Order of Business.
Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine: Motion.
Stamp Duties Consolidation Bill, 1999: Motion.
Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Bill, 1999: Order for Second Stage.
Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Bill, 1999: Second Stage.
Ceisteanna–Questions. Oral Answers. - Official Engagements.
Priority Questions. - National Stadium Report.
Priority Questions. - Tourism Industry.
Priority Questions. - Area Based Partnerships.
Other Questions. - Drugs Task Forces.
Other Questions. - National Stadium.
Other Questions. - Sports Anti-Doping Programme.
Other Questions. - National Conference Centre.
Adjournment Debate Matters.
Comhairle Bill, 1999: Message from Select Committee.
Protection of Children (Hague Convention) Bill, 1998: Message from Select Committee.
Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Bill, 1999: Second Stage (Resumed).
Private Members' Business. - Confidence in Minister: Motion (Resumed).
Adjournment Debate. - Electricity Generation.
Adjournment Debate. - Irish Red Cross Society.
Adjournment Debate. - National Car Test.
Written Answers. - Forum for Peace and Reconciliation.
Written Answers. - Information Society Commission.
Written Answers. - Cabinet Sub-Committee.
Written Answers. - Estimates for the Public Service.
Written Answers. - Sports Capital Programme.
Written Answers. - Tourism Industry.
Written Answers. - Area-Based Partnerships.
Written Answers. - Children's Sport.
Written Answers. - Sports Funding.
Written Answers. - Tourism Industry.
Written Answers. - URBAN Operational Programme.
Written Answers. - Sports Funding.
Written Answers. - Social Disadvantage.
Written Answers. - Departmental Staff.
Written Answers. - Proposed Legislation.
Written Answers. - Tourism Industry.
Written Answers. - Work Permits.
Written Answers. - Employees' Rights.
Written Answers. - Prospecting Licences.
Written Answers. - Bull Island Causeway.
Written Answers. - Foreshore Development.
Written Answers. - Electricity Generation.
Written Answers. - National Development Plan.
Written Answers. - Electricity Generation.
Written Answers. - Grant Payments.
Written Answers. - Control of Farm Pollution Scheme.
Written Answers. - Grant Payments.
Written Answers. - Farm Retirement Scheme.
Written Answers. - Cattle Identification.
Written Answers. - Area Aid Applications.
Written Answers. - Grant Payments.
Written Answers. - VAT on Christmas Trees.
Written Answers. - Decentralisation Programme.
Written Answers. - Tax Returns.
Written Answers. - Park and Ride Facilities.
Written Answers. - Tax Allowances.
Written Answers. - Ambulance Service.
Written Answers. - Hospital Staff.
Written Answers. - Mental Health Services.
Written Answers. - Speech Therapy Service.
Written Answers. - Hospitals Building Programme.
Written Answers. - Roads Projects.
Written Answers. - Public Service Vehicles.
Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.
Written Answers. - Social Welfare Payments.
Written Answers. - Birds of Prey.
Written Answers. - Wildlife Sanctuary.
Written Answers. - Architectural Heritage.
Written Answers. - Archaeological Sites.
Written Answers. - Inland Waterways.
Written Answers. - Teorainn Gaeltachta.
Written Answers. - Sports Capital Programme.
Written Answers. - Swimming Pool Projects.
Written Answers. - Sports Capital Programme.
Written Answers. - Tourism Marketing Fund.
Written Answers. - Institutes of Technology.
Written Answers. - Schools Building Projects.
Written Answers. - Secretarial and Caretaking Services.
Written Answers. - Local Task Forces.
Written Answers. - Special Educational Needs.
Written Answers. - Post-Leaving Certificate Courses.
Written Answers. - Schools Building Projects.
Written Answers. - Departmental Statistics.
Written Answers. - School Staffing.
Written Answers. - Schools Building Projects.
Written Answers. - Enrolment of Non-National Children.
Written Answers. - Departmental Funding.
 Chuaigh an Ceann Comhairle i gceannas ar 10.30 a.m.
The Taoiseach: The Order of Business today shall be No. 11b, Motion re. Membership of Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine; No. 11c, Motion re. Referral of Stamp Duties Consolidation Bill, 1999, to the Standing Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills; and No. 3, the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Bill, 1999 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 11b and 11c shall be decided without debate. Private Members' business shall be No. 83, Motion re. Confidence in the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (resumed) to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight.
An Ceann Comhairle: Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 11b and 11c agreed?
Mr. Quinn: On No. 11b, when is the next meeting of that committee likely to be called?
The Taoiseach: Tomorrow.
An Ceann Comhairle: Is the proposal agreed? Agreed.
Mr. J. Bruton: Can the Taoiseach justify the continued delay in producing the Garda SMI legislation which he promised in this House for the second half of this year and which is now urgent in light of the fact that the Garda are going 16 years backwards in the use of technology as a result of failure to settle an industrial dispute; 30 per cent of householders believe they are unsafe, according to a survey published today; only 63 per cent of assaults are being reported to the Garda, and only 40 per cent of vandalism is being reported to the Garda? The public clearly has not got the necessary confidence in the way the force is working as a result of these statistics and such legislation, as the Taoiseach has promised, is therefore very urgent.
The Taoiseach: The Bill will be published in the middle of next year. The Minister for Justice,  Equality and Law Reform established an expert group to examine the proposals in the report of the Garda SMI group and the group reported last year. Those recommendations will be part of the legislation. The heads of the Bill are expected before Christmas and the Bill will be published next year.
In relation to the report, Deputy Bruton has highlighted some of the negative statistics in the report but there are many positive aspects to it. It is the first of its kind to be done and is a good development. People should take heart from the fact that approximately two thirds of people are happy with the situation. I realise there are some negative issues to be addressed but that is being successfully done.
Mr. J. Bruton: How could anybody take heart from the fact that less than half of non-violent theft is reported to the Garda? Surely that indicates a lack—
An Ceann Comhairle: I must discourage any further discussion on this matter. There is a Private Members' motion this evening.
Mr. J. Bruton: The Taoiseach used the phrase “take heart”. People are not taking heart. They are not even bothering to report crime.
The Taoiseach: Did Deputy Bruton read the full report?
Mr. Quinn: In respect of promised legislation, the Taoiseach may not have had sufficient notice yesterday when he answered questions and perhaps he might elaborate now upon reflection.
Mrs. Owen: Did he manage to find out since yesterday?
Mr. Quinn: There are two Bills promised, No. 26 of section C, which is the Work Permits Bill, and No. 76 of section C, the Immigration and Residence Bill. In relation to the announcement that the Government proposes to provide for up to 5,000 economic immigrants to come into this country, can the Taoiseach indicate to the House under which Bill that measure will be dealt with?
The Taoiseach: My answer is the same as the one I gave yesterday—
Mrs. Owen: It cannot be the same.
The Taoiseach: —and it has been well reported but I will state it again. The Work Permits Bill, which is due to be published in 2000, is to deal with the issue of a work permits regime in respect of non-EU nationals working in the State. The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment has stated that the Bill will be reformed and brought forward later next year. The heads of the Immigration and Residence Bill are expected by the middle of next year and the legislation will be published later in  the year. Between 11,000 and 15,000 people have come into the State in recent years under the 1935 legislation. As I stated yesterday, the issue arises as to whether those regulations, which are more than 60 years old and which allowed up to 15,000 to come to this country in the past 18 or 20 months, can be updated or is legislation required. That decision still has to be made and the Minister will make it shortly.
Mr. Howlin: What was the reason for the announcement on Monday?
An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot have a debate now.
The Taoiseach: That a number of people would come in.
Mr. Quinn: The Taoiseach has offered a substantial amount of information to the report in the paper. Both he and I are familiar with the work permits legislation because at one stage we had responsibility for its administration. It specifically requires an employer to demonstrate that they cannot get suitable labour here and they have to specifically name the applicant. Do I take it that the principle of the existing work permits legislation will be maintained and that the announcement of inviting up to 5,000 people from different countries will not proceed—
Mr. Howlin: A ball of smoke.
Mr. Quinn: —because it cannot under the current system?
The Taoiseach: Under the 1935 regulations it is the company which seeks the individual. That is what is currently happening in most cases. Companies are doing their own recruitment outside the country. Most of them are technology companies and some of them are bringing in a large number of non-EU citizens.
Mr. Howlin: So the announcement meant nothing.
The Taoiseach: The situation now is different from that which pertained in 1935. Since 1 January this year, between 11,000 and 15,000 people from non-EU countries have come here. The Tánaiste is examining this legislation and the regulations to see what is the best way to go forward.
Mr. Yates: There are two Bills promised for the electricity sector. One of those is an ESB Bill and the other is in relation to competition. When will this legislation be brought forward? Given that it will be three years at the earliest before the new power stations are operational, will the Taoiseach ask the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, to speed up the legislation before we  are all left in the dark because of the definite predictability of power cuts?
Mrs. O'Rourke: The Deputy is in the dark already.
Mr. Yates: The lights will go out shortly.
Mrs. O'Rourke: In 2000.
Mr. Yates: We are not just stuck in traffic.
An Ceann Comhairle: Order. The Taoiseach on promised legislation.
The Taoiseach: The heads of the electricity Bill are expected in May and the Bill will be due in October.
Mr. Yates: The Taoiseach gave his reply but I did not hear him. When will we have the legislation? These are two important Bills.
Mr. J. Bruton: The Taoiseach was silenced by the loudest chatterbox in the class.
The Taoiseach: October 2000.
Mr. Sargent: Tá tuairisc san Irish Independent inniu a deireann: “drinking water quality going down the drain”. Tá cúrsaí ag dul in olcais ansin. Tá Water Services Bille geallta chomh maith ach feicimid in aice leis “work is at a preliminary stage”. An féidir leis an Taoiseach a rá go bhfuil an cheist seo práinneach anois agus go bhfuil gá gníomhú dá réir ar an reachtaíocht. Ní leor “preliminary stage” le haghaidh Bille chomh tábhachtach leis seo.
The Taoiseach: The heads of the Bill are expected late next year. The Bill will not be available until 2001.
Mr. Kenny: The National Cultural Institutions Act became law in 1997. When is it proposed to appoint a board for the National Museum as there is only a caretaker board at present?
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should table a parliamentary question on that matter.
Mr. Kenny: Will someone in the Government contact the county engineer in Westmeath to do something about the most appalling traffic cock-up which occurred yesterday?
An Ceann Comhairle: This matter is not in order. The Deputy has other ways of raising such matters.
Mr. Yates: People were stuck in traffic for an hour and a half.
An Ceann Comhairle: I call Deputy Quinn.
Mrs. O'Rourke: Deputy Yates is blaming the Government for everything.
Mr. Yates: There are more announcements than buses.
Mrs. O'Rourke: This is a matter for the county council.
An Ceann Comhairle: Order. I will move on if Deputies do not return to the Order of Business. I have called Deputy Quinn.
Mr. Penrose: On a point of order, a Cheann Comhairle, Deputy Kenny is in the wrong county. Enfield is in County Meath.
An Ceann Comhairle: That is not a point of order. I call Deputy Quinn.
Mr. Rabbitte: Deputy Kenny was in Westmeath trying to get to Meath.
Mr. Davern: I am glad Deputy Kenny gave up teaching.
Mr. Quinn: In a humanitarian response last year, the Irish people donated approximately £3 million to the Red Cross. In light of the revelations that have emerged, does the Government have any intention to review the 1954 legislation or to investigate what is happening in that organisation in order to maintain public confidence in that body?
An Ceann Comhairle: This matter was raised yesterday and disallowed. Is legislation promised? This issue can only be raised in the context of promised legislation.
The Taoiseach: As I stated yesterday, there was no change in legislation. A new financial controller was recently appointed and the society recruited a new secretary general. The workings of the society are being examined and there has been a review of its headquarters.
Mr. Naughten: When will the land registry Bill be published? Is the Taoiseach aware that there is a 60-week delay in processing applications? When will the valuation Bill be published? Will small family-owned bed and breakfast accommodation be rated in the new Bill?
An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot discuss the contents of a Bill.
The Taoiseach: The heads of the Land Registry Bill are expected before Christmas. The Bill will convert the Land Registry and Registry of Deeds into a semi-State body. The legislation will be introduced late next year.
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: This is a very important Bill.
Mr. Finucane: As regards the Fisheries (Amendment) Act, in November 1997 and 1988 the Minister sought the House's permission to defer elections to the regional fisheries boards.  Those elections are due on 14 December and there is much concern about the Bill.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy must ask a question on promised legislation.
Mr. Finucane: Will the Minister be seeking a postponement of elections to the regional fisheries boards until next year in order to allow proper discussions to take place and to allay the concerns about this Bill?
Mr. Stagg: This side of the House would support that deferment.
The Taoiseach: The legislation is tabled for tomorrow and perhaps these issues can be discussed on the floor of the House tomorrow.
Mr. Bell: When will Second Stage of the Bill be taken? I am concerned about this aspect of the legislation.
An Ceann Comhairle: The legislation is tabled for tomorrow.
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. S. Brennan): I move:
That Deputy Michael Collins be appointed to the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Question put and agreed to.
Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Cullen): I move:
That, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders—
(a) the Stamp Duties Consolidation Bill, 1999, be referred to the Standing Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills;
(b) the first meeting of the Committee to consider the Bill be held on Tuesday, 30 November 1999; and
(c) in the case of the Stamp Duties Consolidation Bill, 1999—
(i) in accordance with Standing Order 134(2), the following Members be appointed to the Standing Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills for the purpose of considering the aforementioned Bill:—
Deputies John Dennehy, Jimmy Deenihan and Derek McDowell, and
(ii) it shall be an instruction to the Committee that it has power to group sections together for the purposes of debate and to  dispose of more than one section (and any amendments thereto) by one Question, which shall be put from the Chair.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill entitled an Act to prohibit trafficking in illegal immigrants and to provide for related matters.
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): I move: “That Second Stage be taken now.”
Question put and agreed to.
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Today we are discussing an important proposal which goes to the heart of our right to exercise control over immigration to our country and which seeks to protect against abuse the sanctuary which we can offer those genuinely in need of it. All states have a need for effective laws dealing with the entry, residence and departure of non-nationals in the interests of the well-being of society. Last evening, I gave the House a comprehensive account of Government policy on the exercise of these laws. Some Deputies disagreed with our approach, others supported it. All engaged, as is our right and responsibility, in a constructive debate of national importance because we all have the same aim, to ensure we have an immigration policy which is fair and objective.
No Member of this House would countenance a suggestion that others, who have no lawful authority, answerability or concern for the good of anyone or anything except themselves and their wallets, be allowed to disregard our laws and attempt to exercise any measure of control in this important area. Unfortunately, we are now aware that internationally-organised criminal entities have discovered the profit potential in exploiting vulnerable non-nationals by flouting immigration controls here and abroad with absolutely no regard for the safety or well-being of their victims. As bad as the flouting of our immigration controls is, there are still further grounds for concern. These traffickers can be compared to slave traders of old, subjecting those at their mercy to extortion, intimidation and other abuse which does not cease after their victims reach our shores but may continue as debts are paid off or for so long as they can otherwise use their power to control these unfortunate people.
We must also be concerned with the type of  illicit organisation which tends to have links to other networks of groups engaged in organised crime such as drug trafficking. That our systems and our asylum framework can indirectly fund such trafficking is clearly unacceptable. Our legislative framework is deficient at present because it contains insufficient power to enable the State deal with these traffickers.
There can be little doubt – and there is recognition throughout Europe and beyond – that those whose trade is the illicit movement of men, women and children across national boundaries have perceived this deficiency in our law as a weakness to be exploited. The Bill is intended to address that deficiency by criminalising the activity of these traffickers and providing ancillary and necessary powers. The House will be aware that this weakness is being exploited and that people are being continually smuggled into the State. We also know that taxis and private vehicles are daily travelling from Northern Ireland and discharging their illegal passengers in Dublin. It is the duty of the Government and our responsibility as parliamentarians to tackle this criminal trade in human cargo and that is the purpose of the Bill.
For many years we have been a party to the Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees and we have in place procedures to examine asylum applications which have been recognised by our courts. In addition, the Refugee Act, 1996, as amended by the Immigration Act, 1999, sets out a comprehensive framework whereby a person can make an application for asylum and have that application processed in a fair and objective way. The Refugee Act as amended is not yet fully in force but I hope to be in a position to bring it into effect at an early date. I refer to these procedures to make it clear and reiterate that we have in place a procedure whereby an asylum applicant can make an application for asylum at the first safe opportunity, which in our State should of course be at the point of entry to the country. Yet our statistics show that 82% of asylum applications are made inland and not at our ports. One might expect a percentage of applications to be made inland by terrified people fleeing persecution – that is why our procedures and legislation make inland applications possible. However, given that the bulk of applications are made inland it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that applicants are being smuggled across our borders in an organised, clandestine way by unscrupulous people.
The House will be aware that the level of asylum applications has been increasing very significantly. In 1995 we received 424 applications. By 1998 this had risen more than tenfold to 4,626. At the end of October this year we had received 5,497 applications. The numbers applying monthly during 1999 are indicative of this spiral. We had 234 applications in January, but this figure jumped dramatically to more than 1,000 in October. This sort of increase does not occur by  accident and is a further indication of the involvement of commercial traffickers.
The problem we are discussing is not unique to Ireland. However, most other jurisdictions, including most of our EU partners, have legislation of the type provided for in the Bill, and the lack of such provisions in our law makes Ireland more attractive to traffickers. The need for legislation of this type was one of recommendations in the report of the Interdepartmental Committee on Immigration, Asylum and Related Issues whose recommendations were accepted by the Government in February last year.
It is also worth mentioning that the link between traffickers and organised crime has been recognised at UN level and work is now progressing on the negotiation of protocols to the draft UN convention on organised crime which will deal with smuggling and trafficking in human beings.
Most importantly, the Heads of State or Government of the European Union, at the European Council meeting at Tampere, Finland, on 15 and 16 October last, addressed the question of trafficking in human beings. At that meeting, the European Council stated its determination to tackle illegal immigration at its source, especially by combating those who engage in trafficking and the economic exploitation of migrants. The Council urged adoption of legislation providing for sanctions against this serious crime. On the basis of a proposal by the Commission it invited the Council of Ministers to adopt legislation to this effect by the end of 2000. Furthermore, the European Council urged member states, together with Europol, to direct their efforts to detecting and dismantling the criminal networks involved.
We can, therefore, anticipate being in a position in the fairly near future to examine the Bill when enacted and check its conformity with EU legislation which will prescribe a common approach to the criminalisation of trafficking in human beings. That is not an argument for doing nothing now because we clearly need the Bill to respond to the evil of trafficking which is affecting us on a daily basis.
I will strongly stress a very important aspect of this Bill, namely, that it is aimed at traffickers and not at people who are being trafficked. Traffickers' cargo may be vulnerable people who as often as not will have had to pay exorbitant sums to the traffickers in return for a service probably based on lies and half truths and total disregard for their safety and well being. I do not suggest that every individual who seeks to by-pass our immigration controls or abuse our hospitality is the innocent victim of an international crime figure. As I have already said, the Bill contains no measures to penalise the immigrant, whatever his or her motives or whether he or she is a genuine refugee. It is aimed solely at those who traffic in illegal immigrants. It will do so by making it an offence in relation for any person to organise or knowingly facilitate the entry into the State of a person whom he or she knows or has reasonable  cause to believe to be an illegal immigrant. On conviction on indictment a person will be liable to an unlimited fine or up to ten years imprisonment or both should the court consider it appropriate.
There has been concern in some quarters that the wording used in the Bill is too broad and that it will encompass the activities of bona fide organisations which assist asylum seekers. Such activity is not the focus of the Bill. My intention is to deal with commercial trafficking in people. I am prepared, therefore, to listen sympathetically to what Deputies have to say on this point and to consider the matter further with a view to asking the parliamentary draftsman to re-examine the issue in the context of the definition of illegal immigrant in section 1. If redrafting is necessary I will bring forward an amendment on Committee Stage.
I would like to draw attention to the fact that the Bill contains an important disincentive to those who might allow their vehicles to be used for the purposes of trafficking in illegal immigrants. A court may, in circumstances defined in the Bill, order the forfeiture of the means of transport used for trafficking in illegal immigrants. I am also considering whether, because of the nature of international trafficking in people, it should be possible for a court to order the detention of vehicles where proceedings are contemplated which could lead to forfeiture. If necessary I will bring forward an amendment on Committee Stage.
These are the key provisions of the Bill. On possible sanctions on carriers, whether airlines or ferries I am considering whether it is necessary to impose responsibility on carriers to ensure that they bring to the State only those passengers who are legally entitled to come here and to provide for sanctions to punish carriers who fail to live up to this responsibility. An important consideration in this respect is the need to ensure that whatever system is envisaged takes into account the possibility for genuine refugees to continue to have access to our shores. I am consulting the Attorney General about the details of a possible legislative approach to be taken to this matter and if necessary I will bring forward the necessary provisions for inclusion in the Bill on Committee Stage.
In discussing the Bill I do not intend turning the debate into a discussion on our immigration and asylum policy. I have already made my position and the position of the Government clear on that issue, in particular in the context of the debate we had in the House last night and which will resume later this evening. The measures I propose in the Bill are but one aspect of an overall strategy the Government has adopted. This strategy leans heavily towards ensuring that our obligations under national and international law in relation to asylum seekers and illegal immigrants are fully met. However, it must also be underpinned by measures such as this to ensure our systems are not abused.
The principal purpose of the Bill is to create an  offence of trafficking in illegal immigrants and to provide a framework by which those engaging in the trafficking of illegal immigrants can be dealt with under the law.
Section 1 is a standard provision for necessary definitions. An illegal immigrant is defined as a non-national who enters, seeks to enter or has entered the State unlawfully. In general, there are three main categories of non-nationals who enter the State illegally. The first is persons from a place other than the UK or Northern Ireland who do not present themselves to an immigration officer for leave to land.
Section 1 is a standard provision providing for necessary definitions. In particular, “illegal immigrant” is defined as a non-national who enters, seeks to enter or has entered the State unlawfully. In general, there are three main categories of non-nationals who enter the State illegally. The first are persons from a place other than the UK or Northern Ireland who do not present themselves to an immigration officer for leave to land. The second are persons coming from the UK or Northern Ireland who are not citizens of states which are exempt from visa requirements and who do not possess the required visas. The third category are those people who may be the subject of a deportation or exclusion order.
Apart from the definition of illegal immigrant, section 2 is the central section of the Bill. Subsection (1) creates an offence of trafficking in illegal immigrants by providing that any person who organises or knowingly facilitates the entry into the State of a person whom he or she knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, to be an illegal entrant shall be guilty of an offence. On summary conviction, a person may be liable to a fine not exceeding £1,500 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both. The penalty on conviction on indictment is an unlimited fine or imprisonment for up to ten years or both.
I have already acknowledged the concern that this wording will encompass the activities of bona fide organisations which assist asylum seekers. While it is not unreasonable to expect that bona fide organisations would comply with the law, such activity is not the focus of the Bill. I am prepared to consider this issue further with a view to asking the parliamentary draftsman to re-examine this provision in conjunction with the definition of illegal immigrant in section 1 to see whether the concerns expressed merit a redrafting of the wording used. If this is the case, I will introduce an appropriate amendment or amendments on Committee Stage. Subsection (2) provides that the offence will apply to acts done or omissions made outside, as well as to acts done or omissions made inside, the State.
Section 3 provides in certain circumstances for the forfeiture of ship, aircraft or other vehicle used in illegal trafficking and is based on similar provisions contained elsewhere, for example, in the Criminal Justice Act, 1994. Provisions are  included to safeguard the interests of the owners of the vehicles and of other persons who have an interest in the property to be forfeited. I am concerned, however, that the nature of international trafficking is such that it may be necessary to provide for the possibility to detain vehicles to ensure they are in fact available for forfeiture should a court decide to so order. I am examining the possibility of providing accordingly, and it may, therefore, be necessary to bring forward an appropriate amendment on Committee Stage.
Section 4 is a standard provision and provides that the powers of the Garda to search vehicles and persons in them, contained in section 8 of the Criminal Law Act, 1976, will apply to an offence under section 2. Section 5, entry, search and seizures, provides that a District Court judge may issue a warrant for the search of a place, or any person found at the place, where, following sworn information of a garda not below the rank of sergeant, the judge is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that evidence of or relating to an offence under section 2 is to be found at the place.
Section 6 amends the Schedule to the Bail Act so that the offence of immigrant trafficking will be covered by the provisions of the Act. Section 7, offences by bodies corporate, is a standard provision which enables persons working in a body corporate as well as the body corporate itself to be proceeded against for an offence under the Act. Section 8, expenses, and section 9, short title and commencement, are standard provisions.
This Bill is aimed at racketeers, not at vulnerable illegal immigrants and asylum seekers. If we wish to ensure the asylum process is fully functioning and available to those who need it, we must protect it against those who would abuse it. I look forward to hearing the views of Deputies on this Bill and I assure them I will take full account of all their contributions. I thank Deputies in anticipation for their co-operation in commending the Bill to the House.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): I have considerable difficulty with this Bill. I have problems with it in terms of its content and I will deal with these later. I also have problems with it because it is another indication of the Government's incoherent approach to the refugee and asylum issue. It is another example of the ad hoc approach of the Minister for Justice and his Fianna Fáil colleagues in Government. It is another example of a Government developing a policy in bits and pieces, like bits of disjointed Lego, rather than in a coherent, comprehensive or structured fashion.
It is obvious we have no clearly thought out immigration and asylum-refugee policy and that the Government is continually evolving policy and making it up as it goes along. The result is that whatever policy is in place is not being properly managed. The queues are getting longer, admittedly because more people are seeking asylum here, but also because the system is not  working efficiently. There is no excuse for delays of several years from the time an application is made for asylum and the time a decision is made. However, this is the experience in the majority of cases.
The confusion is added to by the fact that the Government has been at sixes and sevens as to where it stands on some of the core policy issues. We have had a long running tug of war between the Progressive Democrats members of the Government, especially between the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy O'Donnell, on the one hand, and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, on the other, regarding the vexed issue of work permits for asylum seekers. The latter doggedly and publicly held the line that work permits would not be granted to asylum seekers because they would create a “pull” factor which would lead, in his words, to our being “swamped” with applications.
His position was publicly challenged by both the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Minister of State. Eventually, the Progressive Democrats position prevailed and work permits were, in theory, to be made available. The reality, however, is that to date a mere 15 permits, although it may be 20 or 30, out of 2,000 applications have been granted, despite shops, restaurants and building sites the length and breadth of the country frantically advertising for staff, IBEC and other employer organisations asking that work permits be made available to fill the skilled vacuum and to satisfy the need to keep the economic wheels turning, and the fact that ICTU supports the principle of granting work permits.
The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, however, must take her share of the blame. She stands indicted in this area. It is her Department which is responsible for the administration of work permits. Having beaten the political drum so loudly and incessantly for so long, one must ask the reason she has failed to deliver on what should be a fairly straightforward procedure to perform. The Minister seems to have a problem reconciling her vision and rhetoric with reality.
At the beginning of this year, Government policy was again thrown into disarray when the Aliens Act, 1935, was found to be unconstitutional by virtue of the fact that it did not set down specific criteria for categories of persons to be deported. The Government reaction was another ad hoc response. The Immigration Bill, 1999, as the Opposition pointed out at the time, was not a measure dealing with immigration policy or regulating the inward flow of migrants, but a deportation Bill to exclude and banish people from the country. We voted against the Bill on Second Stage for that reason and because no statutory asylum policy was in place. Thankfully on Committee Stage, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform did a U-turn and introduced a  set of substantial amendments to put in place a proper administrative structure for the processing of asylum applications and for the hearing of appeals. The problem now, however, is that the system is not working, it has ground to a halt and hence the queues.
On Monday and Tuesday of the week before last we had the shameful spectacle of the doors of the Refugee Applications Centre on Lower Mount Street firmly locked with hundreds of applicants – some of whom had queued from 5.00 a.m., had returned for a third time or were pregnant – being turned away because there was yet another systems failure. The Eastern Health Board officials could not cope. On Sunday morning the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, launched a stinging attack on the asylum policy of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. She correctly characterised it as a “doom laden, ad hoc policy”. She expressed dismay at scenes of asylum seekers being denied access to State services and sleeping rough. According to the Minister of State, instead of embracing the challenge, the Government was treating asylum as a burden. This attitude would only foment public resentment and fear. In a further direct criticism of the Minister she said, “If you have the wrong credo or mindset, your policies will be flawed. We need a bit of intellectual investment here”. I agree with her. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, rightly complained that the refugee agency, under the auspices of her Department, had the skills and knowledge to deal with the situation but was totally excluded from dealing with asylum seekers.
Deputy O'Donnell went on to assert that the Progressive Democrats are in the process of urgently drawing up their own policy on immigration, asylum and related matters and would be bringing this policy to Cabinet shortly. She said she was embarrassed and appalled at what was going on in Mount Street and would not preside over the chaos surrounding the treatment of asylum seekers. The Progressive Democrats would insist that this administrative shambles be brought to an end. She said that the situation was disgraceful. The Progressive Democrats would insist that a two channel approach be adopted to deal with asylum and immigration, one for economic migrants and one for asylum seekers.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform's response on television on Sunday evening promised new tough legislation and a major crackdown on illegal trafficking of immigrants. He was quite obviously trying to convey the impression that this was a new response to the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell's broadside. In fact, he was referring to the Bill before the House today, the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Bill, 1999, which was published not on the Saturday, Sunday or following Monday but on 17 June last. On the Monday, the Minister responded further to the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell's damning indictment of his policy and performance. He told the Monday  morning newspapers that he would not be deflected or, as the Liverpool song says “we shall not be moved”.
The net outcome is that the chaos continues. The Government is only now coming to a realisation that it is bad public and humanitarian policy to concentrate so many asylum seekers in one area of the country. Surely, it would be far preferable to have more than one asylum applications office. Why not locate one, as has been promised in the past, in Wexford or in the south-east which must be a major point of entry for many of those making applications? The Government must put in place a policy of dispersal in order to lighten the burden on the Eastern Health Board in addition to allowing for far greater ease of accommodation, assimilation and integration.
We must put into perspective the potential consequences of the legislation we are introducing. The Minister confirmed our worst fears by saying he would try to make this legislation even tougher by introducing amendments to oblige ships, aircraft carriers and others in the transport business to check out the bona fides of their passengers. Had the US decided to invoke the full rigours of the measures the Minister is now promising to introduce, dozens of Aer Lingus planes which ferried thousands of young undocumented Irish to the United States in the 1980s and early 1990s would have been impounded and forfeited and Aer Lingus personnel could have been fined up to £1,500 or received up to 12 months in prison for knowingly facilitating the passage of these people. Is the Minister seriously saying that would have been justified? The so-called “illegal”, young, educated, highly motivated Irish people who went to the US were not content to sit at home unemployed, signing on at the local labour exchange and languishing on the dole. They had the initiative to seek their fortunes in the US and elsewhere. They had holiday visas but did not have any work permits or green cards. They came from honest decent hard-working families with a strong work ethic and went to the US and elsewhere with the clear intention of staying there and working. They made false declarations to US immigration officials either at Shannon or at their point of entry and were economic refugees in every sense of the word.
Those young Irish people were not fleeing from a country of oppression. While Ireland had economic and unemployment problems, they would not have ranked anywhere near the economic, let alone social, conditions which currently prevail in the countries from which the vast majority of people who joined the queue of asylum seekers in Mount Street this morning came. The vast majority of people who left this country were economic migrants who emigrated to other countries to use their skills and educational qualifications in the hope of making a decent, honest living. There is a vast difference between the economic and social conditions which prevailed in Ireland and those which prevail in the home  countries of the people queuing in Mount Street this morning.
What is the essential difference, if any, between an economic refugee from Nigeria or Russia waiting in the queue in Mount Street as we speak and an “illegal alien”, as the United States classified an undocumented young person from County Kerry? If there is a difference, I ask the Minister to please spell it out.
Many Members of this House, myself included, assisted young Irish people from our constituencies to make contacts in the US, for example, contacts with Mayo families or Mayo-born employers in New York, Boston and elsewhere. We did so in order to try to set them up in jobs even though we knew that, officially, they were illegal in the strict sense of the word, but they desperately needed jobs. Under this legislation, I and many others should be in jail for, as the Bill puts it, “knowingly facilitating” such people. In this House, which is today discussing punitive sanctions for those who assist in the trafficking of illegal immigrants, we have passed resolutions requesting, indeed begging, the Irish-American political powerbrokers to make a special case for our young economic refugees as if we were some kind of special species, deserving of special consideration over and above the rest of humanity. High powered political delegations lobbied Ted Kennedy, Tip O'Neill, Daniel Moynihan, Bruce Morrison, the Careys and others. The results are there to be seen. Special measures were adopted by Congress to bring Donnelly and Morrison visas onstream.
We need to get our act together. We need an immigration policy as distinct from an asylum policy. We must create a system which will allow non-EU economic migrants to apply through a process which will determine whether their skills and qualifications are needed here. We must amend our legislation or introduce new legislation to facilitate such a measure and to remove the legal obstacles and the administrative red tape which currently results in the rejection of such applications. It is quite obvious that the Minister and his Department seem overwhelmed and incapable of seeing that such a clear distinction should be made. For that reason, the Minister might usefully consider referring the matter to the NESC and request it, in conjunction with Forfás and other agencies which can assess the economy's skill needs now and for the future, to make recommendations on immigration policy within a specified timeframe.
Human trafficking is a problem which must be tackled. One hates to see innocent people ripped off and exploited, but it is necessary to make an explicit distinction between those who exploit refugees for commercial purposes and those who are genuinely concerned with refugees and their welfare. Under this legislation, Oscar Schindler would be fined and jailed and those people who risked their lives to try to help Jews escape from Hitler's tyranny would be jailed for the humanitarian risks they took. We must make it clear that  the penalties and sanctions apply only to exploitative traffickers, not just facilitators, and certainly not to vulnerable immigrants themselves. The Minister stated that this was not the Bill's intention but, as it is currently drafted, that is exactly what will happen. The continuing chaos at the Mount Street centre this morning, which is unresolved after nine hours of talks at the Labour Relations Commission, shows that the Government has still failed to come to terms with what is required. The fact that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has failed to respond to the request from its own security staff for additional security personnel shows that the Government is incapable of dealing with the physical demands, let alone the other deeper personal humanitarian considerations. It is appalling, for example, that some kind of canopy has not even been provided for those who have to queue in the rain this morning. There are no toilet facilities. Surely, we have an obligation to provide the bare basic physical necessities until such time as the people in the queue can reach the overcrowded indoor offices.
The announcement this week that the Government is to introduce a work visa programme is welcome. Undoubtedly, however, it is a reaction to the no confidence motion before the House, the public furore at the manner in which we have been seen to be treating people who come here expecting compassion and understanding and, last but by no means least, to the stinging attack by the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, on the shambles over which the Minister presides. One fears, however, that it is a cobbled together panic reaction and that again the Government will not get it right.
First, existing asylum applicants, irrespective of what skills they may have, will not qualify or cannot even apply. Second, in the context of the current economic demands, 5,000 visas would seem to be much too few. Furthermore, one must apply from outside the jurisdiction. As I said before, what is urgently needed is a coherent immigration policy which has a short-term and long-term vision of what is required, which is properly structured and administered, which delivers decisions within a reasonable period after the applicant applies and which is reviewed on a regular basis in order to establish if it is working or how it is performing.
We need, however, more than an immigration policy. We also need an integration policy. We need to arrive at a stage where people who are given work visas or Irish citizenship become part of the Irish nation. We need to avoid a repeat of the German situation where the large Turkish influx resident there still see themselves, after several generations of living and working there, as Turks and not Germans.
Mr. Howlin: There is no German citizenship.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): There is no German citizenship. We need to assimilate new residents into  the Ireland of the new millennium without, at the same time, infringing on their cultural characteristics.
Above all, we need to rid ourselves of the paranoia and xenophobia which has characterised so many of the expressions on this issue. We need to see controlled immigration as a good thing and to develop a pluralist and multi-cultural society in which everyone's diversity is recognised and respected. We need to look at a number of imaginative instances which prove we have the capacity to cope.
Deputy Howlin mentioned Wexford. I live in a small community in the west which would be looked on as a typical provincial parochial community and of which I am very proud. Ballyhaunis is a community of 1,100 people which has 111 Muslims, including Pakistanis, Indians, Libyans and Syrians. They are excellent citizens and have an excellent work ethic. They work for a living and none of them draws the dole. The children go to school locally, the parents participate in the local management boards and parents' committees and they involve themselves in community activities. They have their own mosque and religious practices but at the same time they have integrated.
After 25 years, the experience of having a multi-ethnic group in the middle of a provincial rural community has been most enlightening, invigorating and uplifting. If this is possible in a small rural community, which would be perceived by many outsiders as not having the capacity to open its doors in such an admirable fashion, surely to God it is possible on a wider scale throughout the length and breadth of this country. What is wrong with us, as a nation, that such horrific expressions of racism are broadcast daily on radio as the two sides of this argument are trotted out and vigorously debated and argued?
I know what the Minister is trying to achieve in terms of dealing with trafficking. I support the concept of ruthlessly dealing with those who involve themselves in commercial exploitation of the trafficked – the vulnerable, the weak and the people who come here looking for refugee status and asylum. However, I doubt the efficacy, efficiency or effectiveness of the measure. One must acknowledge that the exploiters, the commercial vultures who exploit, are non-nationals and are resident outside the jurisdiction. They are people who see an opportunity to make a quick buck, a fast dollar and a commercial killing and who sell the idea that Ireland is a place where immigrants are dealt with on a fast track basis and where they can be guaranteed a job without any administrative difficulties. While I appreciate the thrust of what the Minister is trying to achieve, from the point of view of its effectiveness, I do not see it as dealing with the problem because the perpetrators, the people at whom we are trying to get, do not live in this jurisdiction.
I warn the Minister about making Aer Lingus, for example, aircraft carriers, or ferry companies if people decide to come by boat, responsible for  checking whether their passenger complement are bona fide people coming to this country to reunite with relatives or as tourists, football fans etc. Going down that road has horrible consequences and the Minister would be well advised to have a rethink before he introduces amendments on Committee Stage.
Mr. Howlin: I share many of the concerns expressed by Deputy Higgins about this legislation. Like him, I give notice that we will require very careful scrutiny of every line of the Bill on later Stages. We are engaged in a most delicate job and we need to get the balance right. I welcome the Minister's indication that he is approaching this issue in an open fashion and that many of the sections, as drafted, need a fresh approach and to be looked at anew.
There is no doubt that the substantial increase in recent years in the numbers coming to this country to seek asylum has created significant administrative and organisational challenges to us as a society. It was a challenge faced by the previous Administration, but I readily recognise that the scale of that challenge has increased for this Government as the numbers, as illustrated by the Minister, have substantially increased. However, it must be said that the numbers seeking refuge here – it is important to say this constantly, and I put the figures on the record last night – are still a fraction of the numbers presenting themselves as refugees and asylum seekers in neighbouring EU member states, some of which are geographically smaller than Ireland – I cited Holland and Belgian – and some of which have greater population density.
One economic analysis indicated that at the end of the economic plan published by the Government last week, we would be, per capita, the fourth richest State in the European Union and among the richest nations in the world. It is a natural corollary, as night follows day, that people from impoverished backgrounds would seek to improve their lot by coming to a land which offers, or hopes to offer, opportunities just as countless generations of Irish people did since the Famine, aided, abetted and supported by public representatives and prominent figures in this land. The organisational and administrative failures we have seen in recent weeks cannot be denied by anybody. They have resulted in asylum seekers being treated in a deplorable manner that no Member could defend. Surely there is now an unanswerable case for the Government to urgently present a coherent, humane immigration policy and integration strategy.
State institutions have not shown a humane face to those who have sought refuge here. The issues behind the increase in the numbers of asylum seekers are human ones – people fleeing from their own countries to avoid persecution or ill treatment because of race, religion or political belief or simply escaping dire poverty. This State has failed to recognise that human dimension and  up to now has seen it in terms of threats, costs, problems and administrative issues. I recognise that the Government provided additional staff and resources to address the issue, but its general response can only be characterised as being hopelessly inadequate.
The first major decision the Minister made on taking office was to effectively shelve the Refugee Act passed by the previous Government. That Act was designed to provide fair and humane treatment for processing asylum applications, but the Bill remains largely unimplemented, despite the motion passed unanimously by the House in December 1997. Many justifications and excuses have been proffered, but the Minister indicated today that that Act has yet to take effect. After two and a half years in office that is simply not good enough, whatever the justifications or excuses. This is the Minister's second Bill on immigration or related matters. The first, the Immigration Bill, was characterised by me, Deputy Higgins and others as, more accurately, a deportation Bill and was regarded by organisations like Amnesty International and Comhlámh as draconian and excessive. It sought to restate powers struck down by the courts that were originally given to the Minister under the Aliens Act, 1935. Despite our reservations about that Bill and the fact that we opposed it on Second Stage and sought to amend it, the Minister's approach has not been to provide the necessary safeguards to society in the framework of a humane policy but to extract individual issues that would build a wall around our society.
We need additional powers and penalties to penalise those who, for financial gain, exploit vulnerable people seeking refuge in Ireland. There is already clear evidence that people are trafficking for profit. However, I would like more concrete evidence of the widespread trafficking to which the Minister and other Fianna Fáil backbenchers have alluded. One can sometimes accept the cliché that every asylum seeker being brought into Ireland is the victim of a huge international criminal gang. Let us see the evidence. Fianna Fáil backbenchers have been challenged on the matter and they have said they have evidence, though they do not have statistics to hand. That is not good enough. Assertions must be based on proveable fact.
In terms of taking strong action against those involved in criminal activities and in trafficking in vulnerable people, the Minister has broad support in the House. However, I fear that this Bill does not make any distinction between professional traffickers, who must be sought out and punished, and those who, for humanitarian or personal reasons, assist those seeking entry to Ireland and refugee status. Are the families of those already here to be criminalised? If the Bill is passed without amendments it will create many problems for organisations which work with refugees and asylum seekers. Under this Bill, a person who organises his or her family's entry into Ireland could be charged with trafficking and face  deportation. That is not what is required and the majority of Irish people would not support it.
Many people who seek asylum here do so because of persecution or ill treatment in their home lands, but the Bill does not seem to acknowledge this. The Bill reflects an ethos that is prevalent under this Administration and which is fundamentally hostile to the concept of asylum seekers coming here. Under this Bill, as Deputy Higgins said, even Oscar Schindler would be subject to prosecution. I visited Yad Vashem in Israel, where the Avenue of the Righteous commemorates those who assisted Jews out of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, often in breach of their national laws. I know it is not the Minister's intention that that category of people be penalised, so we must ensure that possibility is removed from the Bill. I welcome the Minister's comment that the Bill, as drafted, is inadequate and requires amendments. If he puts amendments down we will look at them, but if not we will put amendments down to ensure that differentiation is clear and unambiguous.
Section 2 is the core of the Bill, as the Minister said, and I am concerned by its broad nature. What does “knowingly facilitates the entry into this State” mean? Does it refer to someone who provides information about Ireland or makes a reservation for travel or accommodation here? How broad a net does the Minister intend this provision to cast? Regarding the definition of an illegal immigrant, obviously everybody who is not legal is illegal. Every potential asylum seeker is illegal until his status is determined, unless they come as programme refugees. It is an absolute requirement to bring clarity to this situation so that we do not have such a broad net that anyone providing backup – families giving information to their own members or organisations designed to help families, for example – could find themselves technically in breach of this provision and subject to a hefty penalty.
The Minister referred to the implications it would have for corporate bodies, which can be prosecuted under this provision. Companies such as Aer Lingus, Ryanair and Irish Ferries could find themselves in jeopardy and, to judge from his Second Stage contribution, that is the Minister's intention. How can a company such as Irish Ferries make a decision about the legal status of everybody who gets on a boat in Holyhead, Pembroke or elsewhere? If the Minister's suggestions become law, these companies will be required to do that and they will face draconian penalties if they do not. What will they do? They will err on the side of caution and exclude people. There is enough of that already. Deputy Browne from Carlow described an unfortunate scene at a ferry port when two Ghanians were refused entry. We do not need more of that. We need to create a more humane and open society.
The Minister has introduced two legislative measures, the Immigration Bill and this Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Bill. He also introduced the regulations under the EURODAC conven tion which requires the fingerprinting of asylum seekers. These measures may be justified in the context of a humane overarching strategy. However, since they are, as of now, the only arms of strategy to be produced by the Minister in two and a half years, it is clear to any balanced person that what the Government has done to date – the Minister acts on behalf of the Government – is to build a wall to reduce the entry of non-nationals to this country as far as possible.
That is the Government's strategy. It was revealed by the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, on a recent edition of “Questions and Answers” on RTE when he asserted that the problem had been largely resolved in June last year. His definition of the resolution of the problem was that the numbers were down to a trickle. As far as he was concerned, if we can stop the people coming here, the problem is resolved. There is no suggestion that we might share in a proud way and include people escaping persecution and give them status, a home and support in a way that would broaden and enrich our society. The proposed solution was to reduce the number to a trickle.
My constituency is on the front line when dealing with asylum seekers coming to the country. During the summer months the French ferries frequently bring in asylum seekers, often in pitiable conditions. I do not know what the latest boat brought in, but when I checked last Friday there were 215 asylum seekers residing in Wexford town. That is a significant number in a relatively small town. They are reasonably well assimilated. A few people commented on the situation last year but, by and large, there is no great antipathy towards them.
The problem is that only four of the 215 have been given work permits. The bulk of the asylum seekers have been assessed by the local community welfare support system. They are skilled and able to work but are going demented from lack of work. Employers, on the other hand, are begging me to get them work permits. We are trying to do that. One lathe operator got a job recently and he has transformed the work practices of the company in which he works. He is an asset to society and the economy in the area. Why are we so miserable with work permits? There are only four work permits for the 215 people in Wexford. I do not know the national number of work permits; the last figure given by the Taoiseach was 15. We need to move this process along in a more structured, humane and open way than has characterised our approach to date.
The Government's attitude to this issue is clearly riven by different views. In today's newspapers the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, claims credit for finally shifting the attitude of the Administration. She maintained last night that “things have begun to happen” only since she publicly criticised Government policy. She does not give the Minister or the Taoiseach credit for moving now; she takes the credit. She said she was speaking as a PD Minister of State and on  behalf of her party. She told The Irish Times yesterday that as a result of her intervention, the Taoiseach has called a meeting of Ministers on the issue and “a democratic debate has started in the Dáil and in civil society”.
Are we not lucky to have the Minister of State to ensure there is such a democratic debate? It is clear that having run the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of State has decided she needs to run the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform as well. I am extremely pleased that her intervention has changed Government policy in the way she indicated to The Irish Times. I hope there will be clear evidence of that. The House will be reassured to hear that the Minister of State has been reassured by the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that a totally new approach is being taken on this issue and as a consequence of the reassurances, she is willing to support the Minister in the Dáil vote tonight. That will give the Minister great comfort.
This Bill is a draconian measure when it should be balanced in the context of an overarching policy. Negativity is all we have seen so far from this Administration. The Immigration Bill provides for the power to deport and reinforces it in an even more draconian way than existed under the 1935 Act. That Act was passed during the 1930s, a backward time when we did not understand or want integration of society or the concept of pluralism. That policy has been condemned by Comhlámh, Amnesty International and many other progressive groups in society. The Minister then introduced EURODAC which gave him the power to fingerprint all asylum seekers so they can be cross referenced and checked on a Europe wide basis.
He now introduces this trafficking Bill which is also draconian but unclear in its import and effect. It will be necessary to address and clarify the effect of section 2 and other sections on Committee Stage. I would be willing to support some of these measures in a broader context, if there was a proper immigration strategy which would fast track asylum policy and the processing of applications for asylum, implement in full and resource as required the Refugee Act and, at the same time, establish new broad criteria for allowing economic migrants to enrich our society and provide the skills that are desperately needed, as has been identified by economists and analysts. However, we do not have that.
Thanks to the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, a debate on the issue has started within Government. Only last week the Taoiseach said, in reply to a question on the Order of Business, that the immigration and residence Bill would not be ready until well into next year. How will we implement the policy that was announced, or the kite that was flown by somebody on behalf of the Government on Monday, to bring 5,000 economic migrants? We have no idea how that will be done. Following the Taoiseach's response  to the Order of Business this morning, the position has been made clearer in that new legislation is not envisaged. This policy, therefore, must be implemented under the existing criteria, which are draconian and unworkable in terms of giving relief to economic migrants who want to come and work here.
We must take certain steps although I know the Minister has set his face resolutely against this. We must regularise the position of the people who are here. The majority of people who have been here more than a year should be given refugee status now, but the Minister believes that would be an enormous pull. We must introduce a fastrack system to process and deal with the balance and with any new arrivals seeking asylum. Those who are given a right of residence here must be assimilated into society in a proper way by being given supports, language training, skills training and assistance in finding accommodation, health supports and a job. We must have a proper framework to process further economic migrants that this country will require. They will be the essential components of a rational immigration strategy. The Minister said the Opposition has not spelt those out. I have repeatedly spelt those out on Committee Stage of the Immigration Bill and on Adjournment Debates, but there are none so deaf as those who will not hear.
