppose participation—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please allow the Minister continue without interruption.

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I think—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please allow the Minister continue without interruption, Deputy Higgins. The Deputy will have an opportunity to contribute to the debate.

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): Sir, will you ask the Minister to give way for one second, because I think he seems to want to clarify this issue which I want clarified? Why did the Minister—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Higgins, you have asked me to ask the Minister if he wishes to give way. Minister, do you wish to continue or do you wish—

Mr. Andrews:  I did not hear what the Deputy is seeking. I will sit down. It is normal for me to be good mannered and civil and I am not going [376] to run in the face of that tradition after 35 years in the House.

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): I thank the Minister for giving way. Can he explain to us and the Irish people why the Fianna Fáil manifesto which was put before the people and on which the party was voted into Government says: “We oppose Irish participation in NATO itself and in NATO led organisations such as Partnership for Peace”? Two years later the Minister is in the Dáil saying the country must join Partnership for Peace. Two years ago the Taoiseach also said a referendum at least would be necessary on the issue, while the Minister is now saying ‘no' to a referendum. Can he explain that basic contradiction to the Irish people?

Mr. Andrews:  I will not try to explain it to the Irish people, but I will try to explain it to the Deputy. If the Deputy read out the following sentence he might get an answer to his question. Does Deputy Gormley wish to ask a question?

Mr. Gormley:  Yes, and I thank the Minister for his courtesy. He said it has absolutely nothing to do with nuclear deterrents. I wish to quote the EAPC—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy has 30 seconds.

Mr. Gormley:  The EAPC document states that among the specific subject areas on which allies and partners would consult would be nuclear issues, proliferation and defence as well as defence strategy and policy. How can the Minister come to the House and say the issue has nothing to do with this?

Mr. Andrews:  I am exhausted trying to point out to the Deputy that we will never join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Mr. Gormley:  Are you saying we will never join NATO?

Mr. Andrews:  Ever.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I ask the Deputy to allow the Minister to continue.

Mr. Andrews:  There is no question but that NATO has a nuclear deterrent – there is no denying that and I am not trying to confuse the Deputy in that regard. I wish to make it very clear that Ireland will never join NATO.

Mr. Gormley:  But Minister—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I ask Deputy Gormley to resume his seat.

Mr. Gormley:  I welcome what the Minister has said—

[377]Mr. Andrews:  I ask Deputy Gormley to resume his seat.

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): Can we believe the Minister?

Mr. Andrews:  If the Deputy does not believe me—

Mr. Gormley:  If I could trust the Minister or his party—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I ask the Minister to continue.

Mr. Andrews:  The Deputies welcome what I say on the one hand and do not believe me on the other.

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): If it was true I would believe it.

Mr. Andrews:  I gave way to the Deputy and he is effectively calling me a liar—

Mr. Gormley:  No, I am saying that—

Mr. Andrews:  —which is very unfair.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please allow the Minister to continue.

Mr. Andrews:  If the Deputy allows me I will conclude. I invite the House to recall the words of the Taoiseach when earlier this year he recalled Ireland's international vocation. He reminded us all that we do not live in anyone's shadow anymore and he has suggested that the Ireland of the new millennium should become more active and involved in the world around us, and shed any remaining isolationist instincts or inhibitions.

It is in that context that I commend this motion to the House.

Mr. G. Mitchell:  I welcome the decision of the Government to bring forward this motion enabling Ireland to join Partnership for Peace. I only regret that it has taken it so long to come to the realisation that this is the right thing to do, and in particular I regret that Fianna Fáil has so seriously misled people for so long as to what membership of PfP involves and has made promises about a referendum which it is now breaking. The Minister will be aware that I do not often make partisan, party political speeches, but it is really impossible on this occasion to avoid recalling what was said by Fianna Fáil as a referendum is at the centre of much of the expectation.

As I said last January in the House when Fine Gael put forward a motion proposing that Ireland join Partnership for Peace, this issue goes to the heart of where the Republic of Ireland sees her role in the world. Do we as a people continue to develop our proud tradition of maintenance of peace in the world by joining the principal forum [378] in Europe through which such co-operation and peacekeeping missions are being increasingly organised – Partnership for Peace – or do we shout encouragement to others from the sidelines? Are we as a State self-confident enough to enter such a forum knowing our values and principles, ready to argue for them and in so doing make our distinctive contribution to the maintenance of peace and security in the world?

We have heard much talk in recent days about this decision on PfP being sprung on the people or, in the words of Tallyman in The Sunday Tribune last Sunday, being bulldozed through. The truth is that this decision is long overdue and comes at the end of a debate initiated over four years ago with the public consultation process on and publication of the White Paper on foreign policy by the rainbow Government. It is worth recalling that the White Paper stated that the overall objectives of Partnership for Peace are consistent with Ireland's approach to international peace and European security. It also stated that the Government had decided to explore further the benefits that Ireland might derive from participation in PfP and to determine the contribution that Ireland might make to the partnership.

Fine Gael followed up initiation of the debate with the publication of the policy document, Ireland and the Partnership for Peace Initiative, in January 1998. The then Chief-of-Staff, Lieutenant General Gerry McMahon, in a widely reported speech argued for Irish membership of PfP in a speech to the Policy Institute in Trinity College in June 1998. The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs has discussed the issue on many occasions and it has been the subject of consideration in Foreign Affairs questions in this House on at least eight occasions since the Government took office.

Fianna Fáil began its road to Damascus conversion to PfP with an article by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in The Irish Times of 28 November 1998. This was followed by public comments by the Taoiseach to a Fianna Fáil meeting in UCD, by speeches by the Ministers for the Environment and Local Government and Defence and finally by the Taoiseach in this House on 27 and 28 January this year on a Fine Gael motion arguing for Irish membership of PfP.

We have had a long debate and it is time for us to make a decision. I accept that, due to Fianna Fáil opportunistic opposition and eventual U-turn, this has at times been a confusing debate. My party however has always been clear in its support for Irish membership of PfP. Since the debate in this House in January the Government has stated clearly its intention to bring forward this motion in the autumn session.

We will hear calls for a plebiscite from some Deputies in this debate. I understand the anger and frustration which Fianna Fáil's cynical U-turn on this issue has caused but such calls are nothing less than an abdication of political responsibility. Deputies are elected by the people to represent [379] them, to debate and legislate on matters of public policy. Such legislation must be in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. Beyond that Deputies are answerable to the electorate at least every five years and normally more regularly.

It is admitted by the Labour Party and the Green Party that a referendum on PfP is constitutionally unnecessary but we are informed that a consultative referendum should be held. At the root of this thinking is the notion that Deputies cannot be trusted on the issue of PfP. Have we learned nothing from previous experiences of this kind where Deputies allegedly could not be trusted? When difficult decisions are to be taken some want to leave it to the people or, more usually, the courts. What is a legislature for?

If we did have a referendum what question would be put? If the question was, should Ireland join PfP, almost anything could subsequently be negotiated once it is dressed up as arising from our membership of PfP. If, on the other hand, a constitutional amendment set out specific areas for PfP co-operation and these turned out not to suit our needs or capacity to contribute they could not in reality be amended without a further referendum.

In discussing a possible referendum we must be aware also of decisions which the people have already made in referendums, specifically in May 1998, when they approved the Amsterdam Treaty and the Good Friday Agreement. Under the Amsterdam Treaty Ireland agreed to play a greater role in European security through a common foreign and security policy and through a willingness to participate in Petersberg tasks – humanitarian, rescue, peacekeeping and crisis management. Would we not run the danger of having two conflicting constitutional provisions if a PfP referendum approved a lower level commitment than that envisaged by the Amsterdam Treaty?

A similar issue of possible conflicting amendments arises in relation to the Belfast Agreement under which the two Governments may wish to develop east-west or North-South security arrangements. Are we now to restrict this right by a tight PfP referendum setting out only minimal areas in which Ireland will participate?

Why do we need a consultative referendum on this issue more than any other? I can think of many issues on which a consultative referendum would be most welcome, including how we should spend the £6 billion surplus, prison reform, restructuring of the health service, world hunger and indebtedness in respect of which we are not meeting our commitments to the United Nations. When there is so much money in the coffers these are the issues on which I would like to consult the people. Joining PfP is just a small step, it is not an issue of fundamental importance. The money that it would cost to consult the people on this issue – £3 million – should be spent on something more crucial than PfP membership.

[380] Fianna Fáil has been cynical on this issue, promising one thing in opposition and doing something else in government. I recall the Taoiseach's speech when Leader of the Opposition in the debate on the White Paper in this House in 1996 in which he said:

PfP involves joint exercises with NATO on sea or land. Will they take place in Ireland? Will we be able to choose the NATO countries with whom we wish to have exercises? Will we have British troops back in the Curragh, the French in Bantry Bay, the Germans on Banna Strand, the Spanish in Kinsale and the Americans in Lough Foyle? Is that what we are talking about or will we take part in exercises abroad under NATO command. [He did not make any mention of French tailors on Inishvickillane.] We would regard any attempt to push Partnership for Peace or participation in Western European Union tasks by resolution through the House without reference to the people who under our Constitution have the right in final appeal to decide on all such questions of national policy as a serious breach of faith and fundamentally undemocratic.

I remember the wringing statements in the Fianna Fáil manifesto opposing PfP membership. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has gone out of his way to point out how he has been consistent in this matter but he has not. He said in this House in December 1997:

The PfP is a backdoor to NATO...The association between the PfP and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, is too close for comfort in the context of our military non-alliance and we need to preserve our neutrality.

That does not sit consistently with what the Minister said in the House today. I am aware that Fianna Fáil's weasel words that things have changed are nonsense, other than if they mean that was Opposition, this is Government. Fianna Fáil cynicism and U-turns must not however blind us to the facts, that PfP is a flexible programme of military and security co-operation between NATO and non-NATO states. PfP does not present any participant with any commitments other than voluntary participation in those PfP programmes. It is not a treaty in any sense and PfP membership does not imply any mutual defence commitments or membership of NATO or any commitment to it.

It was because PfP is a purely voluntary agreement that even Switzerland, a country which will not join the UN and which holds referenda several times a year, joined PfP without a referendum. A referendum would be nothing more than a costly political exercise to which the whole country would be put, because of Opposition political game playing, firstly by Fianna Fáil, who hastily abandoned the game on entering Government, and now sadly by the Labour Party who [381] did not seek a referendum when it was in Government.

The then Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, spoke eloquently in this House in response to Fianna Fáil's call for a referendum, pointing out that no referendum was necessary because PfP membership would in no way impinge on Irish neutrality. A referendum would cost £3 million, and for what? To get political parties off the hook. The time has come for us as legislators to do what the people pay us and elected us to do – to make decisions and legislate.

The presentation document sets out clearly the proposed areas in which Ireland will seek to work in PfP: co-operation in peacekeeping; humanitarian operations; search and rescue; co-operation in the protection of the environment; and co-operation in marine matters. It sets out clearly that: “Ireland's decision to participate in PfP is in full accordance with Ireland's policy of military neutrality, which has always been pursued in tandem with full and active support for collective security, based on international law.” The Minister expanded at length on what the presentation document states and on what Irish membership of the PfP will mean. I welcome the clarity, if somewhat belated, because it is crucial that these matters are clearly understood. This is important because some of the arguments made against joining PfP are so wild and inaccurate as to almost beggar belief. The line most often thrown out is that PfP membership would amount to “second class membership of NATO”, a military alliance with mutual defence obligations, and as such, would mean an end to Irish neutrality. Let us be clear, PfP is not a military alliance. It carries with it no mutual defence obligations; rather it is a co-operative structure in which participants themselves pick the areas in which they wish to co-operate. It is for this reason, as I have already mentioned, that ultra neutral Switzerland, which is not even a member of the UN because of the obligations it imposes on a member, is able to join PfP. It is why other traditional neutrals, such as Sweden, Finland and Austria, were willing to join PfP.

The second argument used is that PfP represents a step on the slippery road to full NATO membership. It is true that NATO and some PfP members see the possibility that some PfP members may eventually join NATO, but that would be entirely a question for that state and for the existing NATO members. As I have already mentioned, each state determines the parameters of its own partnership agreement and can restrict it to whatever area it wishes.

For Ireland, the position on possible NATO membership is clear. In a joint statement prior to the Maastricht referendum in June 1992 the leaders of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour, Democratic Left and the Progressive Democrats gave a commitment that there would be no change in Ireland's traditional policy of neutrality without there first being a referendum of the people. This was echoed in section 4 of the White Paper on [382] Foreign Policy in 1996 and in party manifestos in 1997. Irish membership of PfP would not affect our neutrality, as PfP involves no mutual defence obligations. Irish neutrality will be ended only if the Irish people so decide in a referendum. It is worth noting that this agreement is much sounder because it is given by all party leaders, unlike the Taoiseach's commitment on PfP.

The third spurious argument used against PfP membership is that it involves us in activities with states possessing nuclear weapons. The reality is that Irish peacekeepers have served and continue to serve with peacekeepers from France, Britain, the USA and Russia, all of whom possess nuclear weapons. France and Britain are full partners of ours in the European Union. What we never hear from the opponents of Irish membership of PfP are the advantages such membership would bring, especially in the context of the changing security architecture in Europe and the changing manner in which the UN operates. We are rightly proud as a people of our contribution to UN peacekeeping over the years. We have an illustrious reputation – as mentioned earlier this year by the UN Secretary General on his visit to Ireland, and as the Minister mentioned earlier – having served in 46,000 individual tours of duty involving 37 UN peacekeeping missions. As I said in the House yesterday, 76 Irish servicemen and women have died abroad while serving with the UN.

Opponents of Irish membership of PfP claim that it would damage our peacekeeping reputation and our ability to contribute to future missions. This ignores the reality that, increasingly, UN mandated peacekeeping operations are run by regional organisations such as the NATO led SFOR in Bosnia, the Russian led CIS troops in Georgia and Tajikistan, and the West African forces, Ecomog, in Nigeria and Sierra Leone. The number of peacekeeping troops under direct UN command has fallen dramatically from a peak of 80,000 to approximately 14,000 today. The future lies in regional organisations taking the lead and as long as we stay outside we become marginalised and less able to continue our proud peacekeeping tradition in an effective way.

No less a person than the then Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Gerry McMahon, whom I quoted earlier, made this clear in a speech he made in TCD in June 1998. He was clear on what our non-involvement in PfP would mean. He said: “For the Defence Forces it means we miss the opportunity to see and be involved in current peacekeeping and military training prevailing in neighbouring countries. Our ability to retain a competitive edge in the area of peace support is being eroded.”

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): How many votes does he have?

Mr. G. Mitchell:  Rather than PfP membership weakening our ability to engage in peacekeeping, it would strengthen it and enable it to continue into the future. As Paddy Smyth wrote in The [383]Irish Times of 6 October last: “And in that sense, the subtext of discussion facing the Dáil about Irish involvement in PfP will in reality not be about neutrality but about Ireland's willingness to contribute in a practical way with international peacekeeping.”

The White Paper on Foreign Policy set out some of the other advantages of Irish membership of PfP. We would be working with OSCE partners on programmes of practical co-operation designed to reduce tension and promote overall security in Europe. Ireland has consistently called for and encouraged the development of such inclusive co-operative security arrangements. If we enhance the capacity of our Defence Forces to participate in UN or OSCE peacekeeping operations through training and exercises with countries with which we share a peacekeeping tradition, we will thus help to ensure that Ireland is in a position to make an important contribution in the field of peacekeeping.

It would enable the Defence Forces to make available to European countries which wish to develop their peacekeeping capacities, the benefits and lessons of Ireland's long experience in international peacekeeping operations. It would enhance Ireland's capacity to carry out search and rescue operations off our coast and to conduct humanitarian missions in response to national or other disasters. It would provide a framework for practical co-operation and planning to deal with drug trafficking and threats to the environment. I welcome the fact that the Government has taken on board these points in preparing Ireland's presentation documents.

We must also view this debate on Irish membership of PfP in the context of Ireland's role in the European Union. Twenty-six years of membership of the EU has been good for Ireland, enabling us to develop the vibrant prosperous State we have to day, albeit with serious problems to overcome in certain areas. On the basis of solidarity, the rich states in the EU helped Ireland develop through massive capital transfers.

The question is what role does Ireland intend to play in the Europe of the 21st century? The EU summit in Cologne last June agreed that the military planning and co-ordination functions of the Western European Union be incorporated into the EU. Ireland is involved fully in the discussions on how to bring this about and the transfer of these functions to the EU is expected to be completed by the end of 2000.

Europe is moving ahead on security co-operation and Ireland will face crucial decisions about what its role should be. Former NATO Secretary General, Javier Solana, is now the EU's “Mr. Common Foreign and Security Policy”– this is a signal we cannot afford to ignore. Serious unrest in the Balkans has seen tens of thousands killed, injured, raped, and ethnically cleansed. The view from the UN is that Europe must take the lead in conflicts in its Continent. What is [384] Ireland's role to be? To demand that somebody, somewhere, do something about events, such as the mass murder in Srebenica, as long as they are Dutch, German, American or British? There is nothing moral about standing on the sideline as civilians are butchered. As Professor Patrick Keating said in evidence to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs on 1 July 1998:

Where co-operative security is concerned, there is precious little to be neutral about. Nothing is achieved by abstention.

Involvement with PfP is not about siding with one side; it is about siding with all other European states in being willing to contribute to maintaining peace on our Continent, on our terms and in our own way. It may mean peacekeeping and, perhaps, if Ireland should so decide, peace-enforcing. Sometimes force is necessary to ensure aid gets through or refugees in safe havens are protected. Never again must the world guarantee to protect and then fail to honour that guarantee, as it did with the betrayed people of Srebenica. Ireland can only make arguments such as these with credibility, if we, too, are willing to contribute.

The time has come for Ireland to join PfP. We have debated this issue inside and outside this House for more than four years, during the public consultations on, and since March 1996, on the published White Paper on Foreign Policy. The time has come to send a signal to our partners in Europe that we are willing to work together in Partnership for Peace. It is also time to send a signal to those countries throughout the world, whom we are lobbying for support in the elections to the UN Security Council, that we are willing to work in regional structures, which are the future for UN authorised peacekeeping missions. In addition, it is time to send a signal to our demoralised Defence Forces that we continue to see a valuable role for them in the developing security architecture.

I hope Fianna Fáil, in particular, has learned from this debate on PfP not to play petty politics with foreign policy, promising one thing in Opposition but reversing policy completely in Government. Has it learned to be honest with the people about the implications of certain decisions? Let us have no repeat of the farcical denials that PfP membership would not involve Ireland's appointment of an ambassador to NATO, as the Taoiseach did, while at the same time planning such an appointment. Let us have no more “stuck between a rock and a hard place” foreign policy. Let us have clear views and be clear in our views. The Government must be honest with the people about the evolving security dimension to the European Union. Fine Gael would not only welcome such a debate but, in the absence of Government views, would lead the debate, as it did the debate on Irish membership of Partnership for Peace. We must not only be part of the changing security architecture; we must be one of [385] the architects. What role do we want for Ireland? What role do we want for Europe?

Mr. Gormley:  On a point of order, will the Deputy give way?

Mr. G. Mitchell:  No, I will not.

Mr. Gormley:  Does he want to join—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  As the Deputy will not give way, Deputy Gormley must resume his seat.

Mr. G. Mitchell:  If we wish to influence the future shape of European security architecture and not leave it to others to decide, we must join the other European neutrals in having our voice heard. I welcome the decision to join PfP and see it as the next small, but vital, step in Ireland's continuing search for a coherent foreign and security policy.

I remind the House that I have raised the issue of law and order here on several occasions. If we do not have law and order, who suffers? The elderly who are afraid to collect their pensions, children who cannot be sent on an errand to the corner shop because of congregating bullies, and women who suffer disproportionately because they are not as physically strong as their male thug attackers. Security on a European or wider basis is no more than law and order being enforced and kept. We need only reflect on cases of genocide, the horror of the breakdown in security in the Balkans, in East Timor and elsewhere. Law and order is, therefore, a matter of social justice, the protection of those who cannot protect themselves. Peacekeeping, peace-enforcement and the application of security policy is no different. It is a matter of social justice – standing up to the genocidal maniacs and bullies who wreak havoc on societies. I find it extraordinary and appalling that those who we might expect to uphold the principles of social justice most, and who certainly put themselves forward as proponents of social justice, can take such indifferent and opportunistic a stance when it comes to Partnership for Peace or participation in arrangements which are not only necessary but desirable to protect the weak and vulnerable.

I will move an amendment to the Government motion later in the debate, which I hope will ensure that anything we do in this area will not be done by way of a backdoor approach. I support membership of Partnership for Peace. I support joining it in an upfront way, through a front door approach. If there are changes to what has been set out in the document presented by the Minister, I want such changes to be debated here so that we can vote on them and pin our colours to the mast. The days when such issues could be dealt with on a nod and wink basis are long past. The debate on this issue has gone on for too long; it is time we voted on it and made a decision.

[386]Mr. Quinn:  This debate should not be taking place solely in this House. It is a debate, the Taoiseach led the people to believe would be decided upon by them by way of a consultative referendum. In the Fianna Fáil manifesto, he stated that, under a Fianna Fáil-led Government, Ireland would not join Partnership for Peace. In effect, the people were offered a double guarantee which has been unilaterally withdrawn. “Fundamentally undemocratic”, I think, is how the Taoiseach would describe it.

The decision on whether to join Partnership for Peace is the first of a series of issues, which will confront this nation about our international relationships. The issues of global interdependence, peace enforcement, democratic control of the military and United Nations reform are all issues that we will have to address. There are no easy answers to some of these questions.

Writing in a recent issue of The Economist the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, puts the question succinctly. Referring to a series of recent conflicts across the world, he states that they all give rise to fundamental questions. These questions go the heart of our Irish identity and our political values. How do we and how should we react to conflict, particularly those involving crimes against humanity and widescale human rights abuses, which occur in other countries?

The existing UN Charter leans heavily on the rights of states and the significance of boundaries, rights recently discussed during the Kosovo crisis. The issue was also raised in relation to East Timor, where pressure had to be brought to bear on Indonesia to allow the intervention of an internationally UN mandated force.

In Kosovo, a regional force acting without a mandate, save its own, intervened on behalf of the Kosovar people. A United Nations Security Council mandate would not have been secured for this action, but in Rwanda, where Security Council unanimity would have been easily achieved, there was not a regional force and as we, sadly, know, genocide on a massive scale took place.

In East Timor too, the prospect of a Security Council mandate was minimal and were it not for economic pressure, the genocide against the East Timorese would probably have continued. Many of those who claimed the moral authority to intervene in Kosovo showed a marked reluctance to intervene when the sphere of conflict was further away.

The situations in both Kosovo and East Timor gave rise to considerable anger and emotion in this country. Those emotions are not unique to Ireland. In part, they are drawn from a new relationship between citizen and state. They are an end to the principle of “my country, right or wrong”. Where once citizens served the state, the state is now expected to serve its citizens. Increasingly and instinctively, global citizens react against fundamental breaches of the rights of their fellow global citizens, whether it is in Kosovo, East Timor or the next country in which [387] an assault on decency is either contemplated or perpetrated.

These changes in the world, as Kofi Annan describes it, do not make hard political choices any easier but they oblige us to think anew about such questions as how the UN responds to humanitarian crises and why states are willing to act in some areas of conflict but not in others where the daily toll of death and suffering is as bad or perhaps even worse. The people want to be involved in finding an answer to these questions and are prepared to address issues which have implications for how we do our business. We cannot say, for example, that our foreign policy, perhaps until recently, has been informed by any criteria other than that of our own self-interest.

However, alongside this willingness to engage in any new international debate, there remains a marked attachment to our traditional position of military neutrality. The term, military neutrality, is not sufficient to fully describe the Irish position. As a nation, we have historically opted out. If we contrast our attitude to military neutrality and all its resonances, our position is not dissimilar to the attitude of our neighbours in Britain to the pound sterling. We are reluctant to give up military neutrality. The fear that to cede military neutrality starts us on the slippery slope to militarism remains strong. However, it is now competing with a view that Ireland must play its part in helping to police the world for democracy, not the warped vested interests of the Cold War and its imperialist predecessors.

That is why the reasons of control are central to the people. It is why many of the same people marched outside the US and UK Embassies during the Kosovo and East Timor crises arguing against intervention, on the one hand, and for it on the other. It is why we, as political parties, have always assured our people that there will not be any change to our neutral status without referral to the people. It is why the people have a strong attachment to the United Nations and our central supra-national involvement or membership of the European Union has been so successful. At each stage of the integration process we have debated issues as a people and we have decided upon them collectively.

I know the issue under discussion today does not in strict constitutional terms require a referendum. I am aware of the legal advice my party accepted when we were in Government, but so was the Fianna Fáil Party two and a half years ago when it promised such a referendum. We should not try to fool the people that nothing has changed, nothing is changing and that Ireland's membership of PfP is a stand alone event. Our world is changing. It is increasingly interdependent. As a global people we can see into each other's lives. We are the first generation to witness at first hand, global pain and experience global compassion. Such an experience cannot but alter our view of the world.

[388] The people are more than aware of the growing significance of regional alliances to the United Nations and their role in carrying out UN functions which are of increasing importance. They are also increasingly aware of the slow but steady evolution towards a common and foreign security policy within the European Union. They know the Government recently acquiesced to the appointment of the former Secretary General of NATO to co-ordinate that emerging policy. How are they supposed to trust a Government which promised unilaterally to consult them on other issues?

This Government is led by a Taoiseach who stated only three years ago that membership of the Partnership for Peace would mean British troops back in the Curragh, the French in Bantry Bay, the Germans in Banna Strand, the Spanish in Kinsale and the Americans in Lough Foyle. Such cheap and emotive scaremongering always comes back to haunt its propagators. The Taoiseach should hang his head in shame today. It is little wonder that politics is held in poor esteem by many people when efforts are made to whip up such emotions. Having made promises to the people, the Taoiseach breaks them without having the manners to explain why he made a U-turn.

Nothing has changed in the makeup of Partnership for Peace or our Constitution since the Taoiseach made those remarks, yet he is prepared to proceed as if he did not make them. The Taoiseach may find that such cynical manoeuvring costs him dear in the long run. He has won few friends in either the pro or anti-PfP camps. Yesterday he referred contemptuously to people picketing outside this House. However, he is responsible for stoking the fears to which the people are now responding. I ask him to come into the House and explain what, apart from his duplicity, has changed since he told the House in the debate on the White Paper on foreign policy that “while the Government may reassure the public that there are no implications for neutrality – and that may be technically true at this time – it will be seen by other countries as a gratuitous signal that Ireland is moving away from its neutrality and towards gradual co-operation in NATO and the Western European Union in due course”.

Given the absence of direction and conviction about this Government's foreign policy and its inability to assert itself either inside or outside the European Union, the Taoiseach's statement three years ago is probably more true now than at any stage in our history. This was not an election promise which could not be implemented or which ran into an insurmountable opposition but pure and naked opportunism. The Fianna Fáil manifesto commitment that Ireland should not join PfP ended the debate as the possibility of joining seemed to recede. The Taoiseach in the Dáil sought a cast iron pledge from the Government that it would not make any move without first consulting the people. It is interesting now [389] to think what he would have done about such a pledge.

An explanation of why the Government changed its mind might go some way towards restoring its credibility. By that I do not mean an erudite contribution from the Department of Foreign Affairs, but a political explanation from the Fianna Fáil Party as to why it changed its mind. For example, what behind-the-scenes forces operated and what compelling logic came into play about which we have heard nothing? It is unbelievable that Fianna Fáil is now repeating the arguments of the 1996 White Paper which it firmly and comprehensively rejected then.

Membership of PfP does not represent a significant departure in our foreign policy. However, membership of the EPAC and the appointment of an ambassador mark a considerable change in the nature of our relationship with NATO. There is a genuine fear, which the Taoiseach must address and which is evident in his party, that PfP is a means to obtaining back door entry to NATO. That fear is groundless – I listened to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who perhaps will not be in that position for much longer, offer his point of view and assurances – nevertheless, it is a fear which is now stalking the land. Having discussed this issue with other non-allied PfP members, I know many of them remain determined not to join the NATO bloc. For example, the Austrian Government's refusal to grant NATO planes use of its airspace during the Kosovo conflict is evidence of that intention.

However, there is a wider fear which needs a more careful response, that is, that membership of PfP amounts to conferring on NATO the role of Europe's policeman, a role it should not have. In this context, NATO's limitations became particularly clear during the Kosovo crisis. NATO's historical position of antagonism towards Russia in particular threatened to result in a considerable escalation of the Kosovo crisis. NATO is a Cold War relic, an organisation without sufficient democratic input, which is accountable to no one. To what democratic assembly was the decision to take out the central heating system of Belgrade referred? What elected group of politicians was consulted by a United States general before that so-called military action was embarked upon? In addition, its policy of first strike nuclear deterrence is also abhorrent to me and my colleagues in the Labour Party. While NATO itself has no direct imperial legacy, I fear its imperial swagger. As recently as last night, even Henry Kissinger, the great Cold War warrior and former Secretary of State under President Nixon, coming from the position at which he started and which he has maintained, questioned the continued relevance of NATO. That is why I worry about the drift into PfP and the conferral on NATO of this kind of role which will result in it becoming the policeman of Europe.

However, we live in the real world and there is no point in denying that NATO has filled a power vacuum. Its attractiveness to the new democracies [390] in central and eastern Europe is particularly understandable in the light of their historical relationship with imperial Russia. The power vacuum arises, however, because the region's major economic power, the European Union, does not carry political weight commensurate with its economic might. However, often, as in the cases of Palestine and Kosovo, the European Union is left to pick up the tab. Most people, from reading the news and listening to American politicians, would think the United States was sending most of the aid to Palestine. That is not true. The major donor of aid there is the European Union, the taxpayers in this Chamber and in the Gallery. Likewise, the damage caused by United States and NATO aircraft in Yugoslavia will be repaired with moneys from European taxpayers, not from the United States.

My party supports Ireland's wholehearted and active participation in the newly emerging European Union foreign and security policy. We welcome the commitment of the French, British and Germans to developing an EU policy position independent of NATO and the United States while at the same time working in close co-operation with them. This is an opportunity the Irish Government should be vigorously pursuing within the terms of the Amsterdam Treaty, which was ratified in referendum by the citizens of this Republic.

As an institution, the European Union is globally unique, built on the back of a war-torn continent, its continued existence and its internal solidarity is proof of its success in bringing to an end, for a common peaceful purpose, old tensions and historical rivalries. At a regional level, it embodies my party's principles of commitment to international solidarity and rule by law. Its experience over 40 years in conflict resolution and peace building is unparalleled. It would be selfish of us to keep that experience to ourselves and not to attempt to export it where it is sought, to our neighbours in Central and Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

Ultimately, the European Union is a democratically accountable body. Notwithstanding the weaknesses of its constitutional structures, it is a body in which elected politicians, with all their faults, call the shots, a body which is conferring increasing powers on its own Parliament, a body which will, through the values and policies it espouses at international level, be democratically accountable. However, while European security based within an EU framework is a great deal more preferable to the NATO centred alternative, both involve difficult choices and would invoke opposition from a significant section of the Irish people. For example, two members of the European Union possess a nominal independent nuclear capacity. Many have sizeable armaments industries. Most of our European partners have an imperial past. To participate in such a structure will involve some relinquishing of sovereignty on our part. We must recognise the difficulties this will pose for all of us. It will require [391] an opt-in rather than an opt-out. It will involve a considerable increase in expenditure on defence, which is overdue, even if we confine ourselves to UN peacekeeping operations.

In many ways PfP is merely a small part of a much wider debate except that the circumstances of our joining will cloud the bond between Government and people which has always existed here as regards foreign policy. This is an important point. The emotional and political attachment of the Irish people to military neutrality is very real. The manner in which this Government has decided to join PfP deeply offends many people, not just in Fianna Fáil, but across the country. The complexity of issues which I have outlined will be further complicated by the consequences of this act of political duplicity and electoral opportunism. Instead of an open debate and decision involving the Irish people who, I believe, would have endorsed the Government's decision to join PfP, there is mounting cynicism that the Government is pursuing a secret agenda in respect of our foreign policy.

In fact, the desire to keep the people out of the equation has gone way beyond the Government. Many political commentators, writing on this issue over the last couple of months, seem happy to convey the impression that this is a debate out of which the Irish people should be kept. It is simply nonsense to claim there has been a national debate. Intermittent newspaper articles as the various stages of the process were completed do not constitute a debate of any kind. Neither does the limited circulation of a White Paper on the issue which the vast majority of the public have hardly seen or even know exists.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have heard Ministers and the Taoiseach – whose U-turn has put him on the back foot – deny that PfP is a NATO sponsored programme. It clearly is and the presentation document we are discussing is this country's contract with NATO. As such, it would be instructive to compare the terms of the presentation document with those of other neutral countries. At first reading, the commitment to peacekeeping within the PfP framework is stronger than that contained in either the Finnish or Swedish documents. The Minister should address that and the following questions.

Does he feel the nature and extent of this commitment has any impact on our traditional peacekeeping role under the auspices of the United Nations? What are the cost implications of this decision? In the memorandum that was brought to Government under the standard provision cost implications of this decision, was an estimate provided and, if so, can that be put before the House?

As a member of the Cabinet which first decided Ireland should consider membership of PfP, I still support that decision. Any organisation that can provide a modicum of stability in central and eastern Europe in accordance with the UN [392] charter and the principles of the OSCE is welcome. So, too, are the opportunities this would provide for the Irish Defence Forces to train with the best and most modern equipment. On balance, if there is no alternative – there is none at present – PfP is better than a vacuum. However, it is far from perfect.

We are merely at the beginning of a debate about how, as a global community, we do our business. In Ireland there are fundamental choices to be made about the level of engagement we wish to take in that global business. The legal basis underpinning our neutrality is no more than a declaration of sovereignty over our armed forces. It does not amount, in constitutional terms at least, to a statement of values on our part. It should be clearly understood that in the economic, political and cultural areas, we have already permitted a diminution of that sovereignty in the national interest. Global peace and security is as crucial to us as any of these other ideals. That PfP does not impact upon this constitutional position is proof, in itself, that greater issues lie ahead.

The Government's silence on these wider issues is a source of concern. Ireland is currently campaigning for a place on the Security Council but it is difficult to understand why. We have yet to put on the table any ideas about the reform of that institution. We want to join the Security Council but have we any ideas for its reform? Are we satisfied, for example, that the force of a UN mandate and international law can be vetoed by a single state, regardless of the scale of abuse taking place? What is our determination to address the issue that Kofi Annan puts, namely, that it is essential the international community reaches consensus not only on the principle that massive and systematic violations of human rights must be checked wherever they take place but also on ways of deciding what action is necessary and when and by whom?

This Government, led by Fianna Fáil – the Progressive Democrats do not feature in this matter, it is a solo run by Fianna Fáil – has stumbled to where it finds itself today. It has duped the Irish people on the way and no amount of obfuscation in the House or reference to legal and constitutional principle will hide that, and the public know it.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Brendan Smith.

Mr. Gormley:  On a point of order.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Yes?

Mr. Gormley:  Is it fair to say that only parties who favour PfP membership will be speaking tonight?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The normal practice will prevail. Speakers will be called alternatively from either side of the House and speakers from now on have 15 minutes. I call Deputy Smith.

[393]Mr. B. Smith:  I welcome the opportunity to make a short contribution to this important debate. I welcome the Minister's clear statement that there is no conflict between participation in Partnership for Peace and our policy of military neutrality. He stated clearly that according to the legal advice available, participation in PfP has no implication for our neutrality or sovereignty. Were it not for those assurances, I would not support our participation in this organisation.

At present, due to the madness of ethnic cleansing and state sponsored genocide, the job of keeping the peace is more complex than ever. There is greater emphasis on the need for conflict prevention and peace enforcement. Other vital tasks now face the world's defence forces, such as disaster relief, the provision of aid to refugees and helping to rebuild civil society on the smouldering embers of war. In this new challenging era, there is a necessity for armed forces to be able to work together, to follow agreed procedures and to operate standardised equipment.

