Dáil Éireann

08/Dec/1999

Prelude

Order of Business.

Stamp Duties Consolidation Bill, 1999: Report and Final Stages

ICC Bank Bill, 1999: Motion.

ICC Bank Bill, 1999: Committee and Remaining Stages.

Intoxicating Liquor Bill, 1999: Second Stage (Resumed).

Ceisteanna–Questions.

Ceisteanna–Questions. - Dublin and Monaghan Bombings.

Priority Questions. - Hearing Impairment Claims.

Priority Questions. - Irish Red Cross Society.

Priority Questions. - Commemorative Millennium Medal.

Priority Questions. - Curragh School Site.

Defence Forces Reserve.

Other Questions. - Naval Service Recruitment.

Other Questions. - Security Surveillance Equipment.

Adjournment Debate Matters.

Intoxicating Liquor Bill, 1999: Second Stage (Resumed).

Intoxicating Liquor Bill, 1999: Committee Stage.

Intoxicating Liquor Bill, 1999: Report and Final Stages.

Private Members' Business. - Private Security Services Bill, 1999: Second Stage (Resumed).

Financial Resolution No. 5: General (Resumed).

Estimates for Public Services, 1998: Reports of Select Committees.

Adjournment Debate. - Proposed EU Defence Force.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Hospitals Building Programme. - Armed Raids.

Hospitals Building Programme. - Counselling Centres.

Written Answers. - Strategic Management Initiative.

Written Answers. - Northern Ireland Issues.

Written Answers. - Report on the Judiciary.

Written Answers. - International Financial Services Centre.

Written Answers. - Departmental Strategy.

Written Answers. - Crime Statistics.

Written Answers. - Hearing Impairment Claims.

Written Answers. - Irish Red Cross Society.

Written Answers. - Commemorative Millennium Medal.

Written Answers. - Schools Building Projects.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Reserve.

Written Answers. - Air Corps Equipment.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Reserve.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Recruitment.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Review.

Written Answers. - Hearing Impairment Claims.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Recruitment.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Property.

Written Answers. - Partnership for Peace.

Written Answers. - Naval Service Vessels.

Written Answers. - Overseas Missions.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Strength.

Written Answers. - Air Corps Equipment.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Recruitment.

Written Answers. - Drug Trafficking.

Written Answers. - Irish Red Cross Society.

Written Answers. - White Paper on Defence.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Accommodation.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Property.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Recruitment.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Strength.

Written Answers. - Army Barracks.

Written Answers. - Naval Service Vessels.

Written Answers. - Accident Report.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Personnel.

Written Answers. - Political Comments.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Remuneration.

Written Answers. - Air Corps Strength.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Equipment.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Operations.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Training.

Written Answers. - Official Engagements.

Written Answers. - Red Cross Conference.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Ombudsman.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Property.

Written Answers. - Overseas Missions.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Personnel.

Written Answers. - Border Security.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Property.

Written Answers. - Army Medical Corps.

Written Answers. - Community Initiatives.

Written Answers. - Job Losses.

Written Answers. - Amnesty International Funding.

Written Answers. - Implementation Bodies.

Written Answers. - Farm Electrification Grant.

Written Answers. - Army Barracks.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Equipment.

Written Answers. - Defence Forces Property.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Alternative Enterprise Scheme.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Farm Retirement Scheme.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Leader Programmes.

Written Answers. - Control of Farm Pollution Scheme.

Written Answers. - Pension Provisions.

Written Answers. - Proposed Legislation.

Written Answers. - Decentralisation Programme.

Written Answers. - Tax Clearance Certificates.

Written Answers. - Excise Duty.

Written Answers. - Banking Sector.

Written Answers. - Decentralisation Programme.

Written Answers. - Pre-budget Submissions.

Written Answers. - Orthodontic Service.

Written Answers. - Services for People with Disabilities.

Written Answers. - Consultant Appointments.

Written Answers. - Cancer Incidence.

Written Answers. - Orthodontic Service.

Written Answers. - Suicide Incidence.

Written Answers. - Compulsory Purchase Orders.

Written Answers. - Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Written Answers. - Departmental Funding.

Written Answers. - Arts Funding.

Written Answers. - Architectural Heritage.

Written Answers. - Inland Waterways.

Written Answers. - Irish Language Status.

Written Answers. - Registration of Title.

Written Answers. - Deaf Community.

Written Answers. - Schools Refurbishment.

Written Answers. - Freedom of Information Act.

Written Answers. - Adult Education.

Written Answers. - School Staffing.

Written Answers. - Multidenominational Schools.

Written Answers. - Breaking the Cycle Scheme.

Written Answers. - Schools Building Projects.

[789] Chuaigh an Leas-Cheann Comhairle i gceannas ar 10.30 a.m.

Mr. J. Bruton:  On a point of order, it is now almost 10.40 a.m. We normally start at 10.30 a.m. At this stage the Opposition has not been supplied with the normal courtesy copy of the Government's proposed Order of Business. The courtesy is extended to us to allow us to consider whether we agree with the order or wish to amend it. As of now we have not received it and I would be grateful, Sir, if you would consider a short recess to allow the Taoiseach to give us the Order of Business so that we can consider it.

The Taoiseach:  I understand there was a Whips' meeting this morning but as far as I know nobody from the Fine Gael Party attended.

Mr. D. Ahern:  Where was Deputy Bruton?

Mr. J. Bruton:  It is normal to communicate the Order of Business to the Opposition before the House commences business, regardless of whether there is a Whips' meeting. The Taoiseach has not furnished the Order of Business to us. I understand it has not been settled. The Taoiseach made a cheap remark concerning an unscheduled Whips' meeting. There was no expectation that the meeting would be held. Will you, Sir, allow a short recess to allow the Whips receive the Order of Business?

Mr. Stagg:  I confirm that we have not received the normal courtesy copy of the Order of Business. It has not been circulated to date.

The Taoiseach:  I have no problem with a sos. I have just received a copy of the Order of Business.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Is the Taoiseach saying he has only received a copy of his own Order of Business?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Taoiseach, I ask you to move that the sitting be suspended for ten minutes.

[790]The Taoiseach:  I move that the sitting be suspended for ten minutes.

Sitting suspended at 10.39 a.m. and resumed at 10.49 a.m.

The Taoiseach:  The Order of Business today is as follows: item 39, Stamp Duties Consolidation Bill, 1999 – Report and Final Stages—

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): On a point of order, where are our copies of the proposed Order of Business? Are the photocopiers down?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Chair has no responsibility for that. The Taoiseach to continue.

The Taoiseach:  —item 40, ICC Bank Bill, 1999 – Order for Report Stage and Report and Final Stages; item 41, Intoxicating Liquor Bill, 1999 – Second Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages; item 38, Financial Motions, 1999, by the Minister for Finance (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. and business shall be interrupted not later than 11.30 p.m.

Report Stage, including recommittal, and Final Stages of item 39 shall be taken today. The proceedings thereon, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 12.15 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include those set down and accepted by the Minister for Finance. Report Stage, including recommittal, and Final Stages of item 40 shall be taken today and the following arrangements shall apply. The proceedings of the recommittal motion shall not exceed 30 minutes and shall be confined to the speech of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party which shall not exceed ten minutes in each case. Proceedings on the Report and Final Stages, including proceedings on recommittal, shall be brought to a conclusion at 5 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include those set down and accepted by the Minister for Finance.

Second Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages of item 41 shall be taken today and the following arrangements shall apply: Second Stage to conclude within 30 minutes if not previously concluded, Committee Stage to conclude within one hour if not previously concluded and Report and Final Stages to conclude at 7 p.m. if not previously concluded. The proceedings thereon shall be brought to a conclusion by one question in each case which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

The sitting shall be suspended from 12.45 p.m. to 2.30 p.m. Private Members' Business shall be item 65, Private Security Services Bill, 1999 – Second Stage (Resumed) to conclude at 8.30 p.m.

[791]Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): To give due respect to the Members of the Dáil, the Chair should arrange for us to be given copies of what the Taoiseach has just outlined. It is a complex and long proposal that was impossible to absorb as he spoke.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Higgins:   (Dublin West): For whom is it a matter then?

Mr. Gormley:  We do not have a copy of the Order of Business either. The Taoiseach referred to the Whips' meeting this morning. Will he confirm that there will be nine hours for debate—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There have been questions on that already. Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Gormley:  No. This is ridiculous. We do not even have a copy of the Order of Business.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Is the proposal for dealing with item 39 agreed?

Mr. Gormley:  On a point of order, we do not have a copy of the Order of Business.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We heard the Deputy's point of order. Is the proposal on item 39 agreed?

Mr. C. Lenihan:  Why is the Deputy not in the Glen of the Downs?

Mr. Belton:  The Government has gone underground in the past 24 hours.

Mr. Quinn:  It has become the practice to circulate copies of the Order of Business to facilitate Members. Surely the Minister of State's office can, as we speak, supply photocopies. The services of the House should facilitate all Deputies.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We have the Deputy's point.

Mr. Gormley:  You do not give a toss about what we are saying.

Mr. Higgins:   (Dublin West): Excuse me, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I am dealing with item 2. Is the proposal for dealing with item 39 agreed?

Mr. Gormley:  No, we cannot agree something we do not know.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Is it agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with item 40 [792] agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with item 41 agreed?

Mr. J. Bruton:  All Stages of this Bill are being taken today. It is a large Bill and the Government plans to put down a large number of amendments although these have not yet been circulated. Given that drinking hours are a controversial issue on which there are differing views, I counsel the Government against taking all Stages today. While there is some urgency due to the imminent Christmas holiday, the legislative changes involved are so profound in some cases we should not rush them through all Stages, particularly when the Government amendments are not available for consideration.

Mr. Quinn:  This is a substantial Bill which affects many people. The amendments have not yet been circulated. That might be in train but they have not been received by our parliamentary office. The Taoiseach might consider scheduling a break between Second Stage and Committee Stage to facilitate consideration of the amendments and any other proposals that might have arisen in the course of the Second Stage debate. We are aware the Government is anxious to enact this legislation before the recess and we are not trying to delay it. However, a break between Second and Committee Stages could be arranged.

The Taoiseach:  That seems—

Deputy Gormley rose.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Gormley on the same issue.

Mr. Gormley:  I want to find out when we resume on item 38.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We have not yet reached that. I will call the Deputy when we do.

The Taoiseach:  On item 41, we could adjourn at 7 p.m. and the Whips could agree an arrangement at their meeting tonight. The important thing is to get the legislation finalised and through the Seanad. We need not finish it today.

Mr. Quinn:  That is acceptable to us.

Mr. J. Bruton:  I do not want to get into conflict about this issue because we have enough to fight about. However, there is no need to get this legislation passed before Christmas. Some of the changes involved are profound. There are five Stages in the legislative process for a good purpose, to allow Members to consider the provisions. In the case of profound legislation such as this, which brought Governments down in the 1920s, it is surely possible to arrange a gap of one week between Committee and Report Stages rather than dealing with it as proposed.

[793]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That matter is best discussed by the Whips.

Mr. J. Bruton:  At the end of the day, business is ordered by the House, not the Whips. While the Whips can discuss matters, the House must make the decisions. There is a proposal before us today—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach decides the business and he stated that this item need not finish at 7 p.m.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Is he amending the Order of Business to delete that proposal?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  This matter should be left to the Whips.

The Taoiseach:  I am suggesting that instead of concluding at 7 p.m. the Whips can agree, on the basis of whatever stage is reached at that time, to find a slot to conclude it. However, the Bill must be concluded because it includes the provisions for changes on 31 December. It must be passed. This is the short Bill, not the long Bill.

Mr. Belton:  When is the long Bill due?

The Taoiseach:  February.

Mr. Belton:  What year?

Mr. Quinn:  Is the Taoiseach saying there will be a holy hour after Second Stage?

The Taoiseach:  Yes.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Is the amended proposal for dealing with No. 41 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal that the sitting be suspended from 12.45 p.m. to 2.30 p.m. agreed? Agreed.

Mr. J. Bruton:  The Government certainly needs a lunch break. There should be equal treatment of two income and one income families across the board in all circumstances as regards income levels. Is it proposed to introduce individualisation in the social welfare code so that people will be able to apply individually for benefits? Is it intended that individual members of families – spouses – would be able to apply for medical cards individually and have their means assessed individually, now that the Government is committed to the concept of individualisation in general? Can the Taoiseach indicate the financial implications of individualisation in these circumstances?

Mr. Quinn:  I understand that, following the Whips' meeting this morning, we now have additional time to debate the budget comprising of three hours this evening and possibly further time, should that be required. Is it the Government's intention, following the U-turn on the out[794] line of the budget, that the changes which will be negotiated at the parliamentary party meeting or by the Cabinet will be announced formally in the House and not by a procession of penitents out to the plinth in front of the House as was the case yesterday? If the budget is to be recast, the place to announce the recasting is in the House.

The Taoiseach:  There are two Bills on these matters. The Social Welfare Bill should be introduced around March and the Finance Bill must be passed by the House within four months of budget day.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Sargent.

Mr. J. Bruton:  I thank the Taoiseach for that helpful information. Will individualisation be introduced into the social welfare code?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I have called Deputy Sargent.

Mr. J. Bruton:  In the event that the Government decides to change its budget in an important respect—

Mr. Quinn:  When it changes it.

Mr. J. Bruton:  —can I take it that any Deputies who have already spoken in the debate on the existing budget will not be disqualified from speaking on the new budget?

Mr. Belton:  It is called a double whammy.

(Interruptions.)

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputies should show Deputy Sargent some courtesy and allow him to speak.

Mr. Sargent:  Maidir le reachtaíocht atá geallta, táimid ag fanacht le fada an lá ar an Wildlife (Amendment) Bill. Foilsíodh é roimh an samhradh agus dúradh linn go mbéadh sé sa Teach roimh Nollaig. Níl sé de réir dealraimh. Cathain a mbeidh sé linn? Leis an méid atá ag titim amach i gCill Mhantáin fé láthair, is léir go bhfuil an-chuid daoine imníoch faoi chúrsaí dúlra agus eile. Cathain a mbeidh an Bille ós comhair an Tí?

The Taoiseach:  As the Deputy stated, the Bill is published and it is a matter for the Whips when Second Stage will be taken.

Mr. Quinn:  I wish to return to the question I put to the Taoiseach on the Order of Business. If, as has been widely signalled, substantial changes to the budget are decided upon by the Government, will the Taoiseach indicate if those changes will be formally announced by a Government speaker or by the Minister for Finance during the course of the now continued budget debate?

[795]The Taoiseach:  If any amendments and changes are made to a budget, they are normally made to the Finance and Social Welfare Bills. If there are any amendments to this budget, they will be made in the normal way.

Mr. J. Bruton:  If a radical budget is radically changed, Deputies should be allowed to speak on it again.

The Taoiseach:  There was an attempt yesterday to close down the budget debate. This is a superb budget.

Mr. Shatter:  The Taoiseach should ask his backbenchers.

The Taoiseach:  It is £1.5 billion, and the longer we can debate it so that people see how excellent it is the better. If there are any other amendments, we will enjoy having those also.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Rabbitte.

Mr. J. Bruton:  The budget is superb—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Bruton should allow Deputy Rabbitte to speak. Other Members have rights.

Mr. J. Bruton:  I know, but I cannot restrain myself.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I have called Deputy Rabbitte. I will call Deputy Bruton again.

Mr. Shatter:  The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is the worst heckler in the House.

Mr. J. Bruton:  The budget is superb in the same fashion—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  No Deputy can monopolise the business of the House.

Mr. Shatter:  The budget is the greatest political own goal in my time in the House.

Mr. Rabbitte:  I know the Minister for Finance considers it a superb budget, but what does he think of his party organising its backbenchers to speak out against his budget?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy should ask a question appropriate to the Order of Business.

Mr. Rabbitte:  When the Taoiseach is engaged in the renovation of the budget, will he undertake to deal with the discrimination against low income earners which is just as serious as the discrimination against single income families?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That does not arise now. There will be an opportunity to discuss that during the budget debate.

[796]Mr. Shatter:  Could the Taoiseach indicate if the 20 members of the Fianna Fáil party interviewed on the plinth will move to this side of the House during the day?

Dr. Woods:  The Deputy will not be moving to this side of the House.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Deputy Roche started off in Fine Gael.

Mr. Gormley:  Does the Taoiseach agree that there is urgency in discussing the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That matter has already been dealt with by the Deputy's colleague.

Mr. Gormley:  What is happening now—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Gormley is out of order. I call Deputy Gay Mitchell.

Mr. Gormley:  Will the Taoiseach ensure the Bill is taken soon?

The Taoiseach:  It will be taken as soon as possible.

Mr. Shatter:  Has Deputy Roche gone underground in Wicklow?

Mr. G. Mitchell:  After yesterday, it seems we are witnessing the individualisation of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Has the Deputy something appropriate to the Order of Business?

Mr. G. Mitchell:  When will the debate on international human rights begun by the Government and adjourned 12 months ago, and to which there is an amendment in my name seeking the appointment of a Minister to co-ordinate immigrant affairs, be resumed? I have sought the resumption of that debate for some time so that we can have a discussion on the co-ordination of immigrant issues.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is a matter for the Whips.

The Taoiseach:  There are two matters involved. There is a debate in the next few days on one of the Bills concerning immigrants. Perhaps the Deputy can make his arguments then. As far as the debate is concerned, it is a matter for the Whips. A large number of people wish to give priority to additional matters. We can only do it so many times and, as it happens, the House will sit until midnight for most of the remainder of the session.

Mr. Ring:  Now that the Fianna Fáil backbenchers have come out of their traps, although there [797] was one who never left his trap, when will we have the greyhound industry Bill?

Mr. Dempsey:  I am sure the Deputy's leader would like to keep him in a trap now and again.

Mr. J. Bruton:  He is the best coursing dog we have.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Allow the Taoiseach to speak.

Mr. D. Ahern:  Deputy Ring is so far back we cannot hear him.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Allow the Taoiseach to speak.

Mr. D. Ahern:  Why does Deputy Bruton not bring him down to the front bench? He wants to come down.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Minister should allow the Taoiseach to respond.

The Taoiseach:  Deputy Bruton does not want to hear.

Mr. Sheehan:  Deputy Ring is the Master McGrath of the House.

The Taoiseach:  This is the first time Deputy Ring has asked me a question in about two years and I want to answer him. The text of the Bill is expected early next year.

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): The Fianna Fáil backbenchers look like people shaken out of trees rather than greyhounds—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Has the Deputy a question on the Order of Business?

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): Does the Taoiseach regret the destruction of mature oaks in the Glen of the Downs? Will he ask the county council to stop—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That matter has already been dealt with by Deputy Sargent.

Mr. Higgins:  (Mayo): In Counties Carlow, Kilkenny, Laois, Mayo, Offaly, Sligo and Tipperary there is a minimum processing time of 60 weeks for land registry files. This is unacceptable, and it is almost as bad in other counties. What is the position on the Land Registry Bill? Is the Land Registry one of the agencies due for decentralisation in the context of the Budget Statement? Does the Taoiseach agree it would make far more sense to transfer the Land Registry down the country rather than transferring the Legal Aid Board to Cahirciveen?

The Taoiseach:  The heads of the Land Registry Bill are being finalised and are expected to be [798] completed before Christmas. The Bill will be introduced next year. As far as I know, some of the Land Registry is already decentralised to the south-east.

Mr. P. Carey:  Does Deputy Bruton intend to amend the Fine Gael policy document on taxation, particularly in view of—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is out of order. I call Deputy Michael D. Higgins.

Mr. J. Bruton:  I thank Deputy Carey for his interest and support. He will be very welcome on this side of the House.

Mr. M. Higgins:  Yesterday an announcement was made regarding the future chairman of the RTE authority. Will that appointment be made under the new legislation on broadcasting which is before the House? Does the Taoiseach agree it was singularly inappropriate that this announcement coincided with a unique attack by a Minister of State on RTE's coverage of the budget? It was an usual assault on the RTE authority.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  It is not appropriate on the Order of Business.

Mr. Allen:  Will the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera, speak with the new chairperson of the RTE authority about the decision to close Cork Local Radio?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

Mr. Allen:  It is an excellent public broadcasting service.

Mr. Shatter:  Tomorrow's schedule for the House includes Report and Final Stages of the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Bill. In light of the growing concern over the inadequacies of this measure and the difficulties in its implementation—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We cannot have a speech on the matter.

Mr. Shatter:  Does the Taoiseach agree it is not appropriate for the Government to guillotine the Bill tomorrow and that extra time should be given to Report Stage?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That will be raised on tomorrow's Order of Business.

Mr. Shatter:  It concerns pending legislation.

The Taoiseach:  We have waited months to finalise this Bill. The times have already been agreed.

Mr. Shatter:  It is flawed and inoperable.

[799]Mr. Quinn:  Last week I asked about the outstanding publication dates for various legislation and I acknowledge receipt of the communication from the Taoiseach's office. It is expected that seven Bills will be published but that there may be some delays, namely, the Insurance Bill, the Nitrigin Éireann Teoranta Bill, the Teaching Council Bill, the Local Government Bill, the Courts and Court Officers Bill, the Criminal Justice (Sex Offenders) Bill, and the Prevention of Corruption Bill. We are now in the second last week of this Dáil session and I wonder if the Taoiseach can give an indication regarding the status of these Bills which have been promised.

The Taoiseach:  Five more Bills are expected before the end of the year.

Mr. Quinn:  Which ones will not be published?

The Taoiseach:  The ICC Bank Bill is before the House, the Consolidation Bill—

Mr. Quinn:  The communication from the Taoiseach's office said there might be some delays. What Bills will be published before Christmas?

The Taoiseach:  The list concerns those Bills to be published before the start of the next session. I think most of the Bills are on track. The Mental Health Bill will be published in the next few days. The Local Government Bill will be published in January.

Ms Shortall:  In light of the orchestrated Fianna Fáil backbencher mutiny which we saw yesterday—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Has the Deputy a question appropriate to the Order of Business?

Ms Shortall:  Is it the case that the McCreevy budget is dead in the water? Does the Taoiseach expect a no confidence motion in the Minister for Finance and all the Ministers who supported the budget at the meeting of the parliamentary party this morning?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Belton.

Ms Shortall:  The budget is dead in the water. How can the Minister for Finance continue in office? How can Ministers who support the budget remain in public office or maintain any credibility?

Mr. Davern:  Ask Bernie Malone.

Mr. Rabbitte:  If Deputies Roche and O'Flynn were opposed to me I would be worried.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Shortall is being disorderly and I ask her to resume her seat.

[800]Mr. Belton:  Under the current livestock mart legislation, it is not possible to sell turkeys at marts. Does the Government plan to amend the legislation to allow the sale of turkeys at marts?

Mr. Rabbitte:  That certainly would create a problem for Deputies Roche and O'Flynn.

Mr. Quinn:  That is very unfair to the Fianna Fáil backbenchers.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please allow Deputy Belton to ask his second question.

Mr. Belton:  Has order been restored? In light of the water quality report on the Shannon River, has the Taoiseach any plans to appoint a Minister with responsibility for the Shannon River basin?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That question is out of order.

The Taoiseach:  I understand there is no provision in the Bill to sell turkeys at livestock marts.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Briscoe):  I understand Deputy McDowell would like to move to recommit section 3. The Minister will not oppose the motion. Amendment No. 1 is out of order as it involves a substantive change to existing statute law.

Mr. McDowell:  I move: “That the Bill be recommitted in respect of section 3”.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. McDowell:  I understand the Minister has taken legal advice on this section and the purpose of this procedure is to allow him an opportunity to place that on the record. The section allows the Minister, by Order, to reduce the rates of stamp duty. The issue is whether, in altering rates of duty, the Minister should be obliged to come back to the House. I am advised there is legal doubt as to whether this is constitutionally sound. I put down the amendment to allow the Minister to put his advice on the record.

Acting Chairman:  I understand the amendment may be discussed on Committee Stage when it is recommitted.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Mr. O'Dea):  This section re-enacts section 95 of the Finance Act, 1991, which enables the Minister for Finance to exempt certain instruments from stamp duty or to reduce the rates of stamp duty on certain instruments, mainly instruments used in the financial services industry. While I understand the nature of Deputy McDowell's objection to the inclusion of this section, in that it may possibly be unconsti[801] tutional, that is not a matter that can be resolved in the context of a consolidation Bill. To omit the section from the Bill and, at the same time, provide for the repeal of section 95 of the Finance Act, 1991, in Schedule 3 would result in a change in the law. Deputies will be aware that this Bill would lose its status as a consolidation Bill if it were to effect a change in the law. In order not to effect a change in the law this provision has to remain on the Statute Books either as section 3 of the Bill or section 95 of the Finance Act, 1991. As the section is already part of stamp duty law, it should be included in the consolidation Bill.

As regards Deputy McDowell's concern, I propose to ask my colleague, the Minister for Finance, to have the constitutionality of the section considered for the next Finance Bill and I trust that proposal will be acceptable.

Mr. McDowell:  I understood the Minister had already looked for legal advice. If the Minister of State is saying that he does not have that advice available to him I accept the time available has been short.

Section 3 agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment and passed.

Acting Chairman:  I call on the Minister to move that the Bill be recommitted. The time limits on speeches are as provided by Order of the House this morning.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Mr. O'Dea):  I move:

That Dáil Éireann, pursuant to Standing Order 120 of the Standing Orders Relative to Public Business, directs that the ICC Bank Bill, 1999, in whole be recommitted to a Committee of the whole House.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed?

Mr. McDowell:  On a point of order, with all due respect to the Minister of State, there have been very important developments with regard to ICC over the past four or five days. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, can handle the matter very competently but it is extraordinary that there is no Minister from the Department of Finance present to answer what has happened in recent days.

Acting Chairman:  The Chair has no responsibility in that matter.

Mr. Noonan:  We co-operated with the Minister for Finance all through this debate and more or less accepted every proposal put forward when the bank was about to be sold to facilitate him to bring the legislation through before the recess. There should be a Minister from the Department [802] of Finance present. I know the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, is a very effective Minister but this is not his brief. It is not sufficient that a Minister who is not familiar with the portfolio would be here to answer questions.

Acting Chairman:  Unfortunately the Chair has no control over that. The point is taken but the Chair cannot control who stands in for a Minister.

Mr. Noonan:  I am reluctant to have a recommital if the new Committee Stage is not to be taken by the Minister or Minister of State for Finance. I presume the Chair will put the question.

Acting Chairman:  I must put the question.

Mr. Noonan:  I suggest the Chair puts it now because any argument the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, may make will not change my view on this. If someone from the Department of Finance is not here to deal with this we will vote against it.

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Treacy):  Perhaps I can respond and help out the House.

Acting Chairman:  I understand the Minister has a right to speak on the motion and should be permitted to do so.

Mr. Treacy:  I am disappointed to hear that my presence is causing a difficulty.

Mr. Noonan:  It is not the presence of the Minister of State but the absence of his colleagues that is causing the difficulty.

Mr. Treacy:  I served for two terms as Minister of State at the Department of Finance. I am Minister of State with responsibility for commerce with certain responsibilities in the banking area. I have been asked to attend to this business. One of my colleagues in the Department of Finance is in the United States on Government business and the other Minister is tied up in other Government business. It is a matter of collective responsibility that we discharge our obligations and I am here to do that.

The Government decided on 27 July 1998 to dispose of the State's interest in ICC Bank plc as there is no longer any significant strategic or policy justification for continuing direct State involvement in the banking sector.

Following public advertisement, up to ten banks expressed an initial interest in acquiring the bank but only three firm indications of interest were received on the closing date of 23 August. Having reviewed these tenders, it was decided that all three should enter into stage two of the sale process where they would be permitted to carry out due diligence on ICC.

One of these banks, National Australia Bank, withdrew from the process shortly thereafter. The two remaining banks undertook a preliminary [803] due diligence exercise on ICC and so availed of the opportunity to meet key management and union officials. One of these parties, Irish Intercontinental Bank, then withdrew at a late stage and a single final bid from Bank of Ireland was received by the deadline of 19 October last. Its bid was substantially less than the top range of the earlier indicative bids.

Following consultations with the board of ICC Bank, the receipt of advice from the financial advisers to the Minister for Finance and a discussion with senior representatives from Bank of Ireland, the Minister for Finance issued a press release confirming that bank as the preferred bidder. This decision was taken in recognition of the fact that a final offer would not be made until Bank of Ireland had completed the final due diligence process. The Minister for Finance informed Bank of Ireland at that stage that he was not happy with the price it put on the table and that he wanted this increased.

Furthermore, the Minister for Finance was conscious that a decision to withdraw ICC Bank from the market without exploring all the possibilities would at that stage not be desirable.

Bank of Ireland made it known to the Minister on Monday that it no longer wished to proceed with the acquisition. It fully acknowledged the strengths of ICC Bank in its specialist market segments but felt that acquiring ICC Bank was not the best way to develop its SME lending business. In the light of this turn of events, the Minister for Finance withdrew ICC Bank from the market.

The Minister and, I am sure, everyone in the House has the utmost confidence in ICC Bank plc. The Minister is indicating his faith in the bank by now providing for the extension of its borrowing requirements in the ICC Bank Bill, 1999. Going forward, it is the intention of the Minister for Finance—

Mr. Enright:  The Minister of State is obviously reading from a prepared script. Is a copy of the script available for Members?

Mr. Treacy:  I am reading from the memo available to me on behalf of the Minister.

Mr. Noonan:  It is a script.

Mr. Enright:  The Minister of State is reading from a script.

Mr. Treacy:  We can get a copy for the Deputies.

Mr. Enright:  What the Minister of State is saying is very interesting and I would be anxious to get a copy of it.

Mr. Treacy:  Excellent, Deputy. We will do that.

Acting Chairman:  That is being arranged.

Mr. Treacy:  It is the intention of the Minister [804] for Finance and the Government to ensure that the bank remains adequately capitalised while it is under State ownership.

The board, management and staff of ICC Bank have co-operated fully with the change process over recent months. The Minister fully appreciates the role they have all played in the process. At all times their focus has been on building the quality and profitability of the bank. The commitment of all the stakeholders of the bank remains undiluted.

The Minister for Finance will now ask the board, its management and staff to consider the options for the future of the bank in the light of current developments and he will then bring further proposals before my colleagues in Government, and this House, in due course.

In the light of the foregoing, the Minister has decided to make the necessary changes in the Bill and recommit it back to Committee Stage.

Mr. Noonan:  I have no objection to the presence of the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment but I have serious objections to the absence of one of the Ministers at the Department of Finance to take this Bill. The Opposition has co-operated with all Stages of the Bill to date and despite the current fiasco, where the sale of ICC Bank has collapsed because of the withdrawal of the Bank of Ireland offer, the Minister of State with responsibility for the Bill, Deputy Cullen, should be here to take the Bill. No excuse is acceptable on that issue.

We heard the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, recite the events again this morning. The original interest by ten institutions was reduced to three formal approaches and, of the three, only one proceeded. We raised this issue with the Minister when the Bill was debated on Second Stage and in Committee. I said it was a risky strategy to proceed when there was only one willing purchaser. I questioned the Minister on how he would arrive at a proper valuation for the company in circumstances where his original position was that the market would decide the value. When, in effect, there is no market and only one willing purchaser, it is difficult to decide the price.

On Committee Stage, the Minister of State, Deputy Cullen, said the price, in effect, had been agreed and that it was merely a question of crossing a “t”. He gave us the distinct impression that there were considerations other than price to be finalised. The Administration, of which the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, is a member, wanted all Stages of the Bill to be passed before Christmas so that the legal framework would be in place to allow the sale to be finalised.

We have been misled in Committee by the Minister of State. It does not appear now that matters had reached their penultimate stage and the Bank of Ireland has simply dropped the issue. I would like to take this opportunity to say that ICC is a very good bank dealing in particular niche markets. It has done much for small business since it was founded in the 1930s and it is [805] important that we should continue to support the bank. It is a difficult time for the management and the employees of the bank because there is no doubt that the incompetence of the Minister for Finance in handling this matter has damaged the bank. When an institution goes up for sale and it is not sold, that inflicts damage on the value of the institution. If the Minister of State put his own house on the market and nobody wanted to buy it, it is worth less the day he takes it off the market than the day it is put up for sale. That is the position here.

This matter was handled badly. We told the Minister he was pursuing a risky strategy and that he was leaving himself open to the decision of one financial institution as to whether ICC Bank would be purchased. He told us there was no problem, everything was wrapped up, Bank of Ireland would buy the bank and there was no risk. Bank of Ireland has now walked and the ICC Bank has been damaged. Part of the restructuring of the bank and the arrangements to make the bank more productive and to introduce flexibility among employees was based on the issue of shares, but now that the bank is not being purchased by Bank of Ireland, there is no possibility that the employees can get shares in the bank and become involved in the necessary arrangements to make the bank ready for the market.

This is a bad day's work. The Opposition co-operated every inch of the way and accepted private briefing on trust all the way through this process, yet we have a situation today where neither of the Ministers in the Department of Finance have come into the House to answer questions on the matter. That is not acceptable.

Mr. McDowell:  On the last matter, the Minister of State, Deputy Cullen, took Committee Stage of the Bill only last week and he effectively told us that the matter was done and dusted and, as Deputy Noonan rightly said, all we had to do was cross a “t”. We are entitled to know what happened between Wednesday and Friday of last week to completely reverse the position. We were told that everything was done and dusted with the exception of certain non-price matters, and Deputy Noonan and myself were given a private briefing on those. It appears now that quite a number of other matters were not done and dusted and that something went seriously wrong in the last few days of last week. This House is entitled to know what went wrong because, as Deputy Noonan rightly said, the Minister's failure to carry through on his policy has inflicted serious damage on ICC Bank.

I do not want to say anything this morning that will add further to that damage but I want to make two comments in an attempt to be positive. I have always believed that it was possible to retain ICC Bank within the State sector and to give it a specific strategic mandate. For most of its existence it had a strategic mandate to look after the SME sector, and I understand approximately 70% to 75% of its business is still in that [806] sector, but there is no doubt that in the past four or five years, perhaps longer, it has started to diversify into other areas in the expectation of a sale. If the Government decides to retain ICC Bank within the State sector, it should strengthen that strategic mandate and it should clearly indicate to the bank and its board the business it expects it to do. It must have a business plan which makes sense and the Government must decide within a short time when it intends to dispose of the bank or if it intends to retain it within the State sector. We now have the worst of all worlds. The bank is effectively in limbo. It does not know what it is meant to do. It does not know whether it will be sold within a few years or not at all. That position must be clarified soon.

I am not sure I entirely agree with Deputy Noonan on the issue of ESOPs. My understanding is that an ESOP amounting to 14.9% was in prospect and I understand certain aspects of that still had to be negotiated. It seems clear, however, that the 5% element for restructuring had been negotiated and that had been agreed with the ICC group of unions. The Minister should give serious thought now to proceeding with the disposal of that 5%. That has already been done, as the Minister of State will know, in Aer Lingus. As far as I know, it is the only semi-State company that has not been privatised which has a 5% shareholding in the hands of the workforce. It seems there is no reason in principle that should not be extended, not just to ICC Bank but to other semi-State bodies as well. I appreciate the number of workers we are talking about would be much smaller and the possibility of developing an internal market would be more difficult, but the Minister should now give urgent consideration to the prospect of going ahead with a 5% ESOP as soon as possible.

We now see the wisdom of some of the amendments tabled by Deputy Noonan and I last week, which sought to get the Minister to come back to the House and outline the terms of any potential sale before it could proceed. Section 3 which is now being deleted, effectively gave unfettered power to the Minister to sell the ICC to whoever he wanted for whatever price he wanted in whatever circumstances he wanted. There is a lesson in this for the future. These deals are not done and dusted until such time as the money is handed over and the contract is signed. This House should not ever again be asked to take any Minister or Department on trust and give them unfettered power in regard to the disposal of a State asset. I regret the circumstances in which we find ourselves this morning. The ICC workforce will be very sore indeed. Workers have effectively been in limbo for the past seven or eight years and there does not seem to be any end in sight. The primary onus on the Minister now is to give the bank a clear, strategic mandate without delay.

Mr. Enright:  The background note to the Minister's speech is a cause of concern. Paragraph 1 [807] states that the Government decided on 27 July 1998 to dispose of the State's interest in ICC Bank plc as there was no longer any significant strategic or policy justification for continuing direct State involvement in the banking sector. The note further states that ten banks initially expressed an interest in ICC but that there were only three firm indications after the closing date of 23 August. These three banks were permitted to carry out due diligence on the ICC. Having carried out that process, National Australia Bank withdrew. The two remaining banks then undertook preliminary due diligence on the ICC and met key management figures, following which Irish Intercontinental Bank also withdrew. Bank of Ireland was then the only remaining bank. The Minister of State's speech failed to explain why all of these banks withdrew. Deputy Treacy has direct responsibility for science and technology and, thus far, he appears to be looking after his area of responsibility well.

Mr. Treacy:  I also have responsibility for commerce. I looked after the Deputy's area well last week.

Acting Chairman:  Contributions on this Stage are confined to the spokespersons who may speak for ten minutes each. I made an error in allowing the Deputy to speak.

Mr. Enright:  The Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, and the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Cullen, are primarily responsible for this Bill. The Minister is currently attending a meeting of the parliamentary party and the Minister of State is in America. It is a very serious matter than ten banks were initially interested in purchasing ICC; three carried out due diligence and two of those subsequently withdrew from the process and the remaining bank later withdrew also. The Ministers should be in the House to explain why this happened.

I have always been a great supporter of the ICC Bank which I feel does a very important job. It is very worrying for the staff and the public to see that no buyer is available to purchase this State bank. When is it likely that the bank will come back on the market? It should not be offered for sale for at least five years; to do otherwise would be high risk. Capital must be invested in the bank to allow it to go forward from here. This is a disappointing situation.

Acting Chairman:  The Chair was remiss in allowing the Deputy to contribute.

Mr. Enright:  It is important that Deputies would have an opportunity to express their views on such a unique situation.

Mr. Treacy:  I thank Members, including Deputy Enright, for their contributions. We are all disappointed about this matter but it is not the [808] first time that Governments – not any of which Fianna Fáil was a member – dealt with Bank of Ireland in regard to issues such as this one and made decisions which, in some cases, were reasonably dubious. However, there was not any collapse then and there will not be one now either. The price offer by Bank of Ireland after stage two of the process was substantially less than the indicative price received. Neither the Minister for Finance nor his advisers were satisfied with that price and the Minister clearly indicated that he wished to see an increase on final offer stage, following the completion of the due diligence process. In view of Bank of Ireland's withdrawal, this process will not now be concluded.

Mr. Noonan:  How can the Minister of State say the Minister was not satisfied with the price on Friday when we were informed on Wednesday that he was satisfied with it and that the deal was done and dusted?

Mr. Treacy:  In my discussions with the Minister, he informed me that he was not satisfied with the price offered. I want to refer to the Dáil record of last week. Deputy Noonan asked:

Is Bank of Ireland committed to its offer, are negotiations on the price still wide open or is it down to the last £500,000?

The Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Cullen replied:

I understand a number of issues will affect the final price but it is within certain parameters, given certain circumstances. We are fairly close to concluding before Christmas, there is not a big variance in the price range and the parameters of the conclusion will dictate the final price. That is part of the negotiating process.

That was very fair. The Minister clearly stated that the price parameters were known but he did not say that a price had been agreed. We owed it to the ICC to see the process through. There was not any point in stopping the process before the final price offer was known. The Minister insisted that the price would be negotiated upwards.

At the end of the day, ICC has a unique record. Deputy Enright referred to the background note which states that there was not any significant strategic or policy justification for continuing State involvement in the banking sector. That is a serious position. ICC Bank was established by Fianna Fáil in 1933. We are now in a global banking situation and are experiencing huge growth in our economy in which ICC has played a major role. As a leading venture capital bank, it has made a huge contribution to the development of a number of sectors, including the software sector for which I have responsibility.