Issues arise that define the character of a nation on occasions. In the past, social issues defined whether we had a progressive stance. In our time the immigration issue defines that. As the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, said, we can be drowned out by the voice of the xenophobe. She described the voices of some Fianna Fáil backbenchers as xenophobic and intolerant. We can allow ourselves to be drowned out by the xenophobe and the intolerant or we can decide to move on to a new rich society that is pluralist and accommodates difference of religion, colour, background and provides for that in a structured way. We should not use words such as “swamped”, and “overrun” that pander to the basest fears. It is a challenge for us to lead and not follow on this issue.
This Bill is part of a pattern that indicates the path taken by the Government is not the path to creating an inclusive, pluralist society, humane in its treatment but rigorous enough against those who exploit our laws or seek to prey on those who are unfortunate. We need the strength and the stick that are included in this Bill and in other measures the Minister has brought forward, but they must be tempered with a humane, overarching policy we have yet to see. I await, with some concern, the future development of immigration policy under this Administration. I will continue to support the Minister in any area where he moves in the line of creating a plural Ireland and openness. I will support him and his party will support him in putting in place proper barriers to protect the weak or to protect our society from those who would prey on us or seek to exploit us.
Up to now he has not got the balance right.  When the dialogue that was indicated takes place between Ministers and Departments is concluded in the near future, I hope this legislation and other legislation I mentioned will be set in a context that will have a much broader support in this House than the actions of the Minister to date.
Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. T. Kitt): I wish to share my time with Deputy Ardagh.
Acting Chairman (Mr. Briscoe): That is agreed.
Mr. T. Kitt: I welcome the opportunity to participate in this useful and healthy debate on immigration. It is recognised that much work needs to be done. I acknowledge the work of my ministerial colleague, Deputy O'Donoghue, and other Ministers who are grappling effectively with this problem. It has been recognised a new problem that poses difficulties for all those involved, but the only one way to deal with it is through a multi-departmental approach and that is being led by my colleague the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue.
There has been a good deal of talk in recent days about immigration as if it is something new here. People come and go here all the time in order to broaden their horizons and further their careers. Ireland is now part of the European Union and as such, all its citizens, including Irish citizens have the right to move and take up residence and employment anywhere within the European Union. Sometimes that point is missed.
People from outside the European Union may also come to Ireland and take up employment on the basis of having obtained a work permit. Ireland has an open policy on people outside the European Union coming here to take up employment. Work permits are issued, and renewed without restriction, to those coming to Ireland to take up employment. Work permits are also available to asylum seekers who arrived before 26 July last and who are awaiting a determination to their status for at least one year. These people, who number approximately 2,100, are free to seek employment and have their employers apply to my Department for a work permit to be issued.
There is a further grouping 2,700 asylum seekers who arrived here before 26 July last who will qualify when they have been here for 12 months, in other words, up to 26 July 2000. These people are free to seek employment and have their prospective employer apply for a work permit on their behalf. To date some 80 applications have been received from employers for work permits for asylum seekers. Of these, 37 permits have been issued, a further eight applicants have been approved and the remainder were ineligible or are currently being processed.
Mr. Howlin: Thirty-seven.
Mr. T. Kitt: That is correct. Following the Government decision of 26 July last, my Depart ment together with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform immediately established procedures to facilitate qualifying asylum seekers, and these are working satisfactorily. My Department also met media and support groups and briefed them on the procedures put in place whereby qualifying asylum seekers are treated in exactly the same manner as all people seeking work permits. In other words, the employee's employer makes an application on his behalf, following which my Department checks the status of the asylum seeker with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and then a permit may be issued. The procedure is as simple as that. Immediate steps were also taken to update the Department's information literature and its Internet website. The placement service of FÁS is also available to asylum seekers seeking employment.
The point has been made that the procedure for asylum seekers is too complex, but my response to that is that my Department will issue some 6,000 work permits this year for other people coming to Ireland and taking up employment.
Mr. Howlin: Does the Minister of State have a breakdown of the nationalities of those 6,000 people?
Mr. T. Kitt: We have a breakdown of their nationalities and I can supply that to the Deputy.
Immigration is a normal feature of Irish social and economic life and a means by which we welcome diversity. During the 1990s Ireland has had unprecedented rates of economic and employment growth. This economic growth was built on the rising quantity and quality of Ireland's labour force. The size of our labour force has greatly expanded over recent years and this was enhanced by the immigration of people from not only Europe but elsewhere and those people have contributed to our economic success.
As we look to the future, there is a continuing need to welcome people to Ireland to assist us in the attainment of our economic and social goals. In the 1990s we overcame the unemployment endemic to the 1980s. Our labour market is now tightening, with skills and labour shortages becoming apparent. We need to address these shortages, which are not just for highly skilled professionals but also for craftspersons and those engaged in the provision of personal services, tourism, the retail sector and the area of production and construction. We need people with skills and experience in the high tech and labour intensive sectors of our economy, so that we may offer competitive products in the globalised market which will be the key to our continuing success.
The Government is addressing the issue of labour market shortages by means of a series of initiatives. These range from tackling identified future skill shortages by targeting increased educational resources to ensuring a supply of people with appropriate qualifications.
 The national development plan will provide for continuing improvement in the skills base of the workforce and the Government, through its employment action plan, will continue to increase participation in the workforce. Increased support for child care has been well signalled and the next budget will assist more parents to take up employment as well as contributing to the overall quality of life. The Government will shortly publish a Bill putting part-time work on a formal basis, thereby making re-entry to the workforce more attractive.
All the above measures will contribute to sustaining growth through employment growth. Employment growth in the past two years has been spectacular, with an increase of 95,000 people employed in the year ending April 1998 and a further 96,000 people employed in the year ending April 1999. Increases of this magnitude will only take place on the basis of increased immigration, with 55 per cent of those immigrating to Ireland being Irish people and their families returning to take up employment. This is a great achievement by the Government and a wonderful opportunity for people who wish to return and take up employment.
As we look to the future, we will continue to need an increasing amount of immigration to meet the needs of the labour market and to retain our planned 5 per cent per annum GNP growth. The pool of Irish people wishing to return to Ireland is diminishing and we must look to other sources to meet our labour market needs. Two thirds of the immigrants who come to Ireland come from the rest of the European Union, with the bulk coming from the UK and Northern Ireland. It would be appropriate in this time of momentous change in Northern Ireland if employers in Ireland and people in the North of Ireland developed closer working relations so that the full potential of all this island could be met.
There are many skilled and unskilled workers in the European Union who, given Ireland's positive image and attractiveness, are interested in coming to work in Ireland where they can further their careers and learn new skills in the teleservices area, for example. We also wish to develop relations with the applicant countries in the European Union with whom we will have increasingly closer contacts as time develops. We should accord a degree of preference to people from these countries and encourage them to take up employment in Ireland so they may advance their skills, contribute to the deepening of relationships between our countries and contribute in time to the development of their countries in the transition to membership of the European Union. I say this in the context of our responsibilities in developing the potential of these countries as part of the greater Europe.
Almost one third of immigrants to Ireland come from outside the European Union and their contribution to the economic and social life of  this country is enriching. Many come to take up specialised employment in Ireland for which they are particularly skilled, while others come to take up a variety of diverse occupations in line with their skills. We will continue to welcome the contribution of such people to Ireland and we must look to the future and the means by which the contributions such people can make can be aligned with our needs. In certain instances, this will be primarily a matter of promoting employment opportunities in Ireland abroad through job promotions organised by State agencies with participation from employers as appropriate. The objective should be to ensure as wide a dissemination as possible of our skill and labour requirements. These are issues which call for careful examination because if people are to be encouraged to take up employment in Ireland, we must be sure there is sufficient capacity in the labour market.
Our asylum system, although stretched, is processing applications to the highest internationally agreed standards, thereby ensuring that all applicants get a full and fair hearing. By permitting asylum seekers who have been in the system for over one year to take up employment, the Government has been responsive. We must not confuse those who are seeking asylum in Ireland with those who come to Ireland to take up employment. The clear distinction is that those taking up employment have made prior arrangements in relation to their work. I am convinced that as we look to the future we must refine our systems to meet our labour and skills shortages which are likely to increase in the years to come due to our continuing economic prosperity.
Mr. Ardagh: I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. The issue of refugees and asylum seekers has understandably led to considerable public outrage over the conditions at the offices in Lower Mount Street. Many complex factors led to the scenes which were witnessed in recent weeks.
The Government has taken an active role in the development of a caring, yet responsible, policy on asylum seekers and refugees. The Bill is an important step in dealing with the issues in a comprehensive and focused manner. The scenes in Lower Mount Street must be seen in the context of an entirely unprecedented sharp rise in the number of people seeking asylum over the past three months, which could not have been anticipated. The current problems in dealing with refugee applicants have arisen because of the attempts to give them a comprehensive social service.
While it is desirable that we have two clearly defined and separate streams of migration to Ireland, the present system has led to problems in which the two systems have merged. First are the genuine asylum seekers and refugees to whom we have responsibilities and obligations both in a moral sense and under international law. The second stream is the economic migrants  who wish to participate in our workforce because of the opportunities available to prosper in our booming and increasingly wealthy economy. This is the class of migrants to which the Irish have only recently stopped adding in cities in the US, Australia, the UK and mainland Europe.
Opportunities exist for these people but they must come here legally and their arrival must be facilitated and promoted. We need a responsive and flexible migration and work permit policy which will match both their needs and those of Irish society. It would be misguided and foolish to advocate a free for all immigration policy and no one is suggesting that. We must open up our society in a positive and focused way, but it must be regulated, streamlined, controlled and lawful.
The current problems are undoubtedly as a result of mixing the two streams. Many economic migrants pose as refugees and asylum seekers when they arrive in this country. We need proper systems for both streams because mixing the two is the fuel which has fired the present acute problems. The challenge facing Ireland and all other European nations is to create structures which will enable refugees to be quickly identified and supported while at the same time identify those who are not refugees and, where necessary, arrange for their repatriation in order to preserve the integrity of and public confidence in the refugee system. That is why the Bill is relevant.
There were 5,497 applications from asylum seekers to the end of October this year compared with a total of 4,626 for 1998. There were approximately 1,000 applications in October 1999. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, following consultation with the UNHCR, recruited additional staff to deal with the growing numbers. They are currently dealing with up to 1,000 people per week in a centre opened in October 1998 to cope with 500 per week.
While asylum seekers living in private rented accommodation are dealt with by welfare officers in their local community, those living in emergency accommodation are dealt with in Lower Mount Street. Some 2,600 asylum seekers are staying for longer periods in emergency accommodation because of the housing crisis. Deputy Howlin said there are 215 asylum seekers in Wexford, which is a port of entry for Ireland. Much can be said for increasing the number of asylum seekers dispersed throughout the country so that everyone can share in their responsibilities towards these people. The fact there are so many in emergency accommodation means that queues develop which puts pressure on the centre's welfare officers.
Our treatment of asylum seekers is extremely generous in comparative terms. Asylum seekers are entitled to the full range of social benefits available to all citizens. Emergency accommodation for the Dublin area cost £12.2 million in 1998. Between January and June 1999, £5.3 million has been spent on emergency accommodation for asylum seekers. It is estimated that more than  £20,000 per night is being spent on providing such emergency accommodation. Rent supplement for private accommodation is also provided by the Eastern Health Board for more than 6,000 asylum seekers and paid by the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs. A sum of £9.8 million has been set aside for asylum seekers this year out of a total budget of £103 million and this sum is expected to increase out of necessity. The Department expects this and other welfare benefits for asylum seekers to top £35 million by the end of the year. I do not begrudge this money to refugees and asylum seekers. I simply state the cost of our generosity which is given without any compunction.
There is particular pressure in the Dublin region which has led to the further downward displacement of our own disadvantaged people. This has fuelled public hostility, particularly in the more economically deprived areas. In the constituency which I share with you, sir, there is particular pressure in the Dublin 1, 2, 7 and 8 areas where the poorest and most socially deprived people in the country live. These are the areas with the greatest density of refugees and asylum seekers. It is imperative that we accelerate the current moves to extend the outreach service and to begin housing refugees outside Dublin in Cork, Limerick, Galway, Castlebar, Dún Laoghaire and Wexford to ease the pressure on the Dublin region. There is an enormous will to do this right but in the face of a phenomenon which is new to us there are inevitable difficulties in ensuring that the system responds to this complex problem as quickly as we would wish. In dispersing asylum seekers we must use structures which are not equipped for the task. Local social welfare officers will have to learn very fast how to deal with asylum applicants, interpreters will have to be put in place in all geographic areas and welfare and hospital treatment will have to be devised for the needs of asylum seekers. These are measures which cannot be implemented overnight yet they are needed urgently.
We cannot condone illegal immigration of economic migrants posing as refugees. Following the well publicised incidents of groups of people being smuggled into the country in goods containers in an attempt to evade normal immigration checks the Minister has acted quickly in expressing his concern. Our concern arises on two fronts. First, the phenomenon of illegal trafficking in immigrants constitutes a serious level of exploitation being perpetrated by organised criminal elements and gangs who arrange the movement of vulnerable individuals across borders in Europe under extremely dangerous conditions. It is correct that we act in as constructive a manner as possible to obstruct and penalise this type of underworld business which is essentially profiteering in human misery. Second, this type of inward migration into Ireland obstructs our obligations to genuine refugees. It places unfair burdens on our social welfare system and is injurious to the very disadvantaged sections of  our own society. It also fuels public misunderstanding and ill-directed resentment at the emergence of a modern, pluralist and mature Irish society.
To tackle this problem I fully support the Minister's effort in introducing this Bill. We are heading towards virtually full employment and rapid and sustained economic growth has exhausted the labour pool of unemployed women and returning migrants. The Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Kitt, has advocated a positive and flexible approach to the looming skills shortage and I support the merit in his suggestion. It is now obvious that our continuing prosperity could be jeopardised by labour shortages and we need to give a lead on the question of opening up the Irish labour market. Long before this or last evening's debates, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform announced that new immigration legislation was required and that a new approach was needed. He has consistently supported the concept of legal immigration to fill labour shortages and his position has not changed. While the Minister has been criticised and may be mauled in the short-term, time will prove him correct.
Mrs. Barnes: With the agreement of the House I will share my time with Deputy Ring. I hope the public debate on this subject in all its aspects will force us to engage in a political and social debate inside and outside this House. For that reason the current controversy is to be welcomed.
I cannot support the assertion made on the Government side that we have shown an openness to people coming into this country and have a history of granting work and residency permits to foreigners, because we have not. Those of us who have been long enough in politics to have made representations on behalf of people who had experienced difficulties with the aliens section of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform know that that section was not just alien but hostile. The section was cloaked in a secrecy that was akin to something described by Kafka. A public representative was not allowed to know why a person was alllowed or not allowed to stay. People who came to this country, behaved perfectly and were granted residency permits from one year to another had to re-apply, never knowing whether their permits would be renewed. If their permits were not renewed, neither they nor public representatives acting on their behalf were ever told if this was because of some secret reason or some quirk within the aliens section.
In all my time in politics I have not experienced anything like the frustration and distress of dealing with that type of problem on behalf of my own constituents and others and everyone in this House has shared similar experiences. We must come to terms with the realisation that we have not had an open door policy. We had an open door policy with regard to getting rid of our own  people and having them seek employment abroad. I was one of those people. There is hardly anybody in Ireland of my generation who did not work in England, the United States, Canada or Australia under difficult and sometimes very questionable legal circumstances.
On one hand we probably have the greatest personal experience of being treated as illegals in other countries than the people of any European country. Yet we are behind other European countries in recognising and acknowledging that fact and in appreciating what was done for us with regard to our legal status in other countries. Furthermore, the perception of the legislation we have attempted to introduce so far is negative. Will we adopt a positive attitude to what can be an asset as well as a problem?
We should rejoice in the fact that our economic success allows us, for the first time in our history, to have a multicultural, pluralist and open society, appreciating other people's beliefs, cultures and skills. We must acknowledge that those skills are needed at a level which none of us could have foreseen. I say to the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, that the figures are extraordinary. The Government can tell us the numbers arriving, their difficulties, how much they are costing and where they are congregated, and there is validity in that. However, we must also look at the low numbers we are processing. Agencies such as IBEC and the ESRI tell us we will need between 160,000 and 200,000 extra skilled people in the next ten years, yet the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, said that 80 employers have applied for work permits. There is an outrageous disparity between the needs of this country and the speed of our processing machinery. That damages not only the people who are seeking to live and work in this country, but also our reputation, psyche, ethos and history. It also does not make good economic sense.
We need a huge programme of leadership, education and integration of people into our society. Most people in this country have not had that experience. However, we expected to be accepted and allowed to work, either legally or illegally, when we went abroad. Did we think we had some kind of divine, superior right that does not apply to the people seeking to work in this country and become part of our booming economy? This country has more space per head of population than any other EU country.
I will not repeat what Deputies Jim Higgins and Howlin have said, not just on this Bill but on every occasion. Many of us have spoken about this in committees and at meetings with the people involved. We will have an opportunity to discuss this in detail on Committee Stage. I welcome the Minister's statement that he is open to amendments. I will not repeat what has already been raised by Deputies Jim Higgins and Howlin in regard to the dangers in this Bill unless it is much more focused and concentrated. We all deplore the exploitation and trafficking, which was described by the Minister as slave trading.  However, the grey line which has been described by Deputies Jim Higgins and Howlin must be taken on board. We must put in place as quickly as possible all the positive elements of the Refugee Bill, which thankfully became part of the Immigration Bill.
We must, above all, give political leadership, starting with the Taoiseach and the Government, in terms of showing that what we must come to terms with and deal with in a humane, positive way is not an overwhelming problem, but something that is needed and to be welcomed and will allow us to pay back a little of what we owe to other countries. A huge leadership programme is needed in that regard because anyone coming to this country in any guise, no matter how skilled, is perceived outside this House as illegal. A negative cloak of illegality has been attached to everybody. Every Bill we have debated in this House has focused on that, rather than on our universal and national obligations to the conventions. We do not act in a vacuum here because we must live up to our UN, European and world obligations. I ask the Minister to take on board the need to spell out the positive sides in every programme. We must provide a humane welcome, rather than regard this as a swamping, overwhelming difficulty with which we cannot deal. It does not do this House or our citizens any good to think we cannot cope with what will continue to be an advantage rather than a disadvantage.
Acting Chairman: I remind Deputies that this is the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Bill. Deputies tend to make broad-ranging contributions, which I can understand because it is a very emotive subject. However, the Bill is aimed solely at those who traffic in illegal immigrants. I ask Deputies to confine their remarks to the matter before the House.
Mr. Ring: These matters are all tied together. There is no point in forgetting about our past. Deputy Barnes mentioned that speakers on the other side of the House had said this country is great for welcoming people. It is great for welcoming people, provided they are coming on holiday and bringing dollars or pounds with them. It then wants to see them leaving after three weeks by ship or aeroplane. It also loves to see Americans coming to this country when they are announcing 500 or 700 jobs. However, there is not such a great welcome for asylum seekers or those seeking to raise their families here.
When I went to school we brought in 1p or 2p for the black babies. That was wonderful as long as the problem was far away from us – we did not know what the problem was and we did not really care. A photograph would be taken of the nun or priest handing the money over to the person who would bring it to the black babies. This country has now matured.
I come from a large family in County Mayo, which has seen a great deal of emigration. Yesterday I went to Sranataggle and Porturlin. There  are more people from those two areas in America, Australia and Britain than in Sranataggle, Porturlin and Carrowteige. I have probably more relatives buried in Arizona, New York and other parts of America than in Ireland. My father and grandfather and their families had to emigrate. I am sure it was not easy to go to America. When I look at films and programmes about Ellis Island I think about people from Achill and Belmullet who arrived in New York without a word of English but had to speak as Gaeilge. I will return to that later.
We sometimes forget about the church at the centre of the parish and about these people. Past Taoisigh, from all parties, flew on St. Patrick's Day to meet the US President and Irish Congressmen, such as Tip O'Neill, the Kennedys, the Moynihans and the Morrisons, to ask them to get green cards for Irish immigrants. In 1987, 47,000 left our shores to try to make a living elsewhere. In a new beginning the economy has been turned around and we are now doing well. We are, however, very racist. We forget about the past and want to think only about the future and ourselves. We have not welcomed those who need to be welcomed.
My party's spokesperson, Deputy Jim Higgins, spoke about the need for an immigration policy. Employers tell us that they cannot find staff to fill semi-skilled positions in restaurants and hotels. There is also a shortage of skilled staff. While I agree with the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell – perhaps one is sometimes poisoned in government with Fianna Fáil – she seems to speak with two tongues. She sat down as the Progressive Democrats representative with her Fianna Fáil colleagues to review the programme for Government. Why did she not make such a policy part of the programme for the next two years? Why did she not say it was part of Progressive Democrats policy and that if it was not included in the programme the party could not remain part of the Government? She said one thing to the media and something else to her Fianna Fáil colleagues. I do not like that. If I believe in something I fight for it, but perhaps the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, holds a different view. The Progressive Democrats Party has four Dáil Deputies. If the five Dáil Deputies for the constituency of Mayo formed their own party perhaps they could also be in government and dictate policy. Perhaps this is something we should consider to solve this problem.
Mr. Roche: Who would be the leader?
Mr. Ring: He is speaking. A message is being sent by Fianna Fáil. Another is being sent by the Progressive Democrats—
Acting Chairman: The Deputy should refer to the Bill before the House.
Mr. O'Donoghue: He took a while to get to it.
Mr. Ring: I am outraged at the way in which the Government has handled this matter. The public is not afraid of those who seek to come here. What it is concerned about are the queues in Mount Street shown nightly on RTE news programmes. The Minister can direct his officials to deal with the problem. If extra staff are needed they should be provided. That is the reason the public is frightened. Another message is being sent by Fianna Fáil backbenchers. I do not want to see a repeat of the traveller situation where everybody says that, while something should be done for immigrants, they should not be placed beside them. That is the big problem and the reason there is a need for an immigration policy which should be applied equally throughout the State.
The economy is doing well. There is no reason therefore we cannot take in 5,000 asylum seekers. In 1987, 47,000 took the ship to other countries. I made representations of behalf of many emigrants. I asked friends living illegally in the United States if they would put them up and find jobs for them. It was the right thing to do at the time and I should not be prosecuted for doing so. We were glad to see them leave as we were not in a position to provide employment for them. While in the United States recently I spoke to a woman from north Mayo who takes into her home emigrants who do not have a green card and are unable to find employment. Instead of the Gay Byrnes of this world these are the people we should honour for helping and assisting our young emigrants, many of whom have done well in the United States.
Now it is our turn to provide for immigrants. We should be ashamed that the Government does not have an immigration policy. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, had an opportunity to deal with the problem three months ago when reviewing the programme for Government, but she did not avail of it. She sent one message to the media and another to the Fianna Fáil negotiating team.
The west has lost many fine individuals through emigration. Most of my relations are buried outside the country. As someone said it is payback time.
Mr. Roche: I am sorry time ran out on the last speaker as he touched on a point on which I will touch. As he said, hypocrisy is not confined to one side of the House in this debate. There are few nations on God's earth which should have a more sympathetic understanding of the plight of the immigrant than this one. For generations the children of this nation were scattered to the four corners of the globe. In some cases they were treated generously but in others they were treated with hostility. It is not so long ago since “Irish need not apply” notices adorned the windows of businesses and boarding houses in England. We rightly and understandably resented that prejudice. It is wrong therefore that prejudice should enter into this debate.
 Historically Irish emigration was fuelled by political persecution in small part but it was mainly the product of economic circumstances. The great bulk of Irish emigration, like the great bulk of migration, was motivated by a desire for a better life. Above any other nation we should be capable of putting in place a constructive, sympathetic and, above all, humane policy governing immigration.
We have had a problem in the aliens branch. It is not today or yesterday however that the problem was noted. As far back as 1981 I spoke of the racism which underlay the operations of that section and asked that the Ombudsman Act be changed to deal with it. I also asked that the Freedom of Information Act be changed but I was unsuccessful in both cases. We have a Minister in office, however, who has shown he is not just practical and pragmatic but also humane and understanding. He is working hard towards the solution of an intractable problem.
It is odd that we in Ireland should have a difficulty in this regard at this time. In many ways it would be in our own self-interest to have in place a humane and logical immigration policy as we face the novel situation for the first time in our nationhood where there are skill shortages. We shortly will have.
We have failed badly in this area. We have had six or seven years of significant immigration. We now have our own problems of undocumented immigrants, many of whom are being represented as asylum seekers when we all know that they are not – they are economic migrants. The fact that they fall into the latter rather than the former category is not an excuse for failure or putting in place anything less than a humane structured and functioning policy for handling them. This gives rise to confusion in this debate.
If there is a policy failure, the fault spans several Governments. It is, to the say the least, a little galling therefore to have to suffer the hypocrisy of Members who served in the last Administration and failed manifestly to address this issue. One solves problems at the outset. It is easier to get on a bus at the depot. It is a damn sight harder to get on when it is speeding down the road. It is all very fine for members of the last Administration who did absolutely nothing to point the finger at the Minister. The bus started trundling away from the terminus when they were in office. They did nothing constructive, positive or humane to address the issue. It is a bit rich for them to be critical of the Minister.
The hypocrisy which has informed this debate is extraordinary. We have witnessed on all sides of the Chamber – I do not excuse anybody in or out of government for being a hypocrite – extraordinary hand-wringing on this issue and a failure to address the matter. In December 1996, there were fewer than five full-time personnel assigned to the task of handling the already evident problem of asylum seekers. I made inquiries today of the Department and at that time, there was a waiting list of three years for an asylum  seeker to get an interview. The people who are pointing fingers in this direction were in power at that time. There was a much smaller influx of immigrants and migrants at that time. Those people, in particular the ex-Ministers who spoke here today, knew there was a delay and they did nothing about it. The actual complement of people in that section when Deputies Howlin and Higgins were in office was 4.5 full-time staff equivalents. It is hypocrisy of the highest order for those people who at that time involved themselves in that Administration to come in here and point the finger at this Minister when he has increased the staff complement in that section to 127. That may not be enough but it is a great deal better than 4.5 full-time staffing complements. The backlog of cases at that time stood at thousands. With the 4.5 personnel that Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left were prepared to put on this issue, it would have taken an entire generation to resolve the existing backlog of cases. Sometimes it is convenient in politics to ignore the reality.
It is not true to suggest that there is an unwillingness in this Administration to behave humanely in this matter. Significant staff and funding resources have been invested in this issue. Deputy Olivia Mitchell is in the House, and she served with distinction with me on the Eastern Health Board. She appreciates as much as I do the problems faced by that organisation and enunciated by its chairman. It is extraordinarily dishonest of people to try to avoid the realities of the debate. It costs this city £20,000 per day to provide humane, emergency accommodation for these unfortunate people who have been dumped on our shores. If the Minister were to say tomorrow morning that all those people were now documented, we would not be able to handle the housing crisis. On the issue of the housing crisis, as we approach the Christmas period, our indigenous homeless people in Dublin will not be able to find accommodation because every emergency bed in the city has been taken up.
There is genuine concern about this issue on all sides of the House, but I want to illustrate the level of hypocrisy involved by making specific reference to a Minister of State. The hypocrisy in regard to this issue is illustrated by the simple issue of student accommodation in the Dartry area. Trinity College, Dublin, has been seeking to build accommodation for its students. We all know there is a student crisis in this city, and Deputy Mitchell knows what I am talking about, but the chattering classes in that area, with a high level of political support, are up in arms because they do not want the great unwashed, the student masses from Trinity College, invading the leafy suburbs.
It would be instructive for any member of the media who is really interested in this issue to examine some of the political patrons who are mounting the barricades to prevent the unwashed from Trinity College invading that suburb. It would be even more intriguing for them to ask  what would be the situation if the Eastern Health Board tried to build a hostel in that leafy suburb to accommodate some of the unfortunate people who find themselves queuing in Mount Street. Deputy Mitchell and I served on the Eastern Health Board and we remember the outcry and uproar when it was suggested that the Eastern Health Board should buy a premises to accommodate people who are intellectually challenged, who have a disability or who seek methadone treatment. We remember the hypocrisy on that issue. Above all else, we are a nation of political hypocrites. It is grand to wring one's hands on an issue that gets one the endorsement of the liberal intelligentsia, but sometimes an issue of reality has to be faced, and we have to face the issue of reality here. There can be no doubt in the mind of any honest observer that there is a commitment to address this issue. It is intractable and difficult and it will not be easily solved. It is all very well to come in here and express concern for this matter, but it will not be solved by fine speeches.
Deputies Howlin and Higgins were characteristically theatrical on the issue. It is perhaps appropriate that they should be theatrical as we are now entering the pantomime season, but this is a serious matter. It should not be treated as a pantomime issue by people on either side of the House. Deputy Higgins asked, for example, the difference between an Irish undocumented citizen in the United States and those who pass themselves off as asylum seekers in this city. It is a valid question and we all know the answer. If an Irish citizen who is undocumented presented himself or herself to an official office in Washington DC, they would not be provided with free accommodation, social welfare payments, supplementary welfare benefits or a free medical card. To suggest there is a lack of compassion in this Administration, when we are providing all those benefits, and to make a bogus comparison such as the one made by Deputy Higgins is fraudulent political debate. Deputy Higgins knows well that if an Irish citizen who is an undocumented alien in the United States is caught, he or she is shown the door. Deputy Higgins raised the question of the difficulties for airlines. It is not just Irish undocumented aliens who sometimes are picked up and treated in an appallingly racist manner by some characters in the aliens service in the United States. Irish documented people can get caught up in that too, but we do not have time to go into that matter.
Wide of the mark though some of the Deputies may be, the prize for sheer offensiveness in this debate went to a spokesperson from Amnesty International reported in The Irish Times last week. That individual chose to draw a parallel between the current plight of those unfortunate people who are looking for succour in this nation and the plight of the Jewish people who faced the concentration camps during the Holocaust. That was an appalling and dishonest comparison. It does no credit to Amnesty International, which  incidentally accepts the need for regulation against trafficking, that such an offensive and dishonest characterisation of this issue was made. The spokesman seemed to be more interested in headlines, and Amnesty International should clear the record and make an apology. It does little credit to Deputy Higgins that he picked up on part of that issue and mentioned it in his contribution today.
The Bill is aimed at those who are involved in trafficking in illegal immigrants and it provides a framework within which that problem can be addressed. It provides significant penalties to be enforced through the courts. It will be imposed, like all Irish laws, in a humane way. It aims to end the trafficking in human misery. I do not understand the reason anybody could find difficulties with the Bill. I am not suggesting that members of the Opposition should not question the Bill and try to improve its contents.
I will address the balance of my comments on the Bill, which is more than most commentators have done so far. The key element in the Bill is section 2 which provides for fines and imprisonment for the offences created in the legislation. Anybody who has ever witnessed the misery of the unfortunate immigrants who are transported into this country, often in sealed containers without access to food or any form of sanitary accommodation, will know that they are trafficked here by people who make huge profits from it. How could anybody be upset or offended by section 2, which attempts to deal with these parasites? The traffickers who prey on human misery must be punished. The organised gangsters who are involved in this trade in human misery have been getting off lightly and have been able to avoid their responsibilities. The entire focus of the debate has rightly been on the way we should welcome to our shores people who are less fortunate than ourselves.
Deputy Howlin suggested that the Bill is fundamentally hostile to asylum seekers, but nothing could be further from the truth – Deputy Howlin, who is not inexperienced, knows that. The Bill is hostile to the pariahs who profit from illegal trafficking. It is clear that the penalties in the Bill are not focused on those who accidentally or unconsciously involve themselves in the transport of illegal migrants. Deputies Howlin and Jim Higgins touched on this issue and, to their credit, I agree with their comments. It is important to ensure that carriers who accidentally and unwittingly find themselves involved in this issue do not receive the brunt of the legislation. Section 3 recognises that much international trade is cross-Border, involving sealed containers. It is important that innocent transport operators and owners are not unknowingly visited with undue penalties. In this regard, whatever I would say about the efficiency and administration of our courts, they have not been lacking in humanity. A reasonable balance is struck in section 3, particularly subsections (6) and (7). The Minister  should be prepared to listen to any reasoned argument and I have no doubt he will do so.
Deputy Higgins was far off the mark when questioning how this matter would be administered. One can see how it is being administered by going to an airport. When one presents one's ticket at the check-in desk one is asked for a passport or some document to prove one's bona fides. The reality is that much of the smuggling into this country is cross-Border and there is a practical difficulty. I welcome the section of the Bill dealing with the issuing of warrants. It is pointless to deal with the “little” men involved, the drivers and the foot soldiers. It is important that we address this issue to the generals.
This is balanced legislation. It will not solve the whole problem but it will solve one of the problems. It is not always possible to solve all problems at once, but an honest effort is being made to address this issue. There is not a lack of compassion on this side of the House for the plight of migrants who come to Ireland because of political hostility in their own country or their wish to provide economically for themselves and their families. There is no monopoly on compassion for human misery on any side of this House. Compassion is equally shared among the 166 Members and it is the ultimate in hypocrisy to suggest otherwise.
I return to the criticism levelled at Deputy Callely. He was speaking about a specific issue and to be honest and open and to express one's views is part of democracy. I do not agree with everything the Deputy said, but I defend his right to say it. There is something fundamentally wrong with the manner in which public debate is being conducted. We conduct all debates in black and white – one is either good or evil. Let the chattering classes who get so offended by a revelation of truth show where they stand on this issue. Deputies Ardagh and Ring noted that we have our own minority in this country – travellers. I am always amazed by the fine sentiments expressed in the letters column in The Irish Times about how these matters should be addressed. However, if these people are put into a nice neighbourhood we would hear of all the difficulties. I recall a member of the media who used to become upset by rahoonery. However, the issue changed when a group of travellers moved within a couple of hundred yards of her rather splendid pad. I received telephone calls urging me to “get them out”, and the Minister for the Environment and Local Government was urged to do something about the problem.
Most of our political debate is informed by an extraordinary degree of hypocrisy. It is about time we grew up as a nation and realised that one cannot deal with complex issues as if they were a cartoon. There are black and white and shades of grey in the middle. This is a complex issue which deserves to be treated accordingly and in a mature way. The Minister is making an honest effort and, above all else, I believe that political debate which attempts to reduce this issue to car toon characteristics ultimately does no service to resolving the problem. This is a difficult problem. No nation should be more compassionate, open or willing to deal with the immigrant problem than Ireland, as many of our people were scattered to the four corners of the planet. We have a responsibility to put in place an effective, efficient, humane and administratively simple system of handling the immigrant problem. It will be in our short-term economic interests to do so. However, it would be in the longer term national interest to open our shores and show a willingness to welcome people. No man is an island and no nation is an island anymore. We live on a global planet and we have to address this complex issue in a complex manner. Above all, our policies have to be informed by humanity and our political debates by realism.
Ms O. Mitchell: I welcome the Bill in that it targets the lowest form of humanity, those who seek financial advantage by exploiting the misery of others. Far from caring about them, these people risk the lives of those who have come to them in extreme desperation and have no qualms about putting people's lives in danger by the methods of transportation they use. No fine is too great and no penalty too much for such traffickers in human misery.
I do not think that this or any other domestic legislation will be particularly effective in catching such traffickers. One might pick up the occasional taxi driver coming from the North, but the Mafia is the brains behind trafficking. Such people are too cunning, selfish and devious, and too careful of their own skins to risk entering this jurisdiction. They have no hesitation in putting others in such danger, but they will never risk their own skins. The only hope we have of stamping out illegal trafficking in asylum seekers is through concerted international co-operation.
The danger is that we will target the wrong people because they are easy to catch. It is important to guard against over-zealousness in that regard. For instance, there are those who, for genuine but misguided humanitarian reasons, help refugees gain illegal entry into this and other European countries. This practise may be reprehensible but it is not a crime on the scale of that committed by those who do so purely for financial gain and endanger the lives of those they traffic. Similarly, truck drivers would be an all too easy target, regardless of whether they are guilty. It would be wrong to automatically presume complicity or foreknowledge on their part, or to hold them responsible for their cargo. Many drivers work long hours and it would be unrealistic to expect them to be personally responsible for keeping a 24-hour watch on the containers they transport, some of which are enormous.
In many ways this legislation may be a distraction from dealing with the real issues which surround the problem of asylum seekers, of which we have spoken in the past few days. I use the word “problem” carefully as that is what it is. It  is a problem which requires realism but, in many ways, it is a problem of our own making. It is one of the inevitable problems associated with economic success and to which the Government must respond in a flexible and proactive way. There has been endless debate on problems of transport and housing which are due to growth and economic success. In all cases what is needed is a clearly articulated policy geared to meet the changed circumstances. This must be followed by a focused strategy to implement policy in a speedy and efficient way. The policy and administration which may have been appropriate five years ago when we were dealing with a handful of asylum seekers is not appropriate today. It is demeaning to asylum seekers and is causing great tension and distress for those seeking to administer the system. It is also feeding the potential for racial hatred, which we like to think can only be found in others but which exists in all of us. Most of all the system is inefficient and costs an awful amount of money, with little or no outcome in terms of serving our needs or the needs of asylum seekers. As Deputy Barnes said, a different policy could serve the needs of both.
It is clear that a completely open door policy in terms of non-EU nationals is unrealistic. We simply could not absorb the numbers and chaos would ensue, which would be in nobody's interest. Equally, we have commitments to refugees under the Geneva Convention which we must fulfil. We have a major labour shortage while thousands of skilled workers are arriving on our doorstep who could be, and in most cases wish to be, net contributors. Rather than allowing them make a contribution we pay them to do nothing. Surely, somewhere between the extremes of an open door policy and a “kick them out” policy, which seems to be advocated by some, it is possible to arrive at a policy which is both humane and mutually beneficial.
A single, tortuous and costly asylum process for refugees and economic migrants is clearly not working. We must make an effort to introduce separate procedures for both categories. I will not pretend that identifying a genuine refugee is easy, and I do not think that such identification can be done quickly. However, it is possible to separate many who are definitely not refugees by reference to their country of origin. We have an excellent and extensive diplomatic service gathering intelligence from and about every country in the world and it would be in a position to give us information on which countries are treating their citizens in a way which would require them to seek asylum in other jurisdictions. I suggest, for example, that Romanians do not fall into that category. I very much doubt that we would have accredited a new Romanian ambassador last week if that country forced its citizens to flee in order to preserve their lives and freedom. Of course, there are asylum seekers from other countries which fall into the same category. Therefore, if by definition they are not refugees, why on  earth are we pushing them into an overloaded process which forces them to try to prove they are refugees? We know and they know that they are not refugees. Most of them are people who need a job, something we can provide. Why can we not develop an alternative system of processing which would be of benefit to us all?
I think it was the Minister or an official in his Department – I cannot recall – who said that giving out the few work permits resulted in an increase in the number of asylum seekers entering the country. I do not believe there is any evidence that is true. It is far more likely that people in countries less fortunate than ours have heard about the Celtic tiger and that we are a prosperous country and have jobs available and skills shortages. They would like to come here, but their only opportunity to do so and to take up those jobs is by becoming an asylum seeker. That unworkable legislative framework, and the almost inevitably inefficient system of administration, is causing the problem.
We all know that unworkable legislation and regulations almost always promote abuse of the system. We do not need non-nationals to teach us that lesson – we are only now discovering the extent of the ingenuity of the Irish nature to abuse and evade the penal tax system which existed in the past, for example. It is nothing new for people to be forced into abusing a system which is bad and does not work. I know that not every asylum seeker is a genuine applicant in terms of being a refugee or looking for work. I know they are not the cream of society as many of our emigrants were not the cream of society. However, they are rational. Some of them are gypsies from Eastern Europe who have experienced huge upheaval in recent years and who are genuinely poor and need to move around. They have heard that we are inefficient and take a long time to process applications. They know that if they come here they can be sure of two good years before being deported. Human nature being what it is they will naturally avail of those kinds of opportunities. It does not bother them too much if they are deported at the end of two years as they are nomadic by nature. We promote, encourage and facilitate this by not having a system which allows another method of entry or of processing applications. In other words we are providing an incentive to abuse the system by not reacting to the problems we are clearly experiencing in trying to deal with refugees and which are manifested at the Refugee Application Centre in Mount Street, on the airwaves and the media over recent weeks.
A much more serious and sinister abuse which has been reported to me is the practice of paying single Irish mothers to register a non-national as the father of their children. In one case I heard of a pregnant girl being approached at a bus stop in Dublin and being offered £1,000 to accept and declare a non-national as the father of the child. I do not know the extent to which this is true or,  if it is true, the extent to which it is occurring. However, it seems to have developed into an urban myth. I am aware that I am speaking with privilege in the House, but this information was given to me by a fairly reliable source and as a result I have reported it to the Garda. My point is that an inappropriate system of dealing with asylum seekers almost inevitably promotes that kind of abuse. There is an incentive to abuse the system. If a young non-national male has an Irish born child, not only will he not be deported but neither will he require an all-important work permit. This can make a huge difference to such a person's life. It gives future security, changes his status and economic wellbeing and gives him opportunities undreamed of prior to that. Therefore, there is an enormous incentive for him to offer £1,000, or more or less. There is also perhaps an economic incentive for a single Irish mother to take £1,000 if offered.
In the absence of another way of getting a permit the incentive to abuse is enormous and probably compelling for a young male who is in the limbo of the asylum seeking process. It would be far better to have a system which obviated the need for that kind of deception. False registering of fathers has all sorts of long-term implications, perhaps for the father, but certainly for the children when they grow up and try to find out something about their so-called parent.
I welcome the announcement that visas will be granted here which will allow non-EU nationals to work. It is a sensible and practical response given that every sector is reporting labour shortages. I realise that on its own it will not stop illegal immigrants, but it should be made clear to illegal immigrants who enter the country that the option of taking up employment is open to them and expected of them. In some EU countries economic migrants are given a finite period of time with full benefits in order to find work and learn English. They are deported if at the end of that period it has become clear that they are not making an effort to find work. Obviously we have to work on a quota system – it is not reasonable to operate an open door policy. However, we can certainly take some economic migrants.
We are inescapably moving towards a more multi-cultural society, something with which we must come to grips and accept. There is no use in fighting against it. As the previous speaker said, we are now part of the global village and we cannot set our island afloat into the Atlantic and cut ourselves off from what is happening elsewhere. The problems, debates and tensions and the rise in racism which we have witnessed in the past year or so in Ireland will not go away. They will worsen as numbers grow unless we proactively manage the process of change to a multicultural society. That requires proactive management because it is a fundamental societal change. We should operate a rational and practical immigration policy. If we do that, we must also operate an integration, rather than assimilation, policy. It is to that we should turn our attention. A great  deal of debate, research and thought must go into how we do that.
Research has been conducted on the outcome of refugees we accepted in the past, such as the Vietnamese and the Bosnians. They were programme refugees and obviously their treatment was different, and they came in different circumstances, in a better organised fashion and legally. They came to Ireland in circumstances of great trauma and were in poor mental health. Some of our illegal immigrants and refugees come in similar circumstances but there are lessons to be learned from the research.
I read in one of the newspapers in the past week or so that there is talk of dispersing asylum seekers beyond Dublin. I would welcome that because the housing crisis in Dublin is of monumental proportions. It causes tensions between housing applicants even without illegal immigrants. I am sure all Deputies receive calls from people on housing lists complaining that a certain person received a house and they did not even though their need is greater. That tension is raised further and gives rise to racial tension if the person who receives the house is a non-national. I am pleased we are examining areas outside Dublin, where there is not the same pressure on housing, to house asylum seekers.
This must be done in a programmed fashion, as it was the case with the programme refugees in the past. We made efforts to assimilate them into society but they did not work because, the Vietnamese, for example, were sent to different parts of Ireland. The research shows that this apparently was not a good idea because they all eventually ended up back in Dublin where they had the support of people from a similar cultural background and the social support which goes with living with people of the same ethnic group. We must learn lessons from that and move all Nigerians, for example, to the same place so they have support from people of their own ethnic background. The same applies to Romanians. This would give them an opportunity to form a community in their new locations. They will never be assimilated into society any more than the Irish were in America. They were integrated and are perhaps its best citizens, but they maintained some cultural identity. That is something we should encourage as it is in all our interests that we have a society of many cultures to enrich us.
There is one important aspect to integration we should examine. The use of reception centres facilitates the acquisition of language skills, and the research showed that English language skills are critical to integration. Competency in English meant immigrants were more likely to be employed, to interact with the Irish community, to socialise, to feel ownership of the country and to enjoy better health, both mental and physical. Change will happen in Ireland, and we either manage it or we do not. If we do not, we will have chaos. The new millennium will see an undoubted change in the fabric of Irish society which will enrich us. Many immigrants have new talents,  skills, culture and energy which can contribute to the new Ireland as we did in the past in other countries. We have nothing to fear except inaction.
Mr. N. Ahern: I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on the Bill. It is appalling that people make money out of other people's misery and it is not something anyone could condone. It is widely believed that major international criminal gangs are at the heart of this, that many immigrants pay their life savings to get here and probably have to make continued payments to these people after they arrive, and that these people continue to effectively own or control them for a long time. The Bill sends out a message. It criminalises trafficking in human beings and it is proper that the Government and the nation should send out a clear signal that we do not condone this trade and that we will take every possible action to stamp it out.
Like others, I would like if legislation such as this caught the big fish and was targeted specifically at them. They probably know little or nothing about Ireland and probably will never set foot here, although they obviously know about us. I would like a distinction to be drawn between these people and genuine humanitarian groups or those motivated for the right reasons to help people. I fully accept what the Minister said about there being no fear of them being criminalised under the Bill and that it is targeted at the big fish and perhaps the smaller fish, such as the taxi man or whoever. I would like a clear message to be sent out that, while we do not condone wrongdoing, the penalties will be in proportion to the size of the crime.
Deputy Howlin seems to think this type of legislation is not necessary. We are an island but the refugee problem is a global one. We must have the same laws, rules and regulations as our EU partners and especially the UK with which we have a common travel area. The proof that many people are being brought into the country, as the Minister said, is that few of them present themselves at airports or ports of arrival seeking asylum. That might have happened in Shannon with Cubans some time ago, but it does not happen now. Most of them seem to be dropped off in the city centre in the middle of the night with a map showing the location of Lower Mount Street. It does not mean they are not genuine or sincere but it means they have fallen prey to the people the legislation is trying to combat. I hope it is successful in that regard. The fear that it may not be easy to enforce or to catch the big fish does not mean we are wrong to enact the legislation. One wants laws to be effective and for them to be enforced, but one also wants to send a message that this trade is not in order. All other European countries have such a law and I do not understand what evidence Deputy Howlin seeks if the view is held throughout Europe that such trafficking is taking place.
I welcome the debate on this issue and I will  speak about the overall refugee system. We believe we are becoming educated, liberal and modern, yet we are also becoming intolerant. We are in danger of overdosing on political correctness. If one dares to question, query, wonder about or suggest that a policy be re-examined, one is in danger of being labelled a racist. The situation has been hyped up by some Members of this House and what I would term a “schizophrenic” media. I heard some of Vincent Browne's radio show while travelling in my car one night. He was in Mount Street and his coverage was totally unbalanced and off the wall. A person came into my clinic on Friday week last in a very upset state carrying a copy of The Evening Herald in which there was an article referring to the confiscation of knives in Mount Street. That was appalling. The author should be charged with incitement to hatred. The disparity and wide divergence of views in the media is appalling, yet we cannot query an issue in this House.
Perhaps it is easy for Opposition Members to be somewhat theoretical about this issue. I wish some Dublin Deputies from normal working class constituencies, rather than from Dún Laoghaire and Dublin South, which I regard as the wealthy pockets of Dublin, would come into the House to debate this issue.
Ms O. Mitchell: We have many non-nationals in our constituencies too.
Mr. N. Ahern: Perhaps there are not many such Deputies in the Opposition parties but I have not noticed any of them contributing to the debate on this issue. I have taken up several cases with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in which I sought work permits for people. I found the Department to be uninterested and uncaring. I have also spoken to various Ministers at different stages outlining the background to some cases, advocating that a humanitarian view be taken and recommending the granting of permits. However, Ministers have been unable or unwilling to interfere with the system. If people choose to look up the records on this issue, they might see that those of us who are being slightly blackguarded may have a very liberal record in regard to individual cases and that Ministers who may project themselves as being very liberal on these issues have not been able to ensure that message is filtered down through their Departments.
The Minister spoke previously about the “pull factor”. The Cabinet decision made in July was wrong and the extra numbers we now see – up to 1,000 a month – have resulted partly or primarily from that decision. Although decisions may be quite sound in themselves, one must be careful about the manner in which they are delivered or perceived. It is right and proper that people living in this country for four years should be allowed to work. Many of those people are already working in the black economy and people do not seem  to care about that. If one were to go into any car park, restaurant kitchen or bar cellar, one would find refugees working there. I have no objection to that. People are obviously being paid out of the till. That goes on and it is good and proper. We must be cautious about making a formal announcement in a fanfare fashion when we do not have control over the manner in which the message is projected and perceived. We now live in a global village and news travels across the world very quickly.