It should also be borne in mind that Ireland has much to offer the Partnership for Peace. I have already mentioned our peacekeeping duties with the United Nations and the considerable experience of our armed forces in their work at home and abroad. Participation in Partnership for Peace is not a halfway house to membership of NATO. Of the 43 participants in the PfP, 24 are not members of NATO. Ireland will not be under any pressure to adhere to NATO strategies or policies. Nuclear weapons will not be allowed on our territory. Each state can determine its level of involvement and the areas of the PfP's activities that are most relevant and in keeping with their national interest. That was made clear by the Minister this afternoon.

Our policy of neutrality and non-membership of military alliances is not threatened. Partnership for Peace is not a mutual defence pact like NATO. It is a partnership, a network for co-operation, and we are not bound to render military assistance to any other participant. Our participation does not violate our Constitution and there is, therefore, no need to submit the decision to a referendum. Some of those who call for a referendum like to see themselves as representing the will of the people. However, look at the example offered by one of the other neutral countries which joined the Partnership for Peace, Switzerland. There was no referendum in Switzerland, a country with a long tradition of putting important questions to its people. A referendum could still have taken place as a result of a popular initiative in that country by collecting a sufficient number of signatures but the Swiss people did not consider that option.

Ireland's neutrality is not in danger. If anything, it will be strengthened. We have not been active enough in the past in pursuing co-operation with countries such as Switzerland and Austria because there has not been a forum for such co-operation outside United Nations sanctioned missions, in which the Swiss do not participate. [394] There were people in the 1940s and 1950s who criticised the Fianna Fáil Governments of that time for applying to join the United Nations because of the danger to our neutrality which they manufactured. The same people then, as now, confused a neutral foreign and defence policy with a neutered policy. Can anybody today honestly say that our neutrality was endangered by UN membership? Similarly is there anyone who is not proud of the thousands of Irish soldiers who have participated in peacekeeping missions, especially when they think of the inestimable number of lives, mostly civilian, that have been saved as a result? Fianna Fáil Governments have always been, and continue to be, active in support of our neutrality because they realise it is neither an easy option nor a cop out.

We are horrified by war, yet there are times where common action in defence of democracy and human rights has to be taken against aggressors. There are those, no doubt well-meaning people, who say conflict should never be resorted to even in response to aggression. We saw this recently with regard to Kosovo when pleas for a negotiated settlement issued forth from those supporters of peace when Milosovic's thugs and maniacs torched villages and massacred men, women and children, some as young as four years, and threw their bodies into wells. It is not enough to condemn the perpetrators of these heinous crimes, we have a responsibility as Irish people and as human beings to ensure every effort is made to stamp out this despicable behaviour in the future.

The Partnership for Peace has an important political dimension to which Ireland will become a member on joining. The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council has already pointed towards areas of mutual co-operation, benefiting not only participants but the world in general. One of these is mine clearance. Farmers in Bosnia ploughing their fields and children playing along hedgerows fall victim to conflicts where the fighting has stopped but the killing continues. What do we tell people whose limbs have been blown off – that we are too proud to take every and any measure to stop this happening to their relatives and family members? There are innocent people dying today, probably while this debate goes on, as a result of the lack of action in regard to mines.

In 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War, the Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera, told Dáil Éireann that his Government would pursue a policy of neutrality because the Government was the guardian of the interests of our people. In 1999, by joining the Partnership for Peace on our conditions, the Government is similarly guarding the interests of our people.

Mr. M. Kitt:  I thank Deputy Smith for sharing his time. I welcome this motion approving Ireland's participation in the Partnership for Peace. I am honoured to be a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. There has been considerable interest in that com[395] mittee in this issue. Ambassadors from four of the so-called neutral states in the PfP put their views before the committee and there was a very interesting and necessary debate on this issue. We had a vote on the final report of the committee, which was nine to one in favour of participation. That is welcome.

One of the issues I raised at the committee and in my party is the financial cost of joining PfP. The Minister said there is a modest figure involved. I understand it is in the region of £900,000 to set up and running costs are in the region of £600,000.

Mr. M. Higgins:  It is the administration—

Mr. M. Kitt:  Yes, ongoing costs. It is good value for money because we are talking about joining an organisation where there is a framework for co-operation and confidence building. The decision by the Government is good for the country and the morale of the defence forces because Ireland should stay in the mainstream of defence keeping. Our defence forces should have a full voice in preparing for peacekeeping missions. The Partnership for Peace gives them that voice.

Partnership for Peace is a major framework for co-operation, training and preparation for UN peacekeeping, humanitarian tasks and crisis management. There are, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs stated, 43 OSCE states in the PfP and 12 OSCE states, including Ireland, outside it. Twenty-four of the 43 countries are non-members of NATO. These include all our EU partners, the neutral states, Austria, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland. There is no conflict between participation in PfP and a policy of military neutrality. The advice of the Attorney General and that of previous Attorneys General is that a referendum is not legally necessary. There are no implications for neutrality or sovereignty in the motion before us. This was also the view of the previous Government when it was in office.

The membership of PfP by the neutral states is reassuring for us. These states, as their ambassadors stated at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, have focused on practical co-operation for peacekeeping and crisis management. I hope that the neutral states will remain in the PfP. Twelve states, including Ireland, are outside PfP and this can be seen as isolationist. Some of the 24 countries may joint NATO, as Deputy Gay Mitchell said, but it is a matter for each country. The Minister stated clearly at paragraph 3 of the presentation document that Ireland pursues a policy of military neutrality and does not intend to become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Ireland's decision to participate in PfP is in full accord with Ireland's military neutrality which has always been pursued in tandem with full and active support for collective security based on international law. That is the most important paragraph in the presentation document.

[396] We have heard about the end of military neutrality going back to when Ireland joined the UN. We heard about the threat to our neutrality when we joined the Common Market in the seventies and the same arguments were made when we voted on the Single European Act, the Maastricht Treaty and the Amsterdam Treaty. However, nothing happened. I welcome particularly the Minister's statement that Ireland's participation in PfP will be on our terms, as set out in the presentation document.

Ireland has been actively engaged in UN peacekeeping and it is a defining element in our foreign policy. We can learn about new developments in peacekeeping and we should not be slow to share our experience with others. There is a high regard for Ireland in the area of peacekeeping and within the UN.

One of the key words in the PfP debate is co-operation. New models of co-operation at regional level have been endorsed by the UN and the OSCE. Ireland would not be obliged to participate in exercises. It would be entirely voluntary and at our discretion. The Minister stated that we have served alongside NATO countries in UN peacekeeping missions for over 40 years and there is nothing inappropriate in training with such countries for peacekeeping purposes.

As regards the EAPC, I welcome the intention of the EAPC to examine ways in which it might support global humanitarian action against mines and how to contribute to the transfer and control of small arms as large numbers of people are killed by mines and the use of small arms.

Many Deputies have spoken on the arms industry among NATO countries and our EU partners. I am glad the Minister for Foreign Affairs raised the issue of disarmament, one that goes back to the stand taken by the late Frank Aiken when he was Minister for External Affairs.

The Irish Defence Forces have been actively involved in humanitarian assistance. We are all familiar with Ireland's response to natural and other disasters. Our Defence Forces have served with the UNHCR and Irish aid agencies on several continents and have assisted in Honduras, Africa, East Timor and Russia in the past. We now have an opportunity, through membership of Partnership for Peace, to progress that involvement. In the words of the Taoiseach, we should become more involved in the world around us and leave isolation behind us. I support the motion.

Ms F. Fitzgerald:  Amendment No. 3 states:

To add the following to the motion:

“and further accepts that any proposed future amendment to the areas of participation by Ireland in the Partnership for Peace as outlined in the Presentation Document will be put before Dáil Éireann for approval.”

I welcome the opportunity to participate in this important debate which is central to the role [397] Ireland wishes to play in international and European security. It is also connected to the role we wish to pursue in terms of protecting human rights internationally. It raises key questions on how, when and where our Defence Forces will participate in international peacekeeping. I regret that the debate has become clouded for a variety of political motives and that Partnership for Peace has been presented in the debate as something it is not. Yesterday, we passed a motion in the House to send Irish troops to East Timor and, undoubtedly, that has the support of Irish people. Four or five months ago we passed a motion to ensure Irish troops would serve in Kosovo, another initiative which I believe has the support of the vast majority of people. They were both peace enforcement missions. It is clear that our involvement in Partnership for Peace would give our Defence Forces the opportunity to train with other armies and develop new peace enforcement skills which would provide them with a higher level of training in issues of human rights in the post and pre-conflict situations that are so prevalent in the world today. It would mean the troops we sent to Kosovo several months ago and the troops we agreed yesterday would go to East Timor will be even more effective than they have been in the past. Essentially, Partnership for Peace is about inter-operability between defence forces so that they can do the tasks demanded of them in a better way in the increasingly complex situations in which they are asked to intervene.

I want to refer to the history of peacekeeping and the way it is evolving. Kofi Annan of the United Nations said it is absolutely clear that we will increasingly have to rely on regional organisations to deliver peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations. Kofi Annan supports the development of regional organisations but it should not be assumed that to support Partnership for Peace is to want to see a weakening of the UN. That point was made by many people. The UN has been ineffective but it is perfectly compatible to want to see a strong Partnership for Peace and a reformed UN that is more effective in its interventions. The two are not mutually incompatible. We have always participated in UN missions and we should work to see reform in the UN. We should work to ensure that the United States, for example, pays its debt to the UN so that the UN can be more effective. That is important.

The debate has also assumed that if we enter Partnership for Peace we will lose our voice on issues such as the arms trade, which is a major problem. We should see it as an opportunity to work proactively with other neutral countries and to have a stronger voice in another fora. We should not confuse the debate by pretending that joining Partnership for Peace means there is a mutual defence obligation. There is no such obligation. That is the line in the sand that has been drawn in Irish foreign policy and it is disingenuous to pretend it has changed. Members of the previous Government said that if there was [398] to be any change in that status, it would be put to the people by way of referendum. One of the unfortunate side effects of the way Partnership for Peace has been handled by Fianna Fáil is that the people's belief in that commitment has been considerably undermined.

Another issue which has clouded the debate has been the inconsistency in the Fianna Fáil position on Partnership for Peace. The Taoiseach's statement in Opposition, with its dramatic stereotyping of the sort of work Partnership for Peace has done, created a great deal of confusion and concern, and frightened people to a degree. Let us be clear about Partnership for Peace. It is about inter-operability between defence forces but it does not involve a mutual defence obligation. It has been overstated somewhat but the other neutral countries, including Switzerland, are members of Partnership for Peace so it is not a forum that involves a mutual defence obligation which has been the core concern of Irish foreign policy over the years. It does not involve any Article 5 commitment and it does not mean automatic support for NATO operations as a number of countries, including Switzerland, Finland and Austria, made clear during the crisis in Kosovo.

The Irish document makes it clear that our involvement in Partnership for Peace is strictly limited to peacekeeping, crisis management, search and rescue and humanitarian missions. It is intended to strengthen the capacity involved in UN mandated operations which have enormous support in this country. The complex nature of multinational peacekeeping requires intensive collaboration between armies in order to work. That is a key point in relation to Partnership for Peace.

I want to review briefly the history of Ireland's commitment to peacekeeping. There is no doubt that in proportion to our population and resources Ireland's commitment has been substantial. We currently have more than 800 personnel involved and this has resulted in a positive image of us in the international community. As a country without a reputation for aggression towards other states, we are suited to offer the impartiality peacekeeping requires. We have played a proud role in the promotion of global peace and security over the past 50 years but times change and so do our commitments. As we enter a new political age we need to rethink our strategies and modernise our policies. The world now is different from the world of the 1950s and it is clear that the increasingly overburdened United Nations system is no longer able to react to crisis alone. It is widely recognised that regional organisations have a key role to play in preventing and containing conflict. Organisations such as the OSCE, Partnership for Peace and the Western European Union have been mandated to address a wide range of issues and problems. Their response should, and do, increasingly focus on the totality of a conflict or potential conflict and not just on the military aspects alone. This [399] has enormous implications for the type of training we should give our Defence Forces.

For example, the United Nations training school in the Curragh should be given much more resources. There should be an increased emphasis on training in human rights in the Defence Forces and the Garda. A human rights unit should be set up within the Defence Forces so that, as our peacekeepers move out to do the sort of work that is increasingly demanded of them, they will be operating to the very highest level in terms of their knowledge, awareness and understanding of the human rights conflicts and dilemmas with which they will be presented. It is very important that, as we get further involved in Partnership for Peace, these aspects are highlighted in military and Garda training.

The scope of the mandates which these organisations are increasingly receiving reflects the changes in the nature of the threats we face. Security must be much more broadly defined than heretofore as encompassing anything that threatens the core values and institutions of our society. This could include, for example, international terrorism or well resourced organised crime. Other threats that might undermine our security include a nuclear accident or other environmental catastrophes that could lead to the destruction or lasting contamination of large areas of the world. This is the context in which we must see the move towards regional peacekeeping organisations. It also illustrates, once again, the point I made about the changes that are necessary in the training of peacekeeping troops.

A number of people have already made the point that we cannot shirk our responsibilities towards the international community. The experience gained from our involvement, and that of our fellow UN members, must be put into organisations such as Partnership for Peace. New initiatives in peacekeeping now focus on governance, humanitarian issues and post-conflict rehabilitation. There is increased emphasis on conflict prevention and the development of early warning systems.

This means we are going to work much more in these situations with NGOs, which also has implications for the training of our Defence Forces. We must work in a more creative and meaningful way with NGOs, both before and after we go on these peacekeeping missions, so that the missions are more effective. Co-operation is needed between the Defence Forces and the NGOs. We need a different approach from our military in many of the situations in which they find themselves. The kind of training they receive will be the key to success in many of these cases. We have seen how volatile are East Timor and Kosovo. It is very clear that communication skills will be key, quite apart from the necessary logistical and military skills, equipment and training.

[400]Mr. M. Higgins:  But should they stay out of the political debate for a start?

Mr. O'Kennedy:  Hear, hear.

Ms Fitzgerald:  I think that is another debate. The United Nations Secretary General defined the contemporary approach to peacekeeping as a technique that expands the possibilities for both the prevention of conflict and the making of peace. We have already been involved in protection in the Lebanon, prevention in Cyprus and Macedonia and peace enforcement in Somalia and, now, in East Timor. Therefore, we have been involved in all the different types of peacekeeping.

Our support for Partnership for Peace will have benefits. The sense of international obligation which will be fulfilled by our involvement is an important aspect. The greater north-south, east-west co-operation, in the context of the Good Friday Agreement, is another aspect. Greater co-operation in combating drug trafficking and organised crime, counter-terrorist activities and search and rescue is part of what it will offer us.

When Partnership for Peace was set up it was probably seen by some countries as an entry to NATO. However, we must acknowledge that it has changed. Some members of Partnership for Peace will see it as a door to NATO. However, others will not see it, nor want it to be seen, as that and will not use it in that way. They will use it in the way I have described, which is how I believe Ireland will use it.

If we are to believe what is in our presentation document and if the amendment proposed by Fine Gael, which says there should be no changes in that partnership document without first coming back to the Dáil, is adhered to, that will be the context in which Ireland will participate. Any changes will come back to the Dáil. Any question of further changes in our neutrality will be a matter for referendum and, I hope, a different quality and more honest debate than we have had on Partnership for Peace, and one in which the public will not be confused as it has been on this occasion.

It is clear that if we are to become involved in further peacekeeping, the investment in the Defence Forces that was promised as a result of the voluntary early retirement schemes and the sale of barracks should be made. I call on the Minister to examine the investment that is needed in the Army, the Air Corps and the Navy in this context.

Mr. O'Kennedy:  I welcome the opportunity, once again, to participate in this debate. This is the third time since the beginning of the year that I have had that privilege – in January, May and, now, October. Yesterday, when we gave a mandate for the participation of our troops in East Timor, was another occasion for us to review this very important aspect of our international obligation.

[401] This Parliament has inherited a tradition from some great men, such as Frank Aiken, who won respect for Ireland throughout the world because Ireland stood for principles of justice, human rights and disarmament. These people set the basis for a unique role for Ireland in all international organisations, such as the peacekeeping operations of the United Nations. It is entirely appropriate that we of this generation – although I am nearly between two generations at this point, having had the privilege of serving here for over 34 years and of learning my trade from that great generation who were still here when I was first elected in 1965, including our great, distinguished former Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, to whom I will return in a moment – should look at this objectively and analyse it from a position of principle, conviction and concern, not just for ourselves but for the world at large and for those principles that have guided us in our foreign policy throughout those years.

In each of my contributions I focused particularly, if not exclusively, on one aspect which concerns me greatly, which is the unspeakable arms trade and the consequences for innocent wretches throughout the world of the increasing exportation of armaments from many countries with which we would be associated in Partnership for Peace. I have consistently expressed that view because I feel it is a matter of obligation. A partnership for peace must, by definition, equally involve a partnership against war. For that reason, those who will proclaim themselves as being committed to Partnership for Peace must examine and change their ways in respect of their partnership against war, to which I will return in a moment.

Many countries with whom we are friendly and co-operate, such as the United States with which we have a strong family and close natural link, have not done anything significant to restrict the control of armaments to some of the most brutal regimes in the world, including, most recently, Indonesia. However, lest anyone think it is just Indonesia, I remind them that there are many dictatorships or semi-dictatorships throughout South America. There are others, such as Turkey, whose human rights records are not commendable, to say the least. There are many brutal regimes in regional conflicts in Africa which have been supplied by the armaments exports for profit of some of those with whom we will now be in partnership.

We can be reminded that we are also in the United Nations and the European Union with them. However, now that we are contemplating and taking on this new dimension, we must as a matter of obligation say to those partners, be they in the United Nations, the European Union or the Partnership for Peace, that this will not be accepted and tolerated by those of us with an obligation to speak up for human rights, especially the most basic, the right to life, of those innocent wretches who are always the victims of the profiteering arms trade.

[402] That is why I have especially focused in my discussions, both in this House and with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, on that specific issue. I have received assurances not just on a personal level but in terms of the actual formal commitment relating to the presentation document we present as a characteristic and condition of our involvement with Partnership for Peace. I will refer to some of the paragraphs in that document. We must rely on these to ensure our partners fulfil the commitments stated here. For example, paragraph 5 states:

Participation in PfP entails reaffirmation of the commitment of participating states to the fulfilment of the commitments and obligations they have undertaken in the field of disarmament and arms control. Ireland reaffirms its commitments and obligations in this area.

I cannot dissociate myself or disagree in any way with that, but I and the people want to be assured that the partners mean what they say when they say a “reaffirmation of [their] commitment to the fulfilment of the commitments and obligations they have undertaken in the field of disarmament and arms control”. I am not impressed with the implementation up to now of such commitments in disarmament and arms control. I have expressed my appreciation of the consistency of all Irish Governments, but most recently the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who has not only shown a consistent position on this but has won support through the United Nations from other like-minded countries for a continuation and extension of the nuclear disarmament commitments first launched by the late Frank Aiken. That is enhancing our position.

I also discussed paragraph 9 of our presentation document with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach some weeks ago prior to this debate. Perhaps the views I expressed may have made some contribution to this presentation document. I do not wish to put it beyond that. The paragraph states:

[We welcome] the intention of the EAPC to examine ways in which it might support global humanitarian action against mines. [We] also [welcome] the initiative to examine how EAPC might contribute to controlling the transfer of small arms, recognizing the high number of innocent civilian casualties caused by the use of mines and small arms.

That is one of the scandalous facts of this generation. I welcome the intention of the EAPC to examine ways in which it might support global humanitarian action against mines and for disarmament. One has to work in political life and in international politics on a certain level of trust.

Mr. M. Higgins:  They have not stopped selling them yet.

Mr. O'Kennedy:  I accept that and will come to that in a minute. Deputy Higgins and I are ad [403]idem on this. I want to see those global commitments being honoured. To welcome today is not enough unless, in the course of our membership – and we are not tied to this; it is not an obligation; we can review it at any time – the actions, as Deputy Higgins rightly said, reflect the words we do not see being reflected at present and which we have not seen being reflected before this.

In paragraph 11, which deals with our co-operation on peacekeeping and which is a great feature of our position, it is clear that Ireland has probably the most consistent significant role in peacekeeping of all the member states of the United Nations. Since 1958, Irish peacekeepers and military observers have participated in 46,000 individual tours of duty involving 37 UN peacekeeping missions. I wish to draw two points from that. With respect, I disagree with the Taoiseach, as quoted by the Minister, when he said we do not live in anyone's shadow anymore and suggested the Ireland of the new millennium should become more active and involved in the world around us and shed any remaining isolationist instincts or inhibitions. We all live in each other's shadow. It is essential we recognise that simple fact and there is a lovely old Irish seanfhocal which states it clearly: “Is ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine”. We live in the shadow of what happens in East Timor, Rwanda, South America or wherever and they live in ours. Therefore, it is important we say that we live in each other's shadow.

Equally, from my experience as Minister for Foreign Affairs and 34 years in national politics, a considerable amount of which was spent in Government, if we are told we should become more active and involved in the world around us and shed any remaining isolationist instincts or inhibitions, I must ask how a country which has our record in peacekeeping and our acceptability to all the member states can be said to be isolationist or inhibitionist. We have the seventh largest commitment in the world in gross terms up to this time, but in proportion to our population, it is by far the largest record of commitment to United Nations peacekeeping. I want to see that enhanced and enforced. When we come to co-operation and peacekeeping, if we are determined, as paragraph 11 says, to continue our commitment to peacekeeping – not peace enforcement, because that is not the mandate we are accepting – then we have nothing to do to change our position in respect of the consistent policy we have followed over the years.

Regarding the Minister's speech, I wish to make some points which I hope are of significance because what we say in this debate will be noted, recorded, researched examined and tested by the generations which come after us. This is an important debate. The Minister said:

It is not true that participation in PfP would oblige Ireland to engage in peace enforcement operations.

[404] That is a very significant statement which I welcome. It is a matter on which I have been in consultation with him and other members of the Government about for some time. It goes on to say:

Irish involvement in any peacekeeping or peace enforcement operation is voluntary, is subject to Dáil decision and requires a European Security Council mandate, and participation in PfP does not and cannot alter this situation.

That statement on the record will be I hope the test that we will adhere to at various stages.

I do not want to see us welcoming developments in terms of disarmament. I want to see us adhering to them very consistently. I want the Minister to address two issues. First, will he assure us that the joint operations training programmes about which we are concerned and which will be considered under Partnership for Peace cannot and will not in any way intrude on the provisions of our Constitution and specifically Article 15.6.2 which I do not now have time to quote but which very clearly vests the sole power and authority in the forces of this State under this Government and this Oireachtas? Second, it is important that Deputy Higgins intervened quite properly a moment ago. The responsibility here is vested in this Oireachtas. The Government of the day introduces the legislation for this Oireachtas. It is not vested in any military officer, retired or serving, of this nation. It never was and never can be. I repudiate entirely the position of certain former generals, lieutenant-generals and senior officers who are making statements as to what we should do here, accepting declarations and honours from Governments because of their commitment to peacekeeping. That has not been the tradition from the first Government of this State, represented in the first instance by the Members opposite, of the Free State Government, nor by any Government following. We have the sole responsibility and will not be—

Mr. Dukes:  They are entitled to their opinion under freedom of speech.

Mr. O'Kennedy:  They are, but they should learn the discipline, that theirs is a specific role which should not intrude on ours—

Mr. Dukes:  They are entitled to their opinion without interference from people who have just wriggled out of another principled stand.

Mr. O'Kennedy:  When they accept decorations and honours from foreign governments, that is more than an opinion.

Mr. Timmins:  I disagree with Deputy O'Kennedy's comments about comments made by retired individuals of the Defence Forces. As citizens of this country, they are perfectly entitled to make a contribution. While it has not been the practice to date, perhaps a certain frustration on [405] their part has crept through that has caused them to take this stance.

Partnership for Peace has received much publicity in recent weeks. Unfortunately, however, in the main it has been for the wrong reasons. On Friday, 23 January 1998, Deputy Gay Mitchell launched Fine Gael's policy document on Partnership for Peace which strongly advocated Irish membership. A very comprehensive document was produced, running to almost 20 pages. A press conference was held. However, only one of the national dailies gave it any coverage, and that was a mere two column inches.

On Wednesday, 7 June 1998, I raised the matter on the Adjournment Debate in the Dáil when I asked the Minister not to fudge the issue with neutrality or a European army as it has nothing to do with either. In response the Government stated: “We remain unconvinced that the arguments have been made that Ireland should participate in Partnership for Peace”. The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs did a great service to the advancement of membership when it invited the Ambassadors of Austria, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland, all neutral countries, to address the committee on the subject on 1 July 1998. This, more than anything else, set the debate rolling. However, it is a debate that has been called into disrepute by much misinformation. If any lesson is to be learned here, it is that no Opposition or Government should use foreign policy as an instrument to court favour with the public or as a means of gaining electoral advantage. To do so using such emotive language as “the British in the Curragh” or “the French at Killala” is grossly irresponsible. For many years now, members of the Irish Defence Forces have availed of military courses in England, France and the USA.

The Green Party and other groupings of similar outlook have sought to question Partnership for Peace in many areas. While one has to respect various different views, the questionable emphasis on the name itself “Partnership for Peace” is disingenuous, as they exclaim that it is a clever ploy to dress a monster as some friendly toy. The same criteria could probably be applied to the Green Party itself. I do not buy the concept of don't touch those who are involved in the arms industry. We can pontificate from outside and from afar and achieve nothing; inside we can seek to assist and influence.

Ireland has a proud and distinguished record in the field of international peacekeeping. Article 29.1 of the Constitution provides a foundation for this tradition. It states that Ireland is devoted to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation among nations founded on international justice and morality. This ethos led to our membership of the United Nations in 1955.

Since the late 1980s and the end of the Cold War, the texture of international peacekeeping arrangements has changed dramatically, and this change led to the establishment of Partnership for Peace in 1994. Partnership for Peace was first [406] conceived under the stewardship of Les Aspen, former US Defence Secretary in 1993. It was publicly launched on 19 January 1994 at the NATO Summit of the Heads of State and Government. This summit was attempting to address the problems of security and stability in Europe following the end of the Cold War. There was an eagerness on the part of former Warsaw Pact countries, fearing Russian instability and possible aggression, to join NATO. At the same time NATO's member states were concerned that an accelerated enlargement of the alliance would destabilise Russian politics. Thus, Partnership for Peace was a compromise.

At the outset it received mixed reviews and was greeted in several quarters with a good deal of scepticism. Some quarters view Partnership for Peace as a method to buy time for NATO as that organisation dealt with the enlargement issue. However, within a couple of years, this view had given way to an altogether more upbeat evaluation. Partnership for Peace is now seen as having an intrinsic value in its own right and it is set to become a permanent fixture in the new European security architecture. In the post-Cold War security environment, the nature of peacekeeping is changing and NATO's 60,000 strong IFOR operation in Bosnia has shown how important it may be in the future to have military forces with the means to enforce peace agreements. If this requires a greater contribution than the UN is capable of delivering, then the UN or regional groups, such as the OSCE, will need to be able to mandate military forces to act on their behalf.

The old UN peacekeeping model cannot deal with modern conflicts. Today it only has a role in the more stable regions like Cyprus and Lebanon. Society evolves, peacekeeping methods evolve and our thinking must also evolve. While some sections may lament the old clean and acceptable image of the UN, that image can no longer meet the needs of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo any more than it can meet the needs of the people of East Timor as they flee the scorched earth policy of the Indonesian army.

There has been a very sad lack of political leadership on this issue here. Fine Gael has stood firm at all times, as has the Green Party. We should have set our stall out at the very beginning. If this course of action had been adopted, all the misinformation, dilution and confusion that has been created by sections of the body politic would never have had an opportunity to flourish. This is not about restricting debate but rather trying to eradicate manipulation of the public. Recent manoeuvrings by some would not look out of place at Lanigan's Ball as they stepped and stepped out.

The Taoiseach, on the Order of Business on Tuesday last, said there was very little interest in the matter among the general public. In many respects we are to blame for this due to the different messages we are sending out. Irish people do, however, wish to make a contribution to world peace. In an MRBI survey carried out in Sep[407] tember 1996, which asked whether Ireland should join the NATO led Partnership for Peace programme, 77 per cent of the respondents agreed, 13 per cent were against, and just under 11 per cent had no opinion.

I appreciate opinion polls are not an exact science and often the question can be phrased to seek a certain reply. In this instance, however, it can be taken as an accurate barometer.

To join Partnership for Peace Ireland must sign the framework document. The level of commitment, speed of implementation and scope of the involvement are then decided upon by the signatory country in agreement with NATO. It is important to note it is an individual agreement between each partner and NATO; it is not a military alliance. Partner nations join for different reasons and when drafting their unique agreement they select from a menu of offers from NATO. This à la carte approach is what makes Partnership for Peace so attractive to so many nations with differing resources and it is mainly this fact that makes the concept so suitable and agreeable to Ireland.

The framework document outlines the objectives of Partnership for Peace as follows: to develop co-operative military relations with NATO for the purpose of joining planning, training and exercises; maintain the capability and readiness to contribute under the authority of the UN or OSCE; develop over the longer term forces better able to operate with those of the alliance; facilitate transparency in national defence budgets and to ensure democratic control of forces. On joining, nations agree an individual partnership programme, IPP, with NATO. The main focus of this is to outline the overall military aims and objectives of the partnership nation, set out the education and training requirements of the partnership nation and list the forces available from the partnership nation to participate in PfP operations and training.

In his speech the Minister outlined the basis for Ireland's individual partnership programme. It covers the areas of peacekeeping, which will be the central focus of our participation. The Minister said we are prepared to participate in and contribute to co-operation in the Partnership for Peace framework in such areas as inter-operability, planning for peacekeeping and peace support, communications, command and control, operational procedures, logistics and training. With regard to humanitarian operations, the Minister said we are interested in the development of co-operation and the exchange of experience and expertise in the area of humanitarian operations and that we have many insights and skills to share in the humanitarian area. Regrettably this appears to be merely an intellectual exchange and I call on him, when replying to this debate, to clarify if we will assist where required in natural or other disasters, because it is very important to ensure that our forces are in a position to honour whatever commitment we make. I [408] also call on him to clarify our intended role in the areas of search and rescue, co-operation in the protection of the environment and co-operation in marine matters, as briefly outlined in the presentation document, but not referred to in his speech.

With regard to available assets, the Minister states that an infantry battalion group could be available for Partnership for Peace activities subject to a national decision. This commitment will radically alter our approach to peacekeeping, training and preparation. It will no longer be acceptable to form a peacekeeping force from various and differing Army units for use on relatively short notice, as has been the case to date. To ensure that we can participate in a meaningful way with other member nations, it may be necessary for the Minister for Defence to examine the feasibility of establishing something on the lines of a peace corps. It will have to be an established unit consisting of members with a total commitment and for this to arise the Minister must have an adequate and suitable recruitment policy. He will also have to condense the six year purchasing programme for armoured personnel carriers to an 18 month period to ensure our battalion group will have suitable equipment to meet modern needs.

Since 1994 Partnership for Peace has evolved into a key European security institution. It now comprises 43 participants, including the 19 NATO members states. Its primary purposes are the protection and promotion of human rights, the safeguarding of freedom, justice and peace, the preservation of democracy, the upholding of international law and the fulfilment of the UN Charter obligations and the obligations of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. I could not think of a more suitable name than Partnership for Peace.

To date Ireland was the only significant state in western Europe which stood aloof from the partnership. PfP is not a back door to NATO, it is for non-NATO members, some of whom may wish to join NATO and others who have no intention of joining. Membership will not impinge on our neutrality. It is an agreement between Ireland and an organisation; it is not a military alliance. It is protective and not aggressive. It seeks to prevent rather than engage in hostilities. Membership of PfP can be revoked at any stage. That is a very important aspect. It is not binding for all time.

This debate is about the means by which we wish to display our willingness to make a contribution to safeguard the ideals we proclaim to believe in. It is about strengthening our contribution to European and world security, questioning our development as a nation and seeking to establish if we are mature enough to step outside the rhetoric of words, condemnation and judgment from afar and make a contribution to an age old problem.

Membership is in full accordance with the policy of military neutrality. It offers a selective and [409] flexible means of co-operation on military and peacekeeping matters to those who are anxious to break from the adversarial structures imposed by the confrontation between the two main military blocs surrounding the US and the former Soviet Union. Our interests are best protected and articulated by being part of and influencing the negotiations on the Continent's future rather than standing on the outside.

Membership of Partnership for Peace is an important step in our development as a nation. I welcome this motion and I look forward to the flying of the tricolour at the Partnership for Peace co-ordination cell at Mons.

Mr. Haughey:  In December 1998 and in January this year the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs stated publicly for the first time that Ireland would be joining the NATO led Partnership for Peace in the second half of this year. This decision was, by any standard, a major shift in Irish foreign policy and no real explanation for this was given at the time. Little or no public debate took place prior to these announcements. However, the Fianna Fáil position, certainly up to 1997, was that it was opposed to Irish participation in NATO itself and in NATO led organisations, such as Partnership for Peace.

In March this year the Taoiseach admitted that he had changed his mind on this matter. There is no doubt that he and the Minister for Foreign Affairs were giving leadership on the issue. However, I was unhappy with the lack of debate on this fundamental change in policy and last January I submitted a motion for consideration by the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party to the effect that my party discuss Irish foreign policy, especially the proposal to join the NATO led Partnership for Peace. I was granted this debate on 4 March 1999 at which both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs outlined and explained their proposals in detail.

My dissatisfaction on this matter related to the absence of internal party debate up to that point. I am now satisfied, for reasons I will outline later, that it is right for Ireland to join Partnership for Peace at this time. I do not believe a referendum is necessary. A Fianna Fáil view that a consultative referendum could take place was not adopted by the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats Government as circumstances changed and as our foreign policy evolved.

Mr. Dukes:  As the Minister for Public Enterprise would say, that was then, this is now.

Mr. Haughey:  A referendum on Partnership for Peace is not constitutionally necessary and I am not sure how a consultative referendum on this issue would work in practice, especially when legislation is not involved. Given that we have never held such a plebiscite, perhaps this is an issue the all-party committee on the Constitution might examine in the future. While accepting that a referendum will not take place on Partnership [410] for Peace, I am unhappy that the issue has not engaged the public mind as it should have. The Taoiseach referred to this yesterday on the Order of Business. It did not emerge as an issue in the European elections which, as usual, were dominated by personalities, national and even local issues.

We must resign ourselves to the fact that an inadequate and silent debate is now reaching its conclusion here in Dáil Éireann.

It must be said that all the major political parties, including those involved in the previous Rainbow Coalition, have handled this matter badly since 1994. They have ducked and dived on the issue and, as a result, have raised public suspicions about the consequences of joining Partnership for Peace. We should be confident and always upfront about our foreign policy. We have carved out an important niche for ourselves in international affairs which is widely respected throughout the world, particularly in Third World countries. We have a respect throughout the world way beyond what one would expect on the basis of our population or resources. We have always been positive and pro-active and should continue to be so within a changing European Union and interdependent world generally.

At the centre of our foreign policy is neutrality. Once one mentions the word “neutrality” one is immediately asked to define it. The historical evolution of this principle in Ireland is of importance. Originally, neutrality represented an assertion of our independence from Britain. However, that is no longer the case. Neutrality is the avoidance of military and nuclear deterrence based alliances. I suggest that, because of our non-colonial past and our missionary tradition, it also involves the promotion of peace, justice and basic human rights throughout the world. For these reasons, we should be positive about our neutrality.

In addition, I would like to support the call by my colleague, Deputy Roche, for an upfront constitutional referendum on neutrality. This would allow for a national debate on the issue. Such a referendum would ensure that everyone knows exactly what we mean by neutrality and that it remains a fundamental principle that would not become just a pragmatic tool which could be jettisoned at any time. A constitutional referendum on neutrality would allow us make an unambiguous statement on participation in NATO. I do not believe that military neutrality is guaranteed in Bunreacht na hÉireann as it now stands. There is some doubt about whether a referendum is needed to allow us join NATO, should that ever be proposed.

Mr. Dukes:  There is no doubt at all.

Mr. Haughey:  These doubts should be dealt with by way of a referendum. This is another issue which could be looked at by the all-party committee on the Constitution. If there were a Fine Gael Taoiseach, I have no doubt that moves [411] would be made to bring us closer to NATO and, ultimately, joining it. In those circumstances, a constitutional referendum at this time would be very welcome.