We must remove any impediments and allow the bank to grow and develop to serve a growing economy. I indicated in my opening remarks that [809] the board, management and staff of the bank will be consulted on this. Deputies McDowell and Noonan referred to the ESOP and that will now be discussed. We will seek to ensure, with renewed vigour, that the ICC Bank will continue to grow and serve this economy. This Bill will allow for an increase in the bank's borrowing position, including almost full shareholder contributions. As far as the Government and public are concerned, the ICC is the jewel in the crown of Irish financial services. We must treat it with due respect and ensure that if it is disposed of, that [810] happens in the right environment, in the right conditions and for the right price, thereby returning to this country's taxpayers their due right for the investment which has been made over the years. I am confident we will get that right in the future but we must be careful about how it is handled. Bank of Ireland did not make the required offer and, consequently, the sale cannot proceed.

Question put.

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

Níl

Allen, Bernard.
Barnes, Monica.
Bell, Michael.
Belton, Louis.
Bradford, Paul.
Broughan, Thomas.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Bruton, John.
Bruton, Richard.
Burke, Liam.
Burke, Ulick.
Carey, Donal.
Clune, Deirdre.
Connaughton, Paul.
Cosgrave, Michael.
Coveney, Simon.
Crawford, Seymour.
Creed, Michael.
Currie, Austin.
D'Arcy, Michael.
Deasy, Austin.
Deenihan, Jimmy.
Durkan, Bernard.
Enright, Thomas.
Farrelly, John.
Ferris, Michael.
Finucane, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Frances.
Flanagan, Charles.
Gormley, John.
Hayes, Brian.
Higgins, Jim.
Higgins, Michael.
Hogan, Philip.
Kenny, Enda.
McCormack, Pádraic.
McDowell, Derek.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny. McGrath, Paul.[811]

Níl–continued

McManus, Liz.
Mitchell, Gay.
Mitchell, Jim.
Naughten, Denis.
Neville, Dan.
Noonan, Michael.
O'Shea, Brian.
O'Sullivan, Jan.
Perry, John.
Quinn, Ruairí.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Ring, Michael.
[812] Ryan, Seán.
Sargent, Trevor.
Shatter, Alan.
Sheehan, Patrick.
Shortall, Róisín.
Spring, Dick.
Stagg, Emmet.
Stanton, David.
Timmins, Billy.
Upton, Mary.
Wall, Jack.
Yates, Ivan.

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

Question declared carried.

Section 1 agreed to.

SECTION 2.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Amendments Nos. 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7, along with the deletion of section 3 and the Schedule, form a composite proposal. Amendment No. 2 is an alternative to amendment No. 1 and amendment No. 3 is related. Accordingly, amendments Nos. 1 to 7, inclusive, along with the proposed deletion of section 3 and the Schedule shall be grouped together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Treacy):  I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, lines 33 to 35 and in page 4, lines 1 to 9, to delete subsections (1) and (2).

As a result of the decision of the Minister for Finance to withdraw ICC Bank from sale, it is necessary to make some amendments to the Bill. Subsections (1) and (2) of section 2 are being deleted. Both subsections related to the sale of the bank and if that sale is not going ahead, it is appropriate that these two subsections be deleted. The remainder of the section concerns the ESOT and has been left intact. The original agreement of the ESOP was conditional on the sale by the Minister of his shares in the bank. It will now be a matter for the board to review the arrangement. When the Minister receives the results of this review he will examine the matter further.

Section 3 relates to provisions in relation to guarantees by the Minister for Finance under section 3 of the Industrial Credit (Amendment) Act, 1958. These provisions were included in the Bill on the understanding that the bank would be sold. As this is no longer the case, section 3 has been deleted from the Bill. Section 5 of the Bill provides that the borrowing limit of ICC Bank will be increased, by ministerial order and following consultation with the Central Bank. This method of increasing the borrowing limit is no longer considered appropriate in a situation where an early sale of the bank is no longer envisaged. Accordingly, this section has now been amended to provide for a new borrowing limit to be specified in the Bill and that this can only be amended subsequently in primary legislation. This is the way the borrowing limit has been increased in the past.

The borrowing limit is being increased from £2.3 billion to £3.5 billion. This new limit was set after consultation with the bank. ICC has expanded its business strongly over the past few years, a trend which has continued in the current year. It is considered necessary to increase the limit to the new amount, as to do otherwise would mean further legislation would be needed in the near future to increase the limit once again.

Amendment No. 4 requires a technical adjustment by the inclusion of the word “(Amendment)” in the title of the ICC Bank Act, 1997. Section 8 of the Bill and the accompanying Schedule to the Bill provided for the repeal of the ICC Bank Acts, 1933 to 1997, and the deletion of references to ICC in other legislation so that ICC, once sold, would be treated similarly in law to all other private companies. In the present circumstances it will no longer be necessary to make these repeals. However, a small number of repeals will be necessary arising from disposal by the Minister for Finance of his residual interest in Fóir Teoranta under the terms of section 4. As a result of the Minister taking this action, section 3 (4) and (5) and sections 7, 8 and 9 of the Fóir Teoranta (Dissolution) Act, 1990, are no longer required. Accordingly, section 8 will be amended to provide for these repeals.

Section 10 contains the Short Title, construction and commencement provisions. Subsection 3 provides that the Minister for Finance could make the necessary order or orders to bring any provision or part of the Bill into effect with effect from the same date or different dates. This was to allow the Minister flexibility where it was not possible to know precisely when the Bank would be sold. As the Bank has not been sold, it is proposed that this subsection will be deleted as such flexibility is no longer required.

Section 8 and the accompanying Schedule to [813] the Bill provide for the repeal of the ICC Bank Acts, 1933 to 1997, and the deletion of references to ICC in other legislation so that once ICC Bank is sold it will be treated similarly in law to all other private companies. In the present circumstances it will no longer be necessary to make these repeals. It is proposed that the Schedule to the Bill will, therefore, be deleted and I will deal with the Title of the Bill thereafter.

Mr. Noonan:  It is unfortunate that we are amending a Bill so drastically. ICC Bank is a very good bank, it has played a key role in the development of small business in Ireland since it was founded in the 1930s and I wish it a strong and successful future.

I sympathise with management and employees of the bank because irrespective of whatever happened that led to the withdrawal of Bank of Ireland from the proposed purchase of the bank, no blame can be attached to the management, the board or the employees of ICC Bank, but this has created a difficulty for the bank. I pledge the support of the Fine Gael Party to the bank and we will co-operate in any way possible to restore its strength and reputation in the marketplace. We realise some damage has been inflicted but because of its tradition and its reputation, any damage that has been done will be quickly repaired. Nothing stands still. Irrespective of whether the bank is sold, changes must be made. I agree with the Minister that it is appropriate to allow the sections that deal with the ESOP stand. If in new circumstances it is deemed appropriate that the employees should be allocated a tranche of shares, it is prudent to have the legislative framework in place to allow the Minister to do that. The Minister of State proposes the deletion of those sections that were required for the sale of ICC Bank, which are no longer necessary, and to proceed with the remainder of the Bill. I have no difficulty with that.

It is proposed that subsections (1) and (2) of section 2 will be removed because they relate to the sale of the bank. It is also proposed that section 3 will be deleted. Most of section 4 will remain. It provides that certain assets and liabilities will be transferred to the company under the Fóir Teoranta (Dissolution) Act, and that is acceptable. I thank the Minister of State for changing the formulation for restating the borrowing limit of the company. In the circumstances that prevailed until yesterday it was appropriate that the Minister should have had the power by order to raise the borrowing limit of ICC but as it is no longer on the market it is better to revert to the traditional formulation that the Minister will state a ceiling on borrowing. That is what is proposed in section 5. I welcome the commitment given by the Minister of State that if borrowing limits are raised in future, that will be done in the traditional way by primary legislation. I understand the need to raise the borrowing limit for ACC and I have no difficulty with a provision to that effect being incorporated in the Bill.

[814] Regarding the other sections that deal with repeals and revocations, as the sale will not go ahead the provisions in these sections are redundant and they should be deleted as well as the Schedule. I do not have any difficulty with the amendments proposed by the Minister of State. I support the immediate passage of the Bill at the Minister's discretion.

Mr. McDowell:  The amendments proposed by the Minister of State are a logical consequence of the bank not being sold and, to that extent, I have no problem with them. The bank is, however, in a difficult position. I am disappointed that the Minister of State used the opportunity of his contribution to restate, in trenchant terms, the Government's view on this issue – that there is no longer any significant strategic or policy justification for continuing direct State involvement in the banking sector. That reinforces the limbo the bank is in. It is as if one served an eviction notice but had not yet got around to implementing it. Inevitably this position creates and fosters doubt as to what the future of the company will be because the only serious way that can be read is that the Government will hold on to the bank until such time as it can find some way of getting rid of it. That is not the way to proceed. We should ensure the bank does not merely become another small bank. If we are to retain ICC, it must have a clear, strategic mandate. it must know what it is doing. There is a role for the bank within the SME sector and it should be reinforced by Government, and that is the business the Government should be about in the next few months.

There is a provision in the Bill to raise the borrowing limit of the ACC. If the Government makes a decision at this stage or in the next few weeks that it will not be able to proceed with the merger and flotation simultaneously, that should be said as soon as possible. If that decision or conclusion is delayed much longer, there is a risk damage will be inflicted on ACC and the TSB because there is a suspicion that it will not be possible to do the two simultaneously. It was a mistake to propose that the two should be done at the same time. If it is proposed to merge first and float later, the Government should say so soon.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 not moved.

Section 2, as amended, agreed to.

SECTION 3.

Mr. Treacy:  I move: “That section 3 be deleted.”

Amendment agreed to.

Section 3 deleted.

Section 4 agreed to.

[815] SECTION 5.

Mr. Treacy:  I move amendment No. 4:

In page 7, to delete lines 8 to 20 and substitute the following:

“is hereby amended by the substitution in clause (i) of subparagraph (d) (inserted by section 5 of the Industrial Credit (Amendment) Act, 1971) of ‘£3,500,000,000' for ‘£2,300,000,000' (inserted by section 2 of the ICC Bank Act, 1977), and the said clause, as so amended, is set out in the Table to this section.

TABLE

(i)the amount so raised or borrowed and standing unpaid at any particular time shall not exceed £3,500,000,000 less the amount (if any) which the Minister has, under a guarantee or guarantees given by him, paid in respect of the principal of moneys raised or borrowed by the Company and which stands at that time not repaid to the Minister by the Company,”.

I also move: “That the word “(Amendment)” be included before the word “Act” in line 6 of amendment No. 4”. This is a technical amendment to ensure the correct legal language is used.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Question put and agreed to.

Mr. Treacy:  I thank the Deputies for their positive responses.

Section 5, as amended, agreed to.

Sections 6 and 7 agreed to.

NEW SECTION.

Mr. Treacy:  I move amendment No. 5:

In page 7, before section 8, to insert the following new section:

8.–Subsections (4) and (5) of section 3 and sections 7, 8 and 9 of the Fóir Teoranta (Dissolution) Act, 1990, are repealed.”.

This amendment involves the deletion of various repeals and revocations which have been necessary in the circumstances of the sale of ICC Bank. It also provides for some repeals to the Fóir Teoranta (Dissolution) Act, 1990, which are still relevant. Acceptance of this amendment involves the deletion of section 8 of the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Section 8 deleted.

Section 9 agreed to.

[816] SECTION 10.

Mr. Treacy:  I move amendment No. 6:

In page 8, lines 4 to 11, to delete subsection (3).

This amendment involves the deletion of the provision to give maximum flexibility in the introduction of various provisions of the Bill. Under the revised scenario, all provisions will come into effect immediately the legislation is passed. The Schedule of repeals and revocations has been deleted as these, apart from those dealing with Fóir Teoranta which have been covered separately, are no longer relevant in a situation where ICC Bank carries on as heretofore.

Amendment agreed to.

Section 10, as amended, agreed to.

SCHEDULE.

Mr. Treacy:  I move:

“That the Schedule be deleted from the Bill.”

Question put and agreed to.

TITLE.

Mr. Treacy:  I move amendment No. 7:

In page 3, to delete lines 5 to 17 and substitute the following:

“AN ACT TO MAKE PROVISION FOR ADDITIONAL BORROWING BY ICC BANK PUBLIC LIMITED COMPANY AND ACC BANK PUBLIC LIMITED COMPANY AND FOR THE ISSUE OF SHARES IN ICC BANK PUBLIC LIMITED COMPANY IN CONNECTION WITH AN EMPLOYMENT SHARE OWNERSHIP TRUST FOR THE BENEFIT OF ITS EMPLOYEES OR THOSE OF A SUBSIDIARY OF IT.”.

This amendment involves the redrafting of the Long Title of the Bill to reflect the situation where ICC Bank is not being sold in the short-term. It no longer makes specific provision for the disposal by the Minister for Finance of shares in the bank or for provisions in relation to certain guarantees of its borrowings. It also includes a technical amendment in the third last line of the substitution amendment by replacing the word “EMPLOYMENT” with the word “EMPLOYEE”.

Amendment agreed to.

Title, as amended, agreed to.

[817] Bill reported with amendments and received for final consideration.

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

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Treacy):  On behalf of the Government and the Minister for Finance, I thank Deputy Noonan for his strong endorsement of ICC Bank, Deputy McDowell for his positive contributions and Deputy Enright. While we all regret that amendments had to be introduced to this legislation, there are advantages and disadvantages to everything. I am confident that ICC Bank, which has been successful over the past 66 years, will be reinvigorated and renewed and that it will continue to grow and prosper, particularly in the niche areas it serves which are vitally important to the future economic growth of the nation. I am confident the advantages will outweigh the disadvantages. I thank the Opposition for its co-operation in ensuring we put in place a safe and secure legislative environment in which ICC Bank can thrive and prosper.

Mr. Noonan:  I thank the Minister for his assistance this morning. I also thank the officials of the Department of Finance who helped me during all Stages of the Bill.

Mr. McDowell:  I would like to be associated with Deputy Noonan's comments. This is an unfortunate position, but I hope the bank can go from strength to strength with a renewed and clear mandate.

Question put and agreed to.

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

Acting Chairman:  We must wait for a few minutes.

Mr. Flanagan:  For what are we waiting?

Acting Chairman:  The ICC Bank Bill, 1999, finished earlier than was expected. I understand the Minister has been contacted.

Mr. Flanagan:  I understand the Minister has spoken, as have I.

Acting Chairman:  I do not have the list in front of me.

Mr. Flanagan:  I register my disapproval at the manner in which this matter is being handled. I suggest that if we cannot deal with it, the House should be suspended.

[818]Acting Chairman:  We could suspend the sitting now as it was scheduled to suspend at 12.45 p.m.

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Treacy):  I am taking the Bill on behalf of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who is tied up at a committee meeting.

Acting Chairman:  I do not have a list of speakers.

Mr. Treacy:  If Deputy Flanagan is the next speaker, we can continue with our business.

Mr. Flanagan:  The Minister is adding to the shambles of this legislation. If the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Treacy, is in charge of the Bill, perhaps he could inform the House of his intentions.

Mr. Treacy:  My interpretation of the situation is that we are on Second Stage. I will respond on Second Stage at the appropriate time when the House has concluded its deliberations on an important topical issue.

Mr. Naughten:  It is difficult to discuss the Bill in its current format because we do not know what the Government will propose on Committee Stage. There is a strong indication it will propose amendments on Committee Stage, which I hope it does. It is ludicrous to allow licensed premises to serve drink for 36 hours. The publicans were strongly against this proposal when it was first mooted. I welcome the proposal to remove the anomaly whereby night clubs are breaking the law by opening on a Saturday night. They have to provide meals for people on a Saturday night. Most Members of the House would not frequent nightclubs, but I go to The Planet in Ballinasloe, a club the Minister knows well, or Rockford's in Roscommon, where I see many of his constituents.

Mr. Treacy:  Some very nice constituents.

Mr. Naughten:  I will not deny that. The food being given out in those places, however, is slop. The nightclubs do the bare minimum when providing a meal to secure a bar extension. No one in his right mind would touch a meal in a nightclub. This anomaly should be resolved in the new legislation and nightclubs should be given an option to provide substantial meals if they so wish. They should not be dictated to that there must be a meal to secure an extension because that can be taken to mean that as long as they serve a meal it does not matter about the standard of the meal.

There are serious questions to be asked about this legislation. When will the new legislation announced by the Minister in September be introduced? The Minister said on 14 October that there would be major reforms of the licensing [819] laws, but we have no idea when those reforms will come into effect. There will be significant changes to the licensing hours. Will this legislation introduce those changes on Committee Stage? The Government is running around like a headless chicken over this legislation. When this Bill was published to a huge fanfare about the 36 hour drinking and the removal of the anomaly for nightclubs, suddenly the publicans and the Government backbenchers rose up against the legislation and it was abandoned. Now it has arisen again like the phoenix. Will the Government amend the legislation? Will it go ahead with the idea of being able to drink all day, all night and all the following day? The publicans, the general public and the Government's backbenchers do not want that. I hope there will be an amendment which will resolve this matter.

There must be changes along the lines announced by the Minister on 14 October. It is, however, a disgrace that we have been given such a short time today to debate this Bill – the legislation will be guillotined. Even now, on Committee Stage, we do not know what the Government will do. There is only one hour set aside for Committee Stage. That is ludicrous. Everyone knows legislation dealing with liquor licensing is complex. We cannot decide our plans in a couple of hours. It does not give the Opposition an opportunity to read the legislation. We were under the impression that this legislation would be abandoned.

We must liberalise the liquor licensing laws. They are out of line with every other European state. The anomaly of winter and summer hours only adds to the confusion. It does not help the tourism industry.

Some people have said that if we extend pub opening hours, there will be an increase in alcoholism. The alcoholism problem could not get much worse. Most people will only drink a certain amount. Over recent years people have started to go to pubs later, particularly at weekends. During the summer many farmers would work until late at night before going for a drink, but under the current legislation they are breaking the law if they go for a pint when they finish their day's work.

I disagree with the Government's proposal to introduce all day drinking. The Government should make an effort to combat underage drinking and alcoholism when it introduces these new laws. The Minister announced in January that he would introduce a national identity card system. It was an optional system but it was a welcome move. Then the Minister decided not to put the resources or administration procedures in place. Young people would go to a Garda station, fill out the application form, pay the £5 fee and then would have to wait three months to receive the identity card. That is ridiculous.

Eventually the Minister realised the problem and put the procedures in place, but it still takes up to three weeks for a young person to get an [820] identity card. The scheme requires 15 working days. The Minister of State can say what he likes, but I was given these figures in a reply to a parliamentary question. It takes a week for the form to get from Ballinasloe Garda station, for example, to Harcourt Street Garda station and then it takes two weeks for the application to be processed before the young person gets the identity card.

Mr. Treacy:  The Deputy said it took three months.

Mr. Naughten:  Yes, it used to take three months. When it was introduced the forms sat on a desk in Harcourt Street Garda station because the procedures were not put in place. The Minister put forward the proposal with great fanfare without putting resources in place. What sort of a commitment is that to combat underage drinking? When the scheme was announced we were told that identity cards would be issued within five working days. We have since found out that it takes three weeks. Is the Minister of State poor at mathematics or did he not think this through?

In the new legislation, whenever it is introduced, there must be major changes to address underage drinking. There are suggestions that the Minister will transfer the onus from the garda, who has to prove someone is under age and that the publican is aware of that, to the publican who would have to ensure the person is over 18 years of age.

It is futile to talk about under-age drinking when every young person has access not only to alcohol but to Ecstasy, hash and so on. However, we must start somewhere and if we are serious about it, this is the place to start. We also need to look at the issue of alcoholism, even if it is dealt with by the Department of Health and Children rather than the Minister's Department. A few years ago people were seen as macho men if they drank 15 pints and then drove home. However, that is no longer the done thing, especially among young people. I give credit to people of my generation. They respect the drink driving laws. Many are criticised for what they do not do and for the way they abuse systems and so on. However, they are leading the campaign against the unacceptable practice of drink driving.

The taxi and hackney shortage is prevalent throughout the country and not only in Dublin. In the Minister of State's town of Ballinasloe it is difficult to get a taxi on a Saturday night. The same applies to Athlone and any other town. If we are serious about combating drink driving, we must ensure that taxi and hackney licences are available to ensure that people travelling home are not obliged to use their cars.

Resources must be allocated to deal with alcoholism because it is an awful cross which many families must bear. It has been brushed under the carpet for years because there has been a denial of the problem, especially among older age groups. Please God there will be changes in this area. While mindsets on drink driving have [821] changed, there is still a certain respect for the man who becomes ossified every night of the week. That kind of behaviour must be seen as anti-social.

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy has two minutes before the sitting is suspended. The debate will be resumed this evening.

Mr. Naughten:  It is important that we debate this issue thoroughly, especially as this is our only opportunity to do so. The Taoiseach gave a commitment that the debate would not be guillotined at 7 p.m. I intend to speak for the 20 minutes available to me because it is the only opportunity I will get to address this issue.

More pub licences are required. While there are plenty of pubs in many rural areas, there is a shortage in urban areas, especially in Dublin. For example, there are three or four pubs in Tallaght, which is as big as Limerick city. That is madness. They hold a monopoly and are naturally milking the system. The vintners cannot be blamed for the present position. They do not want to see additional licences because they have a vested interest in maintaining the present position. However, if we are serious about drink driving we must ensure that pubs are located in local communities.

Debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended at 12.45 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

Mr. Quinn:  On a point of order, am I correct in raising a statement made by the Taoiseach on the Order of Business which he might like to correct in the light of the press statement that has been issued by the Minister for Finance? I will read from the “blacks” transcript of this morning's Order of Business and you may wish to adjudicate, Sir. The net point was—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy, I would prefer if you raised this matter at another time. Question Time is limited and this is not appropriate at the start of Question Time.

Mr. Quinn:  When we come to budget matters will you allow me to raise this matter? The House was misled by the Taoiseach this morning—

Mr. M. Smith:  It was not.

Mr. Quinn:  —and I thought that, following normal practice, when this was brought to his attention the Taoiseach would, at the earliest possible opportunity, have the courtesy to correct it. As the Taoiseach said, he does not tell lies.

[822]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We cannot deal with this matter at this time.

Mr. Quinn:  Why not?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Because this is Question Time—

Mr. Quinn:  I am asking a question. Would the Taoiseach like to correct the record where he said, “If the budget is to be recast the place to announce it is in the House”.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy, you are out of order. You may raise a point of order at some time but not during Question Time. This is not the appropriate time.

Mr. Quinn:  When is the best time to ask a question if not at Question Time?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The budget debate will be held later. I call Question No. 1.

Mr. Quinn:  I am giving you question number one. When will the Minister for Finance come into the House—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I am taking the Questions from the Order Paper. Ceist a hAon.

Mr. Quinn:  I am asking question number one. There is one issue today—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Quinn, you are being totally disorderly.

Mr. Quinn:  I am not. I am being totally in order.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There is a long standing tradition in this House. Question Time is from now until 4.15 p.m.

Mr. Quinn:  I am asking a question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  You are not asking a question. Deputy Bruton's is Question No. 1. We are now taking Deputy Bruton's question.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Deputy Quinn's question should be answered first.

Mr. Quinn:  My question is: We have a budget—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Quinn, I ask you to resume your seat while I am on my feet.

Mr. Quinn:  I am on my feet.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Quinn, you are being disorderly. You must show respect for the Chair. The House cannot function if a Member does not show respect for the Chair.

[823]Mr. Quinn:  I am showing respect for the people of this country, Sir. I am showing respect for this establishment.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I have called Question No. 1.

Mr. Quinn:  When will the Minister for Finance come in—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  For the last time, Deputy Quinn, the Chair is on his feet.

Mr. Quinn:  I am on my feet too, Sir.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Quinn, you do not have the right to continue to speak when the Chair is on his feet. There must be respect for the Chair in this House.

Mr. Quinn:  I am asking you to defer.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Chair will not defer. I call Question No. 1. Deputy Quinn, I am asking you, for the last time to resume your seat. Do you intend to resume your seat?

Mr. Quinn:  In deference to yourself, Sir, I will resume my seat but I will not let go of this issue.

Ms Shortall:  On a point of order—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I will not take any more points of order. We have wasted too much of Question Time.

  1.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    if he has received a further submission from the Justice for the Forgotten group on the need for a public inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. [25137/99]

  2.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on any further submission he has received from the Justice for the Forgotten group since he last answered parliamentary questions on the subject. [25907/99]

  3.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    his response to the latest submissions he has received from the Justice for the Forgotten group regarding its call for an inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in 1974. [26070/99]

  4.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Taoiseach    if he will review the need for a full public inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in view of the detailed submission he has received from the Justice for the Forgotten group. [26072/99]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.

I received a submission from the Justice for the [824] Forgotten group the week before last. The submission is currently under consideration.

Ms Shortall:  On a point of order—

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Question No. 1 is in the name of Deputy Ó Caoláin.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Thank you, Deputy. I call Deputy Ó Caoláin.

Ms Shortall:  On a point of order, Sir—

Mr. Stagg:  Members are offering on a point of order, Sir.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I will hear Deputy Shortall but if the House is disorderly I will not take points of order.

Mr. Stagg:  On what basis, Sir?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  On the basis that the House cannot be run properly if the House is disorderly. We will proceed with the business. I will hear Deputy Shortall.

Ms Shortall:  Thank you, Sir. We need order in the House. I ask you to give direction in relation to Standing Orders. If it is alleged that a Member misleads the House—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We have dealt with that matter. We are taking Question Time—

Ms Shortall:  What do Standing Orders say on this matter? I would like you to give me direction on this.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I will give you direction. If you have a serious allegation to make against any Member of the House you should do it by way of substantive motion. I call Deputy Ó Caoláin.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  A Leas-Cheann Comhairle—

Ms Shortall:  The practice of the House is that—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The practice of the House is that Question Time commences at 2.30 p.m. and is not interrupted for such matters.

Ms Shortall:  You are being extremely partial in your rulings, Sir.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I will not accept that. Deputy, do you withdraw that remark?

Mr. Stagg:  It is a constant outrage in this House.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There is a long [825] standing precedent that Question Time is not interrupted by other matters.

Mr. Stagg:  There is also a long standing precedent of impartiality by the Chair.

Mr. Quinn: There is no precedent for a budget being rewritten within seven days and the announcement being made in this way.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Shortall, do you withdraw your remark? If not, I ask you to leave the House.

Mr. Quinn:  This is the sovereign Parliament of the Republic of Ireland and the budget belongs on the floor of this House.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Shortall, do you withdraw your remark?

Ms Shortall:  I withdraw the remark—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is satisfactory. We will have no more of this nonsense.

Mr. J. Bruton:  A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, as guardian of our—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Bruton, I am about to suspend the House. This is Question Time. If Members have matters to raise which are related to the budget they may do so later in the day.

Mr. Quinn:  I am offering—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Quinn, I have heard you—

Mr. Quinn:  You might have the courtesy, Sir, to listen to what I have to say.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I have heard you, Deputy Quinn. I call Deputy Ó Caoláin.

Mr. Quinn:  I am offering you a parliamentary procedure which might facilitate this impasse.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There is not an impasse. The impasse is that you are continuing to interrupt.

Mr. Quinn:  The impasse lies with a budget being rewritten and privately announced to the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party and not on the floor of the House. My request is that the Minister for Finance come into the House and announce his U-turn. That is all.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  It is obvious that you wish the sitting to be suspended. The House is now suspended until 3 o'clock.

Sitting suspended at 2.40 p.m. and resumed at 3 p.m.[826]

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We were discussing Question No. 1.

Mr. Quinn:  Could I briefly, Sir, in the interest of order, suggest that the Taoiseach might consider—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I would prefer not to go back to this matter.

Ms Shortall:  Why not?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  This is Question Time.

Mr. Quinn:  I am trying to be helpful.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  You are not being helpful.

Mr. Quinn:  I am endeavouring to be helpful.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There is a longstanding precedent that there are not any interruptions at Question Time. It is purely for the purpose of taking questions.

Mr. Quinn:  There is also a longstanding precedent that budgets are outlined to the House.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Quinn—

Mr. Quinn:  If you would please allow me—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  It is my intention to suspend the House until 4.15 p.m. if Deputy Quinn insists on disrupting the business and not allowing the House to continue its business.

Mr. Quinn:  I am trying to be helpful—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I have called Question No. 1. The Taoiseach answered it and I am calling Deputy Ó Caoláin to ask his supplementary.

Mr. Quinn:  Please, Sir, allow me as the leader of one of the parliamentary parties in this House—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Quinn, we have dealt with that matter and—

Mr. Quinn:  I am going to offer a constructive solution.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We do not need any solutions, constructive or otherwise, at this point. This is Question Time.

Mr. Quinn:  I am suggesting that—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  This can be dealt with at another time. We are not dealing with it at Question Time. Does Deputy Ó Caoláin have a supplementary question? If Deputy Quinn continues to interrupt the House—

Mr. Gormley:  On a point of order.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  —the Chair has [827] no option but to suspend the sitting until 4.15 p.m.

Mr. Gormley:  On a point of order, rather than suspending the House as you suggest, could I suggest that you—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  If Members continue to interrupt, Deputy Gormley, the Chair is left with no option.

Mr. Gormley:  It would be more constructive—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Ó Caoláin.

Mr. Gormley:  On a point of order, I am trying to get some order here because clearly—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The order is that Members resume their seats and allow Deputy Ó Caoláin—

Mr. Gormley:  —-my colleagues in the Labour Party are concerned about what has happened today. The Chair should take on board—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is not a point of order, Deputy Gormley. I have called Deputy Ó Caoláin.

Deputies Quinn and Stagg rose.

Mr. Gormley:  You are not going to get order—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  If the Members have decided that they are going to orchestrate disruption in this House, the Chair has no option but to suspend the sitting until 4.15 p.m.

Mr. Stagg:  There is no such decision.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I call on Deputy Ó Caoláin to put his supplementary question.

Mr. Quinn:  Sir—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Quinn, we are not discussing this matter now. It can be discussed at some other time but not now.

Mr. Quinn:  I am trying to be courteous. I will not press the point at this time.

Mr. Ferris:  He is trying to be helpful.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I welcome the Taoiseach's response to my question. Given the new submission from the Justice for the Forgotten Group and its compelling and moving testimony before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, will the Taoiseach indicate when a final decision will [828] be made by the Government on whether a public inquiry will be held? Can the survivors and the bereaved of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings expect such a development in advance of the 26th anniversary of the massacre in the coming year?

On an associated matter, will the Taoiseach comment on the discovery of a highly sophisticated listening and tracking device which was concealed in a vehicle used by my party's president, Gerry Adams, and its chief negotiator and current Minister for Education, Martin McGuinness, during the course of the Mitchell review? Will the Taoiseach raise this matter with the British Government and ascertain what knowledge it has of this operation?

Mr. Currie:  Will the Deputy also condemn the bombs that were planted under cars? He never did that in his life.

Mr. Quinn:  Hear, hear.

The Taoiseach:  We have received a further report and correspondence from the relatives. These are being examined and that will be completed as soon as possible. Legal representatives on behalf of the relatives presented this recently and I hope to be able to respond to them quickly. They are, by and large, legal points. As I said on previous occasions, the Government hopes at an early date to appoint a legal representative to examine these matters. We decided not to proceed with that until we examined it and came to an agreement or understanding with the relatives. The current position is that the submission made by them in the past week is being examined.

On the second matter, I have just heard about it. I will look into it.

Mr. J. Bruton:  What progress has been made on the issue of taking evidence in regard to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings from persons who might be outside the jurisdiction?

The Taoiseach:  There is no progress. We were asked by the relatives to delay setting up the legal representative until they made their submission. It took them some time to do that, longer than they anticipated, and we have to respond quickly to it. I would like to be in a position to appoint a legal representative immediately after Christmas to commence that work.

Mr. Quinn:  In relation to justice for the forgotten, and I am referring to the Opposition parliamentary parties, a meeting took place elsewhere in this building relating to changes in the budget. Is the Taoiseach prepared to avail of an offer I wish to formally make—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Quinn, I do not wish to go down that road. We are dealing with Questions Nos. 1 to 4 on the Order Paper.

Mr. Quinn:  I am talking about the forgotten elected representatives—

[829]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Has the Deputy got a question on the Order Paper?

Mr. Quinn:  —and the new measures in the budget.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Quinn.

Mr. Quinn:  Please do not interrupt me, Sir, and let me finish my point.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Quinn, you must show respect to the Chair.

Mr. Quinn:  Are you speaking as chairman of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party or—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Quinn—

Mr. M. Smith:  That is outrageous.

Mr. Quinn:  There is a conflict of interest.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I ask the Deputy to withdraw that remark about the Chair.

Mr. M. Smith:  Deputy Quinn knows the procedures.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I ask the Deputy to withdraw that remark about the Chair or leave the House.

Mr. Quinn:  I asked you a question, Sir, and if you had the courtesy—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I am asking you to withdraw that remark or leave the House.

Mr. Quinn:  —to answer it, then I—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I am asking Deputy Quinn to withdraw that remark.

Mr. Quinn:  I asked you a question, Sir.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Chair is impartial and will continue to be impartial—

Mr. Quinn:  Then please let me finish my question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Chair will implement—

Mr. Quinn:  Let me finish my question—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Will you withdraw your remark? The Chair will continue to be impartial and implement Standing Orders as agreed by Members of this House. If Members are not satisfied with Standing Orders, there is a means of changing them. Will you withdraw that remark please, Deputy Quinn?

[830]Mr. Stagg:  A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, on a point of order.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I am on my feet, Deputy Stagg. Please sit down. Deputy Quinn, will you withdraw that remark?

Mr. Quinn:  Sir, I did not make a remark. I asked a question—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  You made a remark about the impartiality of the Chair. I am asking you to withdraw that remark and then we can continue.

Mr. Quinn:  I withdraw the remark. I will proceed, and will the Chair please, as a Member who was elected to this House at about the same time as myself—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is why I expect you to ask questions that are relevant to the questions on the Order Paper.

Mr. Quinn:  —accord me the courtesy of formulating the question before you hand trip me in relation to it. That is all I ask.

Mr. Dempsey:  Is it relevant?

Mr. Quinn:  It is entirely relevant to the forgotten, Sir—

Mr. Dempsey:  Questions Nos. 1 to 4?

Mr. Quinn:  —and it is addressed to the real leader of the party, and that is not you, yet.

Mr. Dempsey:  Thank you for the proposal.

Mr. Quinn:  It is not you, yet. It is still addressed to him.

Mr. J. Bruton:  He is trying to hand trip from the sideline.

Mr. Quinn:  Will the Fianna Fáil Party avail of the 17 minutes available to the Labour Party at 8.30 p.m. during the budget debate to enable the Minister for Finance to address the House on the budget changes? That is my question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Quinn, that is not relevant to Questions Nos. 1 to 4.

Mr. Quinn:  It is entirely relevant to the forgotten elected representatives—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  It is not relevant to Questions Nos. 1 to 4. I call Deputy Gregory.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Will the Taoiseach help to defuse this situation?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There is nothing to defuse. This is Question Time.

[831]Mr. J. Bruton:  The Taoiseach could help to defuse this situation.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I have called Deputy Gregory and I will call Deputy Bruton when it is his turn.

Mr. Gregory:  It is my understanding from previous replies by the Taoiseach that the difficulty until now has been the need for a detailed assessment of all evidence. In addition to the report and the submission from the relatives' group, surely the meticulous report that is available in Garda headquarters could form a basis for a public inquiry? Does the Taoiseach accept that what the relatives see in the private inquiry is simply another tactic in a long line of them by the State to cover up an appalling injustice? Does the Taoiseach accept that many of the relatives want to see the veil of secrecy lifted and that the only way this can be achieved is through a full public inquiry?

The Taoiseach:  I share the Deputy's concerns that we get to the truth of these matters, and I have endeavoured to assist the families in doing that. However, I think the relatives accept that all advice suggests that an enormous amount of data is not available. The best way forward legally which has been highlighted to me, and I have raised it in the House on a number of occasions, is for an eminent legal person to be appointed to conduct an inquiry of all existing data held in Garda headquarters, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and wherever else. That person would then try to see if, on the basis of the information, the public inquiry sought by the relatives could be initiated satisfactorily. At present, such data does not exist.

I agree with trying to lift the veil of secrecy and appointing a legal person. I have already said I consulted with the relatives on that issue. I have tried to find a high profile person who can devote his or her time and commitment. All relevant data in the State and anywhere else would be made available to that person. The relatives have done a great deal of work since April in working with us and helping us in this, and I acknowledge that. However, a person is needed to go through all the relevant data to see if there is a basis. Otherwise – all my advice points to this and it is something with which I think the relatives' solicitors agree – calling a public inquiry at this stage and trying to set it up with broad and sweeping terms of reference will achieve nothing and will not do justice to those who were killed and murdered by the bombs in those terrible days in May 1974. Neither would it reach any conclusions. That is the advice.

We are trying at this stage to examine the relatives' submission on a legal basis to see if they have an alternative. If there are other matters on which my legal advice is different, I will report to the House on that. If not, we will appoint an eminent legal person to engage in the sifting process.

[832]Mr. J. Bruton:  Like the Taoiseach, I want the full truth about the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. However, does he accept, as I do, that the principle should be parity of esteem among all victims of violence? Does the Taoiseach agree that 40,000 people have been injured by violence in Northern Ireland, of whom 3,600 have lost their lives, that there is anxiety that there be transparency in regard to responsibility, for example, for the deaths of Inam Bashir and John Jeffries who were murdered by the IRA in a bomb in London, and that transparency should apply to all bombings by the IRA, the UVF and other organisations? Does the Taoiseach agree that we in this jurisdiction have come in for criticism where it has been suggested that we have applied different standards to those convicted of the killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe than we would wish to see applied to those who killed people in the other part of Ireland where we take a more lenient line? Does the Taoiseach agree that, while we must get to the truth of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, we should not be partitionist in our sympathy or in our desire for transparency and truth and that we should consider whether there is a need for truth as well as reconciliation in regard to all acts of violence?

The Taoiseach:  I do not disagree with that. It is how it is best done. There has been some criticism but I have talked to many of the groups and examined these issues. When the Government asked the former Tánaiste, Mr. John Wilson, to examine the needs and concerns of those who had suffered as a result of violence associated with the conflict in Northern Ireland, it specifically asked him to examine the needs and concerns of families of victims of major outrages. That included Dublin and Monaghan. His recommendations have been accepted by the Government and some of the issues he put forward will be specifically included in the terms of reference.

Most of the criticism in the North has been about what is perceived as the difference between the line we have taken on the Bloody Sunday and Pat Finucane cases. I understand that. If my father, brother or mother were killed, I would take exactly the same view. We cannot ignore any of these issues. I do not disagree with that.

Mr. J. Bruton:  There should be no religious or political distinction as to either the motivation of the perpetrator or the position of the victim.

The Taoiseach:  I accept that. None of the groups, of which there are many now, or their representatives is looking for public inquiries, rather recognition and understanding. Most of them know about what happened. When one meets these people, the terrible thing is that they are reasonably clear in their mind about what happened or at least have come to that conclusion. I have no evidence to say whether these facts are true. Many of the groups have made up their minds.

[833] In the case of Bloody Sunday, the case was put together and the work done by the previous Government. We have had the Ludlow case which has been put forward for a long time and we have examined that. The Dublin and Monaghan bombings were the greatest atrocity in the Republic during the Troubles, and that is why I have paid more attention to them, but that is not to ignore the difficulties or circumstances of any shootings, bombings or murders. We cannot afford to segregate our views on these issues.