Some of this morning's contributions were somewhat theoretical. Deputy Higgins accused the Minister of not having a coherent policy and of making it up as he went along. How else can one develop policy? Life is evolving and changing. Some people adapt quickly to those changes while others move more slowly. Policies must change to reflect what is happening in the world.
We got off to a very bad start on this issue in 1992, with almost 2,000 people coming into the country. The system failed to react to the numbers of people coming in. If we knew then what we know now, we might have been wiser. There were greater disagreements between Ministers on the issue then than there are now and that may have been part of the reason some issues were not dealt with at that stage. The Minister and his Department have been very far-seeing in their actions in recent years and the number of people working in this area has greatly increased.
The establishment of a one stop shop in Mount Street was a very good idea and one which received wide support. It has become fashionable to have a one stop shop for everything these days. I am jesting when I say this, but perhaps the Minister's one error was to locate the one stop shop in Mount Street. Perhaps he should have chosen a back lane in a less fashionable part of Dublin. Although I am not condoning what is happening in Mount Street – people who come to this country are entitled to be treated with dignity – locating the centre on the fringes of Dublin 4 has obviously upset the sensitivities of the nice, middle class southside bourgeoisie.
Ms O. Mitchell: That is rubbish.
Mr. N. Ahern: It is not rubbish. People are queuing everywhere. Perhaps Paddy O'Gorman has failed to get the message across effectively. I would like to know whether some members of the media or some people from the southside have ever visited the office for the homeless in Dublin Corporation or the Eastern Health Board office on Charles Street. Harrowing scenes may be witnessed in many such places and it does none of us credit that we cannot bring an end to those.
Some people appear to be living in cloud cuckooland. They do not understand the hardship and grief suffered by other people. However, when the issue comes closer to home, they suddenly become very upset. The refugee issue has awakened some people to reality.
 Deputy Higgins said that the Minister should refer this issue to the NESC. I am constantly surprised by what some people say. The Deputy also suggested that a new asylum applications office be located in Wexford. That was very brave of him. There probably is a need to create additional places to receive and welcome refugees, but they should be at ports and airports.
As public representatives, we have all tried and failed to obtain work permits for people. However, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has issued a considerable number in the past year or two. I welcome that and I welcome the announcement that more formal arrangements will be put in place in regard to bringing people into the country. It is only right that we would seek to attract people from countries such as Poland and Hungary which will become EU members in the near future.
My friend and his wife to be are due to move to Australia and have been processing their case with the Australian Embassy for almost a year. They have submitted all sorts of forms and all sorts of data about their qualifications, experience and so on.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.
1. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the engagements he undertook on his recent trip to New York; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23328/99]
2. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with the Ireland America Economic Advisory Board; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23329/99]
3. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his recent visit to the United States and, in particular, his meetings with Governor Pataki and Mayor Giuliani. [23387/99]
4. Mr. Higgins (Dublin West) asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to the United States. [23439/99]
5. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to New York from 11 to 13 November 1999. [23599/99]
6. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to New York. [23672/99]
The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, together.
 During my recent visit to New York, I had very useful meetings with both Mayor Giuliani and the Governor of New York, George Pataki. I also met with the heads of the following Irish State agencies in Ireland House – IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, SFADCo, CIE Tours, Aer Lingus and Bord Fáilte. I outlined for them current Government objectives and priorities in the promotion of our economic interests abroad and the heads of the State agencies briefed me on their current operations and perspectives. I hosted a breakfast meeting for members of the Ireland America Economic Advisory Board on Friday, 12 November. We had a successful meeting during which we discussed economic developments in Ireland and necessary policy measures to ensure that our rapid growth can be sustained. In the course of my visit, I addressed the Irish Business Organisation and the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, each of which were attended by approximately 200 people. I also gave a number of press briefings and radio and television interviews. During my visit, I took the opportunity to emphasise the need to move forward on foot of the basis emerging in Senator Mitchell's review of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr. J. Bruton: Is the Taoiseach aware that when I was Taoiseach I attended a party fundraiser in New York, but on that occasion the Fine Gael Party paid for my travel and subsistence and there was no charge on the State? Why, given that precedent established by his predecessor, did the Taoiseach decide to attend a Fianna Fáil fundraiser in New York at public expense—
Mr. M. Smith: That is not true.
Mr. J. Bruton: —and construct a series of events around that solely for the purpose of justifying use of the public purse to fund his travel and subsistence when attending a Fianna Fáil fundraiser?
The Taoiseach: I resent Deputy Bruton's remarks.
Mr. J. Bruton: I expected the Taoiseach would.
The Taoiseach: I did not take invitations I received from the Governor of New York when he visited Ireland last August to build up around a Fianna Fáil fundraiser, nor those from the Mayor of New York. The main invitation was to attend the American Committee on Foreign Policy, which was attended by the ex-Secretary of State Mo Mowlam, John Hume, David Trimble, Ian Paisley, Lord Alderdice, David Ervine and Gary McMichael. The committee asked me to address it as I have now been Taoiseach for two and a half years. I took up that invitation and also met the other organisations I have mentioned.
Approximately two weeks before that, some business people in New York said they would host a small fundraiser. Fianna Fáil has not held  a fundraiser in New York since 1996 and approximately 24 people attended. Apart from party members, there were 13 people who might have made a subscription. I met Fianna Fáil committee members – approximately 50 people – for approximately 45 minutes, but that was not part of the fundraising function. Perhaps Deputy Bruton, in his time as Taoiseach, went to America to do Fine Gael business exclusively, but I did not. When I spoke about this in the House recently, I thought Deputy Bruton mentioned that there was a precedent for a Taoiseach attending functions to make a contribution to the cost, but when I checked the record—
Mr. J. Bruton: I did not. I did no party business.
The Taoiseach: I do not know if that is the case.
Mr. J. Bruton: It is the case. I did not mix public and party business.
The Taoiseach: When I am at home I work very long days.
Mr. D. Carey: Shaking hands.
Mrs. O'Rourke: What is wrong with that?
The Taoiseach: If I work 16 or 17 hours and spend two hours of my downtime doing a fundraiser for my party, drinking in a bar or walking the streets, is that wrong?
Mr. D. Carey: Shaking hands.
Mr. D. Ahern: That is why he is so popular.
Mr. D. Carey: There are one million votes to go, while the country goes to ruin.
An Ceann Comhairle: We must have an orderly Question Time.
Mr. J. Bruton: The Taoiseach is wrong to mix party and public business and he is doing himself, his country and his party a disservice by doing so. If he wants to do party business in New York, he should fund that separately through party sources. He has made a mistake in mixing the two activities in the way he has done. He is not doing a service to himself and he is not even being fair to himself in doing so. He may have agreed to these arrangements in a moment of inattention, but they were a mistake. Is it not the case that the Taoiseach indicated to Deputy Owen on a number of occasions when she raised the matter that if there was a party element to any public trip the Taoiseach took, the party would make a contribution towards the public cost of the trip? Despite the fact that this is the second occasion on which the Taoiseach, while on a public trip abroad, has done party fundraising, why has he not made the required contribution? It is a contribution he suggested he would make.
The Taoiseach: I have already answered the last part of that question, but I do not believe I have created a precedent. I did not check the records of Deputy Bruton's activities for his party, but I can if he wants. Maybe he remembers them.
Mr. J. Bruton: I was very careful about it.
The Taoiseach: Maybe he will correct me, but I know on one occasion he did so. If Deputy Bruton is saying that within or outside the country one should never mix party occasions, the same precedent would apply to going to Cork or Limerick as America or Britain. It would mean never mixing activities. I would have my doubts that Deputy Bruton has never gone on official trips and mixed them with party business. I am sure he did, and the same applies if one goes to Cork and attends a function with a party element. It is the same thing.
I undertook no fundraisers and this was a small event. Because I was publicised as going, the organisers arranged a small function attended by 13 people who might have made a subscription. I even went to another formal function afterwards. It is not a precedent, it happened with several of my predecessors, if not Deputy Bruton, though I did not check his records. The reason I raised the matter of a contribution is that I thought that if a Taoiseach attended a party function while abroad, a contribution would have to be made. However, I checked back and such a contribution was never made.
Mr. J. Bruton: I never asked Fine Gael to make a contribution because I never mixed party business with public business when abroad. I did a fundraiser in New York and the entire cost of my travel and subsistence was met by Fine Gael. There was not any public element in that. The Taoiseach on the other hand, for a second time, went to New York for a Fianna Fáil fundraiser while his travel was paid for by the State.
Mrs. O'Rourke: No, no.
Mr. M. Smith: No, the Deputy is twisting it.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should confine himself to the subject of the question.
The Taoiseach: The only problem with that is, I had not been in New York as Taoiseach before.
Mr. J. Bruton: Is it not the case that the Taoiseach said he would make a donation of party funds towards the cost of the trip? Is the Taoiseach saying that a contribution will not now be made, however small, from Fianna Fáil funds towards the cost of this trip which was for the purpose of enabling the Taoiseach inter alia to attend a Fianna Fáil fundraiser at public expense?
The Taoiseach: I resent what the Deputy is saying. Let us be blunt about this. Deputy Bruton is  accusing me of setting up an appointment with the Governor of New York and Mayor Giuliani, with taking up an invitation of the international—
Mr. J. Bruton: The Taoiseach knows what I am saying.
The Taoiseach: Come on, Deputy Bruton. I am tired of the Deputy going around the Houses playing dirty politics. We will face this down now.
Mr. D. Carey: The king of it is speaking now.
The Taoiseach: The Deputy is trying to say that I organised these things to go to a small Fianna Fáil fundraiser. If he believes that, he is not the person I thought he was.
Mr. J. Bruton: These meetings are organised very easily.
The Taoiseach: They are not easily organised.
Mr. J. Bruton: They are.
The Taoiseach: They are not.
Mr. J. Bruton: They are and I know it.
An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot have argument on Question Time. Supplementary questions cannot be argumentative.
Mr. Sheehan: The Taoiseach was killing two birds with the one slate.
Mr. D. Carey: And for free too.
Mr. Quinn: In the course of the Taoiseach's visit to New York on official business with both the Governor and the Mayor of New York, did he discuss the problem of undocumented Irish nationals living in New York and seeking work there? Did he express the hope that they would not ever have the misfortune of having to apply to the equivalent of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform?
An Ceann Comhairle: Supplementary questions should not be argumentative. They should seek information.
The Taoiseach: I discussed the issue. There are still a number of undocumented Irish people in New York and Mayor Giuliani has been most helpful. He campaigned successfully on this issue and I thanked him for it. We discussed how it would work out in future. He explained his policy and said he regretted that the number of qualified and trained Irish people now going there had dwindled so much. There is a major labour shortfall in New York which has become a substantive problem. They are looking across all sectors for people to work there and it was the Mayor's view that the more who were Irish, the better. He out lined what he is endeavouring to do and I thanked him for that.
Mr. Quinn: In light of the experience of Governor Pataki and Mayor Giuliani in receiving what might otherwise be described as illegal immigrants, euphemistically known as the “undocumented”, has the Taoiseach considered that some of their experience in dealing with people who wished to improve their lives might be transferred and conveyed to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform? Has he considered an educational programme or some type of personnel exchange which would enable us, who do not have experience dealing with economic immigrants, to learn from the experience of the United States? Was that issue discussed in the course of his meeting?
The Taoiseach: I did not discuss that issue. However, I discussed it a number of times in New York because I was asked about it. I told those who asked that the position in this country was reversed from what it was a short time ago. As a matter of information, which is not directly relevant to the question, I spoke to a number of Irish civil servants who worked on that area in America—
Mr. Quinn: Coping with our illegals.
The Taoiseach: —coping with our illegals, for information on how best to manage it. That was a useful discussion.
An Ceann Comhairle: I call Deputy Bruton.
Mr. Quinn: Any chance of transferring them to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to avoid the shambles?
Mr. J. Bruton: The Taoiseach will accept that it is normal practice for heads of Government, during visits to other countries, not to involve themselves in the domestic politics of the countries concerned. Does the Taoiseach think it was wise of him to meet one of the Senate candidates for the state of New York, Mayor Giuliani, and not the other candidate who happens to be well placed to influence current administration policy by virtue of her relationship with the President of the United States? Does the Taoiseach think it was particularly clever to meet one candidate rather than another?
Mr. M. Smith: He is more than a candidate, he is the Mayor.
Mr. J. Bruton: Second, with regard to the Ireland America Economic Advisory Board which the Taoiseach met, were any of the people involved in that also involved in the telecommunications industry? If so, does he think they would have been impressed by what happened here last Friday when the telecommunications system collapsed? Returning to the original topic,  did any of the people who attended the Ireland America Economic Advisory Board attend the other private function the Taoiseach attended during his so called down time?
The Taoiseach: I met Mayor Giuliani in his capacity as Mayor of New York, not in any other capacity. There was no other declared candidate whom I could have met. However, in case I missed out, I went to Istanbul last week at taxpayers' expense and sat for a considerable length of time with the candidate the Deputy has in mind. The score is even.
Mr. D. Carey: The Taoiseach failed to get us the television coverage.
The Taoiseach: I thought the Deputy was a GAA man. I thought he still followed the ban.
Mr. D. Carey: I do. I voted for it.
The Taoiseach: Thankfully, it did not affect the Deputy. Mick McCarthy would be proud of him.
With regard to the second issue, some of the people on the advisory board would have telecommunications backgrounds. Unfortunately, I met them a week before the issue arose here so I could not discuss it with them. It is a sign of our relative wealth and sophistication that there can be such a crisis as a result of mobile phones going down. Needless to say, I hope it does not happen too often.
Mr. J. Bruton: If I were in the Taoiseach's shoes, I would not view it that way.
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Bruton, the matter was fully discussed.
Mr. J. Bruton: This is not a sign of success, it is a sign of failure.
An Ceann Comhairle: I call Deputy Joe Higgins.
Mr. J. Bruton: Did the people who attended the down time meeting with the Taoiseach also attend the Ireland America Economic Advisory Board meeting and was there was a conflict of interest involved?
The Taoiseach: The Deputy is aware from his term as Taoiseach that the membership of the economic advisory board is not made public. He recently requested the full list and I forwarded it to him.
Mr. J. Bruton: I have it here.
The Taoiseach: The Deputy also knows who attended the other function. The person who  organised my function is the same person who organised the Deputy's functions.
An Ceann Comhairle: I call Deputy Higgins.
Mr. J. Bruton: We paid for ours. Fianna Fáil did not pay for theirs.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): I thank the Ceann Comhairle for letting me speak after 20 minutes. Deputy Bruton was only short of asking what the Taoiseach had for breakfast in New York. As well as discussing the problem of young Irish people who are in the United States illegally with the Mayor of New York, did the Taoiseach meet and have discussions with any Afro-American or Latino American leaders? If so, did he learn anything that might help him to educate the bigotry out of certain members of his party, such as Deputy Callely? Did he consider himself fortunate that Deputy Callely's unfortunate remarks were made after—
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should not introduce arguments in his supplementary questions.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West):—the Taoiseach left New York rather than before as they would be a source of serious embarrassment?
Did the Taoiseach also meet any representatives of Monsanto or of the genetic engineering lobby or multinationals in the United States as he did last year? They lobbied him so successfully then that he directed the Department of the Environment and Local Government on how to vote at an EU meeting. That permitted a favourable vote for the GMO lobby from the United States. Did the Taoiseach meet on this occasion with this lobby and, if so, what was the nature of the discussions?
The Taoiseach: The answer to all the Deputy's questions is ‘no'.
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.
Mr. D. Carey: A Cheann Comhairle—
An Ceann Comhairle: I pointed out yesterday that I must take supplementary questions from Deputies who tabled questions before I take supplementary questions from other Deputies.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): I have a final, brief supplementary. When the Taoiseach and other leaders from this country go to the United States, especially in the present circumstances, does the Taoiseach consider it would be useful if they were to engage in dialogue with leaders of minority groups in the United States, such as Afro-Americans, Latin Americans and other peoples, about their experience of a multicultural society?
The Taoiseach: I have no difficulty with that. If  opportunities arise to meet such groups here or in America, I will certainly meet them.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): The Taoiseach should seek them out.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: During the course of the Taoiseach's recent visit to New York did he learn of or is he in a position to report on progress with the implementation of the Walsh visa scheme for people in the Border counties and the Six Counties? Does he share my concern and the concern of many people at the award of the contract for the administration of this scheme to the Lexicon company, a subsidiary of Northrup Grummen, a major US arms manufacturer?
The Taoiseach: I discussed the Walsh visa scheme with a number of people, a number of Irish groups and a number of Irish representatives at the functions I attended and it was also raised in media briefings. It is a good scheme that is keenly supported by the Irish groups. I do not have great knowledge of the companies to which the Deputy referred.
Mr. Quinn: Does Deputy Ó Caoláin know the company? Maybe his party knows about it. Maybe it had a bad experience.
The Taoiseach: I have details of the scheme, if the Deputy wishes to have that information, but I am not sure what the connection is between this seemingly excellent scheme and the company to which the Deputy referred. I am not aware of it.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I have a final, brief supplementary.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy must be brief.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I thank the Taoiseach for his remarks on the first part of my question, but will he indicate the start-up date for the application procedure for the 4,000 people who will qualify in the first year of the Walsh scheme? As he indicated that he is not aware of the awarding of the contract by the US Administration to the Lexicon company, I ask that he familiarise himself with the detail of that and, if he shares my concern at this decision, to make appropriate representations.
The Taoiseach: It is a contract awarded by the American administration. I will examine the matter. Maybe the company has a military connection, but I am not sure how that will affect the scheme other than their assessment of it. I have a detailed briefing of the scheme, but I am not aware of the details of the company involved.
Mr. D. Carey: The Taoiseach named a list of events he attended and a list of groups he met during his visit to the United States, and he said those meetings were satisfactory. Is an action plan  developed when he returns home or what happens the proposals made to him at those meetings?
The Taoiseach: An advisory group in this regard has been in existence for most of the decade. On this occasion, the IDA invited separate companies along and those companies put forward suggestions on a number of areas in which the economic consular is assisting them on particular projects with which the IDA is dealing. I had better not give the details of those projects as one of them is a major scheme being followed up by the IDA. If the Deputy wants a confidential briefing on this, I can give him that, but this is sensitive information as other countries are also chasing this business. This project is not in the e-commerce area, although much of the discussions related to e-commerce matters. There are a number of new members on the advisory group, who have expertise in this area. They were recommended by present members of the economic advisory group and by the Irish ambassador.
Mr. Naughten: When the Taoiseach visited New York, did he meet emigrant groups and discuss the fact that a sizeable percentage of the emigrant population there is living in poverty and has poor education? In light of the economic climate here, did he discuss the possibility of increasing funding to those organisations?
The Taoiseach: I did. I had a follow up meeting to a meeting the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, had a few weeks ago and the funding issues were raised. Those groups put certain proposals to me, which are probably similar to those to which the Deputy is referring.
Mr. J. Bruton: Arising from an earlier response from the Taoiseach when he indicated that he hoped that what happened last Friday, the scandalous breakdown of our telecommunications systems—
An Ceann Comhairle: We had a 20 minute discussion on this matter on the Adjournment last night and it is out of order to have a rehash of that discussion now.
Mr. J. Bruton: The Taoiseach indicated that he hoped this would not happen again. What is the basis for his hope in that regard? Has any step been taken by the Taoiseach or the Minister for Public Enterprise, who is now prompting him, to deal with this matter?
An Ceann Comhairle: The Minister gave almost a ten minute reply on this matter last night.
Mrs. O'Rourke: I was here last night and so was Deputy Yates.
Mr. J. Bruton: I am sure the Minister was but  she is not doing her job. This should not have happened.
An Ceann Comhairle: I will allow the Deputy to raise this matter on condition that he will be brief.
Mrs. O'Rourke: I am not in charge of Eircom any more. That fact must have missed the Deputy. He should wake up.
An Ceann Comhairle: We must move on to Questions Nos. 7 to 12.
7. Mr. Higgins (Dublin West) asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to Turkey. [24283/99]
8. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his participation in the OSCE summit of Heads of State and Government on 18 and 19 November 1999 in Istanbul. [24319/99]
9. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to Turkey; the official engagements he undertook; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24344/99]
10. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the bilateral meetings or discussions, if any, he had with other Heads of Government when he attended the recent OSCE meeting in Turkey. [24346/99]
11. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the recent OSCE meeting in Turkey; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24347/99]
12. Mr. Gormley asked the Taoiseach the outcome of the OSCE summit in Istanbul. [24489/99]
The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 12, inclusive, together.
I attended the OSCE summit in Istanbul on 18 and 19 November. A total of 54 states participated in the summit, including almost all European states, as well as the US and Canada. We had very useful discussions on a range of issues, primarily conflict prevention, crisis management and confidence and security building across the OSCE area. These discussions and Ireland's views are reflected in the summit declaration. Copies of my address to the summit, the declaration and the Charter for European Security have been placed in the Library.
One of the most important outcomes of the summit was the agreement and signature of the new OSCE Charter for European Security. The purpose of the new charter is, first, to further develop the basic principles of the OSCE; second, to allow for the formal commitment to these principles by the successor states of the Soviet Union; and, third, the strengthening of the operational  role of the OSCE as a regional security organisation under the United Nations Charter.
Importantly, the new charter also sets out a vision of how the OSCE can co-operate with other international organisations and institutions in promoting security and co-operation in Europe. Ireland made a significant contribution to reaching agreement in this area.
Another important development at the summit was the signing of the adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, known as the CFE Treaty. The original CFE Treaty in 1990 was a very significant arms limitation treaty, signed by the members of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. In Istanbul the same signatories recommitted themselves to limiting conventional weapons, taking into account the very wide-ranging changes in European security architecture since 1990. Like other neutral countries in Europe, Ireland is not a signatory of this treaty.
In my address to the summit, I spoke of my recent visit to Kosovo and my first-hand experience of the work of the OSCE on the ground in co-operation with other organisations. I made clear in my address that Ireland regarded as appalling the impact on the civilian population in Chechnya of the current Russian campaign. I called for an immediate halt to that campaign and for talks to begin at once. I stressed the need to guarantee the unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid to the Chechen people. I also used my address to highlight the developments in Northern Ireland and pay tribute to the work of Senator George Mitchell with whom I spoke by telephone and thanked personally while I was in Istanbul.
In addition to addressing the summit, I took the opportunity to hold a series of bilateral discussions with a number of international leaders. I met President Clinton, President Yeltsin of Russia, President Kwasniewski of Poland, Prime Minister Chrétien of Canada, Prime Minister Barak of Israel, Prime Minister Vicktor Orban of Hungary, Prime Minister Drnovsek of Slovenia, EU Commission President Prodi and Prime Minister Bondevik of Norway. I also spoke with a number of my EU colleagues, including Greek Prime Minister Simitis, Prime Minister Rasmussen of Denmark, Prime Minister Wim Kok of the Netherlands and President Ahtisaari of Finland, about the forthcoming EU Council meeting in Helsinki on 10 and 11 December.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): It was reported prominently this morning that there is acute shortage of tents to shelter the suffering people of Turkey as a result of the terrible devastation of successive earthquakes. Does the Taoiseach find it obscene that at the OSCE summit in Turkey he had discussions with participants who spend tens of billions of pounds and dollars each year on arms and armaments?
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is imparting  information, not seeking it. The purpose of question time is to seek information.
Mr. Quinn: It is a question. He wants to know if the Taoiseach finds it obscene.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): It is a crucial question. Did the Taoiseach find it obscene that these weapons of destruction were a major part of the discussions, while a few kilometres away the problems and suffering of the people could be alleviated if the same money was spent on shelter requirements instead of on weapons? Did he have a creepy feeling at his first OSCE meeting mingling with political leaders from that organisation given that the police and military from some of their regimes jail and torture political opponents as a matter of routine?
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is making a statement rather than asking a question and that is out of order at Question Time. The Deputy has other ways to pursue the matter if he so wishes.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): I do not want to argue with you, a Cheann Comhairle, but the Taoiseach is the representative of the people.
An Ceann Comhairle: Then ask a question and there will be no argument.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): What message did the representative of the people who sat in council with military and political leaders from Europe and beyond its borders give them? Did he eyeball the Turkish representatives, for example, and tell them their human rights record is a disgrace? Did he eyeball the President of the United States and ask him when he would halve his spending on arms? Did he tell him about the obscene waste of arms around the world and about using meetings, such as the OSCE, to sell more arms to Hungary and Kazakhstan?
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is pursuing this matter by way of statement.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): Did the Taoiseach make a strong statement about those matters?
The Taoiseach: My statement and the text of the agreement are in the Library. All the 54 leaders who were there expressed their sympathy to, and solidarity with, the people of Turkey since the three earthquakes. Many of the countries have given aid and assistance to the people.
The original members of NATO which signed the statutes and the Warsaw Pact have updated and reiterated their commitment to the limitation of arms. I am sure the Deputy welcomes that.
It was my first OSCE meeting. The OSCE is involved in humanitarian and crisis management issues and it is trying to take conflict out of a substantial part of the world. It is involved in an increasing number of missions, particularly in the new states of the former Soviet Union. It is trying  to establish democracy and civic authorities, rather than military groups, and to train police, teachers and administrators. It is also trying to introduce humanitarian aid programmes.
The charter I have laid before the House is not too different from the one agreed in Helsinki 25 years ago or the one agreed in Rome in 1990. However, it gives the large number of new countries, which were not signatories in 1990, the opportunity to sign up to human rights issues. The importance of this for the OSCE is that these countries can be administered and their judicial systems and administrations examined. They must also comply with OSCE standards with which we agree.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): What was said about Turkey and the Kurdish people, for example?
The Taoiseach: The charter shows it is not an easy job in many countries. There are still great difficulties in many countries and that is why the OSCE's remit is growing. We do not hear about the human rights issues or civil rights difficulties in many countries in which the OSCE is involved. Those are my brief impressions of my first meeting.
Mr. Quinn: The charter adopted by the OSCE summit in Istanbul and to which the Taoiseach referred proposes to establish an operations centre at the OSCE secretariat in Vienna to facilitate effective preparation and the planning of rapid deployment of OSCE field operations, that is, a civic-military type rapid force deployment. Will Ireland have a role to play in this centre? Will Irish troops or personnel be directly involved? Will Irish people be involved in the secretariat in Vienna? Can the Taoiseach give the House any other information on this welcome development?
The Taoiseach: A number of people already represent different organisations. We have people who are members of the police and other humanitarian groups. This initiative is to try to get more civilians, such as engineers, architects and administrators, involved. The biggest difficulty faced by these countries is trying to establish a civic power. They need approximately 3,000 people to focus on these countries. The OSCE is involved in countries such as Ingushetia and Afghanistan.
Mr. Quinn: Perhaps it might help the Taoiseach if I explain my question. The charter commits itself to establish an operations centre to plan and co-ordinate the activities the Taoiseach was about to describe with which I am reasonably familiar. Will Irish personnel be engaged in the management or the performance of this soon to be established operations centre?
The Taoiseach: Is the Deputy asking me if Irish  people will be in the operations centre or in the field? We are already out in the field.
Mr. Quinn: Perhaps I am not asking the question clearly. The charter proposes to establish a new operations centre to co-ordinate all these activities. There will be a management design function and a control function in that centre. Will there be an Irish involvement at the core of that centre? Does the Taoiseach intend to volunteer personnel on behalf of the Government to be at the core of the operations centre, not out in the field where we already are?
The Taoiseach: I was not requested to do so. I volunteered to assist in trying to get more civilians. They spelled out the areas where they need technical people and I volunteered assistance in that effort. I was not asked to volunteer people to be at the core of the operations centre, but I would have no difficulty doing that if it helped the operation.
Mr. Quinn: Will the Taoiseach undertake to do that?
The Taoiseach: Yes. Because of the number of countries involved and the difficulties in them, the military side of these operations is a hopeless exercise if the other side is not done. That is why the OSCE is so important.
Mr. J. Bruton: Will the Taoiseach join me in condemning the decision of the Russians to refuse the OSCE mission access to Chechnya?
The Taoiseach: I will and I did so last week, which was well reported in the media. In spite of the fact that strong pressure was applied by the largest countries, the United States, Canada, France and Germany, they still declined. The Council of Europe's new human rights leader, Mr. Gil-Robles, is getting access in the next few days but the other delegation from the OSCE was refused. He is being assessed in the next few days but the other delegation from the OSCE was refused.
Mr. J. Bruton: Does the Taoiseach agree that there is prima facie evidence that war crimes are being committed in Chechnya by the Russians?
The Taoiseach: That is not clear. I saw a reply to a question put yesterday by Deputy Bruton to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. There are certainly enormous atrocities. I can only reply in the same terms as yesterday. They said there is not substantive evidence of war crimes.
Mr. J. Bruton: Can the Taoiseach distinguish between what he terms enormous atrocities and war crimes. It seems to me that enormous atrocities are, by definition, war crimes?
Will the Taoiseach join me in condemning those countries who have refused to ratify the  international criminal court proposals agreed in Rome which would allow for universal standards to be established as to what constitutes war crimes? This would bring to an end the present situation in which the victors in the war in Yugoslavia are trying the losers. Some of the victors are not parties to the international criminal court and their military personnel are not amenable to the same court to which the losers are being made amenable. Does the Taoiseach agree that we need to have a universal court to try war crimes whether they are committed by those who win wars or those who lose them?
The Taoiseach: Deputy Bruton knows that there is, in international affairs, a difference between what is humanitarian relief effort and humanitarian attacks on what are considered war crimes.
Mr. J. Bruton: Can the Taoiseach repeat that sentence? What he has said does not make sense.
The Taoiseach: I can read the reply which was given to Deputy Bruton yesterday. The Minister for Foreign Affairs stated: “There are serious problems as regards basic requirements such as shelter, nutrition, sanitation and health. I am not aware of any references to war crimes in the context of the statements made by the members of the mission”.
Mr. J. Bruton: The mission was not allowed into Chechnya.
The Taoiseach: The mission was on the border. The members had discussions with people in the relief agencies, attended the tents, met the leaders of the people who had left, as outlined to Deputy Bruton yesterday. They found no evidence of war crimes. I can give Deputy Bruton no more information than he was given yesterday.
Mr. J. Bruton: I asked the Taoiseach other questions.
The Taoiseach: With regard to Kosovo, the full case of what were war crimes is being collected and will eventually go to the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights. The Commissioner, Mary Robinson, will take appropriate action against those who perpetrated those crimes. I support all efforts to assist in doing that.
Mr. J. Bruton: May I ask the Taoiseach one more question?
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is going into some detail which would more properly be directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Mr. J. Bruton: This really is a matter for the Taoiseach.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy must be brief.
Mr. J. Bruton: Neither the United States nor Russia have ratified the Rome Convention establishing an international criminal court. These countries accuse other countries of war crimes but they are not amenable to trial themselves because they have not ratified the convention. Is the Taoiseach willing to do something about this and did he raise the matter at the OSCE summit?
The Taoiseach: I did not. As Deputy Bruton knows, it would not have made any difference if I had. Fifty three countries put pressure on Russia with no effect. On the humanitarian issue and the issue of war crimes, any measures necessary to bring evidence against those who perpetrate these things should be taken.
Mr. Gormley: Does the Government still regard the OSCE as uniquely placed to develop further “its existing role as a focal point for European security co-operation“? I am quoting from the White Paper on Foreign Policy. Does the Taoiseach agree that bolstering NATO through PfP considerably weakens the role of the OSCE in peace keeping as a focal point of European security co-operation.
What measures did the Government suggest for boosting the paltry budget of the OSCE? In relation to point 29 of the summit declaration which states—
An Ceann Comhairle: It is not in order for the Deputy to quote.
Mr. Gormley: I am simply trying to be helpful to the Taoiseach.
An Ceann Comhairle: It is not in order to quote. The Deputy is embarking on imparting information rather than looking for it.
Mr. Gormley: In relation to point 29, what measures will the Government take to promote public awareness of the relationship between economic and environmental problems?
The Taoiseach: It was agreed that the report should be prepared and discussed by the permanent council and that these should cover both economic and environmental issues. We will make an input to both those areas. We subscribe resources and there was a discussion about further resources which are needed in all international organisations because of their enormous remit and the extension of their roles. If KFOR and other such groups do not get resources they cannot do their job. I spoke to representatives of KFOR two weeks ago and I told the House then that without resources KFOR cannot do its job. Resources are needed in the remaining weeks of this year if OSCE is to carry out its job in Kosovo. OSCE is the agency which can significantly improve and enhance co-operation to move towards crisis management and non-violent ways. It is a more relevant organisation than any other.
22. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if he has received a copy of the report on the development of a national stadium carried out by the Government appointed feasibility group. [24259/99]
23. Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if the Government has received the report of the feasibility study on the possible development of a national sports stadium; if so, if it has considered the study; the main findings of the study; the plans, if any, to publish the study; when a final decision will be made on the stadium; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24749/99]
105. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the position in relation to the provision of a national stadium; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24709/99]
Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid): I propose to take Questions Nos. 22, 23 and 105 together.
A feasibility study on the development of a national stadium was commissioned by the stadium steering committee, established by the Government under the chairmanship of Mr. Derek Keogh, to conduct the study and to make recommendations based on the findings of the study.
Following a tendering process carried out under EU procurement directives and Government contracts procedures a consortium of consultants led by PricewaterhouseCoopers was commissioned by the committee to conduct a full feasibility study. This study was to cover a range of issues relevant to developing and operating an 80,000 seat sports stadium, including development costs; economic, social and other benefits; potential demand for use of the facilities from various sporting bodies, entertainment and other commercial categories; and to discuss possible locations for the stadium.
I understand the feasibility study has now been completed and presented to the stadium steering committee and that it will be brought to Government for consideration and decision at an early date. The question of the publication of the study will be considered at that time.
Mr. Allen: I am surprised to hear the same response as was given on 13 October. We were told then that the feasibility study had been finalised and would be with the Government shortly. One month and a half later the Minister still has not received the study. Does the Minister have the final cost of the feasibility study and has he reconsidered his position regarding the cost of the stadium which has been estimated at £300  million? Has he balanced the cost of this national stadium against the nationwide needs for top-class modern facilities such as 25 metre pools and all-weather facilities? Does the Minister think it would be better to spend our resources on upgrading our facilities nationwide rather than duplicating or triplicating stadium facilities, especially in view of the development of Croke Park and of the FAI stadium in west Dublin.
Dr. McDaid: I have given the cost of the feasibility study on a number of occasions. I think it cost approximately £380,000 but I can check that for the Deputy. On the last occasion, the Deputy complained about having a feasibility study in the first place. We did a feasibility study because one had never been done on this subject before. We have been talking about it for ten years. We will bring that to Cabinet shortly and I am hopeful of the outcome.
In regard to the cost versus need issue, the Deputy mentioned swimming pools. Only £3 million per year had been provided towards swimming pools up to now but this year we are increasing that to £15 million per year. Those matters are ongoing.
Mr. Allen: I am aware of that because it was our Private Members' motion the Minister agreed with.
Dr. McDaid: In regard to the other costs, there are £32 million worth of commitments to build facilities around the country, which both the Deputy and I made. I wish they would send me the invoices because I have the money and I am willing to pay them. There is money available if they would send in the invoices. This was a small price to pay for a feasibility study, which it is necessary to have before such major decisions are taken.
Mr. O'Shea: In regard to the stadium, what sporting events, other then GAA events, attract anywhere near an attendance of 80,000? How was the figure of 80,000 arrived at? Given that the FAI's representation on the stadium steering committee was on the basis that it was going ahead with its own project, has the whole area become a total mess? What exactly is happening? We hear that something will go to Government in the near future. Has there been any preliminary report back from the steering committee? Is anyone talking to the Minister about this project at the moment?
Dr. McDaid: With the exception of a leak – he who leaks always tries to benefit from it – that is all that is available to us at the moment. It will be discussed at Cabinet shortly. I assure the Deputy I look forward to proposing and encouraging it, as I am sure he would.
The Deputy raised the issue of what sporting events would take place in a national stadium. All  sports would be eligible to participate. I take the Deputy's point that not many events would fill the stadium. A certain number of events are needed to make it viable initially. However, let us walk before we run. For example, why can we not look to the future? As the Deputy is aware, sport is becoming a major business, with Sky television coverage of Manchester United worth £600 billion. Sport is becoming bigger and bigger, with more people being attracted to it. Let us be futuristic about this. Ireland needs a stadium. I would like the European Cup final to be played here one day, which brings in £2 billion for one match. However, unless we have the facility we will never be at the races, so to speak.
I have always wished the FAI well with its stadium. It continues to advertise and promote its stadium. I will continue to back this idea also. There may be negative points about it in the feasibility study but there is also a huge number of positive points about it. I hope we will all be encouraged to back it when we come to that point. The FAI stadium and the feasibility study on one, two or three stadiums are up for discussion and will be in the public arena shortly.
Mr. Allen: Will the Minister clarify the promise made by a number of business people of £50 million towards the stadium if it is proceeded with? Were any conditions attached to that donation? Am I right in thinking that, since the Minister spoke about Sky television and European competition, the stadium is being considered for use in the future development of a European-wide soccer championship? Are we getting into the whole area of business and sport and providing a facility for future profit making? Are conditions attached to the donation of £50 million?
Dr. McDaid: Lest another story starts, I am not promulgating any European league or anything like it. The donor, J. P. McManus, has offered us a very substantial amount of money, a gift to the nation. His only stipulation is that it must be a state-of-the-art stadium. He described it as a visionary statement for the next generation. There are no strings attached.
Mr. Allen: I believe in Santa Claus too.
Mr. O'Shea: The FAI has managed to put the funding together for its project from its own sources. Does the Minister have an approximate figure for how much State money will go into this project if it goes ahead? I take it he is giving the House a categoric assurance that this will not be a commercial venture. I would like an undertaking that any profits accruing from the stadium will be ploughed back into sport at grassroots level.
Dr. McDaid: I did not give any such undertaking about commercial ventures or otherwise. That point has not even arisen at this stage. The FAI has gone ahead and undertaken its own fundraising. It has not asked the Government for anything  towards its stadium. Much of the funding raised by the FAI is dependent on a stadium being built. The estimated cost of this stadium could be between £200 million and £300 million.
24. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the proposals, if any, he has to achieve a better spatial distribution of tourists. [24260/99]
Dr. McDaid: Since becoming Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, one of my top priorities has been to facilitate a more balanced seasonal and regional spread of tourism revenues. The recently published national development plan has, as one its core objectives, the fostering of balanced regional development. This has particular relevance to the tourism sector which will receive, under the plan, in excess of £350 million for tourism marketing, product development and training over the next seven years.
During this period, the strategy for tourism product development will be based on the needs of areas, having regard to whether they are developed, developing or undeveloped. One of the main priorities for funding will be to support sustainable proposals to build up an interesting mix of tourism products or, as has been pointed out, regional “clusters” of attractions and facilities in prioritised developing or still undeveloped areas.
The key marketing objectives in tourism over the next seven years, under the national development plan, are to increase tourism revenue and per diem visitor yield and to help industry achieve a wider seasonal and regional distribution of tourist revenue, thereby contributing to sustainable development goals.
The regional marketing objectives can be partially fulfilled by Bord Fáilte through destination promotion and will be supplemented by specific measures that can provide leverage in attracting visitors to specific regions, for example, encouragement and support for special niche products which benefit particular areas.
Growth in tourism over the past ten years has been unprecedented, with visitor numbers to Ireland doubling to 5.7 million and foreign exchange earnings tripling to £2.3 billion. It is important to recognise that all regions have shared in this growth. However, there has been some variation in performance in particular due to international industry trends such as the growth in short breaks and urban tourism.
Ultimately, it is the prerogative of the visitor to determine where he or she spends a holiday. Many factors influence such decisions. However, I am satisfied that tourism policies, which fall under my responsibility, have not contributed to an imbalance in the spatial distribution of visitors.
Mr. Allen: Does the Minister agree that 25 per cent of all visitors in 1998 stayed in the greater  Dublin area and that this indicates overcrowding? Does he also agree that while Dublin has enjoyed double digit growth in recent years, the performance in other parts of the country has been poor to patchy? The Minister used the words, “the prerogrative of the visitor”. Does he agree that the visitor has little choice when it takes between four and five hours to travel to Sligo or Kerry by train? Is there co-ordination of the efforts of the Department and others to ensure tourists visit the regions? I tabled a question on access to the regions but the Minister claimed that he had no responsibility in the matter.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy cannot refer to a question which has been disallowed.
Mr. Allen: Access to the regions is the key to spatial distribution.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is now making a statement.
Dr. McDaid: An enormous number of visitors have been magnetised to the east coast, Dublin in particular. We are all Irish and Dublin is our capital city. We have all benefited enormously from the destination marketing in which we have engaged. The Deputy is correct, access is a key factor. One cannot go abroad however and tell a tourist where they should stay. It is up to him or her—
Mr. Allen: They should be encouraged.
Dr. McDaid: We have been doing so successfully. Short breaks have been a feature of the market in recent years. Many now take a weekend break in Dublin. As the Deputy is well aware cities such as Paris, Rome, Berlin and Dusseldorf have become very congested with the result that many would prefer to visit the regions where they can be alone. They must first be targeted. Ireland can become what I call the antidote to European stress. While I agree with the Deputy that lack of access is a problem, sometimes we are inclined to talk it up too much. I recall that in trying to attract industry to the Border counties we always had the poor hand saying, “We have nothing, please come”.
Mr. Allen: They have plenty; what they need are tourists.
Dr. McDaid: The problem is that after a while we tend to be believed and we do ourselves a disservice by continuing to talk about it. Major emphasis is placed in the national development plan on infrastructural improvements which should result in improved access. When the first national development plan was introduced we were broke while the emphasis in the second was on employment.
Mr. Allen: Tourist operators are looking for a fair break.
25. Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the position regarding the future of area based partnerships; when new social inclusion measures will be agreed with the European Commission; the provision, if any, made under the national development plan for the continued operation of the partnerships; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24750/99]
102. Ms O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if his attention has been drawn to the concerns of estate management committees that the uncertainty of future funding for partnership companies could put their work at risk; the plans, if any, the Government has to address this issue and secure the future of these initiatives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24642/99]
Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Mr. Flood): I propose to take Questions Nos. 25 and 102 together.
The current programmes under the operational programme for local urban and rural development have made significant achievements in combating disadvantage and it is the Government's intention that the new national development plan will build further on these successes.
Under the new national development plan £420 million has been provided to continue and augment the valuable work done and activities engaged in by the area based partnership companies and community groups, local drug task forces and the young people's facilities and services fund. This provision represents a 50% increase over the levels of expenditure available to the existing programmes in these fields. This £420 million is the largest single allocation from the £1 billion earmarked for expenditure under the regional operation programmes in a special subprogramme for social inclusion.
This significant increase in funding is a clear expression of the Government's confidence in the value of the work done under these programmes. On 3 December I will meet PLANET, the representative body of the area based partnership companies, to discuss the future of the area based partnership programmes. The proposed areas for Structural and Cohesion Fund co-financing are outlined in the national development plan pending agreement with the European Commission. As the plan stands the social inclusion measures under the aegis of my Department will be fully supported by the Exchequer.
Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin: I will give the Minister of State notice of some of the questions that he will be asked by PLANET in Athlone on 3 December. Following publication of the national development plan the area based partnership companies are greatly concerned. They are very disappointed that they are not specifically men tioned in the plan like other groups such as the county and city development boards, local drug task forces and Leader companies. Is there something that we are not being told about their future? What role will they play in urban and rural areas? Will they continue to operate in the areas currently covered by them or is this under review? When will the guidelines for the new operational programmes be issued and will the area based partnership companies be consulted for their views?
Mr. Flood: There is no intention on the part of the Government to diminish the areas of responsibility of the area based partnership companies which have done outstanding work under the current plan which is coming to an end. They have been extremely successful. They should take account of the fact that there has been a 50% increase in the funding available to them which is to be underwritten by the Exchequer and is reflected in the Estimates for next year. Their position has therefore been strengthened. I expect to them to play an increasing role in the programme to tackle social exclusion in the areas currently covered by them.
Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin: They are not mentioned specifically in the national development plan. Why not?
Mr. Flood: There is no specific reason. So far as the Government is concerned they will continue to play a significant role. I will deal with any concerns they may have when I meet their representative body, PLANET, on 3 December. I will also discuss with it the best means by which they can continue to be centrally involved in tackling social exclusion.
Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin: If the Minister is saying that the area based partnership companies need have no fears, why have they not received clarification or direction to enable board members, staff and the local communities concerned plan for the future? I have placed this matter on the agenda each time the Minister of State has answered questions in recent months and the position has still not been clarified. I have a difficulty in that they are not specifically mentioned in the national development plan. Will the Minister of State give an assurance that they will continue to operate in the areas currently covered by them?
Mr. Flood: The future of the area based partnership companies has been raised not just by the Deputy but also by Deputy Allen. Working in conjunction with ADM we were in a position to provide interim funding which will last well into next year. This is an indication that our support for them continues. I do not want to pre-empt the outcome of my discussions with PLANET. All I can say to the Deputy is that the partnership will be centrally involved and will continue to be so involved. I may  ask them to play an expanded role, although I am not in a position to go too deeply into that today, but I assure the Deputy that they will be centrally involved in the continuing attempt by the Government to tackle social exclusion.
26. Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation when the local drugs task forces have been asked to submit their new action plans; when they will receive the results of the two year evaluation currently being conducted by the national drugs strategy team; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21603/99]
Mr. Flood: An independent evaluation of the local drugs task forces was completed towards the end of last year. On foot of the generally positive findings of the evaluation, the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion and Drugs approved the continuation of the task forces for a further two year period on the basis of an evaluation framework being put in place which would allow the initiative to be measured in terms of impact and outcomes in due course.
Ms Shortall: I am interested in the Minister's phrase “in due course”. There seems to be a lack of clarity in terms of what local task forces are supposed to be doing. They have completed their first two year plan. Will the Minister of State accept that it is unsatisfactory to put task forces in a position where they are asked to produce new plans without having received any evaluation of the first plan from the Minister or from the Taoiseach's Department? They have been told that successful projects will be mainstreamed. Will the Minister of State explain his intention in that regard because many task forces are unsure about the continuation of the mainstream services or what they should include in their new plan. Will the Minister clarify that point?
Mr. Flood: I assure the Deputy that the issue of lack of clarity has no basis in my management of the local drugs task force process. The local drugs task forces are clear about their role. In the context of additional responsibilities we assigned to the task forces, we have submitted revised terms of reference to each local drugs task force and such has been the confidence of the Government in the process, we allocated £15 million to the local drugs task forces in August and requested that they draw up revised and additional plans to augment those already in place. I suggest to the Deputy that indicates the Government's commitment to the local drugs task forces project and that it is clear what we expect them to do. Based on the evaluation of the local drugs task force process already carried out, and the positive feedback from that evaluation,  the Government decided to continue with the process for a number of years.
Ms Shortall: I would welcome some specific replies to my question. The Minister mentioned revised plans from the task forces. When do those revised plans have to be submitted to the Department? More importantly, when will the evaluation of the first two year plan be completed for each of the task forces? I am speaking as a member of two drugs task forces and I am aware that the lack of clarity extends to all task forces because they meet on a regular basis. They are not sure where they stand on the Government's position on what has been achieved to date. When will the Government decide on when services currently provided by task forces will be mainstreamed? I would like specific information on the dates. By what date do the revised plans have to be submitted and when will the Government evaluation be completed?
Mr. Flood: I am amazed to hear from the Deputy that there is confusion, lack of clarity or misunderstanding on the part of the local drugs task forces.
Ms Shortall: There is.
Mr. Flood: If there is, the chairpersons or the co-ordinators of the task forces are not conveying that to me. I meet them regularly. I meet these people when I visit Ballyfermot, Clondalkin, Tallaght, the south inner city, the north inner city—
Ms Shortall: Give us the answers.
Mr. Flood: —and they do not say they do not know what they are supposed to be doing—
Ms Shortall: There will not be any time left for the Minister to give us the answers.
An Ceann Comhairle: Let the Minister of State reply.
Mr. Flood: Let me answer. The Deputy has made a serious charge that there is some confusion, lack of clarity or lack of direction to the local drug task forces.
Ms Shortall: Give us the answers please.
Mr. Flood: It is only fair to the local drugs task forces, and particularly to the community representatives on those task forces, to say that they know exactly what they are doing. Such is the confidence of the Government in what they are doing, we have allocated additional funding.
Ms Shortall: The Minister should tell us. We want the information.
An Ceann Comhairle: We must proceed to Question No. 27.
Mr. Flood: With regard to the revised plans, the Deputy will be glad to hear that we have told  the local drugs task forces to bring those forward in their own time.
Ms Shortall: In their own time?
Mr. Flood: Correct. As a member of a local drugs task force, Deputy Shortall should know what that means.
Ms Shortall: Nonsense.
An Ceann Comhairle: I must remind the House that when dealing with ordinary questions, supplementary questions and the replies are subject to a limit of one minute. There is only time for a brief supplementary from Deputy Shortall.