Neutrality is the underlying principle of Irish foreign policy. The Government's Presentation Document of Ireland for the Partnership for Peace programme states that we are committed to the development of a just and peaceful international society, based on the rule of law, democracy, respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms and the peaceful settlement of disputes. Central to our foreign policy is our proud tradition in UN peacekeeping, which has been mentioned by so many speakers previously, disarmament, arms control, humanitarian interventions to prevent, for example, genocide and ethnic cleansing of which we have seen far too much in recent years, action against landmines – I welcome the comments by Deputy O'Kennedy in that regard – opposition to the export of arms, overseas development assistance and nuclear disarmament generally. As a country, we have been to the forefront on all these issues. All these objectives make up the totality of our overall concept of neutrality.

I believe that the further integration of the European Union should be monitored carefully in this country and in all member states. Previously we had referendums on EEC membership, the Single European Act, the Maastricht Treaty and the Amsterdam Treaty. In each of these referendums, the percentage of the electorate voting “yes” has decreased steadily. If another treaty is to be put to the Irish people involving further integration, it will have to be clearly explained and justified, if it is to be passed.

Defence issues are central to the Irish electorate's concern with regard to further integration of the European Union. The Amsterdam Treaty committed the EU to work to play a role in Petersberg tasks of humanitarian and rescue activities, peacekeeping and crisis management. This is certainly compatible with our neutrality and can be advanced through Partnership for Peace. However, it should be noted that the EU summit in Cologne in June 1999 agreed that a process should be initiated to incorporate Western European Union functions into the European Union. In addition, the German Government in particular wants to lay the foundations of a European defence union. I do not believe, however, that this will happen when one considers the negotiations which took place between member states prior to adopting the Amsterdam Treaty, particularly in the reflection group. In general at that time, a variety of states for different reasons insisted that major decisions in relation to defence should be ultimately left to each member state to decide for itself. I support fully that view.

Those who suggest that support for neutrality is decreasing should be challenged. This is not the case in my experience, particularly when I was [412] campaigning for a “yes” vote for the Amsterdam Treaty. For older people in particular, neutrality is an ideology but, for young people, neutrality is more a moral imperative and that imperative is to promote peace, justice and basic human rights throughout the world.

In recent weeks, many comments have been made about Partnership for Peace and its alleged links with NATO. It is suggested that membership of Partnership for Peace is a slippery slope for membership of NATO. The White Paper on Irish foreign policy states that Partnership for Peace is not a stand alone organisation. Others have stated that Partnership for Peace was launched by NATO in 1994 as part of that organisation's strategy of enlargement and adaptation and that Partnership for Peace is to be the vehicle for this widening process. Partnership for Peace is also believed by some to be one of a number of instruments of US foreign policy generally. In addition, it is also claimed that both the USA and, to a lesser extent, the UK are putting pressure on Ireland to join Partnership for Peace, given the help we have received from the US Administration in relation to the Northern Peace Process – it is “pay-back time”, to use that famous expression. The Minister for Foreign Affairs should take the opportunity to refute all these claims during the course of this debate.

At the end of the day, I am reassured that membership of NATO is completely different from involvement in Partnership for Peace, given that 24 non-members of NATO participate in it, including Russia and the other neutral states of Austria, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland. As a public representative, I regret that I receive few representations in relation to foreign policy issues. In general, the representations we receive as public representatives relate to bread and butter issues such health, social welfare, education and indeed to many issues involving local authorities. However, when I am contacted by constituents on foreign policy matters, in nearly all cases they are demanding humanitarian intervention by Ireland. The appalling atrocities committed in East Timor recently are an example of this.

To use that famous Irish expression, we cannot stand idly by in terms of humanitarian disasters and remain aloof. Membership of PfP will allow us continue to play our traditional role in these situations.

I wish to make one final point, following on what Deputy O'Kennedy said in relation to military officers involving themselves in debates such as this and making political statements in general. I too condemn that and think it is a dangerous precedent. Foreign and defence policy is made by the Government in the first instance and the Oireachtas, and military officers and the Defence Forces in general carry out and implement such policy. I fully support what Deputy O'Kennedy said in this regard.

After much contemplation I support the moves to join Partnership for Peace. It is the right thing [413] for Ireland to do at this time in terms of advancing our traditional role which we have played in international affairs, something we will continue to do proudly.

Mr. Dukes:  I must begin by saying I deplore the efforts made by Deputies Haughey and O'Kennedy in suggesting that it is right to censor retired military officers who express a view on things on which they have expertise to share. Like any citizen, they are perfectly entitled to their right of freedom of speech, and it is too bad if this does not suit Fianna Fáil. I also deplore, and think it more worrying in terms of Deputy Haughey, this rather fascist idea that serving military officers – the current Chief of Staff – should in any way be restricted from saying in public what their requirements are in budgetary terms to carry out the job we give them. There is no other group in society which is prevented in such a way. We will be joined this evening by representatives of a very important group in society who have something to say about this. Deputy Haughey would not come to the House and suggest that representatives of the Garda Síochána should not be allowed say what they need in terms of equipment to carry out their job, and I do not think he should come here and suggest we should censor our Chief of Staff from saying what is involved for him and those with whom he works in meeting the job the Oireachtas and the Government give our Defence Forces.

Mr. Haughey:  I expect that from Fine Gael.

Mr. Dukes:  I deplore these fascist tendencies in Fianna Fáil, and the sooner the party gets rid of them the better.

I am glad the motion is before the House, although it should have been before the House much sooner. It would have been before the House much sooner if former colleagues of Deputies Quinn and De Rossa had not got off the leash, so to speak, in 1996. I am convinced that, at that stage, we would have seen a different view if a member of Democratic Left had not got off the leash and, without consultation with her party leader, announced she was going to vote against it.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Saw the light.

Mr. Dukes:  Her then party leader took fright and I think the Labour Party has to again find its equilibrium on this issue as a result. I am delighted we see another case of Fianna Fáil belatedly adopting Fine Gael policy. It did it before on economic policy and it worked. The party is now doing it in regard to PfP and that will work.

Mr. Haughey:  The new Tallaght strategy.

Mr. Dukes:  The sad part is that we have had to wait so long. It is even sadder to see people like Deputy O'Kennedy and Deputy Haughey having [414] to come to the House to wriggle off the hooks on which they unnecessarily impaled themselves in previous years.

Mr. S. Ryan:  That is sore.

Mr. Dukes:  Deputy O'Kennedy does it by thundering about the arms trade and Article 28.3.1 of the Constitution; Deputy Haughey, who can find no other reason for doing it, stands there and darkly wonders about what might happen in the context of neutrality if we had a Fine Gael Taoiseach. Deputy Haughey knows perfectly well that what he said is rubbish, and the only reason he raised the issue is that he is desperately looking around for some reason to get off the hook.

Mr. Haughey:  I hope the Labour Party will prevent Fine Gael from joining NATO.

Mr. Dukes:  I also deplore the use by Deputy Quinn of the old nay-sayers ploy in the debate by claiming in the House that there has been no debate on the issue. I remind the Deputy—

Mr. S. Ryan:  Ask the public.

Mr. Dukes:  —that he was a member of the Government that published the White Paper on foreign policy in 1996 and that the debate has been going on since 1994. The debate has been taking place up and down the country, and if Deputy Quinn was not aware of it, it was because he could not be bothered. The debate has been rich, varied and fruitful and has led us to where we are today and to the decision which I hope the House will take very soon.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Not with the real people of Ireland who do not understand it.

Mr. Dukes:  I have been involved with more of the real people of Ireland in this debate over the past five years than Deputy Ryan. I know what I am talking about; I have been part of the debate, as has Deputy Quinn.

Mr. S. Ryan:  I know what the people are saying.

Mr. Dukes:  A decision on PfP is clearly within the constitutional ambit of the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Government, something now admitted on the other side of the House. If there is need for an authority, a document published by The Peace and Neutrality Alliance – one of these mushrooms that grows up every time there is a debate about these issues, as there has been for quite some time – and handed to me in mid-June outside the gates of the Houses states:

Does there have to be a referendum before Ireland joins NATO's PfP? Answer: No, there is no constitutional obligation.

The fact that the Labour Party, in its amendment to the motion before the House, proposes a plebi[415] scite rather than a referendum is a clear recognition by the party that that is the case and constitutes a sad attempt by the party to get a little brand differentiation on an issue when it fundamentally agrees with what is being proposed.

Most of the reasons given for opposing membership of PfP are clearly fallacious, and I will go through some of them which have already been mentioned in the debate. The first objection is that PfP is a backdoor to NATO, that in joining PfP we will somehow be sucked into NATO. This is clearly not the case and I think that immediately emerges from any inspection of the presentation document. It also emerges very clearly from any consideration of the objectives of PfP. However, if there was any doubt about the matter, a reading of Article 28.3.1 of the Constitution would make it very clear that we could not undertake any mutual defence arrangement with any organisation without altering that Article which states: “War shall not be declared and the State shall not participate in any war save with the assent of Dáil Éireann”. It may even be that Article 15.6.1 and 15.6.2, which deals with the right to raise and maintain military or armed forces, would be infringed and would also need to be changed.

In passing I note that Mr. Gerry Adams says he is against joining PfP. I invite him to inspect Articles 15.6.1 and 15.6.2 of our Constitution, which were inserted deliberately by the late Éamon de Valera. They should be read once a day every day by all those involved in what I term a murderously slow bicycle race about arms decommissioning. Therefore, the allegation that PfP is a backdoor to NATO clearly has no foundation because our Constitution would require us to submit such a decision to the people.

Various other organisations produce reasons for not joining PfP. Recently AFRI got involved in the debate which has been going on for some time.

Debate adjourned.

The following motion was moved by Deputy Shatter on Tuesday, 12 October 1999:

That Dáil Éireann:

–acknowledging the vital role played by nurses in our hospital and community health services;

–aware of the fundamental changes that have occurred in the nursing profession and the varied specialist skills developed by nurses;

–supporting the commitment given to implement the recommendations con[416] tained in the report of the Commission on Nursing;

–knowing the continuing constant and rapid developments in nursing resulting from medical, technological and social changes which are increasing the demands and pressures to which nurses are subject;

–recognising that an overwhelming majority of nurses believe that their skills are undervalued and not properly acknowledged and rewarded;

–greatly concerned by the continued failure of the Minister for Health and Children to comprehensively and effectively address the waiting list crisis and substantially reduce the number of patients awaiting essential in-patient hospital treatment;

–committed to putting patients first and ensuring proper patient care and no further escalation in hospital waiting lists;

–deploring the confrontational and condescending stance taken by the Minister for Health and Children, condemns his vilification of nurses;

–recognises that there is a window of opportunity to engage in discussions to find a solution prior to a nurses strike occurring;

calls on the Government to immediately engage in full consultation and constructive dialogue with the nursing unions to resolve the present dispute and calls on both the Government and the nursing unions to agree a cooling off period following the conclusion of the strike ballot to attempt to find a solution to the current impasse before strike action is taken.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

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

Dáil Éireann:

–acknowledging that the Government has accepted Labour Court recommendation No. 16261 of 31 August 1999 on nurses' pay and allowance claims;

–noting that the Labour Court itself has stated that recommendation No. 16261 is “the culmination of many years of discussions and negotiations on nurses' pay and conditions”;

–recognising that the Government is committed to implementing the recommendations of the report of the Commission on Nursing which are designed to address the underlying problems within the profession and develop nursing as a key profession within the health services;

[417] calls on the four nursing unions to call off the threatened all-out nurses strike and to pursue their case in the context of forthcoming discussions between the Government and the social partners on a new national programme to succeed Partnership 2000.

–(Minister for Health and Children).

Mr. S. Ryan:  I wish to share my time with Deputy Quinn.

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

Mr. S. Ryan:  As Labour Party spokesperson on older people's issues, I believe it is a scandal that, at a time of unparalleled growth and buoyancy in the economy and given that the Minister for Finance will have a surplus at the end of the year in excess of £6 billion, the health service is at crisis point. Since the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Cowen, took office waiting lists have risen to nearly 34,000. Patients are waiting for more than three years for heart surgery. On the other hand, if one can afford to pay, one can gain almost immediate admission to private hospitals – so much for equality of treatment. Accident and emergency departments in our hospitals are under constant pressure, with patients having to lie on trolleys for up to 48 hours. This is now the norm or at least it was prior to the first nurses' ballot. This is unacceptable, especially for the elderly who have contributed throughout their working lives for a proper health service. Acute beds in hospitals throughout the country are unoccupied due to the shortage of qualified nursing staff.

These are the facts of life for nearly 30,000 nurses and the public in this so-called Celtic tiger. The public, especially the elderly who are most vulnerable at this time of year and who cannot afford private health care, is living in the real world, but the Minister and his Government colleagues are not.

The role of nurses has changed completely in the past ten to 20 years. These changes involve higher education qualifications and post-graduate education, the cost of which nurses have to meet themselves. This should be adequately recognised and rewarded. Major changes have taken place in the mental handicap and psychiatric nursing sectors which resulted in the transfer of large numbers of patients into the community. Due to understaffing and the closure of wards the workload of nurses has increased, resulting in the imposition of excessive pressure and stress. One has only to attend hospital either as a patient or visitor to witness this at first hand. When did Minister and the Ministers of State last do so? Nurses are rightly held in high esteem by patients and their families. Notwithstanding this, nurses are angry and have clearly stated that they are not prepared to continue to work under such conditions of employment and salary levels.

[418] Where do we go from here? It is well known that most disputes are easier to settle before they begin. The Minister should take note of this. A satisfactory resolution of this dispute has not been made any easier by the antagonistic approach adopted by the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach in recent days, a deliberate act to undermine the position of nurses with the wider community.

If the strike begins on 19 October it will cause hardship, particularly for those waiting years for an operation, the elderly and nurses themselves who would prefer to be at work rather than on strike. This is all the more reason negotiations should take place immediately. Given the expertise in the industrial relations area available to the Taoiseach and the Minister, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a formula can be drawn up to enable meaningful negotiations to take place with the nursing unions before the deadline. Should the Minister reject this conciliatory line before the strike begins, he and the Government must bear responsibility for the crisis which will hit the health service when the nurses take to the picket line.

Mr. Quinn:  In my time in the House the situation before us is almost unprecedented. We are heading for a major national strike, already causing chaos in our over-extended public health service, yet the Government seems set on doing nothing to avert it. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Cowen, seems to take pride in that fact. Last night he showed that the Department of Health and Children had spent at least as much time researching my previous comments on industrial relations as it has averting this dispute.

I draw the Minister's attention to the one fact that matters – I am sure I speak for Deputy Noonan on this also – the last Government averted a national nurses strike while this Government seems resigned to one. It seems obvious therefore that it is working to a strategy which appears to be: let the strike happen and presumably hope that the nurses cave in, a strategy conceived in the full knowledge that the nursing unions do not have large strike contingency funds.

Yesterday the Taoiseach made a strong defence of his position at Question Time. It is a wonder he is not seeking dialogue with the nurses daily to put this case to them. The reality is that the Taoiseach knows, as we all do, that the existing Labour Court settlement is not the final basis upon which this dispute will be resolved. Surely it would be better to explore other options now rather than wait a further time period in which the frustration evident among nurses and which is only now creeping into the Government side will only get worse.

In some Government circles there seems to be a determination among some Ministers to make an example of the nurses not in dissimilar fashion to the manner in which Mrs. Thatcher's Govern[419] ment took on the miners in the early 1980s in Britain. To be fair, this is not the category in which I would put the Taoiseach, but it is not an unfair description of the contribution of the Minister of Finance, Deputy McCreevy, to this process so far.

In a Sunday newspaper the Secretary General of the Department of Health and Children is quoted as saying that this dispute may last up to three weeks. I am horrified that a Government is even thinking along these lines. A three week dispute would have unimaginable consequences. I ask the Minister of State present in the House to reassure us as a matter of urgency that this scenario is not being contemplated.

It is not true that all avenues have been exhausted and that we have been in this position before. The matter could be referred back to the Labour Court. Industrial relations experts, as recently as this morning on “Morning Ireland”, suggested new, novel and different approaches. One proposed avenue worth exploring is a high level group to draw on the existing reports in this area which deal with the full complexity of the dispute.

I am aware that none of these proposals constitutes a magic wand. This is a difficult situation and it will not go away easily, but the public is entitled to expect that a Government led by a Taoiseach who has made his reputation as a negotiator would push itself to more considerable lengths than it is doing. If he adopted this approach to the conflict in Northern Ireland we would never have got the Good Friday Agreement. What is different about the nurses? It is not good enough to sit back and wait until a solution emerges or that the situation deteriorates so much that public pressure forces both sides to the table.

This literally is a life and death situation. Parents are already receiving correspondence requesting them to take their mentally handicapped children from their residential homes and it requires that every avenue possible is explored before this is allowed to happen. So far, the Government is failing on that score.

The news tonight that no agreement has been reached on the provision of emergency cover will instil further fear in the minds of the public. It is imperative that this issue is resolved soon. I call on the Minister to explain the exact position to the House tomorrow.

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera):  I wish to share my time with the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, and the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Mary Wallace.

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

Miss de Valera:  I am contributing to the debate because I wish to show support for my colleague, [420] the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Cowen, and to repeat the Government's wish not to see the social partnership process wrecked. Deputy Cowen is a fine and dedicated Minister who has brought his considerable intellectual prowess to the job. I will refer later to a few of his many fine achievements in the Department of Health and Children.

The amendment which the Government has tabled to the Opposition motion is a fair and accurate reflection of the current situation. It asks the House to recognise that the Government has done all it can to meet the nurses' demands. It also calls on the nurses to pursue their case through the established procedures and mechanisms agreed by trade unions. The nursing profession is a dedicated and caring one and is appreciated and respected by everyone. It is right and correct that their sterling service is adequately remunerated. I and my colleagues in Government are determined to ensure that every nurse is properly paid for the job they do. I believe in caring and sharing, and I believe in justice. The Government and the nurses agreed to take their case to the independent Labour Court and, in justice, the court decided on a recommendation which will result in a total increase of 23 per cent in nurses' pay since 1997. The Government followed all procedures and accepted all independent verdicts.

Up to now we have all valued this mechanism set up for arbitration, a mechanism that is respected by all the social partners. Disregarding the court's recommendation could spell disaster for this country. It would, no doubt, trigger a spate of demands from other public service workers. In essence, the threatened strike has the capacity to overthrow 12 years of partnership agreements which have transformed this economy. The agreements have resulted in the real take home pay of workers increasing by 35 per cent through wage hikes and income tax cuts, and they have delivered half a million extra jobs.

The Taoiseach has already pointed out that partnership succeeds because of adherence by consensus to the terms of agreements. It is based on a view that no group or sector can isolate itself from the rest of society and that a co-ordinated approach is the best way of improving living standards. Deserting the partnership process now is not in the long-term interests of workers, including nurses. Indeed, I know the main Opposition party agrees, but listening to last night's debate one would not think so. In his contribution, Deputy Shatter made an offensive remark when he said the conduct of the Government was similar to lager louts. One has to ask the question, what on earth was Fine Gael's tipple that brought about such amnesia?

When a nurses strike was threatened in 1997, the then Minister for Health, Deputy Noonan, said, on 10 January that year: “Strike action would be an explicit breach of the commitment on the part of the trade unions that no form of industrial action or pressure would be taken in [421] furtherance of claims. Industrial action would also of course be a severe breach of the spirit of partnership which underpins the whole approach to industrial relations in the context of national programmes.”

The then Taoiseach, Deputy Bruton, agreed with this view when, speaking four days later at the launch of Partnership 2000, he said:

I believe that Partnership 2000 and the previous programmes are the best approach to sharing out income in our country. Strikes are not the way to remedy grievances.

A fortnight later in the Dáil, Deputy Bruton referred to the nurses dispute and said that Partnership 2000 was “as far as the Government is concerned, the parameters within which a solution must be found”. The approach of the Government has not changed from that of the previous Government. The nurses should not bring the house of cards down around our heads now, and this threatened strike could in fact do that. Apart from the difficulties it would cause to people in need of care, it could very well pull the plug on our economy. Do we want to return to the days of high taxes, high inflation, high unemployment, high levels of emigration and no economic growth? Those were the days when we paid ourselves huge wage increases which were only wiped out by higher tax increases. At that time people said that there had to be a better way, and there was. It was called partnership. The Government believes that the vast majority of people want to continue along that path. We want all sectors of society to have a say in shaping our future and for everyone to share in our economic successes.

If there is a ground swell of opinion that the nurses' claim is a special one, will public sector unions representing all other public service workers give an undertaking that they will respect that special position? In deference to that special position, will they guarantee that there will be no knock-on claims of any type? If such guarantees were given, the nurses claim could be considered as part of the negotiations for a new national social partnership agreement.

Not only has the Government shown its commitment to nurses by accepting the Labour Court awards, it is also fully committed to implementing the important recommendations of the Commission on Nursing. This commission justly acknowledges the key role of the nursing profession in modern health care and made recommendations designed to tackle the underlying problems within the profession. Opposition Deputies have sought to put the nurses dispute in the context of a health service which they claim is in crisis.

Given the level of investment over the past two years, it is clear that the Government is committed to providing the best possible health service.

Mr. S. Ryan:  We do not have the hospitals.

[422]Miss de Valera:  An extra £800 million has been provided for the improvement of our health services since the Minister, Deputy Cowen, came to office. He is ensuring that this additional funding is allocated in a structured and planned fashion in partnership with all those interested in improving our health services. In the space of two years the Government has increased health spending by almost 30 per cent. This year in excess of £3.5 billion will be spent on our health services and we will employ an additional 5,000 staff. Last year, 17,000 more patients were treated in our hospitals compared to the previous year. The Minister's strategy for the health services is based on three key elements: substantial increases in the resources provided; proper planning of the use of these resources; and a partnership approach to the resolution of problems, with the interest of the patient the overriding consideration.

One of the major issues facing us is how best to deal with the waiting lists for certain in-patient services. They are an international problem, as we are not alone in grappling with them, but the impression conveyed by some is that they can be solved simply by spending more money. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as has been underlined by the report of the review group on the waiting list initiative, which the Minister commissioned last year. Adequate funding for waiting lists is certainly an important concern but the underlying causes of such lists are considerably more complex. The Government has approached the issue of waiting lists in a far more structured and comprehensive manner than any previous Administration. In summary, we have increased funding for dedicated waiting list procedures from £8 million, provided by the previous Government in 1997, to £20 million in 1999, representing a 150 per cent increase.

Mr. S. Ryan:  The lists have become longer.

Miss de Valera:  We began to address the need to free up acute hospital beds by investing £9 million in services for older people and £2 million in accident and emergency services. In addition, we commenced the implementation of a range of practical recommendations by the review group on the waiting list initiative to help deal with the underlying causes of waiting lists.

In spite of the tone of the Fine Gael motion the number of persons on in-patient waiting lists has fallen by almost 3,000, or some 8 per cent, since the beginning of this year. Those figures are an indication of solid progress and demonstrate that the structured, co-ordinated approach the Government has taken is bearing fruit.

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  I listened to a debate on health issues last night and tonight for the seventh time since I came into this House. Whenever a problem arises in the health area, whether a 'flu epidemic or a situation such as the one we are discussing, a motion is tabled by the Opposition. To [423] be honest, if we were on the opposite side of the House, we would probably play the same card.

It was, however, a case of déjà vu last night – I had heard it all before. It consisted of pious platitudes from Deputies of the Fine Gael benches anxious to get a soundbite about their local patch or local hospital. That was a summation of their contributions last night. Deputy McManus, of all people, made a patronising effort during which she blatantly played the feminist card and continued hurtling personal abuse across the floor of this House at my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children. We do not want to be intimidatory, abusive, arrogant or to hurtle verbal grenades across the floor of the House.

Mr. Creed:  Just at the nurses.

Dr. McDaid:  I hope the day of – as Deputy McManus put it –“talking down” women is long gone. She proceeded in the same patronising tone, using the same colourful adjectives she had used in prevous health debates, changing only the text a little to suit the title of the motion before the House.

This side of the House does not have a monopoly on wisdom, but nothing I heard last night or tonight will improve or better the lot of a single nurse one iota. The political tactic of tabling a motion of this nature contributes nothing towards the serious situation we find ourselves in today, but the lack of understanding of what is happening in this dispute among those on the oppositie benches must have been a serious embarrassment to members of the nursing profession listening to the debate.

I have worked with nurses in medicine, surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics, casualty and theatre for many years. I hope no one could ever accuse me of taking a cold, impersonal view of a dispute, which involves many fine, dedicated individuals about whose commitment I have no doubt. The work of the nursing profession is universally admired, especically here. Because we are on this side of the House, the Opposition should not think for one moment that my colleagues in Government and on the backbenches undervalue their work.

It is because I am aware, from my knowledge and experience, of the type of people nurses are and the well merited esteem in which they are held that I, too, ask them to hold back from the misguided strike action that is now threatened. I ask nurses throughout the country to note carefully that the Government's motion does not ask them to forgo or abandon any claim they have to improve their situation. It asks them to call off the threatened all-out nurses' strike and invites them instead to pursue their case in the context of forthcoming discussions between the Government and the social partners on a new national programme to succeed Partnership 2000. Most people will consider that a reasonable request.

[424] No one should underestimate the importance of the exemplary social partnership we have created and nurtured here during the past 12 years. It is the cornerstone of today's prosperity. This eminently sensible way of determining our industrial relations problems and of deciding on issues, such as pay and conditions, in a realistic way, has brought us from near bankruptcy in the late 1980s to the strong and buoyant economy we enjoy and benefit from today. It is an indisputable fact that every Irish person in employment today is considerably better off in terms of lower taxes and better take home pay than at any time in the past. I cannot envisage a set of circumstances that would justify any of us throwing the concept of social partnership overboard and choosing instead the law of the jungle, the economic free for all in which those with the strongest industrial clout would take the lion's share and the weakest would simply go to the wall.

This is not a situation that any body of Irish workers wants to see develop, least of all the nurses. Everyone in this House will acknowledge that in the past our nurses were under-appreciated, undervalued and underpaid, but that situation has changed radically for the better in recent times. My colleagues have mentioned the figures and there is, therefore, little need for me to go into them. The bottom line is that the latest Labour Court findings mean that the maximum salary of a staff nurse will have gone up by £88 a week and that of a ward sister by £144 a week, compared to the rates that applied two years ago. Having regard to those figures, no one can deny that nurses have made very substantial progress in the past two years. Staff nurses' pay at the top of the scale in Ireland is now higher than what obtains in Germany, the UK , the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.

It has been suggested that nursing in Ireland is not an attractive career and that young people are not entering the profession, yet this year more than 5,500 young people applied for just over 1,000 student nursing places. The number of applicants was 40 per cent up on last year. Traditionally, we exported many of the nurses we trained, but now the number of foreign trained nurses coming to work here exceeds the number of Irish trained nurses leaving to work aboard. There was a net inflow of 550 foreign trained nurses in 1998 compared to a net outflow of 140 Irish trained nurses in 1996.

The facts I outlined would not, by any stretch of the imagination represent a background against which strike action would be called for. Instead, they present a clear picture of steady improvement being achieved through the recognised industrial relations processes. I appeal to nurses not to turn their backs on a process that has served them well but, in doing that, I must call a spade a spade. Nurses have been led up to the top of the hill, but no plans were made to lead them back down again. They have been led into a cul de sac. They must consider that aspect. We all know this strike will end, but I hope it ends [425] soon before the morale of the profession is badly broken.

I, like all Members present, have the greatest respect for nurses, their work and their integrity, but the uncompromising stance adopted by their leadership threatens that morale, their image as a caring profession and the society in which they have built an international reputation. There is no need for a strike. The blame does not lie with the Government or the Minister for Health and Children. The Minister does not stand indicted before the Dáil and the public. The Government is faced with agonising choices to control expectations in managing our economic success. I, likewise, would, therefore, urge the profession to take account of the national interest, just as they do the interest of the health of the people who made this economy what it is today.

Deputies McManus and Quinn used the analogy of Northern Ireland in their contributions. They asked where would we be today if both sides in Northern Ireland failed to talk to each other.

We would be back in the abyss that was Northern Ireland in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. We talked for months and we came up with the Good Friday Agreement. The British and Irish Governments worked together to implement that agreement and today we have peace on this island. Similarly, we talked for months with the nursing profession and when no agreement was reached, it was decided to send the matter to the Labour Court. We honoured those recommendations and we will continue to honour them and to work to solve this problem.

I remember taking up the cudgels in defence of the nurses when two and a half years ago I wrote an article in a Sunday newspaper contradicting a Deputy from the Opposition benches who put the nurses on a list of groups he accused of seeking to rob the public. I make that point to remind the Opposition Deputies of when they were in Government and that when they come in here, as they did last night and tonight—

Mr. Shatter:  What about the comments made by the Minister for Finance?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please allow the Minister to continue without interruption.

Mr. Shatter:  I have not heard such sanctimonious nonsense.

Dr. McDaid:  —masquerading as generous friends of the nurses that their credentials are far from credible.

Mr. Shatter:  The Government should sit down and talk to them.

Dr. McDaid:  I appeal to the nurses to think again and to pull back from a course of action which is not necessary or warranted. Their cause will be better served by making their case in the context of the new discussions on social [426] partnership which I hope will underpin our approach to economic and social progress at the threshold of a new century.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Miss M. Wallace):  The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Cowen, has not caused nursing shortages. This is an issue he inherited as a result of a decision in 1993 or 1994 to move the apprenticeship model of nursing training to a diploma based programme. This led to the need to replace the valuable contribution student nurses made over the years when they were rostered in hospitals. An additional 1,400 posts have been assigned to the hospitals as a result of these changes in the mid-1990s. The nurses who were unemployed at that time were able to get jobs and the access pool for hospitals changed.

The Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation mentioned the number of people applying for posts last year. People still want to be nurses. Last year 5,500 people applied for 1,000 posts, which is a 40 per cent increase. A total of 1,222 training places have been filled this year with 821 in general nursing, 245 in psychiatric nursing and 156 in mental handicap nursing. This is the largest number of direct entrants to nursing training for several years, which proves there is considerable interest among young people entering this profession. The annual maintenance grant for nursing students, which is not the subject of a means test, has increased from £2,500 to £3,250 since 1997 and the range of leaving certificate subjects which may be presented by an applicant for admission to the nursing diploma programme has been expanded.

There are more issues than pay, such as those highlighted by the Commission on Nursing, rostering and entry to the profession. Despite the fact there are 200 recommendations, the three on pay have overshadowed the remainder. There are 27,586 whole time equivalent posts, which is an 11 per cent increase since 1990. There are more nurses in the profession and more students are being trained. However, there is a problem in the Dublin area with recruitment and retention of nurses which does not apply throughout the country. This is not just a problem in the nursing profession but in many other professions. Traffic problems, housing costs and lack of car parking facilities are disincentives, so nurses are moving to the country. However, these difficulties are being addressed.

A number of initiatives are being considered. A significantly improved regime of allowances in respect of nurses working in specialised areas, such as operating theatres and intensive care units, is being introduced and more flexible working arrangements are being discussed. Standardised overtime has always been an issue. The issue of term time working for nurses who want to come back into the system is being addressed with a view to maximising uptake. Discussions are ongoing on the provision of specialist nursing [427] courses at centres outside Dublin. An anti-bullying policy has been prepared and the promotional structure, including a clinical career pathway, is being improved. A study of the nursing and midwifery resource commenced last year. However, we are not addressing the broader picture which was the reason the commission was set up.

In February 1987, £85 million was provided, £25 million was provided in February 1999, £30 million was provided in August 1999 and £40 million was provided for lump sums. I am not sure anyone understands what that means in their pay packet. The Minister for Health and Children asked last night if people understood the benefits. In February 1996, £20 million was put forward, but today it is £150 million, excluding the £40 million in specialist payments.

There are outstanding issues to be addressed but why not accept what has been put forward and then discuss the outstanding issues in the new pay round? No Government or person wants to fight with the nurses. The Government is sorry rather than angry about this situation.

Mr. Flanagan:  That is a change from Luxembourg.

Miss M. Wallace:  We must try to strike a balance. There is no point ignoring the fact that social partnership has been here for the past 12 years and that it has made a difference to the country. The Government will not walk away from social partnership. We must make decisions for the future because everyone wants the country to continue its current level of development. This is a defining moment in social partnership, particularly in terms of economic growth over the next five years. If social partnership means anything to us, we must not allow the level of anger to dictate the levels of pay for different sectors. As the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera, said, it would be all right if every other sector was willing to say this is a special case and not look for parity.

There is another route under social partnership. The Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, and the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera, said the Government would like the nurses to take the award and discuss the outstanding issues. There are only two months to the end of Partnership 2000. The outstanding issues can be raised in the new pay round. It is still possible to call off the strike and to negotiate these issues in the next pay round in two months' time. Nobody wants to fight with the nursing profession. An award has been put forward which can be accepted. Nobody is closing the door on the outstanding issues which can be debated in two months' time in the new pay round.

Mr. Neville:  Nurses play a key role in delivering health care in hospitals and in the com[428] munity. Their role, function, responsibilities and expertise have changed fundamentally over the years. The State, health boards and the management of health services have failed to recognise this. It is fundamental that the frustrations of the nursing profession are understood and that their changed role is recognised and rewarded. If this is not done, it will compound the difficulties in the nursing profession as their skills will continue to be undervalued, unacknowledged and unrewarded. Nurses are motivated by their responsibility to deliver an efficient and caring health service which responds to the needs of the community. Nurses are deeply affected by and concerned about the continued failure of the Minister for Health and Children to comprehensively and effectively address the waiting list crisis and to substantially reduce the number of patients awaiting elective surgery and other treatment.

In an industrial relations dispute, as the position stands, there must be a calm, carefully managed approach by the leadership on both sides and discussions must not be inflamed. Cool heads are necessary. All conflicts must be resolved eventually. In 99 per cent of cases this is done by endeavouring to accommodate both positions. This motion rightly deplores the confrontational and condescending stance taken by the Minister for Health and Children and condemns his vilification of nurses. It is urgent that the Minister immediately engages in full consultation and constructive dialogue with the nursing unions in order to resolve the dispute.

Throughout history the nursing profession has had a special place in the minds and hearts of the people. They take care of us at a vulnerable time in our lives. They take care of the young, the elderly, the sick and the terminally ill. They are there for relatives at times of bereavement and care for those who suffer psychiatric problems and other disabilities. Nursing has become a very stressful profession. On today's “Six One News” a nurse stated that in the past she came off duty very satisfied but that she now leaves duty stressed and frustrated. Resources are not being provided to give the service expected by the public.

There is extreme pressure on accident and emergency departments. We receive regular complaints from patients who have waited up to six hours to be admitted to hospital from casualty. There is a report in one of today's newspapers of a patient who waited 72 hours to be admitted. How do nurses feel in Limerick Regional Hospital in my constituency where considerable funding was allocated to bring it to a level to enable the staff to provide adequate care? However, the facilities stand idle because the Minister will not provide the finance to commission the extension and bring it into service. There are two main operating theatres in operation out of a total of seven and a one day-theatre [429] operating out of a total of two. In addition, two renal dialysis units which have been available for occupation since 1998 have not been brought into use. Two radiology rooms which have been available since December 1998 also remain unused. At the end of June 1,570 patients were on the waiting list. What effect does this have on the morale of the nursing staff of Limerick Regional Hospital?

Tuesday's strike will send shock waves through the State's public health service and will impact dramatically on the many patients awaiting surgery in the next few weeks. Does the Minister have any idea of the despondency of a person waiting for as much as a year and a half for a cataract operation when he or she is informed the operation is cancelled? Does the Minister realise the pain of a person waiting for a hip operation for almost two years who is told the operation which would bring him or her relief from pain is postponed indefinitely? This is already happening. Patients are being sent home from hospitals, hospital beds are being left vacant, scheduled operations are being cancelled and people with life-threatening illnesses are being told that essential in-patient procedures are being postponed.

Will the Minister stop the confrontation and replace it with consultation with nursing unions? His approach is putting the lives of hundreds of patients at risk. Meaningful dialogue must be engaged in by the Minister. He must immediately address the outstanding concerns of nurses and ensure this potentially disastrous strike does not take place next Tuesday. He must ensure that the fundamental changes which have taken place in the nursing profession are fully recognised. The undervaluing of their skills must be addressed. This strike will be inevitable only if the Minister continues to do nothing and he and his colleagues continue to target and vilify nurses. The Government must immediately enter into constructive dialogue with the nursing unions. Solutions to strikes are always found. Compromise must always be the outcome. Why not discuss the solution to the present impasse? Why must nurses picket in order to be listened to?