Mr. Quinn:  I wish to be associated with the comments of the Taoiseach and the Leader of the Fine Gael Party. On the Dublin and Monaghan issue, the group I met also met the Taoiseach, and my information is that on 9 October following a meeting with the Taoiseach, it rejected his proposal of a private legal inquiry. Has there been any advance on that position? Where does the Taoiseach now place this issue? Is there an impasse or a way forward which he believes would be acceptable to the parties involved? In the last sentences of his previous contribution the Taoiseach said that what these people want is recognition as much as anything else. Bearing in mind the data available to the Garda Síochána, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and others, in what sense can we as a sovereign state respond to that need or requirement, emotional or otherwise?

The Taoiseach:  My remark was not addressed to that group. They are not satisfied with the response of understanding. They seek a public inquiry and that is their stated position. If it is of use to them, I would like to achieve that.

Regarding 9 October, they asked for a month and, while it took a little longer, we now have their legal submission which is being examined. A small group of officials from various Departments are examining that along with the Attorney General.

Mr. Quinn:  It is still under consideration?

The Taoiseach:  Yes. I will deal directly with the group. I promised I would do that before we progress, if we can find a basis to progress.

The advice available to me still states that to frame broad and sweeping terms of reference for an inquiry into the events of May 1974 would serve no one's purpose. The data must be examined and we have offered for a senior legal person – it would have to be someone of high standing and acceptable to all – to examine all the available information. The relatives continually raise the fact that because information from Garda files was used in a TV programme some years ago, much more records must exist. I cannot competently state what exists, but the legal person will be allowed look at all—

Mr. Quinn:  Surely the Taoiseach has ascer[834] tained precisely what files are in the possession of the Garda.

The Taoiseach:  I think I have previously stated in the House that what I have been told is held by the Garda and what was used in that programme is not necessarily the same. Far more documentation seemed to have been used in the programme. The relatives claim they were told this data came from Garda files. The data did not officially come from Garda files, so I cannot solve that dispute. The evidence used in the programme came from somewhere and the best way of proceeding is for a legal person to examine everything that is officially held by the State and other evidence, including the submissions collected at a fair amount of expense and enormous effort by the relatives. We may be able to have movement if a legal person does this. I do not think it can be solved in any other way.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I wish to point out that Deputies Currie, Joe Higgins, Crawford, Ó Caoláin and Gregory are offering and I would like to make time for their questions if possible. However, there is less than 15 minutes remaining for Taoiseach's questions. I call Deputy Sargent.

Mr. Sargent:  Bhí mé i measc na daoine a bhí buailte le cheann amháin de na buamaí í mBaile Átha Cliath ach ní raibh mé gortaithe. Tar éis an fiosrúchán príobháideach, dúnta seo, an mbeidh fiosrúchán poiblí cosúil leis an cheann maidir le Bloody Sunday agus ar nós an Moriarty tribunal agus an Flood tribunal, mar sin atá ag teastáil?

The Taoiseach:  B'fhéidir go mbeidh. The issue is whether the legal person provides us with a case which will say that is possible. I know it is difficult for the relatives, but there is no point in setting up a public inquiry if it is not felt there is a sufficient basis of evidence both inside and outside the State. That is why we need somebody to examine everything which exists before we make a decision. The matter has drifted and drifted and the longer it goes on the more difficult it becomes. I have no reason to have any argument with the relatives. I have sat down with them on numerous occasions over the years, as have Deputy Gregory and other Members, and I know the torment they have been through. Deputy Quinn has obviously met them recently. For them it is still as if it happened yesterday.

Mr. Quinn:  For them it did.

The Taoiseach:  I understand that. All the advice, both inside and outside the House for some considerable years, has been that this is the best way forward. I do not think we should ignore that advice given that it is a legal and judicial case. I do not think the legal representatives of the relatives are at odds with us. They feel a sifting done by a legal representative might form the basis of just a cover-up. I have done my best to try to explain that is not the object of the process. [835] I cannot predetermine the outcome of that sifting process.

Mr. Currie:  Is the Taoiseach aware that those of us who attended the meeting of the Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights were enormously impressed by the case made by the relatives and those who attended on their behalf? Is he particularly aware that we were impressed by the evidence given to us? We had an opportunity to cross-examine the people. We were very impressed by the evidence given by the producer of that Yorkshire Television programme and by Don Mullen.

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

Mr. Currie:  Is the Taoiseach aware that we were impressed, particularly by the evidence of Don Mullen who did so much in relation to Bloody Sunday in Derry? Is he aware that Don Mullen and the producer of the Yorkshire Television programme both said they believed there is sufficient evidence in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to warrant a public inquiry? Has the Taoiseach called for, seen or will he now call for anything on file in the Department to be made available so that this contention can be tested?

The Taoiseach:  I think I have answered that. Yes, I know everybody was very impressed. I have had a number of meetings, including meetings with the entire group of about 50 relatives.

The Deputy raised the issue of the evidence in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I do not have the competence to assess such evidence if it exists. It is necessary for a legal person to sift through that-—

Mr. Currie:  Has the Taoiseach seen the files in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform?

The Taoiseach:  No, I have not, because I make a practice of not going near any files in the Department. I am not going to start—

Mr. Currie:  Has the Minster for Justice, Equality and Law Reform examined the files?

The Taoiseach:  I do not intend looking for files from the Department during my political career.

Mr. Currie:  If we are seriously interested in the matter, as I believe the Taoiseach is, why have the files not been examined?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I ask Deputy Currie to resume his seat. We must have order during Question Time.

Mr. Higgins:  (Dublin West): I hope there will be a public inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan [836] bombings. Will the Taoiseach say all the relevant information on the bombings, which may be considered confidential by the Irish security forces or the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, will be made available to the inquiry? While there may be information in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, many people believe there is much more information in the hands of leading personnel in the British security forces. Has the Taoiseach at any stage discussed with the British Prime Minister the knowledge of security personnel in Britain? Will he discuss it with the Prime Minister and will he ask him to direct the leading personnel of the security forces in the North and Britain to make available all the information they have, particularly as it might have involved the connivance of some security personnel in the outrage?

The Taoiseach:  The answer to both questions is yes. When the legal representative is going through the sifting process, all information – everything that is available in the State – should be given to him or her. I have discussed a number of these cases, including the Séamus Ludlow case, the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and cases raised with me by many of the victims' groups in the North who represent loyalist and Protestant groups – it is almost a standard item on agendas. These are two-way investigations. In some cases we have evidence while in others they have evidence, and I have said that we will co-operate on such matters.

Mr. Crawford:  I, too, would like all the evidence to be provided and we should do whatever else we can for the families of the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. We will never forget that day in the history of Monaghan. Is the Taoiseach aware of the suffering many other families are going through? Recently I met a family who still live with the trauma of the murder of the late Senator Billy Fox. Is there anything we, as a Parliament, can do to ensure that the sufferings and trauma of such people are recognised? I appreciate that the former Minister, John Wilson, is doing what he can, but there needs to be greater recognition of such families who have suffered quietly over the past 25 to 30 years and relive the trauma every day.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Hear, hear.

The Taoiseach:  I do not wish to repeat what I said earlier in reply to Deputy Bruton but it still stands. The chairman of the commission, John Wilson, recommended that consideration be given to holding, on an annual basis, a day of remembrance for victims. This has been raised by all the groups of various denominations and persuasions in all parts of the island. There is a strong view among the parties in the North that, whatever about it being held on an annual basis, there should be a day of remembrance early in the new millennium.

[837]Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  There is no debate about the fact that suffering and pain is universal in regard to all that we have been through. It is important that I put it to the Taoiseach—

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

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Does the Taoiseach agree that contrary to the premise of Deputy Bruton's contribution, the key difference, although I accept it is not unique to this tragedy alone, is that the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in May 1974 bore all the hallmarks of a British intelligence operation in this jurisdiction, therefore bearing the thumbprints of the British Government with all that implies?

Mr. J. Bruton:  The Deputy knows the truth already, he does not need an inquiry.

A Deputy:  A bomb is a bomb.

Mr. Crawford:  Murder is murder.

The Taoiseach:  I would like to be in a position where we could examine the circumstances and evidence that is available. I urge Members who may have influence over the relevant groups to follow the agreement in the House that the way forward is to have a legal representative who will have full access to everything that is available. I have asked the television authorities and Yorkshire television if they would co-operate. I spoke to Don Mullen and asked one of the newspapers that has archival data if they would co-operate and they all said they would do so. The sooner we reach that position the better. We will try to look at the legal evidence and see if we can work from that. It is unlikely but I do not want to pre-empt anything. We will go through the process I promised the relatives and see where we get with it.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We are coming to the end of Taoiseach's Question Time. Three Deputies are offering. If they are agreeable, rather than selecting one Deputy, we will have three supplementaries and a final reply from the Taoiseach.

Mr. J. Bruton:  Does the Taoiseach agree that those who press for an inquiry should not devalue their case by purporting to have reached a conclusion on the outcome of the inquiry before it has commenced, as one Deputy seems to be doing? Does he also agree that there is a balance to be struck between two values, truth and reconciliation, and while in theory it is possible to have both it may be necessary to strike a balance between them? If that balance is to be struck it should be on the basis of a universal principle that regards all victims as of equal value and all pain as of equal concern. Does he agree that what we need is some mechanism for finding a process of truth and reconciliation in regard to all the [838] violence that has occurred and that we should look at not only violence that has occurred in this jurisdiction which may have originated in another but also violence that has occurred in another jurisdiction that may, in part, have originated in this jurisdiction? We must apply universal human principles in this matter rather than taking a partial view.

Mr. Quinn:  In addition to the available evidence and information, including whatever television producers might have, will the Taoiseach consider offering to the groups involved, particularly the Justice for the Forgotten group, that a report be produced and referred to a committee of the House, decided on by us in line with the excellent quality and procedure established by the sub-committee of the Committee of Public Accounts in the case of the DIRT inquiry? In that way the clear need for some form of public inquiry, for which the Justice for the Forgotten group has called, would be met within the framework of this House based on whatever reports the legal inspector might produce. If such a public inquiry has not been contemplated by the Taoiseach, perhaps he might consider it on the basis that it would establish, as the Comptroller and Auditor General did, a paper track of file and report upon which questions could be posed and the matter could be dealt with. I offer that to the Taoiseach, in a positive and constructive nature, for consideration.

Mr. Gregory:  Does the Taoiseach accept that in his earlier replies he made the case for a public inquiry? It would seem self-evident that the only way to resolve the issue to the satisfaction of the relatives and the public is to have an inquiry and make public whatever evidence is in the Garda files. The real motivation of the relatives is to hear and see whatever evidence is available. As there are serious question marks over who was behind the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, whatever anyone in the House may say, and why apparently no action was taken against known suspects, will the Taoiseach give a commitment at this stage that, after whatever process he believes necessary, there will be a public inquiry so that whatever evidence exists, no matter how inadequate, is made available to the relatives?

The Taoiseach:  As regards Deputy Bruton's point about human principles and truth and reconciliation, I have no difficulty with what he said, but he will recall that during the forum report and in later discussions the idea of a truth and reconciliation commission did not find much support among the groups. Perhaps some of the issues I mentioned earlier are a basis for acknowledging this. People have different views on it. They do not want to be forgotten. Most of them argue for a day of remembrance. Some groups looked for different inquiries and there are ongoing cases, such as the Pat Finucane case, that are being followed through by the CAG and [839] other groups both in the North and South. While I accept Deputy Gregory's motivations, I cannot promise to have a public inquiry without seeing that there is a basis for it. There must be a legal report first. However, I would be attracted to examining Deputy Quinn's point. Deputy Gregory is correct in that we must do something to allay the concerns of the families.

Mr. Quinn:  Let us do it here rather than in Dublin Castle.

The Taoiseach:  There is a case for that. I ask the House for its support in convincing the relatives to do the first part—

Mr. Quinn:  They might be convinced if they thought the second part would take place.

The Taoiseach:  I will look at that but I am told by everybody – there are many groups, former Attorneys General and senior members of the Judiciary who have an interest in this case – that senior members of the Judiciary who have an interest in this case all agree on one aspect; if the sifting policy is done, we will never get anywhere.

Mr. J. Bruton:  If the what?

The Taoiseach:  The legal sifting process of examining all the evidence in the Department of Justice, the Garda files and Yorkshire Television to see if there is substantive evidence to allow an inquiry to proceed.

Mr. J. Bruton:  They are all agreed this should be done first?

The Taoiseach:  They are all agreed on that and I cannot ignore or pre-empt that.

  25.  Ms Fitzgerald    asked the Minister for Defence    the compensation scheme, if any, he will establish to deal with deafness compensation claims from Army personnel; the timeframe in this regard; if he has the support of the representative associations; the criteria to be used; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26443/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  As Deputies will be aware, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment in the case of Hanley v. Minister for Defence yesterday.

It will take time to evaluate the implications of this important judgment for Defence Forces hearing loss claims. However, I am confident from a preliminary examination that the tariff laid down by the Supreme Court should form a basis for the introduction of a compensation scheme. I hope [840] such a scheme can be established as speedily as is possible, subject to the approval of the Government. This scheme will be based on the hearing disability assessment system contained in the Green Book. I would prefer such a scheme to be administratively straightforward and provide a speedy process for dealing with claims. In this regard, I would anticipate that once an individual has had his or her hearing tested and the Green Book disability assessed, his or her entitlement to compensation under the scheme can be determined and paid to him or her within a reasonable period.

I know that the representative associations share my determination to remove these claims from the courts and I look forward to their continued support in this.

Ms Fitzgerald:  I welcome the Supreme Court judgment which provides a basis for taking the issue out of the courts, as the Minister said. When does the Minister intend to establish the scheme? What type of scheme will be put in place? Will it be early settlement of cases or does he intend to establish a tribunal type compensation scheme? Will it be independent? Can the Minister and his Department be both defender and adjudicator in this process or does he agree there must be some objectivity in terms of the scheme that will be established so that claimants wanting to have their cases settled can have full confidence in it? It is likely that disputes may arise about ongoing medical and legal costs. If such disputes arise, how will they be resolved? Can some independence and objectivity be built into the scheme to ensure it will have the confidence of both the claimants and the taxpayers? This has been a difficult saga for members of the Defence Forces and from the point of view of the State and the taxpayer, and it is in everyone's interest that it should be resolved as speedily as possible. The way the scheme is set up will be important in determining that.

Mr. M. Smith:  Naturally I welcome the Supreme Court decision made by those eminent judges. I want to establish an administratively straightforward compensation scheme which can deal with cases speedily while being fair both to the taxpayer and to the genuine claimants. The judgment needs to be considered by the Department of Finance, the Attorney General and officials in my own Department before proceeding further, but I look forward to being in a position early in the new year to come back to the House with the terms of a new scheme.

On the question of independence, I take this opportunity to say a special word of thanks to the senior staff in my Department, all of the staff in Coláiste Caoimhín, the soldiers and members of the Medical Corps and staff in the Chief State Solicitor's office for their work, dedication and commitment in recent years in dealing with an unprecedented deluge of claims, unique in the world, in a comprehensive way, checking records, [841] audiograms and preparing for court. I know Deputy Fitzgerald does not intend any slight on their work when she calls for an independent assessment of these cases. Obviously during that time we built up a great deal of expertise, and establishing an independent way of proceeding would also raise the question as to what would happen to those staff when these cases were dealt with in the coming years. There are many considerations but I pay a special tribute to the staff in my Department whose work and commitment have assisted us so far in bringing some degree of sanity and fair play to this issue. That will enable fairly substantial savings to be made while still being fair to claimants.

Ms Fitzgerald:  With respect, the Minister is missing the point I am making. I would not for a moment call into question the work done by the staff to date; I am aware of the demands on them. Following the Supreme Court judgment, and in the interests of setting up a successful scheme, some element of independence should be built into the scheme, perhaps in the form of an independent chairperson. This could be done in a variety of ways but it is something the Minister should consider. I want to ask another question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We are rapidly running out of time.

Ms Fitzgerald:  I will be brief. An underlying issue remains to be resolved about compensation in the Defence Forces. If new cases were to arise—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I ask the Deputy to put a very brief question because I would like to give the Minister time to reply.

Ms Fitzgerald:  Does the Minister intend to establish a way of dealing with new compensation cases that may arise in the Defence Forces, for example, in relation to post traumatic stress disorder, as has arisen in other defence forces throughout the world? Does he intend to set up a system whereby members can get whatever recompense is due in a scheme established in the Defence Forces?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I ask the Minister to give a brief reply because we have gone over time on this question.

Mr. M. Smith:  The scheme I have in mind, for the time being at least, is peculiar to the Army deafness claims because that is where the volume is in this respect. Obviously the board that will be established will call in independent people but it is important to realise that the bulk of the work has to be done by my staff, the officers and NCOs who dig up the records, etc. The most independent decision of all, made by the Supreme Court, is available to us in terms of the value of these claims and that is the determining factor in the way we go forward from here.

[842]

  26.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Defence    the plans, if any, he has to update the legislation governing the Irish Red Cross Society; if he will list the Government representatives currently on the central council; the representations, if any, he has received from staff of the society concerning problems within the organisation; the orders made by the Government under section 2 of the Red Cross Act, 1938; the plans, if any, he has to amend any orders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26172/99]

Mr. M. Smith:  As outlined in my reply to the Adjournment Debate in the House on Wednesday, 24 November 1999 regarding the Irish Red Cross Society, a new secretary general was recruited by the society earlier this year. One of the first tasks undertaken by him was a strategic review of the operation of the society. I am informed that this review will encompass the views and opinions of all organs of the society to ensure the strengthening and development of the society. 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. It is intended that the review will be completed by mid-2000. It may transpire that legislative changes may be required at that time and my Department will respond as required.

I have not received representations from the staff concerning problems within the organisation and, as I have already indicated in this House, I do not have a function in the administration of the Irish 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. My Department, as in the past, is available to provide assistance to the society as and 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.

With regard to section 2 of the Red Cross Act, 1938, orders or amendments to orders have not been made nor are they being considered under this section.

The following persons were nominated by Government on 23 April 1997 to serve as members of the Central Council for the period 1 May 1997 to 30 April 2000:

[843]

Mr. Pat O'Reilly Mr. Des Kavanagh
Mr. Jim O'Loughlin Ms Colette Treanor
Mr. Robert Byrne Ms Geraldine McLaughlin
Ms Margaret Garry Ms Deirdre Healy
Ms Elaine Bolger Mr. John Lovett
Mr. John Costin Ms Carmel O'Brien
Mr. Gerry O'Sullivan Mrs. Hannah Cuddy
Mr. Richie Ryan Mr. James Sewell

Mr. Wall:  How far advanced is the strategic review and do staff members support that 100%? Are staff members dealing directly with the consultant? On the appointment of members, it is my understanding from representations I have received that the staff are seeking to have one of their members appointed to the board. Will that be a possibility when the new members are appointed on 30 May?

Mr. M. Smith:  I understand that the review is progressing well and will be completed by the middle of next year. The widest possible consultation is taking place with unions and staff with a view to reconciling the differences which have arisen. When the reappointment of members arises next year, I will take the Deputy's comments into account, subject to the parameters of the legislation.

  27.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Defence    the plans, if any, he has to mark the millennium with the issuing of a special medal to all members of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26325/99]

Mr. M. Smith:  A formal proposal has not been made by the military authorities on the issue of a medal to mark the millennium. I understand, however, that they have informally indicated a desire that such a medal should be considered in the context of a similar proposal from the Garda Síochána.

Mr. Timmins:  I thank the Minister for his reply. Some years ago, a medal called the “Good Conduct Medal” was issued but was taken off the market after a short period because it did not prove to be very successful. It occurred to me that a medal might perhaps be issued to all members of the Defence Forces for New Year's Day. I would ask the Minister to examine the matter carefully and to consult with interested parties. Irish people are loath to wear medals and ribbons. If one watches the movies, one will notice that the jackets of members of the US army are often covered in ribbons. The issuance of a medal to Defence Force members, merely for having served on the eve of the millennium or on New Year's Day, might possibly demean the value of other medals worn. I urge the Minister to tread cautiously in regard to this matter. Will he assure [844] me that he will consult with various interested parties before this project might proceed?

Mr. M. Smith:  This matter is at a very early stage. I have not received any requests to date but I will be happy to consider any which may come forward. Irish medals include the following: the Military Medal for Gallantry, Distinguished Service Medal, Service Medal, United Nations Peacekeepers' Medal, Military Star, Good Conduct Medal and the Emergency Service Medal. Overseas missions medals include: United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation, United Nations Force in Cyprus, United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, United Nations Headquarters New York, Mission Interim Nations Unies Republique Sahara Occidental, United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission, United Nations Special Mission Afghanisation, United Nations Military Observers in Prevlaka, United Nations Special Commission, European Community and others. We already have a significant number of medals and I would have to take costs and other factors into account. If a solid proposal were to be advanced, I would consider it and discuss the matter with the relevant personnel.

Mr. Timmins:  I thank the Minister for listing the medals. All of those medals are awarded for specific events or occasions to particular groups of people who carry out certain functions; they are not medals which are issued across the board for no apparent reason.

Mr. M. Smith:  I thank the Deputy for that clarification – I did not understand that to be the meaning behind his question at the outset. It is important that medals are designated for specific purposes.

  28.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Defence    the reason his Department will not accept an application from Gaelscoil Chill Dara for an access to its proposed new school site at Lumville, the Curragh, County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26173/99]

Mr. M. Smith:  I am advised that the Department of Education and Science has indicated to my Department that it is considering the possibility of such a school being established on an alternative site.

Mr. Wall:  This issue has been on the agenda for a long time in the Curragh. It is only recently that a proposal in regard to an alternative site has been mooted by the Department of Education and Science. The school's board of management and staff identified a site for which a narrow strip of land on the road leading to the site, not on the side of the Curragh plains, was required from the Department of Defence. I cannot understand [845] how this strip of land, which does not form part of the Curragh plains itself, could not have been given to the school to facilitate the construction of another gaelscoil in the area. The current gaelscoil serves a wide area of mid County Kildare. The strip of land in question is only five yards wide. The Minister for Education and Science saw the site and did not seem to foresee any problems with it.

Mr. M. Smith:  I am aware of the strong representations which have been made on this issue about which I have received previous representations from Deputy Wall. I intend to visit the site at the first available opportunity. The indications from the Department of Education and Science are that it is considering an alternative site. I am aware that the teachers and others are of the opinion that the school should be constructed in a more central location to cater for the school's wide hinterland. We must bear in mind that the traffic in the area would be quite heavy and that the Curragh plains are of immense architectural, cultural and historic significance and are classified as a recorded monument under the National Monuments Act. We must be careful about any decisions taken in that regard, particularly as the task force which has just reported to me is totally opposed to any further developments in the area. I will take on board the Deputy's comments and intend to view the site personally.

Mr. Wall:  I am pleased that the Minister will re-examine this matter. One of the reasons I find it difficult to understand the change of attitude in this is that a hotel is already located in the immediate area and traffic there is quite heavy. The provision of the school would not create any further traffic problems. The Minister is correct in saying that teachers and board of management members want to retain the school's identification with the Curragh. If the Department of Education designates a site in any other town, the school, which has increased from a two teacher to a five or six teacher school, will lose the identity and reputation it has built up over many years.

Mr. M. Smith:  Deputy Wall is a long-serving Member of the Houses of the Oireachtas and an old timer in terms of making representations. It is the oldest trick in the world to raise this issue again just because something else has happened in the area. I will take his views on board and assist in any way I can.

  29.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Defence    the procedures and compensation arrangements in place with reference to members of the Reserve Defence Force in the event of injury during training or while attending annual training camp; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26379/99]

[846]Mr. M. Smith:  Members of the FCA and An Slua Muirí who are injured in the course of their duties may apply for compensation under a non-statutory scheme administered by my Department. Typically, this would cover injuries sustained on duty while participating in annual camp, field days, exercises, parades and courses of instruction. The scheme applies to all ranks and includes provision for compensation for medical disablement by way of periodic payments and for loss of earnings and/or certain medical expenses.

In general, formal application under the scheme must be made to my Department within six months of the date on which the injury was sustained. Eligible applicants are referred to the Army Pensions Board for medical examination and assessment of their percentage degree of disablement due to the qualifying injury. The board is an independent statutory body which investigates such matters in the case of members of the Defence Forces.

Based on the board's findings, successful applicants may be awarded periodic compensation from the date of the injury. The rates of payment depend on the percentage level of disablement assessed by the board and are the same as the rates of disablement benefit payable under the social welfare occupational injuries scheme. These payments are revised annually in line with increases in disablement benefit, while the level of disablement may be reviewed by the board from time to time.

Periodic compensation may be payable for the lifetime of the injured member if permanently disabled. Compensation for loss of earnings may not be paid for more than 26 weeks in respect of any injury.

Mr. Stanton:  I thank the Minister for that information. When was this scheme put in place? What is the composition of the board he mentioned? How many people have availed of this scheme and have people gone to the courts to avail of compensation?

Mr. M. Smith:  Some 31 persons are in receipt of periodic compensation and the total expenditure in 1999 is estimated at about £54,000. Two applications were received in 1995, 1996 and 1997, two were received in 1998 and none have been received so far in 1999. The scheme is based on the Emergency Powers (Compensation for Personal Injuries) (Local Defence Force) Scheme, 1942, as amended, and the Air-Raid Precautions Services (Compensation for Personal Injuries) Scheme, 1973, as amended. I am not able to give the Deputy the names of the members of the board but I will get the additional information for him.

Mr. Stanton:  On the procedures in place as regards members of the Reserve Defence Forces, when does the responsibility of the military or the Department cease? What are the procedures [847] when somebody is injured while on duty or in training? Are they stood down immediately and left to their own resources or do the military and the Department have a role in following up and ensuring these people are looked after? Is it their own responsibility?

Does the Minister believe it is fair that people who serve the country by getting involved in the Reserve Defence Forces could be seriously out of pocket and have to rely on social welfare payments or the equivalent for 26 weeks only if they sustain an injury through no fault of their own but as result of a mishap?

Mr. M. Smith:  It would be fair to say that responsibility lies in a number of areas if somebody is injured. Management has a role as far as the Defence Forces is concerned and the individual has a responsibility. There is an appropriate way to apply if a person believes they have been injured while on exercise with the FCA and there is a specific time frame within which they must do so. Twenty six weeks is normal. There is an exceptional position as far as the Permanent Defence Forces is concerned and it can be up to one year. It is not fair to make a direct comparison because people who are in the FCA are normally in another business or walk of life. One cannot make a comparison between the two.

The fundamental point the Deputy is making and with which I agree is that in terms of the training and operations in which they are involved, it is important that safety procedures are at such a level that accidental injuries which can lead to people being out of work for any length of time can be virtually eliminated. As the Deputy will see from the figures I have given him, there have been few cases over a relatively lengthy period. To the extent we can, we should try to eliminate them altogether. If a person suffers injury, is out of work and loses income, we must be as careful as possible to do what we can to cushion them against the financial loss, etc., involved.

Mr. Stanton:  Has there been recourse to the courts in recent years? If so, will the Minister give us details?

Mr. M. Smith:  As far as I know, 13,000 former or serving members of the FCA have claims before the courts in respect of hearing losses. I am sure there is probably a handful of other cases which I can dig up for the Deputy but that is the substantial number.

  30.  Mr. McGinley    asked the Minister for Defence    the staff shortages in the Naval Services; and the plans, if any, he has to deal with them. [26271/99]

[848]

  67.  Mr. Dukes    asked the Minister for Defence    the response to recent advertisements for direct entry officers; and the way in which he will deal with the shortages in bridge watchkeeping in the Naval Service. [26284/99]

  86.  Mr. Dukes    asked the Minister for Defence    the crew levels of the LE Roisín; the way in which these will be met in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26283/99]

Mr. M. Smith:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 30, 67 and 86 together.

The ongoing recruitment campaign for enlistment in the Defence Forces, which I have approved, is designed to address any shortfalls in personnel numbers in the Defence Forces, including the Naval Service. To end November 1999, a total of 97 general service recruits had been enlisted in the Naval Service. The Naval Service will continue to enlist general service recruits during the remainder of 1999 and again in the course of the year 2000 to address manpower shortages.

A special general service recruitment campaign specifically for the Naval Service was launched in September 1999 and has already attracted some 400 inquiries. A total of 45 applicants were due to report for enlistment on Monday, 6 December 1999. Additionally, 17 apprentices and four radio-radar technicians have been enlisted this year. A number of personnel have transferred from the Air Corps to take up radio radar technician appointments in the Naval Service. Three Naval Service cadets were commissioned in September and on 20 September 1999, eight Naval Service cadets were enlisted and are currently in training in the Cadet School, Defence Forces Training Centre. They will return to the naval base in January 2000. Proposals for the cadet competition for 2000 are currently being finalised by the military authorities.

Two non-commissioned personnel were commissioned as electrical engineer officers on 3 November last. A direct entry competition for watchkeeping officers was advertised recently and application forms have already been issued to a number of prospective candidates. Proposals for a direct entry competition for marine engineer officers are at an advanced stage. Vacancies which have arisen at non-commissioned rank are being filled internally by promotion and vacancies created in the lower ranks consequent on these promotions are being filled by the ongoing recruitment process.

The Naval Service has recently sought applications from eligible non-commissioned Naval Service personnel who wish to be considered for participation in a potential watchkeeping officers course which is due to commence in January 2000. On successful completion of this course, participating personnel will be appointed as commissioned officers in the Naval Service to fill appointments as watchkeeping officers.

The precise crewing level for the new vessel LE Roisín has not yet been decided. In order to [849] assess the crewing level required for the new vessel, full regard will be paid to and full advantage extracted from the new technology incorporated in the vessel, given what it offers in terms of automation and labour savings. This process of assessment is being undertaken now that the vessel has been delivered and the Naval Service has an opportunity to train personnel in its operation. However, I can say that the crew for the new vessel will be met from the overall authorised strength of the Naval Service.

Mr. Coveney:  I thank the Minister for his reply and congratulate the Naval Service on a reasonably successful recruitment campaign in recent months. The Minister was correct in saying 44 new recruits have come on board, which I welcome. There is, however, a serious staffing problem. Does the Minister agree that the Naval Service is having considerable difficulty maintaining officers, in particular, and its skilled workforce because of pressures from outside the service? It is worrying when we must try to source a skilled workforce for bridge watchkeepers and marine engineers from the merchant navy because we cannot attract a sufficent number of cadets to join the Naval Service to do those jobs. The reason the Naval Service is finding it so difficult to hold on to skilled and officer staff is that it has no strategic direction and does not know where it stands as regards the White Paper on Defence. It cannot expect a skilled workforce to stay with an organisation that does not have any direction.

Mr. M. Smith:  It is an exaggeration to say the Naval Service does not have a direction. I want the implementation plan the Naval Service passed to the Chief of Staff, and which has recently come to me, cleared quickly and in tandem with the production of the White Paper.

Deputies will note from the number of recruitment schemes that an enormous effort is being made to fill any gaps that exist, but I accept there are gaps. We are under enormous pressure to retain some technical staff, partly because of a massive increase in staff in the early to mid-1970s. Those people now qualify for pensions after 21 years and they have opportunities for alternative employment. These opportunities are welcome, but they have put us under pressure to maintain staff levels. The Naval Service is taking every recruitment initiative it can to address these problems. The service is focused. There is no problem there. It knows where it is going and its position will improve. A new ship has been delivered and another one announced.

Mr. Stanton:  How many technical staff vacancies exist in the Naval Service? Does the Minister accept there is a haemorrhage in this regard, given that he has already said so? This haemorrhage could lead to safety problems if we do not have qualified, experienced staff on ships. Has the Minister made any progress on adjusting the height requirement for the Naval Service? He [850] gave a commitment on this matter the last time he took questions.

Mr. M. Smith:  That commitment was made in relation to female recruitment and the matter is still under consideration. There is no question of safety standards being affected or there being any threat to Navy personnel due to staffing levels. There are in excess of 100 vacancies between all grades. I do not have the exact grades, but based on the total complement of more than 1,100, there are may be close to 150 vacancies at all grades. The current recruitment effort aims to fill those vacancies.

Mr. Stanton:  What about technical staff?

Mr. M. Smith:  I will get those figures for the Deputy. It is a fairly significant number within that figure.

Mr. Stanton:  About 50?

Mr. M. Smith:  Yes.

Ms Fitzgerald:  Deputy Coveney is correct. If an organisation does not know where it is going or if it does not have a strategic or business plan, clearly it will have difficulties recruiting people. It is not enough to blame the economy. The Minister chairs the implementation group and has had the PricewaterhouseCoopers report for well over a year and a half but has not implemented its recommendations on either the Naval Service or the Air Corps. It is not surprising that both bodies have recruitment difficulties, as he has not taken charge of that report. He appointed himself chair but has not implemented the report's recommendations. It is lying there for over a year and a half. It is no wonder both services have recruitment difficulties. The key question is when will the Minister implement the PricewaterhouseCoopers report on the Naval Service, as there will be ongoing recruitment difficulties if the service does not know where it is going?

We will have another problem with a free-for-all in Irish waters when naval vessels are tied up for the next few weeks. The Minister has not implemented the report, having appointed himself chair, and there has been no action for the past year and a half.

Mr. M. Smith:  Earlier I was trying to extricate Deputy Fitzgerald from getting into trouble with the sterling staff that are working on deafness claims and now I am trying to get her out of trouble again.

Ms Fitzgerald:  The Minister appointed himself chair.

Mr. M. Smith:  I did not have the report. I gave it to the Naval Service and the Air Corps to develop their own plan, which has only come to me in recent weeks. Those bodies have had the report for over a year and a half. The Deputy [851] should not get herself into trouble with the Naval Service and the Air Corps—

Ms Fitzgerald:  The Minister is blaming the Naval Service and the Air Corps for a lack of policy.

Mr. M. Smith:  —by blaming them for not presenting implementation plans to me. The Deputy should desist from doing that.

  31.  Mr. L. Burke    asked the Minister for Defence    the plans, if any, he has to purchase modern security surveillance equipment for use as a security aid at various military barracks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26314/99]

Mr. M. Smith:  The Defence Forces Review Implementation Plan which was approved by Government in March 1996 recommended, as a means of improving the efficiency of security provided at military installations, that maximum use should be made of electronic security and surveillance devices. Electronic security and surveillance equipment has been successfully used for some years in various military barracks and high security military installations. It is intended to continue this policy. Modern security surveillance equipment, where appropriate, is specified as part of each building project and is supplied as part of the relevant building contract.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.

Acting Chairman (Mr. McGrath):  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 Perry – the need for urgent funding for stage two development at St. John's Community Hospital, Sligo; (2) Deputy Allen – the need to avert the closure of RTÉ Cork by granting permission to extend the hours of broadcasting; (3) Deputy Jim Higgins – the ongoing sequence of armed raids on banks and other financial institutions and, in particular, on the AIB branch in Ballyfermot; (4) Deputy Timmins – Ireland's position with respect to the proposed new EU defence force; (5) Deputy Sheehan – the imminent closure of the Molalycke factory in Dunmanway in County Cork resulting in the loss of 113 jobs; (6) Deputy Michael D. Higgins – the ineligibility of over half the total number of VTOS students in Galway city for the new training bonus of £25 per week; (7) Deputy McGennis – the need to investigate the abolition of fees for repeat students and, in particular, the case of a person, details supplied; (8) Deputy Cecilia Keaveney – the need for adequate resources to deal with both embankments on the [852] links from the Blanket Nook and Magherabeg to Inch Island; (9) Deputy Ellis – the possibility of the power supply to Sligo-Leitrim being improved by the connection of the region to the Northern Ireland electricity grid; (10) Deputy Deenihan – the problem in a number of special schools with the operation and implementation of the recently introduced escort scheme; (11) Deputy Wall – the implications of the withdrawal from service of a number of Naval Service vessels as a result of problems with asbestos; (12) Deputy Moynihan-Cronin – the need for funding to ensure the survival of Killarney counselling centre and the continuation of expert professional counselling services to schools in Kerry; (13) Deputy Stanton – the collection of post-primary children attending Coláiste Eoghan and CBS secondary school in Youghal, County Cork; (14) Deputy Seán Ryan – the anomalies in the new drugs payments scheme which is causing hardship for people on long-term medication.

The matters raised by Deputies Timmins, Perry, Jim Higgins and Moynihan-Cronin have been selected for discussion.

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

Acting Chairman:  I understand that Second Stage was to conclude within 30 minutes and 15 minutes has already elapsed. The Minister has been allocated 15 minutes to respond, so I call on the Minister.

Mr. Naughten:  On a point of order, I was told this morning I had 20 minutes to speak and I was in possession. I know an order was passed this morning to the effect that Second Stage was to conclude within 30 minutes, but the Taoiseach gave a commitment this morning that the debate would not conclude if Members wanted to contribute. We are now informed that this decision has been overturned and that the Government is trying to gag the Opposition. We are not getting an opportunity to go through this legislation, although the Minister's amendments propose to delete six of the eight sections of the Bill and to amend the other sections dramatically. We are not getting an opportunity to debate these issues.

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy has made his point. Unfortunately, there has been no communication from the scheduled Whips meeting, where this was to be discussed, and I have received no instructions. Because of that, I must abide by the rules of the House and it was agreed that Second Stage should conclude within 30 minutes and 15 minutes have elapsed. The Minister was to have 15 minutes to conclude and it is not in my power to change that. I am obliged to call the Minister. I appreciate the Deputy's frus[853] trations, but that is what was agreed by the House.

Mr. Flanagan:  Send for the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

Mr. Naughten:  On a brief point of order, the Order of Business was agreed by all parties on the explicit understanding that the Taoiseach would ensure the Whips would meet and allow additional time for this debate. We are now told the Taoiseach has gone back on his word, which he gave this morning. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle witnessed this matter this morning. The issue should be clarified now.

Acting Chairman:  The overall agreement was that Report and Final Stages were to conclude at 7 p.m. if not previously concluded and that is all that was agreed. I cannot digress from that.

Mr. Higgins:  (Mayo): On a point of order, I know the Chair cannot digress, but there has been a breach of faith. This matter was raised by the leaders of Fine Gael and the Labour Party, who pointed out that we are in a unique situation and that there would be considerable merit in having a separation between Second and Committee Stages of a redundant Bill. We are debating a Bill which was debated last June and July and not a tenet, syllable or sentiment of it has been retained. We are debating a Bill that is redundant.

Acting Chairman:  I will read the instruction on this, as I may have slightly misled the House. The agreement of the House this morning was that Report and Final Stages would be adjourned at 7 p.m. That does not necessarily mean they would be concluded at 7 p.m. It was agreed that Second Stage would conclude within 30 minutes following which Committee Stage would be taken and if it is not concluded by 7 p.m. it will be adjourned rather than concluded. The Taoiseach conceded that. That is the only instruction I have and because of that I must call the Minister to reply to Second Stage.

Mr. Naughten:  On a point of information, the Taoiseach said this debate would not cease at 7 p.m.

Acting Chairman:  That is what I said; the debate will be adjourned at 7 p.m.

Mr. Naughten:  As Second and Committee Stages are being guillotined, Members will have a restricted opportunity on Report Stage to debate legislation that we have only seen this morning. It is disgraceful that the Opposition is being gagged in the debate on this Bill. We are being forced to try to debate the Bill on Report Stage, but we will not get the opportunity to debate it when we come to deal with that Stage.

Acting Chairman:  The order is that Second [854] Stage is to conclude within 30 minutes, Committee Stage is to conclude within one hour and Report and Final Stages are open-ended.

Mr. Flanagan:  On a point of order—

Acting Chairman:  I hope this is a final point of order, Deputy.