Ms Shortall: Given that the Minister of State has taken up all the time, I would ask him to supply the information I have requested in written form before the end of today's business.
Mr. Flood: I will certainly provide it in written form but I would invite the Deputy, who is a member of a local drugs task force—
Ms Shortall: I just want the information, not waffle.
Mr. Flood: —to meet me to discuss these issues without giving out misinformation—
Ms Shortall: Give us clear information.
Mr. Flood: —and criticising the work of the local drugs task forces.
Ms Shortall: Nonsense. The Minister is waffling.
Mr. Flood: The Deputy should be ashamed.
An Ceann Comhairle: I call Question No. 27.
27. Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if he has received the report of the feasibility study on a national stadium; if so, if he will publish the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22384/99]
48. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if he has received a copy of the report on the development of a national stadium carried out by the Government appointed feasibility group. [24528/99]
Dr. McDaid: I propose to take Questions Nos. 27 and 48 together, but as the reply is the same as the reply to Questions Nos. 22 and 23, and in order to save time, I will allow the Deputies ask questions.
Mr. Allen: I thought they would have been taken in conjunction with those questions.
An Ceann Comhairle: No. The others were priority questions. We will pass on to Question No. 28.
28. Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation his views on whether the use of performance enhancing drugs by those involved in sport should be a criminal offence; and the proposals, if any, he has in this regard. [24471/99]
29. Proinsias De Rossa asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation when he will introduce legislation to criminalise the use of drugs in sport. [24539/99]
47. 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 schools from using drugs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24531/99]
Dr. McDaid: I propose to take Questions Nos. 28, 29 and 47 together.
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 weekend, I was pleased to launch the Irish Sport Council's national anti-doping programme and the first anti-doping test under the programme was carried out last Sunday. 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.
Testing will be focused on priority sports in the coming months and carded athletes and competitors bound for Sydney will be given immediate priority in the testing programme. To re-emphasise the importance attached to the implementation of the national anti-doping programme, national governing bodies are obliged to authorise the council to conduct testing of their athletes as a condition of funding.
The national anti-doping programme was launched as part of a major education conference for national governing body administrators, anti-doping officers, medical officers, national coaches and sports persons, held on 20 and 21 November 1999. The conference, hosted by the Irish Sports Council, outlined in detail the various elements of the programme and its operation and also dealt with many important issues that are vital for a successful anti-doping programme.
Dr. Conor O'Brien has been appointed chairman of the council's anti-doping committee. 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.
I have always believed that education has an important role to play in creating a sporting environment which 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.
As I have mentioned, 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 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 develop 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 also be brought to the council's attention.
While my core objective up to now has been the introduction of the national sports anti-doping programme, which is predicated on active participation of autonomous national governing bodies of sport, I have also felt the measures in the programme might be complemented through the application of certain legislative based measures. A number of options have been identified, most specifically in the area of possession and supply of certain performance enhancing drugs. In this regard, I have had discussions with 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, and it is expected that amending legislation will be ready by the end of the year. Including certain performance enhancing drugs will send a very 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 just national level. Doping in sport is an international problem which requires a concerted and co-ordinated response at international level. This has also 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 national and European assistance for doping control, and substantial agreement has also been reached on the tackling of the doping problem on a worldwide scale involving the establishment of a world anti-doping agency. It is vital that we work collectively to address the issues involved in doping in sport.
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: I will focus on the issue of sanctions against athletes who continue to use these drugs. Does the Minister agree that educational and other such provisions might have a limited effect but that, eventually, we must consider sanctions? Am I correct in saying the sanctions under consideration by the Minister will be imposed by national governing bodies and may result in suspensions, expulsions, the handing back of medals and other such measures? I also wish to focus on the criminal law. Does the Minister accept that some of these offences should be amenable to the criminal law? Does he further accept that, while he talks about sending strong signals to coaches, trainers and suppliers of drugs, sending one of them to jail would be the strongest signal of all?
Dr. McDaid: I agree with the Deputy. The sanctions will be a matter for the national governing bodies and I hope they will be of a uniform nature. I am determined that they will be uniform across all sports. We do not want a recurrence of the situation in Lausanne where some sports felt they should be exempted. The Deputy is correct about the sanction of sending people to jail, and I have stated this in the past. What I am proposing has not been done in any other European country. Certain drugs require a prescription under the Misuse of Drugs Act – one cannot have these drugs in one's possession or trade in such drugs. However, this does not apply to anabolic steroids, EPO and certain other drugs.
I have supplied the Minister for Health and Children with a list of drugs which includes EPO, anabolic steroids and other drugs, and stated that I want them placed on the Schedule to the Misuse of Drugs Act, thereby making it a criminal offence to use or trade in these substances. The Deputy knows we cannot do anything about the person who wants to use drugs but we can take measures against those who possess and supply them. If these substances were included under the Misuse of Drugs Act, someone found with a large quantity of EPO would be committing a criminal offence. That is what we are doing but it requires amending the legislation which I hope to do before the end of the year.
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: The sooner the better.
Mr. O'Shea: Why is there no mention of legislation on performance enhancing drugs in sport in the section on sport and leisure in the review of the Government's programme? The issue can hardly be a high priority for the Government if it  does not appear in that review. From the Minister's comments on amending the Misuse of Drugs Act, it seems the emphasis will be on possession and supply. However, if athletes are using performance enhancing drugs in competitions that involve large sums of money, surely that is a transgression of the criminal law and should be dealt with? What does the Minister envisage happening if so-called recreational drugs appear during testing? Sportspeople are role models for young people. Are sanctions proposed if they are found using recreational drugs?
Dr. McDaid: I propose to add more drugs to the list in the Misuse of Drugs Act. This is not a major procedure. We could have achieved this objective very simply, but we are trying to act in conjunction with colleagues in the UK who are also trying to add a number of drugs to its list. The matter is being dealt with.
When speaking about sanctions against the use of recreational drugs, I presume the Deputy is referring to coke, hash and such drugs.
Mr. O'Shea: Yes.
Dr. McDaid: The law exists to deal with those drugs.
Mr. O'Shea: I am talking about sanctions in the context of the sports in which these people are involved. These people can compete in sports which can involve large sums of money. Should action be taken against them as athletes?
Dr. McDaid: The Deputy is suggesting that the Garda should take action from a criminal perspective. He is also asking whether action should be taken against these people from a sporting aspect. My answer is yes. These people should be heavily penalised in whatever manner. These drugs are included under the Misuse of Drugs Act and users would be committing a criminal offence as the law stands. Sports bodies should take a very dim view of anyone using recreational drugs, some of whom are heroes to many young people.
The issue of drugs and doping in sport has reached such a stage that when I see someone on a podium at the Olympic Games or European Championships I wonder what that person has been on. I have stated before that the Olympic Games in Sydney will not be gauged on the massive stadia built or the huge amount of money spent, but on the integrity of the games and the measures taken against doping. Those who take recreational drugs are committing a criminal offence and their sports should have nothing more to do with them.
Mr. Allen: When he took office the Minister promised blood analysis for drug testing. He is now proposing criminalising those pushing drugs.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: A question please, Deputy.
Mr. Allen: Can we get back to basics? Will the Minister explain how the system will work? Let us assume a sample is taken, sent for analysis and the results come back to the Sports Council. Will the Sports Council interpret the results or is that left to the governing federation which would then invoke the sanctions? I put this question because I am concerned that the federations will have to face the cost of legal challenges if sanctions are invoked against an athlete. Some federations could be bankrupted by such challenges. Will the Minister assure me that interpretation of the results will be carried out by the Sports Council and that it will be up to the Sports Council to face any challenges in relation to the athlete's reputation?
Dr. McDaid: I continue to believe that blood testing will ultimately be introduced, although more recently hair follicle testing has been found to be even more beneficial. There are constant changes in this area. For example, from a hair follicle it can be determined whether drugs have been taken in the past five years. We are quite prepared to carry out blood testing and I have asked the anti-doping committee to carry out research into the area in which blood testing can be carried out. Indirectly we can carry out blood testing by testing for EPO. It would take longer than the time available to me to explain the situation.
There is an anti-doping committee within the Sports Council which is totally independent of the council. Dr. Conor O'Brien is the head of that committee which is composed of lawyers, neurophysiologists and pharmacists. There are three areas in terms of testing. When a person is tested the material is brought to a laboratory – we are currently dealing with a laboratory in London – which sends the test results back to the anti-doping committee which interprets them. The anti-doping committee and the laboratory have normal standards in this context. The result is then reported to the Sports Council which refers it to the national governing body, and it is up to that body to take action.
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: I wish to clarify one point. Deputy Allen raised a very important issue. Will the council adjudicate once it receives the results and say whether an athlete is guilty of using performance enhancing drugs? Will the Sports Council take responsibility for this decision? Are sanctions the only function of the national governing body?
Mr. Allen: Does the Sports Council supply the federation with the interpretation and judgment on the test result? Is the imposition of sanctions the only function left for the federation? Who will face a legal challenge?
Dr. McDaid: It is a very complicated legal matter. We are currently monitoring the situation concerning nandrolones in the UK and elsewhere  which has been referred to the international federation. If I am not correct in what I am saying I will return to clarify the situation at a later stage. The Sports Council will decide whether a person has been guilty of taking drugs. That decision will then be sent to the national governing body. Last year and this year national governing bodies have been asked to change their constitutions to take account of imposing sanctions on those found guilty of taking drugs.
Mr. Allen: I have one simple question—
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy has done very well on this question.
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: There were three questions.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I call Question No. 30 in the name of Deputy Nora Owen.
Mr. Allen: I have a request—
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy did very well and asked an extra supplementary. Eighteen minutes were allowed for the three questions.
Mr. Allen: I am asking the Minister to make the committee available to the Oireachtas committee to facilitate discussion on the issue.
30. Mrs. Owen asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the position regarding the national conference centre. [24524/99]
38. Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the discussions, if any, he has had with EU officials regarding EU 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. [24530/99]
107. Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the EU funding, if any, available for the national conference centre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24714/99]
Dr. McDaid: I propose to take Questions Nos. 30, 38 and 107 together.
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 Fund grant aid to develop the conference centre at a site in Dublin's docklands. The proposal was then subjected to an independent cost benefit analysis.
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 notified in November 1998 subject to resolution of an outstanding procedural complaint and a decision on the compatibility of possible preferential tax regimes with State aid rules.
The Commission closed its file on the complaint 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 schedule for completion of the project can be accommodated within the various operational programme and CSF deadlines.
Agreement was finalised on contractual details between Bord Fáilte and the developers and submitted to my Department on Monday, 18 October last. The developers have undertaken to execute these contracts in the event of an appropriate extension of time being granted by the European Commission in relation to the drawdown of the grant. The details were forwarded to the EU Commission to facilitate its consideration of the case for extension of the schedule for the project within the various deadlines.
I am now clarifying certain aspects of their response with the Commission. I expect these discussions to be concluded in the very near future and will then confirm the position to the developers.
Mr. Allen: For the past year and a half all I have been concerned about is that at the end of the day when all the complications and problems have been resolved the EU funding will still be available. Is the Minister still confident that the moneys allocated by the Commission will be forthcoming once the technical and appeal problems are resolved?
Dr. McDaid: I am very conscious of the funding arrangements and the matter is ongoing with the EU. We are in continuous—
Mr. Allen: The Minister does not sound half as confident as he did 12 months ago.
Dr. McDaid: I am quite confident regarding the funding of £25 million which exists. As the Deputy is aware, the matter is before the plan ning authorities and there is very little I can do in that area.
Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin: Question No. 38 asked the Minister if he had discussions recently with EU officials regarding funding. He stated that the funding is available, but for how long will it be available? Will the Minister agree that not one of the recently appointed Commissioners has tourism as part of his or her portfolio? It was a tremendous loss to the country—
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy should ask a question.
Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin: Will the Minister agree that the fact that tourism is not mentioned in this context is a tremendous loss, and that it would have been an ideal portfolio for the Irish Commissioner? I also ask the Minister to say whether he has recently met the EU officials and for how long the funding will be available.
Dr. McDaid: We are in constant contact with the EU officials, most recently last week. Officials are continuing to make contact with us. I may be required to go to Brussels shortly and this will be one of the issues I will be raising. The EU is fully au fait with all the problems, including those concerning planning. Eight objections have been lodged which have to be overcome, the hearings on which will not be heard until next March or April. The EU has been quite fair in all aspects of this matter to date.
Mr. Allen: Is it true that the future of the conference centre is dependent on other related projects and that if some of these elements in the overall project fall, the proposal to build the conference centre will also fall? With hindsight will the Minister agree that it may have been a bit foolish for him to move from a stand alone project to one which is very much dependent on other elements in the overall development of that area of Dublin city?
Dr. McDaid: We all want this conference centre project to continue. Many of the Dublin hoteliers depend on the national conference centre proceeding. They have built their future on it, so it is vital to Dublin and to the national economy. While the matter is complex, the developers have signed the contractual agreement with Bord Fáilte which states they will proceed in accordance with the terms of that contract. That is a major step forward. There are always problems with a major development but the developers have signed the document. We should look at the positive steps made. I never regret that we took on this project. It was off the rails for a while but that was no one's fault. It is a major project which has been bedevilled by problems. We have learned by past mistakes and I hope we can overcome them.
Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin: We are all aware how important this is to the country. Is there a plan B? What will happen if the difficulties are not sorted out? Will there be any implications or penalty clauses if we cannot find a site? I understand it must be in Dublin and cannot be in the regions. If it does not work out, what happens to the money? Are there any penalty clauses?
Dr. McDaid: As I stated we are conscious that we would not lose the £26 million. Consequently, we are covering all aspects of this. That is why we are in constant contact with the EU to obtain extensions to build the conference centre. It is of paramount importance not to lose that EU funding and, if there were any danger of that happening at some stage, that we would have it diverted in time to infrastructure or some other area. We still have that relationship with the EU and it is aware of the situation. The matter is before An Bord Pleanála because there are objections to it. It is outside my remit at present but the EU is taking it into consideration. A contract has been signed between the developers and Bord Fáilte which has been accepted by the EU, but that is pending the decision on the planning permission. What we would not want to happen is to lose the conference centre.
Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin: Is there a plan B?
Dr. McDaid: No, there is no plan B at this stage.
Mr. O'Shea: Could the Minister elaborate on the agreement signed by the developer? Following on Deputy Moynihan-Cronin's question, could a scenario arise where the State would be liable for large costs if the development did not proceed? Are there penalty clauses for the State or Bord Fáilte, which is the State under another name? What is the position?
Dr. McDaid: I am crossing every “t” and dotting every “i” with regard to that aspect. The State could be held liable if it were not to proceed in an organised fashion. We could be held liable by the developers if we were to do anything wrong which would pre-empt this conference centre. We are also conscious that other people who were not entertained this time or who were unsuccessful on this occasion could also take an action against the State. I am conscious of all those aspects so the Attorney General is involved at all times and we will continue to take his advice. While we could be held liable, we are covering ourselves.
Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin: When did the appeal go to An Bord Pleanála? How long is it with the board?
Dr. McDaid: About six weeks ago.
Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 21 and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy Naughten – the future of peat generated electricity in light of the 1999 International Energy Agency report on Ireland; (2) Deputy Durkan – the serious housing crisis in County Kildare with particular reference to meeting the needs of first-time house buyers; (3) Deputy Sargent – the failure to include the construction of the northern Luas line in the national development plan; (4) Deputy Lawlor – the urgent need for full Exchequer funding for the continuation of the education project in disadvantaged areas of Clondalkin; (5) Deputy Sheehan – the need to postpone the introduction of the MOT test on motor vehicles until such time as the road system is brought up to European standards; (6) Deputy Neville – the need for the Minister for Health and Children to provide services for those suffering from Asperger's syndrome disability; (7) Deputy Flanagan – the need to investigate an outbreak of mycoplasma which has devastated a herd of cattle in County Laois; (8) Deputy Michael D. Higgins – the need for the Department of Health and Children to make capital provision for rape crisis centres; (9) Deputy Timmins – the failure of the Department of Education and Science to address the difficulties students have with dyslexia; (10) Deputy Fitzgerald – the crisis in the Irish Red Cross Society; (11) Deputy Allen – the imminent closure of the community women's education initiative in Cork because of the termination of NOW programme funding; (12) Deputy Wall – the reply to Parliamentary Question No. 122 of 23 November in relation to the Irish Red Cross Society; (13) Deputy Ring – the need for the widening of a bridge (details supplied) in County Mayo and (14) Deputy Broughan – the ongoing difficulties endangering the future of up to 150 jobs (details supplied) in Dublin 5.
The matters raised by Deputies Naughten, Fitzgerald, Wall and Sheehan have been selected for discussion.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Select Committee on Family, Community and Social Affairs has completed its consideration of the Comhairle Bill, 1999, and has made amendments thereto.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Select Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights has completed its consideration of the Protection of Children (Hague  Convention) Bill, 1998, and has made amendments thereto.
Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Mr. N. Ahern: I spoke about the Government's plan to issue programmed work permits over the next few years. We were surprised to learn 11,500 were issued in the past 18 months. I have no objection to any programme which grants 5,000 work permits per year, especially if they are given to skilled people where there is an identifiable and recorded shortage of those skills. We should concentrate on those countries which will join the European Union soon. A friend of mine and his wife are about to go to Australia and his application has been processed for a number of months. Such a process would be welcome here for skills shortages.
There is a suggestion that unskilled people might be allowed in. I would need to be convinced and it would need to be proved to me that there is a shortage of unskilled people. Employers are hyping this by talking about shortages in various sectors, but the unemployment problem has not been solved. Some 170,000 are still on the live register. Perhaps some of them are shortterm or signing for credits, but there is still a considerable number of people who are out of work, many of them my constituents. A friend of mine who is an accountant cannot get work. The notion that there is work for everyone is incorrect and untrue. Before we allow in many unskilled people, we should introduce the minimum pay legislation. Some employers say they cannot get anyone to work. If they gave people a decent week's pay, they might be successful. I would like, before we allow in unskilled people, that the minimum pay legislation would be introduced.
I would also like us to proceed further with the Government's employment action programme, under which unemployed people are being surveyed to try to identify if they are unemployable and, if not, what skills they have. I admit there is a shortage of 25 year-old IT people, but there are many people who are not too old, such as those in my age bracket or a little older. I am still in my early 50s—
Mr. Hayes: The Deputy could have fooled me.
Mr. O'Flynn: He is still young.
Mr. N. Ahern: —but there are people in their late 50s and early 60s who have worked all their lives and who find it difficult to obtain employment once their job changes.
While we must be careful to show a sensible and enlightened view to constituents, as public representatives we must also reflect what people  say. Anything which has been said here by me or any of my colleagues is mild compared to what some constituents have said. That could not be printed or repeated. It is our job to find a balance and let them know what we must do and what are our responsibilities as a mature country and a signatory of various UN conventions. However, we must also reflect the view of constituents. The view in many pockets of the city is that the problem or the experience is not being equally and fairly shared. Deputies in this House speak either from the perspective of representing well-to-do or less wealthy areas and refugees are generally located in the more working class areas. People who have worked hard and managed to acquire a house can be very protective of their achievements. If we wish to achieve fairness and equality and encourage people to welcome refugees, process their cases quickly and integrate them into society, we must ensure they are not concentrated in a few areas of Dublin. We must spread them around and encourage them to go to other towns throughout the country. The manner in which they are currently being located can lead to racial tensions. I welcome the fact that the Government is making some announcements in that direction.
If Britain introduces a voucher system, we must do that also as we have a common travel area with Britain. We must be prepared to do what we can for refugees and honour our commitments. Some people are stirring up this issue. We must listen to and allay the genuine fears which exist. People who feel they are in competition with refugees for jobs and so on can feel threatened. We must kill the urban myths which exist, such as the notion that some refugees are driving around in new cars only one month after their arrival. There is a great deal of nonsense being spoken on this issue.
Mr. Gormley: While the Green Party recognises the need to combat criminal trafficking in areas such as prostitution and paedophile rings, it is very concerned about the manner in which this Bill will impact on refugees and asylum seekers. We intend to table amendments to counter any possible ill effects on refugees, asylum seekers and those who seek to help them. We are also concerned that this legislation and other Government proposals tend to criminalise the immigration issue. I referred to some of these during last night's Private Members' Business. For example, the Eurodac proposal, which was approved by the Dáil last month, means that immigrants as young as 14 years of age will now be fingerprinted. Fingerprinting is associated in the public mind with criminal activity and if the fingerprinting of immigrants is acceptable, what other group of people in society may qualify for it in the Government's eyes as a means of having their movements tracked?
The virtual denial of the right to work and the proposals to issue vouchers instead of cash, a measure which would represent a significant  departure from the principle of equal treatment under social welfare regulations, are also acceptable. As I understand it, the previous speaker, Deputy Ahern, would welcome this development.
Mr. N. Ahern: I said we would be obliged to introduce a voucher system if Britain were to do so.
Mr. Gormley: It does not matter what Britain does.
Mr. N. Ahern: It most certainly does matter.
Mr. Gormley: We must develop our own policies. If Britain chooses to engage in that type of practice, we do not have to follow suit. I want to quote from Dr. Colin Harvey of Amnesty International who is a law lecturer in Queens University, which is located in the jurisdiction to which Deputy Ahern referred. He said that “in practice, vouchers stigmatise asylum seekers and do not permit engagement in activities central to community life.”. It is vital that we try to integrate asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants of any kind into society.
If this Bill is enacted without major amendment, it will make it more difficult for asylum seekers to reach Ireland. Amnesty International, the UN High Commission for Refugees, the Irish Refugee Council and other such groups have continually warned against the use of carrier sanctions, such as those provided for in this Bill, as a means to frustrate refugees. I fear that this Bill is part of an EU effort to ring fence the EU from immigrants. A UK Home Affairs Select Committee report, cited by the UNHCR, highlights this approach:
The European Commission proposes that around the external borders of the Community, there should be erected, by agreement between member states, a cordon sanitaire to keep out drug traffickers, terrorists and other criminals and refugees, together with unwanted immigrants. Greatly increased co-operation between police and judicial authorities, shared intelligence and stricter internal controls would offset the consequences of permitting these undesirables, if they have breached the perimeter fence, to circulate freely around Europe.
It seems more and more that the only way to breach the perimeter fence will be via parachute.
This Bill does not make any provision for the Oscar Schindlers of this world or the Quakers who ran underground railways to free slaves in America. For years, many Members of this House rightly attacked an Iron Curtain which forbade people to leave their countries, applauded daring escapes over the Berlin Wall and the people who aided and abetted those escapes. In order to seek asylum, people must be able to leave their countries. Any measure which interferes with their departure interferes with that right. This Bill, as it stands, interferes with that right.
 I am fully aware that many of those trafficking in human beings are not acting on humanitarian grounds. The Bill should, however, make a distinction in regard to those who traffick for profit in an organised, repeated manner. There are formulations which would protect the Oscar Schindlers and I am surprised that an attempt has not been made to devise such formulations in this Bill.
The provisions for on-the-spot fines and/or 12 months' imprisonment which will affect, for example, taxi drivers found transporting illegal immigrants, and the possible impounding of aircraft, seem draconian and I will seek reassurances and changes in these areas. How can the authorities instantly know that a taxi driver has an illegal immigrant in his car? Will it involve an on-the-spot decision on the legal status of a taxi's passengers? It all sounds very bizarre and unworkable and is possibly even illegal under international conventions. The Minister apparently singled out those who transport immigrants into the State by taxi from Northern Ireland as a target of this legislation. The fact that only seven out of a total of 5,500 asylum applicants in the past year have been granted asylum status does not augur well for taxi drivers or their passengers.
The Minister's statement to the effect that he is considering imposing responsibilities and sanctions on carriers is very worrying and totally unworkable. For example, he wants airlines and ferries to ensure they do not transport illegal immigrants. That is not their role. Had the Minister's proposals been adopted in the United States, we would no longer have a national fleet as Aer Lingus would undoubtedly have lost all of its transatlantic aircraft in the 1980s when tens of thousands of young Irish illegal immigrants flew into America. I have a press clipping here which highlights a call made in 1985 by the current Taoiseach for the Americans to grant an amnesty to the estimated 70,000 young Irish people who illegally emigrated to the US in the early 1980s. It makes for very interesting reading. It is impossible to imagine the outcry which would have followed had Aer Lingus aeroplanes been impounded on the tarmac of Boston's Logan Airport or in Kennedy Airport in New York. That is the kind of bizarre scenario we are facing. Is the Minister telling us that Aer Lingus and Ryanair aeroplanes could be impounded at Dublin and Shannon Airports? What about Aer Lingus staff? Will they be subject to prosecution if an illegal slips through the ticket desk? Is Irish Ferries under threat? Will we step up the police presence at all ports? The implications of this Bill are far-reaching.
The definition of “illegal immigrants” will also have to be changed so that the rights of asylum under the 1951 Geneva Convention are fully recognised. Refugee protection must be uppermost in our minds and it is imperative that any legislation enacted recognises that refugees are not seen as victims. It is the traffickers who are the criminals and not those coming into the country.
 An EU Council regulation in 1995 identified the nationalities who require a visa to pass the EUs external borders. Visas are mandatory for the nationals of 101 countries, including several with well documented human rights abuses such as China, Burma, Sudan and Rwanda. The human rights committee set up under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has documented instances of governments refusing passports to their nationals living abroad and of confiscating people's passports and denying them the right to depart their countries legally. This is in violation of article 12 of the covenant but it often happens. How are these people to leave their countries other than by means of illegal trafficking?
The lack of any coherent policy by the Government in the entire immigration-refugee area was well highlighted last night in this Chamber. This Bill is only part of that incoherence. It is so vague in parts that it is positively dangerous. We are all well aware that what happens to the poor immigrants once they are illegally trafficked to this country is totally unacceptable. Mount Street has been described as a shambles. The Government's policy, if it had one, could also be called a shambles. Rather than receiving bits and pieces of legislation in this way, the Government should devise a clear package on the entire area.
Mr. Hayes: Hear, hear.
Mr. Gormley: It might then be able to convince us it has a workable humane approach. At present, it looks like Ireland is in the business of criminalising immigrants and helping to build the great wall of the EU to beat back the invading hordes.
Mr. O'Flynn: I express my full and unequivocal support for the Minister's proposals embodied in this Bill. Members of the Opposition have seen fit to attack the Minister on this issue and some of the more senior spokespersons have seen fit to appeal to the more enlightened Members on the Government benches for support in their politically motivated motions on this and other issues. They have spoken about the highly principled Deputies on this side of the House who can be counted on to give their support to their opportunist attacks. I thank them for their high regard for certain Members of the Government.
Mr. Hayes: There must be a reshuffle on the way.
Mr. O'Flynn: It is a pity their approval is voiced only on occasions when they wish to divide the ranks of the Government. Their transparent and not very clever words are designed to create a rift in our ranks, but they will not succeed. I hope they have impressed themselves with their unsubtle approach because they have not impressed anybody else.
There has been much media speculation about  this Government's handling of asylum seekers and extensive media coverage of the Opposition's views of our so-called inept performance in dealing with them. There has also been a clear message from the media that it believes the problem of illegal immigration must be addressed, and that is what this Bill is about. It is not, as Members of the Opposition have inferred, an attack on the human rights of asylum seekers. It is a positive step to ensure genuine asylum seekers are given the care and protection their status merits. I do not wish to lecture the Opposition on the Bill, as I am sure it, too, fully understands its intent, but I ask that Opposition Members cease mentally classifying the words “asylum seekers” and “illegal immigrants” as being synonymous. There is a very clear distinction between the two categories.
It is important that we look at the history of this matter. Defective recollection has numbed the minds of those who today criticise the Minister while they are in Opposition. They conveniently forget that this problem existed when they were in Government and they did little to address it in a meaningful fashion. They made belated and minimal efforts to address the issue days before they left office. They thought ignoring the problem would be a solution and that burying their heads in the sand was a great idea. It is not the first time they have tried that approach. They felt it was the most effective way to tackle the problem but that has turned out not to be the case.
We have an ever increasing number of applications for asylum. There are delays in the administration of the system, which had to be put in place by the current Minster to deal with asylum seekers. Members on this side of the House admit that, and so does the Minister. Contrary to the laid back attitude of the previous Government, this Minister has tackled the problem head on. He has provided the resources which were sadly lacking when he came into office. Members on the other side have not mentioned his outstanding performance in this area. They do not seem to have noticed it or, if they have, they do not wish to publicly acknowledge it. He has not been afraid to introduce and implement new policies to address the plight of those unfortunate enough to have to seek asylum in a land far from their homes.
The Refugee Applications Centre was put in place and it will be provided with the additional resources needed at any given time. The Minister established a refugee legal service to ensure asylum seekers are given independent legal advice at all stages of their applications. There is an independent monitoring service to guarantee the quality of the legal service and the Refugee Act, 1966, is being amended to make it workable. The Minister's amendment provides for the appointment of a refugee applications commissioner with power to delegate. It also allows for the establishment of a refugee advisory board. He has put in  place a directorate to co-ordinate the dispersal of asylum seekers throughout the State. Members will agree that the Minister's intention is painfully clear. He intends to ensure those found to be genuine refugees are fully integrated into our society and to guarantee them all the rights which go with their new status. He does not deserve to be attacked in the irresponsible manner in which the Opposition has pilloried him.
Members opposite should be reminded that they too must perform their functions in a responsible manner. This crucial matter should be addressed on an all-party basis as this approach would be in the national interest. It is a pity the Opposition has ignored its responsibilities to the citizens and to those who genuinely seek asylum in our land. The road of unthinking and destructive criticism is of benefit to no one.
The Minister has also undertaken to review the operation of all the bodies mentioned on an ongoing basis and to introduce changes needed at that point. With this in mind, he plans to have in place a modern comprehensive code of immigration and residence law. This will be the foundation for the development and implementation of just immigration policies. The new law will respect the rights of non-nationals in their dealings with the law. He intends to ensure the full rights and dignity of asylum seekers are respected at all times. Our relevant laws will be applied fairly, justly and humanely. They will have the same status as all other laws. The House will agree that the Minister has fully honoured his responsibility.
It is very important that we take into account the practice of other countries in relation to immigration laws. The United Nations Commissioner for Refugees said that bogus applications clog up determination and identification procedures. It makes it more difficult and time consuming to identify genuine applicants. Sadly, many refugees suffer at the hands of the internationally organised criminal gangs trafficking in their fellow human beings. They are not in the trade on humanitarian grounds; they are in it for money. They exploit their victims and rob them of whatever little resources they may have. They promise their victims that they will find refuge. The activities of those in this trade are on a par with those of drug traffickers. They both trade in human misery. We must confront immigrant traffickers and that is why this Bill is before us. We must take effective precautionary measures to curb the entry of illegal immigrants. I do not say we should slavishly copy those laws, but we cannot ignore international law in this field either. As I said, Members must be very clear about terminology in this debate. We must distinguish between the words “refugee”, “asylum seeker” and “illegal immigrant” because, as the Minister said, these terms are not interchangeable.
It is important, and very much in the interests of genuine asylum seekers, that we clearly understand what we are saying when we use those  words. Unfortunately, the word “refugee” is very often used to describe all who apply for refugee status. People ignore the fact that many who apply do not qualify for refugee status and could be more correctly described as economic migrants. They too will be treated in accordance with the highest international standards. The same standards of treatment will prevail for them as with all other applicants for asylum seekers. Many of them are victims and they will be treated in the compassionate manner they deserve. As the Minister said, sizeable numbers of people are entering Ireland from the UK. They are gaining access to the border with Northern Ireland and we are being subjected to largescale fraud by traffickers. We must introduce measures to prevent indiscriminate access by illegal immigrants. That is in the best interests of genuine asylum seekers, as I have said.
Members will be aware of newspaper reports of this matter which number the immigrants in the country in their thousands, stating that only 10 per cent of immigrants can be regarded as genuine applicants for asylum from countries controlled by oppressive regimes. These reports also correctly state that Ireland's reputation as a soft touch has made this country a target for growing numbers of illegal refugees. I agree with journalists who say that we must process applications speedily and that we must create an integrated settlement policy with a realistic visa quota. They also emphasise that this must be done in a caring and compassionate manner. This positive and constructive approach is welcome, as it recognises the reality and vast proportions of the problem. It informs the public of the importance of understanding the needs and anxieties of those who come to us seeking asylum and also points out the massive costs involved in dealing with the situation.
The Minister has pledged to do all in his power to meet the concerns expressed. He has said he will deal with issues and ensure that the resources needed are available. The Minister should be praised for this and should not be painted as anti-immigrant by Opposition Deputies who are looking for cheap publicity without regard for the consequences of their inflammatory words and actions.
Mr. Hayes: The Deputy would know nothing about that.
Mr. O'Flynn: The Minister has underlined the need for this House to ensure that the Government exercises control over immigration to this country. We must regulate the entry, residence and departure of non-nationals. We are not breaking new ground or setting a precedent; this is common practice worldwide. We must have the systems in place to ensure that we, and not international immigrant traffickers, determine who shall enter this State and be afforded asylum. The Minister has admitted that the legislative framework in place at present is defective and that is  why he is introducing this Bill. We must have the means to effectively combat the evil forces that profit on human misery and this Bill will criminalise the activity of those traffickers and will make them amenable to our laws. It is the duty of this House to ensure that this “criminal trade in human cargo is brought to an end”, to use the Minister's words.
The Minister underlined in his contribution the magnitude of the problem when he advised that 82 per cent of all applications are made inland, as one would normally expect applications to an island state like ours to be made at seaports or airports, the normal points of entry to our State. The fact that 18 per cent of applications are made where we would normally expect them to be made points to one inescapable conclusion, that there is widespread smuggling of immigrants across the inland borders of this State. Further proof can be found in the numbers of applicants, which have increased dramatically. There were 424 applications in 1995 and the figure rose to 4,626 in 1998. By the end of October 1999 it had risen to 5,497. The Department's figures show that the figure for October alone is 1,000, which is staggering. No system could deal with an increase of that magnitude in a matter of weeks. A broadcaster today stated that the figure is now running at 1,000 per week and the cost implications of increases of that scale are mind-boggling. Opposition Members should bear this in mind when taking the Minister to task for a problem they side-stepped when in Government not so long ago. I would not like to think that some of them believe that they have as little responsibility for this country's finances and economy as they have for accuracy in their published statements.
We cannot analyse this issue on the cost factor alone, as we have seen the other side of the coin. Many of our people emigrated to the far corners of the earth and no other nation has a history of emigration dating back as far as ours. Emigration is no stranger to Ireland and there is not a family in the land that has not seen its sons and daughters go abroad to work because of the depressed economy in times past. Too many of us recognise the destinations to which they travelled. One does not have to tell an Irish family where Paddington Station is and we all know that Henry Ford's was a ready source of employment in Dagenham. Too many of our parents and children had first-hand knowledge of the sight of the Statue of Liberty as they sailed into the promised land, and Australia is much more than a place in an atlas to many of us. We have all known the heartache of saying goodbye to our loved ones, wondering if we would ever meet them again. We do not have to be advised of our duty of care to immigrants and we believe in our hearts that we must care for the genuine asylum seeker.
On the other hand, we must not allow ourselves to be used by the traffickers to perpetuate their evil ways and to continue to subsidise their vast profits. This House cannot be allowed to  shirk its responsibility to introduce the appropriate legislation. It should be enacted now and without division. This legislation was recommended in the report of the Interdepartmental Committee on Immigration, Asylum and Related Issues and its recommendations were accepted by Government in February 1998. They will bring us into line with legislation in other jurisdictions, including most of our EU partners.
This Bill will conform with EU legislation and will ensure a common approach to the criminalisation of trafficking in human beings. It will aim to punish the traffickers but not their victims, many of whom are vulnerable people paying exorbitant fees in return for a dubious service and the offer of a guarantee of asylum. There are exceptions to this rule, but they are very much in the minority. Some of those who seek entry are not the innocent victims of international crime. The Bill states that it is an offence to “organise or knowingly facilitate the entry into the State of a person he or she knows or has reasonable cause to believe to be an illegal immigrant”. I am glad the vehicles of those involved in such illegal transactions will be forfeited. The Minister is also considering putting an onus on carriers such as airlines and ferries to ensure that their passengers are legally entitled to enter the State. Sanctions would penalise those who do not live up to this obligation.
I have met the Kosovar refugees in Millstreet. They were happy and expressed their gratitude for the wonderful reception they had received from Irish people, particularly those of Cork and Kerry. To me, that was what a real Irish welcome should be and I was proud to be an Irishman welcoming them to Cork and Kerry. The Southern Health Board is doing great work for the 150 asylum seekers we have in our care in the greater Cork city area. We will rise to the occasion when a real need occurs.
I thank the Minister for the humanitarian role he has played in this matter and for his promise of an ongoing commitment to the genuine asylum seekers who come to Ireland.
Mr. Hayes: Follow that, said somebody in the crowd. I wish to share my time with Deputy Boylan.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Hayes: The best way to ensure an effective immigration policy is to have Deputy O'Flynn at every port of entry. I suspect the immigrants will turn back pretty quickly. The Deputy is obviously taking seriously his new role as the William Whitelaw of this Government. He is wheeled out every time the Government is obliged to put a brave face on a policy issue.
Mr. O'Flynn: Like yourself, Deputy. Progressive Deputies are wheeled out on every occasion.
Mr. Hayes: I am glad to see the Deputy without a script. He is far more animated and he should continue without one. I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. As our party spokesperson, Deputy Higgins, said this morning, the Bill is not a comprehensive response to the crisis that exists. The Government has had plenty of time to put together a comprehensive immigration policy which could be easily understood and accessed quickly.
The Bill attempts to deal with those who are engaged in the illegal practice of trafficking illegal immigrants into this country. Obviously, I support that but I have questions about section 5 which appears to give sweeping powers to the Garda Síochána on foot of a District Court judgment. That section must be revisited on Committee Stage.
Members of this House have a cheek to speak at length about this issue. In the latter part of the last decade, public representatives did everything in their power to help people gain illegal entry into the United States of America. It is no secret that many representatives were asked to write letters to the US embassy and to seek the support of Irish families in the parts of America where many of our young people were to go. A huge number of Irish people had the opportunity to go to America. In a sense, there is a scandalous hypocrisy at the heart of this Bill. We are seeking to criminalise something which in another era we endorsed. Deputy Higgins articulated that aspect to great effect in his contribution and we should reflect on it.
This issue has come to the fore in recent times and it is ridiculous of the two parties in the Government to use it as a party political football between them. I blame Deputy O'Donnell as much as Deputy Callely for that. The Progressive Democrats suddenly found their conscience on this issue. They see it as a niche issue. The chairman of that party on the national airwaves last night lauded the performance of the Minister of State. It is an attempt by the Progressive Democrats to gain a point or two in the next opinion poll. The creative tension it has caused between Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats has ensured that a comprehensive policy on the matter is years away. Nobody wants to address the problem of a comprehensive immigration policy which gives people the opportunity to work and to legitimise their status. This brand of machismo within the Government has ensured that we are years away from developing such a policy.
We should keep our wits about us when discussing this issue. It has emerged primarily as a result of the changes within the economy and the new job opportunities, particularly in the services sector. However, only small groups of people are involved. It is only since 1996 that there has been a net inflow of population. This year alone the net inflow is 18,500 while last year it was 22,000.
We should consider, too, the immigrant figures published by the CSO. A total of 54 per cent of the immigrants are people who previously emi granted from this country. Virtually half the people who have come to this country in recent years left it five or ten years ago. They are our own people who left because of economic conditions ten years ago and are now finding their way back into the Irish labour market. Another 16 per cent is made up of people from the United Kingdom and people from the rest of the EU make up another 14 per cent. Therefore, 85 per cent of the immigrant inflow is made up of people from the European Union.
There are tremendous opportunities to radically expand our immigration policy and to offer people work opportunities in this economy. Currently, one must present oneself from an employer where an employment opportunity exists before an application will be considered. We will have to classify the jobs which will exist within the economy in the years ahead and seek to have them filled by people with the necessary skills. That is the immediate task.
Many Members have referred to the issue of dispersal. I agree there should be dispersal. Too many people who are having their applications assessed, particularly under the Refugee Act, are concentrated in the Dublin area. This would not happen were it not for the fact that delays in the process are almost two years. That is the real scandal. If there were effective procedures in place whereby people seeking asylum here would go through the procedure in a matter of months, there would not be the situation which recently developed. It should not take two years to assess whether somebody is a genuine refugee. It is virtually impossible to deport the person after two years when they have, in a sense, become integrated into society.
Under the stewardship of this Government there has not been a persistent level of resources to ensure speedy procedures. The Government must take responsibility for that. We must ensure that a settlement policy is implemented throughout the country so there is an equitable dispersal of people. We are not talking about huge numbers. However, if they are all concentrated in one area of a city there will be cultural difficulties and Deputies who represent working class Dublin constituencies are fully aware of that. This issue must be given a fair response.
A new system must be put in place for dealing with those who have gained naturalisation or have become Irish citizens. We should not simply drop them into the country and expect them to understand the background, culture, language and other facets of Irish life. In America, immigrants are obliged to participate in citizenship classes, during which other citizens act as their mentors. As a result they understand American law and are taught about American democracy. We must provide similar instruction if our policy in this area is to work. A group of 30 children in a school in my constituency have very little English. The school in question does not have the necessary resources to deal with their language  difficulties and that has made it difficult for them to participate fully in our society.
The Department must speed up the naturalisation process. I am grateful to the Minister for his courteous response to representations on behalf of two Iranian doctors and their three children who have been seeking naturalisation for three years. Those doctors hold senior posts in Dublin hospitals and contribute greatly to the health and welfare of people in this city, yet three years down the road some members of the family have not been granted citizenship while others have. The citizenship section of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform must ensure the applications of those who carry out functions, from which we all gain, are assessed in a fair, open and speedy manner.
The Bill is not a comprehensive response to the problems in this area that have emerged in the past three to four years. In particular, section 5, will have to reconsidered.
Mr. Boylan: I thank Deputy Hayes for sharing time with me in the debate on this sensitive subject. I am glad to contribute to the debate on the Bill, the subject matter of which has aroused a good deal of discussion and controversy. There are extreme views on both sides of the debate. On the one hand, there is call to remove the barriers and to permit entry to all those who wish to come here, which would be wrong, and, on the other, there is a call to send home all immigrants, which would also be wrong. It would be unacceptable for Ireland, the land of one hundred thousand welcomes, to close its doors on these unfortunate people. Those who claim the refugees should be sent home have not thought through the issue and do not realise the hurt they cause. We must legalise the position and accommodate refugees who are not legally entitled to be here but who have been here for some considerable time by allowing them to set up home here and to live with the dignity we expect our citizens to have when they emigrate. People soon forget.
Our economy was never better. This is a good time, particularly for our young people, but not for all our citizens. Many people still find it difficult to make ends meet. Old people, in particular, suffer hardship and are lonely. The economic gain has not spread to all households. It is perceived abroad that this is the country to which refugees should come, in the same way our emigrants perceive America and England as the countries to which they should go and emigrants in the early part of the century perceived Australia and New Zealand as the places to go.
I recall céilithe and presentations being held in my local parish hall to raise funds for people who could not afford to emigrate when they could not find work here or, in the case of large families, when parents could not afford to keep them. We should not forget that tradition. We now have a  successful economy and we should be prepared to share our wealth with less fortunate people.
Deputy Hayes mentioned an important point. We should accommodate refugees and allow them to claim social welfare benefit in the short term to enable them to live with some dignity, but we should also put in place training programmes for them. They are willing to work even though they may not have specific skills, but some of our people who are on the dole queues do not have specific skills. They do not have such skills because a training programme in not in place to accommodate them. Deputies who represent the Dublin inner city talk about disadvantaged areas. It is time we stopped talking about the disadvantaged and set up training programmes to teach these people, whether refugees or our own people, basic skills.
Two industries in my constituency had to recruit workers from abroad because they could not get local people to fill the positions. One industry in the Cavan-Monaghan area recruited 24 people from Portugal and acquired housing for them. Word spread to another industry in the constituency that those workers were diligent and capable of doing the work and it recruited 12 people from the same country. Both those industries were grinding to a halt because they could not recruit local people.
Opportunities exist to place people in meaningful employment provided they get training in basic skills. I am not talking about highly technical jobs, nor am I am saying these people would not be capable of taking up such jobs if they got the necessary training. People should not parade up and down outside this House with placards demanding that we allow refugees into the country without thinking through how best we can provide some meaning in their lives. There are prospects here, but it would be wrong to open the gates and allow in all refugees. That is an extreme point of view and it would not benefit people who read such comments abroad and think there is a possibility of a large number of refugees getting into Ireland.
I do not have specific figures but I understand there are a large numbers of refugees here whose positions have not been legalised. There is a backlog of work in the refugee office for which the Minister deserves a rap on the knuckles. There is no point blaming previous Governments or throwing brickbats at each other. That will not solve the problem. The problem exists now and it should be dealt with now. I understand these unfortunate people are queuing night and day and are lying overnight on the pavement outside the office to be first in the queue the following morning. That is unacceptable and staff should be put in place immediately to deal with that problem. Once their positions are regularised, I agree with Deputy Hayes that it is not sufficient that Dublin city and county should be expected to accommodate all these people. Industries in my constituency were happy to recruit workers from  abroad to fill positions for which they could not recruit local workers. These people should be dispersed around the country and meaningful employment found for them. They could make a contribution not only to the local economy but nationally and we would be seen to play our part. That is not too much to expect; it is the least we should do.
We should deal with this problem in a reasonable and constructive manner and not be seen to take the high moral ground or try to score political points. I accept the cut and thrust of politics has a role to play, but the political cut and thrust must be set aside when dealing with ordinary, decent human beings who, through no fault of their own, feel they must jump on the back of lorries or hide in container vehicles to make their way to a destination they may have heard about only through the grapevine. If, through misinformation, they arrive here as refugees, the least we can do is accommodate them rather than sending them back. The people will support us in doing that.
Mr. Callely: I welcome the Bill which seeks to exercise control over immigration to our country. Its purpose is to make trafficking of immigrants an offence and to provide a framework to deal with people engaged in illegal trafficking.
Many Members deviated from the content of the Bill and spoke on relevant issues. I have spoken on this topic at length and there is continuity in what I said. I am pleased that I stimulated national debate when I referred to this issue recently. My views have not changed. When a person is adjudged to be a genuine asylum seeker, he should be accommodated and integrated in a caring and compassionate way. However, if a person is judged not to be a genuine asylum seeker after due process, he must accept the decision to return him to the country from where he came in line with the Dublin Convention unless there are humanitarian reasons he should remain. My comments were taken out of context. Surely no one is suggesting that a person who has no right, entitlement or lawful authority to be here should be allowed to disregard or abuse our laws?
This Bill deals with illegal immigrants and the sanctions and penalties which can be imposed on traffickers. Many speakers referred to economic migrants, work permits and immigration policy. As parliamentarians, they have a right to express their views. I appreciate the benefits which can accrue from the wide range of suggestions made during the debate. I concur with some of the views expressed on additional work permits for non-nationals and on immigration policy. I look forward to developments in this area.
I am surprised that Deputy Hayes took the opportunity to call for a comprehensive immigration policy. That is not what the Bill is about. He blames me for this legislation coming before the House. I will happily accept that blame given that this is important legislation.
We must accept that a certain number of  people abuse the system. I am concerned about this and I feel obliged to raise such abuses in an effort to ensure appropriate legislation is introduced. I appreciate the sensitivities involved and the need for political correctness. However, a balance must be struck between political correctness and political recklessness.
My concerns have been confirmed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. In his opening speech on Second Stage he said:
Unfortunately, we are now aware that internationally-organised criminal entities have discovered the profit potential in exploiting vulnerable non-nationals by flouting immigration controls here and abroad with absolutely no regard for the safety or well-being of their victims. As bad as the flouting of our immigration controls is, there are still further grounds for concern. These traffickers can be compared to slave traders of old, subjecting those at their mercy to extortion, intimidation and other abuse which does not cease after their victims reach our shores but may continue as debts are paid off or for so long as they can otherwise use their power to control these unfortunate people.
We must also be concerned with the type of illicit organisation which tends to have links to other networks of groups engaged in organised crime such as drug trafficking.
There can be little doubt – and there is recognition throughout Europe and beyond – that those whose trade is the illicit movement of men, women and children across national boundaries have perceived this deficiency in our law as a weakness to be exploited.
Surely it is our duty as parliamentarians to tackle these serious abuses? I have called for a tough stance to be taken on this issue.
I am right to support this legislation and I will not back down from that position. My comments may have been taken out of context. I regret that some of my political opponents have used this opportunity to pick and choose what I said. I am motivated by the need to ensure that those in genuine need of refuge will be accommodated and fully accepted into our society, which is what the vast majority of the people want. I ask people not to pick holes in what I say. I appreciate the public support I have received since I made my comments. I take this opportunity to thank those who took the trouble to telephone me or write to me, particularly in light of “being brought not to Bethlehem but to Calvary”, to use a journalist's phrase.