Mr. Sheehan:  The time has come for common sense to prevail. The Government, particularly the Minister for Health and Children, has a responsibility to ensure that nursing care is provided for the unfortunate 30,000 people who are hospitalised, not to mention the 30,000 patients on the waiting lists of health boards throughout the country. Are the Minister and the Taoiseach ignorant of those facts? Do they realise the seriousness of the situation? Do they realise that a huge number of patients awaiting acute surgery will die if this strike is allowed go ahead? Do the Taoiseach, the Minister for Health and Children and the Minister for Finance think that by trying to frighten the [430] nursing organisations into submission they will succeed? Do the Taoiseach and the Minister ever think of the word “dialogue”? Will they adopt the policy of Nero who fiddled while Rome burned? Will they ignore the plight of thousands of patients in hospitals and the thousands awaiting admission for acute surgery?

I appeal to the Independent Deputies, namely, Deputies Blaney, Fox, Gildea and Healy-Rae, to support the Fine Gael motion. This issue will not bring down the Government but it will jolt it back to reality and open the door to constructive dialogue between the Government and the nursing organisations. This will pave the way for an amicable solution to the problem confronting the nation. The problem is not only with wages. Other issues are involved. Pay scales do not reflect the responsibility involved in nurses' work, for example, in the differential between the pay of a ward sister and that of a staff nurse. There should be a reasonable incremental scale for long service so that a nurse with 20 years' service will earn a higher salary than a nurse with five years' service. Special post-graduate qualifications should be acknowledged in proposed allowances. I appeal to the Minister to let commonsense prevail and to put an end to this uncalled for strike as quickly as possible.

Mr. McGrath:  As we head towards what appears, at this stage, to be the inevitable, I hope the Minister for Health and Children and the Government will do a quick “about turn”. A few important points must be made.

Already hospital admissions and orthopaedic services are being withdrawn in certain areas. In the Minister's constituency, orthopaedic services in Tullamore have already been closed down. There will not be any admissions for orthopaedic treatment this week or next week because of the impending dispute. This is happening in an area where waiting lists for orthopaedic treatment are longer than in most other areas. One must wait for up to two years for a hip operation in the Midland Health Board area. That waiting time will be lengthened by the strike. I hope the Minister will intervene if for no other reason than to help the people in his own constituency.

Whoever heard of a private earning more than the sergeant in an army? This is the situation that pertains in nursing. A ward sister at the end of the week receives less in her pay packet than the staff nurse under her control. She is responsible for the various decisions taken at ward level, treatment, monitoring of treatment and recording of treatment. At the end of the week, however, she has less in her pay packet. Whoever heard of such a thing? The pay scales must be adjusted to reflect the standard of responsibility and qualifications at that level.

My third point relates to public health nurses or, as I prefer to call them, district nurses. They [431] do a tremendous job, particularly in rural areas. They are the caring face of society, meeting people in their homes, looking after them, taking care of the elderly, dressing wounds and so forth. I am aware of their tremendous work, much of it done outside normal working hours. Recently, I met a district nurse who was caring for a terminally ill patient. She spent many hours outside her normal working hours in that man's home taking care of him. However, these nurses are not rewarded. They would be better off going back to work in the hospitals for more money and, probably, working fewer hours under better conditions. It is intolerable that these two sections of the nursing profession should have been treated in this manner and I ask the Minister to deal with it.

Mr. Currie:  In the short time available I will not be able to discuss the details of this dispute. I wish to use my time to make a plea to the Government to find a solution before there is a strike.

If there is a strike, it is inevitable that there will be suffering. There will be the suffering of patients – the old, young, terminally ill and others, the suffering of relatives who will have to watch their loved ones suffer and the suffering of nurses on strike, many of whom will have little or no income because the unions have few funds for strike pay. There will also be suffering on the part of partners and children as the essential financial contribution of the nurses dries up and there is no money for the family or the mortgage. Unfortunately – we must face reality – there could also be deaths as a result of this dispute and, rightly or wrongly, the strike will be blamed. In such circumstances the relatives will be particularly unforgiving and, inevitably, there will be recriminations and bitterness.

For what purpose will these people suffer? Inevitably, whether it is after one day or one week or one month, people will sit around a table and a solution to this problem will be found. Why not do it now before the suffering commences? The Government should try everything in its power to find a solution. Why is it not doing that? Why is there no sense of urgency on the Government benches to find a solution? Why does one have the feeling that the Government has intentionally gone out of its way to stoke up resentment in the nursing profession? Why did the Minister for Finance, in particular, consider it necessary to state his case in such a way as to antagonise the nurses? As I listened to him, I believed he intended to antagonise people and I understand why the nurses felt so strongly about his remarks. The confrontational language was the opposite to what was required.

There is still time to find a solution to the problem. If I were in the Minister's place, I would start [432] tonight. I would put out the feelers and enter negotiations by putting my case and asking the nursing unions to put theirs. This is the only way forward because, sooner or later, it will have to be done. The Minister ought to start tonight. He has time between now and next Tuesday.

Mr. Fahey:  Will we start with the Garda this night next week?

Ms Clune:  I wish to use my time to appeal to the Government and the Minister for Health and Children to talk to the nurses unions and not let the country career headlong towards a strike next week.

We have heard nothing from the Minister in terms of meaningful dialogue with the nurses' unions. There has been plenty of noise over the airwaves and in the newspapers in an effort to blackmail the nurses and make them feel responsible for the health care of the nation. In fact, it is the Taoiseach, his Government and the Minister for Health and Children who are responsible for the nation's health, not the dissatisfied employees of the health services.

I have spoken to many nurses over recent weeks. All of them tell me they do not wish to go on strike but they believe they have no option. They are adamant that they wish to make a strong statement to save their profession. Nursing is a caring profession and involves direct daily contact with patients who are vulnerable. It is noteworthy that 28,000 nurses voted to take strike action. They did not do so lightly. They, above all others, know what the consequences of their actions will be. The strong conviction that this step must be taken if the nursing profession is to have a future has been their motivation.

Nurses have absorbed the crises we are experiencing in the health service. It is they, not the Minister, who face the patients and their relatives each day. They deliver the bad news that the operation has been postponed again or that the elderly patient must vacate the bed by 12 midday regardless of whether there are facilities at home for them. Nurses take on these tasks daily in the Minister's name.

The nursing profession has become more specialised, responsible, technical and demanding. This is not being recognised. Nursing is no longer a profession in which one trains on the job. A nursing qualification requires many years of studying, examinations, training and caring and these issues are not addressed by linking the nursing profession to other sectors in the public service. I appeal to the Minister not to sit back. Do not let the next few days pass without contacting the unions. At some stage the Minister will have to talk with them and I prefer that it happen tonight rather than when the country is in the midst of a worse crisis during the strike.

[433]Mr. Flanagan:  Two words appear to summarise the attitude of the Government to this issue, “uncaring” and “insensitive”. History will record the supreme irony of the public affairs of this country in the autumn of 1999. News breaks daily of scandal, Charvet shirts, Ansbacher accounts and cattle debts in the middle of an unprecedented economic boom while the nursing profession is forced to take to the streets for a grievance that is recognised to be well founded.

Next week, if the strike takes place, the health service will be reduced to a shambles with cancellations, deferrals and postponements resulting in further trauma and discomfort for all involved. For the Government to accuse the nurses of endangering life has served only to add fuel to an already well lit fire. The devastation throughout the State is unthinkable. As previous speakers have said, there is still time to take action to avoid the strike next week.

I do not know of any nurses on the list of 23 that has been leaked of those with Ansbacher accounts. When the balance of 112 names is eventually dragged from the Government I do not suspect there will be too many nurses on that list either. The Government is uncaring and insensitive. It does not appreciate the sense of grievance on the part of the nurses. In half an hour this House will be called to vote on a fairly reasonable motion that does no more than invite the Minister to get people around the table with a view to resolving the problem. I do not expect Fianna Fáil or the Deputies opposite to support the motion but I would like to think that the Independent Deputies would have an opportunity of voting for the motion. I invite them to support the Fine Gael motion.

We hear from Deputy Healy-Rae how he likes to flex his muscles from time to time as far as the Government is concerned. This House had before it earlier this year an intoxicating liquor Bill which did not suit Deputy Healy-Rae and he had it withdrawn by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It has not seen the light of day since. We know now the ordering of priorities of the Independents in this House – intoxicating liquor, yes; nurses, no. Deputy Healy-Rae is not here but he still has half an hour to make his presence felt. He probably was not present last night either.

Talk of social partnership by the Taoiseach and his Ministers rings very hollow with 28,000 nurses threatening to withdraw their services as from next week. That is not social partnership. I say to the Minister and to the Government there is still an opportunity there. Go for it.

Mr. Timmins:  History will view the nineties as the decade in which many institutions went through painful revelations and thus their standing was greatly diminished in the eyes of the pub[434] lic. The church, politics, financial institutions and even some sporting icons have been dissected and put under the microscope in a manner that has surprised many and almost always the final result has been more stunning than we could have imagined. The health care profession has not been entirely scrape free as certain sections in the consultancy end have been questioned with respect to their role or otherwise in the waiting list fiasco. Through all this one section has stood aloof from the criticism and that is the nurses. Irrespective of the rights or wrongs of this pay dispute, it is inexcusable and unacceptable that this Government should seek to demonise the profession.

It is not my intention to patronise nurses but, in many respects, they are the unsung heroes of our society. Their work is surely one of vocation and, irrespective of remuneration, only certain people can do the job. This Government appears to be relishing the prospect of the head-on collision that will occur if the proposed strike goes ahead on 19 October.

Nurses work at the most difficult end of the medical profession as they interface with patients on a continuous basis, many of whom are terminally or severely ill. Their clear vote for strike action is an indication that they now believe their skills are no longer recognised or appreciated. If the reaction of the Government is a yardstick, this belief may be well founded. The inability of the Minister's representatives to agree a treatment schedule with the nursing alliance during the proposed strike is a most serious development. In the middle of all this, many elderly and vulnerable people are watching with great unease. Despite the trenchant position taken by the Government there is still an opportunity to avoid the impending strike. However, for this to prevail the Government must first replace its aggressive approach with one of consideration and understanding. At some stage this problem has to be resolved and barking at the Opposition will not advance the case one iota. I call on the Minister to put away his baton and enter into meaningful negotiations so that we can all move from this impasse.

On other Private Members motions I have, on occasion, complimented the Minister for some measures taken but I regret that I can find no merit or grounds for doing so tonight.

Mrs. Barnes:  On the Opposition benches—

Mr. Belton:  On a point of order, who is the next speaker on the list?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Belton is next. There are five minutes speaking time left.

Mrs. Barnes:  The Ceann Comhairle may let me know when my time is up so that equity will be ensured. Equity is at the kernel of this dispute. [435] There is a lack of equity in the health services at many levels. The Minister is putting a lot of money into the health services and everyone approves of that. However, it must be used in the best possible way. The people who make the health services work, who make moral and medical decisions and ensure, on a daily and nightly basis, that value for money is obtained and human life is valued, are the nurses. From a historical perspective, because it was a female dominated profession, it was never properly paid. It was taken for granted. Women were expected to care. They were expected to extend and sacrifice themselves. It was a vocation and therefore money did not enter into it.

I respect Deputy McDaid's medical knowledge and experience but he should be the first to realise and understand that the difference between higher paid people within the health service and nurses has been extraordinary and obscene. This matter cannot be dealt with within the parameters of social partnership alone. I appeal to the Minister and the negotiators to work out boundaries within which this can be considered without incurring demands from other sections. That may be difficult to do but there have been other areas of conflict where that has happened. That is what we are asking the Government to do.

No group should isolate itself from the rest of society. Nurses have been isolated from the rest of the society since they started by being underpaid, undervalued and unrecognised. It is a special case and I ask the Minister to take that on board.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy's time is up. Deputy Belton.

Mr. Belton:  The Minister took his seal of office as Minister for Health and Children and the health of the citizens of this country is his responsibility, not that of the Minister for Finance or the Taoiseach. The spin doctors tell us the Taoiseach can settle anything and that he is a great negotiator. What has he done in this case? Stirred it up.

The Minister for Finance called the nurses “claim jumpers”. He might know about jumpers at Cheltenham, Punchestown and other places but the nurses are not jumpers as far as I am concerned. They have dedicated their lives to doing work of which we can all be proud. I appeal to the Minister to talk to the nurses. The health services are in a shambles already. The Minister spoke about Michael Noonan last night.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Noonan.

Mr. Belton:  When Deputy Noonan was Minister he dealt with the finances. He gave £85 million and set up the nurses' commission. At that [436] time, the Celtic tiger was only a pup. Now the Minister has the money he should talk to the nurses. He took his seal of office to look after the health of the citizens of this country and he should do that.

Mr. Sheehan:  The Celtic tiger is fully grown now.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. Fahey):  It is clear from the debate over the past two evenings that the issue of nurses' pay and conditions is a complex one which has concentrated the minds of leading authorities in the industrial relations arena for several years. The Labour Court describes its most recent finding as the culmination of many years of discussions and negotiations on nurses' pay and conditions.

The Nursing Alliance sought and obtained independent arbitration on the three outstanding pay claims. They looked for due process and within days of the announcement of the Labour Court package, union leaders recommended rejection and set in train immediate strike action, giving the Government one week's notice. In doing so, they have set aside all industrial relations machinery. They have driven a coach and four through the partnership approach which has been adhered to by all the other unions and has been the hallmark of our economic success. A small number of union leaders have put a gun to the Government's head. It is a case of roll over or we will pull the trigger. How can any Government give in to such an approach? It would be highly irresponsible of any Government to respond to such a threat.

I call into question the responses of the two Opposition leaders to this pending crisis. Are we to take it that Deputy John Bruton and Deputy Quinn now want to create a precedent whereby the final arbitrator, the Labour Court, is to be ignored? Is this the kind of leadership we can expect from them if and when they return to this side of the House?

Mr. McGrath:  It will not be too long.

Mr. Fahey:  The Government does not have a fallback position between now and next Tuesday. I appeal to nurses across the country, many of whom have been misled by some of their union leaders, to call off this strike and take up the Taoiseach's invitation to a new approach to public sector pay determination which is imaginative in ensuring that the income of public servants should more clearly reflect their performance and not be based on so-called relativities. On work performance, the aspirations of nurses can best be addressed in discussions between the Government and the social partners on a national programme to succeed Partnership 2000. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Cowen, is [437] standing by, ready to get down to discussions on the outstanding issues on the implementation of the report on the Commission on Nursing to which the Government is fully committed. He has already put resources in place to implement some of the key recommendations.

I acknowledge that the nurses are coming from a historic deficit and that over the past 20 years they have been neglected, but it is important to reiterate tonight that nurses have done better than any other group under the restructuring clause of the PCW. The combined value of the various Labour Court findings, together with the other improvements given to nurses by way of increased overtime payments and enhanced incremental credit for previous nursing service, is more than £150 million on an ongoing basis and equates to an average increase of about 23 per cent. By any yardstick, this represents a significant improvement in the pay position of nurses.

I ask Liam Doran, chairman of the Nursing Alliance: what useful purpose will be served by this all-out strike? It will not advance the case of nurses. In the past two years, nurses' wages have increased by an average of 23 per cent. I ask the nurses here this evening and those across the country to accept the Labour Court recommendation and go back to the table to negotiate the outstanding issues on which they remain unhappy as part of the new national agreement.

Mr. Bradford:  I wish to share my time with Deputies Barrett, Ring, Boylan and Shatter. We heard a lecture tonight, and heard a stronger one last night from the Minister, Deputy Cowen, on the question of social partnership. Everybody encourages and welcomes social partnership but the Minister's words and deeds, taken in conjunction with those of the Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, have done more to destroy social partnership than the words or deeds of any trade unionist or the nursing unions. Deputy Cowen has now left the House, but he should “get real” on this dispute. He should recognise the genuine anger of the entire nursing staff of every hospital throughout the country. I do not know any nurse in my constituency or elsewhere who wanted this strike to go ahead but I know many nurses who feel angry, ignored and insulted by the Government's attitude towards this dispute.

Last night we listened to a lecture, as we did tonight, on who said what in 1996 and 1997. The Minister is missing the point. The context of this debate has changed over the past two years. As my colleague, Deputy Belton, pointed out, we now have a booming economy and there will be genuine demands for some of the benefits of that economy. People get angry when they see one rule for groups such as the nurses and a different set of rules for the golden circle. Against that backdrop, the words of the Government, from [438] the Taoiseach down, are insulting and unhelpful in terms of bringing this dispute to a proper conclusion.

The Minister cannot pretend that everything is the same as it was in 1996 and 1997 because everything has changed both economically and politically. Dáil Éireann must recognise that we are not talking about voluntary Florence Nightingales but trained, expert workers in the health care industry whose roles have changed dramatically in recent years. We got a lecture about relativity also but that itself is relative and changed careers require changed conditions.

I appeal to my missing colleagues on the Independent benches, two of whom gave us a lecture today about Partnership for Peace, to be equally concerned about partnership across the health care industry and vote accordingly tonight.

Mr. Barrett:  If ever an old saying was relevant to an issue it is the saying that prevention is better than cure and it applies to the dilemma in which we find ourselves now. The imminent nurses' strike has not come out of the blue. For many years nurses have been unhappy not alone about their pay but also about their conditions of work. The people who believe that the frustration being expressed by nurses is solely about pay are codding themselves. We are dealing with a group of professionals who spend their lives caring for the sick. I do not see the point in having a healthy economy when the people it is supposed to serve are unhealthy. The economy is for the people; the people are not for the economy. When it comes to the point where people's lives are at risk, it is time for the Government to take its responsibility seriously. It is the responsibility of all those on the opposite side of the House to solve this problem.

I reject the accusations that nurses are uncaring and irresponsible in what they are seeking. This is not just about pay; it is also about conditions. I know of a hospital not too far from here which had 25 nurses working in a casualty ward last February. Of that 25, there are eight remaining. A total of 15 nurses have left in the space of eight months. If that is not a problem, I do not know what is. These people are either emigrating to Australia, becoming agency nurses or whatever. It is ridiculous to talk about levels of pay when a staff nurse is being paid the going rate while an agency nurse is paid more for doing the same job. What sort of system allows that to continue?

I also heard the two Independents who have supported the Government over the past two years say they have a crisis of conscious in relation to Partnership for Peace. If their conscience extends to Partnership for Peace, I sincerely hope it will also extend tonight to supporting a justifiable motion in the name of Fine Gael. I hope to see them walking through the lobby to support this reasonable motion, which asks the [439] Government to stop talking to people through the media, to sit down around a table, to ask the nurses to have a cooling off period and to enter into discussions to resolve this difficulty. We all know what will happen if this strike takes place. It will be a very difficult strike to settle.

Mr. Boylan:  The Minister must remember that nursing is a vocation to the care of the sick and the elderly. A nurse is born, not made. They are special people who are held in high esteem by society. They give special attention to people in need. Their claim is special and should not be lumped in with the public sector pay claims which the Minister says this will jeopardise. I do not accept that for one moment, the public does not accept that and the Minister's backbenchers do not accept it. However, unfortunately, the whip is applied and they must toe the line.

These people must be treated in the way they deserve. I spoke earlier tonight to a group of young nurses who are in the Public Gallery at present. Their pay and conditions are abominable and unacceptable in this day and age. If we cannot look after our sick and elderly in good times, what will happen if there is a downturn in the economy?

Mr. Ring:  This is a sad night, to see hundreds of nurses in the Public Gallery of the Dáil when they want to be at hospital beds, dealing with people who are waiting in corridors and who come to our constituency clinics looking for hip and heart operations. Nurses are not trained to go on strike but are trained to nurse, which is what they want to do.

The Taoiseach preaches to people in another part of this country on a daily basis about the need to sit down and talk. He should practice what he preaches and sit down with the nurses to try to resolve this problem before next Tuesday. He lectures the people in Northern Ireland, he must now deal with the nurses in the country of which he is Taoiseach. I ask him to sit down tomorrow with the Minister for Health and Children and the nurses to try to prevent this strike. No nurse wants to be on £60 next week. Nurses want to nurse. They want to look after the sick and to deal with the people with whom they were trained to deal.

Over the past two weeks the Minister for Health and Children, the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, and the Taoiseach have lectured the nurses. They must now talk to the nurses, rather than lecture them. All they want is a fair deal. They have given service over the years. We have all, at some stage, had somebody belonging to us sick and these people have done an excellent job for them.

I will hand over now to my colleague, Deputy Shatter, whom I compliment on bringing this [440] motion before the Dáil. I ask the Independent Deputies to come with us rather than always lecture us. I ask them to vote with us tonight on this important matter.

Mr. Shatter:  Last night we listened to the Minister for Health and Children and I was appalled by his contribution. We were confronted with a long lecture on industrial relations. The essence of good industrial relations is one's skills and capacity to resolve disputes. The essence of industrial relations is dispute resolution when confronted by difficulties. The Minister's concept of dispute resolution is to engage in confrontation and bring about dispute escalation.

The gallery is full of nurses this evening. As my colleague, Deputy Ring, said, they have no wish to be here. They have no wish to come to this House to be lectured by the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children and to have to listen to a provocative, confrontational speech, the sort of brainless, witless contribution that will exacerbate further this conflict.

We should be hearing from the Government – it is the Minister's responsibility – that the Minister is taking action to guarantee to patients a functioning health service. We should be hearing that he is willing to do what Fine Gael is asking him to do, which is to engage in constructive dialogue and to seek an agreed formula to resolve what will be one of the most damaging industrial strikes in the history of the State if it takes place. However, the Minister is doing nothing. He is sitting there, delegating his responsibilities to the health employers' agency, whose sole role is to try to work out emergency arrangements if the strike happens. Of course, emergency arrangements should be made. However, there should be no need for emergency arrangements. The discussion which should be taking place is to resolve the dispute and it should not be taking place on the basis that it is inevitable the strike will occur.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Hear, hear.

Mr. Shatter:  We live in a topsy turvy world. Fianna Fáil, a party that asks a bank to write off a colleague's £250,000 bank debt, is not even willing to enter into dialogue with nurses about the small claim that they believe is justified and about which they believe discussions should take place.

We also live in a very strange political world. I wish to quote a contribution made in the Dáil on 6 February 1997. It was an impressive contribution, which I presumed at the time this person meant. Quite clearly, he was less than sincere in delivering it. It is a contribution we should dwell on for a moment. It states, at column 951 of the Official Report of 6 February 1997:

Fianna Fáil wants to see justice done to the caring profession. Nurses play a vital role in the health services. They are integral to its func[441] tioning and their work is of immense value. In the past, when Fianna Fáil has been in Government, there have been disputes where more rigid national agreements and more difficult fiscal conditions applied in the economy. Amongst these were disputes involving the ESB, radiographers, dental assistants, fire brigade staff and hospital doctors. In each instance the disputes were resolved with political will and imagination despite the limitations of the Programme for National Recovery and the Programme for Economic and Social Progress.

That speech was delivered by the Minister, Deputy Cowen, who was then the shadow spokesperson on health, who believed that entering into dialogue to resolve nurses disputes would not bring an end to social partnership or be catastrophic for industrial relations in the State.

Mr. Cowen:  Was there a rejection of a Labour Court recommendation at that time?

Mr. Shatter:  The same person went on to say:

If a national nursing strike goes ahead, the entire health service will grind to a halt, probably within hours of the strike starting. The chaos that will result is unthinkable.

He went on to say:

The Minister was wrong to remain at arm's length from the dispute for so long. After two rejections of the pay offer, he should have got directly involved and tried one last effort. He should have responded to the request from the unions to hold a direct meeting with them and he certainly should have taken up the offer from the General Secretary of SIPTU for a commission on nurses' pay and conditions. This could and probably will form part of the ultimate solution.

Mr. Cowen:  The Labour Court gave that.

Mr. Shatter:  Of course, the difference between 1997 and 1999 is that Deputy Noonan, as the then Minister for Health, entered into discussions, resolved the dispute—

Mr. Cowen:  He did not.

Mr. Shatter:  —established the Commission on Nursing and we did not have a nurses strike and there was no need for nurses to occupy the Public Gallery of this House to try to find out if [442] the Minister might do anything of a constructive nature.

Mr. Cowen:  On a point of order, the Deputy is misleading the House.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please allow Deputy Shatter to finish.

Mr. Cowen:  I know the Deputy is a part-time spokesperson, but he should try to get his facts right.

Mr. Shatter:  In April 1997 the same Deputy made a similar contribution. He was talking about the ambulance service. He said:

I call on the Minister to intervene tonight to resolve this dispute. The Minister must realise the dispute will have to be resolved and it would be better if that were done before a damaging strike began. In the event that the dispute goes ahead, I ask the Minister to outline the contingency plan which should now be in place. When the nurses' dispute was threatened, a situation developed where the contingency plans were left until the very last minute and appeared to unwind at the time.

The Minister has no contingency plans for this dispute.

Mr. Cowen:  I am waiting for them.

Mr. Shatter:  He concluded by saying of the nurses strike: “Fortunately, the dispute did not go ahead, but had it done so there might have been a problem with cover.” Reverting to the ambulance strike, he said: “The Minister must ensure that nothing similar happens in any other dispute involving an essential service such as this one.” The Minister has a responsibility to ensure this strike does not take place next Tuesday. He has an obligation to patients to ensure the medical services to which they are entitled are made available to them. He also has a responsibility to the nursing profession, a profession which has never, in its long history, gone on strike. It is the least militant profession in public sector industrial relations. The Minister's responsibility is simple. He should enter constructive dialogue, avert this strike and have a cooling off period during which cool minds can find a resolution to this dispute which, with a better Minister with more foresight, would never have occurred in the first place.

Amendment put.

Ahern, Dermot.
Ahern, Michael.
Ahern, Noel.
Andrews, David.
Ardagh, Seán. Aylward, Liam.[443]

Tá–continued

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

Níl

Allen, Bernard.
Barnes, Monica.
Barrett, Seán.
Bell, Michael.
Belton, Louis.
Bradford, Paul.
Broughan, Thomas.
Bruton, John.
Bruton, Richard.
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.
Dukes, Alan.
Durkan, Bernard.
Enright, Thomas.
Farrelly, John.
Finucane, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Frances.
Flanagan, Charles.
Gormley, John.
Gregory, Tony.
Hayes, Brian.
Higgins, Jim.
Higgins, Joe.
Higgins, Michael.
Howlin, Brendan.
Kenny, Enda.
Lowry, Michael.
McCormack, Pádraic.
McDowell, Derek.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
McGrath, Paul.
McManus, Liz.
Mitchell, Olivia.
Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
Naughten, Denis.
Neville, Dan.
Noonan, Michael.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
O'Shea, Brian.
O'Sullivan, Jan.
Owen, Nora.
Penrose, William.
Perry, John.
Quinn, Ruairí.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Reynolds, Gerard.
Ring, Michael.
Ryan, Seán.
Sargent, Trevor.
Shatter, Alan.
Sheehan, Patrick.
Shortall, Róisín.
Stagg, Emmet.
Stanton, David.
Timmins, Billy.

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

Amendment declared carried. Question put: “That the motion, as amended, be agreed to.”

[445]

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

Níl

Allen, Bernard.
Barnes, Monica.
Barrett, Seán.
Bell, Michael.
Belton, Louis.
Bradford, Paul.
Broughan, Thomas.
Bruton, John.
Bruton, Richard.
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.
Dukes, Alan.
Durkan, Bernard.
Enright, Thomas.
Farrelly, John.
Finucane, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Frances.
Flanagan, Charles.
Gormley, John.
Gregory, Tony.
Hayes, Brian.
Higgins, Jim.
Higgins, Joe.
Higgins, Michael.
Howlin, Brendan.
Kenny, Enda.
Lowry, Michael.
McCormack, Pádraic.
McDowell, Derek.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
McGrath, Paul.
McManus, Liz.
Mitchell, Olivia.
Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
Naughten, Denis.
Neville, Dan.
Noonan, Michael.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
O'Shea, Brian.
O'Sullivan, Jan.
Owen, Nora.
Penrose, William.
Perry, John.
Quinn, Ruairí.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Reynolds, Gerard.
Ring, Michael.
Ryan, Seán.
Sargent, Trevor.
Shatter, Alan.
Sheehan, Patrick.
Shortall, Róisín.
Stagg, Emmet.
Stanton, David.
Timmins, Billy.

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

[447] Question declared carried.

Ms Cooper-Flynn:  I thank the Minister for coming to the House to take this question this evening. I brought this matter to the attention of the House because I am concerned about the future development of the west and the role being played in that development by Knock International Airport. In the west we are living in the most peripheral part of Europe and our special circumstances have been recognised, particularly by this Government when it fought to obtain Objective One status for the region earlier this year. This status will guarantee a massive investment in infrastructure which I hope will lead to further economic and social benefits for our region. Knock airport is an essential element in that plan.

Regional airports throughout Europe have proven to be very successful in all developing economies. Knock International Airport has been in existence for 20 years and has been a great asset to the western region during that time. However, its potential as a major player in the economic and social development of the Connacht region has not been fully realised. With that in mind, it is with great concern that I have learnt of Aer Lingus's decision, under its revised winter schedule, to pull its only service out of Knock International Airport at the end of October. The presence of a flagship carrier such as our national State-owned airline, Aer Lingus, as a key player at Knock airport would give a great boost and vote of confidence to the western region. This, unfortunately, is not the case, the exact opposite is the situation at a time of great emphasis on regional development.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask visitors in the Public Gallery to leave quietly. The House is still in session.

Ms Cooper-Flynn:  We have lots of things going for us within the western region such as Objective One status which we recently retained, better local authority structures in place than ever before and a dedicated community attitude. All these factors must be galvanised into a real effort to adjust the imbalance between east and west so that true equality of treatment and opportunity exists throughout the State. Knock airport is a key element in that equation. It was never intended to be an exit gateway from the west. That phenomenon has gone on for over two centuries with the mass exodus of our greatest resource, our people. Aer Lingus benefited greatly over the years when many of our people [448] had to leave and return home. They supported Aer Lingus on those occasions.

Due to significant industrial development over the past 20 years, we are fortunate to have a number of major international companies in Connacht – Allergan, Baxter, Coca Cola and Boston Scientific, to name but a few. Companies such as these offer an opportunity for business to be done via Knock airport. The tourism industry is organised in the west better than ever before. We have a product of high quality and a high standard. However, we need accessibility to make it viable. The full potential of Knock International Airport will be achieved when it is used as an industrial corridor, bringing people to and from Connacht for the purpose of conducting business and leisure. It is for this reason I am disappointed with the decision by Aer Lingus to discontinue its Knock-Birmingham service. This is despite the fact that it has achieved an average load factor of 73 per cent for the period January-September 1999. The current schedule sees the Birmingham-Knock leg arriving on Friday at 8.15 p.m. and departing on Sunday at 3.15 p.m. Did the airline ever consider putting a fuller service in place at Knock airport and did it consider putting additional routes in place to and from Knock? Other airlines operate very successfully from Knock International Airport and have been doing so for many years. Why can our national airline not do likewise?

I am not interested in a rejection formula from Aer Lingus based on numbers unless it is accompanied by evidence of a genuine effort on its part to include Knock airport in its corporate plan for an improved regional service. There are those who believe that Knock International Airport never enjoyed the full corporate back-up from Aer Lingus. I would be interested to learn what marketing effort was made by Aer Lingus to support the Knock service and what its attitude to Knock airport is in the context of regional transport.

Will the Minister outline what relationship exists between her Department and Knock airport and the future plans to develop the airport in line with Objective One status? I ask her to use her influence to persuade Aer Lingus to reconsider this very important decision and possibly examine other routes to and from Knock airport.

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  I thank Deputy Cooper-Flynn for raising this issue. She has done so continuously for the past seven or eight days, hoping to get it on the Adjournment. I wanted to be here to speak on the issue.

I recognise that regional airports throughout the country operate under very difficult circumstances. While the Deputy was speaking, my mind wandered back to the beginning of Knock airport. I remember the huge antipathy that existed in this House and throughout the country against Knock airport and the dogged determination of [449] those who conceived the idea and brought it to fruition, which has kept it there and functioning very well. The small scale of the operation in regional airports means that it is always a struggle to make ends meet. Regional airports must work hard to attract air services and they must battle to retain them. Knock airport has been one of the more successful of the regional airports in that regard.

There are currently three airlines operating scheduled services into Knock, Ryanair, BA Express and Aer Lingus. During the summer there is a wide range of charter flights. Ryanair provides a daily service from Knock to Stansted, BA Express provides five services weekly to Manchester and Aer Lingus provides a weekend service to Birmingham. The intention of Aer Lingus to withdraw this last service is what has prompted Deputy Cooper-Flynn, representing the constituency in that area, to seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment. I am aware of the concerns expressed about Aer Lingus's proposal. I too am concerned when any airline offering services to or from an Irish airport withdraws these services, regardless of the country of origin of the airline.

The Deputy and I pursued and discussed this matter during the summer and she, in turn, spoke to Aer Lingus. The service was introduced in 1995 on a temporary basis and Aer Lingus operated a Fokker 50 aircraft with a capacity for 50 passengers. The load factors have been 50 per cent on the 50 seater aircraft. The airline is now upgrading its fleet to an all jet operation, therefore it will no longer have a suitable aircraft available to continue the Knock-Birmingham service.

As a general principle, issues concerning the operation of services by Aer Lingus on their network are matters for the airline. They have a commercial mandate from the Government, therefore I cannot order them to operate any particular route. However, I will convey to the chairman, Mr. Cahill, the content of the debate here tonight and the very grave concerns mooted by the Deputy.

Under EU regulations, all EU airlines are free to operate on any route or to withdraw from any route. I am sure the management of Knock airport will make every effort to secure a replacement service. The airport board has, over the years, demonstrated its capacity to trade commercially and profitably and has ploughed those profits back into the improvement of Knock airport. I am aware, as is the House, that the abolition of duty free at the end of last June has made a huge difference to the operation of those airports. It was the main source of revenue for Knock airport. Knock and Kerry are the two regional airports which have been worst affected as a result of the loss of duty free sales. It has moved them from a small profit-making situation to a loss-making situation.

Airports are now facing huge challenges. I am meeting all the airport boards, including the board of Knock airport, to work out a plan and [450] regional airports will feature in the renewal of Government programme. A range of regional airport grant schemes have been in operation and I will be looking at those in the context of the national development plan and the forthcoming Estimates. I take the point raised by Deputy Cooper-Flynn and I will convey to the chairman of Aer Lingus her strong concerns together with the Official Report of the debate and ask him to examine it very carefully. I will also ask that it be remembered, as the Deputy said, that in the dark days Knock airport stood by Aer Lingus when it was necessary, something I hope Aer Lingus will take into account. I will certainly send Aer Lingus the Official Report and talk to the chairman.

Ms Shortall:  Since the beginning of this year serious questions have been raised about the introduction of section 19 of the Finance Act, 1994. The hard fact, which neither the Taoiseach nor his party can escape, is that Deputy Bertie Ahern as Minister for Finance in 1994 introduced a section to the Finance Act which has been of substantial financial benefit to only one person. That person, Mr. Ken Rohan, is a significant donor to Fianna Fáil.

Each time additional information is dragged from the Government on this issue, new questions come to light – serious questions which only the Taoiseach can answer. The background to this affair is well known to Members of the House, so I will confine my remarks to two new developments in this case arising from a recent request under the freedom of information legislation. First, each time the Government has been called to account over this matter it has claimed that the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht supported the proposed amendment touted in early 1993 by Mr. Rohan. However, documents released under freedom of information legislation show this is not the case. The letter which the Government has relied upon to support its inaccurate claim is dated 9 February 1993. The letter shows that it came from an official in what had until the previous month been the arts and culture division of the Taoiseach's Department at a time when that division had not been assimilated into the newly created Department. The then Minister in the Department offices at Lower Grand Canal Street, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, has confirmed to me that he was not aware of Mr. Rohan's correspondence and certainly never supported the claim. As the letter bears out, it was never brought to then Minister's attention. The letter is signed by a Ms Turner who begins her letter, “I have been approached by Mr. Ken Rohan”.