Mr. Flanagan:  I beg the indulgence of the Acting Chairman, or that of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle who might come into the Chamber, to ask how in the name of God good practice and procedure can ordain that a Second Stage of a Bill can be dealt with at 4.30 p.m. and can be butchered by the Minister within five minutes by way of amendments that are to be circulated, the content of which we have not seen? Then we talk about the irrelevance of Parliament and wonder why the benches are not full of Deputies. This legislation left the House in July amid turmoil when Fianna Fáil backbenchers filled the plinth with their presence and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has brought it back into the House on a day when the same Fianna Fáil backbenchers are on the plinth about another matter. It is a disgrace to Parliament and to its procedures and privileges.

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy must conclude and I must proceed. I call the Minister to reply to Second Stage.

Mr. Flanagan:  It is a disgrace. Will the Minister to deliver the kiss of death to the Bill, perform its burial service or will he reply to the debate?

Acting Chairman:  Let the Minister proceed without interruption.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  I will reply to it first. I congratulate Deputies Naughten and Flanagan on their theatrics.

Mr. Naughten:  The Minister is not bad at that himself.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  I thank the Deputies who contributed to the debate. I want to make clear at this stage that I propose in Committee, with the agreement of the House, to confine the scope of the Bill so that its sole purpose will be to allow for the special opening of licensed premises and registered clubs on New Year's Eve for the celebration of the new millennium. That means I do not propose to proceed with the other sections dealing with the abolition of the Sunday afternoon closing and its effects on hotels and restaurants and special exemption orders. I have included those matters in the comprehensive and wide-ranging reform Bill that is being drafted at present and I will return to its details later.

The Bill as initiated in so far as the new millennium is concerned followed on a recommendation of the National Millennium Committee that there [855] should be a certain relaxation of opening hours on this special occasion and that it would facilitate everybody concerned, the public, licence holders and others, if there was a change in the law to meet the occasion.

Mr. Higgins:  (Mayo): On a point of order, given that we were not given the courtesy of being shown the amendments in advance, could we at least have a copy of the Minister's script because following his reply Committee Stage will be taken, when we will have to deal with the minutiae of a Bill we have not seen?

Acting Chairman:  Are copies of the script available for the Deputies?

Mr. O'Donoghue:  Arrangements will be made to circulate copies of it.

Mr. Flanagan:  Why must we ask for that?

Mr. O'Donoghue:  This is my reply to Second Stage.

Mr. Flanagan:  We are being shown a gross discourtesy by the Minister yet again.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  As the Deputy well knows, this is my reply to the Second Stage debate.

Mr. Flanagan:  It is the funeral ceremony and the Minister knows that.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  It is clear there have been mixed views on whether the opening hours should be such as to allow licensed premises to open all night. On that basis, the National Millennium Committee, with the agreement of the Government, is proposing instead that licensed premises and clubs registered under the Registration of Clubs Acts, should be permitted to remain open for the sale of intoxicating liquor from after normal closing of 11 o'clock on the evening of 31 December 1999 to 1.30 a.m. the following morning. The normal 30 minutes drinking-up time would apply to the special closing time arrangement. That means premises would be required to be closed at 2 o'clock in the morning. I would also like to make clear that premises would not be allowed to sell alcohol for consumption off the premises during the extended period. I think Deputies would agree there is merit in that approach.

The operation of the all-night arrangement would have been interesting in the light of criticism that is made from time to time that our licensing laws are too restrictive. On this occasion it has become clear that many people, for various reasons, have mixed views about such late opening on the night and it is reported there are some publicans who do not even intend to open. The new opening time being proposed will be reasonable in all the circumstances.

While some premises will not open at all on [856] this night, people will want to arrange celebratory parties in many different ways. In so far as licensed premises are concerned, there is everything to be said in favour of celebratory events being held in proper licensed premises and clubs where a degree of responsibility and control can be exercised. No licensed premises will be obliged to stay open. If a licensee wishes to close his or her premises altogether on that night, he or she is free to do so, and some have already chosen to do so. Individual premises, based on demand, or on the personal plans of the licensee, can decide the time that is appropriate to the circumstances and it will be a matter for licensees to come to appropriate arrangements with their respective staff in respect of the additional hours of opening, if they want to avail of them.

In so far as a commitment to substantial change in the licensing laws is concerned, following on the Government's approval the comprehensive Intoxicating Liquor (No. 2) Bill is in the process of being drafted. It is my intention to have the Bill published as soon as possible in the New Year and to have the measures enacted in time for next summer. I shall detail briefly some of the features provided for in that comprehensive measure as approved by the Government.

The wide-ranging Bill, as proposed, will amend the Licensing Acts, 1833 to 1997, and the Registration of Clubs Acts, 1904 to 1995.

Mr. Flanagan:  On a point of order, can the Acting Chairman advise under what precedent or Standing Order can a Minister when replying to a Second Stage debate outline measures for a new Bill that has not been published and has yet again been promised? That is what he said he would do for the remainder of his speech. What precedent is he drawing from to do that?

Acting Chairman:  I am not sure if there is a precedent on that. I will come back to the Deputy on that. He must allow the Minister to conclude his reply.

Mr. Flanagan:  It is totally without precedent that the pallbearers are coming in to take out the Bill and bury it.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  Will the Deputy allow people to be enlightened as to what is in the proposed legislation following on from this legislation rather than adopt such a restrictive approach?

Mr. Flanagan:  The Minister cannot do that in a reply to a Second Stage debate. This is extraordinary.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  That new Bill will provide for the significant extension of licensing hours, wide-ranging changes in the licensing system and will considerably strengthen the law on under age drinking.

Some of the principal features of the new Bill will be the abolition of the distinction that cur[857] rently exists as between summer and winter trading; closing time on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays will be extended to 12.30 a.m.; and on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, closing time through the year will be 11.30 p.m. While a change is not proposed for Sunday night closing, trading hours on that day are being extended by the abolition of the 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. closing. The proposed extended hours will also apply to registered clubs. There will be not be a change to licensing hours for Christmas Day and Good Friday.

The Bill will remove the restriction on the granting of a special exemption for any time on a Sunday, that is, after midnight on Saturday night and after normal closing time on a Sunday evening. It retains the restriction on special exemptions for Monday morning beyond 1 a.m. except on a Monday morning after New Year's Eve and the obligation to provide a meal as part of the condition for the grant of a special exemption will also be removed.

The Bill will rationalise the manner in which a license may be acquired for a premises never before licensed. This will be achieved by a uniform treatment of the application for a new licence between rural and urban areas. Essentially, under the new Bill a new licence may be issued anywhere in the State in substitution for one existing licence where the Circuit Court is satisfied as to the fitness of the applicant, the fitness or convenience of the new premises and by reference to the adequacy of the existing number of licensed premises in the vicinity of the proposed new premises. I expect that the removal of restrictions on entry to the licensed trade will create a significant number of new licensed premises in areas of greatest need.

I will continue a fullscale assault on the scourge of underage drinking. In April of this year I introduced regulations providing for a voluntary national age card scheme. The national scheme operated by the Garda Síochána can be used to confirm that a person has attained the legal age for the purchase of intoxicating liquor.

The new Bill will strengthen the provisions regarding the supply or sale of intoxicating liquor to underage persons in a number of ways. It will remove the reasonable grounds defence in any proceedings against a licensee for an offence relating to sale or supply of liquor to underage persons. Provision will be made for the temporary closure of licensed premises by the courts on conviction of an offence relating to underage persons and fines generally will be substantially increased.

I also intend to establish a commission on licensing. Included in the commission's remit will be to review the scope for a system of additional licences and to examine other aspects of the licensing systems, such as licences for theatres and places of public entertainment, the licensing of residential accommodation which does not come under the definition of an hotel, interpretative centres and other places where the sale of alcohol is ancillary to the main business carried [858] out. The details of the terms of reference of the commission will be a matter for final determination in the light of discussion with relevant interests. I expect to be in a position to announce further details on the commission in the near future.

As well as taking into account the laudatory work of the Oireachtas sub-committee on the licensing laws, of which Deputy Flanagan was chairman, in preparation of the larger Bill, I am also taking into account the work of the Competition Authority. I have, as part of the consultation process, taken on board many of the submissions my Department received in response to the work of the Oireachtas sub-committee and the Competition Authority. I look forward to debating that Bill in the House in the new year.

Deputies made various contributions to the debate on the Bill some time ago.

Mr. Flanagan:  They were made on the plinth.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  In the intervening period developments, such as the Government's approval of the drafting of comprehensive and wide-ranging reform of the licensing laws and the changed nature of the present Bill, have overtaken those comments. I am not being disrespectful to Deputies by not responding to them in detail. I thank Deputies for their contributions to the debate and I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Flanagan:  That is a gross disservice to the parliamentary process.

Ms O'Sullivan:  On a point of order, I thought Ministers responded to the various points made by Deputies on Second Stage. Only one sentence referred to our comments and there was no reference to the points we made in our contributions in the summer and today.

Mr. Flanagan:  The Minister has treated the House with contempt.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  I would be delighted to respond were it not for the fact that Deputies Flanagan, Jim Higgins and Naughten took up a considerable amount of my time with contributions which were both negative and illusory.

Acting Chairman:  I allowed additional time for that.

Mr. Flanagan:  I ask you, Acting Chairman, to ring the funeral bell and we will bring in the pallbearers.

Acting Chairman:  The Minister has approximately five minutes to reply to the comments made by Deputies, if he so wishes.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  I take it you, Acting Chairman, are not calling time.

Acting Chairman:  No.

[859]Mr. O'Donoghue:  Deputy Jim Higgins accused me of failing to deliver on the comprehensive reorganisation of our liquor laws. It must be within the comprehension of the Deputy that this short Bill, even as originally proposed last June, was not intended to be such. I restate my unequivocal determination to introduce wide-ranging changes to the licensing laws, which will go far beyond the measures proposed by Deputy Jim Higgins or other Deputies in their comments on the Bill, the changes they proposed in Government or anything they implemented.

It is worth noting that the Deputy referred to the report of the Oireachtas joint committee and accused me of ignoring the recommendations therein. However, he also ignores a core recommendation of the committee in the area of permitted hours, that closing times on Sundays to Wednesdays should be 11.30 p.m. and closing times on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays should be 12.30 a.m. Instead, the Deputy seeks to accommodate the interests of one group. He fails to recognise, for example, that changes made to the trading hours of pubs should lead logically to similar changes to the trading hours of registered clubs and licensed restaurants.

The Deputy's concept of balance and mine are different. Is there a balance where what one group in the licensing trade, for example, advocates as essential is regarded by other sectors of the trade as an unjust attack on their ability to make a living and vice versa? The difficulty is that for every view put forward in this area there is, in many cases, a contrary view. Public debate on the issues is not only complex but extremely sensitive. It is that complexity and sensitivity which does not permit simple solutions.

Mr. Flanagan:  That is all the more reason parliamentarians should be given an opportunity to participate in a debate on the issue.

Acting Chairman:  The Minister, without interruption.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  Deputy O'Sullivan referred to the need to provide for worker protection. I [860] am not convinced that the Bill or any Intoxicating Liquor Bill is the appropriate place for such a provision. The concerns expressed by the Deputy are adequately covered in existing industrial relations and employment rights legislation, sponsored by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The Industrial Relations Act, 1990, establishes machinery to facilitate and conciliate in the resolution of disputes arising between employers and employees in line with our voluntarist tradition of collective bargaining. Minimum employment rights are established under various statutes dealing with holidays, payment of wages, working time and other conditions of employment. The statute which establishes the rights in each case also provides a remedy for an employee whose statutory entitlements may have been denied or infringed.

The Deputy also raised the question of providing for a widening of the circumstances under which a licence can be given to sell intoxicating liquor. I do not regard this as an issue appropriate to the Bill. I intend to develop that in the context of my wider reaching proposals. The Government has agreed to the establishment of a commission on licensing. One of the core areas for consideration by the commission will be an examination of the scope which exists for a system of additional licences and, specifically, to examine aspects of the licensing system, such as licences for places where the sale of alcohol is ancillary to the main business carried out. The position of interpretative centres will be included in such an examination.

Deputy Crawford referred to unacceptable scenes in Clones at the beginning of the summer when a large number of people congregated in a relatively small area, having had their fill of drink. My proposal will have the effect of avoiding such flashpoints where large numbers of people congregate in a limited number of outlets. There will be public order considerations to be taken into account and the Garda Commissioner has assured me he is conscious of the additional demands likely to be placed on the force on this occasion.

Question put.

Ahern, Dermot.
Ahern, Michael.
Ahern, Noel.
Andrews, David.
Ardagh, Seán.
Aylward, Liam.
Blaney, Harry.
Brady, Johnny.
Brady, Martin.
Brennan, Matt.
Brennan, Séamus.
Briscoe, Ben.
Browne, John (Wexford).
Byrne, Hugh.
Carey, Pat.
Collins, Michael.
Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
Coughlan, Mary.
Cowen, Brian.
Daly, Brendan.
Davern, Noel.
de Valera, Síle.
Dempsey, Noel.
Dennehy, John.
Doherty, Seán.
Ellis, John.
Fleming, Seán.
Flood, Chris.
Foley, Denis.
Gildea, Thomas.
Hanafin, Mary.
Harney, Mary. [861] Tá–continued
Haughey, Seán.
Healy-Rae, Jackie.
Jacob, Joe.
Keaveney, Cecilia.
Kelleher, Billy.
Kenneally, Brendan.
Killeen, Tony.
Kirk, Séamus.
Kitt, Michael.
Kitt, Tom.
Lenihan, Brian.
Lenihan, Conor.
McCreevy, Charlie.
McDaid, James.
McGennis, Marian.
McGuinness, John.
Martin, Micheál.
Moffatt, Thomas.
Molloy, Robert.
Moloney, John.
Moynihan, Donal.
Moynihan, Michael.
[862] Ó Cuív, Éamon.
O'Dea, Willie.
O'Donnell, Liz.
O'Donoghue, John.
O'Flynn, Noel.
O'Keeffe, Batt.
O'Keeffe, Ned.
O'Kennedy, Michael.
O'Malley, Desmond.
O'Rourke, Mary.
Power, Seán.
Roche, Dick.
Ryan, Eoin.
Smith, Brendan.
Smith, Michael.
Treacy, Noel.
Wade, Eddie.
Wallace, Dan.
Wallace, Mary.
Walsh, Joe.
Woods, Michael.
Wright, G. V.

Níl

Allen, Bernard.
Barnes, Monica.
Barrett, Seán.
Bell, Michael.
Belton, Louis.
Boylan, Andrew.
Bradford, Paul.
Broughan, Thomas.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, John.
Bruton, Richard.
Burke, Liam.
Burke, Ulick.
Carey, Donal.
Clune, Deirdre.
Connaughton, Paul.
Cosgrave, Michael.
Coveney, Simon.
Crawford, Seymour.
Creed, Michael.
D'Arcy, Michael.
Deasy, Austin.
Deenihan, Jimmy.
Dukes, Alan.
Durkan, Bernard.
Ferris, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Frances.
Flanagan, Charles.
Gormley, John.
Higgins, Jim.
Higgins, Michael.
Kenny, Enda.
McCormack, Pádraic.
McDowell, Derek.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
McGrath, Paul.
McManus, Liz.
Mitchell, Gay.
Mitchell, Jim.
Naughten, Denis.
Neville, Dan.
Noonan, Michael.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
O'Shea, Brian.
O'Sullivan, Jan.
Perry, John.
Quinn, Ruairí.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Ring, Michael.
Sargent, Trevor.
Shatter, Alan.
Sheehan, Patrick.
Shortall, Róisín.
Stagg, Emmet.
Stanton, David.
Timmins, Billy.
Upton, Mary.
Wall, Jack.
Yates, Ivan.

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

Question declared carried.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Committee Stage is to conclude within one hour if not previously concluded.

Question proposed: “That section 1 be deleted.”

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  As the Bill is now only intended to provide for the millennium and as sections 2 to 6, which deal with permitted hours and special exemptions, are proposed for deletion, this section is no longer required, consequently I propose that it be deleted.

Ms O'Sullivan:  I did not take any intoxicating liquor today, but given the state my brain is in I might be excused for thinking I may have. This Bill was published last summer when the debate on Second Stage commenced, and it concluded today. The Minister now proposes to delete practically the entire content of the Bill and we will be left with a small section dealing with the millennium and the amount of time we will be allowed to drink during the evening of the millennium.

It is impossible to understand the present position. Surely there has been plenty of time [863] between last summer and now to introduce the various other wide-ranging issues the Minister says he intends to address in the next session. My late colleague, Pat Upton, published a Bill which dealt with a number of the issues we hoped to address on the question of reforming the laws on intoxicating liquor. None of us would deny the need for a wide-ranging review of the laws, but it is most unsatisfactory that we are deleting large sections of a Bill that was published in the summer without addressing any of the issues that have been subject to debate in the meantime. We are simply introducing a small measure to deal with the millennium.

It is highly unsatisfactory for Members of this House and for those involved in the trade to deal with this issue in a piecemeal and unorthodox manner. I wish to express the dissatisfaction of the Labour Party with the way in which the issue has been dealt with. As Opposition Deputies, we put our minds to this Bill in its original draft, took on board what the Minister proposed during the summer, submitted amendments and attempted to get our viewpoint across. We held discussions with various people involved in the industry, including those who represent people working in it. Yet, today we will only be able to deal with a very small aspect. It is unsatisfactory and is not the way to do business.

I object to the fact that we are being asked to rubber-stamp a series of deletions from a Bill that has already been published and we will not have the opportunity to deal with the amendments we submitted. I see no point in moving the amendments in my name because they relate to a Bill that is effectively not before us. For example, the Minister referred to heritage centres, which is the subject of an amendment in my name. However, it will make no sense for me to propose it because it will apply to a Bill which will contain only one small section.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We will deal with that amendment when we come to it.

Ms O'Sullivan:  I reiterate our objection to the way this issue has been dealt with. It is very unsatisfactory. It is unfair to us as Opposition Deputies and to the public.

Mr. Naughten:  I endorse the views expressed by Deputy O'Sullivan. The Minister knows we are engaged in a sham. When it was originally published the legislation met an outcry from publicans, and the Minister ran scared and abandoned the legislation. He then decided to resurrect the Bill to deal with the millennium and in so doing he proposes to delete six of the eight sections and dramatically amend the other two sections. I hope this is not as big a disaster as the millennium candles.

This sham illustrates the Minster's gross incompetence. Second Stage was guillotined and Committee Stage will also be guillotined. The Minister [864] is attempting to gag the Opposition. Why did he not take this opportunity to introduce more comprehensive legislation? He had six to eight months to amend the Bill or introduce a new one which could have included provisions for the millennium. Publicans will lose out, but consumers will be the big losers.

I am disappointed with the Minster's attitude to reform of the intoxicating liquor laws and with his gross discourtesy to Members of the House. It does not surprise me, but I am disappointed he did not give us the opportunity to fully debate the issues which arise from the Bill. There are a number of sections on which my colleagues and I will comment when we come to them. We give notice now that we believe this Bill is a disgrace and will be known as the one night stand Bill. It is concerned only with the millennium night. It is disappointing that the Minister did not use the opportunity to amend the legislation radically.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I have allowed an amount of latitude to Deputy O'Sullivan and Deputy Naughten. We are now discussing section 1 and I do not wish to have a general debate. I have allowed a Member of the Fine Gael and Labour Parties to make the points they wished and perhaps I should not have done that. I ask Deputy Higgins to confine his remarks to section 1.

Mr. Higgins:   (Mayo): I appreciate that ruling, Sir. However, on a point of information, the Minister telephoned me last week to ask for co-operation and he agreed that as there would be no Second Stage debate – Second Stage was obsolete and referred to a Bill that is now redundant and has been sidelined on Second Stage – and as we are now beginning the process of dismantling, we could debate, in a short and general way, the reason for the Minister's embarking on this most unusual step. I will take no more than two minutes.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I will allow two minutes. I remind Deputies that there is one hour allocated and there are a number of amendments. If Deputies wish to speak to their amendments I advise that not too much time be spent on this stage of the discussion unless it is relevant to what is before us.

Mr. Higgins:   (Mayo): I agree that it is important to discuss amendments. It is farcical that last December the Minister published a Bill, sent the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, into the House to debate it on Second Stage and proposed four changes, three of which were excellent. He proposed that the holy hour be abolished, which was a long sought measure, that disco licences be regularised and that hotels and restaurants be permitted to serve intoxicating liquor with meals between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Sundays without the exemption which had been previously required. The fourth proposal, which was the [865] most unsought and controversial, was to allow licensed premises to stay open all night on next new year's eve. This would have been a 36 hour orgy of drink for which there was neither public nor publican demand. Because of a revolt by Fianna Fáil backbenchers led by Deputy Healy-Rea this was reversed, the Bill was grounded and now appears in its reincarnated form. I have never seen anything like this before.

In the House we have sought clarification as to what would happen to the existing Bill which was on Second Stage and had been run aground, and what was being done to deal with the millennium situation because there was much public disquiet about the 36 hour drinking orgy. On the Order of Business on 6 October, the Taoiseach replied to my question on this and another matter: “There are no proposals on that matter [the separate matter], however, in relation to the Intoxicating Liquor Bill, No. 2, this is going to be published shortly”. The Taoiseach subsequently confirmed in the House that we were talking about a new, short, crisp Bill which would deal with this issue only and would bring into effect the 1.30 to 2 o'clock opening on new year's eve. We have seen a ridiculous charade. Such a situation has never before been seen and it is simply designed to save the Minister's face.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We are dealing with section 1. The proposal is that it be deleted. Because of the short time available, some Members were allowed some latitude, although they should not have been, and went outside the scope of what we are discussing. We are discussing section 1 and I will not allow any general debate on the Bill itself at this stage.

Mr. Shatter:  Section 1 is concerned with the deletion by the Minister of references to the Intoxicating Liquor Acts, 1927 and 1988. The Minister's proposal is made so that other provisions contained in the Bill as originally published will be rendered inoperable.

I begin by making two declarations. First, from time to time in my capacity as a lawyer, I have been consulted by the Vintners Federation of Ireland for legal advice on issues relating to the intoxicating liquor legislation. I say this in case anyone wishes to allege at some future date that I represent the views of a vested interest. Second, I enjoy having a drink and going into a public house and spending a reasonable time there. I expect this is a declaration of interest that every Member could make, bar one or two who are more abstemious than myself and some of my colleagues and perhaps the Minister as well.

The amendment the Minister proposes goes to the fundamental core of the legislation he presented, that was legislation to extend opening hours and provide something resembling a modern and common sense legislative framework to deal with issues relating to pub opening hours. In this regard, I come from a position at variance with the Minister. My view, with which the vint[866] ners association does not agree, is that we should have no legislation concerning opening hours beyond ensuring that public houses are closed on a couple of days of the year when it is inappropriate that they be open. My general view is to let them open when they wish and let the market determine opening and closing hours as it does with restaurants and a variety of other service and retail outlets. That is not a view which commends itself to the Minister nor one that is propagated by the Fine Gael Party at present, although I believe it is a view that, in years to come, will be seen as the correct approach. It is the approach adopted in European Union countries.

By the amendment he proposes, which is to delete what is effectively the definition section of the Bill, the Minister is turning the legislative process into a total farce. In doing so he is seeking to ensure that future sections of this Bill cannot operate in the context of amending and extending opening hours to later times than those provided for under current legislation. I believe the vast majority of residents and tourists find it inexplicable that at 11 o'clock on winter evenings, pubs must announce that last drinks are being served and must close within the 30 minutes drinking up time. This makes no sense, it is detrimental to the tourist industry and young adults regard it as a throwback to the bygone era of the 1920s and 1930s when the local parish priest used descend on the public house to take the names of those who were frequenting it so that appropriate comment might be made at Sunday Mass about the evils of alcohol and direct it to the appropriate parishioners. It is a throwback to an age we have long since grown out of and the approach of the Department which is to tinker with outdated, anachronistic and irrelevant legislation deserves no credibility.

The final nail in the coffin of the Department's and the Minister's credibility and capacity to address this issue is the fact that, having published the Bill on 21 June 1999 and given it a gestation period of six months, the Minister now comes to the House to emasculate the measure, delete most of its substance and leave us with a provision to deal with the dawn of the new millennium. The amendments tabled by the Minister relate to the millennium holiday. That may be desirable. The original Bill envisaged public houses being open for 36 hours and not closing as we enter the millennium. My view on that would have been, so what? Publicans should be able to make their own judgments and determine, within that latitude, how long they will open for and when they will close. Apparently, however, the view is that if publicans are allowed to open, it is compulsory that they do so. There is opposition to this proposal and the Minister is now changing it.

There was nothing wrong, in principle, with the Minister hearing representations on his millennium proposal and seeking to amend it on Committee or Report Stages in the Dáil. However, to propose to delete the substance of the Bill and [867] simply provide for a millennium measure is such a politically crass and odd exercise that it deserves to be highlighted. It is most unfortunate that the Minister, after two and a half years in office, appears to be incapable of reaching a conclusion as to what reforming legislation should be enacted in this area. It has been indicated that he has a view on the more basic reforms required and on what he now favours. If that—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy is moving away from the section being discussed.

Mr. Shatter:  —is the case, instead of proposing the deletion of this definition section and excluding from the Bill substantial reform and amendment of the 1927 and 1988 Acts, the Minister could have drafted the amendments necessary to enact the Bill as a reforming measure. It is most unfortunate he is not doing that. It indicates a lack of competence on the Minister's part in the context of an issue which should not be the most important and confusing within the broad range of the brief for which he is responsible.

The Minister's proposal deserves to be opposed not just because of the substance of the amendments he is proposing, particularly the amendment of section 1 which is the foundation stone of the other deletions he wishes to make, but also because he is turning the legislative procedures of this House into a farce. Over the years I have introduced approximately 17 Private Members' Bills in the Dáil, some of which were ultimately enacted. I clearly recall Government Ministers criticising Private Members' Bills because something was not drafted correctly or because some aspect of the Bill might require amendment on Committee or Report Stages.

Here we have the extraordinary spectacle of a Minister who published a Bill containing nothing more dramatic than eight sections effectively obliterating the original Bill and seeking, in so far as any portion of it is retained, to amend that as well. Not a single section or subsection will survive the Minister's cutting. It will just about retain its Title and the long definition and, perhaps, we should not retain the latter. This Bill should be called the Year 2000 Drinking Extension (Intoxicating Liquor) Bill, 1999, because that is the extent of its application.

The Minister has failed the vast number of adults who look to this House to put in place a modern statutory framework to deal with our drinking laws and their application to both public houses and sports clubs. What he offers is a measure which could have been published and enacted over approximately ten or 15 minutes if it had been properly thought out. The debate we are having today, which has been delayed for six months since the publication of the Bill, should have introduced modern legislation to bring common sense to bear on the oddity of the 1927 and 1988 Acts. Sadly, that will not happen.

[868]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Does Deputy Belton wish to contribute on this section which is very narrow?

Mr. Belton:  It is a narrow section because it is a narrow Bill. It is seldom one gets the opportunity to speak on a Bill that is not a Bill. It is a phantom Bill. The Minister opted out six months ago.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There is only one hour for Committee Stage.

Mr. Belton:  I know but I will not take an hour.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Yes but the Deputy should not discuss points that are not relevant to section 1. The amendment seeks to delete section 1 of the Bill and the Deputy should speak to that amendment.

Mr. Belton:  What I have to say is brief. The Minister might not be aware of it but independent councillors in certain parts of the country claim that he buckled under the Independent Deputies. That is the type of thing we have to listen to with regard to a most important issue. Why could the Minister not introduce a measure to permit opening all day Sunday? It is astounding that a Minister who speaks about changing the licensing laws could not, at least, do that. He has a major problem with pubs and clubs and we know it; he had it previously. However, he could not introduce a measure today to permit all day drinking on Sunday even though it will be possible to drink Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. That is unbelievable.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  It is important that I put this in context. This legislation was published following calls from various sectors, not least in the House, for something to be done in respect of the hours between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Sunday and in respect of Saturday night exemptions. This was intended to assist the summer tourism season. It was also proposed by the national millennium committee that I introduce all night opening on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. I was open to making such changes so I published the legislation.

On the week the legislation was criticised I was involved in the talks in Hillsborough and spent the week there. It was not possible for me to leave Hillsborough, to return to answer criticism of the legislation in the Dáil and to explain that we were working on more comprehensive legislation. I had to stay in Hillsborough. I have the odd feeling that, had I returned to discuss minor legislation dealing with alcohol, I would have come under assault from some of the people who attack me now. I might be wrong and if that is the case then my suspicions are poorly founded. That said, it will be clear what happened subsequently. The Dáil went into recess and it was not possible for me to explain the situation. In those circumstances, the Bill stayed on the Stat[869] ute Book so that it would become a vehicle for the changes for the millennium.

The two proposals in the legislation relating to opening hours between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Sundays and the issue of special exemptions for Saturday night into Sunday morning will be included in the draft legislation which is to come before the House and which will deal comprehensively with the licensing hours and other issues, including the provision of additional licences. The legislation which will come before the House in this respect in the new year is the most comprehensive legislation in the liquor licensing area since 1960-1. Deputies opposite may criticise me in respect of the vehicles which have been used for this purpose and, perhaps unfairly, for the fact that I was obliged to be absent from the House. However, I am sure they cannot and will not criticise me for the changes I am about to introduce.

If I wanted to save face, as Deputy Jim Higgins suggested, it would have been very simple in that all I had to do was forget about the legislation. However, I did not want to do that because the National Millennium Committee returned to me saying that, on reflection and having examined the matter, it now proposed that the hours be extended until 1.30 a.m. on the eve and into the morning of the millennium. The reason advanced was that a considerable number of publicans had intimated that not only did they not want to be open all night on the millennium but that they would be closing early in the evening. It would not have made sense for me to proceed against the legitimate wishes of those involved in the trade.

I find it difficult to understand why Members should criticise members of a parliamentary party, be they Ministers or backbenchers, for having views on legislation which were expressed legitimately in their party rooms. I thought this was what was meant by democracy. If those opinions are the expression of the will of my party, then, as I am not a dictator nor am I in a position to be one, I am happy to accept them. As it happens, none of the provisions of the legislation other than the provision to introduce all night opening hours for the millennium are being abandoned. The provisions dealing with Sunday afternoon opening and the matter of special exemptions on a Saturday night into Sunday morning are contained in the new legislation.

Perhaps Members opposite forget what season we are in – we are not facing into the summer season, as we were when the legislation was first proposed. However, we will be facing into the summer season in April and May of next year, by which time I hope to have the comprehensive legislation on the Statute Book. In that respect, it is incorrect and disingenuous of anyone to suggest, as Deputy Higgins suggested, that an individual Deputy led a charge on the legislation. That does not stand up, is incorrect and is being said for mischievous purposes. I understand why that would be done.

It may be true that the legislation and its [870] amendments may have had an elephantine gestation period. However, following considerable consultation, the finished product seems to be what people want. They also want the vast majority of the measures contained in the original Bill, but that is now being included in the more comprehensive measure because that makes sense. It is the logical thing to do, but there are times – who would know better than me – when logic may not be the best way to approach a matter in the House. With regard to our being incapable of reaching a conclusion or having exhibited some degree of incompetence on this matter, I strongly disagree with that for the reasons I have outlined.

Amending the licensing laws may have taken two and a half years and it will probably take longer before the new legislation is before the House, but it is a complex issue. I have had innumerable meetings with representatives of the trade and various groups in Dublin and throughout the country in that time. I am especially pleased that, when the comprehensive proposals were published, they received a broad welcome across a major spectrum of society. I challenge anyone to prove me wrong when I say that this is a considerable achievement given the number of factors which had to be balanced and the complexity of the laws. There are as many views about the time a pub should close as there are varieties of drinks, and there are as many views on whether public houses should open for 24 hours a day as there are minutes in the day. That is the truth. My difficulty has been and is to ensure that I achieve the correct balance. If anyone on the Opposition benches was of the opinion that I would be stampeded into making an error in a matter of this seriousness and complexity, I am sorry to have disappointed them. They may now continue with their criticism.

Mr. Shatter:  The Minister ranged far and wide. The new proposals he had in this area could and should have been incorporated in this measure for no reason other than we know how long it takes for proposals, especially those from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to translate into a Bill which finds its way into the House. I would be pleased to be proved wrong and if this is an incentive for the Minister to do so I welcome it. I would be astonished if the comprehensive Bill which the Minister informs us he has were enacted before the Dáil rises for the summer vacation. I would welcome it if the Minister proved me wrong and I invite him to do so. I referred to the gestation period of this measure which was published in June and is now being emasculated in December. We could best describe the Bill as a phantom legislative pregnancy.

Question put and declared carried.

[871] NEW SECTION.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Amendment No. 1 is outside the scope of the Bill and is therefore out of order.

Ms O'Sullivan:  Surely it was within the scope of the Bill as originally published. It may be outside the scope of the Bill which will result from today's debate.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Amendment No. 1 provides that heritage centres become a special category of licence holder. It must be ruled out as it is not relevant to the provisions of the Bill as read a Second Time.

Ms O'Sullivan:  The Minister intends including it in his proposals and to address the issue of heritage centres.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  It is not relevant to the provisions of the Bill as it was read a Second Time.

Ms O'Sullivan:  It seems the Minister can pick and choose what is relevant. We should deal with the liquor laws in as broad a manner as we wish.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Amendment No. 2 is in the names of Deputies Flanagan and Jim Higgins. Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 are alternatives and amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 4 may be discussed together by agreement.

Amendment No. 1 not moved.

Mr. Higgins:  (Mayo): I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, before section 2, to insert the following new section:

“2.–Section 2(1) of the Act of 1927 (as substituted by section 25 of the Act of 1988 and as amended by section 2 of the Act of 1995) is hereby amended by the deletion of the words from 'licensed premises—' to the end of the subsection and the substitution therefor of the words 'licensed premises during the period between 12.30 a.m. and 10.30 a.m. on any day, the period between 11.30 p.m. on 24 December, and 10.30 a.m. on 26 December, and the period between 11.30 p.m. on the day before Good Friday and 10.30 a.m. on the day after Good Friday'.”.

The amendment seeks to broaden the scope of the Bill in a number of respects to meet largely what the Minister was seeking to do in his now emasculated Bill which has been aborted in the House and which is in the process of being dismantled. The amendment introduces a situation whereby the holy hour, a misnomer as it is two hours on a Sunday from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m., would go by the wayside. As Deputy Belton said, such a move is long overdue. The holy hour has outlived its usefulness. It had a specific purpose, as [872] had closing during an ordinary week day allegedly to ensure civil servants went back to work after lunch. Its removal would also meet the requirements of tourism.

The amendment would eliminate the farcical situation whereby a nightclub that remains open after midnight on Saturday is effectively breaking the law, thereby addressing something owners of clubs and nightclubs have been calling for for some time. The Garda are expected to turn a blind eye and in the interests of public order effectively do so. However, each club is breaking the law.

Third, the amendment extends the opening hours for pubs throughout the year. As has been said, it is ridiculous that a bus load of tourists, which stops at a pub at 11.30 p.m. on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday night, are only in the door when last orders are called, with glasses having to be gathered and lights out by midnight. That is absolutely ridiculous in this day and age. We are seeking to introduce a little flexibility at the end of the night with opening until 12.30 a.m. all year round and an additional half hour for extended drinking up time.

Finally, while we are extending opening until 12.30 a.m. all year round, there are two days on which this will not apply, namely, Christmas Eve, when we will revert to 11.30 p.m. with a half hour drinking up time to ensure people consuming alcohol will be off the premises by Christmas Day, and on Holy Thursday – in order to retain the sanctity of Good Friday we are proposing a closing time of 11.30 p.m. with half an hour drinking up time. This would retain the traditional closing of public houses on Good Friday.

By virtue of the fact that the Minister is going to introduce such provisions, I do not see why he cannot accept the amendment in the interests of harmony, to show that he has a little magnanimity, openness and receptiveness and is prepared to show a certain amount of flexibility towards enlightened measures proposed by the Opposition. I think he would make many people happy if he accepted the amendment.

Ms O'Sullivan:  The amendment in my name extends opening hours until 12.30 a.m. We have been putting forward this view for quite some time. It was included in the Bill published by the late Deputy Pat Upton. It is basically in line with the practice in many places where a blind eye is turned to the length of time people have to drink up. I know there are many variations around the country but it seems logical that 12.30 a.m. is a reasonable time with additional drinking up time. This provision should be for every day of the week. We are a relatively mature nation and I think we would be able to cope with such a provision.

I again wish to express disappointment that the Bill is not taking such issues on board and is so narrow in scope. It is of minute proportions and is of no great relevance in terms of the major issues we have been asked to deal with in terms [873] of intoxicating liquor legislation. I suggest that a time of 12.30 a.m. would meet with approval among the public, publicans and those working for them. I hope the Minister will at least take the principle on board even if he will not do anything about it in this Bill.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I share the exasperation of other speakers regarding the passage of the Bill. In my short tenure in the House I cannot recall a more incompetent performance on what is clearly very important legislation. Earlier this afternoon I voted against the proposal at the conclusion of Second Stage, not because I oppose the content of the Minister's even more contracted Bill, but because, as I stated in my contribution on Second Stage in June, the proposals do not go anywhere near far enough to meet the real needs in society regarding consumption and sale of intoxicating liquor.

I will treat the reduced content of the Bill with the disdain it deserves. The so-called millennium night binge, now to be accommodated, is the least important issue which needs to be addressed by the Minister. Towards the end of the coming year and in advance of the real new millennium, 2001, will the Minister provide for yet another long night? Indeed, why not make it an annual event and be done with it?

My amendment, like the others, seeks to address the key area of year round opening times for pubs and lounges, to assist a new maturity in Irish drinking habits and, very importantly, to keep those with drink, and those seeking more drink, away from the licensed entertainment venues, mainly catering for our youth. It seeks too, to cater to our indigenous and visiting tourists' markets, a very important and long identified area for redress. My amendment would involve the deletion of section 2 and its replacement with proposals that would have the net effect of allowing for the serving of alcoholic drink in licensed premises between the hours of 10.30 a.m. and 12.30 a.m. on each day of the week, excluding Sundays and St. Patrick's Day when opening hours would be between 12.30 p.m. and 12.30 a.m. I concur with earlier speakers on the special arrangements that should apply on Christmas Day and Good Friday.

Exasperation is the key word reflecting the views and sentiments of Members. Many months have passed since the Bill was first mooted and presented. We had the opportunity to present amendments and six further months have passed. Yet the substantive Bill, the real measure that needs to be discussed and adopted in the House, is not before us. I urge the Minister to take on board the very important points being put forward in the amendments. If it is our lot that these are not to be accepted and included in the Bill I hope they will be reflected in the substantive proposals that will come before us at the earliest opportunity in the New Year.

Mr. Belton:  The Minister said the issue of clos[874] ing time is an important one. On Sundays pubs should be allowed to remain open, without a break, from opening time until closing time. I do not know if the Minister played rugby but there is an old rugby song:

There are lots of pubs in Wales and they sell all kinds of ales

If you want a drink on Sunday you'll have to wait 'til Monday.

If someone wants a drink on Sunday afternoon they cannot get it until Sunday evening. It does not make sense. The statement issued by the Minister's press office stated he would extend closing hours on other nights of the week and possibly he will do so at some stage. However, I am asking him to consider pub openings on Sundays. The present position is a hang over from British rule. We should make our own laws as regards Sunday opening.

Mr. Naughten:  I support the amendment tabled in the names of Deputies Higgins and Flanagan. I give notice that we will resubmit sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8 for Report Stage. The amendment will ensure the abolition of the holy hour and introduce the Minister's proposals which he announced last October. The Minister does not have any reason to object to the amendment. He said he would introduce these proposals early in the new year. Why not do so now? The only reason he could object to the amendment is if he has no plans to bring in the proposals in the new year. I will be surprised if the legislation is introduced before next Christmas. We know how slow the Department is in dealing with even minuscule legislation.