We must ensure that genuine asylum seekers are accommodated and integrated into our society and we should not allow illegal groups to cast shadows over them. As a Christian country, we want to extend to them a warm welcome and we want to honour our international and UN obligations. We must ensure that genuine asylum seekers have their applications processed in a fair and efficient manner. We all know the number  seeking asylum is small in international terms but we have practical difficulties.
I do not know how many Members were concerned about this issue before it flared up in the past couple of days. About two weeks ago I checked with the authority with responsibility for the Mount Street refugee application centre who informed me that since July there has been a huge upsurge in the number of people coming to Ireland to claim asylum. This may be because of a mistaken perception among asylum seekers that if they come to Ireland they will be able to obtain work. They do not come to the centre in a regular stream over seven days. Numbers have increased from between 250 and 300 per month to more than 1,000 per month. How can an upsurge of this nature be accommodated? I checked on a particular Friday afternoon and was told all outstanding cases had been dealt with. Everyone who had come to the centre had been accommodated and their applications processed. On the following Monday morning I was told that by 9.20 a.m. there were 300 applications waiting to be processed. I am told there can be periods of hours when no one is waiting and other periods when there are many people waiting. There are practical difficulties in dealing with large numbers in one centre, even though the numbers are small in international terms.
We must acknowledge there are procedures in place for asylum seekers to apply for asylum at the first safe country they reach or at the port where they land. When a person seeking refuge arrives in the first safe country his or her application is processed there. I submitted a question on 23 November asking the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of asylum applications fully processed from 1992 to 1999 inclusive; the percentage of cases approved and recognised as refugees; the percentage of cases refused; the percentage of applications withdrawn before decision; the percentage of cases appealed; and if he would make a statement on the matter. The Minister, in his reply, gave very interesting statistics. The number of applicants for the period was 16,101. There were 12,766 applications less withdrawals and transfers out. Of those 21 per cent were withdrawn before decision. Some of these applicants had moved on and some had claimed residency. Only 0.2 per cent of applications transferred out, under the Dublin Convention. If one delves a little further one comes across the word “deportation”. Tough decisions must be made with regard to illegal immigrants. We must accept that anyone who comes to Ireland must be either allowed to remain or sent back to the country from which he or she came.
I concur with the remarks which have been made on the processing of applications, but this is not a new phenomenon. All major political parties, when in government, have contributed to the current difficulties. This Government has assigned more personnel to processing applications than any previous Government. However, I do not wish to score political points. Some 51.5  per cent of applications are still outstanding, 71 per cent of refusals were appealed, 13 per cent were granted refugee status following appeal and 28 per cent were refused refugee status following appeal. The recent huge influx will compound this situation.
We must honour our agreement with EU member states in regard to the Dublin Convention. The procedures in Ireland which allow applicants make applications at the point of entry is very user-friendly. The Minister said today that 82 per cent of asylum applications are not made at the port of entry but inland, with some applicants travelling in unfit, inhumane and unsafe means of transport. We must not lose sight of the fact that the thrust of this Bill is to deal with traffickers and not with the vulnerable people who are being abused by them. We are correct to put in place sanctions to punish carriers who fail to live up to their responsibilities, to comply with the law and to act in a humanitarian way.
We must ensure appropriate structures are in place to accommodate genuine asylum seekers, but we must equally ensure structures are in place to address illegal activities of racketeers. I hope the House appreciates that the Minister has more information than anyone else in the House. I commend the Minister on introducing the legislation and I hope the House will have the foresight to support this very important Bill.
I recognise that there are practical problems associated with the current procedures for processing asylum applicants. I reaffirm my commitment to addressing these problems by ensuring the affairs of asylum seekers are dealt with in a speedy and dignified manner.
Mr. Browne: (Carlow-Kilkenny): I do not intend to refer to the views expressed elsewhere by Deputy Callely. He stated here today that he received much support for what he said. That is the danger of speaking in a negative way, regardless of whether it is intended. There is no difficulty in getting support if one attacks the idea of immigrants coming here.
Mr. Callely: That was not my motivation. The Deputy should not cherry-pick.
Mr. Browne: (Carlow-Kilkenny): I accept that, but the Deputy said he was grateful for all the letters he got. I am only explaining that it is very easy to get letters when one takes that line.
Mr. Callely: I accept that, but that was not my motivation.
Mr. Browne: (Carlow-Kilkenny): I can tell the Deputy about the opposite situation. Last week, I raised in this House the issue of people who wanted to come here to the wedding of a colleague with whom they had worked for seven years in London. That was reported in quite accurate detail in the newspaper. I received a  message on my telephone answering machine that what I had said was a disgrace. This poor woman, who was obviously out of her mind with her bias against immigrants, said I was supporting the Russian mafia in bringing illegal immigrants here and that I should take 1,000 of them into my constituency. I was talking about visitors, who are married in England with decent jobs, coming to the wedding of their friend. I listened to the message for ten minutes in the hope that she would leave a number on which I could contact her but she only gave a name, which was probably fictitious. She was out of her mind over the whole issue.
This is a very serious topic on which it is very easy to be extreme. We must be very careful about what we say. There is a danger in people taking stands on this issue. We seem to forget the history of this country and all our emigrants.
We are reaching a stage where even some officials are becoming very dodgy on this issue. I do not know whether there is something wrong with Carlow, but a couple of weeks ago I was contacted by the sister of a bride who was marrying a doctor. Several of his national colleagues, who were hospital consultants in England, had been refused visas to attend the wedding. I do not want to wrong the officials who were dealing with it – perhaps there were language difficulties and so on – because when I contacted the Department the matter was solved. We cannot go to the extreme where people with very good jobs abroad who have no interest in staying in Ireland, but who quite legitimately want to attend a function here, are humiliated. It is very humiliating for these people and those inviting them to the wedding for them to be regarded almost as criminals. One cannot generalise, but we must be very careful in regard to legitimate visitors to our shores.
Ireland has sent more illegal immigrants around the world than any other nation. Those of us who have been lucky enough to visit Ellis Island or Australia will realise the number of people who have gone abroad under all kinds of pretences. We should be as charitable as possible to those who come to our shores at a time when we are doing very well economically. All our emigrants were prepared to work hard when they went abroad. If others are prepared to work here, we should change our attitude to them. A long time ago I asked at a committee meeting if it was a new form of economic madness for us to pay people not to work rather than let them use their qualifications to get work and earn money. They would feel much better if they could work and contribute.
This is a negative Bill as it deals with punishing people who have acted wrongly, which one cannot complain about. It does nothing about immigration, which is dealt with in another Bill. It deals with traffickers and so on, which is fine. My only difficulty is with the reference to a person who “facilitates the entry into the State of a person whom he or she knows or has reasonable  cause to believe to be an illegal immigrant”. How could such a person prove his or her innocence? Several of my constituents travel to Europe with their lorries every week. We have heard stories of people being found in lorries, some of whom were almost dead after being transported in cold conditions. How could drivers explain that they did not know there was somebody in the back of the lorry? Some might be very serious criminals being paid to transport people, as was the case with many of the boats far away from Ireland which transported illegal immigrants, many of whom drowned due to overcrowding. However, how can they be distinguished from those who are innocent, who do not know who is in the back of their truck? I accept they are supposed to know that, but I have very serious worries about how such people could prove their innocence.
The Minister stated: “I am considering whether it is necessary to impose responsibility on carriers to ensure that they bring to the State only those passengers who are legally entitled to come here and to provide for sanctions to punish those carriers who fail to live up to this responsibility.” I do not know whether he is considering making the law tougher or redrawing it. However, if he makes the law tougher we will have a great deal of chaos. It is hard enough to get through an airport at a busy time at the moment, but the situation could become chaotic if airport authorities have to ask everyone if their reasons for travelling are legitimate. If the authorities seize aeroplanes which have illegally transported people, we will have to build another airport to hold them.
Many aeroplanes carried people from here to the United States who knew well they were chancing their arm but who did very well there. Many people in Ireland aided and abetted them by giving references saying “John X worked for me for the past four years and was a tremendous worker”, when John X never worked for anyone before he left. We have a history of aeroplanes and boats bringing our emigrants abroad. We would be suffering from memory loss if we punished people for doing what we did for years.
I ask the Minister to carefully consider the imposition of responsibility on carriers. I do not know how they can be expected to check out people's motivations. I know Irish emigrants were refused at Shannon Airport by the immigration officers there. However, we have become expert at this and it is difficult to know why we would go out of our way to make it impossible for others to do the same. They could point to the number of emigrants we sent abroad in the past.
We are very proud of our emigrants who have achieved much in the United States, Australia and Canada. Our Ministers go to meet them at St. Patrick's Day parades because of their wonderful work. If people who want to come here to work, as distinct from asylum seekers, get a chance to work and use their skills here, we may be able to point in 30 years' time to what they have done for our nation and say we took them in and  accommodated them and they contributed handsomely. Our emigrants rose to the top when they went to the United States and the rest of the world. Will we be broadminded enough to allow people who are hardly tolerated here at the moment to sit in these Chambers as representatives one day? That will be the test of our generosity.
There are extreme views on both sides of the argument. The minds of some are so closed that they see nothing but wrong. It is important therefore that we adopt a balanced and generous approach and ensure those who come here are not allowed to abuse the State or its citizens. They should behave as we would expect everybody else to behave and obey the law. They should however be given a chance, given the need for workers to fill certain jobs. In this connection the legislation providing for the introduction of work visas should have been introduced first. This Bill could then have been introduced to punish those engaged in the trafficking of illegal immigrants. I hope a reasonable approach will be adopted. It is easy to make statements which attract much support but which are bad for the county and those who come to our shores in search of a better life.
Mr. E. Ryan: I welcome the Bill which gives us an opportunity to contribute briefly to the wider debate on refugees, which has continued for some time and to which there are two dimensions, the policy on refugees and the policy on immigration. I welcome the Government's decision to introduce legislation to enable non-EU citizens to work here. That is a welcome development consequent on our economic success. We will benefit, economically and socially, from the mixing of cultures. This is overdue. If the economy continues to expand, considerable numbers will come here to work. I have no problem with this.
On refugee policy, which tends to be mixed up with immigration policy, we have an obligation to properly look after those who come here to flee persecution. This is a big issue in the European Union and is at the top of the agenda at most European Council meetings. It has to be tackled in a mature and informed way. We cannot turn around and say that we want nothing to do with it and still avail of the benefits of membership such as funding and export markets. That would be completely irresponsible and we would not be very popular with our EU partners if we adopted such an approach.
While I can understand the Opposition having a go at various Ministers, I cannot understand the criticism of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Since taking office he has introduced 17 Bills: the Arbitration (International Commercial) Bill, the Child Trafficking and Pornography Bill, the Children Bill, the Courts Service (No. 2) Bill, the Criminal Justice (No. 2) Bill, the Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention Against Torture) Bill, the Employment Equality Bill, the Equal Status Bill, the Immigration Bill,  International War Crimes Tribunals Bill, Jurisdiction of Courts and Enforcement of Judgments Bill, the National Disability Authority Bill, Parental Leave Bill, the Protection of Children (Hague Convention) Bill, the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill, the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Bill and the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Bill.
Mr. Durkan: He is worn out.
Mr. E. Ryan: It cannot be said therefore that he is not doing his job properly. He has introduced more legislation than any other Minister and it is extraordinary that he has been attacked in this way.
What I find galling is that the record of the Opposition on this issue is so poor. When the Minister took office there were 4.5 members of staff. This was increased to 23 in 1997, 109 in 1998 and 127 this year.
Mr. Durkan: A massive performance.
Mr. E. Ryan: It is an indication that the Minister is not sitting around doing nothing. He is doing his job well. He has also provided a one-stop-shop in which asylum seekers can lodge their applications and be seen by health board and Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs personnel.
For a long period 200 to 300 applications were received per month. Suddenly this increased to 1,000. Problems are being experienced as a result. The question was asked of officials by members of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights who visited the centre last week, “Did you not see this coming”, to which they responded, “How were we to know that there would suddenly be a massive increase?” I understand space will become available when health board personnel and others move out of the centre. This will make it easier to cope with the increased numbers. Their response to the question, “How many applications do you expect to receive next month or next year?”, was, “We don't know, how could we? It could be 100 or 2,000 for all we know”. That is part of the problem, but to say that the Minister has done nothing is nonsense. He has done a huge amount to address the problem and he has received little credit from quarters from which he should have received much more.
Some people have called for a comprehensive policy on this issue. This Bill is one piece of the jigsaw. It has also been said that there is a split in the Government. The Opposition and some media commentators thrive on this. This is not unhealthy. These differences are a healthy sign, but nobody knew about splits in the previous Government. There was a deafening silence when a major disagreement occurred between Deputy Owen and the former Minister of State, Joan Burton. They brought the whole process to a halt  and the person who had to pick up the pieces in that regard was this Minister.
Mr. Durkan: Poor fellow. That was not fair.
Mr. E. Ryan: Silence was golden in the previous Government. There was no division, nothing was ever debated in public. It wanted to be seen as a Government working together. It did not want to display differences in public.
Mr. Durkan: That is no longer the motto.
Mr. E. Ryan: I have no problem with differences being made public. That is healthy for democracy and for most Governments.
I want to comment on Deputy Hayes's contribution. He complained about the two year assessment. It will take two years to assess each applicant for the reason I have already outlined. What was the Minister supposed to do? Should he have hired these people and got them to immediately assess each case? I know what would have happened if he had done that. The same people who are criticising him for the delay would complain that he was putting people into jobs in a complex area without sufficient training. He had to make sure these people were trained and that they were doing the job correctly because this is a complex procedure. I understand the current waiting period is eight to nine months, with a subsequent three month appeal period. It is hoped that by July 2000 new arrivals will be interviewed and appeals heard within six months.
People are criticising us for that procedure. They are saying we are being unfair, but in Holland the person is interviewed and has an appeal heard before a judge within 24 hours. People say the Minister is unfair to refugees but nothing could be further from the truth. It galls me to hear people say or to read in the newspapers that the Minister is doing nothing because he has done a great deal in this area. If they would examine the facts and realise the complexity of this issue, the general public would be much more informed about what has happened since the Minister came to office.
If people have concerns about these individuals coming into the country, those concerns should be addressed. The worst mistake we can make is not to address concerns about this issue. That mistake was made in England when people arrived there from the West Indies. They were dismissed completely and it led to major problems. We have to be open and mature about this issue and explain our policy to people.
I was amazed to hear some people say that Oscar Schindler would be arrested under this legislation. The Bill is aimed at traffickers, not at refugees, and I welcome the Minister's assurance in that regard. If a mistake is made in regard to a tiny minority, he has said he will address that issue on Committee Stage. These people are organised. They are making enormous amounts of money in the trafficking of people, and the Bill  aims to address that problem. While we have a duty to look after refugees who come here, we also have a duty to stop people making vast amounts of money from this practice. If we did not do that, we would be irresponsible as Members of this House. The Bill deals with the commercial trafficking in people and not bona fide organisations who may be concerned that they might be charged under this legislation. That is a red herring and it can be easily addressed. This is legislation to deal with a serious problem which urgently needs to be addressed. The Bill will be successful in that people will no longer be able to make money on the backs of innocent individuals.
When I and other members of the committee visited the Mount Street centre last week, one aspect which shocked all of us – we discussed this with the health board members – was the considerable number of women and children who were obviously in a distressed state. They were exhausted and, in some cases, traumatised. The members of the health board told us this is a regular occurrence. These are people who may have spent all their life savings trying to get into this country. I was happy to see that the best efforts are being made to comfort those people when they arrive here. The idea that anybody would oppose this legislation is amazing.
I put forward a proposal today as chairman of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights to invite people involved in this area to appear before the committee and outline how they are addressing this problem. The committee is the appropriate forum in which people can explain what is happening. I have no doubt that when people take the time to listen to the policies that have been put in place and those that will be put in place in the near future, they will realise that this issue is being addressed in a comprehensive way and that the Minister has put a great deal of time and effort into it. He is not getting the credit he deserves in that regard. It is easy to criticise him, but people should remember the problem he faced when he came to office and the numbers of people who had to be trained to deal with this issue.
I welcome the Bill. Many speakers on the Government side wanted to come into the House tonight to defend the Minister, but unfortunately some had to be knocked off the list.
Mr. Durkan: This outpouring is too much.
Mr. E. Ryan: I have complete faith in the Minister's ability to deal with this problem as he has dealt so comprehensively with a list of legislation that is a credit to him and the Government. He has my full support, as does the Bill.
Mr. Durkan: I wish to share my time with Deputy Gerry Reynolds, if that is agreeable.
An Ceann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Durkan: I compliment Deputy Ryan on what was essentially a good contribution, with the exception of the outpourings of sympathy for the Minister. When I heard about the unfortunate Minister who has had all these coals piled upon his head and who does not deserve this treatment I was almost reduced to tears. When the Minister was in Opposition, did he not dare to criticise anybody in Government? That would be totally unheard of in the adversarial political system which operates here.
Having assuaged my conscience in relation to sympathy for the Minister, I want to address a wider issue than the one currently being debated in the House. It may appear complicated, but that should not be the case because if we examine the position we have been in for the past year, particularly the past six months, we do not seem to be able to express ourselves in terms of a policy statement, as to how we propose to deal with economic immigrants. We should know about this situation as we sent people abroad to the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the UK and almost every corner of the world. This matter should be addressed at EU level by assessing the number of people coming into the Union and distributing them as best we can in proportion to the respective populations and economic strengths of member states. That is a simple and fair measure which involves a quota. I presume this will be done but it has not been done so far. The result is that we are being ridiculed and being shown up as a heartless society which does not wish to address a particular problem.
We must be sensitive to this issue because we have been there ourselves. We have taken the boat across the Atlantic, the Irish Sea and have gone around the world. Many Irish people rightly claim that when they went abroad they did so to work. However, it is peculiar that this is the only country where an unfortunate person who lands on our shore and who is not of our nationality, colour or whatever, is forced to live in accommodation specified and provided by the health board. Problems arise and prejudice is fueled by the fact that these unfortunate people are not allowed to work at a time when employers are asking to take some of them into employment. Many people are now working illegally and that is wrong.
Why is it taking so long to process applications for refugee status? One would presume it would be simple to address this problem by providing sufficient staff to assess whether a person had a legitimate reason for leaving his own country. Technology is now available to assist in this task, as identified by the EU. Some countries are not involved in the Schengen agreement but it is possible to do this. However, the danger and the fear is that we will have a reaction if we accept too many people. That is possible and there are reasons for that. For example, local people resent illegal immigrants or refugees because they compete for vital necessities. The first such necessity  is housing. Local people cannot get a house so there is a problem. They see an unfortunate illegal immigrant or refugee awaiting determination of status being placed in accommodation and being kept there for what appears like a long time. We need to look at the situation from both sides and the only way to deal with this issue fairly is to implement a quota system, ensuring that we take our share of that quota in the European context. That is fair and would be seen as such.
It is easy to become emotional and to say what suits certain people in an area. It may go down well to take a particular stance on one side or the other. That is why it is important to try to look at this issue from both sides. If we do not do so we do no justice to ourselves, the issue or the people concerned. This legislation attempts to address illegal trafficking in immigrants and that is fair enough. I have no problem with that, provided that it is meant to do just that and nothing else, and that it is not used to ensure that no one is allowed to come ashore so we become a sacrosanct area where no one has the right to come to live. When I visited Irish centres abroad I got a first hand flavour of what it was like to be an immigrant in another country and to have to depend on whatever facilities are made available. In some cases the stories are enriching and the people have nothing but good to report. However, that is not so in other cases.
I am sure that no Member could claim he does not have a relative in a foreign country. Almost 18 per cent of the population of the US is of Irish descent, the figure is 7 million out of 21 million in Australia and about 15 million in the UK. This situation applies to several other countries. With such a background we always need to be conscious that we could be in that situation again. We would not want others to put up the barriers and tell us, “We're very sorry, but we won't allow you to come ashore in our country”. That would be a tragedy.
I hope that if all those of Irish extraction who live abroad returned to what they see as their native shore, they would receive a welcome. I hope we as a society would be able to accommodate them.
Mr. G. Reynolds: I thank Deputy Durkan for sharing time. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this legislation and compliment the Minister for bringing it before the House. Anyone in his right mind would support legislation which tries to prevent trafficking in people. The Minister's objectives are moral and just and no one has any difficult with them. Trafficking in drugs is a terrible crime but trafficking in vulnerable human beings is horrendous and those involved in this heinous crime should be hunted down in every country and imprisoned for a long time. If anything, the sentencing proposals in the Bill do not go far enough. A democracy or society should not tolerate trafficking in people and neither a Mem ber of this House nor anyone in the country has any difficulty with what the Minister is attempting to achieve.
However, as politicians, we can be critical of the Government for its failure to deal with the main issue concerning people, namely determining the status of the many refugees currently in the country. The Government has put the cart before the horse on this issue. All of the resources should have been put into introducing legislation to deal with a situation which seems to be getting increasingly out of control, rather than being dealt with in a forthright manner. We have to introduce such legislation urgently. It is unjust that people who come to this country, for whatever reason, are not dealt with quickly. Our immigration laws must be tackled immediately. I am speaking as someone who spent some time as an illegal immigrant in the US. It is not a pleasant experience as those who are illegal cannot participate in society or have bank accounts and they wonder who is looking after them. Those working illegally hope they will not be found out. I understand the fear and apprehension felt by those who have come to the country seeking asylum. After some prompting from his colleagues in the Progressive Democrats the Minister allowed a number of immigrants to work while awaiting determination of their status, which is good.
I also understand the fear of local people. Racism is present in society – there are very few democracies which do not suffer from it. However, it is a new experience for Irish people. Rather than racism, there is a fear of the unknown and it is up to us as legislators to put in place the building blocks and foundations that will do away with that fear. Those who are not used to seeing people of different skin colours and cultures entering the country are fearful when they see the numbers increasing. As Deputy Durkan said, vulnerable people in our society who are looking for a house and whom we must look after feel they are in competition with immigrants. The underlying feeling is one of fear rather than racism, and it is up to us as legislators to deal with that fear and introduce legislation which addresses the issues causing concern on the ground. The only way we can do this is by enacting legislation as a matter of urgency.
I wonder how many people are working in the immigration section of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Will sufficient finance be made available following the introduction of legislation to provide for more immigration officers? Will a decision be made to have immigration officers at every port of entry?
I live in a Border area and I have read numerous reports in newspapers about trafficking in people through Northern Ireland. While we are trying to get rid of a border in one sense, will we build another border to try to stop trafficking in people? What is the view of the Minister in terms of stopping this heinous crime of trafficking?
I think we have missed the point as legislators and this is why I am critical of the Government.  We must put in place legislation to deal with the difficulties on the ground. Nobody wants to see scenes such as those at the offices in Mount Street. I am not blaming the Minister personally for those scenes, but I am blaming the Government collectively for not putting in place legislation to deal with the problem.
I remember my colleague, Deputy Gay Mitchell, saying on the introduction of the Maastricht Treaty in 1987 that Ireland would become a multi-racial society. Many people sneered and laughed at him at the time. However, we have now reached that position. We have increased the economic viability of the country and are viewed as a prosperous nation. Long may this last, but with it we will become a multi-racial society, something with which we must deal. We cannot put our heads in the sand like an ostrich and say it will not happen. Rather, we must accept and deal with it quickly and in a manner where everybody's position is taken into consideration. It is up to us as legislators and the Government, particularly the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to deal with it in an efficient manner, which has not been happening.
Nobody has a difficulty in supporting the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Bill which is morally just and right, but we all have a huge difficulty, regardless of party, with the scenes taking place in the offices in Mount Street and our inability to deal with the number of people entering the country. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is under pressure. This is one of my greatest concerns as this issue will affect all of society. If we do not put in place the proper legislative foundations we will have a hugely racist society and will experience problems similar to those experienced in other countries, particularly England. In one sense we are lucky as we can look at the EU countries which have dealt with this issue, put legislation in place and ensure we do not make the same mistakes as have been made in such countries. We can take the good points from legislation in other countries and avoid the bad aspects. We must be seen to deal with people who come to Ireland, either as economic migrants or refugees, with dignity and in the way we would expect to be treated in other countries.
One has to be careful in choosing one's words, but I wish to raise the moneys being provided for refugees, an issue which must be re-examined. There are many economic refugees entering the country who do not want to be on social welfare. The social welfare system is quite generous and those who are trafficking in these vulnerable people are sending them to Ireland saying they will be looked after. I come from the most rural county in the country and we do not have a massive problem with illegal immigrants. However, last week I heard the local garda on the local radio station stating that Romanians were going to a number of small businesses, handing in £100, making a racket about proper change and taking money etc. That results in barriers being erected D511–B16
 in terms of the local people who will say they do not want such immigrants. However, if there was a system in place which could deal with these people in a fair an efficient manner, such barriers would not be erected.
We must be critical of the Government in this regard. It lambasted the previous Government for not putting the necessary foundations in place and doing nothing to deal with the issue. However, the Government has been in office for two and a half years and the situation has worsened. Therefore, we are obviously not dealing with the problem or giving it the priority it deserves. If we are to be part of an open EU, we will have to deal with the problem of a multi-racial society. The time for talking is over. It is now time for action and for providing finance. I hope much of the money which the Minister received in the Estimate for this year will be channelled into an immigration Bill and into making work permits available for economic refugees.
Illegal immigrants should be asked to return to their own countries, but we need economic refugees to take up the work which is available. We should first introduce an immigration Bill to deal with this matter rather than introduce a Bill dealing with the trafficking of people. We have put the cart before the horse. I hope the Minister is more successful in introducing the necessary legislation as a matter of urgency.
Mr. Killeen: The Minister has correctly stated that the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Bill goes to the heart of the question as to whether we have a right to exercise control over immigration to our country. Many who have engaged in debate on the issue outside the House in recent weeks clearly dispute this right. I support the right to such determination and I strongly support the Bill. I have heard most of the speeches and, in fairness, everybody has indicated some level of support, in most cases quite a fulsome level of support, for what the Minister is proposing. All states need and have effective and clear laws to deal with entry and residence of non-nationals. We must protect against abuse the sanctuary we can offer to those genuinely in need. We also need to develop support systems and an integration policy which are effective and positive towards refugees and their host communities. Regardless of whether we like it, this simple fact has implications in terms of manpower, resources and accommodation. Many people who have expounded on the issue in recent weeks are either not aware of such fundamental requirements or choose to ignore them. Even regarding the situation in Lower Mount Street, which no one wants and no one could have foreseen, there were issues of staff training, the provision of accommodation and all types of support issues for the people involved.
I echo Deputy Eoin Ryan's words that many of us wanted to contribute to the debate and did not have the opportunity. It is difficult to believe that  some commentators could be as gullible as they have shown themselves to be in recent days. I do not ascribe much blame to the photogenic Deputy from the leafy suburbs who succumbs to the temptation to adorn a front page or a hard-working representative from Dublin 7 who articulates the view of his constituents. I congratulate them both for their political acumen, but the passion with which both made their points of view underlines a genuine concern. It is interesting that an analysis of what they had to say brings one to the inevitable conclusion that their views are remarkably close but are made, perhaps, with a difference of style. I find myself disagreeing equally with both of them. However it is nothing a dollop of common sense on a Bill such as this and one or two others would not cure in the short to medium term.
There are aspects of the situation regarding asylum seekers and refugees which need to be thrashed out more fully than has been possible. This is in part due to the fact to which I am sure the Minister would point, that for a period of years before he came to office, much more could have been done and that the numbers now being attracted to Ireland are considerably greater than one could reasonably have anticipated. As many speakers said, this is due in no small measure to the huge improvements in the economy. However, it is also due to practical considerations such as the fact that access routes have been opened and that many individuals who use them suffer an appalling level of amnesia and have no idea from where they came or how they came to be here, although, in the majority of cases, they seem to have contacts here. This Bill addresses a reality away from which we cannot walk however fashionable it might be to do so or politically correct it might be to go the opposite way. We must face up to the facts.
One part of the debate which needs to be developed further is how one might reasonably allow asylum seekers and refugees access to work. The fundamental question of the dignity of the immigrant comes into play. The perception of the host community would in most cases be appreciably improved if access to work could be more readily arranged. The issue of the cost to the State, to which a number of Deputies have referred, would also be improved. It would be a great step forward if, by some means in the process of determination, asylum seekers could be afforded the right to work in a controlled environment and that the experience of that could be taken into account in determining their application.
From experience, I have reservations about the record of the visa office and visa appeals office. Cases such as a doctor I know who served in the Southern Health Board and Mid-Western Health Board areas without his wife and children being allowed access to the country or another whose parents are not allowed entry reflect poorly on us. I have no doubt that those who make the  decisions are as humanitarian as anyone in the House and take on board all views. I know it is not precisely an immigration or refugee issue as such, but it is one of the areas where we could take a considerably more charitable approach which would be equally as pragmatic as what we are doing and, certainly in public relation terms, a lot more acceptable.
I represent a constituency which has had by far the highest influx of refugees relative to the population of any in the country. I meet a number of them at various times in my constituency office. I have been fooled by a good few of them and the people who have worked with them, in honest discussion, would say that they too have been fooled by them. However, of the large number with whom I have dealt, my experience is that the vast majority are genuine. They have had good reason to flee the regimes which operate in the countries they left. In general, the experience of the people of Ennis and its environs has been fairly positive. There have been experiences not dissimilar from that illustrated by Deputy Gerry Reynolds and it only takes the occasional occurrence or the activities of relatively few to make people hostile to a host of innocent people. Those activities are engaged in by relatively few people from a small number of states, but if one were to say exactly where, it would leave one open to the charge of racism against those people. Unfortunately, that is where a great many difficulties arise.
In Ennis, about 317 asylum seekers and refugees avail of the services of the State and about 135 claims are made weekly on behalf of these people, so they are mainly family groups of an average of three. I presume they are all genuine, but the level of service provided to them by the agents of the State is as good as is available to anyone from Ireland. No one taking a dispassionate and objective view could make a negative accusation against the Minister, the Minister for Health and Children or anyone who oversees the level of services made available to them. That has been true for people in that situation over the past seven, eight or ten years. An enormous amount of work is done by voluntary people in the Irish Refugee Council, the Red Cross and others. They do an enormous amount of work for these people. The quality of life afforded to them is as good as any of us would demand for any of our constituents and few people are prepared to face up to that fact. That is the situation in the town which, relative to its population, has had by far the highest influx over a period of 15 to 20 years.
The Minister will have seen in his constituency the treatment afforded and accorded to refugees from Kosovo. I happened to be in Killarney for a few days when the restaurateurs and hoteliers put on a meal for all the refugees. The treatment given to the refugees by people not directly involved with them belies the charge frequently made against Irish people that they are racist or have racist tendencies. On the basis of what I see  in Ennis, nothing could be further from the truth. Some concern arises because people say accommodation should be made available to our own people and that we should be looking after travellers and others. It brings to mind the Biblical story where the one who turned out to have the worst record was the one most concerned about services for the poor. Perhaps that is a salutary lesson.
The Dublin Convention, which is central to what the Minister is trying to address, does not work. The experience of people in the Department who are trying to operate it would be similar. Neither does the London Convention, which precedes it and affects other countries, work. It needs to be addressed in the context of work under way on the protocols to draft the UN convention on organised crime. That convention has enormous potential. I suspect that is being dealt with within very narrow parameters by the UN and that its efficacy would be greatly improved if it were placed in the wider context of the reality of what is happening.
I welcome the fact that, at their meeting in Finland last month, the heads of Government saw fit to address some of these issues and that the Council has clearly indicated that there is a need for legislation in the area of trafficking in regard to refugees, asylum seekers and human beings generally. I commend the Minister on being the first European Minister to address this issue through legislation. We are frequently accused of being tardy, but on this occasion we are addressing an issue central to our own policy and dealing properly with people as human beings.
The Minister referred to the possibility of sanctions being imposed on carriers. That is not an entirely new idea. I recall that in the 1980s and early 1990s, an informal system of sanctions was operated in regard to Aeroflot at Shannon. Although I am not sure who imposed it, it was imposed very rigorously and, indeed, questionably on two occasions. In general, it tended to ensure that a common sense approach was adopted and that the type of floodgate problems we are currently witnessing in Mount Street do not happen. That is something the Minister should consider carefully. Of its nature, it will be difficult to enshrine this provision in legislation in a fair manner and one which will not elicit hysterical reactions.
There is no doubt that the actions of those trafficking in human beings are totally reprehensible. I echo the Minister's reference to slave traders and I will make no complaint whatsoever about the severity of sanctions he may propose in that regard. It is quite proper that this offence be created in section 2 of the Bill and I welcome it.
On the issue of the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, we could learn from the experience of the programme refugees in this country over a 20 year period. As I recall, 220 Vietnamese people came to Ireland as programme refugees in 1979 and others subsequently came from Bosnia some seven or eight years ago. An excellent and  very detailed report has been produced on the manner in which these people have been assimilated and, indeed, on how they have failed to be assimilated in many instances. In some senses, their experience provides a salutary lesson on how we should approach this process. Unfortunately, the degree of pressure which will be exerted in the short-term because of the number of people coming into the country makes it difficult to develop a long-term planned approach. We are currently responding to an urgent short-term need. It would be worthwhile to examine the experiences of programme refugees and other people who came to Ireland under the family reunification scheme to see what lessons we could learn. There may be some room in the mosaic of legislation and other activities which the Minister is proposing to consider that experience closely in terms of the type of assimilation we could reasonably expect. It is often the case that many refugees cannot wait to return to their own countries, as was the case with many of the Kosovar refugees who stayed in the Killarney and Cork areas.
I welcome this Bill because it addresses this difficulty in a solid, sensible manner. The Bill must be set against the background of the charitable manner in which we have dealt with the people who have come here, in spite of the negative aspects that has had for the country. We inherently want to adopt a Christian approach to this issue and our actions are informed by the experience of our relatives and friends over many years. This Bill is one of the most important introduced in this area.
Mr. Neville: I wish to share time with Deputy Creed.
Acting Chairman (Ms Coughlan): Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Neville: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this Bill. While certain aspects of the Bill are necessary and welcome, it must be placed in context. The Government has not put in place any proper policy or procedures to address the influx of people into this country in a humane way and it stands indicted on that ground. We do not have a clearly thought out immigration policy for asylum seekers and refugees. The policy which exists is an ad hoc one and a clearly thought out policy must be introduced as a matter of urgency.
Society is changing all the time. We laud the success of the Celtic tiger and the increase in employment levels, but we are moving towards a skill shortage and an increasing lack of unskilled people who are prepared to work. We must address that.
It is unacceptable that it takes seven years for an asylum seeker to have his or her case adjudicated. Surely after that length of time, they have been inculcated into society? To inform them that they cannot stay after spending seven years here  is cruel, inhumane and unjustified. There are some people whom it may not be desirable to admit into the country, such as prison escapees or those with criminal records who might pose a danger to society. I have often raised the problem of paedophiles travelling to Ireland from the UK although they come here legally. The fact that, to date, a mere 20 or 30 work permits have been granted points to the urgent need to introduce proper procedures and policies.
I have met people in the agricultural and horticultural sectors who are unable to find employees. One person proposed that five or six eastern Europeans would come to live in a rural area and that their employers would provide each of them with a mobile phone in order that they could stay in contact with each other and feel they had some sense of society in a remote rural area. I have also been approached by a market gardener who cannot get anyone to work in his business. The work involved is quite labour intensive. Irish people, given their high level of education and the standards which they expect, are not really prepared to take up this kind of manual work when other more lucrative and less labour intensive jobs are available to them. The future development of our economy may well become dependent on the availability of non-nationals to carry out highly skilled or unskilled employment. There is a danger in some areas that civil construction works may be delayed not because of the unavailability of finance but because the engineers are not available to carry out the work.
Some of the sanctions in the Bill are quite severe. Someone transporting an illegal immigrant may be fined £1,500 or sentenced to 12 months in prison. Deputy Higgins referred to the number of Aer Lingus aircraft which would have been impounded had the US adopted that policy towards illegal immigrants. Many of our friends went to the US in such circumstances. We must be careful about how we handle that situation.
We also must remember the position here before the present wealth and availability of work when people in dire straits, young people leaving school with no hope of employment, emigrated. I do not believe there is a person in this House who did not have a relative who had to emigrate to the US in the early and latter parts of this century, to Australia and New Zealand and to Britain in the late 1940s and 1950s.
I recently saw the place in the United States to which my family emigrated in the earlier part of this century. I was surprised at and gladdened by the opportunities they had, how well they were treated and how well they got on in the earlier part of this century. I always thought my grandmother was the lucky one because she was the only member of her immediate family to stay at home. The other eight members went to America. When I saw the lifestyle they had there, I realised that perhaps she was not the lucky one. They had a much better lifestyle than that which Ireland could have offered at that time.
 Many of us saw high levels of emigration among members of our families in the 1950s and early 1960s. What would have happened to those people if employment opportunities had not opened up in Britain after the war? There was a high birth rate in this country but low levels of employment. People were not in a position to survive here so they looked towards Britain and were assimilated and welcomed into society there. We have all heard about the difficult times they had in certain areas, and rightly so, where they were regarded as lesser people, as it were. At the same time, however, there was a high level of assimilation among the Irish in Britain.
We must tackle the exploitation of people by traffickers who take money from them. We must also be careful we do not give everybody that title because they may be facilitators who assist and advise people. There should be some induction arrangement for people who come to this country outlining what they should expect, the laws and what society expects of them. There should be a system to assist people when they arrive so that they understand they are coming to a different culture with different norms, expectations and behavioural approaches.
We welcome the work visa programme and those who will come here to work, to contribute to our society and to bring to it their views, culture and experiences. They will also enliven and improve our society.
Mr. Creed: I thank Deputy Neville for sharing his time and for allowing me to say a few words in support of the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Bill, 1999. I am acutely conscious that in speaking in support of this legislation or anything to do with Government immigration policy, there is almost a danger of guilt by association. It is inevitable that this debate has been rolled into a review of the handling of this issue by the Government, in particular the Minister.
While I support the Bill, I am extremely critical of how this issue has been allowed to steamroll out of control. The Government has attempted unsuccessfully to come to terms with the enormity of the issues of asylum seekers, illegal immigrants, work permits and immigration policy. It would be illogical for anybody not to support this legislation, the purpose of which is to create the offence of trafficking in illegal immigrants and to provide a framework whereby those engaging in the trafficking of illegal immigrants can be dealt with under the law. We must, however, differentiate between the trafficking and the traffic.
The provisions in the Bill for hefty fines and possible jail sentences are welcome. However, in many ways, they turn a blind eye to the human aspect of this issue, the people who have been forced by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to queue in the rain on St. Stephen's Green. In recent days we have seen the controversy which erupted in Mount Street. This is the human side of the story. These people are the victims of the traffickers as much as our fail ure to put in place a comprehensive system to deal with the enormous influx of people.
Section 3 provides for the forfeiture of ship, aircraft and other vehicles. One of the Deputies who has been most vocal on this issue is well known for his support of the taxi industry. Is the Minister aware of the widespread view that a significant number of persons are coming here from Northern Ireland and are being trafficked here by taxi drivers who are receiving extraordinary sums of money for so doing? If the Deputy who has made the most noise on the issue of illegal immigrants and who has cultivated a constituency, which is undoubtedly there and which is hostile to immigration, asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, took up this issue with the other constituency he supports, taxi drivers, progress might be made?
Mr. P. Carey: Is the Deputy suggesting Dublin taxi drivers are involved in trafficking?
Mr. Creed: That route is being availed of by numerous illegal immigrants.
I am one of the Deputies on this side who has been unable to secure time to speak on the Private Members' motion. As I said at the outset, the two issues are inextricably linked. I will support the motion because, by and large, this side of the House has lost confidence in the Minister's capacity to deal comprehensively with the issue.
Acting Chairman: The Deputy must refer only to the Bill before the House.
Mr. Creed: I am referring to the issue of illegal immigrants.
Acting Chairman: The Deputy is out of order.
Mr. Creed: I am referring to the Bill before us on the trafficking of illegal immigrants.
Acting Chairman: The Deputy should stick to that.
Mr. Creed: I am making a related point as regards the Private Members' motion tonight which deals with the same issue. I have been unable to secure a slot to speak but will support the motion.
Every morning on my way to the House I pass the asylum centre on Lower Mount Street. It amazed me that it took so long for the issue to explode because the inhuman treatment of people standing in the rain was on a par with their previous experience of queuing in St. Stephen's Green. It is the total package presented by the Government in dealing with the issue that is most unacceptable.
There is undoubtedly a constituency that would put up the barriers, allow no immigrants in Ireland and turn back genuine asylum seekers as well as illegal immigrants. There is a high degree of latent racism in Irish society. There was a recent incident involving a player on the touring  Compromise Rules football team in Australia. If we are to be honest, many of us have made similar comments and it is only afterwards that we question whether those comments are indicative of racist tendencies. We have often made comments such as “working like a nigger” or “am I black or what?” if one is queuing for a drink for ages. We are now facing up to serious issues and in the context of a debate on illegal immigrants there is an onus on all those who speak publicly to show leadership and to face down those arguments wherever they are encountered.
Irish people have gone to countries all over the world. As a result of the famine in the 19th century Irish people went to America, Australia and New Zealand. As late as the 1990s, Jim Fahy, RTE's western correspondent, interviewed Irish people arriving at Knock Airport for a visit at Christmas. Many Irish people were illegal immigrants, but we were perhaps fortunate that we were not black. We could mingle and get lost in London, New York or Australia; we did not stand out. The problem in a society like Ireland's is that illegal immigrants, be they Nigerian or Romanian, stand out and make us feel uncomfortable. Those elected to this House are in leadership positions and it is incumbent on us to tackle the latent racism in Irish people whenever we encounter it.
I am not entirely impressed with a Deputy from the leafy suburbs of Dublin South cultivating a comfortable constituency in a liberal part of the city. That Deputy does not confront the physical manifestation of the problem of illegal immigrants on a daily basis. It is easy to take up leadership positions on issues one is not asked to deal with in one's constituency. It might be easy for me to speak on this, as there are very few illegal immigrants in Cork North-West. We have programme immigrants from Kosovo, but we do not see them competing in Macroom Urban District Council for housing or on Cork County Council's housing list to any great extent. Collectively we must all send out the correct signals of tolerance. It is the Minister's duty to put in place a system that processes expeditiously applications for genuine asylum seekers. The problem is out of control because we have not been able to do so.
A recent additional factor in this debate is that we will have quotas for workers, which concerns me. This issue seems to be packaged as necessary to get people to do the menial tasks Irish people will not do. I welcome the fact that these people are allowed to work in principle, but it is inherently racist to say we will allow people in to do the dirty work that Irish people will not do. It is obvious that many of these people are already working illegally but, in addition, the system forces many of them to draw unemployment assistance, marking them out as alleged beneficiaries of social welfare benefits. It is imperative that we introduce minimum wage legislation in tandem with allowing asylum seekers to work. Employers are scrambling to get these people to work  because they feel they will work for a lower rate of pay than Irish people. That is institutional racism of the worst order. It is imperative those people have the same protection in terms of minimum pay and labour rights as all other workers, Irish or non-nationals.
Mr. P. Carey: I support this Bill and I am glad most speakers have indicated their support for it also. It is a measure of our economic prosperity that we are such an attractive destination for immigrants. This is an opportunity for a calm, rational debate on how an immigration policy can be developed and speakers have made measured and balanced statements. Deputies Reynolds and Ryan made very valuable contributions and Deputy Ryan's suggestion about a series of hearings for his committee to gather suggestions on the development of a national policy is not a bad idea.
This debate seems to have all the characteristics of the debate on travellers and their accommodation in the late 1960s and 1970s. It was a case of one community versus another – as Deputy Creed said in another context, one community had travellers on their doorsteps on a daily basis while people from other communities, who did not have to confront the issue as often, suggested that every effort should be made to house travellers as long as they were housed well away from the leafy suburbs. We have not moved that far away from that position – there have been objections to student accommodation in some of those leafy suburbs.
We need to be more open-minded about immigration policy development. The origins of the problem could, to a certain extent, be traced to the problems within the last Government between Deputy Owen, when she was Minister for Justice, and former Deputy Joan Burton, when she was Minister of State. Those who heard Vincent Browne's programme last night heard Ms Burton recite the difficulties she experienced in trying to progress implementation of the Refugee Act. Deputy Owen did not express huge enthusiasm for implementation of that Act, and to allocate four staff to set up interviews with people, who did not know when or if they would be interviewed, was nothing short of disgraceful. Let us hope we can move beyond that.
This Bill is a good attempt to address this serious issue. I spoke to Anita Gradin two years ago when she was European Commissioner for Immigration, Justice and Home Affairs about her responsibilities, which included combating drug traffickers and those trafficking in human beings. She expressed much greater concern about her ability to cope with those trafficking in human beings than drug traffickers. The issues addressed by this Bill are not unique. Even Cyprus and Lebanon have concluded an agreement to control illegal immigration.
The following motion was moved by Deputy Howlin on Tuesday, 23 November 1999:
That Dáil Éireann, deploring:
the total inadequacy of his policy on asylum seekers, which has been described by a Minister of State in the Government as a “doom-laden ad hoc policy”, “chaos” and “a shambles”;
–his failure to ensure that adequate procedures are in place to allow applications for asylum to be processed effectively and efficiently and the consequent hardship caused to many applicants;
–his failure to bring forward any comprehensive immigration policy;
–his action in officially opening Clover Hill Prison and the Mountjoy Women's Prison when neither of these jails were in a position to take inmates due to serious flaws in the construction process;
–the continued overcrowding in prisons, particularly in Mountjoy Prison where almost twice the official numbers have, on recent occasions, been detained overnight;
–the death of five prisoners in apparent suicides in prisons since the beginning of 1999;
–the renewed spate of armed robberies;
–the failure to provide adequate protection for communities continuing to suffer severe problems from crime and vandalism;
–the ongoing industrial relations and morale problems in the Garda Síochána;
–the unacceptable waiting lists for appointments with solicitors at legal aid centres, which in some cases have increased to almost two years;
–his failure to deal with the shortages of resources and over-heavy workload in the Chief State Solicitor's office, which were identified by the Director of Public Prosecutions as having contributed to errors made in the prosecution of the Nora Wall case; and
–his failure to introduce necessary legislation to regulate the private security industry,
has no confidence in the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute:
–commends and supports the commitment of the Government, as laid out in the policy agreement “An Action Programme for the Millennium”, to improve and enhance the effectiveness of the criminal justice system;
–mindful of the backlog of applications inherited by this Government, and the significant strain placed on the asylum process and services by the escalating number of applicants; acknowledging the need for a fair and streamlined process that will eliminate lengthy delays; and acknowledging the urgent need to promote tolerance and respect for diversity in our society; and recognising the need for a comprehensive and multifaceted strategy to deal with all these issues, reaffirms its fullest confidence in the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and notes the positive measures taken by the Minister to put resources in place to ensure that all asylum applications are dealt with in an efficient and effective manner;
–notes that this has included the provision of 144 additional staff, the establishment of the Refugee Applications Centre and the development of fair and effective procedures and notes also the Minister's plan to provide the further resources now required;
–notes that the Minister has established the Refugee Legal Service to ensure that independent legal advice is available to asylum seekers at all stages of the asylum process and an independent monitoring committee to ensure that a quality legal service is provided to asylum seekers;
–notes that the Minister brought forward amendments to the Refugee Act, 1996, to make that Act workable, thus providing for a refugee applications commissioner with power to delegate and the establishment of a refugee advisory board and is currently working on regulations to ensure that the Refugee Act, 1996, as amended by the Immigration Act, 1999, is implemented as soon as possible;
–notes that the Minister is committed to ensuring that those who are found to be genuine refugees are fully integrated and enjoy all the rights that go with that status and that immigrants generally, irrespective of their status, also have their human rights fully respected;
–notes the measures taken by the Minister and the Government in response to the current high level of asylum applications, including the establishment of a directorate to co-ordinate the dispersal of asylum seekers throughout the country to ensure  that all asylum seekers are provided with accommodation;
–notes that the Minister's Department, in conjunction with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment as appropriate, operates a system under which persons can immigrate legally to Ireland for employment and other purposes;
–notes that the Minister has stated on a number of occasions his commitment to review immigration policy, in particular, to facilitate the entry of persons for the purpose of employment and that this matter is the subject of consideration by his Department and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment;
–notes the Minister's plans to bring forward a comprehensive modern code of immigration and residence law which will provide a solid framework for the development and implementation of fair and sensible immigration policies to meet the changing needs of Irish society, while at the same time respecting the rights of non-nationals in their dealings with the law;
–commends and supports the Minister's ongoing regeneration of the prison system and the establishment of an independent prison's authority, which will contribute to a modernised penal system playing a pivotal role in protecting the community and reducing offending;
–notes the progress made by him in finalising the construction of an unprecedented 1,000 new additional prison spaces as set out in the programme for Government to tackle overcrowding and other deficiencies in the prison system;
–notes the Minister's efforts to reduce the incidence of suicide in Irish prisons while not compromising the human rights of all prisoners to a reasonable degree of privacy;
–notes the Minister's success in establishing on a statutory basis an independent and integrated Courts Service;
–notes the continuing unparalleled and unprecedented reduction of up to 20 per cent in all serious crime, including armed robberies and public order type offences since the Government came to office;
–supports the Minister's commitment to maintaining the momentum of the fight against organised crime by providing the Garda Síochána with the legislative backing and the necessary resources required to deal with the issue;
–notes the Minister's efforts to bring about an acceptable resolution to all sides in the  pay and productivity discussions with the Garda Síochána;
–commends the Minister's proactive policies for dealing with both the supply and demand reduction sides of the drugs problem;
–notes the achievement of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in securing funding from the national development plan to develop crime prevention measures to reduce youth crime;
–recognises the Minister's establishment of the National Crime Forum in 1998 and the National Crime Council recently as landmarks in the criminal justice sector;
–acknowledges the Minister's commitment to reducing sexual offences by commissioning a significant piece of research into the reason there are such high attrition rates in bringing prosecutions in rape cases and by bringing forward legislation to provide for the establishment of a register of sex offenders and also for the separate legal representation of victims in rape cases;
–recognises the Minister's determination to assist the Legal Aid Board in addressing the issue of waiting lists by substantially increasing the staff of the board in the period 1996 to 1999, and by increasing grant-in-aid by 84 per cent from £6.5 million to £11.953 million in the same period;
–notes the comprehensive and unprecedented programme of legislation he continues to bring forward and his intention to bring forward new legislation to regulate the private security industry as soon as other priorities allow;
–notes that the Minister has no function whatsoever in relation to the development of policy or the provision of resources to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Office of the Chief State Solicitor, but is nevertheless concerned to ensure that appropriate procedures, properly resourced, are put in place to avoid a reoccurrence of the errors in the trial referred to, and
–notes that since he took up office, the criminal justice system has never been better resourced and equipped to tackle the incidence of crime in society.