It is a tendentious construction of these facts that enabled the Minister for Finance to state on 6 May last that “the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht wrote supporting the proposal”. It is clear from the correspondence that [451] this proposal was never considered or endorsed by the Department at ministerial level. In fact any effort to portray the impression that there was ever a substantial group of people urging reform simply does not tally with the facts. A review of the file demonstrates that only Ms Nuala Turner, Mr. Desmond Fitzgerald and, at a very late stage, Mr. Matt McNulty, via a letter to the Taoiseach's Department, voiced their support for Mr. Rohan. In fact, never before in the history of the Department of Finance has so much been lost by so many at the behest of so few.

Second, I want the Minister to account to the House this evening why the official advice given by both the Revenue Commissioners and officials in the Department of Finance was withheld from Members of the House, and more importantly I want the Minister to explain why this advice was rejected by the then Minister for Finance in favour of an amendment drafted by Mr. Rohan's tax advisers and inserted into statute law.

In August 1993 the Revenue Commissioners outlined their views on the Rohan amendment. Their comments, not disclosed to the public until acquired under the freedom of information legislation are very revealing. They make three pertinent points against Mr. Rohan's amendment. First, they say that the proposed amendment would benefit only a very small pool of taxpayers. In fact they had only ever come across two such cases. Second, Revenue pointed out that owners of significant building were already in receipt of important tax advantages. Third, the Revenue made the valid point that the provision of works of art to a company director results in a significant financial benefit to that individual as compared to the cost involved in actually buying the works of art and that tax should be levied on this benefit. This advice was endorsed by officials in the Department of Finance. In December 1993 a reply to Mr. Ken Rohan was drafted in the Department. That reply contained the observations made by the Revenue Commissioners and concluded: “In current budgetary circumstances I feel an extension of such a relief to what by any standards must be regarded as a relatively privileged group of taxpayers could not be justified”. However, the then Minister, Deputy Ahern, was fully in favour of granting tax relief to a privileged group of taxpayers, or more accurately, one particular privileged taxpayer, well known to the Fianna Fáil Party. A line was drawn through this draft reply and a note made which read: “The Minister approves of the amendment on the lines suggested in correspondence of Mr. Ken Rohan”. It seems that in 1994 the then Minister, Deputy Bertie Ahern was more interested in the advice, amendments and tax troubles of one Fianna Fáil donor than in the advice of the Revenue Commissioners and his own departmental officials.

There is a stench surrounding this affair. Facts have had to be dragged out of the Government and I am calling on the Taoiseach to make a public statement in relation to the matter. There is [452] no doubt that the Taoiseach must be made accountable for his actions.

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  The issues raised in this motion have been dealt with in detail in reply to parliamentary questions, during the passage of the Finance Act, 1999, and on a previous Adjournment debate. I would also point out that under a freedom of information request all relevant papers relating to section 19 of the Finance Act, 1994, have been provided to the Deputy and are in the public domain.

I intend, in answering this motion, to briefly outline again the background to the introduction of section 19 of the Finance Act, 1994. The section introduced a relief which exempted specified benefits provided to any individual by his employer from the benefit-in-kind income tax charge under section 117 of the Income Tax Act, 1967, and a similar income tax charge under section 96 of the Corporation Tax Act, 1976. The exempted benefit consists of the loan to any individual of a work of art or a scientific collection owned by his or her employer and which is available for viewing by the public. The section had effect for the tax year 1993-94 and subsequent years but could also apply from the introduction of the relief for expenditure on significant buildings, that is, from the year of assessment, 1982-83.

As has been pointed out previously, the original representations which gave rise to section 19 date from February 1993. On that occasion the Irish Georgian Society wrote to the Minister. Around the same time representations had been received from the Department of Arts, Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

Ms Shortall:  That is inaccurate.

Mr. McCreevy:  The individual concerned also wrote to the Minister in October 1993. The Irish Georgian Society wrote again in November 1993 supporting the case for a relief. The case put forward by those seeking the relief was to retain important art collections in the State for the enjoyment of Irish people and to preserve the national heritage.

Ms Shortall:  A small group of friends.

Mr. McCreevy:  When a draft reply was submitted to the Minister in December 1993 to refuse the relief, the Minister decided that the relief was merited and indicated accordingly.

In January 1994 representations from Bord Fáilte were also received supporting the proposed change to the Finance Acts. The Minister replied to the individual concerned in January 1994 that a suitable provision would be included in the Finance Bill. The Department of the Taoiseach, which had forwarded the Bord Fáilte representation, was also informed of the position.

One of the functions of civil servants is to advise their Minister and the Government of the [453] day. The Minister offered the advice is free to accept or reject it. In this case the then Minister for Finance decided not to accept the advice offered in light of the all the circumstances of the case. I have not always taken departmental advice, for example, against cutting the rate of capital gains tax, as I felt there was a good case in favour of cutting the rate. In fact I remind Deputy Shortall that her party's spokesperson has often said in the House and in committees of the House that I make a kind of virtue of rejecting the advice of my officials, and the files in my Department will show many instances of this. If every Minister took the advice of his or her civil servants than we could do away with general elections and not bother with a Cabinet. If that is what Deputy Shortall is proposing she should run with it. I assure her that on many occasions her colleagues in the last Government did not accept the advice of civil servants, and rightly so. I must have overruled the advice of civil servants in the Department of Finance on umpteen occasions, something Deputy McDowell, the Labour Party spokesperson on finance, has often pointed out in the House.

Ms Shortall:  On the advice of—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Will Deputy Shortall, please, refrain from interrupting? The Minister's time is limited.

Mr. McCreevy:  The Minister subsequently put the proprosed relief to Government in the Finance Bill, 1994, which was approved by the Government at the time, which included members of the Deputy's party. The Bill was subsequently debated and passed by the Oireachtas.

The proposed relief was specifically mentioned by the Minister in his Second Stage speech and was amended as it went through the House. From the Official Report of the time it would seem that the House generally was supportive of the provision. There was reference by the Opposition spokesperson to the application of benefit-in-kind in such cases causing surprise and that experts in tax administration had advised him that they had never made a return for benefit-in-kind in this regard because they were not aware that it was liable to income tax. The Minister in proposing the relief made it clear on Committee Stage that there was a reasonable case for the relief as the objects in question were open to public viewing.

The legislation was enacted following representations from a number of reputable sources and was supported in the House when it was being passed. While only one person has applied for the relief, the legislation applies generally. Others in similar circumstances to those described in the legislation could benefit. In light of all the material provided publicly on this matter there is little further I can add. What was done in changing the law in these circumstances was done openly and accountably.

[454]Ms Shortall:  On the advice of Mr. Rohan. How much did he give to Fianna Fáil?

Mr. G. Reynolds:  I wish to share my time with Deputy Naughten.

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

Mr. G. Reynolds:  : There has been a spate of robberies in the counties of Sligo, Leitrim, Longford, Roscommon and Cavan. Heretofore, criminals from outside the region presented difficulties for the Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform by causing bodily harm to elderly persons living in the west. The Garda Síochána was able to deal with this problem through the introduction of various measures with the result that the criminal gangs have now turned to robbing business premises in rural Ireland. There has a spate of robberies in the midlands and north-west. Towns such as Ballinamore, Mohill, Carrick-on-Shannon, Ballyconnell and Newtowngore have all been raided in recent months. I understand from Garda sources that no one has been held responsible. Most business premises in these small towns have been turned into fortresses through the installation of alarm systems and shutters on windows. This is a sad reflection on society in which we live. In Sligo town, for example, the number of raids on business premises and attacks on persons has increased dramatically in the past 12 months. The chamber of commerce and the Garda Síochána have requested that security cameras be erected as a matter of urgency but it is clear from the reply to a recent question that I tabled to the Minister that Sligo town is very low on the Government's priority list. It is essential that they are put in place as a matter of urgency. I am glad the Minister is present in the House to reply to the debate on this serious issue. In opposition he acted a bit like a “John Wayne” who was going to deal with criminal elements throughout the country but he has not. What action does he propose to take to eliminate this criminal activity that is devastating many businesses in rural Ireland and to provide the resources that are badly needed by the Garda Síochána to fight these criminals and stop them from raping the country and frightening the people in rural Ireland? The matter should be dealt with as a matter of urgency.

Mr. Naughten:  I thank my colleague for giving me the opportunity to speak on this issue. On one night in County Roscommon there were six robberies in the Castlerea area. We have returned to the reign of terror witnessed in the early 1990s. The elderly are again living in fear of their lives. [455] When Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Owen successfully introduced Operation Shannon. I ask the Minister – the Minister for zero tolerance – to adopt this targeted approach to combat the problem as a matter of urgency. No one has been held responsible for these burglaries to date. Business premises have been turned into fortresses to prevent people breaking in. Additional resources have not been provided for Castlerea Garda station in the past 12 months. Two extra gardaí have been appointed to the Castlerea district since the opening of Castlerea place of detention. This is wholly inadequate. Local gardaí are not informed of releases. Additional resources are required in the Castlerea and north Roscommon area. Operation Shannon must be reintroduced immediately to ensure the elderly can sleep quietly in their beds at night and do not have to worry that someone will burst in through the door or window to rob or assault them as happened in the past. I urge the Minister to give the Garda Síochána the resources it needs to combat this scourge.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  I have been advised by the Garda authorities that the statistics for robberies and aggravated burglaries in which weapons were used recorded in the districts referred to by the Deputies during the first nine months of this year show a decrease over the same period last year. Twelve robberies and aggravated burglaries were recorded in the region up to the end of September this year as opposed to 16 during the equivalent period in 1998. Cavan-Monaghan was the only district to show a slight increase so far this year from two to five. This type of crime declined from three to one over the same period in Sligo-Leitrim and from 11 to six in Longford-Westmeath. Neither robberies or aggravated burglaries were recorded in Roscommon-Galway east during the first nine months of either this or last year. The statistics for 1999 are provisional and may be subject to change. I am glad to note however that they are in line with the unprecedented decline shown in the national statistics for overall crime, including robberies and aggravated burglaries in recent years. During 1998 there were 1,831 robberies and 657 aggravated burglaries recorded where weapons other than firearms were used, which represent decreases of 26 per cent and 33 per cent respectively over those recorded in the previous year. Armed robberies and aggravated burglaries in which firearms were used showed a 12 per cent decline from 252 in 1997 to 221 in 1998 while the detection rate improved from 34 per cent to 40 per cent.

Mr. G. Reynolds:  We are not talking about armed robberies.

[456]Mr. O'Donoghue:  : The Garda authorities have assured me that they are satisfied that appropriate resources are focused on this type of criminal activity. Operation Fionn involves an extensive range of Garda checkpoints throughout the western region and targets criminals who may be involved in this type of crime. Operations of this nature are kept under constant review by the Garda authorities in light of the short and long-term operational needs in the fight against crime. There is no question of a let-up in the fight against crime. We have made tremendous strides in the past two years or so and if the trend up to the middle of this year is continued crime will have fallen by almost 25 per cent since the Government came into office. In tandem with the unprecedented fall in crime the detection rate is on the increase. Clearly the measures and the resources made available to the Garda Síochána, prison service and other elements of the criminal justice system are yielding results. Our task now is build on these excellent results and that is our firm intention.

Mr. Higgins:  (Mayo): People were appalled and shocked to hear on the news headlines this morning of the savage attack on a nun in the course of her chaplaincy duties at Wheatfield Prison. The immediate reaction is: how could this happen? Here we have a nun, obviously on a mission of compassion, in one of the State's high security prisons viciously assaulted in the course of her humanitarian work. While anybody can appreciate that there is never a guarantee that a spontaneous attack cannot occur at times in unlikely circumstances, in the circumstances in which this attack occurred it was not improbable. The criminal track record of the individual who made the attack pointed clearly to him being an extremely dangerous individual who had absolutely no remorse for his previous serious crimes.

There was, therefore, every possibility that given the right circumstances he would strike again. The individual in question was sentenced in 1987 to 20 years in prison, which was the longest jail sentence for rape in the history of the State. The man was convicted of dragging a young woman onto waste ground near Dublin city centre and viciously raping her. The offence took place while the accused was on temporary release from prison. He had earlier managed to abscond from the care of a probation officer. In 1989 the same individual was given a concurrent ten year prison sentence for attempted murder. In June 1989 he was given an eight year concurrent sentence for the rape of a fellow prisoner in Arbour Hill two years previously.

The next question is how, given the man's criminal pedigree, could an assault of this nature be allowed to happen? The prison system is [457] unique in that it has the most favourable staff-prisoner ratio in the world. There is one prison officer to every prisoner. There are very strict guidelines for prison visits by professional personnel with offenders sentenced for violent crimes. Such visits are supposed to be supervised by prison officers, the arrangement being within sight but out of earshot. However, in this case this guideline was seemingly not observed.

It is reported that the nun was in the cell with the prisoner on her own. Can the Minister confirm this? Likewise, can the Minister confirm whether the cell door was closed? Can he confirm how proximate was the prison officer who was assigned to supervise this visit at the time the attack took place? I would also like to know the detail of the attack, how physical was it and what injuries, if any, were inflicted on the victim?

What must be a major cause of concern is that the prisoner was in possession of a knife. Can the Minister confirm whether the prisoner's cell was searched in advance and, if not, why not? A well-known high risk prisoner, a convicted double rapist and an attempted murderer, was able to come into possession of a knife in the segregation unit of a so-called high security prison. Has the Minister established how the security lapse occurred, how the individual came into possession of the knife and has the knife been recovered?

It is obvious that there is a real security issue at Wheatfield and, indeed, several other prisons. Drugs are smuggled in on a daily basis. If drugs can be smuggled in, knives and guns can be smuggled in also. To an extent, it was sheer luck that there was not a fatality in this case. There should be no need for a prolonged inquiry. It should be possible to establish the facts quickly and to take decisive action to ensure that there is no recurrence.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  The very disturbing incident to which the Deputy refers is currently the subject of two investigations, an internal investigation by the governor of Wheatfield place of detention and a Garda investigation. The principal focus of both investigations is the alleged assault on a member of the chaplaincy service. I am of course very seriously concerned that an incident of this nature could occur. I have been briefed personally on the matter by the director general of the prison service who is responsible for all operational issues in relation to places of custody. He is also maintaining close contact with the governor of Wheatfield place of detention. I understand he has also had discussions with the head chaplain to the prison service about the matter.

As the two investigations in question, both on behalf of the prisons board and the Garda, are ongoing, I am sure the Deputy will understand that it would be inappropriate for me to comment in great detail at this stage. However, I can tell the House the following. I am informed by the [458] prison service that on Wednesday, 6 October, at approximately 2.45 p.m. the governor of Wheatfield was notified that a complaint had been made by a chaplain alleging an assault by a prisoner in the segregation unit. The governor immediately spoke to the chaplain to ascertain the facts. It appears that the chaplain had visited a prisoner's cell earlier that morning and she indicated that she had been threatened by that prisoner with a blade attached to a toothbrush. The governor immediately initiated an investigation and interviewed the staff on duty. A blade was subsequently recovered from the area during a follow-up search. The matter was duly referred to the Garda for investigation.

I would strongly advise the House that we should avoid getting into detail at this time about the background of the individual who allegedly committed this assault and avoid the temptation to demonise, as this could subsequently be deemed sufficiently prejudicial to taint the whole process. It is, of course, manifestly right and proper that this House should have the opportunity of discussing and expressing its grave concern about incidents of this kind and that it should do so at the first available opportunity. However, I am sure Deputies will have no difficulty in agreeing that the last thing we, as responsible parliamentarians, should do is to render the whole process of investigation virtually worthless in terms of its outcome, as a result of comments which are later adjudged to have been prejudicial.

The chaplain concerned was recently assigned to the prison service and, while not a member of the Wheatfield chaplaincy service, she regularly assists her colleagues there and has visited this prisoner on a number of occasions. The work of the chaplaincy service involves extensive counselling of offenders, not just in spiritual matters but in everyday human activity, helping them to cope with personal and family traumas, helping some of them to deal with suicidal tendencies and helping them to adapt to prison life. I wish to put on record my appreciation for the continuous support they have provided to the prison service and individual prisoners over the years, sometimes in very trying circumstances.

I have asked the director general of the prison service to keep me informed of any further developments. As I have already indicated, the chaplaincy service contributes enormously to the effective operation of the prison service in its principal function of helping prisoners to cope with prison life. If, at the end of the two investigations I have referred to, any issue should emerge that clearly needs to be addressed, the director general and local prison management will have my full support in putting in place measures so identified. Clearly all of us are anxious to avoid, in so far as this is humanly possible, a situation whereby the safety of any person [459] working in the prison system, in whatever capacity, is put at risk.

It is timely to point out that, whether in opposition or in government, I have tried to uphold the right of every individual to a fair trial. The job of the courts is to decide whether people are guilty or innocent. Procedures have been put in place, which have stood the test of time, whereby a decision is made as to whether a charge should be brought against an individual. I do not believe it is in the interests of fairness or justice that any[460] body should seek to identify the alleged attacker and presume that, because of a record he or she might have had, the individual is guilty. Nobody has been charged in this matter, let alone convicted. No individual may be convicted by this House. Only the courts can do that. The position is quite clear. That is the position under the 1937 Constitution, and that position will remain in the interests of the proper functioning of our democracy.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.38 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 14 October 1999.

[461]

  9.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    if the Government intends to bring forward any proposals for amendments to the Constitution during the forthcoming Dáil session; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17751/99]

  10.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the plans, if any, the Government has to bring forward proposals to amend the Constitution during the current session; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18775/99]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 to 10, inclusive, together.

As I mentioned in the House in reply to a similar question on 12 May last, I asked Government Departments to report back to me on proposals for constitutional amendments in relation to their functional areas of responsibility arising from the recommendations of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution and from the programme for Government. My Department is currently examining the responses received from other Departments and is considering how proposals for constitutional amendments might best be brought forward in a structured and consolidated way.

I intend to report to Government on this matter at an early date.

  11.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    if he has received the report of the public prosecution system study group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17754/99]

  12.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the administrative and staffing changes likely to arise in the Offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Chief State Solicitor arising from the publication of the Victims' Charter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17755/99]

  13.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    the changes envisaged in the operations of the Offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Chief State Solicitor arising from the report of the public prosecution systems study group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17762/99]

  14.  Mr. Higgins (Mayo)    asked the Taoiseach    the steps, if any, which will be taken to bring about greater co-ordination and cohesion between the Offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Chief State Solicitor in view of recent comments by the former Director of Public Prosecutions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19561/99]

[462]The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 to 14, inclusive, together.

The report of the public prosecution system study group has been considered by Government and presented to the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Government has accepted the study group's key conclusion and recommendation that the present prosecution system should not be replaced by a unified system but should be enhanced to improve co-ordination and effectiveness.

The study group addressed the issue of greater cohesion in the criminal justice system. Among the recommendations in the report are the transfer of responsibility for the criminal division of the CSSO and the State Solicitor service to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Government has accepted this in principle and implementation will be agreed by the Minister for Finance and the Attorney General. The report also contained a number of recommendations designed to improve the information and communication capabilities of the system and these will take place over time.

I welcome the Victims' Charter which was recently published by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. In relation to the Offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Chief State Solicitor, the charter reflects the practice of these Offices for many years. The charter will have the effect of formalising this practice and will generally make the public more aware of the services provided. This may involve an increase in the demand for such services and any resulting staffing and administrative issues will be addressed as the need arises.

  15.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his meeting with the Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Dr. Paisley; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18138/99]

  16.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    the matters discussed at his meeting on 30 September 1999 with Dr. Ian Paisley; the action, if any, he plans to take as a result of the issues raised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18942/99]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 15 and 16 together.

I met Dr. Ian Paisley, Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, in his capacity as Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church, in Government Buildings last Thursday week. We discussed recent attacks on the Free Presbyterian Church property in Corragarry and Tullyvallen, County Monaghan. I condemned without reservation the violent attacks on the church property. I also stressed to Dr. Paisley that the local community representatives in the areas concerned are appalled at the recent attacks.

I have asked the gardaí to increase their vigilance in protecting church property in Monaghan [463] and the Border area generally and to ensure that special attention is paid to vulnerable places of worship.

  17.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    if an investigation is being carried out into the possible misappropriation of a cheque for £100,000 within the Chief State Solicitor's office; if so, the current position on the investigation; the changes, if any, to administrative procedures within this office introduced as a result; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18904/99]

The Taoiseach:  The gardaí have completed an investigation in the Chief State Solicitor's office into alleged misappropriation of cheques over a period of years. A file has been sent to the DPP for a decision on the matter. In the circumstances, the Deputy will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to comment any further on the issues in the case.

  18.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the individual or individuals in his office responsible for the confidentiality and security of documentation he receives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18907/99]

The Taoiseach:  Following approval by the Government of the report of the interdepartmental committee on the protection of classified official information, the Department of Finance issued guidelines for Departments in October 1998. In accordance with those guidelines, it is a matter for each Department to adopt procedures to preserve the confidentiality of its classified documents. The procedures to be adopted would vary from Department to Department and from division to division within Departments, depending on the nature of individual records, the reason for classification, the number of people who must have access, the frequency of access, etc. The guidelines were brought to the attention of heads of divisions in my Department in November 1998. In accordance with the requirements of the Finance circular, a review at assistant secretary level of the amount of, and necessity for, material classified as “Top Secret” will be undertaken shortly.

Overall, and having regard to modern developments in this area such as the Freedom of Information Act, the intent of the Department of Finance circular was to keep the number of documents to be designated “Top Secret” to an absolute minimum, to restrict their circulation and to ensure appropriate arrangements for their safekeeping. Documents to be classified in this way would be of a type whose release would: put at risk the life or safety of any individual; pose a serious threat to security, defence or international [464] relations; undermine the police or judicial processes involved in dealing with serious crime; adversely affect developments in relation to Northern Ireland and pose a serious risk to the economic interests of the State.

Access to “secret” documents in my office is very restricted. My private secretary retains all documents of this nature in a locked safe if they are not in my personal possession. Certain senior staff in my Department and certain of my senior advisers see some documents but only on a need to know basis. They are individually responsible for such documents while they are in their possession.

In the case of the report of the Authorised Officer in the Ansbacher Affair, the report was sent to my private secretary and marked strictly private and confidential. The last paragraph of the covering letter indicated that the material enclosed was to be retained in strict conditions of secrecy under the Companies Act. In the circumstances I instructed my private secretary to place it in the safe in my office and I can assure the House that it remained there ever since under my direct control. I did not, in this instance, circulate it or give a copy of it to any of my officials or advisers.

  19.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent meeting in Dublin with the East Timorese leader, Mr. Xanana Gusmao; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19526/99]

  20.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on the recent letter he has received from President Clinton. [19527/99]

  21.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the preparatory meetings he will have in Ireland before travelling to Kosovo in November 1999; the schedule of events he will undertake there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19528/99]

  22.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    when the Ministers and Secretaries Group last met; the plans, if any, it has for meetings between now and the end of 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19530/99]

  23.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his meeting with the leader of the East Timorese people, Mr. Xanana Gusmao; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19642/99]

  24.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the preparatory meetings he will have in Ireland before he attends the special European Council meeting on 15 and 16 October 1999 in Tampere, Finland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19700/99]

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  25.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the number of times the Cabinet Committee on European Affairs has met in 1999; the number of meetings planned before the end of 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19701/99]

  26.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the preparatory meetings he will have in Ireland before he visits Hungary and Slovenia in early November 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19702/99]

  27.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the preparatory meetings he will have in Ireland before he attends the OSCE Summit on 18 and 19 November 1999 in Istanbul; if he has received an agenda for the summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19703/99]

  28.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on his meeting on 4 October 1999 with the East Timor leader, Mr. Xanana Gusmao. [19755/99]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 19 to 28, inclusive, together.

The Ministers and Secretaries General Group last met on 8 December last year. The Government established a Cabinet Committee on Agenda 2000 in January, which I chaired. This was supported by an expert technical group, which I also chaired, and which met nine times in the run up to the conclusion of the Agenda 2000 negotiations at the Berlin European Council in March. In May, following the completion of the Agenda 2000 negotiations, the Cabinet Committee on European Affairs was established. It has met twice, most recently yesterday in preparation for the Tampere European Council and will meet again in mid-November and early-December. It will meet as required as key issues arise on the EU Agenda and in preparation for European Councils.

By way of preparation for the Tampere Summit, I had a preparatory meeting with senior officials on 28 September for my meeting with PM Lipponen of Finland on 29 September. In advance of my visit to Hungary, Slovenia and Kosovo, I will meet on 29 October with the relevant officials from my own Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs and with members of the Defence Forces who are responsible for the visit. My Department has been in constant contact with the relevant Departments, embassies and the Defence Forces in relation to my visit for a number of months. While in Kosovo, I intend visiting the Irish Contingent in KFOR and I hope to meet with senior representatives from KFOR, the UN and the OSCE.

I met the East Timorese leaders Mr. Xanana Gusmao and Mr. José Ramos Horta at Government Buildings on 4 October 1999. During our meeting, Mr. Gusmao expressed appreciation for Ireland's support during the recent electoral process, for subsequent actions within the EU and [466] at the United Nations, and, in particular, for the convening of the recent special session of the UN Commission for Human Rights. With the Irish Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva in the Chair, that session adopted a resolution which will allow a meaningful investigation of human rights violations to be carried out. The UN Secretary General has since asked the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Mary Robinson, to proceed at once with the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry and for it to report by the end of this year.

Mr. Gusmao drew attention, in particular, to the plight of displaced persons who wish to return to East Timor but are being prevented from doing so. He wants the international community to do more to help these people to return as this would speed the reconstruction and repopulation of the towns and villages of East Timor. He also pointed out that it would ultimately save the international community money to have the displaced people back in their own communities.

Mr. Gusmao asked me to keep the issue of East Timor to the forefront of the international agenda. To this end, I wrote to President Clinton on 7 October 1999, and I intend to raise the matter at the Special European Council in Tampere this weekend. President Clinton had written to me on 4 October, and in this letter, he said that Ireland's voice had played an important role in mobilising the international community in the wake of the recent tragic events and he thanked me for the leading role which Ireland had played in supporting the people of East Timor during the current crisis.

I will attend the summit of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which will take place in Istanbul on 18 and 19 November. Preparations for the summit are ongoing. A review conference, covering a wide range of activities within the OSCE, was recently adjourned in Vienna and will resume in Istanbul on 8 November. A preparatory conference which will address issues for the summit in a detailed manner will commence in Istanbul on 11 November.

Ireland is liaising closely with EU partners and with the wider OSCE membership in preparation for the summit. I have also availed of bilateral meetings to discuss OSCE issues, most recently during my visit last month to Russia. While a definitive agenda has not yet been finalised for the summit, the main issues for discussion are likely to be the possible adoption of a Charter on European Security for the 21st Century; adoption of a political declaration covering a number of ongoing conflict situations in the OSCE area, for instance in the western Balkans and enhancing the role of the OSCE in the promotion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

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  29.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the number of staff in his office; the number of staff in the Government Information Service; the plans, if any, he has to move staff between one or the other; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19529/99]

The Taoiseach:  There are currently 16 staff – civil servants and non-civil servants – in my private office. This includes four special advisers, three personal assistants, my private secretary, one administrative officer, one higher executive officer and six clerical officers (one on a higher duties allowance). There is also one vacancy at clerical level.

The Office of the Government Press Secretary, the Government Information Service and the Communications Unit currently has 11 staff (civil servants and non civil servants). This includes the Government Press Secretary, the Deputy Government Press Secretary and Head of GIS, the Communications Unit Manager, one personal assistant, one senior press officer, one press officer, one executive officer, one staff officer and three clerical officers. In addition, there are four staff on secondment to the Communications Unit from other Government Departments.

I have no plans at present to move staff from one of these divisions to the other.

  30.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    the contacts, if any, he has had since 6 October 1999 with the British Prime Minister. [19643/99]

  31.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent meeting in Dublin with the leadership of Sinn Féin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19704/99]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 30 and 31 together.

I maintain regular contact with Prime Minister Blair. I spoke with him most recently on 5 October last, when I telephoned him to offer my condolences and the condolences of the Government and the people of Ireland, following the London rail disaster. We also discussed the ongoing review of the Good Friday Agreement, taking place under the chairmanship of Senator Mitchell. I met Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Féin, on 2 October last. Our discussions focused on the review and the achievement of a successful outcome.

  32.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the timescale for the consultation process he has initiated on a national honours system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19705/99]

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy will be aware that I have written to the main opposition party leaders on 27 September 1999, and have sent them a discussion paper on this topic. I have [468] asked them to nominate a person to take part in discussions. I have received the Labour Party's nomination and I await the nomination from the Deputy's own party.

Discussions with the parties will commence as soon as their representatives have been nominated.

  33.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    the progress to date of the Millennium Committee; when its proposals to mark the millennium will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17753/99]

  34.  Mr. G. Mitchell    asked the Taoiseach    the proposals, if any, the millennium office has for Dublin. [18776/99]

  35.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    if the National Millennium Committee is considering free public transport for the period 31 December 1999 to 1 January 2000. [19953/99]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 33, 34 and 35 together.

The progress to date of the National Millennium Committee is outlined in detail in the progress report which I circulated to all Members of the House on 28 September last.

The National Millennium Committee was established in November 1998 to advise on suitable projects for inclusion in the Government's Millennium Programme which covers the period 1999 through to the end of the year 2000.

In respect of millennium proposals for Dublin, the Government on the recommendation of the Committee has to date approved the following awards: £2 million towards the cost of the two flagship projects of Míle Átha Cliath, the Liffey of Lights and the Liffey Board Walk; up to £500,000 for the refurbishment of the front of the Gaiety Theatre; and £300,000 to the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery to reconstruct the Francis Bacon Studio as a centrepiece of the Gallery's collection.

In addition, there are a number of major events to take place in Dublin over the week-end of the New Year which are outlined in the progress report. In respect of smaller projects and events for Dublin, millennium funding has been made available under the millennium recognition awards and the millennium events awards initiatives. Details of awards under these iniatives will be announced in the near future.

Regarding the matter of free public transport for New Years Eve, the National Millennium Committee has not received any such proposal for consideration.

[469]

  36.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    the number of occasions on which the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion and Drugs has met this year; the last occasion on which the committee met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17763/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Mr. Flood):  The Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion has met six times so far this year. The last meeting was on 15 July and the next meeting is scheduled for today. The committee generally meets on a monthly basis.

  44.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    if the review of the code of ethics of good practice in sport has been completed; if so, when it will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19916/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  Following the publication of the report of the independent inquiry into matters relating to child sexual abuse in swimming, I requested Dr. Breda McLeavey, chairperson of the expert committee which drew up the code of ethics and good practice for children's sport in Ireland, to reconvene the committee to review the code's contents in the light of Dr. Murphy's report.

The committee has already carried out a considerable amount of work to date and up to recently was awaiting the preparation of new guidelines by the Department of Health and Children on handling child abuse cases before completing its review. The Department of Health and Children published these guidelines on 21 September 1999 and the committee is currently incorporating the relevant areas of the guidelines into the new code.

The Irish Sports Council, established on a statutory basis since 1 July 1999, intends in accordance with its functions as set out at section 6 (c) of the Irish Sports Council Act, 1999, to consult with the national governing bodies of sport in relation to the revised code of ethics and good practice for children's sport. Following this process arrangements will be made for the publication of the revised code at the earliest possible date.

  45.  Mr. B. Smith    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    if a scheme of grant assistance will be introduced in the context of the national development plan towards the provision or the refurbishment of guest houses and small family owned hotels in areas where additional accommodation is needed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19979/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  The Operational Programme for Tourism 1994-1999 included provision to assist on [470] a selective basis investment in the provision and updating of accommodation in certain areas.

However, arising from a number of studies in the course of the Operational Programme 1994-1999, the conclusion was reached that the tourism market displayed a readiness to respond to visitor growth by providing additional tourist accommodation without grant assistance. Most tourist accommodation investment in recent years has been non-OP related, although it has benefited from support under a variety of other schemes, including fiscal incentives.

In the light of the development, and in view of the reduction in EU contributions to the next national development plan and the consequent need to have the most focused and effective use of resources, it is not envisaged that provision for grant assistance in the area of tourist accommodation will be a priority in the forthcoming plan which will cover the period 2000-06.

  46.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    the criteria used in allocating funds under the sports capital programme; if he has satisfied himself with these criteria, having regard to the great disparity between counties of similar population; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19920/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  The sports capital programme was comprehensively reviewed by my Department in 1998. Following receipt of the report of the review group, I announced details of the new programme late last December, based on the review group's recommendations, incorporating revised guidelines, assessment criteria and terms and conditions.

Almost 1,900 applications were received by the closing date of 12 February 1999. Each of the applications was assessed and evaluated by officers from the sports unit of my Department. In the interests of consistency and fairness, all the applications from a particular county were assessed by the one officer. While all applications were treated on their merits, the highest priority was afforded to projects in disadvantaged areas aimed at increasing participation, particularly for young people.

The assessment criteria under which applications were evaluated are set out in paragraph 3.4 of guidelines which issued with each application form. Among the factors taken into consideration are the technical merits of the project, that is, does the project comply with standard technical specifications from the relevant governing body and statutory authorities; the financial viability of the project, that is, in addition to lottery funding, has the club-organisation sufficient funds or firm commitments for funding to complete the project within a realistic timeframe; the level of local funding available; the need to achieve an equitable geographical spread of [471] funds, having regard to the range of existing facilities in each county and the need to achieve an equitable spread of funds among different sports and community groups.

A scoring system was developed, under which individual applications were scored between 0 and 5 under each heading depending on the extent to which they met the assessment criteria. Different “weights”, from one to four, were attached to the various criteria depending on their importance. The highest weighting was given to the disadvantaged criteria given that special priority is being given to the development of facilities in disadvantaged areas.

At the end of the assessment process each application received a score which decided its order of priority within its own county. Comparisons between the scores for applications in respect of projects from individual counties show that in some counties a lower overall threshold applied than in others, primarily because of the differing weightings attributed to various assessment criteria, for example, whether the county had disadvantaged status.

In July last, following this extensive assessment process, I announced grants totalling £14.44 million to almost 400 local community based projects and a further £2.15 million to six regional and national projects throughout the country. Any applicant which sought a report on the assessment carried out on its application was provided with such a report which may be of assistance in the event that the organisation applies for assistance under the sports capital programme in 2000 or 2001. I am satisfied that the allocations under the 1999 programme were carried out in a fair and transparent manner.

  47.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    if he has satisfied himself that sufficient sports and recreational facilities are available to meet modern needs; the proposals, if any, he has for the enhancement in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19970/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  This Government has signalled its commitment to the provision of sports and recreational facilities throughout the country by increasing the provision for the sports capital programme from £5 million in 1997 to £14.75 million in 1999. Under the new national lottery funded sports capital programme, which was advertised at the end of 1998 following a review of the existing programme, funding is allocated on the basis of individual applications received.

While all applications are treated on their merits, special priority is given to proposals for facilities in disadvantaged areas, in line with Government policy aimed at increasing participation in sport and recreation in these areas. Applicants are also now required to consult with other clubs and community groups, including schools, with [472] sports and recreational facilities in their areas, and the local authority before making an application for funding and to show the outcome of such consultations.

The purpose of these consultations is to ensure regard is had to identified needs of the area and that the proposed development does not result in overlap with and/or duplication of existing facilities. Sports clubs developing projects at national and regional level are also required to ensure their proposals are consistent with the priorities of their national governing bodies. In addition, my Department may consult, as appropriate, when assessing applications, with other relevant Departments and agencies, including the Irish Sports Council, with a view to ensuring co-ordination in the provision of sports and recreational facilities at local level.

Following an application process earlier this year, allocations totalling some £16 million have been made in 1999 to almost 400 local community based projects and to national and regional projects throughout the country under the new sports capital programme. Provision is being made in the multi-annual Estimates for the continuation of the programme in 2000 and 2001.

  48.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    the measures, if any, taken by his Department to deal with the serious drugs problem in the south-east inner city; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18656/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Mr. Flood):  A number of Government Departments and State agencies are delivering responses to the drugs problem, within their respective areas of responsibility. I have responsibility for ensuring the effective co-ordination of that response, including two initiatives which operate on an inter-agency basis: the local drugs task forces and the young people's facilities and services fund.