This amendment would facilitate the tourism industry. Will the Minister's proposals be in place before next summer? Why rush legislation through? The Minister said it would be the most comprehensive legislation on intoxicating liquor. We must deal with it in detail and ensure there are no loopholes. Why not introduce these changes now? They would be of help not only to the tourism industry but to the Garda. Can the Minister envisage a group of German tourists on their way to Galway pulling up at a pub at 11.30 p.m. and the local garda trying to take their names? There is also the ludicrous position on Sunday afternoons. In my constituency many tourists use the River Shannon. Many of them visit the local villages and towns for Sunday lunch and would wish to have a drink afterwards. Some have lunch in the pubs. They are ushered out at 2 p.m. and told they cannot have any more drink, as if they were adolescents. In this day and age, in a mature society such as ours, there is no reason to have such restrictive licensing laws.

It would remove the current anomaly in regard to night clubs. I dealt with this at length on Second Stage. It would improve food hygiene if the anomalies were removed. If I or anyone of my age goes into a night club on a Saturday night we are breaking the law. I can go into a night club [875] on a Friday night and not break the law but if I do so on the most popular night of the week I break the law. This amendment will extend the closing hour to a more realistic time of 12.30 a.m. It makes sense and I know the Minister agrees with me. Why does the Minister not introduce it now and accept the amendment? If he does not do so there will be a guillotine on the new legislation and he will seek to have it before the summer, that is if he keeps to the timetable of publishing it early in the new year. Tourists who visit this country see this strange, outdated concept and it is time to change the system. The Minister has that opportunity now and I urge him to take it.

Mr. Collins:  I have listened to speakers from the Opposition and while I agree with some of what they said I disagree with the rest. I understand the Minister is to introduce a comprehensive Bill early in the new year.

Mr. Naughten:  Which new year?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Collins without interruption.

Mr. Collins:  I will let the Deputy judge that.

Mr. Naughten:  We have judged it.

Mr. Collins:  The Deputy is not a good judge if he cannot judge that.

Mr. Naughten:  The Deputy obviously does not know the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Mr. Collins:  The Deputy made a statement about the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I wish he would check his facts because the Department introduced more Bills this year than any other Department. I did not interrupt the Deputy when he spoke.

I understand the reason the Deputies want a 12.30 a.m. closing time on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I have an involvement in a licensed premises, lest anyone think I am pushing for late hours. The licensed vintners have not requested the hours the Deputies are requesting in their amendments. They are happy with the proposed hours in the Bill which will be a 12.30 a.m. closing time on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, with 30 minutes' drinking up time. Closing time on Sunday will remain the same all year round, while closing time on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will be 11.30 p.m., with 30 minutes' drinking up time. I am surprised by this amendment because the public, the publicans or the employees in the trade are not demanding it. I was surprised also to hear my colleague, Deputy O'Sullivan, call for a 12.30 a.m. closing time on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

Ms O'Sullivan:  We are here to represent—

[876]Mr. Collins:  She knows people do not drink much on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

Mr. Higgins:  (Mayo): What about the tourists?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Allow Deputy Collins to continue without interruption.

Ms O'Sullivan:  He is inciting us to interrupt.

Mr. Collins:  The tourists stay in hotels. They have no problem getting a drink.

Mr. Naughten:  What about Shannonbridge, County Offaly?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Naughten, please allow Deputy Collins to continue without interruption.

Mr. Collins:  The tourists do not demand late night drinking. The tourists I meet, and I have met more of them than anyone in this Chamber, are the first to go to bed. We have late night extensions in Limerick and on those nights, when the pubs are officially allowed to stay open, there would not be two people in the pub at 1 a.m. The people just drift away. On special occasions like the eve of the millennium—

Mr. Belton:  Or if Limerick won the All-Ireland.

Mr. Collins:  We would be like the other counties then, Deputy. We would have a bit of home rule. Deputies talk about the extensions for the eve of the millennium but many pubs will close early that night to accommodate staff and for other reasons.

Mr. Naughten:  They have a choice.

Mr. Collins:  We have a choice to stay open until 1.30 a.m. under the Minister's proposals, with 30 minutes' drinking up time. That is the choice Deputy Higgins spoke about earlier. We are giving the Deputies opposite the choice but Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights do not warrant a 12.30 a.m. closing time. Deputy Belton is nodding his head in agreement with me, and he is a man of the world too. Does a publican have to stay open at that hour of the morning with perhaps two or three customers on the premises? That is not fair.

Mr. Naughten:  No one is putting a gun to the publican's head.

Mr. Collins:  No one is putting a gun to anyone's head but a publican will find it very difficult to chuck out two or three customers.

Mr. Belton:  Some of them.

Mr. Collins:  In addition, they have to try to [877] cater for the staff and it is difficult to keep staff in the trade because of the unsociable hours. That is the real problem and anyone working in the trade will say that. I am not in favour of the Deputies' amendment in respect of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights but I agree with the proposal for Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Mr. Belton:  And Sunday. What about Sunday?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Minister has 30 seconds to reply.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 4 are being taken together. The net object of the amendments tabled by Deputies Flanagan, Higgins, O'Sullivan and Ó Caoláin is to seek to increase the opening hours of licensed premises to 12.30 a.m. on virtually all nights of the week all year round. They were never my proposals, [878] they are not the proposals of the trade and I do not believe they are the proposals of the public. They are the Deputies' own proposals.

Mr. Belton:  What about Sunday?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The time permitted for the proceedings on Third Stage having expired, I am required to put the following question in accordance with an Order of the Dáil this day: “That the amendments set down by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and not disposed of are hereby made to the Bill, and in respect of each of the sections undisposed of, other than sections 2 to 6, inclusive, that the section or, as appropriate, the section as amended is hereby agreed to and that the Title is hereby agreed to.”

Question put.

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

Níl

Barnes, Monica.
Barrett, Seán.
Bell, Michael.
Belton, Louis.
Boylan, Andrew.
Bradford, Paul.
Broughan, Thomas.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Bruton, John.
Bruton, Richard.
Burke, Liam.
Burke, Ulick.
Carey, Donal.
Clune, Deirdre.
Connaughton, Paul.
Cosgrave, Michael.
Coveney, Simon. Crawford, Seymour.[879]

Níl–continued

Creed, Michael.
Currie, Austin.
D'Arcy, Michael.
Deasy, Austin.
Deenihan, Jimmy.
Dukes, Alan.
Durkan, Bernard.
Enright, Thomas.
Farrelly, John.
Ferris, Michael.
Finucane, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Frances.
Flanagan, Charles.
Higgins, Jim.
Higgins, Joe.
Higgins, Michael.
Hogan, Philip.
Kenny, Enda.
McCormack, Pádraic.
McDowell, Derek.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
[880] McGrath, Paul.
Mitchell, Gay.
Mitchell, Jim.
Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
Naughten, Denis.
Neville, Dan.
Noonan, Michael.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
O'Shea, Brian.
O'Sullivan, Jan.
Perry, John.
Quinn, Ruairí.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Ring, Michael.
Shatter, Alan.
Sheehan, Patrick.
Shortall, Róisín.
Stagg, Emmet.
Stanton, David.
Timmins, Billy.
Upton, Mary.
Wall, Jack.
Yates, Ivan.

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

Question declared carried.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Amendment No. 1, in the names of Deputy Jim Higgins and Deputy Naughten, arises out of Committee proceedings.

Ms O'Sullivan:  On a point of order, I find it difficult to understand how we could have submitted amendments for Report Stage before the end of Committee Stage because that would have meant second guessing how the House would divide on the issues which arose on Committee Stage. I know Fianna Fáil backbenchers were orchestrated into going out to the plinth and—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We are dealing with the Intoxicating Liquor Bill, 1999.

Ms O'Sullivan:  —already this week, they have got a Minister to change his mind on legislation, notably, the Finance Bill.

Mr. Roche:  The Deputy must be jealous of the backbenchers and their success.

Ms O'Sullivan:  Is there an assumption that they would do the same here on Committee Stage? In other words, is there is an assumption that the Government benches will vote in a certain way so that we know what amendments we should submit on Report Stage? In other words, we second guess the decision of the House in relation to amendments on Committee Stage.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  This morning the House decided that all Stages of the Bill would be taken together. That was a decision of this House.

Ms O'Sullivan:  How is one supposed to submit amendments on Report Stage—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There is a long standing practice in this House that in order to facilitate the office, which would not be able to produce the amendments and circulate them if they were given to it after Committee Stage, that amendments are submitted before or during Committee Stage. If for any reason an amendment was accepted on Committee Stage, it could be withdrawn. That is the longstanding practice. There is no other way business can be done in accordance with the order made this morning that all Stages be taken together.

Ms O'Sullivan:  To demonstrate that this House is not a rubberstamp, perhaps we should look at that procedure again.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Standing Orders are a matter for the Members on how business is conducted. That is a longstanding practice.

Mr. Naughten:  I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:

1.—In this Act–

“the Act of 1927” means the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1927;

“the Act of 1988” means the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1988.”.

I find it difficult to move an amendment when we do not have it before us. Amendment No. 1 seeks to reinstate section 1, which was changed on Committee Stage. The reason we tabled this amendment is to reinstate the Bill other than section 7, which was a controversial element. In order to do so, we have to reinstate section 1. This will enable us to introduce this legislation. [881] There was one anomaly, that is, section 7, but we believe the other sections, which the Minister plans to introduce in the new year, should be introduced in this legislation. It is crucial that we get this matter out of the way and get proper legislation on intoxicating liquor through the House so that we may debate thoroughly the new intoxicating liquor Bill which will be introduced in the new year. I do not want to see what happened with the gun licensing legislation happen to this Bill. It was rammed through the House without Members having an opportunity to see it.

I echo the sentiments expressed by Deputy O'Sullivan on tabling Report Stage amendments. It is unfair on Members who have an interest in the Bill and who tabled amendments on Committee Stage if they do not have an opportunity to table amendments on Report Stage. I move this amendment to ensure that we can reinstate the other elements of the Bill which are welcome, with which the Minister agrees and which my colleagues and I believe should be introduced now to enable us to thoroughly go through the Bill next year without having to rush to introduce it before the change in hours.

Mr. Enright:  I strongly recommend that the Minister accept this amendment. I am amazed the Minister has deleted this section. It is ludicrous that pubs are prevented from opening between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Sundays. In the case of a recent match, a pub was closed by gardaí, as they were obliged to close it, with the result that people could not see the game. Many matches are televised and people cannot enter pubs to see them before 4 p.m., which makes a joke of the situation. Other matches conclude at 3 p.m. and people may want a drink afterwards. People going out for the afternoon enjoy refreshments and may want to avail of facilities in pubs also. During the summer families going to the seaside often visit bars. It would be grossly unfair and unwise of the Minister not to accept this amendment.

When I heard the initial announcement that pubs were to open all night on new year's eve I thought it was a joke or that someone in RTE had made a mistake. That measure proposed keeping pubs open for 22 hours. We are seeking to keep pubs open for two extra hours on Sunday. If the Minister wants the Bill to work and goodwill from all sides, including publicans, common sense demands the pubs be left open from 2 to 4 p.m.

Acting Chairman (Ms Coughlan):  Given the context of the amendment there may be a little meandering going on. Deputies should stick to the point if at all possible. Every Member here has the eloquence to do so.

Mr. Flanagan:  On the point, rather than on the pint, we are engaging in farce. The Minister is treating Parliament and the Legislature with total and utter contempt. The Taoiseach announced on the Order of Business a fortnight ago that a short [882] Bill entitled the Intoxicating Liquor (No. 2) Bill, 1999, would be introduced before the end of the year. This is the Bill. When the Minister brought it in I thought we were having a funeral service. The bell rang, people gathered for the wake and the Minister went to get snuff, but an hour later he is still here. There will be no drinking at this wake. It is high farce. No wonder this Parliament is deemed irrelevant in certain quarters when the Minister proposes Committee Stage amendments which seek to gut his own Bill. The Bill has already been gutted by Fianna Fáil backbenchers.

Acting Chairman:  This seems to have no relevance to amendment No. 1, which deals with definitions.

Mr. Flanagan:  It has the greatest relevance to the parliamentary farce the Minister engaged in this afternoon. He wants the House to give him a Committee and Report Stage reading to his satisfaction, and he should be ashamed of himself. It is a year and a half since the committee report was published, making 75 recommendations. Some were taken on board by the Minister earlier in the year, while half an hour ago some were removed from legislation. Although it was proposed by the Minister in June, he now tells us he is getting rid of it. He dissociated himself from his colleague, the Minister for candles, who told the country it could drink all night on the eve of the millennium. He decided he did not want that. The only reason we are debating this legislation is to facilitate the Minister with the millennium.

This is not the first time reform of intoxicating liquor legislation was introduced on the eve of Christmas. We did it in 1995 to facilitate the larger supermarkets, which wished to remain open to sell intoxicating liquor on Christmas eve. During that debate, the then Minister for Justice sowed the seed of the all-party committee when she said such a committee should engage in round table discussions on the best way to reform and consolidate our liquor licensing code. The current Minister was a member of that committee and made valuable contributions to it. Who has handcuffed him since he became Minister? Who has imprisoned him and thrown away the key?

Mr. Enright:  The sprinklers are still on.

Mr. Flanagan:  What is wrong? Why can somebody not deal with this? For the second time in ten years we are here on the eve of Christmas debating Mickey Mouse legislation that the Minister has emasculated before our eyes this afternoon in an act of unprecedented political sabotage. He should be ashamed of the way he has treated the House.

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy is not referring in any way to the amendment.

Mr. Flanagan:  I am. I am referring to amendment No. 1 and the 1988 Act.

[883]Acting Chairman:  Thank you. We are now back to the amendment.

Mr. Flanagan:  What does the 1999 legislation mean? It is a Mickey Mouse Bill with only one section and a promise from the Minister to come back in January with a new Bill, but we have heard it all before.

Ms O'Sullivan:  I support the amendments tabled by Fine Gael Members. I have already made a protest as to why I have not put down amendments. I used logic and decided to wait until after Committee Stage to see what happened before putting down Report Stage amendments, but obviously logic does not enter the equation at this point. Maybe it does not enter the debate at all.

In seeking to restore the definitions in the Minister's original Bill we are seeking to restore that Bill. We are trying to restore what was in the Minister's mind in June with improvements from the Opposition, which is the normal practice of legislation here and in other legislatures. We are trying to include what the Minister originally intended for the Bill, but now we are being asked to deal with the millennium and to ignore other aspects of the Intoxicating Liquor Acts, 1927 to 1988, though even the Minister and his colleagues admit these need amending. I know Deputy Collins speaks from experience when he indicates the need to amend these Acts, though we may not agree on how they should be amended.

All sides of the House have had plenty of time to consider the matter. We are trying to carry out the Minister's intentions from earlier in the year. It will be interesting to see the Bill when it is finished, as it will be tiny and inadequate, dealing with one night in a millennium. I support the amendments.

Mr. Higgins:  (Mayo): Amendment No. 1 deals with definitions. We seek to retain the existing section, which the Minister proposes to delete – it states that the Act of 1927 means the Intoxicating Liquor Act of 1927 and the Act of 1988 means the Intoxicating Liquor Act of 1988. These are the two key precedent Acts and our key amendment is based on them. That amendment seeks to do four things: to have pubs open to 12.30 a.m. all year round; to amend the law to abolish the holy hour; to regularise the disco situation; and to ensure that St. Patrick's Day, for example, will no longer be treated as a Sunday but as a weekday.

I propose that following the words “the Act of 1927”, which means the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1927, and before the words “the Act of 1988”, which means the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1988, the Minister should have inserted the words “the Act of 1962”, which means the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1962, because that Act is referred to in the Minister's amendment. The Minister has culled, deleted, dismantled and demolished the Bill. The only addition is the introduction of [884] amendment No. 6 in his name and amendment No. 8.

Regarding section 7, which relates to the time for the consumption of intoxicating liquor supplied during permitted hours, the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1962, as amended by section 27 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1988, shall apply to this section with effect from the end of the period of time referred to in subsection (1) of this section. Will the Minister examine whether the 1962 Act should be included as one of the defining Acts.

By attempting a shortcut, the Minister has not only done a disservice to the procedure of the House but to a body of well thought out amendments tabled not for vexatious reasons but to introduce sane regulations to broaden the scope of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, to provide reasonable flexibility at different ends of the spectrum and to introduce amendments which the Minister has broadly accepted in spirit.

I predict that the proposed closing times of 11.30 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 1 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays is a recipe for confusion. The proposed changes are guaranteed to cause confusion. The gardaí may forget to turn over the page of a calendar and arrive at a licensed premises on a Thursday night at a certain time. The tourist trade is all-year round and the fact that a licensed premises can stay open later at weekends does not suffice in terms of meeting the necessary demands that are being sought. I do not have much contact with the Licensed Vintners Association, the Dublin based organisation, but I have a good deal of contact with the Vintners Federation of Ireland, a largely rural-based organisation—

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy is straying from the amendment under discussion.

Mr. Higgins:  (Mayo): It is that time of year. The licensed trade down the country is supportive of the proposed extension of closing time, although if it were introduced it may not automatically extend the existing closing time but it should have the option to do so.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I was disappointed with the responses to the amendments proposed by Deputies Higgins, O'Sullivan and myself—

Mr. O'Donoghue:  I have not had the chance to reply to them yet.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  —during the earlier Stage from both the Minister and his colleague. They tended to take the view that we were representing a solo opinion on this issue and the Minister subsequently in a conversation with me made a point—

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy must refer to the amendment under discussion.

[885]Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I am also supportive of this amendment and I was a mover of a similar proposal on an earlier Stage. The Minister received directly a letter from the Vintners Federation of Ireland on 17 June and a further letter on 18 June with an accompanying text, a proposed amendment that is 100% reflected in the detail of the amendments proposed by Deputies Higgins, O'Sullivan and myself. I refute—

Acting Chairman:  We are dealing with amendment No. 1 which deals with definitions.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I beg the Chair's pardon. I will hold my position and return to it when we come to deal with amendment No. 2.

Mr. Naughten:  The Deputy should keep his powder dry.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It is an important point and I look forward to giving the Minister and Deputy Collins further insight into this correspondence which they will surely find on their respective desks.

Acting Chairman:  I call the Minister.

Mr. Flanagan:  Have Members heard the definition of a Kerryman – he is immobilised by indecision.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  There is little point in my repeating all of what I said earlier other than that it is clear that the two provisions that it is proposed to delete from this legislation will be included in the more comprehensive Bill – they will not be abandoned. I have made that clear a thousand times.

Regarding the issue of late night drinking on the millennium, the millennium committee originally proposed that it should be permitted all night and I was amenable to that. For practical reasons it then recommended that closing time should be extended to 1.30 a.m. and I was amenable to that, which shows, to use Deputy Higgins's words, that I am receptive, open, flexible and magnanimous.

Mr. Éamon de Valera once said, “The antagonisms of the young I can bear as having something generous about them, but the antagonisms of the old I cannot stand because they are ingrained in the marrow of the bone.” That is why I will address myself very briefly to Deputy Naughten.

Ms O'Sullivan:  It is just as well we are not debating the Equal Status Bill.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  Deputy Naughten should be antagonistic and he should fight his corner as best he can, but he should not predicate arguments on falsehoods, and of these he is guilty of two at least. He stated that the proposals in respect of the hours are my proposals. That is false. He stated that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform had a very poor record in the [886] production of legislation and that, too, is a falsehood. It may surprise him to learn that since late June 1997 when I took office as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform 24 Bills have passed through this House and the Seanad and they are on the Statute Book. It may surprise him to learn further that I currently have 11 Bills before the House and the Seanad and 28 Bills in the course of preparation. That is a record by any standards, but I am not talking about myself or my accountability as political head of the Department, I am speaking of the civil servants who have worked very hard since I became Minister in the Department and I am sure before that time. It is wrong that a young Deputy should make those kinds of allegations and they should not be countenanced. I advise the Deputy, for what it is worth, that from my experience as a Member of this House it is not worth his while behaving like that. It was important to say that.

Regarding the issue Deputy Ó Caoláin raised, I regret he does not hold me in the same esteem as many of his colleagues, but that is a matter for him. To be honest, it does not worry me because judging by his behaviour, it would be worth nothing anyway. He should know more than most why I was not in a position to be in this House to defend this legislation from criticism during the summer. I explained earlier that I was in Hillsborough all that week and that I could not be in two places at the one time. I explained that the provisions, which I propose to delete from this legislation, are not as relevant or pressing now for the simple reason that we are not entering the summer months – we are heading into the winter months. I explained it is my intention to include those proposals in the comprehensive legislation before the summer.

Mr. Flanagan:  That is an ill-informed decision.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  Reforming the intoxicating liquor law is not a simple matter for the simple reason that a balance must be achieved, and that balance is of considerable importance. It is wrong for anybody to suggest that the trade held a different view from that reflected in the proposals that will come before the House. I discussed the proposals with the trade. I cannot be responsible if the trade changes its mind. The proposals that will come before the House, as I outlined, have been the subject matter of a considerable amount of debate between myself and the trade.

Acting Chairman:  Every Member is straying from the point of the amendment before us. The Minister should refer to the amendment.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  Deputy Flanagan may consider this is Mickey Mouse legislation providing for the extension of opening hours to 1.30 a.m. on the night of the millennium. He may be perfectly correct, but the position is that this is an attempt to allow people to enjoy themselves, and the law [887] must be amended if they are to do so legally. It is as simple as that.

With regard to more comprehensive legislation, I have made the position clear. I will introduce comprehensive legislation, the first in more than 30 years. Deputy Flanagan's party was in Government for a considerable number of the intervening years, yet it did not introduce legislation in this area.

Mr. Flanagan:  The Minister should not play that old record again. He is in office now.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  The Deputy may regard this as high farce, but the people for whom I am legislating may not regard it as such and neither does the trade. He may regard it as high farce but the people for whom I am legislating and the trade do not regard it as high farce.

Mr. Flanagan:  The debate the Minister has initiated is high farce.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  As regards the holy hour, Deputy Belton said people would have to wait for a drink until Monday. That is high farce but the Deputy is entitled to say it. I recall the late Pat Upton saying that the reason the weekday holy hour was abolished in Dublin was to try to get civil servants back to work after lunch. One of the civil servants who was here with me that evening sent me a note stating that the reason was to get Deputies back to the Dáil after Question Time when the bar was still open.

Mr. Naughten:  I apologise to the Minister if I misled the House. I thought he was proposing to abolish the closing hour between two o'clock and four o'clock on Sundays. I thought it was his intention to get rid of the Saturday night anomaly. If I am wrong, I apologise unreservedly to the House but if I am right, I do not know what the Minister is talking about.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  The Deputy should not be so childish. He knows what he is talking about. That is childish behaviour.

Mr. Naughten:  If his Department is so efficient, why has it taken nine months for the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation to receive a response on the Prohibition of Ticket Touts Bill, 1998?

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy is straying from the amendment.

Mr. Naughten:  I am disappointed the Minister is not willing to accept the amendment which is his proposal. We have no difficulty with the legislation, apart from one section. Yet the Minister has decided to delete six of the eight sections and to dramatically amend the others in the legislation he proposed last June.

[888]Mr. Flanagan:  The Minister stated that as far as the millennium night is concerned—

Acting Chairman:  This definition does not refer to the millennium night but to the reintroduction of a definition which was previously deleted.

Mr. Flanagan:  The Minister said that was the basis of the Bill when he responded to the arguments put forward on this side of the House. The only enabling aspect of the legislation is an extra hour and a half on the eve of the millennium. Could the Minister confirm that those engaging in the consumption of intoxicating liquor on that night will not have to eat the leftover chicken or turkey from the Christmas festivities in order to have a drink within the law?

Mr. Higgins:  (Mayo): Should the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1962, be referred to in the definitions as it is one of the anchor pieces of legislation referred to in the Bill? It seems that the 1988 and 1962 Acts are relevant from the point of view of the descriptions or definitions in the Bill. As far as we are concerned, the 1927 Act is also relevant. It must be amended as we propose to do in amendment No. 2.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  There is no need to cite the 1962 Act in the definitions as it is cited in full in the subsection.

There is no obligation to provide food on the night of the millennium. The allowance is until 1.30 a.m. with a half an hour drinking up time. People would be expected to be off the premises by 2 a.m.

As regards the special exemptions, that is a different matter. If people wish to apply for special exemptions on the night in question, they are free to make an application to the court in the usual way. I am sure Deputy Flanagan understands that it would be necessary to comply with the normal conditions attaching to special exemptions which would include the provision of food. Only those premises which have restaurant certificates, a publican's licence and dance licences will be in a position to obtain a special exemption.

Mr. Naughten:  I am disappointed with the Minister's response. He has the opportunity to amend this legislation to ensure that his original proposals are passed in time for the new year. This could have been his contribution to the millennium. In the original legislation introduced last June, the Minister proposed that licensed premises could stay open for 36 hours, yet he will not allow them to stay open for two hours on Sundays. Deputy Flanagan made a valid point that on New Year's Day people will have to eat the cold turkey left over from the previous day if they want to have a drink. I ask the Minister to reconsider accepting the amendment.

[889] Amendment put and declared lost.

Mr. Higgins:  (Mayo): I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:

“2.– Section 2 (inserted by section 25 of the Act of 1988) of the Act of 1927 is hereby amended in subsection (1) by the deletion of ', or between the hours of two o'clock and four o'clock in the afternoon' in paragraph (b), and the said subsection (1), as so inserted and as amended by section 2 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1995, is set out in the Table to this section.

TABLE

(1) Save as is otherwise provided by this Act, it shall not be lawful for any person to sell or expose for sale any intoxicating liquor, or to open or keep open any premises for the sale of intoxicating liquor, or to permit any intoxicating liquor to be consumed on licensed premises—

(a)on any weekday, before the hour or half-past ten o'clock in the morning, or

(i)during a period of summer time, after the hour of half-past eleven o'clock in the evening, or

(ii)during a period which is not a period of summer time, after the hour of eleven o'clock in the evening,

or

(b)on any Sunday, before the hour of half-past twelve o'clock in the afternoon or after the hour of eleven o'clock in the evening, or

(c)on St. Patrick's Day, where that day falls on a weekday, before the hour of half-past twelve o'clock in the afternoon or after the hour of eleven o'clock in the evening, or

(d)at any time on Christmas Day or Good Friday;

Provided that where in any year the 23rd or 24th day of December falls on a Sunday, then the provisions of this subsection which relate to a weekday during a period which is not a period of summer time shall apply to such a Sunday as if it were such a weekday.”.

This amendment amends section 2, inserted by section 25 of the Act of 1988, of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1927, by deleting in subsection (1)(b) the provisions prohibiting the sale of intoxicating liquor between the hours of 2 o'clock and 4 o'clock on Sunday afternoon, thereby allowing licensed premises to open for business during these hours.

The merits of this proposal have been spelt out. As Deputy Belton said, the provisions are a hang[890] over from the days when we were a British colony. They have long outlived their usefulness and they are anachronistic but they are still in our legislation because the Minister has not amended them. One is breaking the law if one serves the liquor between 2 o'clock and 4 o'clock. As Deputy Flanagan said, Sunday afternoon is now a social occasion. Pubs have effectively become restaurants where people eat and entertain and they have invested heavily.

Sunday is a day of rest and recreation. Many sporting events take place and many pubs specialise in providing large screen coverage. There is multi-channel television on which sporting events from all over the world can be beamed into any pub in Ireland. From a commercial point of view, pubs are considerably constrained by this anachronistic provision. That is why we ask the Minister to accept this, even if it is as a seasonal gesture. We are not introducing this; it was a section which the Minister and his officials drafted, published, introduced to the House and told us on Second Stage that it had all the merit in the world. Now we find the Minister is aborting the provisions of a Bill he lauded in such glowing terms.

The Minister announced this Bill with considerable fanfare. We are asking him to accept what he drafted, lauded and introduced to this House four months ago. If he accepts it, we will gladly accept it. We said that when it was first introduced. We felt that the other provisions of the Bill did not go far enough. The Minister should accept something he proposed.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I support the proposed amendment. I reaffirm the importance of the inclusion of these measures. The current provisions for Sunday afternoons belong to days gone by. They do not reflect the needs or the reality. They are applied more in the breach than in the observance. We must face this reality.

This Bill is important. Key measures have been put before the House in a series of amendments in the hope that these measures would be included as soon as possible, reflective of need. That applies not only to the amendment before us but to the broader measures proposed. My earlier contribution will be reflected again in a later amendment vis-à-vis late opening hours.

In all the contributions I have made in this House I have dealt with the issues. I have never resorted, as the Minister did in his earlier response, to personally directed insults like those which he has just levelled at me in this House. In my two and a half years here some Members of the Opposition have tried to goad me in that way and I have never responded. That is the first time, however, that such comments have been directed at me from the Government benches and certainly never before by a Minister. It is with great disappointment that I note it.

I will continue with the role I am elected to perform, to press the amendments to legislation which are worthy of support. Accordingly, I join [891] the earlier speakers and recommend that the Minister accommodates the measures proposed at the earliest opportunity – today.

Mr. Flanagan:  The Minister has indicated that the only change in the law from his emasculated legislation or his Committee Stage butchery is that people can now drink for 90 minutes more on the eve of the millennium.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  Two hours.

Mr. Flanagan:  At the start of the millennium, when Brían Boru was coming on horseback from Clare to Clontarf on the eve of the battle, did he say “Lads, we should hold on because it is five to two and we will have to wait outside Clontarf Castle until 4 o'clock to get a drink before we meet Sitric. Be back here at 4 o'clock and we will have a goblet of mead before heading back to Clare”?

The Minister belittled me for describing this as high farce earlier but, in case the Chair has become confused, the Opposition is now impressing on the Minister the need for him to revert to what he said he would do in June. I cannot remember a dissenting voice in the House when the proposal to abolish Sunday closing was introduced by the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey. We all agreed. There is an all-party committee report which shows that this House said it is time to do away with the barrier of closing from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on a Sunday for the same reasons mentioned by other Deputies. Those reasons are as plain as day. The Minister introduced them to this House six months ago. The provisions were debated and agreed upon before he ran for cover.

He has come back to the House this evening and said that was not what he meant, that we better make sure the pub doors are firmly locked between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. every Sunday. If they are not locked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is prepared to let the Garda Síochána turn a blind eye to the reality that Sky Sports and other satellite broadcasters are shown every Sunday in pubs throughout the State. The Minister and the Garda Síochána know that. The Minister tells us he is sorry but the doors must remain closed or the blind eye must be turned. That is zero tolerance.

Acting Chairman:  I should point out to the Deputy that the Chair is not confused and refers only to what is before her.

Ms O'Sullivan:  Brían Boru would have been able to get away with it because he was a bona fide traveller. There used to be legislation which would let him off the hook.

I support the amendment. I cannot understand why the Minister did not leave the change in Sunday opening hours in the Bill. He would have enjoyed the support of the House.

Mr. Collins:  I do not understand why the Fine [892] Gael Party feels this amendment is so urgent. Deputy Jim Higgins said that Sunday afternoons are a social occasion. He is right. Any premises serving meals can serve drink. The Minister has made a commitment to include this in the Bill he will introduce early next year.

Mr. Farrelly:  I would not rely on the Minister's commitments.

Mr. Collins:  If this was as important as the Deputy thinks, why do I not hear anyone clamouring for it? The Deputy is just trying to make an issue of it.

Mr. Farrelly:  The Deputy said that Deputy Noonan was making an issue of the budget last week. We know what happened then.

Mr. Collins:  The Deputy is mistaken, I did not say that. I am talking about this amendment. If it was that urgent, why was it not done? It will be done. How long did we wait for the committee chaired by Deputy Flanagan?

Mr. Farrelly:  The Deputy reminds me of the advertisement for Guinness Light, “They said it could not be done”. They were right.

Mr. Collins:  I will not tell the Deputy what he reminds me of because I have respect for the House and the Chair.

Debate adjourned.

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

Acting Chairman:  Deputy Killeen is in possession and he has 26 minutes remaining.

Mr. Killeen:  I wish to share the remainder of my time with Deputy O'Flynn and Deputy Power.

Mr. O'Flynn:  A Bill of this kind needs to be put to the House – the Minister is also of that view. When Deputy Farrelly first submitted his proposals the Minister expressed his appreciation of his work in preparing and presenting his earlier Bill. He said he would introduce his proposals following a study of the final report of the consultative group on the private security industry and he will shortly present a Bill to the Government. The House will be aware of his views on this Private Members' Bill. I support his approach. We cannot afford to rush into legislation when dealing with such a complex issue. It must be addressed with extreme caution because it is a legal minefield.

[893] Every Deputy supports the concept of security industry regulation, which is needed. Last year I spoke of the watchmen of the far off days of my youth. They were invariably elderly and spent their time guarding sites, sitting around open fires burning waste or scrap timber. In those days we needed only token security, but times have changed and security is now undertaken by approximately 400 companies employing more than 10,000 personnel. I understand the industry has an annual turnover of £200 million. In this context the Bill does not adequately address the regulation of security in today's Ireland.

Mr. Farrelly:  The Deputy should read the Bill.

Mr. O'Flynn:  In drafting a new Bill we must study and take account of EU standards in the area of security and the proposals of the report of the consultative group should be included. This body has emphasised the needs for rigorous standards in the private security services. It states that all companies must be registered; its report concludes that voluntary registration will not suffice. It recommends the establishment of a statutory body, to be called the Irish Statutory Security Authority, which must deal with licences. The new authority's management operation structure should embody a chief executive, chief inspector and an inspectorate and it must put in place a mechanism dealing with fitness to practice, complaints and appeals procedures and training and education of those employed in the industry.

I have seen the effectiveness of a properly controlled and managed security system and I met with all local and interested parties during my official visit to Glasgow on behalf of Cork Corporation to consider the problem of street drinking and its related security problems. I saw the private security guidelines and observed the security personnel in action. In Glasgow the training of those who control the point of entry to any establishment must be set to the most exacting standards. The stewards must be advised on the guidelines that operate in the event of the denial of the right of admission to persons. They must also be responsive to complaints from the public and observe all the legal constraints in a situation where they are forced to eject a patron from a premises. They should note out of the ordinary events on the premises each night and any accidents that occur should always be entered in an accident report book. This must specify the actions taken by management and staff following an accident.

This whole area is wide open to litigation. This aspect, and the many others in Glasgow covered by the code of conduct operative there, should also be covered in detail in a Bill dealing with private security services for this country.

There must also be a strong regulatory framework for the private security industry. In certain quarters it is the practice to employ untrained and unsuitable bouncers to throw people out of establishments. They are paid under the counter and [894] there is often no investigation of their background prior to their employment, except the casual word of mouth recommendation from a mutual acquaintance. Their fitness to enforce security is usually based on their large physical dimensions. That is not good enough. It is not the type of security regulation I want to see apply in this country, which must follow the views of those who expended so much time and effort in compiling and presenting the consultative report. This document outlines the framework for an industry working to the high standard of some of the most professional and respected companies in the world. Under the new regulations the industry will continue to grow and expand.

I do not support the Bill, rather I support the Minister's approach. I understand he will present a Bill to the House within the next six months. However, I thank the Deputy for the time and effort he has expended on the preparation of this Bill. I am sure he will be happy to accept the Minister's Bill when it is introduced.

Mr. Farrelly:  On the last occasion this was debated the Minister said he would introduce a Bill, but he has not yet produced it.

Mr. O'Flynn:  The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has processed a huge volume of legislation. The Minister has rightly had to prioritise it.

Mr. Farrelly:  Recently a bouncer was found guilty for injuring a person he threw out of a disco. Does the Deputy want more such cases?

Mr. Power:  I acknowledge Deputy Farrelly's efforts in producing this Bill. It is his second time to introduce a Bill to the House. I know he is disappointed in view of the fact that a commitment was made to introduce a Government Bill. Unfortunately it is not ready, but the Minister explained the reason for the delay. He is two and a half years in office and in that time he has introduced 24 Bills which are now on the Statute Book. In addition, there are 12 Bills before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The increase in the number employed in the security industry indicates the extent of the changes taking place in the country. We all recognise the necessity to regulate the industry. It has operated under its own code of practice, but given some of the bad experiences that have been highlighted, it is necessary to regulate the industry as soon as possible. The Minister has said this is a priority and has indicated that legislation will be introduced next year.

The bad people in the industry get all the publicity. Little is said about the good people who are involved. In many cases they use it to provide them with a second job to enable them cope with the cost of living.

Most of the people in the industry mean well, but the lack of training must be tackled. Emphasis must be placed on this aspect when we legis[895] late to put the industry on a proper footing because it is important that standards are improved. The issue of licensing is also very important and the Minister outlined his position on this aspect last night. A transparent complaints procedure needs to be established.

The Minister said that the establishment of a State licensing and regulatory authority for the private security industry would entail a cost on the Exchequer. It should be kept to a minimum. We should try to establish a self-financing authority. The industry is growing and we do not wish to give licences to unsuitable people. We should put the industry on a sound footing and establish a strict vetting procedure for applicants so that only people of good character are given licences. It is also important to establish a follow-up mechanism so that licensees are reviewed on a yearly or two yearly basis.

The previous speaker mentioned bouncers. The word “bouncer” leaves much to be desired. We have experience of doormen who look more like full-backs on a Meath football team. We would like to get away from that image.

Mr. Farrelly:  Meath footballers tried and they failed.

Dr. Moffatt:  Meath full-backs do not fail too often.

Mr. Farrelly:  Poor Mick O'Dwyer was too soft for them.

Mr. Power:  I am sure Members are agreed on the way we should proceed. We realise that developments have taken place and that change is necessary. The Minister outlined the shortcomings in his budget to Deputy Farrelly last night.

Mr. Farrelly:  That was Deputy McCreevy's budget, not the Minister's.

Mr. Power:  History was made today because Santa Claus has come twice in eight days. I know the people will appreciate that and I hope the Opposition appreciates it.

Mr. U. Burke:  Santa Claus would need to come back again; he did not satisfy everybody when he came back today.

Mr. Power:  I am reluctant to talk about budgets, successful or otherwise, with a Fine Gael Deputy from County Meath. Their history is not good in that respect. At the next election we will be well able to face the public and defend our Minister for Finance.

I thank Deputy Farrelly for his initiative. I assure him the matter is in safe hands and the industry will be well regulated by this time next year.

Mr. McGuinness:  I welcome the debate on this [896] topic, although this is the second time we have debated it in the past few months. The industry and its needs are constantly changing. Security personnel are employed in many areas such as industrial premises, hotels and shops. This is an indication of the way society is developing. There are almost 10,000 people in the industry which has a turnover of £200 million. These figures are under-estimations because apart from what is reported, I am sure many premises employ their own security personnel. There is a need for an ongoing comprehensive review of what is happening before we enact legislation.

In line with this legislation we should examine developments in close circuit TV. I hope to outline some of the issues presented to us by close circuit TV in the context of security. While walking through a street near here in the past few days I noticed the number of security people employed during the day at the doors of business premises to keep a watchful eye on what is happening in the premises and on the street. At night, the numbers increase significantly. While this has long been the case in Dublin, almost every business premises in urban centres throughout the country employs security personnel day and night. This is an indication of the development of our society and we need to reflect this change in whatever legislation we put forward. I suggest that the Department consult the industry on the use of CC TV in urban centres. A recent incident in Thurles which involved one of our Kilkenny GAA stars was well reported nationally. The use of cameras on the street on that occasion would have delivered a good deal of information to the gardaí. Collaboration between the security industry, businesses in the town and the gardaí would have revealed much more.