–(Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform).
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Ulick Burke was in possession. There are 23 minutes remaining in this time slot.
Mr. U. Burke: I wish to share my remaining  time with Deputies Belton, Crawford, Ó Caoláin, Fitzgerald and Neville.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. U. Burke: Last night I acknowledged the contribution of Irish emigrants over many decades to the development of various economies throughout the world. I asked if we expected the refugees coming to this country to make a similar contribution. We can expect such a contribution if we give them the opportunity. It is a sad reflection on the Government's mishandling of procedures that only 40 of the more than 3,000 eligible persons have been granted work permits.
We must not view refugees and asylum seekers in the same way as the Government, as a problem or a difficulty, people who will take our jobs and eventually cause economic upheaval. This appears to be Government's current thinking, particularly in light of the vicious comments of some Government backbenchers. We cannot allow the Government to treat refugees and asylum seekers like the Jews and gypsies who were expelled from Europe during past decades. Everyday one can see racism in action in this country. It is still a fact of life for travellers. They have poor access to housing, education and health services.
The Government does not have a policy to solve the problems of refugees. It is a “shambles” and “totally unsatisfactory”, to quote the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell. Last night the Minister said we must have a system in place to ensure that all applicants for asylum are dealt with in an efficient and effective manner. How can that be justified, given that only 40 of the more than 3,000 applicants have been given work permits?
There is the continued sniping, heard again yesterday, of Deputy Noel Ahern with regard to the merit of introducing immigrant workers into the economy. He seeks the selection of skills levels for immigrant workers to secure work permits. This would prove difficult to operate at this time.
The Minister has failed in his areas of responsibility. The elderly are terrorised in their homes by the zero tolerance policy and he has failed to tackle the courts system.
Mr. Belton: I wish to concentrate on public order, a matter of grave concern for citizens. In the early hours of the morning in the streets of towns and cities there are scenes of violence in which people terrorise others, often the elderly, in their houses. I am sure these people have come to the Minister about this problem as well as to other Members of the House. They are genuinely afraid.
There is no force within the Garda Síochána to deal with the problem. It would be worthwhile for the Minister to conduct a study of other countries where the police forces have special task forces to deal with disorder. These problems must be  tackled beforehand. There is no point in one or two gardaí arriving after they occur when it is too late. That is a waste of time. People know this matter must be dealt with. I am sure there are examples in other countries where substantial police forces are deployed in numbers. People know they are there and that they will not get away with disorderly behaviour. That is an area to which the Minister must give his attention.
I welcome the introduction of the inland waterways patrol. It is an important step by the Minister and the Garda Síochána is pleased with the addition of this asset. The area I come from lies along the Shannon, a vast area of water. It is a busy place during the summer months with people visiting the islands and so forth. However, it could be used as a gateway for drug peddlars. The Minister has dealt with an important issue and I wish the new force every success. I take this opportunity to congratulate the Garda Síochána on its recent successes in drugs seizures and dealing with terrorism. People thought the threat of terrorism had passed but, unfortunately, it has not. The Garda and security forces must always be vigilant.
There is much criticism of the Minister's handling of refugees. It is not an easy task for any Minister. The numbers have increased and the State's services are under severe pressure. I hope the Minister will take on board the points I raised.
Mr. Crawford: I acknowledge the Minister's many successes in the Border area in the context of arms finds and other matters. As a supporter of law and order, it is important that I give such recognition.
When the Minister was on this side of the House he had the answers to all problems but, as today's newspapers demonstrate, there are many people living in fear and trepidation of being robbed and so forth. In the short time available to me, I wish to bring one issue to the Minister's attention. Is he aware that a sexual abuse case taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions against a County Monaghan man has been before the courts for the past five years? I only learned about the serious ongoing delays in this case at the weekend.
The initial complaint was made on 25 February 1995 and related to a period in the mid-1980s. For the first three years every legal avenue, up to the Supreme Court, was used by the defendant to avoid being brought to trial. Since then medical reasons have been given despite the fact that the defendant appears to be carrying on his normal everyday activities. There have been 31 court appearances and 19 adjournments.
Does the Minister accept that cases such as this are examples of “justice delayed is justice denied”? It is outrageous that such defendants are living and continuing to work among the public who have no knowledge of the serious offences with which they are charged. Has the State no responsibility, legal or moral, to protect people,  including children, from sex offenders who are charged and awaiting trial? Many victims believe that defendants should be named in cases such as this, as happens in other serious cases, except where the victims express an opinion otherwise.
In cases such as these, where technically the victim is only a witness, there must be a system whereby the victim is in consultation with the State's counsel rather than the current system of isolation and non-communication. In this case there has been no consultation with the victim since the case was sent for trial. The institutions of the State have been flaunted and the victim, who continues to suffer and is deeply traumatised, believes the Minister, the State and the judicial system have failed to make every effort to bring this case to trial and to see justice done.
The victim was advised that the case would be dealt with within six to 12 months after she initially brought it to the notice of the authorities. Can the Minister imagine what this victim and her family have suffered over the past four years? If cases such as this arose outside this State, we would ask probing questions about them.
This is not the only case of this type that has been delayed and it does not encourage victims to bring their cases to the attention of the Garda or other authorities. The Garda and social workers are committed to justice being done. The Minister must make sure that whatever steps need to be taken to avoid such unnecessary delay are put in place now. Should the State not demand consultants' medical evidence rather than that of a family doctor as to the defendant's ability to attend court? In the case of a claim for damages, more than one consultant would be required. I ask the Minister to make sure this type of case never happens again.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I support this motion. I agree with the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, that the Government's policy on asylum seekers is chaotic and a shambles. It is worse, it is an international disgrace to this country. The shameful scenes at the Refugee Applications Centre in Dublin have been reminiscent of the experience of the huddled masses of Irish emigrants of the past at Ellis Island in New York.
The case is attributable totally to the failure of the Government to address the issue of asylum seekers and immigration in a courageous and comprehensive manner. I say courageous because what is needed is political leadership. What have we instead? We have had the deportation Bill. We have had the unworkable and strictly limited work permit procedures, which have failed to operate. We have had the outrageous proposal to mimic the British Government and introduce a degrading voucher scheme to replace welfare payments to asylum seekers, and we have had the statements of Deputy Callely.
Deputy Callely, as chairperson of a health board charged with the welfare of asylum seekers and as a public representative, has acted with great irresponsibility. Equally unacceptable are  the comments of Deputy Noel Ahearn about people “rightly or wrongly who feel threatened by them and who feel they are in competition with them for housing and jobs”. This is cynical playing to a gallery of prejudice. It is the opposite of political leadership. The Minister, too, has made his contribution with his repeated references to waves of refugees and the danger of our being overwhelmed. Language such as this serves to confirm prejudices based on ignorance, which are growing like weeds in our midst.
This State needs a fair immigration policy which gives access to people of diverse geographical, social, economic and ethnic origins to come and work in our economy where their skills and labour are needed. Instead of this we have a woefully inadequate asylum policy and no immigration policy.
The responsibility for failure to address this worsening problem must lie squarely with the Minister. There can be no excuse for this failure after over three years of this Administration. The Minister would have the full support of all parties in this House if he brought forward humane and just policies and legislation to deal comprehensively with immigration and asylum. He has not done so and he shows no signs of doing so. I have no option, therefore, but to support this motion of no confidence.
I cannot ignore the other areas of justifiable criticism that this motion places at the Minister's door. However, it should bring the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, no solace that the unacceptable conditions in Mountjoy Prison were a cold reality during the terms of office of both of the chief proponents of this motion of no confidence. The disgraceful overcrowding, the epidemic drug scene and the repeating tragedy of coffin after coffin being brought through its gates make Mountjoy a sentinel to this State's shameful record in prison administration.
I remember very well, and refuse to forget, the tragic death of Michael Lynagh in Mountjoy Prison, a young man from my home town. He was hounded to his death by the forces of this State. Michael did not deserve to die as he did. Neither did the five unfortunates who found themselves in this hell hole in the heart of the city who died in equally tragic circumstances during this year alone. How many lives lost will it take before this Government or any Government acts as it must? It is too late for too many. I appeal to the Minister to stop prevaricating and act now.
Ms Fitzgerald: The Celtic tiger and the Celtic economy are phrases very familiar to us now, but how will this Celtic economy be judged in years to come? Will it be judged by the implementation of the national development plan, by the investment in bricks and mortar, roads and bridges or, more likely, will it be judged by the quality of life our country will offer to all our citizens? It will be judged by the quality of life we will offer to immigrants, refugees, those who are disadvan taged, those who are marginalised and those who, for a variety of reasons, cannot benefit from the economic boom. This is the real challenge, this is the challenge of the politics of prosperity.
We have an emerging new social issue and the omens are not good on how we are dealing with it. The divisiveness of the Government sends out a message couched in ambivalence and ambiguity, a message that seeks to appease all opinion from extreme racist to extreme liberal, and it does not show leadership. The challenge is there and it must be met in a rational, reasonable and humanitarian way that takes full account of our prosperous situation vis-à-vis many in the world.
Queues in Mount Street, lack of toilet facilities for those waiting in queues, women going into labour while waiting in queues, which has happened, and heavily pregnant women queuing outside for hours clearly indicate we are not coping. Legislation, when it is introduced, is often of the emergency variety and, in some ways, guaranteed to increase fears of hoards descending on us as opposed to a realistic outline of how we should be fulfilling our international obligations and a series of plans for integration. Make no mistake, the challenge of integration is the real one, and this has many major aspects, including cultural, educational, housing and medical, to name but a few.
As a nation which depended on the generous humanitarian approach of other countries, the US, England and Australia, to take our workforce who were emigrating, today's scenes on Mount Street are a sad spectacle. The racist and xenophobic comments of some who should be leaders in recent days to a small but respective audience are very worrying. I call on the Taoiseach, as the leader of all the people, to reject fully these racist comments and reflect the wider, humanitarian view of the general public. We can afford to look after 5,000, 8,000, 10,000 or more people who need to come into this country. Part of the problem is that we have no realistic overall assessment of the numbers we can cope with and the services that are needed. It is clear we badly need the services of many of these people, some of whom are already trained and ready for work and others who need training, particularly in the English language.
Sadly, again it is the failure of the system, or the absence of a system, to cope with the current situation that is worrying. Until the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs finally got up and said “enough is enough”, the Government was prepared to let the situation drag on without the will or the interest to prepare a proper logistical plan for the efficient handling of the situation. More staff could be drafted in once the ministerial will is there to effect it.
I take this opportunity to compliment the Minister, Deputy O'Donnell, on her stand. I pay tribute to the staff in Mount Street, in my constituency of Dublin South-East, who have worked under extreme conditions in sometimes quite dangerous, volatile circumstances that could eas ily have got out of hand and could still easily get out of hand if we do not make the proper decisions and put the necessary resources in place to try to sort out the difficult, demanding situation that has arisen there. I hope the Minister will implement genuine reform of the existing system rather than a half-baked scheme drafted for the sole purpose of political expediency.
Mr. Neville: I wish to speak to the section of the motion that refers to the failure of the Minister to adopt a more humane approach to the administration of our prison service. In particular, I wish to refer to the tragic death of five prisoners in apparent suicides in prison since the beginning of 1999. It is obvious the prison regime is not responding to those who are in deep despair because of their circumstances and other aspects of their lives and who feel the only solution to their difficulty is to take their own lives. The number of prison suicides is far too high – one suicide death is far too high. The Minister has failed to provide the resources to ensure proper psychiatric and psychological services are available to prisoners. In the United States it was found that one out of every 12 prisoners on average suffer from a serious psychiatric illness. The Minister must introduce, as a matter of urgency, suicide prevention programmes in the Prisons Service.
The Minister informed me on 21 October, following another tragic death, that preventative measures were under review. What was the outcome of that review? What training is given to staff in the implementation of suicide prevention programmes?
A key area is the determination of a person's mental and social profile on entering prison. I understand there is a only a brief medical examination of all new prisoners. We need to complete a psychological and social profile of each prisoner. I understand from the Minister's reply in the House recently that the authorities were unaware that one of the suicide victims was an alcoholic. A person with this condition needs help to overcome it, to dry out and to deal with life afterwards. It is not enough to lock them up and to leave them to look after themselves. Prison medical officers should access all medical records of prisoners in custody. A health management programme should be introduced for each prisoner, with the necessary medical, psychological and psychiatric backup, to ensure they are healthy and also as a rehabilitative exercise which will have a positive effect on recidivism.
Prisoners are at high risk of suicide. On 21 October I raised the possibility of introducing psychiatric technicians to the prisons, which is similar to what happens in California. Has the Minister examined this programme? The programme is administered by technicians and includes crisis intervention, mental health screening, patient assessment, implementing treatment programmes, supervising suicide risks, administering medication and maintaining medical  records and quality assurance. Another function involves parole programmes which prepare inmates for productive lives after release.
The national task force on suicide published its recommendations in a report in January 1998. Perhaps the Minister could outline his response to developments in relation to those recommendations. The report stated that the national task force on suicide was concerned about the level and organisation of mental health services provided in the prison system. It stated that there is a need to augment significantly existing provisions of what could be considered the caring services in the prison environment, for example, the medical service which includes psychiatric and psychological services. The task force endorsed the recommendations of the report of the advisory group on prison deaths which was published in August 1991. The Minister recently informed us that while some of the recommendations have been introduced, not all of them have.
Is the Minister aware of the microwave breathing detector system which has been developed in Hertfordshire and which identifies prisoners when they stop breathing in their cells?
Mr. O'Flynn: I wish to share my time with Deputies McGuinness, Kenneally, O'Donnell, Dermot Ahern, Martin, Cowen and Conor Lenihan.
I do not support the motion. My initial reaction on reading it was that those who signed it must have omitted other misdeeds for which they could hold the Minister responsible. The signatories plumbed the depths when looking for items to include in the list. If we were in the last century, they would have blamed the Minister for the great fire of Chicago in 1871. That would have let Mrs. O'Leary's cow off the hook. The Opposition is looking for a head on a plate and, in this case, it is the head of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. However, no head will be taken tonight.
The Opposition wants to blame the Minister for all the ills which have beset the nation since it left public office. It shows a remarkable lack of judgment and a deficient memory. It has chosen to forget the days of the last coalition Government when crime was completely out of hand and the Government's total inaction in providing additional prison spaces. To blame the Minister for the sad deaths from suicide of those in prison is unfair, unwarranted and in poor taste.
The Opposition mentioned the crimes and vandalism which continue to bedevil communities throughout the State. However, it lost power on the law and order platform. The Minister's performance in this field enjoys the support of the public. He has recruited additional gardaí and provided the force with advanced technology to fight the sophisticated criminals. The Minister fully recognises the outstanding work being done by the gardaí. He will listen to the force's concerns and its legitimate viewpoints on any issue at the appropriate forum.
 There were waiting lists for free legal aid between 1995 and 1997. Why wait until 1999 to voice concerns?
Mr. Howlin: Because the number has quadrupled.
Mr. O'Flynn: The problems in relation to staffing in the Chief State Solicitor's Office are being addressed. The Minister was further attacked for his failure to regularise the private security industry. What relevant legislation did the Opposition enact between 1995 and 1997?
The Minister was unfairly attacked for his policy on asylum seekers. We must not go down the road of political opportunism travelled by the Opposition. We need objective and balanced debate. The immigration issue must be regulated.
I fully support the Minister who has done an outstanding job over the past two and a half years. I ask the Opposition to give him credit for that.
Mr. McGuinness: It will be clear to anyone listening to this debate that the Opposition parties are united by the fact they do not have a policy to deal with immigration. They did not have a policy in Government, so it is hardly surprising they do not have one now. They have sought to use this issue to attack the record of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. All the fine words and high blown rhetoric about the duties of the State in relation to asylum seekers are being used as little more than a cloak to vent their spleen against a member of the Government. It must be a source of puzzlement to asylum seekers to see their plight exploited in this way.
The type of scattergun motion tabled by the Opposition parties says it all. The House is being asked to express no confidence in a Minister who has presided over a reduction of approximately 25 per cent in the crime rate, who has introduced more legislation than any of his predecessors and who has faced up honestly and fairly to issues which the previous Government allowed to fester until they got out of control. It is worth reminding the House that all the successful anti-crime policies introduced by the previous Government were only accepted after unrelenting pressure from the Minister when he was the Opposition spokesman. He introduced legislation for a referendum on bail which the then Government at first rejected and then scurried to introduce when it realised there was a crime problem.
Mr. Howlin: It has not been introduced yet.
Mr. Quinn: Two and a half years later.
Mr. McGuinness: Something similar happened with the drug trafficking legislation and the legislation dealing with the proceeds of crime, which  formed the basis of the Criminal Assets Bureau Act, 1996, which was introduced by the Minister.
Mr. Quinn: That is not true.
Mr. Howlin: Can Deputy McGuinness not at least be truthful?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I ask Deputies to allow the speaker to continue because there is limited time.
Mr. McGuinness: It was supported by the Government of the day only because it was embarrassed by the number of times it had rejected his policies and then had to pilfer them. Legislative kleptomania passed for an anti-crime policy in those days. Judging from the Opposition parties' record in Government, they have more confidence in failure than in success.
A measure of the tardiness of the motion is that it seeks to traduce the Minister for his failure to provide sufficient staff for the Chief State Solicitor's office for which the Minister has no responsibility. This indicates either a profound level of ignorance about the structures and administration of Government, which cannot be ruled out fully, or the movers of the motion have decided that if they cannot blame the Minister for how he carries out his responsibilities they should blame him for matters which are not his responsibility. The motion says more about the Opposition than it says about the Minister. I support the Minister.
Mr. Kenneally: I am appalled and disgusted at the effrontery of the Opposition to table a motion of no confidence in the best Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform we have seen in recent times. The Minister has been proactive in solving long standing problems in our community. He has projected a positive, no nonsense image which people find reassuring and refreshing after the bland lacklustre performance of his predecessor.
The Minister has achieved a great deal in his relatively short time in office. If he attracts the ire of the Opposition, it is because he has chosen to be a Minister with profile, a parliamentarian with policies and a leader in his Department. He is a Minister who is active and innovative and he is not afraid to keep his head above the parapet and to keep in touch with the people.
Mr. Quinn: He has great tolerance.
Mr. Kenneally: Included in the laughable list of so-called indictments put forward by the Opposition is the charge about prisons. When he came to office the Minister inherited a revolving door system of imprisonment which brought the penal system into disrepute. In his short time in office he has slowed that door considerably with the inevitable result of overcrowding in our prisons. This will be relieved when the new institutions are opened and meanwhile, if there is discomfort or even hardship in keeping prisoners in jail that  is better than having convicted people terrorise society. I regret the inconvenience but it is inevitable and is the proper course.
The support for the Minister, for his positive approach and for his considerable achievements which has been made known to me in my constituency confirms my belief that the Minister is on the right track. He has my full and unquestioned support. I note the reference to Nora Wall who comes from my constituency and whose case I have followed quite closely. I sympathise with Nora Wall and her family who have suffered trauma and tension but it is ludicrous to blame the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for what has transpired in the courts. The principle of the separation of powers must be considered and even if this were not a factor, the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions was distanced from the Minister and from the influence of this House by the last incumbent of his office.
The current debate about illegal immigrants is characterised by a great deal of hype, hypocrisy and a hidden agenda. Those who suggest that we should willy-nilly accept every person who presents himself on our shores regardless of the method of his arrival, background or history are deluding themselves. The Minister is holding a very firm stance on this universal problem and as the one with responsibility, is resisting taking precipitate action which, while it might prove popular in the short-term, would ultimately cause major problems.
Deputy O'Donoghue is an effective and hard-working Minister whose record of legislation is very impressive. We have a competent and capable Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I propose to vote confidence in him and I exhort the House to acknowledge his work and to do likewise.
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Ms O'Donnell): I acknowledge, as the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has outlined, the progress made by the Government to date in putting in place, for the first time ever, a fair and UNHCR compliant asylum process in line with out international obligations. He has done so from a very weak administrative base involving huge backlogs inherited from the previous Government which clearly experienced its own problems in dealing with this issue.
The Government fully acknowledges that current demands on this system have presented real difficulties in service provision for asylum seekers and the Minister has outlined his plans to put more resources in place to deal with both the backlog of applicants and the new applications at the earliest possible date. We are in agreement on all sides of the House that a credible and efficient asylum process is urgently needed to avoid intolerable strains on staff and clients alike. In publicly expressing my concerns about the current difficulties I had no wish to inflame public debate or cause insult to any person, not least the Mini ster for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who I acknowledge is working in very difficult circumstances.
There is much misunderstanding among our people on this issue and it is the task of Government to lead an enlightened debate. I appeal to all Members of the House to be responsible in their statements and to avoid a polarised and acrimonious debate which could lead in turn to division among our people. It behoves all of us, as real republicans, to foster tolerance of diversity among our people and to frame policies which are tailored so as not to impose intolerable demands on services and already stretched communities marginalised by poverty. A well-thought out settlement policy for asylum seekers would avoid many of the difficulties presented in terms of service provision and I am confident that an energetic and focused effort by the relevant Ministers, co-ordinated by the Taoiseach, will effectively deal with this issue which we must accept is not a temporary challenge. I am confident that our policies and procedures will be informed by human rights considerations and will be fully respectful of the dignity of vulnerable individuals.
The best outcome of this debate would be to have a reasonable, responsible and rights based approach, kind to the needy and firm with the law-breaker. Trafficking must be tackled and our borders must be controlled to deter illegal immigration. All states have an obligation to deter illegal immigration. Nobody is in favour of an open door policy. I welcome the fact that a modern and coherent immigration policy linked to the needs of our economy is being formulated.
Given the rapid pace of social and economic development in Ireland, we must be prepared to tackle the unfamiliar situations and challenges which come with it. Harking back to the past as many have done will not serve us and new realities are not always welcome to us. Ireland has a noble record on social justice in the world. Generations of Irish people have served to improve the lives of the poor in the Third World and this continues in our ODA programme.
Notwithstanding much social change, we are culturally a Christian society embracing certain tenets of morality and social justice. We have suffered from colonisation and oppression and economic deprivation in our own history. We are very well placed to formulate a compassionate and enlightened response to this phenomenon of migration by the poor and dispossessed of the world. It would be incompatible with all we stand for as a people to allow the abuse of asylum by some to diminish our asylum and immigration policies.
I hope Members on all sides of the House will not suspect my motives in publicly expressing my genuinely held beliefs and concerns as Minister of State with responsibility for this area of human rights. My criticisms were at all times of defects in the systems and administration and were not personalised against any group of workers or any individual. I fully accept that all my ministerial  colleagues are well motivated in dealing with this issue and I intend to work in solidarity with them on this and other areas of policy.
Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): I support Deputy John O'Donoghue, Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Deputy O'Donoghue has a longstanding commitment to justice. Whether in Government or opposition no one in this House has a better record on justice. In opposition he made more contributions to the justice policy issue than the then incumbent, Deputy Owen. He brought forward the legislation which broke the backs of the criminal gangs which were terrorising sections of the community. In Private Members' time he brought forward the Proceeds of Crime Bill which became the backbone of the policy of the Government from then until it left office as it took the Bill and changed the Title and a few sections. When Deputy Owen castigated Deputy O'Donoghue, claiming that his Bill was unconstitutional, the Bill was proved constitutional.
In Government Deputy O'Donoghue has delivered on the commitments in our action programme. Crime has fallen by 25 per cent, he has put in 1,000 additional prison spaces, increased legal aid by 84 per cent and increased Garda strength to an all-time high. He has produced action rather than the inaction which was the hallmark of the previous Government. He has put in place 144 additional staff to deal with asylum seekers, in contrast with the eight staff that were there in the Rainbow Coalition era. He has brought forward refugee legislation in stark contrast to the unworkable legislation of the previous Government. Procedures have been put in place to allow 2,500 asylum seekers to work while the previous Government outlawed work for asylum seekers in 1996. I remind the Labour Party that it was part of the coalition Government which introduced legislation to outlaw asylum seekers working. The Labour Party seems to have some difficulty in remembering that fact. The very people who brought forward that legislation now criticise the Government on this issue. In contrast, the Government has provided significant resources to support asylum seekers through welfare, health, housing and education systems. They are treated on exactly the same basis as any other person in this society who has insufficient means to meet his needs. Almost 6,000 asylum seeker households receive supplementary welfare allowance. This amounted to £35 million in 1999 and £22 million in 1998. The Government recently announced that it would bring forward direct provision for the needs of asylum seekers. Meanwhile, the basic needs of asylum seekers will continue to be met by the social welfare system. Not only are we supporting individual asylum seekers but, through my Department, we are also supporting a wide range of groups who support asylum seekers.
 I support Deputy O'Donoghue and the Government's view in this area. We will continue to meet the challenges that are ahead and we will make this country a better place for all people. As for the Opposition I can do no better than repeat the words of the Reverend John Dunlop on “Questions and Answers” last Monday evening when he said that Deputy Owen's and her party's position of moral superiority seemed not to be appropriate in this instance.
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): There are many important areas where the legacy of inaction of the last Government has led to problems being much worse than they needed to be. The Labour Party was in charge of housing policy for years but did not plan or provide for the emerging scale of need. Fine Gael's undistinguished record in charge of transport policy provides a fine backdrop to Deputy Yates's frequent tirades. I particularly find the Opposition's new-found devotion to education to be almost amusing, in light of the Labour Party's 1997 freeze on school funding and its attempts to cut back teacher numbers. In addition to these general areas, the specific issue of refugees and asylum seekers is another area where the Opposition did little or nothing when in charge of public policy. In contrast, a wide range of actions have been undertaken over the past two years. A new series of resources had to be put in place. The ever changing nature and scale of the issue has required a rapid evolution of policies. This challenge is being met.
Perhaps the Opposition knew a few months ago that the number of asylum applications would double, but it did not tell anyone. This increase has caused a range of pressures to which the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Government continue to respond. The crass stereotyping of the actions of the Minister and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform does nothing to inform a constructive debate on this issue.
Responses to the processing, support and housing of asylum seekers and refugees are developing to meet the new needs. This action is ongoing. In my area, for example, we are reviewing the supports we provided last year for schools catering for the children involved and will shortly announce advances to meet new needs. We are also supporting multicultural and anti-racism initiatives, some in conjunction with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
An increasing number of people are casually bandying around the word “racist”. This does nothing to foster an informed and balanced discussion of the issues.
Mr. Quinn: The Minister should talk to Deputy Callely.
Mr. Martin: There should also be no place in  our debates for the naive extremes of those who think we can have completely open borders and manage any number of refugees, or those who would exclude all non-EU immigrants.
Any objective assessment reveals a Minister who has succeeded across the range of issues for which he is responsible. Crime has decreased significantly throughout the country. There are more gardaí than ever before and their physical facilities are benefiting from the largest ever programme of investment. The Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, has also worked to bring the issue of crime into a wider context. We all know the Opposition Front Benches are full of people still smarting from the way he exposed their mishandlings and wholesale inadequacies. Theirs is a record of a rejected Administration which left behind nothing but a catalogue of unequalled disarray in this vital area. In contrast, the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, has delivered concrete action and he deserves the confidence and thanks of this House.
Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen): I join with previous speakers in congratulating the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on his speech last night, which cogently put forward a very comprehensive, reasoned, balanced argument. It was very informative for Members who have been quick to criticise him and the public. I can say, as his colleague, that no Minister has been more active in seeking to come to terms with this relatively recent phenomenon in Irish society, resulting from the greatest movement of people in Europe since the Second World War. This is an international phenomenon which has come to our shores and which we must cope and deal with in a comprehensive and balanced way.
The Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, has taken actions in this area, rather than just talking about it. The record of the last Government in relation to this matter does not crown it in glory. The Minister came to this problem in June 1997 and has taken many proactive steps which have confirmed his humanitarian approach to this issue, in terms of providing independent appeals mechanisms and staff to process the applications, which had mounted and were unattended to under the previous Administration. He has taken a series of steps to ensure the dignity of individuals is upheld.
Due to the unpredictability of the numbers arriving every week, it is difficult to meet the critical service pressures that can sometimes arise, as happened recently. However, I want to make it very clear that the Minister's commitment to this issue over the past two and a half years has been consistent and, without wishing any disrespect to anyone else, greater than anyone else's. He is the front line Minister who has to deal with this issue, in terms of how we meet our international law obligations. He has been in constant contact with the international personages who have been interacting with the Department of  Justice, Equality and Law Reform to ensure the basic rights of asylum seekers and immigrants. He has made the very clear point that these are not interchangeable terms but have distinct definitional values and require distinct responses under international law.
There is not a great deal of difference between Members in relation to these fundamental matters. There is a tendency to fall into the trap of political stereotyping for the purposes of trying to provide a very facile analysis. It has been unjustifiably said that the groups debating this issue can be divided into people who believe in immigration and those who do not. That is a very unfair analysis of the situation. What we are talking about – and what was the policy being pursued in the latter days of the rainbow coalition, in terms of its decision of 25 June – is the need to provide immigration control so that we can uphold the definite public policy criteria that apply here, to ensure the rights of people who come to this country are upheld, regardless of whether they are here legally or illegally under our present laws.
The Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, has made a commitment over many months to bring forward updated immigration and asylum laws, which are a subset of immigration law, in view of the recent phenomenon which did not apply when the primary legislation, such as the Aliens Act and other legislation referring to this matter, were enacted. Unfortunately, the changing situation means that the procedures laid down in the Refugee Act, 1996, are inadequate, despite what I am sure were the best intentions of the then Government to bring forward a legislative response which it believed was adequate.
Let us be fair and tolerant in relation to the complexity of this issue. Let us give credit where it is due to this Government, in all its manifestations, and the chairmanship of the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, of the interdepartmental committee. I welcome the directorate which has just been set up under the auspices of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Government is totally committed to seeking to deal with this problem in a proper and dignified way.
Mr. C. Lenihan: I concur with the contributions of both Ministers who spoke before me. There is a danger, on the cusp of the new millennium, that we will use or give in to illiberal or intemperate comments on this issue. It is a tragedy that the Opposition has chosen to play politics with this issue.
Mr. Ferris: The Deputy should include the Progressive Democrats.
Mr. C. Lenihan: We are talking about migrants to our country who are extremely vulnerable and deserve better from the Opposition. I condemn the knee-jerk reactions by both liberals and illib erals. I object vociferously to the use of the word “racism”, which is being pinned on people as a label. That is wrong and is not the spirit of Ireland.
Irish people have migrated to many other countries. We would expect to be able to accord the welcome we received in those countries over the centuries to people who come here. However, the reality is that the debate has been debased somewhat by this motion. The Minister is doing all the responsible acts required of a Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. However, we must distinguish between the role of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform as it applies to refugee, asylum and immigration policy and as it applies to the skills shortages we face.
Government policy, to date, has focused on the notion of dispersal of asylum seekers in an even way around the country, rapid integration of genuine political refugees and a move towards direct provision for the needs of those awaiting a decision on their asylum status. A clear distinction must be drawn between the position of the genuine political refugee, who enjoys protection under the UN charter, and the position of an economic migrant. The challenge for the Government is how it should provide for the economic migrant and establish a policy that helps industry meet the skills shortages that are there for everyone to see. The responsibility for drawing up such a policy lies squarely within the Tánaiste's remit, given that her Department, not that of the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, is responsible for filling the skill gaps facing Irish businesses. Those clear distinctions must be drawn in this debate.
Unfortunately, there has been a confusion in this debate between three very important terms – asylum seeker, refugee and economic migrant. A clear distinction must be drawn between those three categories. I am confident the Government, including the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, and the Tánaiste, will fulfil the needs of both those seeking legitimate asylum from political persecution and economic migrants, by matching those migrants with the demonstrable skills shortages in our economy.
Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. Fahey): It is a pleasure to work with Deputy O'Donoghue, one of the most hardworking and effective Ministers for justice that we have had for a long time. He has been reforming, progressive and enlightened as evidenced by the legislation placed on the Statute Book during the past two and a half years. There is no question or doubt that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has performed much better under his leadership. He has introduced more legislation than any of his predecessors. He has introduced legislation dealing with such matters as witness protection and human rights, the first Bill of its kind to be introduced in the State. More than £1 billion has been  spent in the past year, by far the largest amount ever spent. The number of serious crimes committed has fallen by 25 per cent or 20,000.
The Opposition should be fair and straight as regards the Minister's performance. There is no doubt that he has a safe pair of hands. His work rate was unmatched by any of his predecessors. A record number of Bills, 28 in total, have been introduced in the past two years. A total of 11 Bills are currently before the Oireachtas. A further 28 Bills are at various stages of preparation.
I was pleased to work with the Minister on the Children Bill, one of the most revolutionary Bills ever introduced and in which I tried to be radical but he was even more radical. That legislation alone shows the kind of politician and legislator the Minister is. He was aggressive and a tough opponent in opposition but since taking office he has been much maligned and unfairly treated.
On asylum seekers and refugees, as the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell said, problems are being experienced but given the numbers turning up at our doorstep any Minister would have problems. Deputy O'Donoghue is the best Minister for Justice we have had in the past ten years and I am proud to support him.
Mr. Howlin: What about Máire?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I understand Deputy Joe Higgins is sharing time with Deputies De Rossa, Michael D. Higgins, O'Sullivan and Broughan.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): As a Socialist Party Deputy I co-sponsored the motion expressing no confidence in the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and, by extension, the Government since he merely expresses Government policy. There is a two tier system of justice. On that basis alone the Minister and Government stand condemned. While the poor continue to be criminalised and go to jail, the rich continue to defraud with abandon and go free. A poor man was driven to his death in recent weeks having been sent to prison for stealing a coat while a heroin addict was condemned to six years in prison for stealing a handbag. At the same time the most powerful institutions in the State, the banks and financial institutions, have defrauded the tax system with abandon to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds. Has the chairman of a major bank or a prominent director darkened the doorway of a courthouse to answer for this grotesque fraud on the people? Has even a charge been laid? The Minister and the Government protect the criminal rich. That is the reality as long as they form part of the elite of this society.
Heroin is as common inside our prisons as outside. What hope does that give us that the Minister and the Government can solve this horrific problem which is preying on working-class communities? There is no chance that they will get to  the root of the problems in our inner cities and outer suburbs causing this terrible tragedy.
On those seeking refuge, the Minister and the Government stand condemned. Two years ago the Minister said that 90 per cent of asylum applications were bogus even before hearings were held. The principle of natural justice went out the window. No Minister condemned the hardnosed comments of the hardnecked Deputy Callely, a Fianna Fáil Deputy treading the well worn path of cynical bigotry and opportunism, targeting a minority, the defenceless and the weak, and flying in the face of our history.
Mr. Cowen: Over the top.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): In recent months the Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants stated that 1,287,987 people born in this country are living outside its borders. A total of 8,000 are seeking refuge which is considered a crisis by the Minister and the Government. Fianna Fáil Deputies are stirring up the politics of resentment by suggesting to the poor in desperate need of a home and living in poverty that somehow refugees are responsible. That is despicable beyond belief. The land speculators, racketeers, house builders and developers who back, support and finance Fianna Fáil are responsible for the housing crisis and the fact that rents have gone through the roof. Yet, there has not been one word of condemnation against a Deputy stirring up such hatred. The Minister and the Government stand condemned.
Proinsias De Rossa: Of all the members of the Cabinet, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, has proved to be the most incompetent and inept. He is the one who promised most and delivered least. He was the man who in opposition had all the answers but in government can provide none of the solutions. The litany of his failures has been well documented in this debate, from his failure to deal with industrial relations and morale problems in the Garda Siochána – he has presided over the first Garda strike in the history of the State – to his failure to ensure communities, particularly in urban areas, are provided with adequate protection against the continuing problems of crime and vandalism. If anyone thought that the problem of crime was being adequately dealt with they must have had their illusions shattered by the CSO figures published in the newspapers today which show a huge level of unreported crime and a worrying gap between official Garda statistics and the actual level of crime experienced.
Nowhere have the Minister's failings been more obvious or stark than in regard to asylum seekers. The advocate of tolerance and understanding in opposition seems to have become a prisoner of the most conservative forces within Fianna Fáil and the Department of Justice,  Equality and Law Reform, an advocate of a severe and an inflexible approach to this issue.
The way in which we respond to the problem of asylum seekers and immigrants will be a measure of our maturity as a society. We have two clear choices: we can go the road of prejudice, ignorance and intolerance as advocated by Deputy Callely who believes in nothing, who does not believe what he is saying and who is a cynical, opportunist politician of the worst kind or we can go the way proposed by Deputy Noel Ahern. I have drawn a distinction previously in this House between what I regard as Deputy Callely's opportunism and Deputy Ahern's honest conservatism but the net result is the same: a heightened prejudice against and fear of those who are different in our society.
We can look for a way to deal with the challenge in a civilised and humane way which allows us as a relatively wealthy and developed country, to meet our obligations to those who are less fortunate. It is important to remind the House that this is a Europe-wide problem which has touched Ireland only relatively slightly and then only in recent years. Around 450,000 sought asylum in 29 industrialised countries last year. Some European countries have been struggling with this problem for years. Figures quoted last night by my colleague, Deputy Howlin, show that the scale of the problem in most of our European neighbours is far more severe than anything we have experienced. The number of asylum seekers and immigrants is entirely manageable if we have the will and determination to take the actions required.
The refusal to allow asylum seekers to work is a form of double discrimination. It discriminates against them by compelling them to remain on the lowest levels of social welfare payments. This means that they have no independent income of their own and they must depend on the State for basic services such as housing and health. Given the time it takes to determine the status, this can go on for years. It also discriminates against them because it leaves them open to the perception that they are spongers who want to live off the State when we know that this is far from the truth. It also leaves them subject to exploitation by unscrupulous elements in our society.
Mr. D. Ahern: What did the Deputy do in 1996?
Proinsias De Rossa: The changes announced in July, which were supposed to open the door to work for asylum seekers, are so bureaucratic that they have proven to be worse than useless. Those who, for whatever reason, find themselves in this country and who want to play a constructive part in its social and economic life should be allowed to do so.
From time to time the Minister has referred to the orderly return of persons to their country of origin. This is a polite way of saying “forcible  deportation”. A policy of forcible deportation will involve reluctant, fearful men, women and children, possibly screaming and fighting, handcuffed to gardaí or immigration officers, being forced onto planes—
Mr. Fahey: What did the Deputy do when in office?
Proinsias De Rossa: —or ferries. Such a policy would be unthinkable and would bring shame on Ireland throughout the international community. If, by his question, the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, is advocating such a policy—
Mr. Martin: When the Deputy was in office he advocated such a policy.
Mr. Fahey: I am asking what did the Deputy do.
Proinsias De Rossa: —shame on him as Minister with responsibility for children.
Mr. Martin: He is not.
Mr. O'Donoghue: We know what the Deputy is against, we do not know what he is for.
Mr. M. Higgins: When I spoke on this subject on related legislation in February, when we were dealing with the Immigration Bill, I referred to Ireland's historic experience of sending people abroad. Perhaps in the 1950s it was at its most extreme since the Famine, with 55,000 people emigrating in 1955. During that decade and the decade that went before, it was never less than 35,000 people. It was a time in England when signs in windows read “No dogs, blacks or Irish”. There is probably no country in Europe or the world which should be more cognisant of the marginalisation of migrants, not just in Britain but in America, Australia and elsewhere.
What we have been debating last night and today are the messages that are being sent, and some appalling messages are being sent. Even in the Minister's contribution last night there is reference to the treatment of migrants and of the rest of the members of the Irish population. He stated:
We most certainly do not assist the process of integration or help to avoid the evils of racism by blurring the legal distinctions to which I have already referred. The general public is not impressed, and many are angered, when they hear comments, the general import of which is that a blurred application of the law is to be supported or at least tolerated when one is dealing with the problem of illegal immigration, but not when one is dealing with breaches of other laws. Suggestions to the  effect that immigrants deserve preferential treatment when it comes to enforcement of the law, feeds into the hands of those whose basic tendencies are racist.
I am appalled by the inclusion of that paragraph in a speech written for a Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform because what we are discussing is all about messages. Two messages have consistently come from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It has exaggerated the problem out of all proportion and it has insisted on writing, in replies to Minister's questions and in speeches, the suggestion that unless we are careful we are about to be overwhelmed by an enormous flood of immigrants. Those in the Department have consistently sent a message abroad that we must appear to be tough, but at home they dance on the legal distinctions in regard to who is a refugee, a migrant or an economic refugee.
The use of language is an appalling abuse. There is no point in putting a tooth in it. Deputies Callely Ahern, Flood and others know what they are saying. What we say in this House can contribute to or answer the fear that has been created by imprecise policy. What have these people said? They said that migrants are in competition with the poorest, the people waiting for houses and the unemployed. This is to inculcate and spread fear among the areas of the population in which it can do the most damage. That is cheap and ugly populism.
On another matter, the manner in which it has been repeated here that the legislation passed by the House can be ignored, is little less than outrageous and indeed unconstitutional. The Refugee Act, 1996, is the law of the land, and if the Minister does not like it, he should repeal it. While it is the law of the land, the Minister has responsibility of providing the resources to implement it. Why should he listen to hostile comments from an Administration that opposed it from the very beginning?
We need to remain calm, as we have been encouraged to do by the Government, but if the Government is interested in keeping calm, why did Deputy O'Flynn, speaking in the House earlier today, talk about 2,000 people in 1992 and the great flood that was beginning, when in answering a question on 12 October 1999 the Minister gave a figure of 31 for 1994? The 1992 figures which Deputy O'Flynn quoted were 39 applications, three of which were withdrawn before a decision was made, seven were recognised as refugees and 29 were refused. There is a myth being built that the flood has begun and a message must be sent abroad that will not be misinterpreted. Tens of thousands of agricultural benefits have to be administered for farmers and it does not affect the existence of the State, but 900 refugees a month arrive here and the State goes into a crisis. That is incredible.
As someone who has been interested in the issue of prisons for 20 years, I sat and listened last night to a disgraceful litany of more prison places  when there are three to four times the European average of young people under the age of 13 in our prisons who should not be there. It is a scandal that there were no non-prison options in a long contribution by the Minister. Those two issues, refugee policy and prisons, are the reason the Minister should call it a day.
Ms O'Sullivan: How we speak about and interact with asylum seekers at this critical time will determine to a large extent whether we become a cohesive, intercultural society or one which is torn by mistrust, division and racism. I completely concur with what my colleague, Deputy Higgins, has just said about the importance of the language we use when we talk about this issue. We can set the seeds now for the growth of far right fascist politics, the type that has taken hold in France, Austria, Denmark and other EU countries, or we can take the other route. We can use the experience of our collective history to adapt to the change which is inevitable in a global economy in which we are a successful player.
We have and will continue to have immigrants of different race, colour and creed living here. That is an undisputed fact. The question is how we manage it. We need clear Government policies which are efficiently implemented so that the process runs smoothly. What is Government policy on immigration? There have been a number of reactive statements from various Government Deputies, from the Tánaiste down, but there is no policy or coherent plan of action. On the Order of Business this morning the Taoiseach indicated that there is no new legislation promised until late next year. Last night the Minister belatedly acknowledged that the Refugee Act introduced by the former Minister of State, Joan Burton, is good legislation, yet he has refused to provide one intelligent, honest explanation as to why that legislation effectively has been shelved.
Last week members of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights visited the Mount Street centre. We could see that the staff were doing their best to deliver a good service but there simply were not enough people to deliver the service. The number of asylum seekers coming to our shores to seek shelter is relatively small in comparison with other EU countries. The increase this year was predictable. The likelihood that they will continue to increase is predictable. It should not be too much to expect decent conditions in the delivery of services to which people are entitled in times of economic plenty. It is our obligation under international law. While politics and administration eventually comes to grips with the challenges of immigration, it is imperative that we do not use language or repeat mistruths which only serve to fuel the intolerant and racist attitudes which have grown in recent years.
Using words such as “influx” and “swamped” only serves to further marginalise immigrants. It dehumanises people and portrays their plight as problems for society. Giving credence to the erroneous claims that asylum seekers are respon sible in part for our housing, homelessness or unemployment problems, is also unworthy of Members. These problems are of our own making and we now have the resources to address them. Pointing the finger at asylum seekers is nothing more or less than scapegoating. Insisting on the marginalisation of asylum seekers creates divisions and tensions.
In his contribution to the Immigration Bill this afternoon, Deputy Noel Ahern referred to the fact that refugees are already working in the black economy, and stated: “I have no objection to that. People are obviously being paid out of the till. That goes on and it is good and proper”.
Is there any logic behind these comments? Why do some on the Government benches want and approve of asylum seekers working in the black economy? They hold that view because it will keep asylum seekers on the margins of society, and always ensure that they are outside the law and subject to a crackdown when someone believes fit. We must be careful in the language we use so that we do not legitimise intolerance and racism. I would like to address other issues but I do not have the time. However, on this and many other issues, the Minister has shown that he is not capable of doing the job properly.
Mr. Broughan: It is clear that the Minister has failed to provide adequate protection for communities, particularly deprived and disadvantaged communities who have continued to suffer from crime and vandalism during the past two and a half years. When in Opposition the Minister promised zero tolerance but he has failed to deliver, particularly for the most deprived in society. In each of the past three years, the Garda Commissioner has trumpeted the continuing fall in crime statistics which are down to 86,000 indictable crimes this year. However, the reality is different, particularly in areas on the north and west sides of Dublin, the north side of Cork, Limerick and other urban areas, where communities are constantly plagued by car theft, drugs, including a new heroin epidemic, and vandalism. If every family affected by crime over the past year had reported the grave inconvenience or upset, the Minister's figures would be doubled, at least.
Most people would accept the CSO study published in the Irish Independent today which recorded 154,600 households drastically affected by crime, 115,00 crimes against motor vehicles, 16,500 car thefts, almost 100,000 acts of vandalism, 48,000 personal thefts and 17,000 assaults. This is an accurate measure of the real crime statistics. I have tabled several parliamentary questions to the Minister asking whether we need an independent audit or some sort of liaison between the CSO and the Garda Síochána to produce the true level of crime.
On eleven occasions I have asked the Minister and the Taoiseach to face up to the serious issue of car theft, joyriding and related crimes. A few days ago I raised the situation on the north side  of Dublin where, night after night, there is continuous turmoil with five or six cars in action, where there have been ten or 12 fatalities in recent years, injuries to pedestrians and gardaí, and where children returning home from school have to scamper out of the way of these criminals. We need urgent action. I asked the Minister to support the north side task force and to meet them, but he still does not seem prepared to do so. The task force comprises gardaí, public representatives and the local community. I also asked the Minister to set up a dedicated Garda joyriding unit because of the threat posed to gardaí by these criminals.
During his statement last night, the Minister referred to fact that Garda strength would rise to 12,000. However, as many people are leaving the force as are joining. Deputy Howlin's motion is accurate in that the force is demoralised and the Minister is responsible. He should provide protection for the most deprived communities.
Mr. Quinn: I wish to share my time with Deputy Howlin.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Quinn: I have no faith or confidence in this Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. That is not a personal observation. I remind the Government that it has been in office for the same length of time as the rainbow coalition. It cannot hide behind the fact that it has only just arrived – it must stand by its own record. It stands by that record against an unprecedented degree of wealth which no previous Administration has ever had. To put it in a capsule, the Minister for Finance has, in cash, the same amount of money we received during the previous six years in Structural Funds. No previous Administration had the resources this Government has had over the past three budgets.
We witnessed a sad and pathetic spectacle in the House earlier, and I am glad for her sake that she is not in the House. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, who made wonderful statements about a “shambles” and other assertions outside the House, made a humiliating surrender to superior Fianna Fáil numbers in the coalition.