Local drugs task forces were set up in the areas where the abuse of drugs, particularly heroin, is most prevalent. One of these areas is Dublin's south inner city. The task forces comprise a partnership between the statutory, voluntary and community sectors and they were mandated to prepare a drugs strategy for their areas to suit local circumstances.

The Government allocated £10 million to support the implementation of action plans which were prepared by the local drugs task forces in 1997. These plans proposed a range of measures to tackle the drugs problem under the themes of education, prevention, treatment, aftercare, rehabilitation and reducing supply. Over 200 community-based initiatives received funding. These initiatives complemented the drug programmes and services being delivered by the State agencies, which themselves have had their [473] funding increased substantially in recent years. The Dublin south inner city task force received £986,000 to implement its plan.

Following a positive independent evaluation and review of the operation of the local drugs task forces, the Government has approved their continuation for a further two years and has allocated an additional £15 million over two years, to enable them to update their action plans. This funding will also allow issues which cut across all task force areas to be addressed and these issues will be identified by the task forces in the course of preparing their plans. It is proposed to evaluate all task force projects and, depending on the outcome, to consider continued funding of individual projects as part of mainstream services and in accordance with agreed procedures, so as to maximise their impact.

Under a separate, complementary initiative, the Government set up the young people's facilities and services fund, YPFSF, last year to develop youth facilities, including sport and recreational facilities, and services in disadvantaged areas where a significant drug problem exists or has the potential to develop. The three year fund aims to attract young people in those areas – at risk of becoming involved in drugs – into more healthy and productive pursuits.

Development groups comprising representatives from the local drugs task forces, the local authorities and the vocational education committees were established in each of the local drugs task force areas to develop local integrated facilities and services plans. In April 1999, the Cabinet committee on social inclusion allocated over £25 million to support 295 facility and services projects in these areas over the next three years. Of this amount, over £1.8 million was approved for Dublin south inner city towards the development of 34 projects, including ten capital projects, seven service projects and 17 small grants to sports and youth groups in the area.

A review of the overall national drugs strategy has commenced which will take account of all the measures being undertaken to tackle drug misuse and the adequacy of these responses in light of emerging trends in drug misuse nationally, with a view to making recommendations to Government on future drugs policy.

  49.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    if he will give details of the national drug testing programme. [19884/99]

  61.  Mr. M. Higgins    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    when he expects to introduce legislation to criminalise the use of drugs in sport. [19918/99]

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  63.  Mr. O'Shea    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    the discussions, if any, he has had with the Department of Education and Science in relation to the introduction of measures to discourage young athletes and sports people, attending our schools, from using drugs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19906/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 49, 61 and 63 together.

My abhorrence of drug taking within sport and my commitment to do all within my power to help eliminate this scourge is well known. Last year I announced details of Ireland's first ever national sports anti-doping programme. The programme was circulated to interested parties, including the national governing bodies of sport, which will be responsible for applying sanctions in accordance with their own rules and regulations to any player-athlete found in breach of anti-doping regulations. The programme has been designed with reference to the Council of Europe anti-doping convention, 1989, which seeks a three strand approach to the reduction of doping in sport, namely, testing, research and educational programmes and information campaigns.

Section 6(1)(d) of the Irish Sports Council Act, 1999, gives statutory responsibility to the council, established on 1 July last, to take whatever action it considers appropriate, including testing, to combat doping in sport. Last month, the Sports Council signed an agreement with International Doping Tests and Management of Sweden for the provision of a sample collection service as part of the testing programme. Arrangements for the securing of a laboratory to analyse the samples and for a company to transport the samples to the laboratory are well advanced and the council expects that agreements for both will be finalised in the coming weeks.

The Sports Council will also be hosting a major education conference in early November for national governing body administrators, anti-doping officers, medical officers, national coaches and sports persons. The conference will outline in detail the various elements of the programme and its operation and will also deal with many important issues that are vital for a successful anti-doping programme.

Membership of the council's anti-doping committee was also finalised in September and Dr. Conor O'Brien was appointed as its chairman. The committee will advise and assist the council on policy formulation relating to the three strands of testing, education and research required and it will also advise and assist the council's staff on policy implementation issues.

Education has an important role to play in creating a sporting environment that fosters the pursuit of excellence and fulfilment in sport by fair and ethical means – as recognised by the Council of Europe anti-doping convention, 1989. The Sports Council's anti-doping programme has been designed to encompass broad educational programmes and informational campaigns. The council will emphasise the dangers to health [475] inherent in doping and its harm to the ethical values of sport and the potential health risks in the misuse of other products such as food supplements. It is expected that the Sports Council will be developing campaigns in co-operation with the National Coaching and Training Centre, Limerick, the national governing bodies and the health promotion unit of the Department of Health and Children to take advantage of that unit's considerable experience in promulgating health education campaigns. The question of consultation with the Department of Education and Science will be brought to the attention of the council also.

While my core objective is the introduction of the national sports anti-doping programme, which is predicated on active participation of autonomous national governing bodies of sport, the measures in the programme might be complemented through the application of certain legislative based measures. A number of options have been identified which I and my officials are pursuing – most specifically in the area of possession and supply of certain performance enhancing drugs. I have had discussions with my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, with regard to incorporating certain substances used in sport under Ireland's general drugs legislation. Discussions are at an advanced stage with regard to the types of drugs used for the enhancement of sport performances that may be suitable for inclusion in the Schedule to the Misuse of Drugs Act. It is expected that the Act will be amended by year end.

I consider that amending general drugs legislation to include certain performance enhancing drugs will send a strong signal to those coaches, trainers, athletes and any other persons found in possession of such specified drugs that they will, in future, be committing an offence under Irish law and be subject to the full rigours of that law.

Drug abuse in sport, of its nature, cannot be tackled at the national level only. Doping in sport is an international problem which requires a concerted and co-ordinated response at international level. This has been acknowledged at European level where the EU has committed itself to work with sports organisations in the fight against doping in sport. At the instigation of EU Sports Ministers, the European Commission has established a working group, composed of officials of member states, to assist in preparing a report on harmonising both national and European assistance for doping control. We should work collectively to address these issues.

  50.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    if all moneys under the sports capital programme have been allocated; the proposals, if any, he has to provide additional funding in 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19921/99]

[476]Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  Under the national lottery funded sports capital programme which is administered by my Department, a variety of sporting facilities at national, regional and local levels are grant-aided. Following a comprehensive review of the programme in 1998, a new programme with revised aims and objectives, assessment criteria and terms and conditions for grant assistance was advertised at the end of 1998. Approximately 1,900 applications were received in respect of the 1999 round of grants. Following the assessment process carried out by my Department, allocations totalling £16.59 million were made in July to almost 400 local community based projects and to six national and regional projects throughout the country.

My Department is in discussions with the GAA and the IABA regarding proposals for the development of national, regional and county venues submitted under the 1999 round of applications. I expect to make decisions on these applications in the coming weeks. These allocations will conclude the allocation process for 1999. Allocations will also be made in 2000 and 2001 under the sports capital programme.

  51.  Mr. Bell    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    the action, if any, he intends to take arising from the recent CERT report which showed that the tourism sector needed to recruit an additional 105,000 workers if the current growth in business is to be maintained; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19909/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  . The tourism industry, as highlighted in Hospitality 2005, prepared by McIver Consulting and Tansey, Webster Stewart, is facing a twin challenge – the challenge of staff retention and staff recruitment. Of the 105,000 people required by the industry over the next five years, 40,000 will be required to fill new positions arising from the continued expansion of the industry. The remainder will be needed to replace staff who will leave the sector.

CERT is working closely with the industry to address these issues by strengthening its role in recruitment, undertaking further strategic research and international practice “benchmarking”, as well as facilitating business to adopt human resource management and best operations practice as part of their drive to retain competitiveness. As the McIver study has highlighted, the industry must also focus on building on sustainable competitive advantage, in particular through concentrating more resources on staff retention and development. It will also need to change the way it works – become more productive with the same number of people.

Meanwhile, CERT is continuing to promote recruitment to the industry through a variety of [477] strategic interventions which to date have proven to be effective in maintaining recruitment numbers to formal craft level training. The main objective of these interventions is to highlight to young people, those returning to work and other categories of employees, the advantages of a career in a fast growing successful industry.

These interventions include a national tourism careers roadshow which begins on 8 November and will take place at 36 venues countrywide. About 10,000 students are expected to attend. Schools unable to attend the roadshow will be offered a career talk in their school. This is in addition to the intensive advertising campaigns which CERT runs in the national and local press and on national and local radio.

Tomorrow I will be launching the 1999-2000 edition of Get a Life in Tourism magazine. This magazine portrays a job in the hospitality sector as an exciting and rewarding career. The magazine is an imaginative joint initiative between the Irish Hotels Federation, CERT and the Restaurants Association of Ireland and is the ideal partnership approach to convince young people that the tourism industry is an attractive business in which to work.

Two other initiatives to which I want to refer are, first, the £1 million area based training pilot scheme in the two unemployment blackspots of Ballymun and Clondalkin. This new scheme offers training and the real prospect of a job in tourism to 230 unemployed people in these locations. Second, CERT has recently announced that a new training facility in Limerick will be operational by early next year. The new training centre will be located at the former Krups factory in Limerick city and will provide capacity for an increase of almost 50 per cent in the number of new trainees in that location. The new centre will concentrate on training unemployed people and those wishing to re-enter the workforce.

The key challenge facing the industry and CERT is to put in place appropriate policies, programmes and arrangements to attract, motivate and retain a skilled labour force in the face of declining labour availability and increasing competition from other sectors. Addressing this challenge will constitute CERT's contribution to the forthcoming national development plan.

  52.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    the plans, if any, he has to further enhance Ireland's position as a major international tourist location post 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter with particular reference to his policy affecting this area. [19971/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  Ireland's tourism industry has, with the help of EU funds under two successive Operational Programmes for Tourism, been transformed over the past decade. Over £1 billion [478] has been invested in the key tourism areas of product development, marketing and training. As a result, foreign exchange earnings from tourism reached a record £2.3 billion last year and an estimated 127,000 jobs are sustained by the industry.

I am committed, together with the State tourism agencies and in partnership with the tourism industry, to overseeing the continued, sustainable development of the industry well into the new millennium. This will require delivery of ongoing improvements in the standard and quality of the tourism product; efficient and friendly service; competitive access and good value for money. Overarching these elements is the need to continue to market Ireland as a quality destination in the international market-place. We have much more work to do towards achieving a more balanced geographical and seasonal spread of tourism revenue and ensuring our growth is environmentally sensitive and sustainable.

My plans for the post-1999 period, which build on my Department's 1998 discussion paper – Strategy for Tourism in the Context of EU Structural Funds 2000-2006, a copy of which I will make available to the Deputy, are at an advanced stage. I am looking to secure a range of measures in the forthcoming national development plan to underpin implementation of a coherent tourism strategy up to 2006, which will have among its aims a more balanced geographical and seasonal spread of tourism revenue and ensuring our growth is environmentally sensitive and sustainable.

  53.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    if his attention has been drawn to the expressed views of young people that there are inadequate facilities available to them, especially the age group between 16 and 20 years of age, which leaves them vulnerable to other activities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19828/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  Grant assistance is available under the national lottery funded sports capital programme administered by my Department for developments in relation to a variety of sporting facilities at national, regional and local level. It is the primary vehicle for promoting the development of sports and recreational facilities in Ireland and funding is allocated on the basis of individual applications received.

While my attention has not been directly drawn to any specific body of expressed views, I can confirm that funding of up to £50 million will be available under the programme for the development of facilities in the period 1999 to 2001. This is a significant increase over the provision of £21 million over the previous three year period from 1996 to 1998 and is evidence of this Government's commitment to the provision of sports and recreational facilities throughout the country.

[479] While all applications under the new programme which was advertised at the end of 1998, following a comprehensive review, are treated on their merits, special priority is given to proposals for facilities in disadvantaged areas, in line with Government policy aimed at increasing participation in sport and recreation in these areas. Applicants are also required to consult with other clubs and community groups, including schools, with sports and recreational facilities in their areas, and the local authority before making an application for funding and to show the outcome of such consultations. The purpose of this consultation process is to ensure regard is had to identified needs of the area, including those of young people and that the proposed development does not result in overlap with and/or duplication of existing facilities. Sports clubs developing projects at national and regional level are also required to ensure their proposals are consistent with the priorities of their national governing bodies. In addition, my Department may consult, as appropriate, when assessing applications, with other relevant Departments and agencies, including the Irish Sports Council, with a view to ensuring co-ordination in the provision of sports and recreational facilities at local level.

Following an application process earlier this year, allocations totalling some £16 million have been made in 1999 to almost 400 local community based projects and to national and regional projects throughout the country under the new sports capital programme.

Furthermore, as part of the Government's overall national drugs strategy, the young people's facilities and services fund was established last year to develop youth facilities, including sports and recreational facilities, and services in disadvantaged areas where a significant drugs problem exists or has the potential to develop. The three year fund aims to attract young people in those areas – at risk of becoming involved in drugs – into more healthy and productive pursuits. To this end, the Cabinet committee on social inclusion has allocated £34.8 million over the three year lifetime of the fund, of which £24.8 million has been approved to support the development of youth services and facilities in those areas which suffer from the highest levels of drugs misuse. To date under this initiative, 295 facility and services projects in the local drugs task force areas in Dublin and Cork have been approved funding, including over 86 capital projects – such as youth centres, community centres and sports facilities.

Additional funding has also been earmarked under the YPFSF to support drug prevention strategies to be developed locally, with the VEC acting as the lead agency, in urban centres where a significant drugs problem exists or has the potential to develop, specifically, including south Cork city, Galway, Waterford, Limerick, Bray and Carlow. In the case of south Cork city and Galway city, the Cabinet committee has approved [480] the allocation of £1 million over three years to implement their strategies. Decisions in relation to funding strategies for the other areas will be made in due course.

  54.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    if he will make moneys available to enable the reconstruction of the swimming pool in Cobh in County Cork; the amount of moneys involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19981/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  I recently announced a £45 million grant aid package for local authority swimming pools to run over the next three years, commencing in 2000. During this period, a minimum of £10 million per annum will be available for existing swimming pools in serious need of refurbishment, with up to £5 million per annum available for the provision of new pools.

There are 12 proposals, including one in respect of Cobh, to build new swimming pools in my Department. Although up to £5 million per annum is being made available for the provision of new pools for the next three years, funding in 1999 and 2000 is already committed to new pools in Navan, Ennis and Wicklow, where work is in progress and to a pool in Dundalk which is at an advanced stage of planning. It will, therefore, be some time before I will be in a position to make an allocation in respect of new pools.

All proposals for new pools, including Cobh, will be examined in the context of the available financial resources and taking into account such issues as: the need for a swimming pool in an area; suitability of the proposed site; future viability of the project, particularly in relation to operational and maintenance issues; construction and operating standards of existing facilities; satisfactory financial plan; and the need to achieve an equitable geographical spread of funds.

  55.  Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    if, further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 43 and 50 of 16 June 1999, the review of the regional tourism authorities has been completed; if so, the outcome; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19905/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  The regional tourism authorities, RTAs, were established by Bord Fáilte, under the Tourist Traffic Acts, for the promotion and development of tourism on a regional basis. In line with the commitment set out in An Action Programme for the Millennium, Bord Fáilte, at my request, initiated a review of the RTAs earlier this year. The objective was to review the role and operations of the RTAs and recommend how [481] they could optimally contribute to the achievement of national tourism objectives and targets set by the Government in line with Bord Fáilte's strategic plan, while taking into account regional priorities and customer focus.

The chairman of Bord Fáilte has recently forwarded to me a copy of the review, carried out by Fitzpatrick Associates, together with the board's view on its recommendations, for my consideration. These are being examined in my Department and I expect the findings and recommendations of the review to be made public once this process has been completed.

  56.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    if he will make a statement on the proposed £45 million programme to upgrade swimming pools; when work will commence; when the work will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19919/99]

(Dr. McDaid): In August, I announced a £45 million grant aid package for local authority swimming pools, which will run over the next three years, commencing in 2000. During this period, a minimum of £10 million per annum will be available for existing swimming pools in serious need of refurbishment, with up to £5 million going towards the provision of new swimming pools.

My Department commissioned the Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management, ILAM, to conduct an analysis of the condition of indoor local authority swimming pools, which were built between 1966 and 1981. It identified upwards of 30 pools, in varying degrees of disrepair, which are in need of major refurbishment. The local authorities responsible for these pools, have been invited to submit, or in some cases, to update, proposals for the future development of these pools.

Given the potential which exists for attracting private sector finance and expertise in the development and operation of local authority pools, I have signalled my willingness to consider proposals from local authorities incorporating private sector participation. An interdepartmental working group, chaired by my Department, has been established to develop guidelines and advise on other key issues for the operation of a public private partnership approach in relation to swimming pools.

  57.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    if he will ensure that funding continues for area based partnerships after December 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19989/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Mr. Flood):  Work is well under way on the new National Develop[482] ment Plan, but in the absence of final Government decisions on content, it is not possible for me to give any figures on future funding for local development type activities. The Government is, however, fully committed to the fundamentally important task of tackling social exclusion in deprived areas, and of ensuring that the overall objectives of current programmes remain a priority.

Each Area Partnership-ADM-Community Group carries out its activities under a plan which is prepared by itself and approved by ADM. The current Operational Programme for Local Urban and Rural Development requires that all commitments to funding actions under these plans, are made by the end of 1999. Actual spend can continue, until the end of 2001 to ensure the successful completion of the current programme.

I understand the board of ADM has recently made allocations, including some recent extra allocation of ESF funds, to partnerships which should allow activities under current plans to continue into next year by which stage arrangements for implementation of the upcoming National Development Plan, including social inclusion measures, should be in place and operational. Therefore the 2000 Estimates will reflect that position and include provision accordingly for area based partnerships.

  60.  Mr. B. Smith    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    if particular attention will be given to the potential for the further development of the tourism industry in the Border region in the context of the national development plan; if specific funding will be provided for this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19978/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  While growth in tourism over the past ten years has been unprecedented – visitor numbers to Ireland have doubled to 5.7 million and foreign exchange earnings have tripled to £2.3 billion – I believe there is still scope for further expansion in tourism revenue and employment in all regions, including the Border region.

The Border region has received tourism support over the past five years from a range of programmes including the Tourism OP (1994-1999), N.Ireland/Ireland INTERREG II Programme (1994-1999), Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation, and the International Fund for Ireland. It is estimated that well over £130 million in grant assistance has gone into tourism development in the region from those sources since 1994.

My strategy for tourism development under the National Development Plan will be based on the needs of areas, having regard to whether an area is a developed, developing or undeveloped tourism area. The key national objective for tourism [483] product development will be to provide an appropriate product base capable of supporting sustainable tourism development through enhancing or building up an interesting mix of tourism products, especially in developing and still underdeveloped tourist areas like the Border region.

As more detail emerges regarding future community initiatives for the Border region I look forward to EU support for tourism development continuing. Meanwhile I have received the report of the Donegal task force in July and, as I stated recently, I will be having the priorities identified in the report considered by my Department in the context of the drafting of its input into the Operational Programme for the Border, Midland and Western Region in the next National Development Plan.

  62.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    his views on Bord Fáilte's recently published corporate strategy for the next five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19911/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  I welcome the corporate strategy which Bord Fáilte published in July of this year. As the strategy indicates, world tourism is undergoing rapid and fundamental change on a scale that will deeply impact on the capacity of Bord Fáilte to do its job well. For example, changing consumer demographics, attitudes and lifestyles, combined with greater travel sophistication and experience on the part of the consumer in Ireland's main source markets, have been and will continue to drive change in the type of holiday experience being sought and the way in which it is purchased. Holidaymakers are placing increasing emphasis on quality and value for money. They are more ecologically aware. They travel more frequently, take more short breaks and often, especially for their main holiday, they seek to escape the frenetic pace of everyday modern life.

Competition is intensifying and countries that were previously outside Ireland's traditional competitor set are now competing head-to-head with Ireland for both its home and its overseas business. Changes in the economic climate, abroad and at home, may also affect consumers' purchasing power and their travel patterns, while the enlargement and strengthening of the EU has already put in motion a number of fundamental changes, the impact of which will intensify over the coming years. Chief among the issues affecting tourism are increased competition from new member states, the potential shift in funds to these countries, the euro and price transparency.

In the face of this level of change, and the immense challenges that it offers, the corporate strategy has been developed by Bord Fáilte to identify how best it can use its resources to carry [484] forward its level of past achievement to a successful future. The strategy also maintains the necessary flexibility to accommodate any mandate it receives from Government and the concerns and needs of its partners in the industry.

The corporate strategy will help Bord Fáilte to remain alert and responsive to the ever-changing conditions of the world tourism market. I am confident that, as the board, the management and all the staff of Bord Fáilte have been involved in its compilation, the corporate strategy will provide a firm foundation for building on previous success over the next five years. It will also better enable Bord Fáilte to address any policy reorientations arising in the context of the new National Development Plan.

  65.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    the amount of funding to date which has been drawn down by the local drugs task forces; the plans, if any, he has to establish local drug task forces in other parts of the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19982/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Mr. Flood):  The Government allocated £10 million to support the implementation of over 200 projects in the action plans of the local drugs task forces. This funding is held in the Vote of my Department and is transferred, on request as projects become operational, to other Departments and agencies, which are acting as channels of funding to the approved projects. Approximately £8.1 million has been drawn down by these Departments and agencies to date.

Following a positive independent evaluation and review of the operation of the task forces, the Government approved their continuation for a further two years and have allocated an additional £15 million over two years to enable them to update their action plans. This funding will be available from the beginning of next year and will also allow issues which cut across all task force areas to be addressed. These issues will be identified by the task forces themselves in the course of preparing their action plans.

The local drugs task forces were set up in disadvantaged areas experiencing the highest levels of illicit drug use, particularly heroin abuse. While the use of illicit drugs is a nation-wide phenomenon, heroin abuse presents particular problems because of its public health implications and close association with crime. In determining the designation of the task force areas, therefore, the focus has been on those areas which have a high incidence of heroin abuse. The criteria used for determining such areas are: drug treatment data from the health services; Garda crime statistics; data relating to school attendance/ drop-out; and other relevant data on the levels of social and economic disadvantage in the area. Based on [485] these criteria, Bray was designated a task force area, following a recent review. This brings to 14 the number of task forces which have been set up.

A review of the overall national drugs strategy has also commenced. This review will take account of the measures being undertaken to tackle drug misuse and the adequacy of these responses in the light of emerging trends in drug misuse nationally, with a view to making recommendations to Government on future drugs policy.

  67.  Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    the discussions, if any, he has with EU officials regarding funding for the proposed national conference centre; if he has satisfied himself that the £26 million allocated in EU funding is still available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19904/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  The Operational Programme for Tourism, 1994-99, includes provision for 33 million ECU (approximately £26 million) in European Regional Development Fund grant aid for the construction of a conference centre in Dublin capable of handling up to 2,000 delegates.

Following the failure of processes in 1995 and 1996 to secure an appropriate proposal, a new tender procedure, organised by Bord Fáilte, under the direction of the independent management board for product development, and conducted in accordance with EU Council Directive 93/37/EEC, was launched in September 1997. This process culminated in June 1998 in the selection of the proposal submitted by Spencer Dock International Convention Centre Limited, to go forward for European Regional Development [486] Fund grant-aid to develop the conference centre at a site in Dublin's docklands.

In September 1998, the Government agreed to the making of a submission to the European Commission recommending formal approval for a 33 million ECU European Regional Development Fund grant towards the cost of developing the project. The Commission's approval, in principle, for the grant was received in April 1999.

Since then, and following consultations between the developer and Bord Fáilte, I have been in correspondence with the Commission about how the construction schedule for the project can be accommodated within the various operational programme and CSF deadlines. Final contractual details are now urgently awaited by the Commission, from the developers, so that they can finalise their consideration of the case for extension of permissible time limits for grant drawdown.

Bord Fáilte are continuing negotiations with the developers with a view to finalising agreement on the necessary contracts by October 15. With only a couple of months left to the end of the current CSF, including deadlines for commitments under the Operational Programme for Tourism, every effort is being made to have the required contractual details with the Commission for their consideration as soon as possible.

  68.  Mr. McDowell    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    the consultants engaged by him or his Department in 1998 and to date in 1999; the cost in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19923/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  Details of expenditure on consultancy services engaged by me or my Department since 1998 are as follows:

Consultant Purpose of Engagement 1998Expenditure 1999Expenditureto date
£ £
Mr. Bart Cronin Press and Information Officer 27,548 14,070
Mr. Pádraig O'hUiginn Policy Adviser to me 1,776 227
Slattery Public Relations Ltd. Provision of a public relations and media service to me, the Minister of State and the Department 75,279 36,629
Kitt Campbell Associates Specialist advice for the assessment and selection phase of the tender procedure for development of a 50 metre swimming pool Nil 24,200
Goodbody Economic Consultants Spring 1998 Review of Sub-Programme 2 of LURD Operational Programme 68,607* 41,745*
Farrell Grant Sparks Mid-Term and ongoing evaluation of the URBAN Operational Programme 44,996* 36,893*
P A Consulting Service Ltd. Facilitate and assist with the development of a strategic planning process in my Department 24,034 Nil
P A Consulting Services Ltd. An evaluation of the processes and structures associated with the Government's Drugs Initiative (i.e. Local Drugs Task Forces and National Drugs Strategy Team 40,728 Nil
P A Consulting Services Ltd. Examination of current grant payment procedures in my Department for National Governing Bodies of Sport Nil 5,445

[487] In addition, under arrangements already in place prior to the establishment of the Department, the following are also ongoing:

Consultant Purpose of Engagement 1998Expenditure 1999Expenditureto date
£ £
Fitzpatrick Associates External Evaluation of the Operational Programme for Tourism 1994-1999 45,556* 39,232*
Fizzical Limited To inspect Waymarked Ways identified by the Department on the advice of the National Waymarked Ways Committee 11,102 12,055
Jean Boydell To inspect Waymarked Ways identified by the Department on the advice of the National Waymarked Ways Committee 6,927 1,217
Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management Three year arrangement entered into in April, 1997 by Department of Education, prior to establishment of Tourism, Sport and Recreation, to provide expert, technical advice on sports related issues 76,230 38,550

*75 per cent of the costs are recoupable from the EU.

  70.  Proinsias De Rossa    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    if he will make a statement on the progress made on the four pilot projects on social disadvantage. [19914/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Mr. Flood):  One of the Government's key priorities is to ensure a more focused and better co-ordinated response by the statutory authorities in addressing the needs of severely disadvantaged urban communities.

To that end, the Interdepartmental Committee on Local Development, which I chair, has been given a mandate to oversee a pilot integrated services process, with the ultimate aim of improving the quality of life in our most deprived urban areas, as a basis for a model of best practice.

The first phase of that process involved a close examination of the situation on the ground in four pilot areas – Dublin's north east inner city, Dublin 8 – Fatima Mansions, St. Teresa's Garden, St. Michael's House, Dolphin House, – Jobstown, Tallaght and Togher, Cork.

Following a decision by the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion, the implementation phase was launched by the Taoiseach on 4 December last at a special meeting of Secretaries General of relevant Departments and chief executive officers of relevant statutory agencies.

Each of these relevant Departments and statutory agencies has designated an official at both national and local level, who is responsible for driving the integrated services process within that Department or agency, as part of an implementation team. Community consultative forums are also up and running and give local people a sense of ownership as well as the opportunity to participate in a meaningful way with the ISP. PricewaterhouseCoopers consultancy has been appointed to carry out an external evaluation review of the process and has commenced its task.

The first interim progress report on the ISP was considered by the Cabinet Committee on Social [488] Inclusion in July. The report indicated that while there is a strong commitment and willingness at local level to make the ISP work, what is now critical is that an all-out effort is made to heighten the engagement of central Departments and to ensure that the lessons learned locally are reflected and fully utilised within the wider organisation. The report also set out the priorities that have been identified in agreement with local communities, of which, early school leaving emerged as the most important.

Participating Departments and agencies were asked by the Taoiseach to address the issues contained in the report as a matter of urgency. As a clear indication of the Government's commitment to the process, a further meeting of Secretaries General of relevant Departments and chief executive officers of relevant statutory agencies is being convened to review progress being made and to give further impetus to the implementation stage of the ISP. Since the summer, the process has moved from agreeing priority issues to the implementation stage from which positive tangible results are anticipated that can be replicated, as models of best practice, in other urban black-spots.

  71.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    his views on the implications for tourism of the introduction of any tourism tax at a local or national level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19922/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  During my consultations with the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation on the future of Irish tourism, we were agreed on the importance of adequate provision for investment in international tourism marketing for the year 2000 and beyond. The Deputy will recall from my replies to a related Question No. 2 on 11 March 1999, Question No. 19 on 6 May 1999, and Questions Nos. 25, 40 and 46 on 16 June 1999 that the [489] possibility of introducing a modest visitor levy, in line with practice in many other EU countries, was just one of the funding options for tourism marketing under consideration.

My Department has presented a strong case for continued EU and Exchequer funding for tourism marketing under the National Development Plan 2000-2006. With the industry we have made a compelling case for continued investment for what will soon become our largest economic sector and I am confident of a favourable outcome in this regard. Such a favourable outcome should obviate the need for considering other options such as a national visitor levy while local taxes are a matter, in the first instance, for my colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government.

  72.  Mr. Aylward    asked the Minister for the Marine    and Natural Resources the reason a grant under the tourism angling scheme has not been approved for an organisation (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if he will have this particular case reviewed with a view to having a grant sanctioned for work which has been completed. [20127/99]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):  The organisation in question has applied for funding under the tourism angling measure of the Operational Programme for Tourism. The day to day management of the measure is a matter for the Central Fisheries Board. Decisions on project funding applications are made by an independent management committee on the basis of recommendations made by a technical and evaluation committee.

I understand from the central board that the project in question will be considered by the Tourism Angling Measure Management Committee at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday, 19 October 1999.

  73.  Mr. Yates    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if she has satisfied herself with the situation where personal details of Eircom subscribers are being made available through the Golden Pages website on the Internet to anyone who may use or abuse it; the basis under which Eircom can provide this information without the consent of the subscriber; the steps, if any, she will take to ensure that the consent of individuals is given if this practice is to continue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19837/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  In accordance with European Community law, Eircom has been designated by the Director of Telecommunications Regulation as having the obligation to provide universal service. As part of this obligation Eircom is obliged to keep a record of all telephone subscribers in the [490] State, including those with fixed, mobile and personal numbers, who have not refused to be included in that record, and allow access to any information contained in such record to any person requesting such information.

This provision allows for persons to have themselves excluded from the listing. This is copperfastened by the European Parliament and Council Directive 97/66/EC on the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the telecommunications sector which provides that a person is entitled to be omitted from directory services at his or her request. My Department has prepared draft regulations to transpose this directive into Irish law and these are currently with the parliamentary draftsman.

  74.  Mr. M. Brady    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the number, nature and type of staff appointments made in the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation since its establishment which were outside of Civil Service selection procedures; the basis on which these appointments were made; the procedures involved in selecting the successful candidates for the posts; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20163/99]

  75.  Mr. M. Brady    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if she has satisfied herself that a senior civil servant through the Director of Telecommunications Regulation can make a large number of civil servants effectively redundant without reference to her or the Government; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20164/99]

  76.  Mr. M. Brady    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if her attention has been drawn to the serious industrial relations problems in the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation with the consequence that its efficiency and effectiveness may be significantly impaired if they are not satisfactorily resolved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20165/99]

  77.  Mr. M. Brady    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if staff appointments made outside Civil Service selection procedures in the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation since its establishment were sanctioned by her; and if she has satisfied herself that these appointments were in compliance with public sector recruitment standards. [20166/99]

  80.  Mr. M. Brady    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if she will ensure that the process under which the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation appoints a permanent deputy director as is provided for in the Telecommunications (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1997, will be in accordance with TLAC procedures as agreed between management and staff representatives in her Department. [20169/99]

[491]Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  I propose to answer Questions Nos. 74, 75, 76, 77 and 80 together.

The arrangements for the appointment of staff, in the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation are matters for the director to determine in accordance with the provisions of section 12(b) of the first schedule to the Telecommunications (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1996.

Since the establishment of the office, my Department, together with the management of the ODTR and the staff associations and unions concerned, have been involved in ongoing discussions regarding the staffing arrangements for the ODTR. I am aware that some of the 20 or so members of the engineering staff of my Department who are working in the ODTR since 1997, and who are engaged on functions formerly the responsibility of my Department, have raised concerns about their status within the ODTR. I want to assure all civil servants working in the office that they enjoy the same terms and conditions of employment as they did prior to the ODTR's establishment and that no changes to those terms and conditions can come about unless agreed either individually or collectively. These commitments will be enshrined in legislation in the forthcoming Telecommunications Regulatory Bill. The question of making staff redundant does not, therefore, arise.

The status of the position of deputy director is that the director has designated a current member of staff to act as deputy director. As provided in section 15 of the First Schedule to the Act, this arises only to cover periods of unavailability by the director.

  78.  Mr. M. Brady    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    the individual consultancies and contracts entered into by the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation since its establishment; the cost in each case; and if public tendering procedures were followed in each case. [20167/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  Consultancies and contracts entered into by the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation are the responsibility of that office. I have no function in such matters.

  79.  Mr. M. Brady    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    her views on whether the existing statutory framework is adequate in terms of provision for the accountability of the Office the Director of Telecommunications Regulation to Government and the Houses of the Oireachtas; and the plans, if any, she has to change the status of the office. [20168/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  Under the Telecommunications [492] (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1996, the Director of Telecommunications Regulation is responsible for implementation of the telecommunications regulatory framework and, as is specified in the Act, is independent in the exercise of her functions. It is important that the director has sufficient freedom to carry out these functions effectively but with due regard as a public body to the need for appropriate accountability for her actions. The Act contains certain provisions relating to the accountability of the director.

Deputies will be aware that in April last I announced my intention to prepare legislative proposals to provide the director with a firm basis for the regulation of the sector well into the next millennium. Among the issues which will be addressed in these legislative proposals are the accountability, independence and effective operation of the office. It is my intention to bring the necessary legislative proposals before Government as soon as possible.

Deputies will also be aware that I recently announced my intention to initiate a consultative process encompassing not only the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation, but all the regulators under the aegis of my Department. That process is intended to lead to a discussion document which will address a range of issues relevant to the current and future regulatory environment in Ireland.

I believe that this is necessary in order to provide a clear and detailed policy framework on the governance and accountability of regulators, based on experience gained to date. Pending the outcome of that consultative process, I have no plans, at present, to alter the status of the office.

  81.  Mr. Power    asked the Minister for Defence    the plans, if any, he has to re-equip the Army, Navy and Air Corps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20028/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  In recent years considerable sums have been expended under the Defence Vote in updating military equipment for the Defence Forces. It is my intention to continue, and expand where possible, with the modernisation programme to ensure that the Defence Forces are equipped to the highest standards appropriate to their roles.

It is estimated that more than £60 million will be spent this year on weapons, ammunition, transport and clothing for the Defence Forces generally and on equipment specifically for the Air Corps and Naval Service and will include the following major items: a new fishery patrol vessel, due for delivery later this month; a half life refit of L.E. Eithne completed earlier this year and a similar refurbishment programme for L.E. Orla currently under way; L.E. Ciara will be refurbished next year; the supply of 16 new turrets and 16 fire directing systems for fitting to existing Panhard armoured cars. The first two turrets and [493] two fire directing systems were delivered earlier this year and the balance is expected to be delivered towards the end of this year; the delivery of approximately 70 troop-carrying vehicles, such as four by fours and three quarter ton trucks, and a number of special transportation vehicles for use with KFOR; a contract for the supply of up to 40 armoured personnel carriers. It is expected that a contract will be in place later this year and the first APCs should be delivered next year.

The longer term development, including the question of future equipment requirements, of the Air Corps and the Naval Service will be dealt with in the context of the White Paper on Defence, which I plan to have available by the end of this year. However, in the meantime, I asked the Chief of Staff to prepare, in conjunction with the General Officer Commanding the Air Corps and the Flag Officer Commanding the Naval Service, draft implementation plans for my consideration, to implement the effectiveness and efficiency recommendations made by the consultants Price Waterhouse in its review of the two services. I have just received a draft plan relating to the Naval Service which is now being considered and I understand that a draft plan from the Air Corps is due very shortly.