Recently in Carlow, which is a growing urban centre, a teenager was beaten to within inches of his life. These incidents reflect some of the issues that face in the security business. In Kilkenny recently, a young man who was walking the high street was beaten about the head with a bottle and received 50 stitches in his face. This was a most aggressive and unprovoked attack on a young man. In these cases a combination of CCTV, the gardaí and the chambers of commerce, all of whom have a vested interest in the proper running of urban centres, would be very useful. The Department should reach out, understand what is happening in urban centres and try to assist them in providing the technology to track down criminals and vandals and reduce the level of crime.

A programme shown on television last Monday night gave a clear indication of the very positive use of such a system in Dublin. We are now extending fibre optic cable throughout the country and this cable can be linked to the various cameras that are now available and close circuit TV systems put in place quite cheaply. In reviewing the private security industry, the Department should take account of recent tech[897] nology and perhaps grant aid local authorities to provide such systems.

One might ask what this has to do with the private security industry. Security people are employed at many outlets such as take-away chip shops or chain stores. Surely a combination of CCTV and security personnel, monitored by local authorities, would provide a security system in our main urban centres which would deliver the type of information required to combat serious crime. That must be done sooner or later, probably in the context of this review of the private security industry.

There is also a need for training. The examination of this industry should take account of training and how to develop the concept of policing our cities and villages. With regard to the training aspect, the people involved in private security can participate with the Garda and the local authorities in the provision of such training and strengthen the security process throughout the country.

Mr. B. Smith:  I am glad to contribute to this important debate and I compliment Deputy Farrelly on bringing forward this Bill. The Deputy has long had an interest in this area.

The private security industry is an important section of our economy and society. Its growth is a reflection of the buoyancy of the economy. Obviously any new growing industry must be regulated on a sound footing. The Minister said last night that the Government is committed to the introduction of a proper, coherent and well thought out system of registration in this area. It is in the final stages of preparing such legislation and is committed to getting it right. That is the best way to secure the interests of employers and employees in the sector as well as society.

There is a need to ensure registration is introduced not on an ad hoc basis or as a knee-jerk reaction but on a sound statutory footing. The Government will have at its disposal the detailed and far-reaching inquiries of the consultative group on the private security industry and it is natural that its recommendations will form a large part of the Government's legislation. It is also necessary to examine the experience of Governments in other countries, such as Britain, Canada and Australia, in dealing with this important issue.

There are many interested parties whose views must be canvassed and taken on board in the legislation. There is the private security industry which employs an ever-growing number of people. The industry, like many others, is anxious to avoid too much regulation but it must see that the Government is fulfilling its role of legislating in the interests of the wider public. An integrated system of registration and licensing will separate the wheat from the chaff or the gamekeepers from the poachers. The vast majority of operators in the sector are legitimate but some are not.

The legislation could also safeguard the rights of employees of private security companies, some [898] of whom suffer injury and trauma in pursuit of their duties but who are often left to deal with the impact of these problems on their own and at their own expense. The business sector is the biggest employer of private security firms. It is only natural that companies and individuals who have invested large amounts of capital in plant, equipment and premises should wish to safeguard their investment and, at the same time, the job security of their workforces.

Private security firms pose a threat to nobody but it is important that the sector should not be allowed to become a free for all where people, perhaps some with criminal backgrounds, can establish security firms and blacken the name of the industry. When a business or individual approaches such a firm they must be able to depend on the credentials of the company to provide the services of the gamekeeper rather than the poacher. Registration is in their best interest as they will be enabled to approach security firms with confidence. It is a nightmare for some companies working in areas which continue to be the focus of crime. They often do not know whether those whom they are employing are posing a threat to their own security. Employers of security firms allow access to their property to the employees of those firms. They must, therefore, be given help in being able to recognise who is a legitimate operator and who is not.

One of the most important interested parties in this area is the Garda Síochána. Private security is a sensitive matter for society and Government. What is involved is the handing over of the State's responsibility to guard and protect individuals and property? This can lead to a freeing up of Garda resources, but we cannot allow criminal elements to come in through the back door. Those who wear uniforms of any type must be of the best character. The Minister, in bringing forward legislation at an early date, will safeguard the interests of society.

Mr. Higgins:   (Mayo): I wish to share my time with Deputies Ulick Burke, Perry, Naughten and Hayes.

Acting Chairman (Mr. McGinley):  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Higgins:  (Mayo): I am appalled but not surprised that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform refused to allow this Bill to pass Second Stage. He refused to accept the spirit and thrust of the Bill and its basic direction in terms of his right to amend it on Committee Stage. The Minister's well worn excuse is always the same – his own legislation is in the pipeline or imminent and will be brought before the House in due course. It is the same story on this occasion.

It was the same story in the case of the Enforcement of Court Orders Bill which I brought before the House on 24 February 1999. Ten months later, despite the Minister's promise, there is still no sign of the legislation. The attach[899] ment of earnings Bill which the Minister was due to bring forward and which would provide for the same objectives proposed in my Bill is not in sight. The net result is that 2,500 of the 10,000 people who pass through the Prisons Service every year are in jail for non-payment of fines and civil debts. It represents another broken promise by a Minister who is renowned for broken promises. What a waste of time, money and prison space. We are now told that the work is at a preliminary stage in the Department.

It was the same story with the Sexual Offenders Registration Bill prepared by my colleague, Deputy Neville. It was an excellent Bill. The Minister rejected it out of hand because the expert group's report on the law on sexual offences was awaited. He could not bring forward his Bill, he said, until he had that report. The Minister received the report in May 1998. We have had promise after promise, banner headline after banner headline, commitment after commitment but no sign of the Bill.

The expert group on the Prisons Service went further than preparing a report. It made matters easy for the Minister by producing not only an excellent report but also the heads of a Bill. The Minister would have had little work to do. However, there is no sign of a Bill and the chaos continues in the Prisons Service. It is another broken promise. Last night the Minister asked the House to believe that his Bill on the private security industry is imminent. Given his appalling track record of broken promises, we cannot be expected to believe him.

One of the reasons the Minister's commitments cannot be believed is that he has been sitting for two years on the consultative group's report on the private security industry. He received the group's report in December 1997. When it was published the Minister said he would give the report immediate and serious consideration. That was two years ago and still there is no sign of the Bill. In the interim, the Minister refused to accept the Door Supervisors Bill, 1998. His excuse then was that he was awaiting the crime forum report. He said he would immediately bring proposals to Government when he had that report. The crime forum reported in December 1998, but there is no sign of the legislation – another broken promise.

The same situation occurred with regard to the Intoxicating Liquor Act. A mere 30 minutes ago the Minister did another spectacular somersault on that issue.

If the Minister's refusal to accept Deputy Farrelly's Bill is examined, it will be seen that his only quibble with the Bill is that it does not embrace the recommendations of the expert group report. Did the Minister bother to read the report? Did he read Deputy Farrelly's Bill? Did he put the two side by side and examine them? If he did, he would see that the two documents match and mirror each other in almost every respect.

The report recommended the setting up of an [900] Irish security authority. Section 3 of Deputy Farrelly's Bill does exactly that. It recommended that the authority advise the Minister on matters related to the industry. Section 23 of the Bill does exactly that. The report recommended that the authority issue licences and maintain a register. This is the core of Deputy Farrelly's Bill. It sets up a register, and sections 5 to 12 deal with the issuing of licences and certificates. What more does the Minister want? It recommended that the authority should be able to lay down training requirements and regulations governing qualifications. Sections 7 and 23 of Deputy Farrelly's Bill do exactly that. They set down predetermined standards and criteria for qualifications and training. The report recommended that the authority hold fitness to practise hearings and appeals. Deputy Farrelly's Bill goes further by setting up an independent security authority appeals board. It recommended that the authority publish an annual report. Section 23 obliges the authority to make such a report on the previous year's activities within six months. The report recommended that the authority conduct on-site inspections. If the Minister took the trouble to read Deputy Farrelly's Bill, he would see that section 20 enables any inspector appointed by the legislation or any member of the Garda Síochána to enter any place where private security services are provided.

Deputy Farrelly's Bill reproduces line by line, section by section, syllable by syllable and sentiment by sentiment the contents of the report of the consultative group which was presented to the Minister two years ago, on which he has sat and about which he has done nothing. Despite that, the Minister yesterday rejected Deputy Farrelly's Bill and indulged in his usual petty nit-picking and spurious arguments.

It is only a matter of time before people are killed as a result of excess force by unregulated, unsupervised and overly aggressive bouncers at discos and nightclubs. Deputy Farrelly and Deputy O'Sullivan outlined instances of barbaric aggression by bouncers which came to their notice. Four weeks ago I was approached by a friend of a young man of 19 years of age from Kerry who, although he was sober, was wrongly accused by bouncers of tipping cigarette ash from the balcony onto the dance floor of a disco. He had never been in the club previously. He was innocent and vehemently denied the accusation. Nonetheless he was taken outside and was so badly beaten, his spleen was ruptured. He has only recently been discharged from St. Vincent's Hospital.

When I arrived in Leinster House one morning of that same week, a former member of the Garda Síochána and a State driver was waiting for me and Deputy Kenny to tell us that his son had been wrongly accused by a bouncer the previous night, was pulled out of a disco and was beaten so badly that his head was split open. This is not a rarity nor is it a phenomenon of today or yesterday. It has been continuing unchecked and [901] unchallenged for a long time. It occurs every night and it is getting worse.

Deputy Farrelly's Bill would control the situation by introducing a vetting regime to determine suitability, by introducing standards, training, controls and checks, and by putting the system on a properly structured and regulated basis. It would end or certainly curtail the unlicensed thuggery that has become the norm in the modern disco scene. It is a pity the Minister cannot find it within himself to show the magnanimity, let alone the common sense, to accept the Bill on Second Stage and address whatever small shortcomings there may be on Committee Stage.

Last week two armed raiders stole £250,000 from the AIB branch in Ballyfermot. Both are still at large. There is nothing to stop these raiders setting up their own private security operation because the situation is unregulated. Any ex-convict, bank robber or redundant paramilitary can buy a van, design a logo, don a uniform and call his operation a security firm. He can openly tout for business and the Garda can do nothing about it. The situation is wide open for exploitation, and that is happening. The Minister, by not accepting the Bill, is not only being petty but also irresponsible. The industry is crying out for regulation, more criteria, better standards and a proper structure.

Mr. U. Burke:  I congratulate Deputy Farrelly on the work he has done on the Bill. It is disappointing the Minister has, for the second time, refused to accept the Bill while at the same time failing to bring alternative legislation before the House. There is an urgent need for legislation to register, control and supervise persons involved in the private security industry. There is no compulsory registration at present, only voluntary. There is no control as to who enters the industry, and supervision of people within the industry is negligible. Such a serious situation cannot be allowed to continue. It ill behoves the Minister to say, despite the fact that he has had the report on the security industry for two years, that he will now bring forward legislation. It is long overdue and he has been grossly negligent in this case.

The security service provides protection for a wide range of activities and in a wide range of areas, from the transportation of currency to the control of crowds at all occasions where people assemble. For that reason, there is a need for a great variety of skills to be included in the training of people who become involved in the security industry. As far back as May 1997 a consultative group was established and asked by the former Minister, Deputy Owen, to report on all issues relating to the regulation of the private security industry. It made a timely report in December 1997. Its recommendations included the necessity to establish a statutory body, to be known as the Irish Security Authority, to control and manage the licensing of systems for the industry. Each of the issues has been dealt with by Deputy Farrelly in his Bill, although one [902] would have thought from listening to the Minister last night that they were all discarded and ignored.

There is a great need to professionalise the industry and to address certain problems within it. There is a greater need to level the playing pitch between reputable companies and the fly-by-night companies referred to by many speakers. It is this minority which has unfortunately given the industry a bad name. The activities of some operators leave much to be desired. Some operators think that, once they don a uniform, it empowers and enables them to act as they wish within and often outside the law. They frequently apply heavy-handed methods which lead to organised violence in the name of security. This is unacceptable and must be stopped. The Bill provides a mechanism for basic control of these shady operators within the industry. These small few companies are in the minority, so we should compliment the professionalism of the many people involved in reputable companies who provide a good service.

The membership of the consultative group indicates that all interest groups involved in the security industry, including Mr. Paul Flanagan of the Security Federation of Ireland, Mr. Brendan Neville of the Health and Safety Authority and a chief superintendent of the Garda, participated in the completion of the report. Ireland, Greece and the UK are the only countries in the EU which do not statutorily regulate the private security industry. Over the past few decades it has been a major growth area. Is this because there is a declining number of gardaí relative to the growth in population, the growth in the value of property and the need for protection of property and industry? It is obvious that there is an increasing number of social events.

There is a great need for training which has been obviously absent from the industry to date. People must be trained and those involved in the industry must be licensed. Unfortunately, the absence of licensing has led to unsuitable people getting involved, often in the black economy, which has led to a tendering process where the cheapest tender will win on the day. This is why very often there are undesirable people involved in the industry. Recently a young person working in the security industry lost his life in Galway because of the conditions in which he worked and which prevail in so many other areas throughout the country. It is believed he was gassed because he had no heat in his place of work. This was a tragedy but similar events have occurred all too frequently.

Mr. Perry:  As far back as 1997 there was a recommendation that the licensing of private security groups was necessary. I compliment Deputy Farrelly on bringing forward this very important Bill and I appeal to the Minister to accept it. Licensing would apply to security company directors and their beneficial owners as well as individuals. Applicants would be required to [903] obtain clearance from the Garda and in certain cases complete mandatory training according to the conclusions of the consultative group.

The group, which included representatives of both unions and employers, estimated that about 20,000 licences could be issued. It is estimated that 11,000 are employed in Ireland's private security industry with a further 10,000 providing door security for social venues and pubs. It is a very important industry and it is unbelievable that nothing has been done since 1997, that there is no regulation of security costs which can be quite prohibitive and that people can join the business without regulation.

The issue of taxation breaks for businesses installing their own security should also be examined. There can be a huge cost factor associated with installing private security cameras, including in-store camera systems which can cost up to £10,000, and alarm systems. Currently there are no capital allowances or tax breaks to encourage business people to install their own security.

I note that this year a voluntary standard, the IS99, was launched in Dublin by the National Standards Authority. It deals with all aspects of the private security business, which is currently self-regulated, including vetting and training of security personnel. The aim of self-regulation is to improve the quality of services thus enhancing the image of the industry. The IS99 is the third voluntary standard for the private security industry. The previous two standards were the IS199 and the IS228 which relate to intruder alarms and alarm monitoring stations.

It is amazing how easily people can get £25,000 or £30,000, buy a van, put on a uniform and badge and get away with promoting a service. It is a huge business in the context of crime, with people having keys to properties overnight. With the growth in the economy security is very important in many areas, including the licensed trade and shopping centres.

The Bill is very well put together, with sections dealing with certification of registration, conditions attaching to registration, the surrender of a certificate of registration, the non-transferability of certificates and the establishment of a security appeal board. All of these important aspects should be part of a Bill providing for regulation. The fact that there are 300 companies operating in a self-regulatory environment indicates the abuse which exists, the scale of the problem and how necessary is regulation. I am certain that if proper regulation and controls were introduced there would only be a fraction of that number of companies.

The Minister has been sitting on the report since June 1997. He has made several promises but has not introduced legislation. Much thought has gone into this very detailed Bill. As Deputy Farrelly said, if amendments are necessary they could be tabled. It is very disappointing and regrettable that the Minister has refused to accept [904] the Bill, given that over a year and a half ago he gave a commitment that he would accept it.

Mr. Naughten:  I compliment Deputy Farrelly on introducing the Bill. I wish to concentrate on one element of the private security industry, namely, that of bouncers or door supervisors. This aspect of the entertainment industry has been neglected by the Legislature for many years. Many bouncers whom I know personally do an excellent job, but as a young person who frequents nightclubs and late night pubs, and from talking to other young people, I am only too aware of the inadequacies in the current system. There are many hair raising stories of young people being treated as human punchbags, being assaulted or subjected to excessive force by a bouncer on an ego trip, an individual who can slip into the night and never be held responsible for his actions. This is due to the lack of accountability and informal working arrangements with their employers.

Another problem concerns bouncers dealing in drugs. While it is a small problem in the overall security industry, it does exist. Many bouncers allow dealers into nightclubs. Water is turned off in the clubs and young people are forced to buy water. Ecstasy tablets are being passed around nightclubs like smarties in some locations. The Garda know about these places, but it is extremely difficult to clamp down on them as they must have evidence. I do not believe the security industry is facilitating the Garda and ensuring that nightclubs are properly controlled.

Under-age drinking is as serious a problem as drug abuse. Bouncers allow under-age people into nightclubs; young people under the age of 18 years are not supposed to be even on the premises of pubs or nightclubs which have extensions. The law is not being enforced. The duty of bouncers is to maintain law and order, to protect customers and keep discos free from troublemakers. Young people need the protection of the Bill to avoid such abuses of power.

The legislation will also be of benefit to publicans and nightclub owners who in the past faced a guessing game in relation to the recruitment of doormen – it was like buying a pig in a poke. Often he does not know what sort of person he is employing, especially in built up areas, as there is no register. There are no controls at present. It encourages vigilantism. A sex offender could be a bouncer and could use that position for his or her gain. There is unlicenced thuggery. Not a weekend passes but some young person ends up in hospital as a result of being abused by a bouncer. This area must be regulated and a training scheme needs to be introduced. A training course for doormen working in licensed premises was set up in Scotland. Members of the police force, fire brigade and other professionals are brought together for training.

An incident occurred in my local town recently outside a fast food outlet. An individual was robbed and beaten about the face. A bouncer was [905] not directly involved but was standing nearby in a doorway and did not think of contacting the gardaí. The young individual had left those premises. There is an onus on the bouncer to ensure law and order is maintained. That incident should have been reported to the Garda. The young person spent two weeks in hospital and was on a life support machine for a number of days as a result of the beating he received on that occasion.

I ask the Minister to seriously consider this legislation. How long more do we have to wait for this shady area to be regulated? We are talking about 10,000 door supervisors, many of them on ego trips and abusing their powers. Deputy Farrelly introduced the Door Supervisors Bill in March 1998. Two years ago we had the private security industry report but we have seen nothing since. The Minister is reneging on the commitment he gave and I urge him to accept the Bill even at this late stage. I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Hayes:  As I listen to the debate I realise how important is this area. The cornerstone of any democracy is the ability of a civilian police force to enforce the law that is passed through these Houses. It is to the great credit of our Republic that since the State was established An Garda Síochana has performed that role superbly, often in difficult and intolerable circumstances. It occurred to me listening to colleagues on both sides that it is profoundly dangerous, as Deputy Naughten has just described, that 10,000 people are now attempting to act as enforcement officers in various parts of industry, particularly the private security industry, and that an unregulated, non-appointed, unaccountable group of people should be entitled to do so. As we know to our cost, where gaps emerge in security, protection and law enforcement, there is an unelected group of people prepared to fill it with vigilantism and the rise of their own security industry and accountability. It is profoundly dangerous that this be allowed to continue. In a sense the authority of the Garda is being permanently questioned on the streets as a result of the mushrooming of the security industry which we have seen in recent years.

I say to the Minister and particularly the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that the route offered by Deputy Farrelly in the Private Security Services Bill, 1999, may not be the ultimate solution to this problem but, at the very least, the principle behind the Bill should be accepted on Second Stage. The Minister knows that in a previous Administration her Private Members' Bill was accepted by the Rainbow Government. The Government is very foolish on this occasion not to use Private Members' time to accept reforming legislation which ordinarily may not be introduced in the course of the daily business of the House.

We see too many examples of reforming legislation coming from the Opposition benches being automatically voted down irrespective its merits. [906] The Government should accept the principle behind the Bill. I congratulate Deputy Farrelly on introducing the Bill, albeit in a new form from the Door Supervisors Bill. If there are fundamental amendments the Government wishes to press, that is why we have Committee Stage. It does not help the workings of the House or the role of the 166 Members if on every occasion, particularly where the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is concerned, a Bill is ignominiously voted down because it is an Opposition measure. It is not the way to do parliamentary business and it undermines the importance and contribution that every Member can make to reforming legislation that needs to be introduced from time to time.

Mr. Kenneally:  There is no doubt but that the area of private security is an expanding field and it is long past time when the industry should have been properly regulated. It is obvious that those involved will not or cannot do it themselves. Reluctantly I agree that the State must step in and impose acceptable standards in this very public area of our lives.

While I congratulate Deputy Farrelly on bringing in this measure and on the attempt he is making to try to regulate this area, nevertheless, he has not covered enough ground in his proposals and we should await the Bill that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will introduce. That will go much further in its provisions and will, by virtue of the resources at his disposal, be better researched. However, this Bill will initiate a very important debate and will lay valuable groundwork for the proposals ahead.

The report of the consultative group on the private security industry in late 1997 recommended that a statutory body be set up to regulate the industry. I wholeheartedly agree with that. The use of private security has grown immeasurably over the past 20 years and covers four main areas – security in pubs, night clubs and other areas of entertainment, that is, the traditional bouncer; night and day security at factory premises, possibly involving the use of vicious dogs; security at the doors of streetside shops, a practice that is now widespread in our cities and security provided for visiting show business stars and wealthy business people. The common denominator between all these different elements, and by its nature the very basis of the industry, is the interaction between its employees and the general public. The industry needs to ensure that people employed in it are physically and mentally suited to the business, well trained and have a proper understanding of, and approach to, the sensitive task of dealing with people. Airlines, large stores and industries where good public relations are essential do not lightly spend vast sums of money training their front line workers to deal with the public effectively, efficiently and with sensitivity.

Stories are legion about how strong arm tactics, verbal abuse and near criminal assault are used [907] in moderately difficult circumstances. Those who practise such tactics give the industry a bad name. One man said to me recently that it is difficult to take pride in the job if the people you have to restrain one day or summon the Garda to deal with can be your working colleagues the following day. Careful recruitment, proper training and effective supervision together with mandatory vetting by the Garda will overcome these problems. As the industry is still evolving, it is perceived to be a cowboy business populated by fly by night operators. Very often that is far from the truth. The main purpose of this or the Minister's Bill should be to see this employment emerge as a bona fide business with rules, regulations, guidelines and safeguards built in. I know that those in the security industry who take the long-term view will welcome the initiative of a regulatory body which will raise standards and bring the business out of the black economy where much of it is conducted. Conversely, it is not all roses for the security people either, and they have to be able to practise restraint in their daily routine. They have great frustrations to endure, not least seeing a drug addict whom they have perhaps dragged from a toilet with a needle hanging from his arm back on the street in an inordinately short time having been dealt with leniently by the courts. Very often, security people have the same responsibilities and perform the same tasks as the gardaí but they do not have the training, back-up or legal protections enjoyed by our police force.

I know a man in the industry who does very good work in his community giving lessons in self-defence and visiting schools to share his experience and expertise with young people. He wants the profile of the industry lifted, the rogue operators rooted out and the reputation of private security enhanced by the development of high standards. He is seeking proper training for security people and it would be important that those licensed to give that training are competent and have a good track record in their employment. Other activities and businesses which started in the black economy have now come of age and are properly accepted and respected. There is no reason the security industry cannot do that too.

I congratulate Deputy Farrelly in bringing forward the Bill but it is more prudent to wait for the more comprehensive measure that will come forward from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Miss M. Wallace):  There is no doubt from listening to the various contributions of Members on the Bill that all sides of the House have a shared interest in a proper regulatory framework being put in place for the private security industry. The basis for that framework is contained in the recommendations of the Report of the Consultative Group on the Private Security Industry which concluded [908] that further scope for voluntary regulation of the industry has been exhausted and recommended that a statutory body should be established to introduce, control and manage a comprehensive licensing system for the industry.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, in indicating his intention to the House last night not to accept the Bill genuinely brought forward by Deputy Farrelly, is not seeking in any way to ignore the efforts of the Deputy to put in place a legislative code for the industry because those intentions are well known. Deputy Farrelly's contribution in the House last night and the contributions of Deputy Jan O'Sullivan and others will make a valuable contribution to the debate in this area and will help in the finalisation of the Minister's proposals which are due to go to Government shortly.

I would reiterate, however, as the Minister did last night, that the Government is committed to bringing forward its own Bill to provide the sound legal framework necessary for the private security industry to develop its potential and continue to make an important contribution, both in terms of employment and services provided, to our economic development.

It must be said that the issues to be dealt with in providing this proposed new legal framework do not lend themselves to the acceptance of this Bill and to introducing the necessary amendments on Committee Stage. As legislation to regulate the private security industry will have important consequences, providing as it will for the regulation of an industry with some 400 companies and some 20,000 potential licensees, there is a need to deal in a more comprehensive manner with the issues and recommendations contained in the report of the consultative group and, in so doing, to remedy some of the deficiencies raised in the debate and the concerns with regard to some aspects that need to be clarified.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has core responsibility for any statutory change aimed at the regulation of the private security industry. This is not an easy task nor one which will be undertaken lightly. It is therefore incumbent on him to ensure that any changes introduced in this area are on a sound footing. Any provisions dealing with access to employment, in particular, will raise significant constitutional issues affecting the fundamental rights of individuals and the right to earn a living.

In framing legislation of this nature account must be taken of the fact that because public money will be involved, there will be a need to specify more clearly the functions of the proposed regulatory authority. There will also be a need to provide a sound legal basis for the introduction of a system of vetting for licence applicants both at the stage of the original licence application being made to a regulatory authority and when licences are being renewed by the authority. Provision will also have to be included to require a licensee to report any criminal convictions between the time a licence is issued and the time [909] it is due for renewal. The criteria for eligibility for licences both at initial application and renewal stages will have to be more clearly set out so that licence applicants and licensees know exactly what requirements must be fulfilled to enable the authority to approve their applications. More transparent provisions dealing with complaints and fitness to practise will also need to be provided.

As mentioned by both Deputy Farrelly and the Minister last night, there will need to be considerable scope for the making of regulations so that the expertise and views of the experts in the private security industry can be taken on board in relation to such issues as the setting of minimum training, education and other standards. Regulations will also have to deal with procedures for complaints, for example, and allow for the possibility of bringing new areas of the industry within the licensing framework. The legislation will also need to be specific as to what powers the Minister can have to make those regulations.

The whole management and operational structure of the proposed authority will need to be better thought through both from the point of view of efficiency and cost effectiveness so as to enable it to take a more strategic approach to its operation. This will probably involve a significant role for a chief executive who will lead the organisation and ensure, in consultation with the board of the authority, that the functions of the body are properly carried out, that fee income is collected and that proper liaison is maintained with relevant interests about key issues affecting the development of the industry. This will also probably involve an important role for an inspectorate with powers to ensure that complaints are properly investigated and that the provisions of the legislation are properly complied with and enforced.

In addition, the whole question of providing for the licensing of security companies, which is a key recommendation in the report of the consultative group and which is not provided for in the Bill before us tonight, will have to be addressed. As the Minister also mentioned last night, the consultative group suggested that company licences should only be issued after rigorous checks of applications, including the provision of tax clearance certificates, and that such licences would be reviewed by the authority every two years or whenever there was a change, for example, in any of the directors of a company.

The introduction of a new regulatory framework for the private security industry will require the provision of Exchequer funding, particularly in the initial stage of the operation of the new regime until income from licence fees begins to be generated. It will continue to require detailed consultations on an ongoing basis with relevant interests in the industry, between Departments, the Garda Síochána and with the Office of the Attorney General on the legal and constitutional aspects involved. All of this will have to happen on an ongoing basis at least until the various [910] regulations which will be required are finalised and signed into law.

As the Minister assured the House last night and on previous occasions, the Government has decided that a scheme of a Bill should be prepared to give effect to the recommendations in the report of the consultative group. That scheme, which the Minister intends to submit to Government, will be circulated to Departments shortly. There already has been a good deal of consultation on the Bill, both by the departmental officials and by the Minister. That process is a necessary one in the finalisation of matters that go before Government.

The Government, in bringing forward its own Bill, does not intend to impose any one regulatory solution on the private security industry. The report of the consultative group was drawn up in a spirit of partnership and co-operation between all sides in the industry. As the Minister already promised various interests in the industry when he met with them recently, both he and his Department will maintain ongoing contact with all sides of the industry, employers and unions alike, with a view to consulting them on key aspects of the legislation and on progress generally. The Government's legislation will be primarily based on the recommendations of the consultative group which already enjoy the support of the all sides of the industry. Best practice in other countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand, all of which have well developed codes for the regulation of their private security industries – some going as far back as the mid 1970s, has also been taken into account in finalising the Government's Bill. There will also be a need for consultation with the industry in drawing up the many important regulations referred to by both Deputy Farrelly and the Minister last night and which will require to be made once the Bill is enacted.

Mr. Farrelly:  The consultation has already been carried out.

Miss M. Wallace:  I acknowledge Deputy Farrelly's genuine interest and concern in the provision of legislation in this important area. I am aware of his long-standing interest in the issue. I recall that when I was in Opposition my Bill on disability was accepted by the then Government. However, the situation is different in this instance due to the advanced stage of work on the Minister's Bill.

When the Government Bill is in place and the various regulations under it are made, we should then have a significant code of law which will provide a comprehensive framework for the development of the private security industry in Ireland well into the new millennium. As is the case with other major Bills which the Minister has introduced, his Bill on the private security industry will honour the commitments set out in the Government's legislative programme. I reiterate that a great deal of work has been undertaken in [911] the Department on the preparation of the scheme of the Minister's comprehensive Bill. That scheme will be circulated in the near future and it is intended that the heads of the Bill will be brought to Government without delay.

Mr. Cosgrave:  I wish to share time with Deputies Belton, Farrelly and Fitzgerald.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Cosgrave:  I compliment Deputy Farrelly on this Bill and the work he has put into it. The introduction of this Bill recognises the growth in the provision of private security services. It is reasonable that the State would control such a sensitive industry. People need to be able to engage security services in the confidence that those whom they employ are of good character and have the necessary competence to deliver the service. Members of the public who may interface with aspects of the industry are entitled to be confident that they are meeting people of good character who are trained to deliver the service in an even handed manner which respects the rights of the individual.

Unfortunately, the security industry has the reputation of being home to some unsavoury people, in spite of the attempts of the main players to train personnel to the highest standards. This Bill would assist the industry's leaders to achieve their aims and would also assist the Garda in its work. It is an unfortunate fact of city life that security personnel must be deployed on almost all public house doors each evening and that shops are constantly patrolled by security staff. If the need exists for such control, we must also ensure that the controllers are controlled.

It is reasonable to expect that people engaged in security work would be competent and of good character and that they would be trained on how to discharge their functions. The public must be assured they are not dealing with the front men of criminal gangs but are supported by recognisable, licensed operators. The proposed composition of the security authority is such as to provide that confidence and to move the industry away from its back alley image. The Minister should accept this Bill.

Mr. Belton:  I congratulate Deputy Farrelly on introducing this legislation. There is scarcely anyone in the country, with the exception of the Minister, who does not feel this legislation is necessary. That is amazing. We are hearing how necessary the legislation is from the Government side tonight. If it is so necessary, why has the Government not done anything about it? Two years ago, members of the Government stated that something would be done to address this issue. Deputy Farrelly has done something about it.

Time after time, we hear criticisms that the politicians who come into this House are mere [912] messenger boys or girls. Deputy Farrelly is a legislator, yet he gets the thumbs down from the Government. His Bill is being turned down and that is disgraceful. Deputy Farrelly has introduced a perfect Bill, for which there is a very urgent need.

Day after day and weekend after weekend, we hear and read reports of disorder on our streets. The Garda can only do so much. I attended a meeting in recent weeks with high level Garda authorities and order on our streets was one of the key issues discussed. Maintaining order is not a job which can be dealt with by novices or people who do not understand what they are doing. In many cases, lives have been lost in public disorder situations. This Bill would address the issue in a proper manner and would provide, by statute, that all operators would have to abide by certain regulations.

The Government said no to this Bill. The Government said no last week too but said yes this week. We saw people marching out onto the plinth one after the other and marching back in again. The Minister was in the House earlier for the debate on the Intoxicating Liquor Bill and we witnessed a further U-turn. Perhaps if Deputy Healy-Rae were backing this Bill, it might get through. I am very disappointed by the non-performance of the Minister and the Government in regard to this Bill. Deputy Farrelly put down the ball and the Government walked off the field.

Ms Fitzgerald:  It is difficult to sum up the problem more succinctly than Deputy Belton has done. I congratulate Deputy Farrelly on the introduction of this much needed and comprehensive Bill which should have been accepted by the Government. It reflects very poorly on the Government that it did not accept it. The Bill could have been taken into committee immediately and if it were felt that amendments were required, they could have been put to the committee.

Many people will be surprised to find out that this industry is as unregulated as it is. It is clear that we should follow the lead of all other European countries. We should be providing the framework of registration, licensing, standard setting and training which Deputy Farrelly has outlined so comprehensively in this Bill. Any parent in this city would absolutely want to see this type of regulation put in place for the security industry. When children go to discos, parents rely on the door staff and function organisers to set proper standards, take care of the people on their premises and ensure that if something does go wrong, it is dealt with.

If we do not put in place this type of regulatory framework, we will not be addressing public order issues or ensuring the safety of citizens. We must move this industry on from the informal part of the economy it occupies to a more formal arrangement. The recommendations of the working group have been incorporated into this Bill by Deputy Farrelly; it is not correct to say other[913] wise. Why else would the Bill receive the comprehensive support of the security industry? This is a comprehensive Bill which deals with the issues, outlines a framework for the advancement of the industry and the provision of better public order, safety and security for all our citizens. The Government should accept the Bill and not put it to a vote. It should have put it into Committee and ensured it was on the Statute Book. I wonder when it will come back to the House for it to consider it again. It will probably be a long time. It is a missed opportunity to deal with this aspect of our State which is completely unregulated.

Mr. Farrelly:  I thank Deputies Stanton, Boylan, O'Sullivan, Killeen, O'Flynn, Power, Smith, McGuinness, Higgins, Burke, Perry, Naughten, Hayes, Kenneally, Cosgrave, Belton and Fitzgerald and the Minister and Minister of State who contributed to this debate. It is regrettable that the Minister came into the House and mentioned nine items in relation to the regulations and the consultative group which I did not properly address in the Bill. He said the functions of an authority are not clearly set out in the Deputy's Bill. That could not be further from the truth. It leads me to believe that neither the Minister nor Minister of State, because she reiterated what the Minister said last night, read the Bill. I can safely say neither of them read the Bill.

The Minister told us he was at an advanced stage of dealing with this issue in the Department. That is not the case because the Security Federation of Ireland was not invited to the Department for the past three months until this Bill was about to come up in the House. It was promised it would be invited in to deal with the issues which the Minister and Minister of State mentioned.

What have I been trying to do for four and a half years? A taxi man saw a young chap coming out of a nightclub and being beaten for no reason. That was when this process started four years ago. I supported a call to licence the industry and within an hour of going on the Pat Kenny radio show I got 18 or 20 telephone calls in support of that. I was also contacted by four mothers whose sons had been abused by doormen in clubs in different parts of the country. The bouncers or doormen were taking cases against the individuals. I put them in touch with a senior counsel in this city and he won all four cases. It proved that these guys thought they could get away with anything.

Many Members mentioned the fear and pressure under which our young people are being put. I said last year and again last night that young people are going to nightclubs in which some of these individuals are allowing drugs to be peddled. That is disgraceful. Nothing has happened in the two years since we first tried to regulate the industry and tried to introduce a Bill. The Minister said he would introduce a Bill shortly but how soon is “shortly”? I would be happy if the Minister introduced a Bill to regulate the [914] industry, protect young people and to take the INLA out of this business.

The Minister knows from information from people in his Department and from the Garda that the INLA is up to its ears in abusing, selling and pushing drugs, especially in this city. I have been reliably informed that something serious will happen over Christmas. I warn the Minister that he and the Garda would want to take care of things that might happen in this city. From the information supplied to the Minister and as a result of the gang war which took place a few weeks ago, I have no doubt that will be repeated because people will want to get even and innocent people will be hurt.

The Security Federation of Ireland has been extremely supportive. Since I introduced the Door Supervisors Bill, 1998, it has accepted what the Minister said that the Bill at that time did not go far enough, was not broad enough and did not cover the industry. On 23 and 24 March 1998, the federation and the Minister said it was not wide enough and that we need to include everybody. The Minister said he would introduce a Bill by the end of last year but that did not happen. We negotiated with all those people and got them to accept the fact that the Security Federation of Ireland would have to accept, if we are going to regulate this industry, that door supervisors had to be included.

The Minister said I did not include the licensing of companies and that they were doing this in England. The information is that they do not want companies to be responsible but for the individual to be responsible for the people he or she employs. They do not want a limited company to be responsible. The individual who owns the company must be licensed. The Security Federation of Ireland has gone against the proposals in that regard. I am sure the Minister's advisers who would have been in contact with these people – although not often enough – over the past year would have accepted that there is a sea-change in that area because they want to ensure the buck stops with the individual.

Not accepting this Bill is unjust to the thousands of people who will need to be protected over the next month and year. I have a little sympathy for the Minister because justice and equality and law reform should not be covered under one Department. Backbenchers have said there are 13 Bills with the Minister's Department and 25 on the Order Paper. It is obvious that the real issues cannot be dealt with. As regards the prioritisation of this issue, it is obvious the Minister has had no interest in it over the past year and a half. If he was interested, legislation would have been introduced long ago.

How many staff in the Minister's Department, if any, have done anything on this issue? The Taoiseach informed us on a few occasions recently that heads of a Bill have been accepted or are being prepared. If the Minister is that stuck, I would be willing to allow him put his name to this Bill and to get it into Committee. [915] The Minister said amendments would be needed, changes would have to be made and that a number of issues were not included in the Bill. His colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, tabled not one or two but 100 amendments to the Planning and Development Bill in the Seanad.

Mr. Dukes:  He will table more when it comes to the Dáil.

Mr. Farrelly:  He will certainly table another 100 amendments here. It would have saved the Minister's officials an enormous amount of work [916] and effort if he had accepted this Bill. We got senior counsel advice to deal with the constitutional issues.

I wonder were the two Ministers from my constituency at work because they did not want the credit for a Private Members' Bill to go to a Member from their constituency? I pose the question because I would not put it past them.

Mr. O'Donoghue:  The Deputy must hold them in very high regard.

Mr. Farrelly:  If I had Deputy Healy-Rae I would be flying.

Question put.

Ahearn, Theresa.
Barnes, Monica.
Bell, Michael.
Belton, Louis.
Bradford, Paul.
Broughan, Thomas.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, John.
Bruton, Richard.
Burke, Liam.
Burke, Ulick.
Carey, Donal.
Clune, Deirdre.
Connaughton, Paul.
Cosgrave, Michael.
Coveney, Simon.
Crawford, Seymour.
Creed, Michael.
Currie, Austin.
D'Arcy, Michael.
Deasy, Austin.
Deenihan, Jimmy.
Dukes, Alan.
Durkan, Bernard.
Enright, Thomas.
Farrelly, John.
Ferris, Michael.
Finucane, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Frances.
Flanagan, Charles.
Hayes, Brian.
Higgins, Jim.
Higgins, Joe.
Higgins, Michael.
Hogan, Philip.
Kenny, Enda.
McCormack, Pádraic.
McDowell, Derek.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
McGrath, Paul.
Mitchell, Gay.
Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
Naughten, Denis.
Noonan, Michael.
O'Shea, Brian.
O'Sullivan, Jan.
Perry, John.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Ring, Michael.
Ryan, Seán.
Shatter, Alan.
Sheehan, Patrick.
Shortall, Róisín.
Spring, Dick.
Stagg, Emmet.
Stanton, David.
Timmins, Billy.
Upton, Mary.
Wall, Jack.
Yates, Ivan.