Mrs. Owen: Shameful.
Mr. Quinn: The late Jim Kemmy once remarked on the bravery of Deputy O'Dea when he famously described him as being ‘Mighty Mouse' on the issue of Barrington's Hospital in Limerick but ‘Mickey Mouse' in this Chamber. Sadly we now have a ‘Minnie Mouse' in the Progressive Democrats on this issue. Anyone who reads her pathetic “mea culpa, I succumb, this is a wonderful Minister”, cannot but feel saddened  for her in light of what she has consistently said in recent days and weeks.
There are many issues for which the Minister should feel compelled to resign and many issues on which we have no confidence in him. I wish to rise above those issues because they have been well addressed, and to deal with something far more fundamental which concerns all Members. Each decade of our time has been defined by a particular social issue in the modernisation of this nation. In the 1960s and 1970s it was about the liberalisation of society – the removal of the shackles of conservatism which went into the privacy of people's bedrooms, denied them the right to express their sexual orientation and refused to recognise the pluralism of different belief systems on this island within our Constitution. During all of that period of struggle for change, Fianna Fáil was consistently aligned with the forces of conservatism.
There are people younger than me in the gallery and people yet to come, and the defining issue they will face as they come of age going into the first decade of the next millennium is how we come to terms with the reality that this country is irrevocably and totally changed, and that the reality of pluralism is here. It is on our streets – one only has to go into any pub or restaurant or look at the numbers of people coming into this island, legally and illegally. The issue we have to face is whether we can learn from our historical experience of colonisation and humiliation on the one hand, and from the dreadful lessons that were not learnt by countries in Europe who have produced within their ranks at the moment the nightmare of organised and orchestrated racism.
I appeal to Fianna Fáil in particular to deal with the message coming out of the words which have not yet been condemned or disowned by the Taoiseach. How, in a population of 3.6 million, predicted to grow to 4 million, can one talk about a problem of 8,000 people as “swamping” the country?
Mr. M. Higgins: It is a disgrace.
Mr. Quinn: How can one live with the idea that people have to be “kicked out”, as distinct from being deported? Deputy Callely knew exactly what he was saying last week. Two years ago, on 26 November, he used precisely the same language. Deputy Noel Ahern knew precisely what he meant when he said that illegal immigrants or asylum seekers were in competition with people in his constituency for jobs and houses. My constituency colleague, Deputy Eoin Ryan, knows that is not true. The Eastern Health Board does not house people on the corporation housing list. If we have failed collectively to house those on the housing lists, let us not confuse that and tell them the reason they do not have a house is that a dark alien person is living nearby. Can we learn anything from the rise of Le Pen in France or Haider in Austria?
 When our forefathers and mothers landed on the shores of an America which was devotedly Protestant, they were an alien Catholic people and therefore suspect. The ignorance of the settled community led to the racism which our grandfathers and great grandfathers endured. It is fear and ignorance that feed racism in any society. We are no worse, but we are certainly no better than elsewhere. Those messages and that language and vagueness, couched in terms such as “we might be swamped” and “they are in competition for jobs” are lies from the mouths of public representatives from the largest party in the State. Not one member of the party has denounced such lies. Neither the Taoiseach, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, nor colleagues on the Eastern Health Board have said that Deputy Callely was wrong, that asylum seekers are not in competition for jobs. Where is the condemnation? Then, of course, they did not condemn Mr. Haughey, so perhaps we cannot hope for too much.
Just as the Labour Party led the struggle for the progressive modernisation of the country in the 1970s and 1980s, we will continue to do so in the 1990s and into the next century. We have the resources and it is not necessary for us to be mean – we can afford to be generous. The reality is that in every country to which Irish people were forced to emigrate and where we made a contribution, we enriched the country and ourselves. The people who are knocking on the shores of this island will do precisely the same for us. Of course there has to be an immigration policy, regulation, control and all the things Deputy Howlin has been saying repeatedly—
Mr. Fahey: That is the point.
Mr. Quinn: However, we should not throw all that away by saying, as the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform said from the security of south Kerry, that we are being swamped.
Mr. Howlin: It is time for every Member to make up their minds. In five or six minutes we will all vote either for a progressive pluralist Ireland which allows for difference and diversity or for confidence in what a member of the Government has described as the shambles of a failed policy.
Mr. E. Ryan: The Deputy is losing the run of himself.
Mr. Howlin: Once we vote we each take ownership and responsibility for the outcome. Those who endorse the Government fiasco on emigration policy and vote with the Government tonight need no longer pay lip service to the reform of policy or promise substantive change.  It is for us to decide whether the utterances and voice of the backwoods men reflect the authentic voice of the House, described by the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, and not by me or Deputy Quinn, as xenophobic and intolerant, or whether the national Parliament demands better. I firmly believe that a majority of Members believes and knows we can and must do better.
Many in the Fianna Fáil Party and certainly in the Progressive Democrats are shamed by the Government's policy on immigration. They are privately horrified by the remarks of certain Government backbenchers and it is shameful that they are acquiescent and therefore complicit. Last Sunday a national paper contained a declaration that the Taoiseach stood by the remarks of Deputy Callely. Either that is a fact or the Taoiseach has a responsibility to disown it. Each of us has a responsibility to either match principled talk with principled action or accept that the backwoods men really are the people who reflect our views and the views of the Parliament.
The failures of the Minister have been well rehearsed over an hour and a half of debate. Prisons, which have been officially opened, are without prisoners. In answer to a parliamentary question today it was stated that the cost to the taxpayer of the opening of these non-prisons is £20,000. To add pantomime to fiasco we have a situation where two prisoners have already escaped from a prison which is yet to house inmates. In that fiasco we have a situation where overcrowding and unacceptable conditions remain. It is not good enough to say after two and a half years in Government that it was the same under the previous regime. Responsibility must be taken at some time. How many years will the Government be in office before it accepts responsibility?
There is little treatment and huge rates of re-offending with virtually no treatment for serious sex offenders. There are ongoing IR problems in the Garda Síochána which as of now is back to Victorian work practices. There is an unacceptable waiting list for legal aid, which has quadrupled since the Government took office. There are major problems in the prosecution service as identified in the report of the Director of Public Prosecutions on the Wall case. The long list of broken promises goes on and on and the buck stops at the door of the Minister. Last night I said we would judge him solely on the criteria he himself set down. The man who daily demanded accountability must now be called to account. By any standards, and certainly by his own, he has failed.
The House is a Chamber of discussion. Some would say talk is cheap, but in some issues words matter and have enormous consequences. The fuelling of base and racist tendencies is one area where words have weight and impact. In another time in this Chamber a prominent Parliamen tarian pledged to stand by the Republic. The principles of republicanism as I know them are based fundamentally on the dignity and equality  of all people. We will see tonight who stands by a pluralist Republic.
Browne, John (Wexford).
de Valera, Síle.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Wright, G. V.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Higgins, Michael. Howlin, Brendan.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
| Owen, Nora.
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.”
An Ceann Comhairle: I point out to Members that the vote cannot commence until all Members are in the lobby on the correct side of the barrier. Members must be on the inside of the barrier for the vote to commence.
Browne, John (Wexford).
de Valera, Síle.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Wade, Eddie.  Tá–continued
| Woods, Michael.
Wright, G. V.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies S.Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Barrett and Stagg.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.
Mr. Naughten: I propose to share my time with Deputy Enright. The publication of the International Energy Agency Report on Ireland last month raises serious concerns about the long-term future of peat generated electricity in the midlands. The report recommends the closure of the four peat powered stations, namely, Ferbane, Shannonbridge and Rhode in Offaly, and the Lanesboro power station in County Longford. It also calls on the Government to confirm a programme to phase out all existing peat-fired power plants and to publish a timetable to give effect to the programme. We are all aware that the future of the Ferbane plant may be short-lived and hangs in the balance at present. The report also recommends that no future peat stations be commissioned.
Each station supports thousands of jobs directly and indirectly in the midlands region. This area has been losing jobs for years and there has been no new investment to replace these losses. Major job losses at these power stations and the related employment with Bord na Móna would devastate the rural economic fabric of Roscommon, Longford, Westmeath, Offaly and Laois and would destroy any prospects of improving the economic development of the midlands and western regions.
The IEA carries considerable weight within the energy sector and may form part of the Government's consideration on the future plans for peat  generated electricity. Any such decision would lead to substantial losses at Bord na Móna, where the vast majority of employees are small farmers who are finding it extremely difficult to survive at present. This report, along with the plan by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands to restrict turf cutting and the new planning Bill by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government which will require turf cutters to seek planning permission, clearly shows the trend of the Government to cease all peat production on our bogs. The report also promotes the expansion of the use of gas. Bord Gáis recently announced a plan to lay a new pipeline across the country to Limerick and Galway, but whether the counties which will be devastated by the closure of these power stations are included has not been clarified. I urge the Minister to ensure that these counties are serviced by the new pipeline as this would have a major economic impact on the whole region.
Serious consideration should also be given to the conversion of these stations to gas fired electricity generation when the route of this new pipeline is being planned. The provision of gas and access to the new broad-band telecommunications infrastructure would dramatically reduce our economic over-reliance on electricity generation in the region. These developments would ensure towns such as Roscommon and Longford and towns in north Roscommon would have an opportunity to prosper as many other towns have done to date in the current economic climate. The Minister of State should clarify the position of peat generated electricity in Ireland and the position on converting these power stations to gas fired power stations, which would be of huge economic benefit to the region and would give people in the midlands access to the gas pipeline now being considered.
Mr. Enright: I am strongly opposed to the IEA report's recommendations. If they are implemented there will be a catastrophic effect on the livelihoods of thousands of workers in my constituency and in Galway, Roscommon and Longford. The Minister of State will be aware that the cost of refurbishing Ferbane power station is over £16.9 million, and in excess of £10 million has already been spent on refurbishment work. A boiler has been ordered and much of the work has been carried out. It is imperative that this work is completed.
It is imperative that Rhode, Shannonbridge and Lanesboro are also improved and modernised. There will have to be considerable investment. That is in the national and local interest, as it is important to have security of supply from our own resources. Regrettably, there has been no investment in these stations over the years, but the IEA report will have catastrophic effects on the ESB and Bord na Móna.
The Government cannot stand by and see these jobs lost. In the plans for new gas pipelines Offaly has been ignored. As Deputy Naughten said, we  are anxious to have gas fired electricity in Offaly, Roscommon and Longford, given that plants are now powered by peat.
Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise (Mr. Jacob): The recent review of the International Energy Agency is a valuable independent critical assessment of our overall current energy policy. General lessons can be learned from reviews of this nature and though the recommendations and findings of such reviews are not legally binding, they nevertheless provide us with a valuable yardstick against which we can assess our own strategy for the evolving energy sector.
The operation of the existing peat plants is the responsibility of the ESB and plans or proposals affecting the future of these plants are a matter for the board of ESB in the first instance in consultation, obviously, with Bord na Móna. The future of the peat plants operated by ESB was considered in the 1995 report of the Peat Review Group. That report laid out a programme of phased closure for the older, less efficient peat burning units together with a programme of refurbishment for other units, as well as recommending the construction of a new 120 megawatt peat plant to be located in the east midlands.
The refurbishment programme for the existing stations coupled with the commissioning of the new 120 megawatt station represents a long-term strategic approach to ensure the continued use of peat in electricity generation. It also maximises long-term employment in peat production and electricity generation in the midlands. In 1995 the then Minister signed a memorandum of understanding with the EU Commission on the provision of EU financial support for the new 120 megawatt peat plant currently under construction near Edenderry. One of the conditions of this agreement was the achievement of a reduction in carbon dioxide levels here through a programme of rehabilitation of cutaway bog and a programme of phased closure of the oldest and least efficient generation stations and selective refurbishment, with the latest technology, of some of the less old units. There is flexibility within this framework as to the plants and generation units to be retired or refurbished.
The commitments given in relation to peat stations are being complied with and some of the oldest units are no longer operational. The electricity sector in Ireland is due to be liberalised from February 2000 under the terms of the EU Electricity Directive, which allows a member state to make provision for the use of indigenous resources to meet up to 15% of its annual electricity requirements. The future of peat fired power stations also falls to be considered in the context of the development of a liberalised electricity market. Consideration is being given to the introduction of a scheme whereby peat fired stations may be given priority dispatch, in accordance with Article 8(4) of the EU Electricity Directive, by means of a public service obligation  statutory instrument and the excess costs above the market price would be collected by means of a levy.
As such a scheme would constitute State aid, it would be necessary to have the approval of the EU Commission prior to its introduction. My Department is awaiting financial and other data from the ESB to support a notification of State aid for approval.
An Ceann Comhairle: As the next two items relating to the Irish Red Cross Society are being taken together, each Deputy will have five minutes and the Minister will have ten minutes.
Ms Fitzgerald: The Irish Red Cross Society has traditionally enjoyed a worldwide reputation for its hard work and the dedicated commitment of its paid and voluntary staff in their efforts to help tackle emergencies throughout the world. Despite the current difficulties in that organisation, I pay tribute to all who have contributed to that reputation and to the work of the organisation over many years.
The Irish Red Cross has always been to the forefront in bringing aid to the scenes of natural disasters. It is a unique organisation in that it has the President of Ireland as its president. Consequently, everything it does and the way it is run should be above reproach. Recent reports of unrest and low morale among the staff at its Merrion Square headquarters have caused dismay and unease among the public. This was brought to a head in the past 24 hours when, in an unprecedented move, nine of the 14 permanent staff felt obliged to go on national television to highlight the problems in Merrion Square in the interest of the common good of the organisation.
One of the concerns voiced by the staff was that the organisation is too slow in releasing funds raised for emergencies. This is a serious allegation which necessitates urgent investigation. In addition, a number of people – the chief executive, public relations officer, youth officer and fundraising officer – have left the organisation. A sum of £100,000 has also been spent in an unsuccessful attempt to defend its decision in the courts to expel one central council member for talking to a national newspaper. One lifelong member of the organisation is quoted in The Irish Times today as having said that the Red Cross has lost its way.
The people of Ireland, who generously donated more than £3 million to the Red Cross this year following its Kosovo and Turkey appeals, have been left without answers. That is not good enough. The organisation also receives a grant-in-aid of almost £600,000 from the Exchequer. I wish to put the following questions to the Minister. Are new structures needed in this organisation, whose current structures are unique in  Europe? Are extra resources needed to ensure that the current internal review is effective and deals effectively with the problems outlined by the staff or is now the time for an independent inquiry into the running of the Irish Red Cross by appropriate independent people from the world of finance and management who would be asked to make a series of recommendations on how the organisation should be run and on the changes considered necessary?
It is vital to have a structure that will restore public confidence and the confidence of the staff in the running of this valuable national organisation. It has done us proud in the past and many people have contributed to its work. It is important that a fresh look is taken at the organisational structure and that new structures are put in place to ensure there is no repeat of what we heard and saw on the airwaves in the past two days.
Mr. Wall: I thank the Ceann Comhairle and the Minister for taking this important matter this evening. The Red Cross is one of the most honoured and respected organisations in the world. In every part of the world the flag of the Red Cross or, in the Muslim world, of the Red Crescent is recognised as a symbol of honour, decency and impartiality. It is probably the longest serving humanitarian organisation and since its establishment in 1863 its representatives have been found in every war and trouble spot, working to protect the innocent, and in the aftermath of disasters, trying to bring relief to victims. Its role is formally recognised under various international conventions, particularly in regard to the protection of prisoners of war.
The Irish Red Cross has existed for more than 60 years. It draws on up to 13,000 voluntary members to provide a range of services at home and to raise funds for relief abroad. Until recently, it was the key organisation dealing with asylum seekers and refugees here. Given this proud history, few people will not have been saddened by the events that have caused such damage and disruption to the Irish Red Cross and which threaten to tear it apart if they are not dealt with.
I will not pass judgment on who bears ultimate responsibility for the current lamentable state of affairs in the Irish Red Cross. However, there is an obligation on the Minister for Defence, as the responsible Minister, to take action to ensure that the problems in this organisation are addressed and that it returns to concentrating on the humanitarian work it does so well. The problems in the Irish Red Cross have existed for some time and were previously brought to the attention of the Minister. They have also received extensive coverage in the press.
As long ago as last December my colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, tabled a series of questions to the Minister, Deputy Smith, drawing attention to the ongoing industrial relations difficulties that were, even at that stage, developing into a serious  problem. The questions asked what steps the Minister would take to secure a settlement of the problems and what steps were taken to monitor the Government's nominees to the central council. In his reply, the Minister washed his hands of the problems by saying the society was an autonomous body with full powers to manage and administer its affairs. Another question put down by my party leader, Deputy Quinn, was answered by the Minister yesterday in almost identical terms.
A hands off approach is not satisfactory. The Irish Red Cross is unlike any other voluntary organisation. It was established under an Act of the Oireachtas and was given a range of statutory duties and roles under various other Acts. Its patron is the President of Ireland and each year it receives a substantial amount of public funding. This year that funding amounted to £600,000.
Something is seriously wrong when an organisation such as the Red Cross loses, in a relatively short period, almost half its senior staff including the secretary general, public relations officer, youth director, fundraiser and a clerical officer; when the financial officer is dismissed, allegedly over a trivial matter, and the case ends up in the Labour Court; when the society is plagued by ongoing industrial relations problems and when more than half the permanent staff of the society are sufficiently concerned to break with all traditions and to call publicly for an independent inquiry into the management of the society. The demands of the staff appear reasonable. They seek an independent inquiry into the management of the society based on the guidelines for the governance of Red Cross societies drawn up by the Red Cross headquarters in Geneva.
Section 2 of the Red Cross Act, 1938 states:
The Government may by the establishment order make provision in relation to all or any of the following matters, that is to say:
(a)the powers of the Society;
(b)the organisation of the Society;
(c)the management and administration of the affairs of the society by a governing body.
I call on the Minister to exercise the powers available to him under the Act to initiate a thorough investigation into all matters of concern in the organisation of the Irish Red Cross.
Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith): I welcome the opportunity to clarify the present position regarding the Irish Red Cross Society by replying to this matter raised by Deputies Fitzgerald and Wall.
The International Red Cross Society is one of the world's largest humanitarian organisations with a global membership estimated at 150 million people through its network of national societies in 161 countries. The Irish Red Cross Society was established by an Act of the Oireachtas on 1 August 1939. The inaugural meeting of the gov erning body of the society, that is, the central council, was held in Dublin on 5 September 1939. The central council comprises one representative from each area together with Government nominees, who may not number less than one third of the total membership. The President of Ireland, by virtue of her office, is president of the Irish Red Cross Society.
The central council meets twice a year to formulate policy. In between meetings, its powers are delegated to an executive committee of 12, elected from its members, and also to various sub-committees. The professional staff, headed by the secretary general of the society, are responsible for delivering the programmes of the society. The staff, via the secretary general, are responsible directly to the executive committee.
The current chairman of the society is Mr. Richie Ryan, a former Minister for Finance. All members, both elected and nominated, generally serve for a three year period although the three year periods of each group do not run concurrently. Sixteen Government nominees were appointed on 1 May 1997 by the then Government. Their term of office expires on 30 April 2000. A senior civil servant from my Department has traditionally been nominated by the Government as a member of the central council to provide advice and assistance.
My Department administers a grant-in-aid to the Irish Red Cross Society, which this year amounts to £575,000. The grant-in-aid mainly covers the salaries of 14 permanent staff in the headquarters of the society based in Merrion Square, Dublin 2, and the annual grant for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva. Additional staff are employed on a temporary basis under FÁS or social employment schemes. The society's accounts are audited by a duly qualified auditor appointed by the central council of the society and are open to inspection by the Comptroller and Auditor General. The audited accounts were last requested by the Comptroller and Auditor General in 1998.
I am advised there has been a long history of disharmony and industrial relations problems between the staff of the society and management. A new secretary general was recruited by the society earlier in the year. One of the first tasks undertaken by him was a strategic review of the operation of the society.
I am advised the review will encompass the view and opinions of all organs of the society to ensure the strengthening and survival of the society well into the next millennium. I understand this review to be totally inclusive, involving all staff members and volunteers. The Red Cross is being assisted by a consultant in these matters. The report will provide for a work plan and address the problems of industrial relations within the society. I am informed that discussions have already taken place with the appropriate union with regard to this review, which it is intended to be completed by mid-2000.
I am confident that the constructive views and  comments of all personnel involved in the society, be they permanent staff or volunteers, will be made available so that the aims and objectives of the society can be fulfilled in an efficient and effective manner, having regard to the value for money principles. It may transpire that legislative changes may be required and my Department will respond as required in this regard.
As I indicated in reply to Question No. 122 yesterday, I have no function in the administration of the Red Cross Society. I do not get involved in the day to day running of its affairs. The society is an autonomous body with full powers to manage and administer its affairs through its governing body, the central council. I am also mindful that a fundamental principle of the International Committee of the Red Cross is that all Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies enjoy freedom from political involvement worldwide. The call for an investigation or inquiry is, therefore, not a matter for my attention. My Department, as in the past, is available to provide help and assistance to the society as an when requested.
I am confident that the problems being experienced currently in the society will be addressed adequately within the terms of the strategic review. I appeal to all concerned to engage in dialogue to resolve these ongoing industrial relations problems.
When problems arise, there is often a tendency in this House, and I understand it, to call for immediate intervention. One of the strongest forces abroad that has helped us to develop this economy to the level it is at has been a spreading of experience and responsibility and autonomous bodies dealing with their own problems without political intervention, and we must allow that process to continue and to develop.
I look forward to the review being carried out and the necessary changes being introduced in order that there will be a return to harmonious relations between all sectors in the Red Cross and that what has happened recently is consigned to the past. The present position would not be enhanced or improved by direct political intervention because as far as the Red Cross is concerned that would contravene all international practice.
Mr. Sheehan: I want to impress on the Minister of State the need to postpone the introduction of the national test on motor vehicles due to come into force on 1 January 2000. I call on him to postpone its introduction until 2005 at least because of the scandalous condition of our county roads.
For the past decade all EU funding was chiefly directed to building autobahns from Dundalk to Wexford, Dublin to Athlone and Kildare and around Dublin city, but county roads were sadly neglected due to the lack of funding. Irish motorists will be at a serious disadvantage when com pulsory car testing is introduced next January because the condition of our roads is far below the standard of roads in other member states of the European Union.
If one drove a brand new car around my constituency of Cork South-West for six months, it would be reduced to a banger as a result of the condition of some of the roads there. The roads in other parts of the country are also in a scandalous condition. The by-roads have suffered severely due to the lack of funding, especially when EU funding was concentrated along the east coast. The south-west and western regions were forgotten in the pay-out of those funds and those regions did not get their rightful share, which would have brought the roads there up to an acceptable standard. Unless and until our roads are brought up to the standard of the roads in other member states of the European Union, motorists will pay a fortune in test costs and motor costs incurred in ensuring their cars pass the rigorous test that will be imposed on them.
Cork County represents one-eighth of the country, but alas our roads are in a scandalous condition, which makes it impossible for people to keep their cars in good shape. When the railway system in that constituency was taken away in the early 1950s and sold to a Third World country where it is still operating in perfect order, the then Fianna Fáil Government promised that the roads would be brought up to an acceptable standard and that we would have national primary and secondary roads throughout the length and breadth of the constituency, but we got nothing for the loss of our railway system. There is not one mile of national primary road in my constituency of Cork South-West that stretches almost from the airport in Cork city to Mizen Head, to Dursey Sound and the Beara Peninsula and is bigger than several other constituencies.
I ask the Minister of State to let common sense prevail and to postpone the introduction of the national car test on motor vehicles until the 2005 to enable his Department to bring the condition of our roads up to the standard of roads in other member states of the European Union. Why does he want to implement a European directive before our roads are brought up to that standard?
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy must conclude as I must call the Minister of State to reply.
Mr. Sheehan: Why is he putting the cart before the horse? He should use his wisdom on behalf of our motorists and stop the conning.
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy): I was going to say that I thank the Deputy for raising this issue, but I am not 100 per cent sure that I am glad he did so. The introduction of the compulsory national car test is  required under EU Directive 96/96/EU. Ireland sought and received a derogation under this directive, which provided for a significantly later commencement date for car testing compared with most other European Union member states. This derogation has expired and Ireland must now fulfil its obligations under the directive and commence testing on 4 January 2000.
Mr. Sheehan: Not until such time as the roads are brought up to the standard of roads in other member states of the European Union.
Mr. Molloy: The decision was adopted by the previous Government of which Deputy Sheehan's party was the largest party—
Mr. Sheehan: Previous Governments cannot be blamed for this.
Mr. Molloy: —and his leader was the then Taoiseach. That Government made this decision and it was the right decision and we are bringing it into force.
Mr. Sheehan: The Minister of State is in the driving seat and it is up to him to postpone that decision until the roads are brought up to the standard of roads in other member states of the European Union.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy must allow the Minster of State to reply.
Mr. Molloy: The National Car Testing Service Limited, a private company, has been awarded a ten year legally binding contract by the Government to establish and operate the national car test scheme from this date. The commencement of car testing from next January is also an important measure for delivery in the context of the Government's Strategy for Road Safety 1998-2002. The national car test, or NCT as it will become known, will ensure that the essential safety elements of cars are in good condition.
On the general question of the level of State subvention for non-national roads, State grants for non-national roads have been increasing significantly in recent years. More than £237 million has been provided for non-national roads in 1999, an increase of more than £37 million, or almost 19 per cent on the original 1998 allocation figure of almost £200 million, which was a record.
The main thrust of the efforts made in recent years to improve the non-national network of roads has been focused on the restoration programme, which aims to restore the entire network of regional and local roads in county areas by 2005. Since the launch of this programme in mid 1995 to the end of 1998 more  than 15,400 road schemes have been completed with more than 24,300 kilometres of road benefiting, or 28 per cent of the entire network of regional and county roads. The funds available for this programme were increased in 1999 by more than £20 million, that is, from £118 million to more than £138 million, which will greatly increase the rate of progress being made in the restoration of regional and county roads to an acceptable standard.
The 1999 allocation will finance approximately 6,470 schemes with 10,200 kilometres or 11.7 per cent of the network benefiting. This means that since mid 1995 to the end of 1999 21,200 schemes will have been completed, with 34,400 kilometres or 39.5 per cent of the network benefiting. The programme is producing impressive results both in terms of value for money and outputs and local communities are seeing the fruits of the increased expenditure by the Government in this area.
The operational programme for transport, agreed with the European Commission, sets out the overall strategy for investment in the national road network in the period 1994-99. Under this programme, which is now coming to an end, investment on our national roads has increased from £174 million in 1994 to almost £312 million this year. Overall, for the 1994-99 period, almost £1.5 billion will be spent on national roads. The results of this expenditure are especially evident in the bypasses and ring roads completed in recent years around our towns and cities. For example, 11 major projects have been completed in this year alone, including the River Lee tunnel, which I am sure the Deputy has used on numerous occasions—
Mr. Sheehan: That is cold comfort to the people of west Cork.
Mr. Molloy: —bypasses of Arklow, Cavan and Donegal towns and relief roads for Clonmel, Kinnegad and Carlow. However, we are all aware that further infrastructure improvements are needed to our road network. Under the recently published national development plan, £4.7 billion will be spent on national roads in the period 2000-06.
Mr. Sheehan: All the more reason the Minister should postpone the test.
Mr. Molloy: The main features of the new plan will include a concentrated and focused development strategy for the national primary road network focusing in particular on key national routes and the improvement of national secondary roads of critical importance for economic development and balanced regional development.
There is no basis in law for linking implementation of Ireland's obligations under EU  vehicle testing regulations to the state of development of our road network. I do not consider that a good basis any longer obtains in terms of road safety or the present condition of our road network for advocating the postponement of car testing. It is a dangerous, reckless and irresponsible proposal. Successive Governments have determined to bring the  new arrangements into operation and these will now go ahead in the new year.
Mr. Sheehan: That is cold comfort to the people whose cars are wrecked on poor secondary roads.
The Dáil adjourned at 9.35 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 25 November 1999.
13. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the way in which it is proposed to spend the allocation for the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation under subhead D in the 2000 Estimates for his Department; the proposals, if any, for further meetings of the forum in view of recent developments in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24320/99]
14. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the grants, if any, he will make under the Irish Soldiers and Sailors Land Trust Act, 1988, from the £450,000 provision in subhead C of the 2000 Estimates for his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24322/99]
The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 and 14 together.
In my reply to the House on 25 May last, I announced the allocation of more than £1.2 million in grants, under the Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust Act 1988, for projects involving North-South and east-west co-operation or relating to the island of Ireland. This allocation fully exhausted the moneys available under the fund. I also circulated with my reply on that date a full list of 59 projects to receive funding.
The process of disbursing the grants is ongoing and, this year to date, grants have been issued to 33 organisations. I am circulating with my reply a full list of those organisations which have, so far, drawn down funds. The provision which has been made under subhead C of my Department's Estimates relates to those organisations which have not yet drawn down their funds, but which are expected to do so during 2000.
The allocations of funds between the years 1999 and 2000 were made on the basis of the best estimate of the requirements of the organisations in each year. It may be necessary, in the context of revised estimates, to take account of any shortfall in the drawdown of funds in 1999 as compared with the estimate originally made.
Regarding the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, provision has been made under subhead D of my Department's Estimates to allow for the contingency of the forum having one or more meetings in 2000. However, I recall that in a previous reply in this regard, I said that I believed, in the context of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, it would be preferable to see the primary axis for future island-wide consultation being the joint parliamentary forum and the independent consultative forum, envisaged in paragraphs 18 and 19, respectively, of strand two of the Good Friday Agreement. In that event, while it would be a matter for the chairperson and the participating parties, I envisage a final concluding meeting of the forum.
15. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the progress to date in the work of the Information Society Commission. [24324/99]
The Taoiseach: The Deputy will be aware that much of the work of the commission is of an ongoing nature, in areas such as raising awareness and promoting the benefits of the information society and in the work of its many advisory groups.
Since its inception the commission has produced two annual reports and has published the results of a number of surveys which it organised. It has hosted a range of seminars on various topics related to the Information Society, and participated in many events and functions to promote the benefits and opportunities arising in the digital age. Its past activities are well documented in its two annual reports so I will confine my reply to recent or current activities.
In July, the commission published a major report entitled Building a Capacity for Change – Lifelong Learning in the Information Society. This report raises a number of issues and sets out many recommendations concerning the phenomenon of lifelong learning, which is increasingly seen as vital in the ever changing world of the information society.
Last month, the commission published the results of its latest survey on the levels of access to and use of technology among the general public. This survey shows that huge progress has been made over the past twelve months. Nonetheless, it also acknowledges that more needs to be done, particularly so that we avoid a two tier information society as between those who have access and those who do not. The results of the commission's corresponding survey amongst the business community will be published next month.
The commission has also recently published a discussion document on the matter of improving access to the internet for the population generally. I explained the purpose and content of this document to the House last week. It is available either on the commission's website or directly from the commission secretariat.
The commission recently participated in an information event aimed specifically at the farming and rural organisations in order to explain the benefits of new technology. A similar event for organisations representing elderly people is planned for 29 November. Other targeted sessions like these are also being arranged.
The business awareness campaign which the commission is running with IBEC is continuing. This programme, which is part funded by the EU, involves a series of seminars around the country, with particular emphasis on SMEs. The last seminar was in Waterford on 21 October, with the next in Ennis today, 24 November 1999.
The House will also be aware that last week saw the running of the Netd@ys initiative, which was organised by the commission in conjunction with the National Centre for Technology in Edu cation, with sponsorship from Eircom. This was a nine day event to provide access to the internet in public places such as schools, libraries and so on.
Last year the commission sponsored a television series called TechTV for RTE. The commission is currently examining options for a new TV series.
The commission's eight advisory groups continue to meet on a regular basis to discuss various aspects of developing the information society, and the work of these groups often gives rise to recommendations which then feed into the implementation process.
16. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the terms of reference of the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure Including Public Private Partnership; and the number of times the committee has met. [24343/99]
17. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the terms of reference and the membership of the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure Including Public Private Partnership; when the committee last met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24544/99]
The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 16 and 17 together.
The Cabinet sub-committee on infrastructural development and public private partnership, which I chair, includes the Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Public Enterprise, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, the Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform and the Attorney General. The general purpose of the committee is to oversee the delivery of key infrastructure in the context of the National Development Plan.
The Cabinet sub-committee is assisted by a cross-departmental team which includes the Departments of the Taoiseach, Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Finance, Environment and Local Government, Public Enterprise, Justice Equality and Law Reform and the Attorney General's office. The terms of reference of the team are to develop and oversee the implementation of a framework for action and in particular to bring forward proposals to deal with planning approval issues to reduce delays in infrastructure delivery which could include proposals for legislative and constitutional change; support development and implementation of public private partnerships; support the ongoing work of the Cabinet committee.
Over the summer, the team produced a framework for action on infrastructural development including public private partnership and this framework was approved by the Cabinet sub-committee in September and subsequently by the Government. The key elements of the framework  have been included in the National Development Plan.
I have arranged for copies of the framework for action to be laid before the House.
Following on the finalisation and publication of the national development plan, I see the Cabinet committee playing a key role in ensuring that the core national roads and public transport priorities of the plan are implemented efficiently and on time. To that end, I am arranging for regular meetings of the committee.
The committee had a meeting with CIE yesterday and will meet the National Roads Authority tomorrow.
18. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the reason the 1999 forecast outturn of expenditure for his Department is nearly 17 per cent below the Estimate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24348/99]
19. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the reason the 2000 Estimate of expenditure by his Department is 36 per cent above the forecast outturn for 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24349/99]
20. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the reason the 1999 forecast outturn of capital expenditure for his Department is 63 per cent below the Estimate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24350/99]
21. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the reason the 2000 Estimate of capital expenditure for his Department is 140 per cent above the forecast outturn for 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24351/99]
The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 18 to 21, inclusive, together.
The total Estimate for my Department for 2000 is £36.391 million. This represents an increase of £4.158 million on the 1999 Estimate.
The main reason for this is an increase of £3.35 million – to £8 million – in the allocation for the Moriarty tribunal. The bulk of the legal costs from the tribunal are expected to arise during 2000, once the tribunal has completed its work. As a consequence, the full allocation for the tribunal in the 1999 Estimates is unlikely to be spent.
The other major item reflected in the Estimate for my Department is the funding of the Millennium celebrations, for which the Government has allocated an overall budget of £30 million over a two-year period. To date, the Government has approved expenditure on projects totalling £22.5 million, following recommendations by the National Millennium Committee. Expenditure during 1999 has been lower than estimated, mainly because there is a significant capital element involved. There is a longer lead time on capital projects and the Millennium Office is  determined that grants will not be made until satisfactory progress has been made on such projects. It is, therefore, likely that the bulk of the capital expenditure will now arise during 2000.
The main reasons that the forecast outturn of expenditure for 1999 is below the estimate is the lower than expected level of payments of Millennium capital grants, and savings on 1999 cost of the Moriarty tribunal; the main reasons for the difference between the 1999 projected outturn and the 2000 Estimate are the higher levels of expenditure projected for 2000 on Millennium capital projects and on the Moriarty tribunal; the lower than expected outturn on capital expenditure in 1999 relates to the timing of Millennium capital expenditure, as I have outlined, and the projected increase in capital expenditure for 2000 arises for the same reason.
31. Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the sports which can qualify for State funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24541/99]
35. Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the strategy, if any, in place in regard to State funding for national, regional and county or local facilities for all sports. [24543/99]
Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid): I propose to take Questions Nos. 31 and 35 together.
Funding for sporting organisations is made available through the annual grant scheme and the sports capital programme. Under the annual grant scheme for sporting organisations 72 national governing bodies of sport are recognised for funding in respect of their annual activities including costs associated with administration, purchase of equipment, international competition and organisational and athlete development. Responsibility for this funding rests with the Irish Sports Council which was established on a statutory basis on 1 July 1999.
Under my Department's National Lottery funded sports capital programme which is aimed at assisting in the provision of a network of appropriate and sustainable facilities throughout the country, a variety of sporting facilities at national, regional and local levels are grant-aided.
Funding allocated under the programme assists sports clubs and voluntary and community organisations to construct, refurbish, improve and equip high quality, well-designed and sustainable sport and recreational sport facilities.
This Government has signalled its commitment to the increased provision of sport and recreational facilities throughout the country by increasing the Estimates provision for capital expenditure for this purpose from £8.5 million in 1997 to £39.4 million in 2000, which represents an increase of over 350 per cent. The provision  includes a trebling in funding for the sports capital programme from £5 million in 1997 to £15 million in 1999; a fourfold increase in the provision for the swimming pool programme from £3.5 million in 1997 to £15 million in 2000; almost £6 million towards the development of Ireland's first ever 50 metre swimming pool and £20 million support towards the development of Croke Park, the final £6 million of which is due for payment in 2000.
Since the programme was first introduced in 1988, grants have been allocated towards the cost of constructing and refurbishing a range of facilities e.g. community centres, multi-purpose halls, athletic stadia, gaelic, soccer and rugby pitches, sports centres, dressing rooms and other facilities and towards the cost of equipment for sport and athletic clubs and community centres. 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.
Applications for funding are categorised in terms of local, regional – county or greater catchment area – and national and maximum levels of grant aid apply depending on the nature of the proposed facility. 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.
In July last, following an extensive assessment process on the 1900 applications received, I announced grants totalling approximately £18 million to some 400 local community based projects and to a number of national and regional projects throughout the country.
The swimming pool programme is also administered by my Department. Under this programme, funding is allocated towards the cost of constructing new local authority pools and the refurbishment of existing pools. In recent months I have secured an increase in funding of £36 million over the next three years for the programme – from £3 million in 1999 to £15 million for the period 2000 to 2002.
Under the national development plan announced last week, funding amounting to £85 million will also be available over the seven years of the plan to support the development of multi-purpose sport and recreational facilities by local authorities, particularly in areas which lack them and for voluntary groups developing multi-sport and recreational facilities where no such facilities currently exist.
An ambitious programme of state assisted expansion in a wide range of sporting facilities is now under way, catering for both the elite participant and the general public, right across the country.
32. Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if his Department has received a copy of the report commissioned by Bord Fáilte on an examination of the regional structures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24473/99]
34. Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the plans, if any, he has to carry out a review of the role and functions of the regional tourism organisations. [24256/99]
37. Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if his Department made a submission to a consultancy firm (details supplied) which was given the task by Bord Fáilte of carrying out a review of the tourism regional structures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24474/99]
Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid): I propose taking Questions Nos. 32, 34 and 37 together.
The regional tourism authorities, 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 the Government's, An Action Programme for the Millennium, Bord Fáilte, at my request, initiated a review of the RTAs earlier this year, carried out on their behalf by Fitzpatrick Associates.
The objective was to review the role and operations of the RTAs and recommend how 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. My Department, along with other agencies and bodies, met the consultants during the course of the assignment.
The chairman of Bord Fáilte has forwarded to me a copy of the review together with the board's view on its recommendations, for my consideration. This consideration will also take into account the implications, for the RTAs, of the tourism provision in the recently published national development plan, and of proposals for new all-island institutional structures for international tourism marketing under the Good Friday Agreement. Under the terms of the statement of 18 December 1998 issued by the First and Deputy First Ministers, the intention is that a new all-island tourism company is to be established by Bord Fáilte and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to provide a range of services in the international marketing area.
33. Mr. L. Burke asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if he has recently met the PLANET organisation regarding the future of the area based partnership programmes. [24251/99]
Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Mr Flood): As I mentioned earlier, on 3 December next, I will meet PLANET, the representative body of the area-based partnership companies to discuss the future of area based partnership programmes. The present programmes under the operational programme for local urban and rural development have made significant achievements in combating disadvantage and it is the Government's intention that the new National Development Plan will build further on these successes.
Under the new national development plan, £420 million has been provided to continue and augment the valuable work and activities currently carried out by the area-based partnership companies and community groups, the local drug task forces, and the young people's facilities and services fund.
This provision represents a 50 per cent increase over the levels of expenditure available to existing programmes in these fields. This £420 million is the largest single allocation from the billion pounds earmarked for expenditure under the regional operational programmes in the special sub-programmes for social inclusion.
36. Mr. Broughan 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. [24536/99]
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 first 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 carried out a considerable amount of work since its resumption, and has been assisted by the availability of new guidelines on dealing with child abuse cases, recently issued by the Department of Health and Children.
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 implementation of the revised code of ethics and good practice for children's sport. The code will be an all-Ireland document endorsed by both the Irish Sports Council and the Sports Council for Northern Ireland.
Seminars have been arranged for Dublin and  Belfast on 4 and 10 December 1999, respectively, to allow the representatives of the national governing bodies of sport to discuss the revised code. Arrangements will then be made for the publication of the revised code at the earliest possible date.
Following publication and circulation of the revised code to national governing bodies of sport and relevant agencies, the Sports Councils, with the National Coaching and Training Centre, intend to carry out an active promulgation process involving regional and local training workshops to ensure that national governing bodies and their affiliates and clubs, adopt and implement the code. The precise details of the proposed promulgation process with national governing bodies are being devised at present by the sports councils and the National Coaching and Training Centre.
39. Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if he has received a copy of the Football Association of Ireland submission, Improving the Quality of Life and Social Inclusion through the Development of Soccer; if so, his response to the submission; the plans, if any, he has to provide the assistance sought; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24529/99]
Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid): I have very recently received a copy of the Football Association of Ireland's submission to the Minister for Finance in the context of the forthcoming budget. The submission is a lengthy and comprehensive document and I have arranged to meet shortly with the Football Association of Ireland to discuss its contents. The submission will be considered in the context of the Government's overall sports policy, the priorities developed by the sports council for the development of sport and, of course, in the context of resources available.
I have sent a copy of the submission to the Irish Sports Council which has statutory responsibility for the funding of individual sports organisations and for working with governing bodies in the development of all sports in the country. Incidentally, earlier this year, I announced funding of more than £800,000 to the three major national governing bodies of sport, the IRFU, GAA and the Football Association of Ireland, towards the development and implementation of programmes and initiatives to increase and enhance the involvement of young people in areas of social and economic disadvantage in sports activities. The sports council will be also looking at the FAI's proposal in the context of this initiative.
40. Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the action, if any, he will take arising from the recent CERT report which showed that the tourism sector needed to recruit an additional 105,000 workers if the present growth in business is to be maintained; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24533/99]
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.
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.
The importance of tourism training has been reflected in the national development plan which provides £107 million to CERT over the period 2000 to 2006 for a range of measures to improve entry training and human resource capabilities within the tourism sector. CERT is currently considering strategies and programmes to meet the objectives of the national development plan.
CERT will continue to work closely with 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, 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 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 began 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 run in the national and local press and on national and local radio.
I recently launched 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.
I want to refer to 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. CERT has also 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.
41. Mr. Rabbitte 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. [24534/99]
Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Mr. Flood): 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 1996-1999.
In Ireland, the areas benefiting from the operational programme for URBAN are North Dublin – Ballymun, Finglas and Darndale; South Dublin – west Tallaght and north Clondalkin; and the Northside of Cork City.
Financial support has been provided for pilot programmes-actions that are demonstrable in nature and where promoters could confirm that they would become sustainable after 31 December 1999. The question of continuing funding for the projects included in the current URBAN action plans 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. The EU has allocated a community wide budget of 700 million EURO to URBAN II of which an indicative allocation of 5 million Euros, IR£3.9 million, from the European  Regional Development Fund has been made to Ireland.
It is expected that, like URBAN I, the new initiative will operate on the basis of a call for proposals to be made under EU guidelines. These guidelines have not yet been finalised by the European Commission.
42. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if adequate recreational facilities exist or are planned to meet population requirements with particular reference to indoor and outdoor events, for example, track and field; if facilities are comparable to those available in other EU countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24482/99]
106. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if indoor or outdoor recreational facilities are comparable to those available in other EU states; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24710/99]
Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid): I propose to take Questions Nos. 42 and 106 together.
This Government has signalled its commitment to the development of sport and recreational facilities by increasing the funding for capital expenditure for this purpose, by more than 350 per cent, from £8.5 million in 1997 to £39.4 million in the Estimates for the year 2000. This increase includes provision for a trebling in funding for the sport capital programme from £5 million in 1997 to £15 million in 2000; a fourfold increase in the provision for the swimming pool programme from £3.5 million in 1997 to £15 million in 2000; almost £6 million towards the development of Ireland's first ever 50 metre swimming pool and £20 million support towards the development of Croke Park, the final £6 million of which is due for payment in 2000.
Following an application process earlier this year under the sport capital programme, allocations totalling some £18 million have been made in 1999 to some 400 local community based projects and to a number of national and regional projects throughout the country. Provision is being made in the multi-annual estimates for the continuation of the programme at 1999 levels in 2000 and 2001.
I have also secured an increase in funding of £36 million over the next three years for the swimming pool programme – from £3 million in 1999 to £15 million per annum for the next three years.
Specifically in relation to track and field facilities the following allocations were made under the 1999 sports capital programme: £500,000 to the NUI, Galway towards the further development of the regional sports centre; £300,000 to the Cork Institute of Technology for the refurbishment of the existing synthetic athletic track;  £300,000 grant confirmed towards the development of athletic facilities in Navan and £265,000 towards the development of a synthetic athletic track at Castleisland.
Fingal County Council has recently completed a feasibility study on the provision of an indoor athletics training facility adjacent to the existing athletics facilities at Morton Stadium, which is prioritised in the recently published review of the Government's An Action Programme for the Millennium.
Under the national development plan announced last week, financial assistance amounting to £85 million will be available over the seven years of the plan to support the development of sport and recreational facilities by local authorities, particularly in areas which lack them and for voluntary groups developing multi-sport and recreational facilities where no such facilities currently exist.
I am not aware of any study which compares the range of facilities available here with those in other EU countries. I am satisfied, however, that there is now under way an ambitious programme of State assisted expansion in a wide range of sports facilities, catering for both the elite participant and the general public, right across the country.
43. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the progress made with regard to the four pilot projects on social disadvantage. [24535/99]
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 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 Depart ment 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 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 tomorrow 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 blackspots.
44. Ms O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the steps, if any, he is taking to ensure the greater recruitment of staff with disabilities having regard to the fact that only 0.8 per cent of his Department's employees are in this category; when his Department will meet the Government's target of 3 per cent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24540/99]
Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid): My Department was established in July, 1997 through the bringing together of functions and approximately 120 staff from four other Departments and offices. Only one person with a disability was included among these staff and that person continues to serve in my Department.
While the Government target of 3 per cent of staff with a disability relates to the Civil Service as a whole, I have asked my Department to be mindful of it and to try to achieve it in the Department as soon as possible. In this regard, when suitable vacancies arise, my Department will seek to fill them from staff recruited from Civil Service Commission panels which are confined to staff with a disability. The coincidence of  the availability of such panels and suitable vacancies arising in my Department will determine how soon the 3 per cent target will be achieved.
45. Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if he has received responses to queries raised with other Government Departments relating to the Prohibition of Ticket Touts Bill, 1998; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24468/99]
Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid): As I informed the Deputy in my reply to his written parliamentary question of 10 November 1999, my Department is currently engaged in detailed consultations with the relevant Departments in relation to its consideration of the Prohibition of Ticket Touts Bill 1998. The Deputy can appreciate of course that as this Bill was initiated as a private members Bill, Departments did not have an input into its preparation or an opportunity to carry out any prior assessment of its feasibility and implications for other services.
As I indicated previously, the views already expressed by these Departments have indicated that the Bill, as currently drafted, raises a number of important issues, including possible constitutional implications such as the rights to private property, the freedom to contract as well as a number of issues relating to enforcement, policing and Garda powers, all of which require careful and detailed consideration, before it would be effective to proceed with consideration of the Bill.
46. Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation his views on the recent suggestion by the Irish Hotels Federation that future hotel development should be curbed having regard to the needs of the tourism industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24537/99]
Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid): The Deputy will be aware that the recent substantial investment in hotels is market-driven and based on investor confidence in continuing growth in visitor numbers. Ensuring that occupancy levels and returns are not adversely affected by this rapid expansion has to be a key preoccupation within the industry, both for the well established and new entrants, who must ensure that they have the capability to provide the necessary marketing, manpower and management to attract and retain new business. The creation of the new £150 million marketing fund, announced in the national development plan, will also be a further support to the industry in pursuit of further tourism growth from key overseas markets.
 With regard to grant assistance for hotel developments, it has been the policy, for some time, not to provide direct grant support for tourist accommodation projects, on the basis of the proven ability of the commercial accommodation sector to respond to growth in visitor numbers without grant assistance. In view of the significant growth in tourism accommodation in recent years, there are no proposals at present to introduce any further new schemes of assistance for the provision of additional tourist accommodation.
In relation to the federation's pre-budget proposals, I recently met with them and we agreed that the priorities for the sector related mainly to issues on the labour supply side; regarding the growth in product, this is primarily, as I have stated, a matter for the market to determine and I have no plans for the State to intervene directly, either in terms of boosting, or curbing, the provision of hotel accommodation.
49. Mr. Higgins (Mayo) asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will expedite an appeal by a person (details supplied) for a work permit. [24624/99]
Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ms Harney): I understand a work permit in respect of the individual concerned has been approved by my Department.
50. Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12 is protected by regulations in view of the circumstances of her case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24725/99]
Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. T. Kitt): The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 sets out, inter alia, statutory rights for employees in respect of holiday entitlements. The Act provides minimum legally enforceable entitlements for all employees to holidays and public holidays. There is no qualifying period for holidays and all employees, regardless of status or service, qualify for paid holidays based on time worked.
Pay in respect of holidays is paid in advance at the normal weekly rate. The normal weekly rate of an employee's pay for the purposes of the Organisation of Working Time Act is the normal weekly rate of his or her pay, including any regular bonus or allowance, the amount of which does not vary in relation to the work done by the employee but excluding any pay for overtime, that is paid in respect of the normal weekly working hours last worked by the employee before the annual leave.
If the employees referred to by the Deputy have not received their holiday entitlements, it  would be open to them to obtain redress in this matter by referring a case to a rights commissioner under the Organisation of Working Time Act.
The Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977 to 1993 protect employees who have at least one year's continuous employment with the same employer from unfair dismissal. The 1993 Act contains a provision which allows the terms of the unfair dismissals legislation to apply at the expiry of fixed term and fixed purpose contracts of employment in certain limited circumstances. The circumstances specified are those where an employer has entered into a second or subsequent such contract with the same employee and the employment appeals tribunal, rights commissioner or Circuit Court, as the case may be, is of the view that the fixed nature of the second or subsequent contract is wholly or partly for the purpose of or is connected with avoidance of liability under the Act. This provision also stipulates that a prior or antecedent contract be added to the subsequent contract for the purposes of ascertaining if an employee, at the date of termination of employment, has sufficient service to come within the scope of the Unfair Dismissals Acts.
If the employees in question consider their employer is in breach of the unfair dismissal legislation, they may refer a claim in that regard to either a rights commissioner or the employment appeals tribunal under the Unfair Dismissals Act.
The relevant application forms for bringing claims to the rights commissioner or the employment appeals tribunal may be obtained by writing to the employment rights information unit of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment at 65a Adelaide Road, Dublin 2 or by telephoning the Unit at (01) 6313131, Lo-call 1890 220222.
Inquiries relating to entitlements under statutory pension arrangements or relating to review of such arrangements are a matter for the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs. Supplementary pension arrangements are a matter for negotiation between the individual employee and his or her employer.
51. Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources the reason a company (details supplied) has been allowed to take large samples of rock from an area by helicopter, a form of transport which has frightened local people, many of whom are elderly; his views on whether this seems unsuitable in a border, rural and proposed natural heritage area; and the reason no information has been supplied to local people about the activities of the company. [24620/99]
Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods): Low level flying whether by fixed wing aircraft or by helicopter is regulated by the Irish Aviation Authority.
 Slieve Foye is located to the north east of Carlingford, County Louth, and occurs within prospecting licence area number 3842. A prospecting licence for that area was issued to the company named by the Deputy from November 1995 and held by them until its surrender in October 1999 due to a world-wide reorganisation of the company. No exploration was conducted by it in the licence area from November 1998 and no new licence has since been granted for that area. It remains available for exploration. All the work carried out by the company had complied with the requirements of the heritage service, Duchas. This is a condition of all prospecting licences and is strictly enforced by my Department.
My Department is not aware of any current exploration including drilling or sampling of minerals in the Slieve Foye and no such activity is at present authorised under the Minerals Development Acts, 1940 to 1999. If the Deputy has any relevant information in this matter in relation to the Minerals Development Acts he should pass it on to me and I will ensure that it is followed up.
52. Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the fact that Dublin Corporation has set a critical path analysis of the project plan required to conduct a breaching of the causeway at Bull Island; the steps he envisages as necessary before this project can be approved; if he will indicate his support, in principle, for the project, subject to the necessary environmental impact assessment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24715/99]
Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods): I am aware that the issue was discussed by the north central area committee of Dublin City Council and that the council instructed the city manager to commence the study, originally recommended for 2001, immediately. Before the operation can commence the corporation will be required to obtain a foreshore lease from me. This will involve the corporation submitting an application for the proposed development of a breach together with detailed plans of the proposed works and an environmental impact statement. My Department will consider the impact of the proposed works on fishing, navigation, the environment generally, other users of the foreshore, etc. and the matter will then go to public consultation. The corporation will be afforded an opportunity to respond to any submissions received as a result of the public consultation process and I will consider the matter in the light of the submissions made, the corporation's response to them and my Department's views on both the submissions and the Corporation's response to them. I will, after careful consideration, make my decision in the matter.
The Deputy will be aware that Dúchas has obli gations under European law to protect certain species of wildlife. In compliance with its obligations it is required to designate certain areas as special protection areas. I understand the position of Dublin Bay is being considered by Dúchas in this context and it would be appropriate for the corporation to consult with that body at an early date to ensure any proposals which it may put forward will not conflict with the legal obligations imposed on Dúchas. Any foreshore licence which I might issue would have to be subject to the corporation complying with any instruction which Dúchas might give relating to maintenance of the integrity of special protection areas.
Officials of my Department have met the assistant city manager to discuss this issue and have advised him accordingly.
53. Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the fact that there was no pre-application consultations with local residents prior to Dublin Port submitting its application to infill 21 hectares of land in Dublin Bay; and if he will meet representatives of the local residents (details supplied) in order to remedy this oversight by the applicants in accord with the precedent set by his predecessor when a previous application was made by the port for land reclamation. [24716/99]
Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods): The question of pre-application consultations with any group or groups is essentially a matter for the intending developer and a practice which I would encourage in all cases of foreshore development. The intending developer in this case shows that consultation took place with seven groups prior to the submission of an environmental impact statement. Local residents groups were not among the consultees.
However, as required under legislation, the company's proposals were put to public consultation. This process commenced on 1 October and a very large number of submissions was received in my Department arising from the consultation process. Among those making submissions were the Clontarf residents' association and a number of individual residents. The company is currently being afforded an opportunity to comment on all submissions made and I will consider the content of the submissions, the company's response and the views of my Department's officials when making a decision in this case.
I will, of course, keep under review the question of meeting interested parties at a later stage, after I have received the expert assessment of the submissions made in relation to the proposed reclamation and of the port company's response thereto.
54. Mr. Yates asked the Minister for Public Enterprise if she has satisfied herself that previous announcements on the proposed £16.9 million refurbishment of Ferbane power station will proceed; if her attention has been drawn to local concerns that not only the refurbishment but the future of the plant is in jeopardy; the discussions, if any, she has had with the Chairman of ESB in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24636/99]
Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke): As the House is aware, the electricity market is being liberalised as a consequence of an EU directive. The directive itself is a very complex instrument with a mixture of priority dispatch for indigenous fuels, transitional measures and public service obligations. I will come up with arrangements which comply with the directive, which allow for the degree of competition envisaged – 28 per cent next year – and which recognise the history of the ESB and the need to position ESB to be a major player going forward. In fact, I have recently put in place a tripartite process to develop a better understanding in this area and I hope this process will quickly make a positive contribution.
Against this background, I would like to see the Ferbane station refurbished and continuing into the future but it would have to be accommodated within a package which would achieve EU approval, would enable ESB to thrive for the longterm and would not lead to uncompetitive electricity prices in the economy.
I am working urgently to find a formula which will accommodate the aspirations of all relevant stakeholders. I have regular contact with the chairman about this and other matters and he is well aware of my views.
55. Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Public Enterprise the capital or other funding specifically earmarked in the National Development Plan 2000-2006 for the development of Waterford Regional Airport; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24637/99]
Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke): As the Deputy will be aware, a significant sum of £10 million was allocated to the regional airports, including Waterford, under the National Development Plan 2000-2006.
Funding has not been specifically earmarked for any individual airport at this stage, but now that the plan has been finalised, my Department will, over the coming months, be examining the proposals from each of the airports with a view to prioritising investment needs over the period 2000-06.
This examination will entail seeking and evaluating the detailed plans which the regional airport companies have for improvements which are deemed necessary to ensure the safe and viable operation of the airports. Decisions will only be  taken in relation to the disbursement of funds in the national development plan after that exercise is complete.
56. Mr. Yates asked the Minister for Public Enterprise the statistics for the colour code alerts issued within the ESB when plant capacity is restricted and power cuts are likely; if these yellow and red colour code alerts are uniformly notified to her Department; if not, if she will arrange for the ESB to provide these statistics for each of the past 10 years; if the statistics show a sharp increase in the number of these incidents over recent years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24639/99]
57. Mr. Yates asked the Minister for Public Enterprise the statistics for electricity generation unit operations for the annual total plant availability for each of the past ten years; if these statistics show that there has been continued reduced availability of plant relative to capacity; if so, the reason in this regard; if up to 35 per cent of total plant is currently unavailable for electricity generation; if so, if this is the cause of the threats of power cuts; the steps, if any, being taken to ensure that there is adequate power plant maintenance to ensure that power cuts are kept to a minimum; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24641/99]
Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke): I propose to take Questions Nos. 56 and 57 together.
It is useful to define what is meant by the terms “red alert” and “amber alert”. In layman's language a red alert occurs when there is a significant deviation from the normal operating standard signalling an “emergency state” in the power situation. An amber alert occurs when there is a contraction in the normal operating reserve caused, for example, by the tripping of a large generating unit. The issue of alerts are operational matters for ESB in the normal course and are not routinely notified to my Department.
The record of alerts for the past ten years as follows:
 Annual availability statistics are, by their nature, averages and not necessarily an accurate barometer of availability at critical periods.
The ESB has advised me that the following are the statistics for electricity generation in relation to total plant availability for the years 1989 to 1999:
|1999||83.4 (estimate for full year)|
These statistics show that the trend for plant availability steadily improved from a low of 75.73 per cent in 1989 to a high of 86.21 per cent in 1996. The trend has regressed somewhat since then.
The ESB endeavours to maintain an operating reserve of around 600MW at all times so as to provide cover against sudden increases in demand or sudden losses of generation plant. This requirement is particularly important in Ireland where the largest unit size is a relatively high proportion of the peak demand. Recently it has proved impossible to maintain the required operating reserve on a growing number of occasions for the reasons set out below.
The ESB has informed me that it is not correct that up to 35 per cent of total plant capacity is currently unavailable for electricity generation. Maintenance arrangements for ESB power plants are entirely an operational matter for ESB.
The principal reason identified by ESB for the recent reduction in availability and the recent upsurge in amber alerts was the increased level of unscheduled breakdowns that began in 1998 and continued in 1999. These outages arose from an unusually high level of faults in some of the larger generating stations. Having considered the nature of these faults, it is ESB's view that this high level will not continue.
I met the chairman of the ESB on 2 November 1999 about the electricity capacity situation. He gave me a categoric assurance that there would be no shortfall in the electricity supply during winter 1999 and 2000. I must accept that assurance.
As regards winter 2001, the Deputy will be aware of plans by ESB and a number of independent power companies to build new generating plant to come on stream around that time.
I will continue to monitor the situation.
58. Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development the reason his Department advised a person (details supplied) in County Cork, whose application was late, not to submit an application form for 1998 area aid after the closing date when she intended to submit an appeal on the matter. [24625/99]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): The herdowner lodged an appeal on 30 July 1999 concerning the non-submission of her 1998 area aid application. The appeals unit in examining her appeal is addressing the matter of the reasons for non-submission. The herdowner will be notified of the outcome in the near future.
59. Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development the reason his Department advised a person (details supplied) in County Cork, whose application was late, not to submit an application form for 1998 area aid after the closing date when he intended to submit an appeal on the matter. [24626/99]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): The herdowner lodged an appeal on 30 July 1999 concerning the non-submission of his 1998 area aid application. The appeals unit in examining his appeal is addressing the matter of the reasons for non-submission. The herdowner will be notified of the outcome in the near future.
60. Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development if he will examine the case of a person (details supplied) in County Waterford who joined the REP scheme in November 1998; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24627/99]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): It is a strict condition of the national scheme for the control of farm pollution that investment works cannot commence until written approval is given by my Department. Accordingly, investment works carried out prior to the commencement of this scheme cannot be grant-aided. The scheme conditions are specific and clear on this point.
61. Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive 1999 cattle headage. [24666/99]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): The 1999 area aid application for the person named has now been fully processed and any payments due will issue as soon as possible.
62. Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agri Food and Rural Development Development when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive 1999 cattle and sheep headage. [24667/99]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): A herdowner must submit a valid area aid application for the relevant year in order to be considered for payment of headage grants. No area aid application was received from the person named for 1999 and consequently no cattle headage payments can be made.
63. Mr. Ellis asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development if a 1999 headage grant will be paid to a person (details supplied). [24668/99]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): The person named applied on 35 animals under the 1999 cattle headage scheme. At an inspection carried out on 8 July 1999 one of the animals applied on, tag number RMWR0050B, was stated to have died. Proof of the animal's death was requested but this information was not supplied to my Department until 11 November 1999. My Department has now written to the person named advising him that no grant will be paid on this animal, as it was not replaced, and that the grants payable on the remaining animals will be subject to a reduced payment in accordance with clause 29 of the terms and conditions governing the scheme. He has been given the opportunity to appeal this decision by writing to my Department setting out any facts which he wishes to put forward to support his case. Any such appeal will be considered as a matter of urgency.
Payment of his 60 per cent advance under the 1999 suckler cow premium scheme, amounting to £1,597.68, has now issued.
64. Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development when a farm retirement pension will be paid to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [24669/99]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): The person named applied for an early retirement pension on 14 June 1999. Due to the volume of work a backlog has arisen in the processing of applications. The backlog is being addressed by local office staff in conjunction with other priority work.
I would point out, however, that in no case does the processing time result in a financial loss to a retiring farmer. The operational procedures for the scheme specifically ensure that the date of receipt in the Department of a valid application determines the date from which payment is made.
65. Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development the reason a person (details supplied) in County Roscommon has a restricted herd under tuberculosis and brucellosis in spite of the fact that he had two clear consecutive tests; the regulations regarding the tagging of animals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24670/99]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): The herd of the person in question was tested on 21 June 1997 and two bovine tuberculosis reactors were disclosed. Subsequent retests on 10 April 1998 and 12 June 1998 were clear.
However, movement restrictions remain in place in respect of this holding because the herdowner has not complied with the requirement to identify all calves born in his herd. Such a requirement is laid down in national and EU legislation which obliges herdowners to attach eartags to animals born in their herds since 1 January 1996. This legislation also provides for the restriction of movements to and from holdings when identification and registration provisions are not complied with.
Detailed information and instructions on identification and registration requirements were sent by post to each herdowner. In addition, the herdowner in question has received two further letters from my Department confirming that he is obliged by law to tag all calves born into his herd since 1996. He has also on several occasions been offered the assistance of my Department's personnel in tagging his animals, but he has declined to avail of this offer.
More recently, Roscommon district veterinary office has made an offer to the herdowner for a veterinary inspector to visit him to clarify the position regarding the tagging and identification of calves and the legal obligations placed on herdowners. It is hoped that this offer will be accepted by the herdowner to ensure the traceability of his herd. Otherwise, the Department will have no alternative but to continue to have his herd restricted and in due course to take further action in this case.
66. Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development if, further to Parliamentary Question No. 103 of 11 November 1999, he will give details of a change in boundaries on an area aid application for persons (details supplied) in County Mayo; and if he will send an official to physically walk the parcel of land which was disputed in view of the fact Teagasc and the Land Commission stand by their calculation of the area involved which contradicts his Department's calculations. [24671/99]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development
(Mr. Walsh): As stated in my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 103 of 11 November the change in area from 3.71 hectares in 1998 to 3.60 hectares in 1999 reflects changes in boundaries as indicated on a map submitted by the person named with his 1999 area aid application form.
The area aid unit has informed the applicant of this and also sent him a map showing the boundaries of the parcel in question. The applicant has not made any further contact with my Department and there is no need for a physical inspection in this instance.
67. Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo has not received 1999 headage and premia. [24672/99]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): Payment under the 1999 suckler cow premium scheme of £739.60 has now issued to the person named and together with a further payment of £59.24, which will issue to her within the next seven days, represents her 60 per cent advance under this scheme. Payment of her entitlement under the 1999 cattle headage scheme will also issue within the next seven days.
The person named submitted an 1998 area aid application on which she declared 17.54 hectares of forage area. However, an examination of her application showed that her actual forage area in 1998 was 16.60 hectares. This represents a difference of 0.94 hectares or 5.66 per cent between the area claimed and that found. Under article 9 of EU Regulation 3887/92, the penalty is based on double the difference when it is between 3 per cent and 20 per cent. The penalty applicable in this case was therefore 11.33 per cent which, when applied to her actual forage area of 16.60 hectares, gave an adjusted forage area for the purpose of calculation of her entitlements under the 1998 headage and premia schemes of 14.72 hectares.
When payments under the 1998 cattle headage scheme and the 1998 suckler cow scheme issued last year, they were calculated on the basis of her original declaration of 17.54 forage hectares. A cheque for £1,219.20 under the 1998 cattle headage scheme issued to her on 13 October 1998 and an 80 per cent advance of £1,121.84 under the 1998 suckler cow premium scheme issued to her on 21 October 1998. While a balance of £280.46 is now due to the person named under the 1998 suckler cow premium scheme she was overpaid by an amount of £147.65 under the 1998 cattle headage scheme. This amount will be deducted from her remaining entitlement under the 1998 suckler cow premium scheme. Payment of £132.81 will now issue to her under this scheme.
68. 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 and premia in view of the fact proof of his entitlement to claim commonage has been provided. [24673/99]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): The 1999 area aid application for the person named has now been fully processed and any payments due will issue as soon as possible.
69. Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 147 and 148 of 16 November 1999, the reason payment of headage and premia for persons (details supplied) in County Mayo has been held up in view of the fact Department officials called to them in 1998 and physically walked the land to clear up the dual claim difficulty. [24674/99]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): The 1999 area aid applications for the persons named have now been fully processed and any payments due will issue as soon as possible.
70. Mr. Yates asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development if area aid payments will be issued to a person (details supplied) in County Wexford; and, if so, when payment will issue in this regard. [24675/99]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): The 1999 area aid application for the person named has now been fully processed any payments due will be made as soon as possible.
71. Mr. Yates asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development if a person (details supplied) in County Wexford will be paid suckler cow premium grants. [24676/99]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): The person named applied on 21 cows under the 1999 suckler cow scheme and on 60 ewes under the 1999 ewe premium scheme.
However she did not declare any forage area on her 1999 area aid application. It is a condition of EU premia schemes that applicants applying for premium in excess of 15 livestock units are required to declare forage area on their area aid application.
However payment is allowed on up to 15 livestock units where there is no forage area declared.
As the person named has already been paid her entitlement on 60 ewes which is the equivalent to nine livestock units, she is entitled to premium on six cows under the 1999 suckler cow scheme. This payment will issue shortly.
72. Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development if the area aid application of a person (details supplied) in County Cork will be reviewed in view of the fact he inadvertently ticked the forage section instead of the arable silage section; and if arrangements will be made for immediate payment in view of this genuine mistake. [24711/99]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): The person named claimed a total of 53.06 hectares of forage area on his 1999 area aid application. This application has been fully processed and payment has issued under the special beef premium scheme.
There is no provision under the arable aid scheme for payment in respect of arable silage.
73. Mr. Yates asked the Minister for Finance the rate of VAT charged on Christmas trees; if he has satisfied himself that all vendors of these products, including State companies, are selling them at the correct rate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24634/99]
Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy): The rate of VAT applicable to cut Christmas trees is the standard VAT rate, 21 per cent. The rate applicable to living trees, that is, trees sold with their roots intact, is 12.5 per cent.
I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that they believe that all vendors, including State companies, are now selling out Christmas trees at the correct rate.
If the Deputy is aware of any vendors selling such products at the incorrect rate, he might like to provide information to his local VAT inspector or to the VAT Administration Branch, Office of the Revenue Commissioners, Dublin Castle, Dublin 2.
74. Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Finance the plans, if any, he has to decentralise a Government service to Bray, County Wicklow, in view of the fact that the county has not benefited from any decentralisation in the past; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24635/99]
Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy): As indicated in the reviewed An Action Programme for the Millennium, the Government remains committed to a policy of balanced regional development and has set as a key priority the channelling of public sector jobs into provincial areas.
The current decentralisation programme is expected to be concluded within the next 18 months. I am actively considering all the options regarding a further programme and I intend to discuss the matter with my colleagues in Government shortly. While no decisions have been taken with regard to those locations which might feature in any such further programme, I note the  case made for the inclusion of Bray in any future programme.
75. Mr. McDowell asked the Minister for Finance the number of taxpayers who have claimed BIK allowance in respect of monthly or weekly transport commuter tickets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24698/99]
Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy): I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that employees are not required to include income arising from the provision of bus and rail passes by their employers in their tax returns. There is, therefore, no basis on which to provide an estimate of the numbers involved.
I am also informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the latest relevant information available is in respect of all benefits-in-kind other than benefits-in-kind arising from the provision of cars or preferential loans which were liable to tax for the income tax year 1997-98. It is estimated that the yield to the Exchequer from the taxation of those benefits-in-kind for that year was of the order of £14.9 million in respect of benefits returned by some 38,000 taxpayers.
76. Mr. McDowell asked the Minister for Finance the extent of the take-up of the tax incentives introduced to encourage park and ride facilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24699/99]
Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy): Section 70 of the Finance Act, 1999 introduced capital allowances of up to 100 per cent for capital expenditure on the construction or refurbishment of park and ride developments in or near designated urban areas which provide parking facilities for commuters using public transport.
Relief is also available for expenditure on the construction or refurbishment of related residential developments which are located at park and ride facilities. The allowances for residential developments are subject to the following limits. Total expenditure on residential developments must not exceed 25 per cent of total allowable expenditure at a qualifying park and ride facility. The scheme will operate for three years from 1 July 1999.
Guidelines on the operation of this scheme have been issued by my colleague, Mr. Noel Dempsey, Minister for Environment and Local Government, in August of this year. These guidelines set out the criteria which must be met in order to qualify for a development under the scheme. Certification of a development for the purposes of obtaining relief under the scheme is carried out by the relevant local authority.
The 1999 Finance Act also provided for capital allowances for commercial developments located at these park and ride facilities. However, guide lines are not yet available in relation to the commercial development element of these park and ride facilities as this will need approval by the EU Commission which will take some months.
I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that claims for tax reliefs for the provision of park and ride facilities and for certain related developments are made by an investor on the annual tax return form. The amount of relief claimed is included in the section of the return form where claims for relief under other property based incentive schemes – the urban renewal scheme – are also made. However, as the various claims for relief are not separately identified, it is not possible to establish the level of take up under the park and ride scheme.
I am however, informed by the Department of the Environment and Local Government that the relevant local authorities must issue a certificate to developers in respect of qualifying park and ride facilities. In this context it may be possible to ascertain the level of take up of these incentives. While it is too early at this stage to provide any hard data, I understand that some private developers have expressed interest in these incentives.
77. Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Finance if he will amend the regulations which require a child to stay one night per year with a parent (details supplied) before a tax allowance is payable. [24724/99]
Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy): Section 462 of the Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997 provides for an allowance for widowed or single persons with children. The allowance is conditional on the child or children being resident with the taxpayer “for the whole or part of the tax year”. The taxpayer has made a claim for the section 462 allowance but this has been refused on the grounds that the taxpayer's children do not reside with him for any part of the year.
I have no plans to alter the conditions of this allowance.
78. Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Health and Children if his attention has been drawn to the dilapidated condition of the ambulance staff quarters at the Sacred Heart Centre, Castlebar, County Mayo; if his attention has further been drawn to the very poor waiting and toilet facilities there; the proposals, if any, he has to deal with these problems; when rectification works will begin pending removal of the unit to Mayo General Hospital or elsewhere; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24643/99]
80. Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Health and Children his views on moving the existing ambulance service headquarters and fleet based at the Sacred Heart Hospital, Castlebar, County Mayo, to Mayo General Hospital; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24645/99]
82. Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Health and Children the amount provided to the Western Health Board for each of the past five years for the purchase of ambulances; the number of ambulances purchased; the expenditure incurred; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24647/99]
83. Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the ambulance fleet at Castlebar, County Mayo; the number of ambulances based there; the age and mileage of each in September 1999; the number of ambulances not in service; the general condition of the fleet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24648/99]
Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen): I propose to take Questions Nos. 78, 80, 82 and 83 together.
A programme of investment in the ambulance service has been under way since the publication of the report of the review group on the ambulance service in 1993 with in excess of £23 million having been invested in the ambulance service since 1993. This year I allocated an additional £970,000 to the Western Health Board for the development of its ambulance service which brings to approximately £2.89 million the total funding made available to the board for this purpose. In this context, the Western Health Board has been pursuing a range of improvements to the ambulance service, including improved training, upgrading of the ambulance fleet and the development of ambulance bases.
I am committed to furthering the process of development in the ambulance service to ensure the full implementation of the recommendations of the report of the review group to ensure the provision of a modern ambulance service. The Western Health Board has statutory responsibility for the service, for drawing up a service plan to provide for its operation and for the allocation of available funding to particular projects. It is a matter for the board to identify the priority areas it wishes to develop. Investment in the ambulance base at Castlebar can be considered in this context.
79. Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will authorise the appointment of a locum casualty consultant for Mayo General Hospital in view of the extremely high throughput of patients and the necessity to provide such cover in a busy hospital to cope with both end of year and millennium increases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24644/99]
81. Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of casualty cases dealt with in Mayo General Hospital for each of the past five years; the medical staff employed in the casualty department for each of these years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24646/99]
Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen): I propose to take Questions Nos. 79 and 81 together.
The major phase 2 capital development at Mayo General Hospital includes a new accident and emergency department. Construction on this department is due for completion in April 2000 and my Department is presently in discussion with the health board in relation to its appropriate staffing requirements.
In relation to medical staffing, I understand from the board that prior to July of this year two senior house officers covered day duty and the surgical team on call covered night duty in the Department. Since July of this year this has been increased by two additional locum SHO's who work on rotation.
The number of A & E attendances for each of the past five years is as follows:
|Year||No of cases|
84. Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress, if any, made in correcting the deficiencies identified in the Limerick mental health service as outlined in the report of the Inspector of Mental Hospitals for the year ending 31 December 1998. [24687/99]
Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen): I have noted the comments of the Inspector of Mental Hospitals on the Limerick mental health service in his report for the year ending 31 December 1998. In so far as these comments point to the need for additional capital investment I have made available £383,000 in 1999 for the provision of a high support community residence in Limerick. I will examine the capital requirements of the service in the context of the funding available for mental health services under the national development plan.
85. Mr. C. Lenihan asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason Scoil Mhuire, Belgard, Tallaght, Dublin 14, has been left without a speech and language therapist since April 1999; and if he will investigate the matter. [24688/99]
Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen): The provision of speech and language therapy services is a matter for the relevant health board. I have had inquiries made of the Eastern Health Board in this matter. I understand that the board has encountered difficulties in finding a suitable candidate to fill the post. However, I am assured that efforts will continue to be made to have the post filled as soon as possible.
86. Mr. Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Health and Children when he will make an announcement regarding the new hospital in Dingle, County Kerry; and when building will commence. [24723/99]
Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen): I have not received any formal proposal from the Southern Health Board in this regard but, should I do so at a future date, I will give the matter full consideration.
87. Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the cost per kilometre for motorway, dual carriageway, other national primary and national secondary roads in the context of the National Development Plan 2000-2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24638/99]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): The most recent detailed estimates of these costs under Irish conditions is set out in the National Roads Needs Study (NRA, 1998) at page 52, table 7.2. A copy of the study is available in the Oireachtas Library; for convenience, the information involved is reproduced below.
The aggregate financial estimates of the National Development Plan 2000-2006 as regards national roads are generally based on these unit costs, but also reflect more detailed information where available in relation to certain specific major schemes and are updated to 1999 values.
|Reduced 2 lane||1.1|
|Standard 2 lane with hardshoulders||1.4|
|Widening to standard 2 lane with realignment||0.6|
|Wide 2 lane with hardshoulders||1.7|
|Widening from standard 2 lane to wide 2 lane with hardshoulder||0.5|
|Reduced Dual Carriageway||3.1|
|Standard Dual Carriageway||3.5|
|Motorway (2x2 lane)||4.5|
88. Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the further evaluation required relating to the road type and route for the Waterford to Dublin quality dual carriageway in the context of the National Development Plan 2000-2006; the routes being considered; the timescale involved in the evaluation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24640/99]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): The NDP sets out a strategic framework for the development of the national roads network over the coming seven years. It is a matter for the NRA, within this framework, to promote the more detailed programming of the work required and to manage, in co-operation with local authorities, the planning, design and implementation of individual road development projects. In this context the NRA will assess the best solution, including route and road type for improving Waterford to Dublin road links.
89. Mr. Yates asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the vehicle standards that will apply to vintage hire cars with a PSV licence for specialist but restricted work such as services relating to weddings; if these cars, often built in the 1950s, will have a different requirement for the MOT than non-vintage cars; and, if so, the requirements that will be put in place. [24695/99]
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy): Public service vehicles, in common with other mechanically propelled vehicles, are subject to regulations in force under section 11 of the Road Traffic Act, 1961 relating to the construction, equipment and use of vehicles. There are no special exemptions under these regulations for vintage cars.
Private vintage cars will, subject to stated conditions, be exempted from the requirements of the forthcoming national car test. However, vintage cars used as public service vehicles will remain subject to a vehicle fitness test by an Garda Síochána, pending later transfer of such vehicle testing to the new national car test.
90. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the plans, if any, he has to change the system whereby capital, including money as in cash in a bank, post office or otherwise invested, is assessed as means for unemployment assistance at a rate of 5 per cent on the first £400 and 10 per cent on the remainder; and if he will amend this in view of low interest rates. [24791/99]
91. Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the limits, if any, on personal savings before they are assessed for long-term unemployment assistance; the plans, if any, he has to raise these thresholds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24651/99]
Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): It is proposed to take Questions Nos. 90 and 91 together.
In assessing the value of capital for Unemployment Assistance purposes, the first £400 is assessed at 5 per cent and the balance is assessed at 10 per cent.
Arising from difficulties associated with the different treatment of capital under the various social assistance schemes, it was decided by the previous Government to introduce a standardised method of assessing capital. The introduction of the disability allowance scheme in October, 1996 and the one-parent family payment in January, 1997 presented the opportunity to commence the process of extending this revised capital assessment method to all social assistance schemes on a progressive basis. This process has almost been completed, with the extension of the standardised procedures to all social assistance schemes, other than unemployment assistance and supplementary welfare allowance.
Under the revised arrangements, the first £2,000 is disregarded, the next £20,000 is assessed at 7.5 per cent and the balance is assessed at 15 per cent. However, since the standardised method of assessing capital was first introduced in 1996, interest rates available on investments have fallen significantly. In the circumstances, I have arranged for my Department to review the current standardised method of assessing capital.
Any relaxation of the current rules would have financial implications and could only be considered in a budgetary context.
92. Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the reason the disregard of £75 for a single applicant and £150 for a married applicant in relation to the assessment of means for a carer's allowance do not apply where the applicant's income consists of a United Kingdom social security payment; his views on whether this provides equitable treatment to all applicants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24682/99]
Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): The carer's allowance is a means tested payment for carers on low income who look after people in need of full-time care and attention.
The review of the carer's allowance, which was published in October 1999, recommended that a disregard of £75 per week should be applied to the income of a single carer and a disregard of £150 per week should be applied to the joint means of a married couple. This measure was implemented in August 1999.
The review also examined the issue of paying  the carer's allowance in conjunction with another social welfare payment. The practice of paying only one allowance is a feature, with very few exceptions, of all social welfare payments, including those in payment from another country.
Foreign social security payments are treated in the same manner as their Irish equivalents and are not disregarded when determining income. This ensures that limited resources are not used to make two income payments to any one individual. The review concluded that the payment of two concurrent income support allowances would not be an effective use of resources.
93. Mr. Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the number of people in the Kenmare area who were cut off unemployment assistance or small farmers dole over the past six months. [24720/99]
94. Mr. Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the number of people in the Killarney area who were cut off unemployment assistance or small farmers dole over the past six months. [24721/99]
95. Mr. Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the number of people in the Killorglin area who were cut off unemployment assistance or small farmers dole over the past six months. [24722/99]
Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): I propose to take Questions Nos. 93 to 95, inclusive, together.
The numbers of people in receipt of unemployment assistance in the areas concerned who, during the last six months – May to October 1999 – had their claims disallowed following review are as follows:
Unemployment Assistance Smallholders
|Live RegisterEnd Sep '98||Live RegisterEnd Oct '99|
In four cases appeals have been made to the Social Welfare Appeals Office. There is no result of those appeals to date.
96. Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands the controls, if any, applying to the level of breeding of falcons and other birds of prey; if her attention has been drawn to the concerns of those involved in pigeon racing that the population of these birds has become too large; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24696/99]
Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera): The Wildlife Act, 1976 (Birds of Prey) Regulation, 1984, provide that no  person may possess birds of prey or use them for falconry other than in accordance with a licence granted by me as Minister. The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill, 1999, will extend these controls to additional related species and will make specific provision that no person may engage in breeding of birds of prey without a licence.
The national breeding population of peregrine falcons was estimated at approximately 350 pairs when last surveyed in 1991. Numbers are considered to be at an historically high level due to the observation of protective measures set out in national and EU legislation. The problem may not be so much that the population has become too large, for the species is still scarce in overall terms, but rather that a small proportion of the population nesting near urban areas and along racing pigeon flights can become a problem.
While I appreciate the concerns of racing pigeon enthusiasts, the Deputy will appreciate that peregrines and other birds of prey remain protected under national and EU legislation.
97. Mr. McGrath asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands the audit, if any, carried out by officers of her Department on the mature red squirrel; her views on the serious decline in the numbers of this native species in recent years; the plans, if any, she has to introduce a conservation programme to ensure that suitable habitats are identified; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24621/99]
Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera): The red squirrel is found all over the country with the exception of the midlands and the north west. Its preferred habitat is coniferous woodland.
I have no plans to carry out an audit at present. Red squirrel surveys were carried out in the late 1970s and early 1980s which established that the species is generally extending its range in response to afforestation. Some local populations have declined due to habitat management, disease and ecological factors favouring the grey squirrel. Grey squirrels survive better in oak-beech woods whereas red squirrels survive better in conifer woods – our newly established conifer forests are good habitats for the red squirrel.
A conservation programme to identify suitable habitats is not considered necessary as general coniferous afforestation which is taking place is known to benefit the red squirrel.
98. Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands the concerns of Dúchas with respect to a planning permission (details supplied); the plans, if any, she has to develop the site if the planning does not proceed; if so, the timescale involved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24622/99]
Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss De Valera): Dúchas, the Heritage Service of my Department has been in consultation with the relevant county council about the proposed development referred to by the Deputy.
Dúchas considers that the site of the proposed development is of high importance in architectural heritage terms, mainly because of its integrity as a historic landscape which may be unique in this country. Dúchas is also of the view that the development as proposed would have a devastating effect on this landscape and its integrity and amenity would accordingly be irretrievably destroyed.
Given the impacts on the historic landscape and on other archaeological sites in the vicinity, Dúchas recommended to the county council that planning permission be refused. The Deputy will appreciate, however, that the decision on planning permission is one for the county council, taking account of all relevant observations made to it.
Dúchas has no plans to develop this site. The site is in private ownership and it is a matter for the owners to develop it in a manner that is compatible with its importance and ensures its future preservation.
99. Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands the consideration, if any, she has given to requesting the Department of Finance to allow the cost of an archaeological dig, included as a condition of planning permission as a result of representations by Dúchas, be offset against income tax in view of the fact that a large number of young couples in County Wicklow are being burdened with this expense; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24623/99]
Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera): Ireland's archaeological heritage is a resource of great cultural and scientific importance which can be used to enhance our knowledge and understanding of the past. The European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (the Valletta Convention), which was ratified by Ireland in 1997, has as its aim to “protect the archaeological heritage as a source of the European collective memory and as an instrument for historical and scientific study.” Having regard to the national and international significance of the archaeological heritage and to the non-renewable nature of that resource, the costs of archaeological work necessitated by development are a legitimate part of development costs.
100. Dr. O'Hanlon asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands the position on the refurbishment of the Ulster Canal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24701/99]
Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera): A feasibility study into the reopening of the Ulster Canal, which was jointly commissioned by the Rivers Agency of Northern Ireland and Dúchas, the Heritage Service of my Department, was published in August, 1998. This comprehensive study concluded that the re-opening of the Ulster Canal is feasible but it would be a large engineering project estimated to cost some £68.4 million sterling, at 1997 prices, and the works stage alone would take at least four years.
In publishing this study, I stated that, while it could open the way to an imaginative joint restoration project with benefits to communities on both sides of the Border, there are major financial, legal and environmental considerations to be addressed by both Governments.
The British-Irish Agreement Act, 1999, passed earlier this year by both Houses of the Oireachtas but yet to be brought into force pending the setting up of the Northern Ireland Executive, provides for the establishment of Waterways Ireland, a North-South implementation body for inland waterways, and one of its immediate functions will be to “take forward appropriate studies and appraisals in relation to the possible restoration of the Ulster Canal”. This is the appropriate mechanism for progressing the matter and I hope that Waterways Ireland will be established shortly.
101. D'fhiafraigh Mr. McGinley den Aire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta, Gaeltachta agus Oileán an bhfuil aon phleananna ina Roinn le leathnú a dhéanamh ar theorainneacha na gaeltachta agus, go speisialta, baile na nGleanntach, Dún na nGall, a thabhairt isteach sa ghaeltacht. [24717/99]
Minister of State at the Department of Arts; Heritage, Heritage; Gaeltacht and the Islands (Éamon Ó Cuív): Tá breithniú leanúnach á dhéanamh agam ar na bealaí is fearr chun an Ghaeilge a chaomhnú agus a chur chun cinn sa Ghaeltacht. Chomh maith leis sin d'iarr mé ar an Lár-Oifig Staidrimh mionanailís a dhéanamh ar phatrúin teangeolaíochta na tíre, an Ghaeltacht san áireamh, bunaithe ar thorthaí Daonáirimh 1996. Úsáidfear an t-eolas sin chun críche bheartas teanga, ar a n-áirítear breithniú a dhéanamh ar na limistéir Ghaeltachta i gcoitinne Na Gleannta san áireamh. Ní mór a sholéiriú áfach go mbeidh aon athrú a mholfar ar theorainneacha na Gaeltachta bunaithe air chritéir teangeolaíochta.
103. Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the funding, if any, available to a group (details supplied) to provide a new resource centre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24704/99]
Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid): An application for funding under the 1999 Sports Capital Programme was received from the organisation in question. Approximately 1,900 applications were received under the programme and following assessment, grants were allocated to some 400 local community based projects throughout the country in July last. However, this organisation was one of the unsuccessful applicants.
I will be advertising details of the programme for 2000 shortly and it will be open to the organisation to re-apply for funding, if they so wish.
104. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the position in regard to the building of the Olympic standard 50 metre swimming pool; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24708/99]
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 inviting proposals for the design, financing, construction and management of a national 50 metre swimming pool.
This tender procedure, which was conducted in accordance with EU Council Directive 93/37/EEC, concerning the co-ordination of procedures for the award of public works contracts, culminated, in July of this year, in the selection of a proposal submitted by the University of Limerick to develop a 50 metre swimming pool on their campus.
My Department is currently finalising contractual details with the university, whose 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. The university anticipate that the pool will be operational by October 2000.
108. Mr. McDowell asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation when he will invite applications for lottery grants; and the nature of the submissions which will be required. [24719/99]
Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid): I expect to formally invite applications for assistance from the Sports Capital Programme for the year 2000 in the national press shortly which will also specify the closing date for receipt of such applications. Applicants seeking funding under the programme will be required to complete and submit an application form with full details of their respective proposals for consideration before the closing date.
109. Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the plans, if any, he has for the £150 million for marketing in the national development plan; and if its control will be under a joint industry State control body such as the Overseas Tourism Marketing Initiative Board. [24726/99]
Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid): The national development plan, which was published on 15 November, included provision for Ireland's first ever multi-annual tourism marketing fund, with a specifically earmarked allocation of £150 million, euro 191 million, over the period 2000 to 2006. The main purpose of this fund is to finance the promotion and marketing internationally of Ireland as a world class tourist location, and specific marketing of activity based holidays with a view to regional development. The aim of the fund will be to ensure adequate funding, from public and industry sources, for the marketing of Irish tourism overseas on a partnership basis over the period of the plan.
Detailed arrangements for the operation of the tourism marketing fund will be settled following consultation with Bord Fáilte and representatives of the tourism industry and in the light of proposals for new all island institutional structures for international tourism marketing under the Good Friday Multi-party Peace Agreement.
Under the terms of the statement of 18 December 1998, issued by the First and Deputy First Ministers, the intention is that a new all island tourism company is to be established by Bord Fáilte and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to provide a range of services in the international marketing area, including subsuming the activities of Overseas Tourism Marketing Initiative Limited. Meanwhile, it is envisaged that OTMI, which is a private company limited by guarantee and linked to the Operational Programme for Tourism, 1994 to 1999, will continue in existence for such time as is required to discharge its legal responsibilities in respect of contractual marketing commitments under the programme taken before the deadline of end 1999 for such commitments.
110. Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Education and Science the capital and other funding earmarked in the National Development Plan 2000-2006 for the upgrading of Waterford Institute of Technology to university status; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24628/99]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): While the national development plan includes significant investment for third level education, the specifics of the allocation have not yet been determined. However, the Department of Education and Science is currently funding a number of capital projects at the Waterford Institute of Technology. The larger of these projects include the library-information technology building and the tourism building. Capital allocations have also been sanctioned for the advancement of the apprentice training and skills initiative programmes. These amount to an unprecedented investment in developing Waterford Institute of Technology.
Matters relating to the designation of institutions as universities are covered in the Universities Act 1997.
111. Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Education and Science the general terms and conditions pertaining to the acquisition of a site (details supplied); the resources made available, in the context of his departmental budget, for the acquisition of this site for the school in question; the state of negotiations concerning all relevant parties assuming that the acquisition is progressed through the normal channels; whether the new school to be built on this site will ever be sold for any other purpose; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24629/99]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): Negotiations are still ongoing between the school authority and the diocese in relation to the acquisition of a site for a proposed new building for the school to which the Deputy refers. Accordingly, the general terms and conditions pertaining to these negotiations are not known within my Department.
The Department will provide capital funding for the entire project under the building grants scheme as operated by my Department's planning and building unit.
It is a condition of the building grants scheme that all school sites are vested in the interest of the Minister of Education and Science for a period of not less than 99 years.
112. Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Education and Science the plans, if any, he has regarding his Department's lands at Kingswood Heights, Tallaght, Dublin 24; the consideration, if any, he has given to the establishment of a secondary school for this site; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24630/99]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): A site at Kingswood Heights was acquired by my Department for a second level school. No final decision in relation to the need for such a school has been taken.
113. Mr. G. Reynolds asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will provide funding for the provision of a school caretaker and secretary at Cloghogue national school, Castlebaldwin, County Sligo. [24631/99]
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. 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 receive grants of £15 per pupil, based on their enrolments, which are paid as additions to the standard per capita grant.
Since its introduction in 1992, the scheme has been expanded in line with undertakings given in the PESP. The scheme has been extended to include more schools by reducing the qualifying enrolment threshold to its current figure of 195 pupils, with an ultimate target of providing additional capitation grants to all primary schools with 100 pupils or more.
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 this 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.
Unfortunately, Cloghogue national school, with an enrolment of 50 pupils on 30 September 1998 does not qualify for inclusion in the PESP scheme at this stage.
114. Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Education and Science if, further to Parliamentary Question No. 384 of 16 November 1999, he has evaluated the contribution his officials have made in attending meetings of area-based partnerships; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24632/99]
115. Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Education and Science if, further to Parliamentary Question No. 384 of 16 November 1999, he will increase the range and number of community groups in which officials of his Department participate in order to ensure that they are fully aware of the needs of those areas suffering from greatest disadvantage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24633/99]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): I propose to take Questions Nos. 114 and 115 together.
The Deputy is aware that members of the Department's inspectorate and psychological service are nominated to committees associated with the area-based partnerships. In the vast majority of cases these are sub-committees of the partnership dealing with education matters. In some cases, however, further sub-committees have been formed and inspectors and psychologists have been available to them for advice when educational matters are being discussed.
This close collaboration between my Department and the educational aspects of the work of the area-based partnerships has been reviewed in my Department and the majority of the nominees to the committees are able to attend the meetings and to make a positive contribution.
Due to pressure of other work and the timing of particular meetings, it has not always been possible for all nominees to attend as regularly as would be desired. I am satisfied, however, that my representatives are making a positive contribution, taking all of the circumstances into account. I believe that existing levels of representation in the case of education subcommittees of the partnerships and the availability of my nominees in the cases of other related and specific sub-committees provide adequate support and advice on educational issues being addressed.
116. Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Education and Science the position in relation to a braille machine for a person (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24649/99]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): This case is being reviewed by my Department in the light of additional information which was supplied recently in connection with this student's requirements. A decision will be conveyed to the school authorities shortly.
117. Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of places on post-leaving certificate courses open to students with an applied leaving certificate; the location of these courses; his views on the adequacy of this provision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24650/99]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): At the commencement of the 1999-2000 academic year my Department approved approximately 24,700 places in the post leaving certificate – PLC – programme.
PLC courses offer integrated general education, vocational training and work experience for those who have completed senior cycle or equivalent. The courses are delivered in a network of over 230 schools and colleges throughout the country. The bulk of the courses are delivered in vocational colleges in the VEC sector. There are over 1,000 courses to choose from in 60 disciplines. The leaving certificate applied is suitable for entry to the vast majority of PLC courses, with the exception of a very small number of courses approved by professional bodies.
Statistical returns from colleges offering PLC courses indicate that, overall, the number of places approved by my Department in the 1999-2000 academic year is sufficient to accommodate those who wish to participate in the programme.
A list indicating the location of centres offering PLC courses will be conveyed to the Deputy today.
A survey of the destinations of participants who completed the leaving cert applied in 1998 undertaken by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment indicates the following:
Other Training (e.g FAS CERT,
Unavailable for work/unknown
118. Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Education and Science if the revised drawings submitted by the board of management for an extension to St. Colman's boys' national school, Macroom, County Cork, have been inspected and approved; and, if so, when sanction will issue. [24689/99]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): My Department's technical staff are currently examining the revised drawings for an extension to St. Colman's boys national school, Macroom, County Cork.
I can assure the Deputy that the case will be dealt with as quickly as possible.
119. Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of students who left school with no qualifications over the past five years; the percentage of adults who have literacy problems; the number of students at second level education; the number of school psychologists; the number of second level schools doing leaving certificate applied courses and leaving certificate vocational programmes respectively; the number of qualified remedial teachers; the number of students who took foundation level maths, foundation level Irish and foundation level English respectively in their junior certificate in 1999; and the number of students who took foundation level maths and foundation level Irish respectively in their leaving certificate in 1999. [24690/99]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): The details requested by the Deputy are being compiled by my Department and will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as possible.
120. Mr. P. Carey asked the Minister for Education and Science if the position of a teacher (details supplied) in Dublin 7 will retain permanent status after August 2000. [24691/99]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): In June of this year I announced my decision to remove the Irish requirement for the generality of second-level teachers who are not required to use the language in the course of their everyday work. Teachers of Irish and teachers employed in Gaeltacht schools and in other schools where Irish is the medium of instruction will still be required to be fully proficient in Irish.
I am pleased to inform the Deputy that, provided the teacher is not in one of the categories listed, the teacher to whom the Deputy refers will not be required to attain the Irish requirement and will retain permanent status as a teacher with City of Dublin VEC.
121. Mr. Bradford asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress on the proposed extension to Loreto secondary school, Fermoy, County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24693/99]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): My Department's building unit is currently examining the stage 3 submission, i.e. developed sketched scheme, for the proposed extension at Loreto secondary school, Fermoy, Cork. When this submission has been fully examined and approved, the school's managerial authorities will be authorised to proceed to the next stage of architectural planning.
122. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the enrolment of up to 60 non-national children at Holy Rosary national school, Ballycragh, Tallaght, Dublin 24, without any special provision by his Department; the steps, if any, he will take to assist the school to cope and benefit from this experience; his views on whether non-national enrolment on this scale requires the provision of an additional language teacher; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24694/99]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): I am aware that increasing numbers of non-national children have been enrolled in a number of schools in the Dublin area recently, including Holy Rosary national school. I also understand that many of these children have very little competence in the English language, and I appreciate the difficulties faced by schools in providing education for them.
My Department carried out a detailed examination of the situation in 1998, following which an additional 14 teaching posts were provided early this year to address the difficulties associated with  teaching non-English speaking pupils from various ethnic backgrounds. A further 15 posts were sanctioned during the summer to assist schools where large numbers of refugee children from Kosovo had been enrolled.
I am currently examining what additional educational provisions might be made to meet the needs of non-English speaking pupils.
123. Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Education and Science the funding, if any, available to a group (details supplied) to provide a new resource centre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24705/99]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): My Department does not provide funding from the primary buildings subhead for projects of this nature.