  82.  Mr. Power    asked the Minister for Defence    the progress, if any, made in relation to increasing the number of Army personnel at the Curragh; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20029/99]

Minister for Defence: (Mr. M. Smith):  The strength of the Defence Forces training centre, Curragh and logistics base, Curragh, currently exceed the establishment as prescribed by the military authorities in Administrative Instruction CS 4, by 161 and 65 personnel respectively. There are, therefore, no plans to increase the number of personnel at the Curragh.

  83.  Mr. Browne (Wexford)    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    the reason sheep subsidy and area aid payments have not issued to a person (details supplied) in County Wexford; the reason this person has failed to get a response in spite of repeated phone calls to his Department; if he will have the matter fully investigated to enable payments to be made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20066/99]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh):  Following a compliance inspection on the flock of the person named the number of sheep found was lower than that claimed on his application. He was deemed ineligible for payment under the 1999 scheme and he was also debarred for the 2000 scheme. He was notified of this decision on 14 May 1999 and [494] he was advised that he could have his case reviewed by the district inspector. The person concerned has since appealed his case to the district inspector and he will be notified of the result of this appeal shortly.

  84.  Mr. Browne (Wexford)    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    the reason ewe premium and headage payments have not issued to a person (details supplied) in County Wexford; if he will have the matter investigated; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

(Mr. Walsh): Following an inspection of the flock of the person named, a number of sheep were found at locations not declared on his application form. As there was no record of prior written notification regarding the movement of these sheep as required under the terms and conditions of the scheme he was informed by the inspecting officer that he faced possible exclusion from the 1999 scheme. Following further contacts between the local office staff and the person named further investigations were carried out. These investigations are almost concluded and a decision on the outcome will be communicated to the person named shortly.

  85.  Mr. McGinley    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    when cattle and sheep headage will be paid to a person (details supplied) in County Donegal. [20146/99]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh):  An overclaim has been identified on two of the land parcels claimed by the person named in 1999. Maps have issued to him with a view to resolving the difficulties. His application cannot be processed further until a reply is received.

  86.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    if, further to Parliamentary Question No. 305 of 8 December 1998, he will grant aid the Irish Seal Sanctuary to develop a seven acre coastal site given to it by Fingal County Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20147/99]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh):  As I have indicated in replies to earlier questions, I consider that support for the activities and operations of the Irish Seal Sanctuary is not a matter for my Department.

  87.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    when a REP scheme payment will be paid to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [20148/99]

[495]Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh):  The person named is due to have an inspection carried out by a departmental rural development and environment inspector shortly.

No decision on payment can be taken until this inspection is completed.

  88.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    when a 1998 REP scheme payment will be paid to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [20149/99]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh):  The person named is due to have an inspection carried out by a department rural development and environment inspector shortly.

No decision on payment can be taken until this inspection is completed.

  89.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    if 1998 headage and premium will be paid to a person (details supplied) in County Leitrim. [20150/99]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh):  A 1998 area aid application for the person named was received after the closing date and a postal certificate was requested from the applicant. The postal certificate was received in the area aid unit and the application has been finalised. Payments in respect of suckler cow and special beef premia and extensification have been made to the person named. Payment in respect of cattle headage will issue within the next 14 days.

  90.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    if he has prioritised the young farmer installation aid grant for co-funding under the national development plan; his views on the fact that there is a very strong case to have aid for young farmers increased since the level of funding of £5,600 has not changed since 1984; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20151/99]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh):  The continuation of the scheme of installation aid will form part of my Department's proposals for the National Development Plan 2000-06. The details of the measure have yet to be finalised.

[496]

  91.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    his views on whether a farmer in a REP scheme stands to incur considerable financial loss if a site is sold to a family member, particularly when part of the farm is designated a special area of conser vation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20153/99]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh):  Where, during the period of their REPS plan, a participant in the scheme sells or otherwise transfers part of their farm to another person the transferor may remain in the scheme subject to an amended agri-environmental plan being prepared for the remaining lands and a proportionate adjustment in the payment being made. Aid already paid proportionate to the transferred land must be reimbursed.

This condition is required as the transferred lands will no longer benefit from farming practices and production methods which reflect the need for environmental conservation and protection.

  92.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive 1999 cattle and sheep headage. [20154/99]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh):  An overclaim has been identified on one of the land parcels claimed by the person named in 1999. Maps have issued to him with a view to resolving the difficulties. His application cannot be processed further until a reply is received.

  93.  Mr. Yates    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    if area aid tillage payments will be made to a person (details supplied) in County Wexford on the basis of his actual set-aside rather than a penalty disqualifying his full set-aside payment in view of the marginal nature of the error involved. [20155/99]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh):  The applicant in question submitted 4.86 hectares of set-aside on his 1999 area aid application. At field inspection on 16 September 1999 only four hectares of set-aside were found. This represents a difference of 0.86 hectares or 21.5 per cent between the area claimed and that found on inspection. Under article 9 of EU Regulation 3887/92, no penalty is applied when the difference is less than 3 per cent, the penalty is based on double the difference when it is between 3 per cent and 20 per cent and when the difference is over 20 per cent, a 100 per cent penalty must be applied. The payment for cereals will not be affected.

[497]

  94.  Mr. Bradford    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    if a nationwide rural development initiative will be put in place to continue the work commenced and developed through the Leader II programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20156/99]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh):  The position is that funding for rural development is being considered in the context of the National Development Plan.

  95.  Mr. Higgins (Mayo)    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Galway has not received a 1999 headage payment. [20157/99]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh):  Headage payment cannot be paid until the area aid application for the applicant has been cleared. A valid area aid application was received from the person concerned on which he declared 53.68 hectares of forage land. This application has now been fully processed and cleared. Headage payments will issue as soon as possible.

[498]

  96.  Mr. Aylward    asked the Minister for Finance    the progress, if any, to date towards the provision of a new Garda station at Kilmoganny, County Kilkenny; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20112/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Cullen):  It is anticipated that a contract for a new Garda station at Kilmoganny, County Kilkenny will be placed within the next two weeks.

  97.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will provide details of GNP for each of the past ten years; the estimate made by his Department and bodies under the aegis of his Department of GNP for 1999; the forecast made by his Department or by these bodies of GNP for each of the years from 2000 to 2002; the revisions, if any, to be made to the mode of calculation of GNP which have been made over the past ten years, which are being introduced or which are in prospect; if the GNP figure for any of the past ten years would be significantly different if calculated in accordance with current or planned modes of calculation; if so, the amounts of this difference; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20105/99]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  The latest GNP estimates for Ireland were published on 30 June by the Central Statistics Office, CSO, as part of the 1998 national income and expenditure accounts. These estimates are set out as follows:

Table 1: Gross National Product at market prices 1990-1998 (£ millions)

Year 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998
£ million 22,185 25,591 26,775 28,181 30,370 32,885 36,503 40,146 45,500 52,183

The details for the period 1990-98 are produced on the new ESA95 basis which was introduced this year. This new basis for estimating national income is explained below. The estimate for 1989 is calculated on the old ESA79 basis.

The current forecast for GNP for 1999, which was published in the economic review and outlook in July, is £57,600 million. This is based on a nominal increase in GNP of 10.4 per cent in 1999 over 1998.

Published forecasts of GNP by the Department of Finance for the period 2000-02, taking account of the revised estimates published in June, are not available. However, the latest unpublished departmental assessment forecasts that the level of GNP will be £62,250 million in the year 2000, £67,200 million in 2001 and £72,125 million in 2002. These levels are based on nominal GNP growth rates of approximately 8 per cent per annum in 2000 and 2001 and 7.5 per cent in 2002. These forecasts are now being reviewed in the context of the 2000 budget. Revised forecasts will be published on budget day.

The Central Bank in its autumn 1999 Quarterly Bulletin has forecast the value of GNP for 1999 at 73,923 (£58,219). It has not published forecasts for subsequent years. The ESRI in its autumn Commentary forecast GNP in 1999 at £57,658, rising to £62,906 in 2000.

In estimating GNP the CSO use the accounting rules of the European system of accounts, ESA. The ESA is a more specific and detailed European Union version of the United Nations sponsored system of national accounts, SNA.

The accounting rules presently used by CSO are those of the European system of regional and national accounts 1995, ESA95. This system is a recent update of an earlier system which dated from the year 1979, ESA79. The new methodology was established by EU Council Regulation No. 2223/96. The regulation obliged all member states to use the new accounting rules to compile their national accounts from 1999 onwards, apart from one exception concerning the measurement of the output of banks.

In 1996 the CSO introduced two of the more significant proposed ESA95 changes relating to the recording of transactions of foreign owned enterprises. These changes related to retained earnings and royalty payments.

Under previous rules the profits of multinationals were recorded as a factor outflow when [499] the profits were actually remitted to the foreign owner. Accordingly, profits earned and retained by multinationals remained part of Irish GNP. This was changed to an accruals basis under ESA95 and as a result all profits of multinationals are now recorded as factor income outflows and are excluded from GNP as they are earned.

Royalty payments made by Irish subsidiaries to their owners in return for the right to use technology developed abroad were previously included in factor income outflows as profit distributions. They are now treated as the purchase of services provided by the owners of the technology. This has the effect of reducing the [500] operating surplus of these operations and, therefore reduces the value of GDP. However, both the value of GNP and the current account surplus in the balance of payments are unaffected.

These two changes were introduced as early as possible because of their significance in an Irish context. The remaining ESA95 changes were introduced in the GNP estimates published in June of this year. These new GNP estimates are presented in the following table. The table also gives the values of GNP for these years in accordance with the former ESA79 methodology. As the tables indicates, the effect of the introduction of the new accounting rules on GNP levels is not significant.

Table 2: Gross National Product at market prices 1990-1998 (£ millions)

£ million 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998
ESA95 25,591 26,775 28,181 30,370 32,885 36,503 40,146 45,500 52,183
ESA79 25,476 26,943 28,521 30,539 32,806 36,850 40,548 45,634 52,653

Apart from the changes to the basic ESA accounting rules described above, over the past number of years Ireland and other EU member states have been engaged in a work programme to improve the consistency and comprehensiveness of their GNP estimates. This is in compliance with GNP directive 89/130.

New data sources and improved estimation methods have resulted in a number of revisions to the GNP estimates. The most significant of these was introduced last year when the CSO completed an EU work programme designed to improve the exhaustiveness of GNP estimates. Details of the work undertaken and the resulting revisions were described in a special information notice issued by the CSO in November 1998. The overall impact of these changes was to increase GNP levels by almost 3.5 per cent, although year-on-year growth rates were relatively unaffected. These revisions are fully incorporated in the ESA 79 and ESA 95 GNP estimates provided in the previous table 2.

As mentioned earlier, one element of the new ESA95 accounting rules has not yet been implemented. This relates to the methodology used to estimate the output of banks and other financial intermediation services, FISIM. Implementation of this change was deferred by the EU Council and member states have instead been asked to undertake a series of trial calculations to try to assess the impact of this new accounting rule. These assessments are ongoing. The new methodology will not be introduced until 2002 at the earliest and only after the agreement of the EU council. The CSO are not, at this stage, in a position to estimate the impact of this change on GNP levels.

Further revisions of the ESA95 accounting rules are also likely in the period ahead. Previously the accounting rules were only changed periodically so that they gradually became outdated. There is now an emphasis on regular updating of the national accounting methodology. In this regard, two proposed changes to the ESA95 have already been discussed and will be presented to the EU Council for decision later this year. These concern the recording of interest rate and foreign currency swap transactions and the measurement of accrued taxes and social contributions. At this stage it is unclear whether these changes will be adopted. However, the impact on Irish GNP levels should not be significant.

The CSO is also continuing its programme of improving the reliability of the GNP estimates, in the context of GNP Directive 89/130. This will result in further revisions to the GNP estimates. In particular, the CSO is at present finalising a project to ensure that the activities of the International Financial Services Centre, IFSC, are comprehensively captured in the GNP estimates. These revisions will be incorporated in the national income estimates to be published next year. The latest indications from the CSO suggest that those revisions relating to the IFSC are likely to lead to some increase in the level of GNP for 1998.

In summary, therefore, a number of revisions have been made to Irish GNP estimates over the past few years. The most important of these were due to the introduction of the new ESA95 accounting rules and the completion of an EU work programme to improve the exhaustiveness of member states' GNP data. The figures published by CSO in June incorporated these adjustments. While the availability of new data or new data sources or the introduction of improved methodologies will inevitably result in revisions to GNP levels from time to time, no significant changes, apart from those mentioned above, are in prospect at present.

[501]

  98.  Mr. Currie    asked the Minister for Finance    if qualification as a pilot could be deemed as the equivalent to the leaving certificate in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 15 for the position of meteorological officer with the Department of Public Enterprise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20106/99]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  Recruitment to the Civil Service is undertaken by the Civil Service Commissioners who are statutorily independent in the exercise of their functions. I am informed by the Civil Service Commissioners that, with the increasing range of educational courses, the issue of equivalence of qualifications has become ever more complex. In reaching a decision, the commissioners establish an expert board who advise them on various matters relating to the competition; if necessary, the commissioners further research the matter with academic institutions and-or professional bodies.

Each case must be examined on its own merits. In regard to the case in point, the expert board considered all details supplied with the application in the context of the position to be filled and the provisions of the competition regulations. They advised that the application failed to comply with the requirements, either directly or by way of equivalent.

Relevant documentation has been provided to the individual under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, 1997.

I am advised that qualifications for posts are reviewed on each occasion prior to advertising in consultation with the employing Department, taking account of changes in the job, developments in education and experience at the previous competition. The Civil Service Commissioners expect that any issues arising out of this case will be borne in mind when the requirements for this position are being framed again.

  99.  Mr. M. Brady    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has approved the number of staff employed by the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation as required by the Telecommunications (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1997. [20162/99]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  The ODTR was established in mid-1997 under the Telecommunications (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1996. At that time I approved a staffing level of 59 for the office. In May 1998, following a review of the staffing requirements of the office, I approved a further 36 staff, bringing the total approved staffing to 95.

[502]

  100.  Ms O'Sullivan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when the Government will honour its commitment in Partnership 2000 to introduce a code of practice for those in sheltered workshops; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20025/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  I assume that the Deputy is referring to paragraph 5.24 of the Partnership 2000 Agreement which states that “Employers, trade unions and relevant Government Departments and agencies, in consultation with the organisations of people with disabilities, will draw up a code of practice on the employment of people within sheltered work provisions, which will provide for its monitoring.”

My Department intends to honour this commitment and will shortly establish a committee to provide assistance and advice for this task. The initial step in this process is under way and my Department is currently requesting nominations for participants on this committee from health boards, ICTU and other interested parties. The preparation of codes of practice will be addressed in the context of the deliberations of this committee.

  101.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    his views on the formation of an EU food safety agency; the status the authority will have in relation to food safety matters in Ireland; and the relationship this body will have with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. [20152/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  On October 5 last, European Commission President Romano Prodi announced his intention to issue a White Paper on food safety. The aim of the White Paper is to conduct a review of EU food law and to put forward proposals before the end of the year 2000 with a view to having new legislation in place by the end of 2002. It is proposed that the White Paper will also include options for a possible European food safety agency although Mr. Prodi acknowledged that at present he had no firm views on the issue. It is anticipated that this White Paper will be published in mid-December 1999.

I am awaiting with interest the publication of the White Paper which should form the basis for an extensive debate on food safety including the advantages and disadvantages of a European food safety agency. It would be premature of me to give a view on the formation of such an agency in advance of the publication of the White Paper nor am I in a position to comment on the status and relationship such an agency, if it were to be established, would have with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI.

As the Deputy will be aware, in establishing the FSAI, this Government honoured its commitment in An Action Programme for the Millennium that a statutory, independent, science-based [503] agency be established with an overall responsibility for food safety. Many other member states of the European Union are following Ireland's example in this regard.

  102.  Mr. Power    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if he has satisfied himself with the way in which student nurses are recruited; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20031/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  In previous years the recruitment and selection process for places on both the general and psychiatric nursing registration/diploma programmes was administered by the nursing applications centre. An Bord Altranais has assumed responsibility for the overall management of the nursing applications centre from this year onwards and has renamed it the nursing careers centre in order to give it a broader focus in relation to nursing as a career generally. This transfer of responsibility is in accordance with the strengthened role of An Bord Altranais in the area of pre-registration nursing education and training recommended by the commission on nursing.

As part of the preparations for this year's competitions, An Bord Altranais, with my approval, amended its own rules to revise the minimum educational requirements for entry to nursing training. Broadly speaking, the requirements have been brought into line with those of the third level institutions. The effect of this rule change is to expand the range of leaving certificate subjects that may be presented by an applicant for admission to the nursing diploma programmes. In particular, it removes the requirement for a foreign language in the case of the non-NUI third level institutions involved in the operation of the programmes. A decision was subsequently taken by the NUI to drop the requirement for a foreign language for entry to the programmes. These changes introduce greater flexibility in the entry criteria for nursing training, without reducing standards, and will increase the pool of school leavers and others who will be eligible for places on the nursing diploma programmes.

The changes outlined above, together with the national and local recruitment campaigns which I funded, have resulted in a highly successful outcome to this year's competitions for training places on the nursing diploma programmes. A total of 1,222 training places have been filled: 821 in general nursing, 245 in psychiatric nursing and 156 in mental handicap nursing. This is the largest number of direct entrants to nurse training for several years and proves that there continues to be considerable interest among young people and others in [504] nursing as a career. I provided funding of almost £400,000 for the recruitment campaigns and I regard it as money well spent. I am especially pleased that the promotional campaigns have raised the profile of both psychiatric and mental handicap nursing. This year we succeeded in filling a record 245 training places in psychiatric nursing compared with only 92 places last year, and a record 156 places in mental handicap nursing compared with 117 in 1998. I also made available funding for some 100 extra training places in general and psychiatric nursing this year and these have been offered to applicants who successfully came through the competition.

The commission on nursing has recommended the establishment of a representative nursing education forum to prepare a strategy for moving pre-registration nursing from the present three year programme to a four year degree programme in time for the intake of nursing students in the year 2002. I have established this forum, which is chaired by Dr. Laraine Joyce, the deputy director of the office for health management. Its membership includes representatives of schools of nursing, third level institutions, health service providers, An Bord Altranais and relevant Departments. The forum held its first meeting on 10 February and is proceeding with its work.

One of the first tasks that the forum has been asked to undertake is an examination of the respective weightings that should be given to the academic achievement and general suitability of applicants for entry to student nursing programmes. At present, the application system for places on the nursing diploma programmes operates outside the Central Applications Office. It is intended that, in line with what has been recommended by the commission on nursing, the application process would be transferred to the CAO in advance of the introduction of a four year degree programme. I have received the forum's recommendation in relation to same which I have forwarded to An Bord Altranais for immediate action.

  103.  Mr. Power    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if the number of patients being treated in hospitals for sexually transmitted diseases is increasing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20032/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  Patients are generally treated for sexually transmitted disease infections in out-patient genitourinary clinics, which are attached to major hospitals throughout the country. Cases diagnosed are notified to my Department in accordance with the infectious diseases regulations of 1981.

The number of reported cases of sexually trans[505] mitted diseases has continued to rise over the past five years as follows:

Year Total Number of Notified Sexually Transmitted Diseases
1994 4,464
1995 5,159
1996 5,766
1997 7,250
1998 7,436

Figures indicate that people are engaging in risk activities, which may lead to their becoming infected with an STD. Services have had to expand to cope with increased needs in this area.

The figures would also signal the need for greater emphasis on education and awareness programmes. The revised primary school curriculum, which includes social, personal and health education, will help to equip young people with skills and knowledge for life. In addition, my Department's health promotion unit and the health boards will continue with prevention and awareness campaigns. These campaigns include the convenience advertising programme running in the washroom areas of selected colleges, pool halls and night clubs so that the information regarding how to avoid infection with STDs can be given to people who are potentially at risk of [506] infection. The unit will also continue to make available, free of charge, a range of information leaflets on topics such as sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS and Hepatitis B.

The new National Disease Surveillance Centre, which was established in 1998, and the improved reporting compliance which the centre is putting in place could mean that part of the apparent increase may be due to improved reporting in STD clinics.

  104.  Mr. Power    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the total number of people who have been diagnosed as HIV positive; the number of people who have died from AIDS related illnesses to date in 1999; the way in which this compares with previous years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20034/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The number of people who have been diagnosed as HIV positive to 31 May 1999 is 2,062. The reported total number of people who have been diagnosed as having AIDS up to the end of July, 1999 is 682 and there have been 344 deaths from AIDS.

The numbers of reported cases for HIV and deaths from AIDS over the past 10 years are shown below.

The number of HIV cases reported to the Department from 1989 to 1998

1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998
116 111 92 201 137 85 91 106 119 136

The number of AIDS Deaths reported to the Department from 1989 to 1998

1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998
15 25 21 42 44 44 46 34 7 21

National figures are small so we must be careful not to make assumptions based on figures in any given year. Figures, however, indicate that while there is a general downward trend in relation to the number of deaths from AIDS, which is most probably due to the use of effective anti-retroviral treatment, the number of new cases of HIV has continued to rise, especially over the past three years. For this reason we must not become complacent about HIV and AIDS and efforts must continue to create a greater awareness among the general public and particularly among young people of the ways in which HIV is spread in order that they may avoid infection.

  105.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the financial assistance paid by his Department in each of the past three years to women's organisations and groups or organisations providing services primarily for women including the name of the organisation or group; the amount paid; and the purpose for which it was paid. [20045/99]

  106.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the financial assistance paid by his Department in each of the past three years to men's organisations and groups or organisations providing services primarily for men including the name of the organisation or group; the amount paid; and the purpose for which it was paid. [20049/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 105 and 106 together.

The information sought by the Deputy for the last three full years and to date in 1999 is detailed in the attached table. The Deputy should note that the health boards have a function in relation [507] to providing services for men's and women's health groups. If the Deputy wishes to have [508] details of such health board payments, he should communicate directly with the chief executive officers of the boards.

Women's Organisations and Groups

Organisation Purpose Funding
£
1996
Positive Action Funds to provide support to those women who were infected with hepatitis C through the administration of anti-D 80,000
The Women's Health Clinic Funding towards the cost of counselling services 3,000
1997
Women's Education Research And Resource Centre Contribution to conference on lesbian lives – March 1997 500
La Leche League of Ireland Grant towards breastfeeding literature 9,862
Association of Lactation Consultants of Ireland Grant towards breastfeeding literature 1,423
Positive Action Funds to provide support to those women who were infected with hepatitis C through the administration of anti-D 130,000
1998
La Leche League of Ireland Grant towards leader applicant training weekend 3,000
Bodywhys Grant towards distribution of materials (Anorexia) 3,500
Positive Action Funds to provide support to those women who were infected with hepatitis C through the administration of anti-D 160,000
Community Women's Education Initiatives Funds to establish a women's centre in Cork 50,000
National Women's Council of Ireland Funding to support and enable NWCI members to participate in the regional and national health councils 25,000
Women's Health Council Administration costs of council 70,000
1999
National Network of Women's Refuges and Support Running costs 35,000
National Network for Rape Crisis Centres Running costs 35,000
National Women's Council of Ireland Funding to support and enable NWCI members to participate in the regional and national health councils 25,000
Women's Health Council Administration costs of council 300,000
Positive Action Funds to provide support to those women who were infected with hepatitis C through the administration of anti-D 180,000
National Association of Widows in Ireland Costs towards running seminar 500
La Leche League of Ireland Grant towards breastfeeding literature 12,630

Men's Organisations

Organisation Purpose Funding
£
1996
MOVE Limerick Funding towards the cost of establishing weekly counselling for violent men 4,000
Irish Haemophilia Society Funds to provide support to members who were infected with hepatitis C through the administration of blood products 46,500
1997
Gay Health Network Grant for training and education on HIV/AIDS 7,000
Irish Haemophilia Society Funds to provide support to members who were infected with hepatitis C through the administration of blood products 46,500
1998
Gay Health Network Grant for training and education on HIV/AIDS 8,000
Irish Haemophilia Society Funds to provide support to members who were infected with hepatitis C through the administration of blood products 57,000
1999
AMEN Conference costs 16,000

[509]

  107.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if he will establish in-patient psychiatric services in maternity hospitals in order that patients suffering from severe post-natal depression can be cared for in the company of their babies and with others who have similar conditions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20071/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The provision of separate facilities in maternity hospitals for mothers suffering from post-natal depression is essentially an operational matter for the hospitals concerned.

I have had inquiries made of maternity hospitals and I am advised that the incidence of severe post-natal psychosis is relatively low and estimated at four to five cases per one thousand deliveries. I am assured that there are protocols in place to deal with post-natal depression. In most cases post-natal depression is treated on an out-patient basis. However, I understand that if the mother's depression warrants in-patient treatment the practice is that the mother is admitted to a psychiatric unit in a general hospital and, where possible, with her baby. I am not aware of particular difficulties in the provision of this service.

However, if the Deputy has a particular case in mind, she might bring it to my attention and I will refer it to the appropriate agency.

  108.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if free medication is available for the treatment of hypercholesterolaemia and hypertension arising from a diabetes condition under the green long-term illness booklet prescription form. [20116/99]

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 and 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 conditions prescribed under the Act. Drugs which are directly related to the treatment of these conditions are made available free of charge.

The operation of the scheme is primarily a matter for the relevant health board and information on the operation of the scheme with regard to the provision of drugs for the treatment of hypercholesterolaemia and hypertension arising from diabetes has been sought from each health board. I will communicate directly with the Deputy when comprehensive information is to hand from all health board areas.

[510]

  109.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if in vitro fertilisation treatment is available free to medical card holders. [20118/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  In vitro fertilisation is not part of the publicly funded health service and people who avail of the service do so in a private capacity. They are, however, eligible for tax relief on medical expenses and receive assistance with the cost of drugs under the drugs refund/subsidy schemes.

  110.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Cork is being refused a hearing aid in spite of the fact that she is a medical card holder. [20119/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  As the provision of hearing aids to eligible persons in County Cork is the statutory responsibility of the Southern Health Board I have asked the chief executive officer of the Southern Health Board to investigate the position in relation to this case and to reply to the Deputy directly as a matter of urgency.

  111.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of children with HIV and AIDS. [20120/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  Cumulative HIV statistics to the end of May 1999 show that 153 children have been reported as being HIV positive. In relation to AIDS, up to the end of July 1999, 22 children have been diagnosed as having AIDS and eight children have died.

A comprehensive service for all children diagnosed as HIV positive is provided in Our Lady's Hospital, Crumlin, under the clinical management of a consultant in paediatric infectious diseases.

A number of babies who are diagnosed as HIV positive at birth, seroconvert to become HIV negative. Therefore, the cumulative total of 153 children reported as HIV positive is an overestimate of the number of children who are at present HIV positive. As part of a review of national AIDS strategy the surveillance sub-committee of the national AIDS strategy committee is examining this issue in conjunction with the consultant in paediatric infectious diseases.

  112.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of patients at St. Joseph's Hospital, Limerick. [20122/99]

[511]Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  There were 183 patients in St Joseph's Hospital on 12 October, 1999.

  113.  Ms Fitzgerald    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason so many natural remedies (details supplied) have been placed on prescription from 1 January 2000; the reason it is necessary to put these products on prescription; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20123/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The Medicinal Products (Prescription and Control of Supply) Regulations, 1996 to 1999, set out a list of substances and the circumstances in which products containing those substances are subject to prescription control. Included in the regulations are a small number of so-called natural or herbal substances.

Products containing the herb “hypericum perforatum” (St. John's Wort) are medicinal products and, as such, must, in order that they may be placed on the market in this country, be the subject of product authorisations granted by the Irish Medicines Board under the Medicinal Products (Licensing and Sale) Regulations, 1998, (S.I. No. 142 of 1998).

Examinations carried out by the board have indicated that the products concerned are being promoted and sold for the treatment of patients with mild to moderate depression. The board is of the opinion that patients with this condition should be under the care of a registered medical practitioner and that the condition is not suitable for self-diagnosis or treatment by self-medication using non-prescription medicines. The current position, therefore, is that there are no authorised medicinal products available on the market in this country for the treatment of mild to moderate depression which can be obtained without a medical prescription.

Products containing “Hypericum perforatum” have been reported to act as a monoamine oxidase inhibitors, MAOIs. Such products must, therefore, be used with care because there is a risk of hypertension when they are taken with over-the-counter sympathomimetics – e.g. cough mixtures – antidepressants, or foods containing tyramine, e.g. red wine, cheese.

The advertising literature used in the promotion of these products has also stated that they can be taken “with no side effects” and in some instances are being described as being the “Sunshine Supplement”. These statements are not consistent with the published literature which reports side-effects such as photosensitivity – sensitivity to sunlight – gastrointestinal disturbances, fatigue and nervousness.

In the case of progesterone creams, these medicinal products have been subject to medical prescription only control since May 1976.

In general, the placing of any medicinal prod[512] uct under prescription only control is done in the interest of protecting public health and safety and where it is considered appropriate that such products should only be used under medical supervision.

  114.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called for orthodontic treatment in view of the fact that she has been on the waiting list since 20 June 1997. [20124/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  As the provision of orthodontic treatment to eligible persons in County Mayo is the statutory responsibility of the Western Health Board, I have asked the chief executive officer of the Western Health Board to investigate the position in this case and to reply to the Deputy directly as a matter of urgency.

  115.  Mr. Yates    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if an application of an addiction treatment centre (details supplied) in County Wexford for lottery funding from the health board will be approved; the reason for the confusion regarding receipt of the application when it was duly lodged; and the funds, if any, available to assist this project in 1999. [20129/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The South-Eastern Health Board has made a grant of £30,000 available on a once off basis to the organisation referred to for its development project.

  116.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if his Department will assist with the difficulties being experienced by the Mater Hospital, Dublin 7, where some patients are obliged to wait in the casualty department for 48 hours or more until a bed is available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20130/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  I have had inquiries made of the hospital authorities regarding the difficulties currently being experienced in the accident and emergency department at the Mater Hospital and have been informed that the delays being experienced are due in part to the unusually large number of patients attending the department. The recent bed closures due to nursing shortages are further exacerbating the problem. The hospital management, conscious of these unusual factors, is managing the situation on a day to day basis. It has also put a number of initiatives in place in order to attract more nursing staff to the hospital.

As the Deputy will be aware, in November 1997 I approved phase one of a major re-develop[513] ment programme for the Mater Hospital campus, to include the accident and emergency, out-patient department, hospital sterile services department and operating theatres, at a cost limit of £25 million. In May 1998, I approved the appointment of the design team for the development and the planning is now under way.

With regard to problems in A&E departments generally, the levels of attendance at accident and emergency departments are complex and difficult to predict and, in this regard, all accident and emergency departments experience periods of exceptional demand which can result in delays for patients. However, it is important to note that appropriate medical treatment is provided at all times and that waiting periods are kept to an absolute minimum.

In 1998, I made an additional £2.3 million available for the development of accident and emergency services. This additional funding was used primarily for the launch by the Eastern Health Board of a national public education campaign aimed at persuading people with minor ailments to attend their family doctor rather than a hospital A&E department, and also the development of a range of initiatives in major A&E departments. Within this funding, the Mater Hospital received an allocation of £200,000. This funding was deployed for the provision of additional A&E staff to alleviate pressures in the A&E department.

This year I provided further funding of £2 million to enable major acute hospitals to implement various initiatives aimed at addressing some of the difficulties being experienced in our accident and emergency departments, particularly during periods of peak demand. These initiatives will include measures to free up beds for emergency admissions through the provision of alternative step down facilities for patients occupying beds in acute hospitals for lengthy periods. They will allow for the provision of enhanced staffing levels, the development of rapid diagnostic systems for common emergency presentations, continued development of treatment-observation areas in accident and emergency departments and an improved access for general practitioners to urgent specialist opinion.

As part of this overall funding, a sum of £210,000 was allocated to the Mater Hospital for A&E improvements. The hospital has undertaken a number of measures to improve systems for dealing with patients attending the A&E department and I hope they will provide a more acceptable environment for patients and alleviate some of the current problems.

The Deputy will be aware that I have also published the report of the review group on the waiting list initiative and am committed to ensuring that its recommended approach is implemented. The report is one of a number of measures which I have taken to address the question of long waiting lists and waiting times. I have provided a total of £20 million for waiting list activity in 1999. This is a 66 per cent increase over the amount pro[514] vided in 1998 and is two and a half times higher than the sum of £8 million provided by the previous Government in 1997. The report recommended the implementation of a range of steps to free up acute hospital facilities for more elective work. It pointed out that a significant proportion of acute hospital beds were being inappropriately used by patients who did not need, or who no longer needed, acute hospital care. This problem arises due to a shortage of places in the areas of “step-down” or convalescent care, rehabilitation facilities and community based services which reduce the need to use acute hospital care.

In an effort to address these problems, I have provided extra funding in 1999 of £9 million for services for older people. This funding will help to free up acute hospital beds which are currently occupied by patients who could be accommodated in more appropriate convalescent or extended care facilities or discharged home if adequate community supports were available. It will be used, inter alia, to improve the home help service, increase the number of nursing and paramedical staff in the community, provide support for carers, enable a number of new health board convalescent or extended care facilities to open and increase the number of private nursing home places either subvented or contracted by health boards. There are also a number of chronic sick in acute hospitals who have completed the acute phase of their illness and who are awaiting placement at a level of care more appropriate to their needs. The task of securing appropriate alternative care facilities for them is under way and this also will have a significant impact on freeing up acute beds in general hospitals over the coming months. I am confident that the measures I have outlined will contribute to improvements in availability of beds in the acute sector and ease pressures in accident and emergency departments in Dublin.

  117.  Mr. G. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if a vacancy for a speech therapist at Ard Mhuire, Belgard, Dublin 24, will be filled without delay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20174/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The provision of speech and language therapy services is a matter for the relevant health board. Accordingly, the Deputy's question has been referred to the chief executive officer, Eastern Health Board with a request that he examine the query and reply directly to the Deputy, as a matter of urgency.

[515]

  118.  Mr. U. Burke    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    if his attention has been drawn to the submission sent to his Department from Galway County Council requesting funding for the extension to the Woodpark area of the new Portumna sewerage scheme; the costs of such a provision; if the preliminary costings of the original scheme included this part of the town; if other areas served by the new provision were included in the original design; his intentions in view of the fact that Galway County Council has requested provision of an extension to this part of the town; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20057/99]

Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey):  A proposal to service the Woodpark Road area as an extension of the Portumna sewerage scheme was received in my Department last March from Galway County Council. An estimated costing of £263,085 has since been submitted. No part of the proposal was included in the preliminary reports or contract documents for the main scheme which I approved to go to construction in July 1998. Further consideration will be given to the proposed Woodpark Road extension on receipt of certain information which the Department has requested from the council.

  119.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    if he will provide the resources to overcome the staffing difficulties which are preventing the taking in charge of group water schemes by Limerick County Council. [20126/99]

Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey):  It is a matter for the county council to provide the resources necessary to meet its needs in this area. Local authority income to meet such costs would, in the main, comprise income from rates, fees and charges for goods and services and general purpose grants. As a result of increased allocations which I have made in recent years from the Local Government (Equalisation) Fund and the Local Government Fund, local authorities will be greatly assisted in meeting any additional costs arising in this area. It is, of course, a matter for each local authority to determine its own spending priorities having regard to resources available. I would point out that I am not aware of any staffing difficulties in relation to this matter in Limerick County Council.

  120.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    if his attention has been drawn to the Clean Up Australia campaign which takes place on 1 March every year and which has been an enormous success; his views on whether a similar campaign should be initiated here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20161/99]

[516]Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. D. Wallace):  I have no information on the effectiveness of the clean-up Australia campaign.

As the Deputy will be aware, my Department is co-funding the An Taisce led national spring clean initiative which ran nationwide during April 1999. National spring clean aims at raising public awareness and participation in litter clean-up and anti-litter awareness actions at local level to improve the local environment. It will be a continuing annual event, with local authorities having a key role in assisting and co-ordinating local actions.

During April 1999, over 1,700 groups and organisations representing over 150,000 people nationwide took action under national spring clean to clean up their localities and heighten awareness of the litter problem. This was a major success for an initiative in only its first year of operation and I hope that it will continue to be widely supported in future years.