Níl

Ahern, Dermot.
Ahern, Michael.
Ahern, Noel.
Andrews, David.
Ardagh, Seán.
Aylward, Liam.
Blaney, Harry.
Brady, Johnny.
Brady, Martin.
Brennan, Matt.
Brennan, Séamus.
Briscoe, Ben.
Browne, John (Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.
Callely, Ivor.
Carey, Pat.
Collins, Michael.
Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
Coughlan, Mary.
Cowen, Brian.
Daly, Brendan.
Davern, Noel.
de Valera, Síle.
Dempsey, Noel.
Dennehy, John.
Doherty, Seán.
Ellis, John.
Fleming, Seán.
Flood, Chris.
Foley, Denis.
Fox, Mildred.
Hanafin, Mary.
Harney, Mary.
Haughey, Seán.
Healy-Rae, Jackie.
Jacob, Joe.
Keaveney, Cecilia.
Kelleher, Billy.
Kenneally, Brendan.
Killeen, Tony.
Kirk, Séamus.
Kitt, Michael.
Kitt, Tom. Lenihan, Brian.[917]

Níl–continued

Lenihan, Conor.
McDaid, James.
McGennis, Marian.
McGuinness, John.
Martin, Micheál.
Moffatt, Thomas.
Molloy, Robert.
Moloney, John.
Moynihan, Donal.
Moynihan, Michael.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
O'Dea, Willie.
O'Donnell, Liz.
O'Donoghue, John.
O'Flynn, Noel.
[918] O'Keeffe, Batt.
O'Keeffe, Ned.
O'Kennedy, Michael.
O'Malley, Desmond.
O'Rourke, Mary.
Power, Seán.
Roche, Dick.
Ryan, Eoin.
Smith, Brendan.
Smith, Michael.
Treacy, Noel.
Wade, Eddie.
Wallace, Mary.
Walsh, Joe.
Woods, Michael.
Wright, G. V.

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

Question declared lost.

Debate resumed on the following motion:

THAT it is expedient to amend the law relating to inland revenue (including value-added tax and excise) and to make further provisions in connection with finance.

–(Minister for the Environment and Local

Government.)

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Shortall was in possession and she was sharing her time with Deputies Bruton and Rabbitte.

Ms Shortall:  I wish to share my time only with Deputy Rabbitte.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is agreed.

Ms Shortall:  I want to draw the attention of the House to a statement issued on behalf of the Minister for Finance today, which contained two serious untruths. The first untruth referred to states that the budget allowed the Government to target resources on the lower paid. That is manifestly untrue. The budget primarily benefited those who already have considerable wealth – the old golden circle. It did this by essentially dismantling our capital taxation system and after that, it disproportionately favoured high earners who are already very well off. Relative to those two groups, it did little or nothing for those on low income.

The second untruth referred to is that the measures introduced in a panic today will be of greater proportionate value to lower income families. Again, this claim is completely and utterly untrue. This new tax relief announced today gives no assistance whatsoever to those families with an income of less than £10,000. It seems the Government values the work of a parent in the home where the family income is in the middle to high range, albeit to the tune of a derisory £12 per week, yet it places no value on the work in the home where a family income is low and, arguably, financial assistance is most needed.

In addition, by his activities today, the Minister has introduced a significant disincentive to work. A parent in the home will get a tax allowance of £3,000. If this parent decides to seek a part time job, he or she will lose that £3,000 allowance and gain only a £1,000 PAYE allowance. In other words, they will lose the first £600 of whatever money they might earn on taking up a job. That is the reason everyone, except the two Government parties, said the way forward was to substantially increase child benefit or to introduce a universal parental payment. Unfortunately, the Minister failed to grasp this basic point and he has now made the budget even more anti-child than it was.

Mr. Rabbitte:  I want to develop two points in the limited time available to me. The first is that the vicious discrimination in this budget is against low earners and the poor. The second is that the reckless ideological drive of the Minister for Finance has put social partnership at risk.

I understand the hullabaloo kicked up as a result of the manner in which women working in the home have been denigrated by the Minister's budget. However, that discrimination must take second place to the discrimination against people on low incomes and on no incomes or on social welfare. What happened in the budget in relation to one earner households should not have happened, as the Minister has now admitted. However, it is entirely unjustifiable and a serious injustice of this budget that in the special conditions of 1999 the Minister, who never had so much cash to give out, could have distributed it in a fashion that gives three times more to the highest earners than to the lowest income workers. It is a more serious injustice than the denigration of the one income household, which I deplore.

The real injustice is to low paid workers who find themselves in receipt of just over 2% compared to almost 7% for high earners. I will take a fair example – one can use statistics to prove anything – of a typical single income married couple on approximately the average industrial earnings, which is £17,000 per year. They will get £7.15 per week from this budget. The manager in the same plant who is in receipt of £50,000 per [919] year will get £31.17 from this budget. One can back that up with an array of tables, some of which are more extreme because not everyone in the economy earns £17,000 per year. The lower the earnings, the more serious the discrimination.

The Minister has flown in the face of the consensus which ranges across the economy from employers to trade unions to community organisations. That patiently won consensus is probably best expressed in the NESC report. It has the allegiance of farmers, employers, trade unions and the Government. The Minister for Finance signed off on the NESC report. The thrust of that report could not be more clear. It is to focus the tax reductions on the lower paid and to mount a drive against poverty and exclusion in this society. Aiming tax reductions at the lower paid does not mean that no benefit accrues to the higher paid. It means that the higher paid do not benefit as proportionately as they normally would.

The Minister's action flies in the face of the NESC report, national consensus and social equity. He could scarcely have structured a more biased budget against people on low incomes. The downside of the row is that it serves to conceal any serious debate on how discriminatory this budget is to people living on low incomes. People who welcomed the individualisation of the tax bands do not understand that couples will not benefit if their joint income is less than £28,000. The change is deliberately designed for the highest earners.

The scale of the Minister's unfairness has put social partnership at risk. On “Six One News” on the evening of the budget I made the point that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions would, in the cold light of day, have second thoughts and would have cause to revisit its original response. It is not surprising that that revisitation has since taken place. It is great that we have had job expansions over the past six years, but low pay is a problem in the economy. In a trade union such as SIPTU, there are 70,000 members on low pay, while in trade unions such as MANDATE and that representing the lower grades in the public service, the majority of members are on low pay. Their voices have now begun to be heard as a result of them examining the budget after the storm which was created and which threatened to sweep the Minister from office.

Never in the history of the State had a Minister so much money to give away and then managed to distribute it in such a manifestly unfair way. Because the Minister chose to reduce the top rate of tax by 2%, which costs £156 million, and to target the optimum relief over the higher middle income earners to the high income earners, he was only able to give a derisory £10 per week increase in the personal allowance. This is where everyone agreed that progress should have been concentrated. That £10 per week compares to the Minister's figure of £21 per week on the personal allowance last year. The people who suffer most as a result are those on low wages.

[920] The result of this refusal to address the personal allowances means that a worker on income as low as £109 per week is dragged into the tax net. That £109 per week must be seen in the context of this Government's espousal of a national minimum wage which will work out at less than £200 per week, depending on the number of hours worked. If it is considered that the minimum income on which one can live is around £200, why is someone taxed after earning £109? That is the most serious inequity in this budget.

It is difficult to see how the trade unions can repair the damage which has been done to social partnership, particularly if one looks at the private sector. In the private sector this was the opportunity for low paid workers to catch up. Unless there are extraordinary terms to the advantage of the lower paid enshrined in the social contract, I cannot see how unions like SIPTU or MANDATE, which have traditionally supported social partnership, can sign on to another social contract. It was much easier to structure positive advantage for the lower paid into the tax code. It will be very difficult to do that in a social contract because it is a deal done on the generality. There are well paid workers who are trade union members with only a limited tolerance of how much can be done to bias the contract in favour of the low paid. That is the difficulty the negotiators will have and that SIPTU and MANDATE will have in getting sanction from their membership to conclude another social contract. The Minister has worsened the position.

As for the renovation of the budget which took place today, it does not make the slightest difference to the situation of those on low incomes. By definition, it only comes into effect for medium to high income earners, never mind that it is standard rated. That was a great line in the press release, which came from the same press office that guided Deputy McGuinness and others when they organised against their Minister and budget on the plinth.

Mr. McGuinness:  At least some of us have our own minds.

Mr. Rabbitte:  The statement is that the tax relief will go to all one income families on the standard and higher rates of tax at all income levels but will be of greater proportionate value to low income families because it is standard rated. For people who do not earn the requisite salary level or who do not have children, the measure will have no impact. We can be sure – let Deputy Noel Ahern and his rebellious colleagues bear this in mind while they pat themselves on the back when heading home this weekend, believing that not all the credit should go to Deputies Healy-Rae, Fox and others – that by the time the Department of Finance introduces a proposal to this House in the Finance Bill to give expression to what happened today, eligibility [921] will be so circumscribed that it will be of even less value than people think.

Today's attempt to save the budget and to save the Minister can only help households on middle or higher incomes. Even at that, the benefit will be approximately half what it should be – Deputy Fleming knows that well. The standard rate is £660 compared to £1,320 for the people benefiting from the individualisation of the tax bands announced in the budget. Mná na hÉireann should not cheer about what they were told on the plinth by Deputy Hanafin and others, such as Deputy McGennis who thought it was a great budget last week. Tonight they told mná na hÉireann they have won a great battle and that they will get a substantial income. There was much laughter in this House when Deputy Garret FitzGerald proposed £9.60. This is just a little more than that, and the House will recall the difficulty Fianna Fáil had with that £9.60. It did not know whether to scorn it or make it £9.80.

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  What about VAT on boots and shoes?

Mr. Rabbitte:  That party, 15 years later, puts forward this proposal and says this a great victory for the people.

The Minister for Finance has made a dog's dinner of the budget. Members of the Government have been nodding and winking behind his back and seeking to absolve themselves from liability for the Minister's gaffe. There are other Ministers and Deputies going around the House saying “You know what the Progressive Democrats are like”. Tonight we see the spectacle in the other House of the Progressive Democrats Party tabling a special motion recommending the budget. The Senators are closing the stable door long after the horse has bolted.

The parade onto the plinth reminded me of the duck which used to hatch out on Leinster Lawn until a few years ago. She used to lead the parade of ducklings across the lawn every year. That was what the Fianna Fáil Deputies resembled, led by Deputy Roche in the role of mother duck. It was not a pretty sight.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. N. O'Keeffe):  I am very glad to have the opportunity to speak on this budget. It is an even-handed budget but it is also radical and forward thinking. As we move into the new millennium it is appropriate that we bring forward a budget like this to set the foundation for our future.

In the past our economy went through some very difficult times but our economic progress during the 1990s has been outstanding. GNP grew in real terms by an average of 7.6% per annum between 1994 and 1999. This growth has led to a significant increase in employment, with numbers employed increasing by over 30% and unemployment falling from 15% in 1993 to just over 5% today.

[922] At the same time, as a result of some sound budgetary management, our debt-GNP ratio has fallen from 120% in 1988 to 47% this year. This has raised standards of living for huge sections of society. In 1999 our GNP per head is 90% of the EU average, compared with only 79% in 1994.

Some sections of the community, however, may not have benefited as much from this rising tide as others. With its innovative package of tax and social welfare measures, this budget is be commended for redressing that imbalance.

The change in personal allowances and the tax exemption threshold will remove 50,000 individuals from the tax net entirely, and the expansion of the standard rate band will remove 125,000 taxpayers from the top rate of tax. An individual earning the average industrial wage will gain £20 per week as a result of these measures. The aim over this and the next two budgets is to reduce the percentage of taxpayers at the top rate to 17% by 2002. This is an enormous and welcome change in our tax system and will be of great benefit to many people in rural areas.

This will be helpful to farm families, where total income has been boosted in recent years by the increasing trend for the farmer or spouse to work off-farm for at least part of the year. The national farm survey shows that on 43% of farms either the farmer or spouse works off-farm. This trend is rising as our growing economy offers rural householders new and more flexible work options.

A measure which will put more money into farmers' pockets is the increase in the flat rate VAT refund. In this budget the rate has been increased from 4% to 4.2% with effect from 1 March 2000. It will be worth £3.6 million in 2000 and £5.3 million in a full year.

In this budget the raising of the thresholds for capital acquisitions tax, in particular the class 1 threshold applying to parents, will have an impact on the transfer of agricultural assets to young farmers. When taken in combination with the 90% agricultural relief this means that virtually all family farm transfers will be exempt from the tax. For example, a qualifying farmer may inherit a farm worth up to £3 million from a parent without the transferee becoming liable for the tax.

The extension of the stamp duty for young trained farmers to December 2002 is also welcome. This relief significantly reduces the cost of the transfer of agricultural assets to young farmers and further enhances land mobility. There is a range of other measures aimed at encouraging the early transfer of farms. Installation aid has been available since 1986 and has provided valuable support for 7,250 young trained farmers. This year alone almost £2.5 million has been paid to 431 young farmers. Over 9,000 farmers aged between 55 and 66 years have availed of the early retirement scheme since it was introduced in 1994. This year's budget for the scheme is almost £69 million. It provides a generous retirement pension of up to £10,000 per annum for participants. In addition, 100% stock relief is available [923] for young trained farmers while farmers who lease out their land on a long-term basis are exempt from income tax on the rental income arising, up to a limit of £4,000 on a five to six year lease and up to £6,000 for a lease of seven years or more.

The budget also sees an increase in the threshold for retirement relief on capital gains tax. This relief is allowed to individuals aged 55 years or more on the disposal of business assets owned for ten or more years. Disposal to a child is already relieved in full, so the increase in this relief will assist in the transfer of assets to non-connected persons. The relief has been increased by 50%, from £250,000 to £375,000.

Mr. Creed:  What about the tax treatment of milk quotas?

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  That will be addressed. New legislation for milk quotas will be introduced.

Mr. Creed:  It will be like another mini-buget, similar to the one we had today. What about falling farm incomes?

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  A 20% rate of capital gains tax will now apply to disposals of those assets which were still liable to the 40% rate, that is, the disposal of non-residential development land and the disposal of residential development land to connected persons. This will be of direct benefit to farmers who sell land for non-residential development purposes, which is quite common in many areas as industry expands.

Mr. Creed:  Farm incomes are down by 17%.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Creed, allow the Minister of State to proceed without interruption.

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  Deputy Creed is not reading the CSO reports. Maintenance and enhancement of our environment has been a key feature of policy in the past and will continue to be a priority in the future. I am, therefore, glad the special capital allowance for farm pollution control, which was due to terminate on 5 April 2000, will be continued for another three years to 5 April 2003. In addition, the expenditure limit for the scheme will be increased from £30,000 to £40,000, with up to £20,000 claimable in the first year. This is a targeted measure, costing only £0.3 million in a full year, but it gives significant relief in cash flow for those farmers investing in pollution control works. It is a very welcome enhancement to the previously existing allowance.

Social welfare improvements will cost almost £400 million in a full year – by far the largest social welfare package ever. The House will recall that the Government introduced the farm assist scheme in last year's budget to assist low income farm households. The scheme has been successful, with 9,200 applications to date, including [924] 2,500 new applicants. Under the budget individuals benefiting from the scheme will receive an increase of £4 per week and persons with a dependent adult will receive an increase from £116.70 to £124.60.

Mr. Creed:  The only thing the Minister of State can do for farmers is to give them social welfare benefits. It is a disgrace.

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  The most welcome part of the budget has been the proposal to decentralise to country and provincial towns. I look forward to the transfer of many of the North-South bodies to some of these towns.

Mr. Creed:  When?

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  Decentralisation has been the hallmark of the Government. Since we took up office we have proceeded with it across the country.

Mr. Creed:  What about north Cork?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Allow the Minister of State to proceed without interruption.

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  We do not address the north Cork issue. There must be decentralisation from congested areas. There are no more congested areas than those in the capital city and we cannot allow further developments there. I look forward to country towns, such as Macroom, being part of the decentralisation programme.

Mr. Creed:  Is that a commitment?

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  Food safety promotion and other activities can be decentralised in the future. The Government is very conscious of the needs of rural Ireland. Decentralisation must be welcomed as a major policy plank of the budget.

The budget sees the enhancement of the corporation tax regime, especially for small and medium sized enterprises. The standard rate of corporation tax for trading income is being reduced from 28% to 24% from 1 January 2000. This is part of a phased reduction in the standard rate of corporation tax for trading income to a single rate of 12.5% in 2003. The Finance Act, 1999, also provided for a 25% rate of corporation tax on non-trading income from 1 January 2000. To assist small and medium-sized enterprises, the 12.5% corporation tax rate will apply from 1 January 2000 in certain cases. This is very significant from the food industry point of view. It should give extra breathing space for start-up companies to find their feet and it will also help to secure the future of the very many small and medium-sized enterprises in the sector.

The food industry continues to make an extremely important contribution to the overall economy. The current development strategy for the industry – the food sub-programme – covers the 1994-99 period and has been instru[925] mental in the industry's strong performance over recent years. Over the first five years of the strategy, output increased by £2.2 billion and exports by £1 billion. Despite problems on the pigmeat and sheepmeat markets, the overall outturn for 1999 will be in line with previous progress. The year has witnessed a strong increase in the value of beef exports and continuing growth in the high value prepared consumer foods and food ingredients sectors.

If the food industry is to prosper in the future, it must recognise and respond to the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. As the Food Industry Development Group indicated, the key to future growth is the industry's ability to maximise its competitiveness and market orientation. The specific relevant initiatives outlined in the national development plan and the related indicative public funding allocation of £282 million bear this in mind. These will allow the industry to build on its recent satisfactory performance and to address general and sectoral-specific issues that could hinder progress.

The factors that will influence the food industry's future environment are many and various. These include the increased concentration at retailing level, the growth in the food services sector and the further trade liberalisation that is likely to result from the next round of world trade negotiations. The food service area is expanding and in the future all concentration must be in that area because we are well aware of what is happening in North America and various other places where more than 50% of people eat outside the home. That area must be addressed and the food industry is well poised to take advantage of it in the area of exports.

The prime consideration will, however, remain the wishes of the consumer. In this context, it is essential that the future development of the food industry be underscored by continuing attention to food safety and quality issues. The current development strategy has played a key role in the enhancement of standards. The initiatives outlined in the national development plan will help to ensure that the necessary focus is maintained.

The food sector's recent success has been achieved in the face of many difficulties. It is evidence of an adaptable and resilient industry. These qualities will continue to serve it well and, allied to the support provided under the national development plan, engender confidence for the future. I appreciate fully that we must ensure that such confidence is not misplaced. To this end I assure the House that, as has been the case under the current development strategy, the industry's progress will continue to be closely monitored and, where appropriate, support mechanisms will be adjusted. I am satisfied that such a discipline will assist the maximisation of the industry's contribution to the national economy and its substantial relevance to the agricultural sector and overall rural development.

Mr. McGuinness:  A great deal of heat has been [926] generated by the budget. At least one of its proposals has been controversial. It has given the Opposition parties a rare opportunity to exercise their undoubted talent for posturing, pomposity and rabble-rousing. Indeed, Deputy Rabbitte ably displayed all these aspects. When he referred to mother duck leading the ducklings onto the plinth he appears to have forgotten the many days he spent on the plinth. He did not have many ducklings behind him because there were not many in the ranks. He was quick to change his political coat. There is safety in numbers, so he also changed his political beliefs.

None of this can take from the fact that the budget laid before the House operated within limits. On the one hand, we must take note of possible overheating in the economy while on the other hand we must ensure the prudent use of resources to ensure that the country's successful progress continues for the ultimate benefit of all. Given this, the budget has addressed in a praiseworthy and substantial fashion the demands made by many sections of our society.

The success of the budget can be gauged by the inordinate amount of attention the Opposition gave the one area that required further consideration. In this I am mindful that we are here to tease things out in sober debate and establish fully what the Minister intends. I will not be swayed in my pursuit of facts by the baying of Opposition parties, which seem to be more intent on cynically manipulating public concern than on establishing the thinking behind the Minister's proposal. In this regard I welcome the further positive addition to the budget announced today, namely, the £3,000 allowance and the referral of the further individualisation of the tax code to the social partners for further consideration. This reply to the concern expressed publicly by many is an indication that this is a caring Government, one that is willing to listen, to change for the better and to move on, taking everyone's views into consideration. The Minister is entitled to have the opportunity to explain and the public are demanding an explanation. He should have explained more fully, perhaps, at the beginning but I believe the matter has been adequately dealt with.

Mr. Creed:  The Deputy should take Deputy Healy-Rea with him next time.

Mr. McGuinness:  The Minister has said this is the first of three budgets over which he will address anomalies and inadequacies in our tax system. Given the extraordinarily positive steps he has taken in this and the previous budgets, I am confident that he will do that.

Mr. U. Burke:  Extraordinary is the word.

Mr. McGuinness:  In reply to Deputy Creed, I will take to the plinth any time I feel like doing so. It might be a lesson for the Opposition Deputies to exercise their own minds and not be [927] led by the nose through many of the issues. That is what the Deputies are doing tonight.

Mr. Creed:  Deputy McGuinness sat on his hands last Wednesday.

Mr. McGuinness:  I am surprised only three Opposition Deputies came to listen to this debate and that none of them has the courage to stand up for anything. They have little to offer in relation to this budget. I am very pleased the Minister had the concern of the general public at heart and was willing to do something constructive about it.

Mr. U. Burke:  The Deputy went out when the call came.

Mr. McGuinness:  There was no call except for the call from my constituents. I have no difficulty in stating the one factor which is already quite plain. The family is the cornerstone on which this nation was built. It has a particular and unique place in our hearts. I will not countenance any degrading of that position, any reflection on those who choose to stay at home to raise their children or any course which promotes one method of raising a family over another. I do not believe this was the Minister's intention. I suspect the exercise he is undertaking is both complex and necessary if we are to get our tax system working properly. Any change must be adequately explained to all of us here and to the general public. During that process of explanation and consultation I will ignore the smoke and sand the Opposition is using to cloud the issue and confuse the general public.

Mr. U. Burke:  Did the Deputy say that in Kilkenny last week?

Mr. McGuinness:  I did indeed, because I am willing to stand by my convictions, unlike some of the Opposition Deputies. I congratulate the Minister on the many beneficial changes he has made in the budget. The increase in tax allowances is a very positive step. His handling of the inheritance of family homes has taken a burden from the shoulders of many and the increase in the old age pension, the largest ever, has been well received. We should not forget the positive results he has achieved by bravely lowering the CGT threshold and I have no doubt his action with regard to gift and inheritance taxes will yield the same positive results. The Minister has a clear understanding of what is needed and I feel certain he will satisfactorily resolve the remaining issues without difficulty over the next few budgets.

With regard to the development of the regions and particularly with regard to health issues, I ask that the Department of Health and Children take a particular interest in ensuring not only that the plans undertaken by the health boards are funded but that they fit into the national plan and that health boards are encouraged to complete their [928] plans in an efficient and true manner. The running down of Kilcreen Hospital when the Opposition was in Government should now be examined. Perhaps that unit can be funded so that a home for the elderly can be established on the site. I recognise the contribution of the Minister for Health and Children to my constituency. His development of St. Luke's Hospital and the announcement of an acute psychiatric unit for that hospital is welcomed in the constituency and the region. It is a recognition that the constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny has, for many years, trailed behind the national trend in relation to developments in this area.

Mr. U. Burke:  Was that to silence the Deputy?

Mr. McGuinness:  Much more needs to be done and I ask the Minister to encourage the health board. A member of Deputy Creed's party was on the health board when the running down was taking place but he has not the courage today to accept responsibility for it. Much needs to be done in many constituencies. Some have fallen behind and I hope the budget and the national development plan will bring those up to the level of others.

Given the worldwide connectivity, there is a need to connect the regions to this system so that industry, indigenous and otherwise, can be encouraged to grow and sustain jobs in the region. I refer particularly to the two advance factories in Kilkenny and, now that they are finished, every effort must be made to ensure that they are given the proper connectivity to play their role in the development of the information age, the digital age and e-commerce. I ask the Minister to take note of the self-help ethos established in the constituency which is growing in spite of other developments and that the necessary costs be met by the Department to enable us to play our part.

I recognise the need for reform of local government. In all we do in this House we must take into consideration the local government process by which the imposition of local government charges can cancel out the extra payments made to old age pensioners and the low paid by central Government. Every effort must be made to continue to raise the level of old age pensions, as has been done in this budget. Old age pensioners are the people who built the successful economy we have today. Despite the measures in the budget, they do not enjoy the same comfort as we do. In every budget, we must ensure these people are rewarded for their contribution to building the economy.

I welcome the budget. I acknowledge that much more must be done but I know the Government, over the next number of budgets, will play its part.

Mr. Fleming:  It is a privilege to speak in this debate.

Mr. Creed:  It must be a relief to speak tonight.

[929]Mr. Fleming:  I was happy to support this budget on the day it was announced and I am still happy to do so. Next April when people get the benefit of the new tax regime and in May when they get the increases in social welfare payments, the country will be smiling too.

Mr. Creed:  And in October when they get the increased child benefit.

Mr. Fleming:  This is the largest funded budget the country has ever seen. With today's announcements, more than £1 billion has been given in tax concessions. Some £0.5 billion has been given through the social welfare code. The Irish people have received a return of their money through the tax and social welfare codes of £1.5 billion. That is an average of more than £1,000 for every household.

I have listened to the debate in the last half hour. When Deputy Rabbitte was speaking I wondered what planet he has been on for the past week. He spoke about the injustice to low paid workers and everybody else. This budget has not done an injustice to a single person in the country.

Mr. Creed:  Except where only one partner is working.

Mr. Fleming:  Every person in the country is better off as a result of this budget. That has never happened before in the history of the State.

Mr. Creed:  That is not the point.

Mr. Fleming:  That is an achievement of which we can be proud. There is no logic in the argument that an injustice has been done to any worker in our society or to anyone in receipt of social welfare. Everybody is a winner and that is an achievement of which we can be proud.

Mr. Creed:  It is Thatcherite.

Mr. Fleming:  As a member of the Fianna Fáil party, I am delighted that on last Thursday morning I was able to talk to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance and to meet the Minister with some of my colleagues on Thursday night and put to him the case for one income families with children. That question has been given due consideration as a result of pressure from Fianna Fáil backbenchers. I am delighted to be the first member of the Government party to place on the record of the House that the commitment given by Fianna Fáil in its 1997 general election manifesto to give a £2,000 tax free allowance at the standard rate to every family where one of the spouses is working in the home looking after children or old or handicapped people has been met in its entirety today. We did that today; in fact, we did better than that and increased it by 50%. The Government has given an allowance of £3,000 although the commitment in the election manifesto was for £2,000.

[930]Mr. McCormack:  Why was it not done last week?

Mr. Fleming:  It comes into force next April regardless of when it was announced. People will receive the benefit of that extra tax free allowance on 6 April next year and they will see the benefit of the Fianna Fáil Party implementing the Fianna Fáil election manifesto. We went before the people with that manifesto two years ago and we are happy to implement it today.

Mr. Creed:  You made a hames of it.

Mr. Fleming:  I am satisfied that during the next round of negotiations on a national wage agreement, the successor to Partnership 2000, low paid workers will be one of the key issues on the agenda. The Government, in consultation with the social partners, will ensure that people who are on the minimum wage of £4.40 per hour, which is to be introduced next April, will be able to earn substantially more money without coming into the tax net at the first instance.

Mr. Creed:  Ten pounds per week.

Mr. Fleming:  That will be part of the negotiations early in the new year.

The measure announced today will benefit 180,000 households; 66,000 of these households—

Mr. N. O'Keeffe:  Write that down.

Mr. U. Burke:  People, not households.

Mr. Fleming:  —are households where the single earner earns more than £28,000. A total of 114,000 households where the spouse earns less than £28,000 will also benefit. Those figures expose the lie and hypocrisy of Deputy Rabbitte's comments earlier when he skitted that this measure was not of benefit to lower income families. A total of 114,000 lower income families will benefit from this announcement compared with 66,000 families with incomes of more than £28,000. This measure is focused on the family, children and people who work in the home. That is the record of which Fianna Fáil is proud. We are delivering on that record. Next April these people will benefit when they receive their new tax free allowances for the new tax year.

It is a tremendous day when a Government party can show that not only has it honoured in its entirety its election manifesto commitment in two years but has done more than that. There are still two more budgets to be introduced and they will be delivered. They will give further increases to people at every income level, be they social welfare recipients, members of the workforce or people working in the family home. We will deliver on that commitment in the next two years.

It is a particular pleasure to point out that [931] 50,000 people have been removed from the tax net as a result of the budget and 125,000 people have been removed from the top tax rate. The single band will increase from £14,000 to £17,000 and the standard rate personal allowance has been increased by £500 in the case of a single person and £1,000 in the case of a married person. Above all, it should be repeatedly pointed out that the standard rate of tax has been reduced from 24% to 22% and the higher rate has been reduced from 46% to 44%.

This is the lowest level of income tax in my lifetime. I remember when the Opposition parties were in Government that people were paying an effective tax rate of more than 60%. That was penal, unjust and wrong. It was anti-work, anti-people and anti-everything. At the end of this Government's term of office, 88% of all income earners will be paying tax at the standard rate. Only 12% will pay tax at the higher rate. At present, more than 40% of people pay tax at the higher rate. In the next two budgets there will be a dramatic improvement and many more people will pay tax at the standard rate, which is as it should be.

I am pleased that personal allowances for the aged, blind, widowed, dependent relatives and incapacitated children have been doubled. I am delighted that the income tax exemption for people of 65 years and more has been increased by £1,000 in the case of a single person and £2,000 for a married couple. That is most important. People over 65 years of age can now earn £15,000 tax free. That is the type of respect we should accord the people who built up this country. This is payback time for them and they are getting it from this Government.

I am particularly pleased with the increase of £7 in the old age pension. That is the biggest single increase ever. In the last two budgets it was increased by £5 and £6 respectively. The old age pension will be in excess of £100 when we are debating next year's budget. We gave a commitment to increase the old age pension to £100 and we are more than three quarters of the way to achieving that target. It will be delivered in full in the first budget of the new millennium when the old age pension will be more than £100 per week. People are pleased with that.

I welcome the increase in child benefit of £8 per month for the first and second children and £10 per month for the third and subsequent children. Another caring measure that was introduced was the insurance based carer's benefit for people who leave employment to look after persons in need of full-time care and attention. That measure is included because Fianna Fáil is a caring and listening party. We listened to representatives of the carers' association—

Mr. U. Burke:  They listened to you yesterday, all right.

Mr. Fleming:  —and the independent living [932] fund and we responded. We will continue to respond. I have been happy to speak on this excellent budget. It was the best budget in the history of the State and after today's announcement it is even better.

Mr. McCormack:  I wish to share my time with Deputies Ulick Burke and Creed.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Browne,:  Carlow-Kilkenny): Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. McCormack:  This budget is the most talked about budget in recent years because it is so uncaring, anti-social, anti-family and anti-women. I do not know how the Minister got it so wrong. The budget favours the well off to the disadvantage of lower income groups. It has the hallmarks of Progressive Democrats influence. The Tánaiste and her Ministers have a heavy burden of responsibility to bear as a result of the backlash from the public. It is not the first time her party got things wrong – some years ago it wanted to remove God from the Constitution. Now it wants to dismantle the family.

Make no mistake, the low paid are the sufferers under this budget. The Minister raised the income limit to only £110 per week before a low paid worker comes into the tax net. The budget is three times more advantageous to the high earner than to the low earner. Before the introduction of the budget, Fine Gael proposed an income limit of £170 per week before a worker entered the tax net. When the Minister introduced this budget he saw an economy rather than a society and that was his mistake.

His actions with regard to the serious discrimination against women working in the home, in effect, dumped the constitutional provisions protecting those women. How did he think he would get away with allowing a tax free allowance of £56,000 to a double income couple and an allowance of £28,000 for a couple in which both people work but one works in the home, over three years? Our society is based on the family and this proposal was anti-family.

There is a belief that this ill thought out proposal could be contrary to Articles 41.2.1º and 41.2.2º of the Constitution. Article 41.2.1º states:

In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.

Article 41.2.2º states:

The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.

Until today, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Finance wondered what the problem was. They stated there would not be a climbdown. The Minister said he was not for turning. However, facing the reality of the loss of the [933] Independent Deputies' support and, perhaps, that of some Government backbenchers, the Minister is for turning today. At least, he has half turned in a concession to women in the home looking after children and granted them an additional £3,000 in their tax free allowance. This is only a partial solution as a couple, both of whom work outside the home, will have £34,000 tax free compared to £31,000 for a couple, one of whom, usually the wife, works in the home. What is the position where there are no dependent children remaining in the house? Where does a couple in this situation stand in the Minister's attempt to solve the crisis in the Government? A married couple without dependent children and both of whom work outside the home will receive the benefit of £34,000 tax free this year or £58,000 in three years. Will discrimination continue against a couple without dependent children and one of whom works in the home?

The rearguard action by the Government is not motivated by concern for the families against whom the budget discriminates, rather by the fear that the backbenchers or the Independent Deputies supporting the Government might vote against it and cause an election. It is certain that the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Finance do not want to fight an election on this issue. I will be surprised if the Independent Deputies who support the Government accept this feeble attempt to solve the problem. Their support is assured by other cynical means, such as concessions concerning matters in their constituencies. One should expect announcements shortly for sanctions for new roads or bridges in south Kerry, or perhaps a school in Wicklow, or perhaps the licensing of the television deflector transmitters in Donegal. If the Independent Deputies strike a hard bargain, perhaps they may also obtain a Government commitment to a referendum on abortion. This is their best chance because the Government is concerned about avoiding a general election.

The concession of favours to supporting Independent Deputies is a cynical exercise and will avoid an election on the budget in the short-term. In the long-term it will have a devastating effect on the Government. How long will the Fianna Fáil backbenchers in the same constituencies as those Independent Deputies tolerate the situation where the Independent Deputies have a strong hold on the Government? How long can the Government take Deputies Keaveney or Coughlan for granted? Will these concessions create more trouble in south Kerry for the already worried Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue? What about poor Deputy Roche in Wicklow who appears to have been very agitated recently and has been a regular visitor to the plinth? How much longer will the Government Deputies in those constituencies tolerate the Government buying the support of the Independent Deputies? As has been said, watch this space.

It is a strange feature of the budget that it took many Deputies a long time to spot the serious [934] anomalies, with the exception of the Fine Gael spokesman on finance, Deputy Noonan, who instantly spotted the serious flaws in it. This was a budget to suit the rich and aimed to please Progressive Democrats supporters and the sector in the community which contributes generously to Fianna Fáil. On closer examination, it can be seen that the budget discriminates against the lower paid and vulnerable section of the community. How can the Government propose to tax income after £110 per week when next April it proposes to introduce a minimum wage of £170 per week? The budget has already raised serious questions about the renegotiation of a new partnership programme. How can the Minister justify an increase of only £8 per month in child allowance and wait until September of next year to introduce it? What about the miserly £4 per week for carers under 66 who must wait until May 2000 for it?

The Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs made great play in his contribution of his concern for carers. The budget represents one of the greatest disappointments for the thousands of family carers throughout the country who have experienced injustice. Not one additional carer will qualify for the carer's allowance after the budget fiasco. The year 1999 has seen a huge increase in the carers' movement in Ireland. They thought their time had finally come and that the huge contribution they make by their work at home 24 hours a day would be recognised. Sadly, the Government failed to understand the huge level of frustration and anger they felt that so few carers qualify for the carer's allowance.

The single biggest grievance, the means test, has remained unchanged. The lives of over 90% of Ireland's carers will not be improved one whit as regards the carer's allowance. The Carers Association has called on the Government to wake up to the reality of carers' lives and to amend the proposal in the Social Welfare Bill which will be published in a few weeks. If this fundamental grievance is not addressed by the Government now when times are good, what can we expect at other times?

The Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs praised himself for extending the free electricity and television allowance to carers. Why is he delaying it for 12 months? It is the same with the extension of the free schemes to people over 75. They will not come into effect until October 2000. Some of those people may not live to get the benefit. The Minister might as well have left it until next year's budget rather than raising their hopes now.

I have made the case for the past two and a half years on behalf of carers who become widows. There is a serious anomaly in the situation of a woman caring on a 24 hour basis in the home for a member of her husband's family. She qualifies for the carer's allowance if her husband's income is less than £150 per week. If she becomes a widow, she loses her husband and the benefit of his income. While she qualifies for the widow's pension, she loses the carer's allowance, [935] despite the fact that she continues to be a carer for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

This is a scandalous situation and I have tabled numerous parliamentary questions on it. I have written to the Minister, I have raised it at various Dáil committees and I was told by the Minister two and a half years ago to make a submission to the review body which was considering changes in the carer's allowance. The body reported to the Minister earlier this year and we have just had another budget with no move made to correct this grave injustice to widows who are carers. I have been fobbed off in every way possible. I was told it could cost £15 million. This is false. My colleague, Deputy Creed, was informed in a reply to a question he tabled that, from the commencement of the carer's allowance scheme nine years ago to 15 September 1999, the number of persons refused for being in receipt of social welfare payments was 214. I estimate the number of carers per year who become widows to be no greater than ten and it would cost no more than £40,000 per year, less than half the Minister's salary, to cater for those widows against whom such serious discrimination is being shown.

I make a final and absolute appeal to the Minister to find this miserly sum to recognise the sterling work of those carers. Perhaps he could also examine the anomaly whereby the carer's allowance can become a taxable income if the spouse of the carer is in the tax net. How can a carer be taxed for caring for 365 days a year?

Mr. U. Burke:  The storm of protest unleashed by the budget proposals of the Minister, Deputy McCreevy, to favour two-income households over families where only one partner works is unprecedented. Those who think that storm has passed are mistaken. Coming at a time when massive funds are available to the Minister, it indicates clearly his inability to handle fairly the resources at his disposal.

The budget has done much more than exclude sections of society from a fair deal. It is divisive, it has disappointed low paid workers, divided families and dismantled partnership in the area of pay agreements. The unions have withdrawn and the social partners are concerned. This will have serious consequences for the future prosperity of the economy and far-reaching consequences for the funding of areas of greatest need, hospital waiting lists, housing shortages and the elimination of poverty from within our community.

The greatest reward in the budget goes to doubling-income families and high income earners. The budget was unfair because it failed to use the resources available to eliminate income poverty. Those who are already better off gained more than those who are poor, and those people will remain poor as a result of the budget. It is anti-family because it favoured single people and gave little benefit to the families where one parent decides to stay at home. It is also anti-women [936] because it discriminates against women who wish to stay at home.

Today's mock repair efforts in response to the fear of the Independents and the many Government backbenchers is a further indication of how poorly our economy is being managed by the Government. The Government could have eliminated poverty for low income wage earners and made a realistic effort to solve the child care problems. A sum of 26p per day will do nothing to help. One in ten people in Ireland are consistently poor despite rapid economic growth. Ireland's expenditure on social welfare is the lowest in Europe apart from Portugal, with expenditure decreasing from 27% in 1996 to 23% in 1999. At the same time the number of recipients of social welfare has increased. A single person earning £20,000 per year gains six times as much as a person who is long-term unemployed. Even greater disparities are found at higher income levels.

The Government has done nothing to alleviate or eliminate rural poverty; it is blind to this concept. There is only a two-line reference to agriculture in the Budget Statement. The Government has totally abdicated its responsibilities towards the farming community, particularly towards farmers in the west. There are no additional funds for grant aid for pollution control or dairy hygiene. There is no forward planning for agriculture other than to tell the farming community to find off-farm income. Agriculture is no longer viable under this Government.