  121.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    the funding provided for marriage and relationship counselling services for each of the past five years; the organisations which received funding; the services provided; the consideration, if any, he has given to the millennium project proposed by the Marriage and Relationship Counselling Services, Dublin 2; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20068/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The marriage counselling services run by the voluntary organisations are largely dependent on State assistance to fund their services. State support to date has taken the form of grant-aiding organisations for these services on a year-to-year basis.

Up to the 1990s, the grants were channelled mainly through the health boards. In the early 1990s specific organisations received grants through the annual budget. Some organisations were also eligible for grants under the Department's scheme of grants for voluntary and community groups. These grants were in the main for ‘once-off' capital projects. In 1994 the then Department of Equality and Law Reform assumed responsibility for grant-aiding the marriage counselling services and introduced a scheme of grants for voluntary organisations providing marriage counselling services. In 1994 and again 1995, £750,000 was allocated for voluntary marriage counselling services. In 1996, the amount was increased to £900,000 and the scheme was extended to cover the counselling of children whose parents have separated. In 1997, £900,000 was again allocated.

This Government is committed to protecting the family through political, economic, social and other measures which will support the stability of [517] the family. Since this Government came to office, the funding available under the scheme has been increased by over £1.25 million – more than double what had been previously allocated. Responsibility for support of these counselling services was transferred to the Department in January 1998. Some £1.5 million was made available in 1998 and the scheme was extended to include support for the provision of marriage preparation programmes and bereavement counselling and support services.

This year a total of £2.16 million has been made available under the scheme of grants to support voluntary organisations providing marriage preparation programmes, marriage counselling, child counselling in relation to parental separation and bereavement counselling and support services.

This includes a special allocation which was made in the 1999 budget to the rainbows group, which provides a special support for children whose lives have been affected by parental separation.

Marriage and Relationship Counselling Services – MRCS – put forward a number of proposals at the pre-budget forum which I held recently. The millennium project is included in those proposals and is currently under consideration, along with proposals received from other groups.

Details of funding under this scheme of grants in 1998 and 1999 to date are available in the Oireachtas Library for the Deputy's examination. Information on funding administered by the Department of Equality and Law Reform in previous years will be extracted from available documentation and forwarded to the Deputy in the near future.

  122.  Ms O'Sullivan    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    if the Government will honour its pledge to introduce a non-means tested allowance for disabled people; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20027/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The Government is committed to overhauling the means by which the State supports the incomes of people with disabilities and to implementing the report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities – CSPD.

In this regard the CSPD recommended that the rates of payment advocated by the Commission on Social Welfare – CSW – should be achieved as a matter of priority. As a result of Government action, all social welfare payments are now above the target rate with the rates payable to people with disabilities ranging between 102 per cent and 124 per cent of that rate.

The CSPD also identified a number of shortcomings in the system of income support for people with disabilities.

[518] A number of the commission's principal criticisms related to the operation of the former disabled person's maintenance allowance scheme. The take-over of the disabled person's maintenance allowance scheme, re-named disability allowance, by the Department in October, 1996 now means that many of these difficulties have been addressed and resolved.

The improved administration, together with the various improvements which have been introduced in the scheme since its take-over, have led to a significant increase in the numbers receiving payment – up by over 15,000, 44 per cent, from 34,500 in October, 1996 to 49,524 in September 1999.

Other concerns expressed by the commission related to the disincentives to participate in education, training or work because of the lack of flexibility of the income support system and the withdrawal of allowances when people spend time in hospital or go into residential care.

A significant amount of progress has been made by the Department in recent years in relation to these areas. For instance the back-to-work allowance and back to education programme have been extended to people with disabilities; the amount a person can earn from rehabilitative employment without affecting their entitlement to disability allowance and blind person's pension has been increased to £50 per week; disability allowance continues to be paid for up to 13 weeks where the recipient goes into hospital; disability allowance is paid at half-rate to those in part-time residential care, while from August this year, existing recipients of disability allowance are able to retain the allowance where they go into hospital or residential care.

While many improvements have been introduced for people with disabilities in recent years, it is nevertheless recognised that more needs to be done. The potential for further enhancements to the system will continue to be examined in the light of the commitments in An Action Programme for the Millennium and the recommendations contained in the CSPD report and having regard to the available resources.

  123.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    the financial assistance paid by his Department in each of the past three years to women's organisations and groups or organisations providing services primarily for women including the name of the organisation or group; the amount paid; and the purpose for which it was paid. [20047/99]

[519]

  124.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    the financial assistance paid by his Department in each of the past three years to men's organisations and groups or organisations providing services primarily for men including the name of the organis ation or group; the amount paid; and the purpose for which it was paid. [20050/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 123 and 124 together.

The Department's grant schemes provide support for community and personal development work undertaken by a wide range of local self-help groups, including women's groups and men's groups. This support is provided under a number of different schemes. The individual schemes are designed to meet different aspects of the support needs of local groups and are linked to form an overall framework of support and progression path for community and family support groups at different stages of development.

It is acknowledged that disadvantaged women and men, in both urban and rural areas, can experience particular problems arising from poverty and marginalisation and that women's groups, men's groups and community groups generally have an important role in tackling these problems. Particular emphasis, therefore, is placed in the various grant schemes operated by my Department on support for community-based initiatives targeted at disadvantaged women and men. Schemes of particular relevance in this regard are the community development programme, family and community services resource centre programme; community development education and training grants scheme; scheme of grants for locally-based community and family support groups.

The following table sets out the amounts allocated and the number of men's and women's groups which received funding under these schemes, as outlined above, in the years 1996 to 1998 inclusive:–

TABLE

Year Men's Groups

Women's Groups

amount No. of grants amount No. of grants
£ £
1996 150,000 103 1,125,000 791
1997 127,120 80 1,162,265 *485*
1998 53,520 46 1,329,648 784

*The lower number of individual grants as compared with 1996 and 1998 reflects the fact that grants to ICA guilds in 1997 were paid via county federations.

Details of funding made available under my Department's programmes/schemes, including the names of organisations and groups receiving funding, the amount paid and the purpose for which funding was allocated, have been made available to the Oireachtas Library each year since 1990 for the information of Members. Details of funding allocated in 1999 will be made available in early 2000.

[520]

  125.  Mr. J. O'Keeffe    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    the reason arrears of widow's pension has not been paid to a person (details supplied) in County Sligo; and if he will arrange for payment. [20073/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The person concerned submitted a late claim for widow's contributory pension on 15 September 1994. She was awarded a pension from 17 June 1994, three months prior to the date of claim. Her entitlement was reviewed in the light of further information received and her claim was backdated a further three months to 18 March 1994. This represents the maximum arrears payable under the relevant legislation applicable in her case.

As a result of a decision made by this Government, at my suggestion, arrangements were made this year to pay further arrears, on a proportionate basis in the case of late claims made before 1 January 1997. Under these arrangements, the person concerned received a further 74 weeks arrears of pension amounting to £4,367.80. The only circumstances in which additional arrears could be paid would be in the event of proven incapacity on the part of the applicant to apply for pension on time, force majeure, departmental error, or to alleviate current financial hardship. Based on the information available in this case, none of these exceptional circumstances apply. In the circumstances, the person concerned has received all arrears due to her under the arrangements applicable to her claim.

  126.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will have his claim for disability allowance dealt with. [20140/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The person concerned has been awarded disability benefit with effect from 16 September 1999 at a weekly rate of £98.40. There is no record of an application for disability allowance from him.

Disability allowance is payable to people with a disability which is expected to last for at least one year and entitlement is subject to both a medical assessment and means test.

An application form for disability allowance has been issued to the person concerned for completion and his entitlement to the allowance will be examined on receipt of the completed form.

  127.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo is only in receipt of £120 per week on an invalidity pension as a separated father with three dependent children; and the amount he would receive if he was on unemployment assistance. [20141/99]

[521]Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The person concerned was previously in receipt of one-parent family payment and half-rate disability benefit. Disability benefit is payable at half-rate, in addition to one-parent family payment for a period of 15 months and in this case his entitlement to disability benefit ended on the 30 June 1999.

He subsequently applied for and was awarded invalidity pension effective from 15 July 1999. Invalidity pension is payable where a person is considered to be permanently incapable of work and satisfies certain PRSI contribution conditions. He is currently in receipt of a full rate pension of £120.80 per week. From 14 October 1999 he will receive an additional £5 weekly in respect of free fuel allowance. He is also in receipt of free travel, free telephone rental allowance and free electricity allowance.

A person receiving unemployment assistance with nil means and with three dependent children would be paid at the weekly rate of £113.10.

  128.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo has had a decrease in the amount of his farm assist. [20143/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The person concerned was in receipt of unemployment assistance for smallholders at the weekly rate of £145.50 based on a means assessment of £24 derived from income from a holding.

Following receipt of his application for farm assist his means were reviewed and a deciding officer assessed his weekly means at £35 a week, from 15 September 1999. This assessment entitles him to payment at the weekly rate of £134.50. The person concerned has appealed this decision and the matter is being pursued.

  129.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    when a disability allowance for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be fully restored with arrears paid from 9 July 1999. [20144/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The person concerned who was previously refused the allowance as he was residing in an institution has been awarded disability allowance with effect from 12 July 1999 at the maximum rate of £73.50 per week. Payment of disability allowance will commence on 27 October 1999 at his local post office. Any arrears due from the 12 July 1999, less any other payments made to him during the intervening period, will also be issued to him.

[522]

  130.  Ms O'Sullivan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the reason the committee established to monitor the implemen tation of the commission report on the status of people with disabilities has not convened in over a year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20024/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  A progress report on the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities is nearing completion and will be submitted to Government shortly. The preparation of the report was delayed because of issues arising from the Supreme Court judgments in relation to the Employment Equality Bill, 1996, and the Equal Status Bill, 1997, and because of the need to have the commission's recommendations costed. In these circumstances it was not practicable for the monitoring committee to meet.

The progress report will chart the substantial progress which has already been made in implementing the commission's recommendations.

  131.  Mr. Power    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will allow public houses remain open all night for the millennium celebrations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20037/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  The Intoxicating Liquor Bill, 1999, which is before the House deals with licensed hours on the eve of the millennium. It provides that licensed premises and registered clubs will be permitted to remain open for the sale of intoxicating liquor, for consumption on the premises only, from 10.30 in the morning of 31 December 1999 to 8.30 in the morning of 1 January 2000.

  132.  Mr. Power    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the evidence, if any, to suggest that prostitution is increasing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20038/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  The annual report of the Garda Síochána for 1998 shows an increase in the number of offences in which proceedings were taken under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act, 1993, from 502 in 1997 to 793 in 1998.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the Garda Commissioner has directed the detective chief superintendent of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigations to investigate the persons who organise, control and profit from prostitution and that this investigation is ongoing.

[523]

  133.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the situation in relation to a land registry application by a person (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20040/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  I am informed by the Registrar of Titles that this application for a transfer of part was completed on 15 September 1999 and that the applicant is now registered on the folio referred to by the Deputy.

  134.  Mr. Lawlor    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the proposed increases, if any, in Garda numbers when the new District Garda Headquarters in Clondalkin, Dublin 22, is completed; and the current staffing levels at Clondalkin and Ronanstown stations. [20042/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  The detailed allocation of Garda personnel and resources to an individual area is a matter for the Garda authorities who have informed me that the current personnel strength of Clondalkin and Ronanstown Garda stations, as of 30 September 1999, is as follows: [524] Clondalkin – 60 members, all ranks, and Ronanstown – 58 members, all ranks.

The Garda authorities have also informed me that, on completion of the new Garda District Headquarters in Clondalkin, it is envisaged that the superintendent and other personnel from the existing district headquarters at Ballyfermot will transfer to the new district headquarters at Clondalkin. It is not, however, possible at this stage to say exactly how many personnel will transfer. The Garda authorities further inform me that it is not proposed to allocate additional personnel to Clondalkin at present but that the situation will be kept under review.

  135.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the financial assistance paid by his Department in each of the past three years to women's organisations and groups or organisations providing services primarily for women including the name of the organisation or group; the amount paid; and the purpose for which it was paid. [20044/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  The following amounts were paid to women's organisations and groups or organisations providing services primarily for women for the period 1997-99:

1997

Name of Organisation Purpose of financial assistance Total
£
National Women's Council £170,000 – Grant for general operating expenses
243,000
£50,000 – relocation and IT costs

£23,000 – report on aspects of childcare

1998

Name of organisation Purpose of financial assistance Total
£
*Regional Committees on Violence Against Women The grant was made to enable the regional committees hold their inaugural meeting and launch 300each (8 Committees)
*North Eastern Regional Committee Towards the cost of a training course to deal with perpetrators of violence against women 1,500
*North Eastern Regional Committee Towards the cost of a training course to deal with perpetrators of violence against women 750
Women's Aid Part funding of a research project in relation to the implementation of domestic violence legislation 10,000
National Women's Council Grant for general operating expenses 200,000

[525] 1999 to date

Name of organisation Purpose of financial assistance Total
£
**Cork Domestic Violence Project To develop a pilot project for perpetrators of domestic violence. The organisation work closely with the partners of the perpetrators 25,000
Women's Aid Grant towards a conference and launch of a research document on the implementation of the domestic violence legislation 4,000
*Western Regional Committee Towards costs of a conference on violence against women 3,000
National Women's Council £270,000 – Grant for general operating expenses 305,000
£25,000 – north/south conference – mainstreaming gender equality

£10,000 – to support a national research project on progressing gender equality

*These amounts were paid to the relevant health boards in the particular areas as the regional committees do not have a payment mechanism-bank account.

**Cork Domestic Violence Project is of benefit both to men and women.

In addition, the probation and welfare service of my Department provides financial assistance to various organisations which provide services for offenders and/or ex-offenders. It has not been possible to collate the information in the time available. However, I will forward the details of the assistance paid within the next few days to the Deputy.

[526]

  136.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the financial assistance paid by his Department in each of the past three years to men's organisations and groups or organisations providing services primarily for men including the name of the organisation or group; the amount paid; and the purpose for which it was paid. [20048/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  The following amounts were paid to men's organisations and groups or organisations providing services primarily for men for the period 1997-99:

1999

Name of organisation Purpose of financial assistance Total£
First Contact Telephone helpline service for potential perpetrators of violence against women 25,000
*Cork Domestic Violence Project Pilot programme for counselling perpetrators of violence against women 25,000

*Cork Domestic Violence Project is of benefit to both men and women.

In addition the probation and welfare service of my Department provide financial assistance to various organisations which provide services for offenders and-or ex-offenders. It has not been possible to collate the information in the time available. However, I will forward the details of the assistance paid within the next few days to the Deputy.

  137.  Mr. Haughey    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the plans, if any, he has to review the Family Home Protection Act, 1976, particularly in relation to a situation where a wife, whose husband left her five years ago, must get the permission of her husband to sell the family home and a second holiday home even though she alone paid for both properties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20069/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  The Family Home Protection Act, 1976, contains provisions to prevent a spouse from disposing of the family home without the consent of the other spouse. In particular, it provides that a spouse may not sell or mortgage the family home without the prior consent in writing of the other spouse. The need for the other spouse's consent can, however, be dispensed with by a court where it considers that in all the circumstances the refusal to consent is unreasonable. Where a spouse whose consent is required has deserted and continues to desert the other [527] spouse, the court is required to dispense with the consent.

While I have no proposals to amend the policy which underpins the Act of 1976, I can say that the law in this area is kept under review.

  138.  Mr. McDowell    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when an inquest will be held into the loss of the City of Cork steamer, Ardmore, on 12 November 1940 with the loss of its 24 crew. [20107/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  I have been requested by the coroner for south Wexford for a direction in accordance with section 23 of the Coroner's Act, 1962, as to whether to hold an inquest in relation to 24 crewmen lost at sea on the SS Ardmore near the Great Saltee Islands in 1940.

It was necessary for me to make certain inquiries in relation to the matter in order to enable a decision to be reached in this regard. These inquiries are now completed and I hope to be able to respond to the coroner in the next few days.

It will, of course, be a matter for the coroner to make any arrangements in relation to holding the inquests.

  139.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when persons (details supplied) in County Mayo will have their application finalised by the Land Registry. [20109/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  I am informed by the Registrar of Titles that this application for a transfer for sale is expected to be completed within the next week.

  140.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will have her application finalised by the Land Registry. [20110/99]

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 under section 49, i.e. acquisition of title by virtue of long possession, of the Registration of Title Act, 1964, which is expected to be completed within the next week.

  141.  Mr. Higgins (Mayo)    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the reason his Department has refused asylum status to a person (details supplied) from Angola who had to flee his native country due to a threat to kill him. [20113/99]

[528]Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  It is not the practice to comment publicly on individual applications for refugee status, having regard to the fact that applications by their nature are made in confidence with the expectation by the applicant that such confidence will be preserved.

The applicant was interviewed on 27 July 1998 and on 14 April 1999 and it was decided that he does not qualify as a refugee in accordance with the definition contained in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, as amended by the 1967 Protocol, and as defined in section 2 of the Refugee Act, 1996. A refugee is defined as a person who, owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his or her nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his or her former habitual residence, is unable or, owing to such fear is unwilling to return to it.

The applicant appealed this decision on 14 June 1999 and his appeal was heard on 8 September 1999 by an independent appeal authority. At this time, my Department is awaiting a recommendation from the appeal authority.

  142.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    the plans, if any, he has for the overseas tourism marketing initiative which will expire on 31 December 1999. [20062/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  The overseas tourism marketing initiative – OTMI – was established and has operated under the Operational Programme for Tourism 1994-99, which expires at the end of the year. The monitoring committee for the operational programme, however, has made provision for an allocation of approximately £3 million in EU funding for OTMI activities in 2000. This funding must be contractually committed before the end of December 1999. Matching funds from the Exchequer, private sector and Northern Ireland sources will, it is expected, bring the OTMI budget for 2000 to approximately £6.5 million, which is broadly in line with its income over the last few years.

It is envisaged that the OTMI, which is a private company limited by guarantee, will continue in existence for such time as is required to discharge its legal responsibilities in respect of contractual marketing commitments taken before the end of 1999.

I am, as I have stated in the House on many occasions, committed to securing an adequate tourism marketing fund for the next planning period. To this end, my Department has made a strong case to the Department of Finance for funding for tourism marketing under the National [529] Development Plan 2000-06 and I am hopeful of a positive outcome. I am also committed to continuing to work in partnership with the industry in our international marketing efforts and, for the past two years, have been in consultation with the industry, through its representative body, the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation – ITIC – regarding the strategy for tourism under the next national plan. We are agreed that we must continue to work together to develop our tourism industry in the key areas of marketing, human resources and product development, and the precise delivery mechanisms for international tourism marketing for 2000-06 will be decided in the context of the finalising of the national development plan which is expected to be published later this year.

My comments, I must stress, are without prejudice to the establishment of an all-island tourism marketing company as envisaged in the joint statement by Northern Ireland's First and Deputy First Ministers designate on 18 December 1998. Progress on North-South implementation and co-operation bodies are subject to wider political agreement on the implementation of the Good Friday multi-party Agreement.

  143.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    the funds available towards the provision of recreation at local level in the community; the projects in Dublin areas 3, 5 and 9 which have availed of these funds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20053/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  The main source of funding available to my Department towards the provision of recreational facilities is the national lottery funded sports capital programme. This programme provides funding towards the provision of sport and recreational facilities at national, regional and local level throughout the country. Over £16 million was allocated to over 400 sport and recreation projects in July under the 1999 round of grants under the programme.

I attach a list, in tabular form, of the clubs and organisations from the Dublin areas 3, 5 and 9 which were allocated funding under the 1999 round of grants.

Allocations to Dublin areas 3, 5 and 9 under the 1999 Sports Capital Programme

Organisation AmountAllocated
£
Clontarf Rugby Football Club
Clontarf
Dublin 3
50,000
Shelbourne Football Club
Tolka Park
Dublin 3
300,000
[530] Organisation AmountAllocated
St. Monica's Community Development
Committee
Edenmore
Dublin 5
6,000
Raheny Shamrock Athletic Club
Raheny
Dublin 5
4,000
Grange Woodbine Resident's Community Club
Raheny
Dublin 5
100,000
Dublin County Board
Parnell Park
Dublin 5
20,000
Greendale Community School/Kilbarrack
Community Assoc.
Kilbarrack
Dublin 5
42,000
St. Brendan's United F.C.
Artane
Dublin 5
35,000
Naomh Barrog
Kilbarrack
Dublin 5
50,000
Charleville Lawn Tennis Club
Glasnevin
Dublin 9
30,000
C. L. G. Na Fianna
Glasnevin
Dublin 9
25,000
St. Kevin's Boys F.C.
Larkhill Road
Dublin 9
100,000

  144.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    the two tender proposals his Department's project team has received for the 50 metre swimming pool; the project team's findings and recommendations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20054/99]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid):  The Government, in line with the commitment given in the joint programme, An Action Plan for the Millennium, decided in November 1997 to initiate a tender procedure to invite proposals for a national 50 metre swimming pool. The tender procedure was conducted in accordance with EU Council Directive 93/37/EEC, concerning the co-ordination of procedures for the award of public works contracts. A project team was established by my Department to assist with the preparation of invitation to tender documentation and to oversee the tendering process. This team comprised representatives of a number of Departments and other organisations.

The tender procedure notice for the project was published in the Official Journal of the European Communities and in the Irish media in Janu[531] ary 1998, and was open to both the public and private sectors. Developers were requested to come forward with proposals for the design, construction, financing and management of a 50 metre swimming pool, capable of meeting the training requirements of Ireland's high-performance swimmers for international competition. Such developers were required to demonstrate that they had the necessary financial status, technical knowledge and experience to undertake the development.

The Government agreed to provide capital assistance up to a maximum of £6 million, and annual operational assistance up to a maximum of £250,000, for a maximum period of 20 years, towards the cost of implementation of the successful tender. The deadline for submission of full tenders from qualified candidates was 27 November 1998, and three tender proposals were received on that date. Two tender proposals, one with a location in Dublin and the other in Limerick, were deemed by the project team, on the advice of independent professional consultants, to have met the qualification criteria and these proposals proceeded to the evaluation and assessment phase of the project. The third tender was disqualified on the basis of its ineligibility in terms of its compatibility with a fundamental element of the tender framework: the capital grant limit.

However, on 18 January 1999, the third tenderer applied for and was given leave by the High Court to seek to have its disqualification set aside and its tender considered. This case was heard in the High Court between 12 and 14 May last. In a reserved judgment delivered on 16 June, the High Court ruled in favour of my Department, and the disqualification decision stood.

Following a detailed assessment and evaluation of the remaining two tenders, which was carried out by a team of independent experts, a report recommending the University of Limerick project was submitted to the project team overseeing the process. The project team, having considered the report, endorsed the recommendation and, on 14 July, I notified the Government of the outcome of the process. A final contract, between my Department and the university, is under discussion at present and I expect that this will be ready for signature very shortly.

The University of Limerick proposal is based on receiving a capital grant of £5.95 million and an operational subsidy of £190,000 per annum for 20 years. The swimming pool will form part of the university's multi-purpose sports building project, which is currently under construction and is located close to the National Coaching and Training Centre. It is anticipated that the pool will be operational by September 2000.

[532]

  145.  Mr. Callely    asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation    the early indications of the tourist visitor numbers and revenue generated from tourism to date in 1999; the regions which benefited; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20055/99]

(Dr. McDaid): Tourism and travel statistics for the first six months of 1999 were published by the Central Statistics Office, CSO, on 1 October 1999. These show overseas visitors to Ireland in the first half of 1999 at 2,684,000, an increase of 10 per cent on figures for the same period in 1998. The Central Statistics Office has also published figures for overseas tourism revenue for the first quarter of 1999, which show revenue increasing by 16.5 per cent on the same period in 1998, to £388 million. The CSO does not compile statistics on a regional basis.

Bord Fáilte has published estimates for each region, of overseas visitors and revenue generated in 1998, which I have asked Bord Fáilte to forward directly to the Deputy. However, I understand from Bord Fáilte that similar estimates for 1999 will not be available until final national figures for the full year are available from the CSO.

  146.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of schools in County Limerick which have the services of a caretaker and secretarial grants; and the number which do not. [20121/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  My Department provides funding towards the cost of secretarial and caretaking services in primary schools under two separate schemes. One scheme is the 1978-79 scheme for the employment of school secretaries and caretakers under which my Department meets the full cost of salary and employer's PRSI. Under this scheme, schools either qualified for a full-time post or were included in a sharing arrangement. This scheme is, however, being phased out as posts become vacant.

Arising from the Programme for Economic and Social Progress, PESP, a second scheme was introduced in 1992 whereby my Department provides additional capitation grants for primary schools towards the cost of secretarial and caretaking services. Under the PESP scheme, schools with 195 pupils or more and who do not have a service already under the schemes outlined above, receive grants of £30 per pupil, based on their enrolments, which are paid as additions to the standard per capita grant.

[533] I have set out as follows the statistics in relation to the 149 schools in Limerick.

Caretaker

Secretary

1979 Scheme
PESPScheme
1978 Scheme
PESPScheme
Full Shared Full Shared
9 6 29 6 14 26

No Service
Caretaker Secretary
105 103

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that with effect from January next, all primary schools with 100 or more pupils will be eligible for a grant of £30 per pupil towards secretarial and caretaking services under the PESP scheme.

My officials will be writing to all qualifying schools over the next couple of months confirming their inclusion, and setting out the details of the scheme. I expect that approximately 35 of the schools in Limerick which currently have no service from my Department, will be included from January next.

The position in relation to second-level is as follows: the allocation of caretaking and secretarial posts in the vocational education sector is made on a scheme wide basis and it is a matter for each committee to deploy the staff as it sees fit. Most schools in this sector have the services of a full-time caretaker and a secretary; community and comprehensive schools have a full-time secretary and caretaker and schools with an enrolment in excess of 500 pupils have two full-time secretaries; secondary schools with enrolments of 200 or more pupils and not covered by the 1978 scheme for school secretaries are in receipt of additional per capita grants towards the provision of caretaking and secretarial services, subject to maximum of £8,750 for caretaking and £10,500 in the case of secretarial services. There is one school with less than 200 pupils that does not qualify for additional support.

  147.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the gross demographic dividend in the year 2000 at primary and secondary levels; the net number of teachers liable to be available; and the way in which this compares with 1999. [20051/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  As the Deputy may be aware, 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 [534] with guidelines agreed between this Department and the education partners.

The enrolments of primary schools on 30 September 1999 are being submitted by the managerial authorities to my Department at present. The enrolments must be verified and checked within my Department and compared with the existing staffing schedule before the information requested by the Deputy can be provided. The Deputy will appreciate that, as there are in excess of 3,000 primary schools, it will take some time to process the information.

I will arrange to have the information requested by the Deputy forwarded to him at the earliest possible date.

The identification of a clear demographic dividend at second level is a much more complex operation than that at primary level. At second level the range of subject options and programmes offered to students has increased significantly in recent years and continues to increase. The net effect of this is that schools increasingly need additional posts over and above those warranted on a pure pupil-teacher ratio basis.

A fall in pupil numbers will, in theory, result in a drop in teaching posts. Against this must be balanced the very real consideration that schools will continue to require a significant proportion of these posts to provide a rounded curriculum for their pupils. In practice, therefore, the ultimate extent of the demographic dividend, if any, can only be defined after curricular needs of schools are met.

  148.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if a proposal relating to the development of the National College of Ireland has been approved by his Department. [20052/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  A revised proposal has recently been submitted to my Department by the National College of Ireland in relation to its proposed new campus in the Dublin docklands. This proposal is currently under active consideration. This process must be completed before a decision regarding the college's application can be made.

  149.  D'fhiafraigh Mr. M. Higgins    den Aire Oideachais agus Eolaíochta    an bhfuil sé i gceist aige múinteoir cúnta a cheadú do na ceithre scoil (sonraí tugtha). [20056/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  Nil aon bhonn ann chun múinteoir breise a cheadú do na ceithre scoil ata i gceist don scoilbhliain 1999/2000. Ina theannta sin tá seirbhisi mhúinteoir feabhais ag gach cheann des na scoileanna seo.

[535]

  150.  Mr. G. Reynolds    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of substitute teachers and unqualified teachers employed in primary schools in counties Sligo and Leitrim; the name of the schools; and the length of time they have been in the position. [20059/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  Teachers in primary schools are employed by the boards of management of the schools.

Substitute teachers are employed as replacements for permanent and temporary teachers absent on certified sick leave, maternity leave or adoptive leave and other absences for which substitution has been approved by my Department. Substitute teachers are generally employed for short periods and are paid on a daily basis.

In September 1999, three unqualified persons served in a temporary capacity in primary schools in County Leitrim, while seven unqualified personnel served in County Sligo.

My Department is compiling information in relation to other details requested which will be forwarded directly to the Deputy.

  151.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the plans, if any, he has to re-organise the bus route to Kilbeg national school so that the children who require transport can be collected (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20061/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  All eligible children attending Kilbeg national school are catered for on the existing transport service. Children who do not qualify for free transport on age or distance grounds may avail of concessionary fare paying transport, provided no additional State cost is incurred by way of altering or extending the route, or by providing an additional or larger vehicle.

The vehicle serving Kilbeg national school operates a double trip; 13 eligible pupils and eight fare payers are accommodated on the first trip, while 17 eligible pupils and four fare payers are facilitated on the second trip.

Regrettably, as there is a capacity load on both runs at present, it is not possible to accommodate all the concessionary fare payers.

  152.  Mr. U. Burke    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if his attention has been drawn to the recent publication of the results of appeals for re-checks in leaving certificate results particularly in higher level English and business studies; his views on whether there is a need for change and improvement in the marking examination papers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20063/99]

[536]Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  In 1999 the leaving certificate examination culminated in the issue of 429,000 grades. Ultimately following the appeal process and the Department's own quality assurance measures 1,857 grades were revised. The number of grade changes, therefore, represent less than 0.5 per cent of the number of grades originally issued. This low level of grade change actually points to a very high level of precision in the marking process.

Variations occur from year to year both in terms of the number of appeals sought in individual subjects and the number of grade changes, and I do not believe any general conclusions can be drawn from the appeal outcome in particular subjects in any one year.

Furthermore, as the Deputy will be aware, in the interests of greater openness and transparency, I arranged for candidates to have access to their marked examination scripts in all subjects. As a result candidates were able to inform themselves regarding the application of the marking scheme to their scripts and in the light of this, make an informed decision regarding the need to appeal. This has resulted in a significant fall in the number of subjects appealed.

  153.  Mr. Haughey    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will grant disadvantaged status to St. Joseph's Christian Brothers primary school, Fairview, Dublin 3; the measures, if any, he is taking to assist this school generally; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20064/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The last general expansion of the disadvantaged areas scheme at primary level took place in 1994. The school referred to by the Deputy applied for inclusion in the scheme at that time but did not rank sufficiently high in terms of priority of need to secure inclusion on that occasion.

A subsequent study of educational disadvantage conducted by the Combat Poverty Agency and the Education Research Centre in 1996 concluded that disadvantaged status should be confined to 16 per cent of the schoolgoing population. This study noted that such status had already been granted to 17 per cent of pupils. As an alternative to extending the disadvantaged areas scheme to additional schools, the study recommended that available resources should be targeted at schools with the greatest concentration of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

In keeping with the study's recommendations, resources which subsequently became available were targeted on schools selected to participate in the breaking the cycle of disadvantage scheme which was introduced to deliver the sort of targeted support recommended in the study.

[537] I can assure the Deputy that the needs of the school to which he refers will be fully considered in the event of any additional initiatives being taken to address educational disadvantage.

  154.  Mr. Haughey    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position regarding smoking by teachers and pupils in schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20065/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The position under the Tobacco (Health Promotion and Protection) Regulations, 1990, is that smoking is prohibited in primary and postprimary schools. A smoking facility may, however, be provided for staff, but it may not be a classroom or a room used for recreational purposes by pupils.

Primary responsibility for the enforcement of the regulations in schools rests with the managerial authorities of individual schools.

  155.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when the increase in pensions introduced in mid-1999 will be paid to retired teachers formerly employed by County Limerick Vocational Education Committee. [20158/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The initial award of pension to retiring vocational school teachers and the subsequent revision of pension rates for those pensioners are calculated by VEC administrative staff and approved by the VEC committee. The payment function is performed by the appropriate local authority following receipt of the approved rates of pension from the VEC.

The benefits of a general and special pay increase under Partnership 2000 are payable to retired teachers with effect from 1 July 1999. On 14 July 1999 my Department conveyed by circular letter to the chief executive officers of VEC's the revised rates of salary and allowances together with sanction for their application to serving teachers' salaries and for the revision of pensions of former teachers.

I am informed by County Limerick VEC that, on 19 August 1999, details of revised entitlements effective from 1 July 1999 for pensioned teachers formerly employed by the VEC were forwarded to Limerick County Council, which has responsibility for payment.

I understand that Limerick County Council is processing arrears for several categories of its pensioners with a resultant backlog of work. However the council has now scheduled the payment of outstanding increases to pensioned vocational teachers for 19 November 1999.

[538]

  156.  Mr. Finucane    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if a person (details supplied) in County Limerick will have his case reviewed for a higher education grant for his attendance at Tralee Institute of Technology in view of the fact his father's overtime was in excess of the income guidelines and his income in previous years was considerably less. [20160/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  Under the terms of the third level student support schemes, a candidate's reckonable income for the purposes of the award of a grant is the candidate's gross income from all sources and that of his/her parents or guardians, where applicable.

Inquiries have been made with County Limerick VEC and I understand that the reckonable income in this case exceeds the income limit for the payment of a maintenance grant under the ESF maintenance grants scheme.

If, however, any part of the candidate's reckonable income arose as an exceptional once-off payment for the relevant financial year which is not likely to recur, then the candidate should contact County Limerick VEC with proof of same in order to have their application reassessed under the change of circumstances clause within the scheme.

  157.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when he will upgrade Waterford Institute of Technology to the status of university; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20177/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The steering committee on the future development of higher education was asked to advise on the future development of the higher education sector and to examine, within the overall national context, the needs for higher education on a regional basis and the appropriateness of the current institutional provision by region to meet these needs.

In July 1996, the Government approved in principle the recommendations in the report of the steering committee on the future development of higher education as a benchmark for future planning in the sector subject to regular review. As a response to the higher education needs of the south-east region, the report recommended an increase in student places in what was then the Regional Technical College, Waterford, an increase in degree level awards and a change of title to the regional institute of technology.

In 1997, Waterford Regional Technical College was redesignated as the Waterford Institute of Technology and arrangements were put in place to carry through the process leading to the delegation to the institute of authority to make awards within a national qualification framework. [539] This process was initiated through the appointment of a review team chaired by Professor Dervilla Donnelly. The results of this academic review published on 5 March 1999 recommended that WIT become one of the first institutes to have the delegated power to make awards in respect of all existing NCEA-validated national certificate and diploma courses. The review group also recommended that, after an appropriate period of time following the delegation of award-making authority in respect of certificate and diploma courses, a review should take place concerning the further delegation in respect of primary degree courses.

The Qualifications (Education and Training) Act, 1999, which was recently passed, enables me to formally implement this recommendation for delegated authority. The arrangements for the implementation of the Act, which will enable the delegation to take place, will be completed as soon as possible. The Act also enables further delegation of degree certification to the institute and the way forward to achieving this was outlined clearly in both the work of the review group itself and the self-evaluation work of the institute.

I previously stated that my objective is to develop a framework for the structured development of institutions in the technological sector to address changing local and national demands, [540] while ensuring the maintenance of the complementary third level systems of university and technological education. I further stated that the diversity of institutions and the separate missions of the two broad sectors will be maintained so as to ensure maximum flexibility and responsiveness to the needs of students and to the wide variety of social and economic requirements.

WIT will continue to play a major and growing role in Irish higher education. The Government has played its role in ensuring that it has the facilities and resources to meet this challenge through a major investment package which has been put in place.

With regard to an increase in degree level provision in the south-east region, my Department has in recent years sanctioned an increased degree provision in WIT in the areas of computing, financial services, management and administration, business studies, hospitality management electronic engineering and manufacturing systems engineering aimed at meeting the identified higher education needs of the south-east region.

The Deputy will appreciate that recommendations for changes on status are subject to a legislative framework with an objective academic procedure at its core. It would clearly be inappropriate for the Government to disregard this process.