In a previous budget the Minister for Finance introduced a pilot scheme in the upper Shannon region as a designated area. It was a great disappointment that this scheme was not extended to the remainder of the Shannon basin and to south-east Galway where there is already serious rural decline. Within this south Galway region there has been a decline in population of 10% between the 1991 census and the 1996 census, a decline which is continuing unabated. The national average workforce in agriculture is 15%, but in this region it is 39%. Many of the families in this area are caught in a rural poverty trap and nothing in the budget indicates that the Government cares about the situation which is replicated in many other rural communities in western areas. Will the Minister in the Finance Bill extend the designated area to include all other areas in the Shannon basin, excluding those areas covered by SFADCo? There is no evidence of a rural development strategy and it is clear from the budget that there is little if any future in investment for agriculture for many farmers. Report after report has been produced and commissioned, all of which have been left to gather dust.

The Fianna Fáil election manifesto of 1997 gave an undertaking to grant-aid small abattoir owners to upgrade their premises to EU standards. The Government has failed to deliver on this over the past two and a half years, and many repeated promises during that time have failed to [937] materialise. A decline from 900 to 400 abattoirs is an indication of the serious situation which exists. There are only six abattoirs left in County Galway, with none in Galway city in private ownership. Is the Government going to continue to allow this decline? The simple remedy seems to be based on the idea of survival of the fittest while the rest must go. It is important to remember that the larger factories and processors got all the assistance to upgrade in response to the 1989 regulations. No assistance was provided for small abattoir owners who also had to upgrade from their personal resources. Will funds be made available to aid this group which is in decline? If so, when will this be done?

I welcome the provision of £2.5 million for flood alleviation in south Galway. When will the Office of Public Works be able to prepare plans and environmental studies so that the concern of the communities in these areas can be addressed? These communities are threatened on a constant basis, and I hope immediate plans are put in place to have the flood alleviation plans commenced.

I welcome the programme of decentralisation as long as it is implemented fairly so that most county towns have the benefit of a fair deal. I am talking about towns such as Ballinasloe, Loughrea and Gort which have been bypassed by industrial policies of the past. I hope on this occasion the Government will redress this by decentralising some State or semi-State agencies to these towns.

Mr. Creed:  I thank my colleagues for sharing time with me. I spoke to Deputy Noonan prior to last Wednesday's budget and I almost felt sorry for him given the task confronting him. The Government was about to embark on the greatest give-away of all times and it seemed a thankless task to have to reply to it. Little did we realise, however, how much an opportunity the Government was about to present us with in terms of the incompetence with which it handled that give-away. The Government showed how to make a sow's ear out of a silk purse, how to make a hames of giving away £1,000 million.

It is difficult to know where to start because of the numerous failings in the budget, but perhaps the south of France is a good place. During the summer of 1999 the Minister, Deputy McCreevy, and the Tánaiste had ample time as they relaxed in a chateau to dream up a budget which would screw the needy and give most of the benefits available to those who least needed them and least expected to benefit to such an extent. It is a Thatcherite budget. I think it was after Nigel Lawson's budget of 1988 that Margaret Thatcher said there was no such thing as society, merely a collection of individuals. Given the treatment meted out in the budget and the clinical calculations about stay at home spouses and spouses who go out to work, as though these were cogs in a great industrial machine rather than human beings, one gets the picture painted and machinations planned in the south of France.

[938] Given the benefit of the doubt, the manner in which the vast majority of Fianna Fáil and all Government backbenchers reacted last Wednesday to the budget would suggest they did not understand it, but I wonder in their heart of hearts if they thought this was a Progressive Democrats led, Thatcherite Government, with Fianna Fáil abandoning its core principles. It must be recognised that there has been a significant and principled commitment by Fianna Fáil to the underprivileged in the history of the State. Many would have argued that the failure of the development of a real labour party in Ireland since the foundation of the State was because that position was largely usurped by Fianna Fáil. However, this budget is a watershed in Irish politics as it underpins a left-right divide. The Government set out to deliver the spoils of a successful economy in an unfair and skewed manner which gave most to those on high incomes while giving minimal benefit to those who have perhaps contributed most to the successful economy.

If one looks at the number of issues which faced the Government in terms of how to maintain the successful Celtic tiger economy, perhaps one of the most significant problems facing it is the shortage of labour. The IDA is concerned about that matter and is unable to attract industry to certain areas because there are insufficient workers available. That is the reason the IDA has been making soundings to the Government and the Department of Enterprise and Employment about adopting a more liberal approach to immigrants with work permits.

If that is the real issue what was the Government's policy response? It deliberately adopted the stick rather than the carrot approach as regards people entering the workforce. The Government had the capacity to provide a proper child care service so that those in the home, perhaps not altogether from choice, could go out to work. Rather than provide adequate support through child benefit, investment in crèches and tax write offs for companies that provide such facilities, it hit on the head with a big stick those who stayed at home because it alleged they are lazy and did not want to join the workforce. They do work it does not value. The real and lasting damage caused by the budget was the signal it sent to people in the home. Many people choose to stay at home for reasons other than economic ones. They may do so in what they consider to be the best interests of their children, they may have a handicapped child or be looking after an elderly relative. Some people have no choice but to remain at home because of their personal circumstances. They may be disabled and so on. What is the consequence of the U-turn by the Government on those who have no choice but to stay in the home?

The figure of 60,000 households was mentioned. This is a clinical approach. People are not mentioned, only households and statistics. When the Finance Bill is published it will be seen in the [939] small print that this is a mirage and the benefit will not be as significant as the Government backbenchers and Independents seem to think it is.

I was disappointed to hear the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine contribute to the debate without acknowledging the huge crisis in agriculture. He referred to the fact that many people would be taken out of the tax net by virtue of the Government's action on taxation but many farmers will be taken out of the tax net by falling incomes rather than anything the Government did in the budget. The Minister referred to the farm assist scheme. If ever there was a scheme of smoke and mirrors designed to confuse and provide the Government with a fig leaf in terms of falling farm incomes, this is it. In the forced realignment of beneficiaries from small farm-holders assistance to farm assist, numerous farm families have become ineligible for benefit they previously received. There is marginally increased expenditure on the farm assist scheme relative to what was paid previously under small-holders assistance. How could the Minister of State contribute to the debate without referring to the crisis in agriculture and falling farm incomes of 17% over the past two years? They are the facts as presented in the farm survey. Of the £940 million given away on budget day, without reference to the U-turn today and possible further U-turns between now and the Finance Bill, £3.8 million was ear-marked for farming. That is a salutary lesson for the farming community on the Government's real commitment to agricultural matters.

There is reference to increased capital allowances for investment onfarm. There is no investment as there are falling incomes. Some farmers have pollution problems but there are not any grants available to deal with them. These are serious problems. The deserved media concentration on issues such as the discrimination against stay-at-home spouses has masked one of the other great travesties of this budget and that is the treatment of the low paid. It is incomprehensible that the Government should set as a laudable target a minimum wage of £4.50 or £170 a week and then say in the budget £110 of it should be taxed. That is a disgrace.

Mr. D. Wallace:  The Deputy should look at his own party's record.

Mr. Creed:  There has never been a Government that has had so much money to give away and has focused the vast majority of it on those who did not really expect to benefit. For those who are not earning £30,000 or £40,000 but are taking home £150 or £200 a week the tax exemption was increased from £100 to £110. It speaks volumes about the Minister's and Government's commitment. One of the specific issues on which the agricultural community looked for relief in terms of tax treatment was how milk quota that is purchased is treated as opposed to that which [940] is leased. There are big changes on the way in the milk quota regime. There is much uncertainty in agriculture and I implore the Minister, when preparing the Finance Bill, to revisit this issue. This would indicate, in some way, that the Government is listening, understands the plight of farmers and is committed to doing something about it.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. D. Wallace):  I wish to share time with Deputy Dennehy and the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Cowen.

We are now experiencing sustained economic growth. The Government is determined that this welcome growth will not be to the detriment of the natural environment. We have taken a number of initiatives to intensify the pursuit of environmentally sustainable development through, for example, the establishment of Comhar – the national sustainable development partnership – through the new pilot eco-auditing scheme for Government policies and the introduction of a sustainable development philosophy into planning legislation.

Strengthened environmental protection requires commitment and effort from everyone. I am delighted that, in the budget, we are providing additional resources to promote and secure higher public awareness and responsibility in relation to the environment. Funding of around £2.2 million will be available for a number of purposes in this regard compared with some £1.3 million in 1999.

Later on this week the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, will launch a new multi-media environmental awareness campaign. The increased allocation will allow us to intensify our activities in this area over the coming year. A recent survey carried out for the European Commission indicated that a majority of Irish citizens felt they were not well informed on how to protect the environment in their daily lives. The new campaign should change this. We need to get across the message that each individual can make a difference. In our daily lives we impact on the environment in many ways, through our mode of transport, use of water and energy resources, the goods we buy and the materials we discard. It is in our interests and the interest of future generations to use resources in an eco-efficient and environmentally friendly way.

I am also pleased that funding of £200,000 is again being provided for the environment partnership fund in 2000. This is an important collaborative effort under which my Department with the local authorities supports awareness-raising projects by community and environmental groups. It represents an active and committed partnership.

Although progress has been made in some areas, litter remains a widespread problem which must be addressed through the initiatives at both national and local level. With the extra funding provided in Budget 2000, we intend to continue the Government's programme of targeted anti-litter measures. These include the development and [941] implementation of the national litter pollution monitoring system which will measure and assess local authority litter pollution and control activities. The funding will support National Spring Clean, the An Taisce led partnership against litter, and it will provide grant aid for local authority anti-litter initiatives.

I hope that by undertaking these measures, combined with the recently announced increase to £50 from January 2000 of the on-the-spot fine for littering, there will be a significant reduction in the unsightly and unacceptable levels of litter pollution we continue to see.

Apart from the extra provisions in the budget, we have provided greatly increased resources for the Environmental Protection Agency in the 2000 Estimates. The provision for the agency is increased by 42% to £12.4 million and this reflects factors such as increased staffing, extra responsibilities in the waste and other areas, research and development needs and the expansion of laboratory services.

The work of the EPA is central to ensuring that economic development and growth are not at the expense of our environment. An effective, well resourced EPA can make a huge contribution to environmental management and protection, implementing and enforcing high standards for industry and waste activities, monitoring the quality and condition of the environment and supervising the environmental performance of local authorities.

The increased funding for environmental purposes provided in this year's budget, together with the record environmental investment already identified in the national development plan, clearly indicate the Government's strong and continued commitment to environmental protection.

Mr. Dennehy:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. We have witnessed some extraordinary turnarounds since 1987, the scale of which could never have been anticipated. When Ray MacSharry gave his budget speech that year, we faced a budget deficit of £2 billion, the top rate of tax was 58% and 70% of all taxpayers were saddled with that penal rate. For those lucky enough to be on the standard rate, that was 35% and tax free allowances were at a paltry level.

We are now halfway through the lifetime of this Government and the difference is remarkable. Top and standard rates are now down by 13% and 14% respectively. In the same period, the number of people at work has risen by 700,000 and it is no coincidence that these two phenomena have occurred. Tax reductions at all levels reduce poverty traps, increase the incentive to work and fuel economic expansion. Some people belittle the work ethic and make theoretical arguments about social inclusion, but if some people are not earning the money and the Government does not collect a fair share of it, [942] there would be nothing to redistribute for social inclusion or any other programmes.

I would be interested in an assessment from the Economic and Social Research Institute as to the relative change in economic well-being here vis-à-vis our European counterparts. I would be confident that no other country in the history of the European Union has seen such an unprecedented acceleration in the wealth of its citizens.

In relation to the social welfare changes in the budget, one point which seems to have been missed is that the increases will be paid a month earlier this year. That will cost a great deal of money. The Minister has indicated that he will bring forward the payment date to April in next year's budget, which will coincide with the increase in taxation. On a historical point, I would remind the Fine Gael Party that in the dying days of its Government in 1987, it proposed delaying the payment of social welfare increases to November – questions were asked about that in the past few minutes. This is an issue that the elderly and indeed others feel strongly about, but in next year's budget those increases will be brought forward to April, despite the major cost that will entail.

The welfare changes are significant and well above the rate of inflation in all cases. The improvement in pensions is particularly welcome and keeps the Government on course to meet its manifesto promise of a minimum £100 per week State pension during its term in office. Before they were put out of office on the last occasion, Fine Gael and its socialist partners gave pensioners an increase of £1.30 per week, or 17p per day. Whenever I challenge people in Fine Gael on that, some of whom are friends of mine, they invariably say the money was not available to do any better, yet on Wednesday night its finance spokesperson stated that when the party went out of office, the country was booming. There is a contradiction in those two claims. I do not want to turn this debate into a political slagging match, but there are many other issues on record which are historical facts.

Other historical incidents show Fine Gael's different approach depending on whether it is in or out of office. I do not have time to deal with them but it was interesting to hear Deputy McCormack make an impassioned plea for carers. He said that for two and a half years he has been fighting this case and raising questions, but why did he not raise it three years ago when his party was in office? That is the type of approach we see from Fine Gael. We all like a bit of argy-bargy and to tease out our difficulties, but we should try to be honest at the same time.

In many ways this budget is only half of the Government's financial plan for the year. Taken with the measures announced in Estimates of receipts and payments, the budget represents a comprehensive series of measures to further develop the country's infrastructure and to underpin the economic growth we have enjoyed in recent years. While the comments, suggestions [943] and participation of interest groups and our partners is essential, the bottom line is that the people who have to put the whole act together in a balanced and sustainable way are the Taoiseach and his Ministers. Others, including backbenchers like myself, have the luxury of concentrating on our priorities as we see them. The Government's job is much more complicated, and it is getting the balance right in almost all cases.

A difficulty arose with one item in the budget but full credit is due to the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach who dealt with that in a speedy and positive fashion. Previous speakers have outlined the measures in the budget and I will not go into those, but it is worth noting that the changes being implemented will be at a cost of £125 million. They are not teasing at the edges, as the Minister, Deputy McCreevy, said was done in the past.

I have contributed to eight or nine of these debates since 1987 but this is by far the most successful occasion. Several colleagues outlined the figures in relation to the money that is going back to the people who worked to create the wealth. Those people deserve credit, recognition and some return. Many of the major issues will not arise until the Social Welfare Bill and the Finance Bill are published. We will not see many of the benefits from the funding allocated by the Minister for Health and Children until January, February or March when the health boards announce the major changes taking place. As a member of the Southern Health Board, I am looking forward to spending the £6 million or £7 million allocated for mental health care and all the other areas identified. For a long time we did not get the correct amount of money. There were substantial increases in the past two years, but it is working on a backdrop of three or four years. I said that last year and I will repeat it for as long as I am a Member of this House. The money flowed into Limerick but Cork was ignored. We are now trying to reverse that situation. I pay tribute for that to the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Cowen, who is in the Chamber. We are getting the money but we will not really see the benefits in many cases.

As a politician, I have personal views, as we all have, on how the available money should be spent. That is the case regardless of our political backgrounds or party affiliations. I was glad to hear Deputy Creed saying that Fianna Fáil was the natural home of working people over the years.

I have been concerned for many years about the plight of various groups of people such as the handicapped, carers, the elderly and widows and widowers. I will continue to make a case for these needy and deserving groups, irrespective of how much money is allocated to them. I have also argued for many years that parents who choose to stay at home and raise their families should have their work recognised. My wife and I made that decision. Under the criteria laid down by [944] CORI and others, I would have been described as a wealthy man. We had seven children and I was responsible for feeding nine people on one wage, paying 58p in every £1 in tax. I worked seven days a week and often five nights a week in order to feed my family. I am proud that my wife stayed at home to rear our family and I want her work to be recognised. Until now, the only person who made any attempt to gain recognition for women in the home was Garrett FitzGerald who received tens of thousands of votes for his effort. He did not deliver the money but he recognised the need. The money is now being delivered and I congratulate the Minister for Finance on that. That was an element of our manifesto and because of the little blip we experienced, it has been increased by 50%. I welcome the implementation of that promise. We must work on behalf of needy target groups.

The overall policy informing the Minister's tax measures over the course of his five budgets is the introduction of a system in which it will be easier to identify target groups. The Minister is the first Minister for Finance who had the courage to stand up in this House on day one and say that the budget he was presiding over was the first of five. I recall the guffaws of the Members of the Opposition which greeted his statement. When he delivered his second budget, there were only a few chuckles and last Wednesday there was hardly even a smirk. Members knew the Minister meant what he said. That is the way to do business.

Government Departments, local authorities and others are informed that they must draw up multi-annual budgets which will cover a four or five year period. Yet, past Governments operated on a year to year basis. The Minister had the ability and foresight to put a five year programme together. There was one weakness in the Minister's approach, namely that he flagged what he intends to do next year and the following year. It is easy for Members of the Opposition to try to play the trump card. It is easy to know what way the Minister is heading; that is the type of man he is.

The credit system introduced last year will assist us. I look forward to the next two budgets because I believe we will continue to move in the direction in which we have been moving. People wonder why an additional 700,000 people are working; they are working because they are securing proper work conditions. They are not boarding planes or ships to get out of the country. It may be of interest to Opposition Members that nine out of every ten graduates now secure their chosen job. That is a big change from three years ago.

The Minister has provided for more than £940 million in personal tax reductions and has taken 50,000 people out of the tax net. His next priority must be low paid workers. Former Minister for Finance, Deputy Albert Reynolds, commenced a process of taking people out of the net and that is the way we should proceed. People should not [945] have to pay tax up to a certain level. The Minister has taken 50,000 people out of the tax net altogether this year, 125,000 people have been taken off the higher tax rate and the bands have been increased by the largest amount ever. The Minister's changes have my total support. I have paid my dues. My wife and I would have benefited from tax concessions for people who stay at home but we did not receive them. I worked long and hard to support my family and I appreciate that tax breaks are now being provided.

I spoke to a local representative – not a member of my own party – on Monday night whom I thought would welcome the budget provisions. He and his wife are professional people and I said to him “we have played into your hands, you're happy with us.”. He turned to me and asked “what about the crowd on £250,000 a year? They're getting a lot more.”. That question revealed to me the greed of the present day and it served as a salutary lesson.

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  I join my Government colleagues in welcoming this budget and recognising the considerable and strategic reform of the income tax system which it has inaugurated. In regard to the controversy which has surrounded aspects of this budget, I would like Opposition Members to explain to me what they consider to be the alternatives. The structural problems in the income taxation system are not recognised, neither is it recognised what would occur, as a result of a status quo system, if the Minister for Finance and the Government did not take the measures they took.

We are currently operating against a very benign economic background, thanks to the implementation of very successful policies by this Government. GNP is expected to grow by 7.5% this year, broadly in line with the average of exceptional growth since 1994. It is estimated that employment for the year as a whole will have increased by 74,000 or 4.5%. Employment levels have risen by more than 150,000 over the past two years. The unemployment level has fallen and now stands at 5.1%, compared to 10% when this Government took up office. The most socially inclusive budget is one which can provide the type of employment creation opportunities which are providing more and more people with the opportunity to earn a living and meet their families' ambitions. Only a few years ago, some long-term unemployed people felt they would never be reintegrated into the workforce. Their reintegration is to be welcomed.

Too often, because of the sloganising which occurs – which, unfortunately, has been little short of namecalling in some instances – we have allowed the debate on this budget to be demeaned. A budget is part of an overall financial and economic programme which must be viewed in the context of the manner in which this Government is operating, the priorities of the Minister for Finance and the reasons for those priorities.

On the income taxation issues which have [946] arisen, we must be clear that what we delivered in this budget – cuts in tax rates, fewer taxpayers on the higher rate and reductions in the tax burden – is what we promised the electorate during our election campaign. The voter remains the ultimate arbiter of the budget and the democratic mandate is a basic principle we must respect. Let us be clear about one thing. We have a basic problem with our income tax system which arises from the doubling of the standard rate band for married couples. This occurred in 1980 when we introduced a tax system in response to the Murphy judgment. That judgment required us to treat two earner married couples no less favourably than two co-habiting single persons. Since the unfairness arose then because of the availability of just one tax band for all taxpayers, all that was required to follow the Murphy judgment was for the Government to double the tax band for two earner married couples. Instead, for good and sufficient policy reasons at the time, the band was doubled for all married persons and the married personal allowance had been already doubled to single allowance since 1978.

The result is that when we want to take single persons off the top rate of tax on a £14,000 per annum salary, we have to double this for all married earners at any income level irrespective of their needs. Is the Opposition suggesting that it is reasonable that a one earner couple on £50,000 or £60,000 benefits on the double from a policy intended to help those individually earning £15,000 per annum? Slowly but surely and inevitably, the percentage of taxpayers on the higher rate has increased from 37% in 1996 to 38% in 1997, 39% in 1998, 44% this year and would increase to 46% next year if nothing was done. One thing is sure, the percentage would soon be over 50% and the top rate would have to be renamed the standard rate.

Can anyone defend a tax system in which nearly one of every two taxpayers pays tax at up to 50% of every extra pound they earn when levies and PRSI are taken into account. That is the reality which this budget seeks to address and which is not being addressed by the Opposition which is not putting forward an alternative.

Last year to great acclaim from all sides of the political spectrum, the Government standard-rated the basic personal allowances and made them of equal value to all taxpayers. The Government did this not for the kudos but for what we thought was a fair and proper system. It allowed us to target resources on the lower paid, which we did again this year. The consequences of this policy move, however, is that personal allowances no longer act to keep taxpayers off the top rate of tax. The only way to get the numbers in the top tax rate down is to widen the standard rate band. The best way to widen the tax band is to put this band on an individual basis and tax persons on what they earn as individuals whether single or married.

Individualisation, as the Minister for Finance pointed out, is not a new concept. It is already [947] there in relation to the PAYE allowance. Having set out that strategic plan to reduce the numbers on the top rate of tax, which would occur if we were to allow the status quo to continue and of which presumably the Opposition is not in favour, we have now reached a situation where, under the budget proposals, the number of taxpayers on the top tax rate will fall by 125,000 next year, the percentage of taxpayers on the top rate will fall from 46% to 37% and, by the end of the process, it is envisaged that some 350,000 taxpayers will have been removed from the top tax rate, a reduction from 550,000 to 196,500. The percentage on the top tax rate will come down from 46% to 17%, or to 12% when one includes those exempt from tax on low incomes.

The benefits the Government sees from this policy initiative are clear. It recognises that we need a modern tax system for a changed society. It treats taxpayers as individuals based on what they earn and not on their marital status. It rectifies the imbalance in the tax system against most taxpayers who are single or two-income earners, it takes a great number of middle income taxpayers off the top tax rate, it gets many single workers – 90,000 next year alone – off the top tax rate and it puts up to £20 per week in the pay packet of those on average earnings. It treats married one-earners and two-earners on a more level basis, which is an important point. It is not true to compare one earner on say £40,000 per year to a married couple on £20,000 each. Both married people face costs associated with working which the single earner family does not, particularly where child care arises. The incomes may be the same but the resources available in both cases are not the same. I realise this is not an easy concept to get across, particularly in the face of a reaction based on a perceived lack of equity.

Here are the facts which have been ignored. Married couples with one income up to £28,000 – these represent the majority of married one income families – would gain the same and, in many cases, more from this budget than a married couple with two incomes. A married couple with one income and two children gets a 4.5% increase in net income on £10,000 compared to 4% for a married couple with two incomes and two children. On £20,000, the gains are 3.2% and 2.9% in both cases. These figures include child benefit increases and family income supplement where relevant. All single income married couples benefit very significantly from the budget – for those on £17,000, £10 per week; £20,000, £11 per week and £25,000, £12 per week. These are among the biggest gains we have seen for single income married couples.

If one looks at Fine Gael which seeks to champion, as it sees it, people who it claims are being victimised under this budget, it put forward a proposal for an earned income tax credit – I can only base my credibility on its policies and, presumably, it is not walking away from them. That [948] would be available only to those who worked outside the home. There must be consistency. It is either opportunistic or does not have a view on where the income tax system could go. Clearly, from the level of criticism and the mode of argument used over the past week, it simply does not know.

I recognise, as does the Government, the strength of feeling which has been generated on this issue and on what taxpayers perceive as an unequal approach to working at home spouses and two income families. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance have made our intention clear on a number of occasions since the budget. It is intended to ensure, as a transition towards individualisation of the tax bands proceeds, that the right balance is maintained between those going out to work and carers in the home.

I am very pleased, as are all members of the Government and those who support it, that we can bring forward a £3,000 per annum tax allowance at the standard rate for taxpayers in respect of those spouses or married one income families who work in the home caring for children, the aged and handicapped as it fulfils a promise we made on 4 June prior to the last election. We are standing over our budget and are bringing forward this further measure which puts another £25 million on top of the £964 million income tax reform brought about by the budget – an unprecedented amount in excess of £1 billion for income taxpayers. The business tax incentives, the simplification of capital taxes and the insurance of the exemption of the family home from capital taxes are fundamental to ensuring that all members of society and the workforce benefit from the improved economic environment in which we live.

In the social area, Deputy Dennehy pointed out, as he has done on many occasions, the real improvements in health, the largest social welfare package in the history of the State and the other issues, of which I am proud as Minister for Health and Children, which we will see in the service plans as we go through 2000, backed up by a trebling of the capital provision which will see a modernisation of the health service in line with Fianna Fáil policy and, indeed, the policy of the Government.

Mr. Ring:  May I share my time with Deputy Clune and Deputy Bradford?

Acting Chairman (Mr. Kirk):  The Deputies have half an hour.

Mr. Ring:  Unusually, I will start by saying I have great respect for the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, and I mean that sincerely. He has been a good Minister and has done some good work in recent years. I listened to the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Cowen, but he and his Government did nothing about the speculation in recent months. People such as the Minister, Deputy Cowen, and other Ministers [949] told the people how much of a budget surplus we had. It is because of these statements from people such as the Minister, Deputy Cowen, that so many people were expecting to gain from this budget, but there was much disappointment.

I respect the Minister for Finance and have time for him. He is a Minister who is not afraid to say what he thinks or to take on the Civil Service. When he makes a decision, he stands by it. However, I was disappointed in him this week. I have been in the House for only five years, but this is the first time I witnessed such a furore after a budget. We have seen good and bad budgets, but this one was disastrous. I have never seen a Minister who has outraged so many women in such a short time. In one week he upset two categories of women, women staying at home to look after their family and women going out to work, and he has done so again tonight with this turnaround.

Deputy Dennehy spoke about five budgets in the lifetime of this Government. Last week we had three budgets, but within a week we have a new budget. Between now and the weekend, we could have the fifth budget because the Independents are still humming and hawing and wonder what to do. The Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, was on TG4 blaming the mix up in Government on the fact that the Progressive Democrats were in Government with Fianna Fáil and that it was PD policy. The Minister of State, the Independents, the Fianna Fáil backbenchers, the Minister for Finance and the Progressive Democrats all have problems. Last week I listened to Fianna Fáil backbenchers saying: “You are all very quiet over there.” Do they remember that? We were very quiet, because we expected a Minister with so much money to give away would make it difficult for us to attack the budget. However, this week we were saying: “You are all very quiet over there.” On Tuesday, Charlie Bird said it was his first time since joining RTE to see Fianna Fáil backbenchers beating each other to the plinth to condemn the budget. That has happened in a week. Last week was the third budget, today was the fourth budget and no doubt there will be a fifth budget between now and next week. Perhaps it will be the last budget in the lifetime of this Government.

Mr. Killeen:  He will be a quiet Charlie when Deputy Ring's constituency colleague is finished.

Mr. Ring:  That is another matter. I would always stand by a politician, though I give out about them here. There was a big furore last week about tax, but my colleagues have dealt with that. I will deal with people who have been badly treated.

There was an expectation that the budget would go a long way towards the £100 pension promised in the election manifesto, but £7 was a disappointing increase. I thought we would get more, but maybe we will get that next year, or next week, when there is a new budget.

[950] Those on social welfare got an increase of £4. I ask Fianna Fáil Members what one would get for £4? Santa is coming next week, but he will not bring much for £4.

Mr. Bradford:  He is early in Mayo.

Mr. Ring:  People will buy for Santa next week, but £4 will not go far for people on social welfare. These people were forgotten in the furore over tax. They have no voice in this House, and certainly not in the Government; anyone who would offer a £4 increase given the money that is available is a disgrace. Many families will feel the pinch this Christmas and for many Christmases to come. The £4 is to be paid out in May, which is a month early. That is great. However, to be just, it should be paid this week.

We have heard much about the £8 increase in child benefit. What £8? Some people say it is £2 per week, but there are five weeks in many months, so it could average out at £1.60 per week. What is £1.60 to a family rearing children? One will not buy a pair of shoes or runners for £1.60, nor would one get much for dinner with £1.60. This Government has shown what it thinks of women and those on low incomes and on social welfare. I have been a long time in local politics, but I have not ever received as many calls as I have about this budget. How many calls have Fianna Fáil Members received? One could see how many by the way they ran out on to the plinth this week.

We are lucky to get two weeks of sunshine a year in Ireland and for the past few years we did not even get that, particularly in the west. However, there was not an increase in the £5 fuel scheme. This amount has not been increased for some years and this was the opportunity to increase it. We have bad weather for 50 weeks a year, but what fuel would £5 buy? It would not buy a bale of briquettes and it is wrong that that allowance was not increased. It should have been increased to £10 per week and extended to 52 weeks per year. If we cannot look after the elderly, the cold and the sick, who can we look after when the economy is going well? It is a disgrace that this fuel allowance was not increased. It was wrong and mean.

This Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs has probably been the meanest Minister to hold that office ever. He is a Minister who has attacked pensioners. I have many constituents whose husbands and wives had to leave this State when it could not provide a living for them. We were glad then that they were returning so much sterling into the economy. Those people emigrated many years ago and they now live here and receive English pensions. A previous Minister was known for meanness, but this is the Minister for meanness and when people in Achill and Belmullet were getting English pensions and half portion Irish pensions, he sent social welfare officers to means test them, and took money from [951] them. What did he do when sterling was weak? Nothing. Shame on him and his Department.

In 1989 and 1990 we had many social welfare officers because of our high unemployment figures, but we now have even more social welfare officers than we had then. Why? To attack the poor people of the west of Ireland and the rest of the country.

Ms Clune:  Last Wednesday the Minister for Finance introduced a budget, but we find today that that was not the budget at all. We now have a second budget, as the budget had not been cleared by Fianna Fáil backbenchers, or was it by the Independents? Was it a Government budget we heard last week? Were the Government partners involved or was it a Fianna Fáil budget? We had a semi-u-turn today in addressing the concerns of women who stay at home. I have not had such a reaction to an issue since being elected in June 1997 and I can only imagine what Government Members experienced in phone calls, e-mails and calls to clinics. We have all been inundated with representations and people's wrath was seen today at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting.

Last week the Minister for Finance made a statement about women in the home and their contribution to society. That statement was that the work they have done in building up this society – and the family is a foundation stone of our society – was useless and not worth recognition. Instead of encouraging women to go out to work, which we would all like to facilitate, the Minister attempted to force women to do so. Today we had a semi-u-turn. I call it that, because the Minister failed to recognise that many women may have child dependants. I have not seen a definition of what he means by the word “dependant”. If a mother is in receipt of children's allowance, I am sure that would be a qualifying criterion. Some women who have worked in the home and cared for their children were debarred from the workplace when they got married. They have supported their families at home and contributed in a meaningful way, but now they find their work is not recognised and they are being forced to go out into the workplace. Some of them do not have child dependants or may not be caring for an elderly or disabled person. This category of women are mostly unskilled. Their skills lie elsewhere, not in IT, office skills or working on the factory line. They need to upgrade their skills. It is difficult for a women in her mid 40s or mid 50s to face into the workforce. That takes a good deal of courage and commitment and many women do not want to return to the workplace.

The debate has not taken account of the valuable contribution many women make by way of community work. The worth of that work is not recognised. I refer to people who provide meals on wheels, visit the sick and the elderly, are members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, [952] raise funds to build community halls or run school raffles to raise funds for the building of extensions to local schools. While I do not want to fail to recognise the contribution made by others, the contribution towards most of this work is made mostly by women. They contribute enormously to the worth of the community and that work is not recognised. Are we running a society or an economy? The Minister for Finance believes he is running an economy. If we force all those people who contribute enormously to our society into paid work, where will that leave us? The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has advertised that people should volunteer to do at least two hours community work a week, but if all those eligible to work are working full-time, people will not have time to do valuable community work that is needed in our society.

A major debate opened up last week not only on income tax and the tax bands, but about where we are going as a society. That has not been grasped fully by the Minister. He insulted these women not only financially but in the hard statement he made about their contribution to society. There has been much media debate on this matter during the past week. From everybody's point of view, this debate has been worthwhile. It is important to explore our consciences to see where we are going and what we want.

The Government has not devoted much attention to the need for child care facilities. The budget provided a capital allowance of 100% for expenditure on construction or refurbishment in this area. Child care is a low profit business. Some constituents who work in this area, told me during the past week, that they do not make enough money to avail of the capital allowance. They cannot afford the necessary buildings, refurbishments or investments to avail of the capital allowances. Child care cannot be compared to the building of multistorey carparks or apartment blocks. It is a much broader than merely buildings. The provision of child care facilities necessitates an examination of planning requirements, as it is difficult to obtain planning permission for a child care facility.

There are many other facets to child care. Those working in the industry also need encouragement. It is a low paid industry for many reasons. One of the recommendations of the child care working group is that the workers in the industry should be singled out for payment of a special allowance to encourage more people to enter the industry. I am disappointed a provision to that effect was not contained in the budget.

Children's allowance was increased by £8 per month for the first and second child and by £10 per month for the third and subsequent child. Deputy Noonan pointed out last week that £8 would not cover the cost of a packet of Pampers disposable nappies. Such an increase is meaningless in terms of assistance towards the cost of child care. Fine Gael proposed a payment of £25 per month for every child under five. That figure is much more realistic in terms of the cost of child [953] care. The cost of caring for one child per week can range from £80 to £100. That is a major burden for young people with young children who have to repay a mortgage. The two partners have to work to pay the bills and their child care costs increase when they have a second child. They feel their burden has not been recognised and there was no break in the budget to address their child care needs. There are many other issues and I hope to have an opportunity to address them in the Finance Bill.

It is proposed that a minimum wage of £4.40 a hour will be introduced in April, yet the Government will seek to tax £60 of that income. That is a disgrace. There is no point in the Government introducing a minimum wage if it intends to take back a portion of it in income tax. I had hoped that would have been addressed in this budget. There is also a good deal of negative reaction to that point.

Mr. Bradford:  I welcome this interesting debate on, what one might call, budget part 2. If the budget has done anything, it has put politics back centre stage. For almost the past decade people have complained that there is literally no difference between the political parties and at election time they have said that they do not have a choice. The debate that arose from last week's budget demonstrates that argument is redundant. What the Minister, Deputy McCreevy, his Cabinet colleagues and the Taoiseach did last week, offers the clearest political options facing this country in the period up to the next general election. Given the difficulty faced by the Government at backbench level, we are not sure when there will be a general election. There could be one in a month, six months or two years' time. There is a clear divide in the House between the politics and policies and economics pursued by the Government not only in last week's budget but over the course of the past three budgets and what was previously pursued by the rainbow coalition Government.

I hope we will have a real political debate and a real debate on the economic choices facing the public because, in a sense, that debate was started by the Government last week. No U-turns, such as that we witnessed today, can hide what the difference is between the parties in Government. The Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil lie in the same political bed and there is no point in one partner blaming the other because not only last week but over the course of their three budgets to date they have used every possible device to make the rich richer and to keep the poor poor. That message was exemplified in the proposals put forward by the Minister, Deputy McCreevy last week, but last week was not a once off. It was the culmination of the policies pursued over three budgets and the people at the upper end of the scale – and I do not begrudge them a penny – have pulled further and further away from the people at the opposite end of the scale. That is what is being practised by Fianna Fáil and [954] the Progressive Democrats in Government. Much of this side of the House worked very well in the previous rainbow coalition Government and there is a political lesson in this for us. We must work more closely to show the people there is a realistic political and economic alternative to what they saw last week.

I laughed when I heard the Minister for Health and Children question the consistency of Fine Gael's economic policies. How can a Minister speak about consistency when within a week of introducing the budget he has amended it to suit the political tide? I vividly recall the cheers and applause of the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats backbenchers last Wednesday evening when the Minister for Finance announced his budget. Yet shortly afterwards they ran to the plinth to tell us about their difficulties with certain budget proposals which they wanted changed. If they had such difficulties with it, why did they rush through the lobbies last Wednesday evening to support it? Why did they not use their vote to highlight the problems? Did it take the weekend's newspapers or Deputy Noonan's speech to highlight what the Minister had done through his policy of individualisation? I am not impressed by those Deputies who ran to the plinth in recent days. Their conversion leaves a lot to be desired.

Mr. S. Ryan:  The club of 20.

Mr. Bradford:  The club of 20 is growing by the day. However, it might not exist when the people have an opportunity to give their verdict.

The budget was a unique occasion because for the first time in the history of the State the Minister had options. He had almost £1 billion to give away, an opportunity for which every Minister since the foundation of the State would yearn. There were high expectations the Minister would use that bonanza to build a better, fairer and more just society. The vast majority of the people would like that money spent on building a better Ireland. However, that will not happen unless we look after those people at the lower end of the financial and social spectrum. It is bizarre to give a person with a salary of £30,000 or £40,000 an extra £1,000 or £1,500, while a person on the minimum wage only gets £100 or £150 per week. That is not the way to build a fair society, yet the Minister and his Government colleagues supported that last week.

We should be able to speak here tonight about people's improved quality of life as a result of the Minister's package. People are worried about traffic, the price of houses, the state of the nation's health services and child care facilities. However, the Minister's proposals will make the housing situation worse because we are not giving the extra hundreds and thousands of pounds to people who need it to take out their first mortgage but to those who will use it to build their second or third house.

The Minister for Health and Children lectured [955] us tonight, yet there is nothing in the budget to reduce hospital waiting lists.

Mr. D. Wallace:  The Deputy should pay attention to what is going on .

Mr. Bradford:  The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children said the waiting lists have been dealt with. Any Minister or Minister of State who says that is totally removed from reality.

Mr. D. Wallace:  The Deputy should check his facts and find out what is happening.

Mr. Bradford:  It is a joke because the waiting lists are at record length in every hospital. It is a shame for any Minister to say the matter is being dealt with.

The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dan Wallace, represents a Department which has responsibility for housing policy. The budget proposals will make the housing situation worse. There was nothing in last week's package to deal with the crisis at local authority level. Extra funding was not provided and the accelerated programme will result in fewer houses being built in 2000 than were built in 1985 during a grave economic crisis.

Mr. D. Wallace:  The Deputy should check with his local authority.

Mr. Bradford:  Those statistics were made available by the Department of the Environment and Local Government. Perhaps he is not aware of them.

Mr. D. Wallace:  I am aware of them as I announced them last week.

Mr. Bradford:  Perhaps part of the problem is that some Ministers are not aware of the problems in their Departments. The housing industry is in crisis in terms of the price of private houses and the lack of local authority housing. Something should have been done in last week's budget to address this problem.

Deputy Clune mentioned the child care issue. We expected something to be done because of the money which was available. However, this was a lost opportunity. The £8 increase in child benefit will not produce the results required. It is unbelievable, grotesque and bizarre that a Minister who had £1 billion to give away got it wrong. The agenda for the next election has been set and it will divide the country. I know how the country will vote.

Mr. S. Ryan:  I hope the women are not left holding their breath.

Mr. Killeen:  I wish to share my time with Deputies Ardagh and Browne.

[956] I am glad to have the opportunity to support the budget. I am astounded at the level of criticism levelled by some of the Opposition speakers at the old age pension provisions over the past three years.

Mr. S. Ryan:  The Government could have hit the ton.

Mr. Killeen:  The commitment is to hit the ton during the life of the Government and there is no doubt that will be delivered. It is interesting to note what has been delivered. In his first budget the Minister announced an increase of £5. In last year's budget he announced an increase of £6 and this year the increase was £7. He is moving rapidly towards achieving the objective of £100. It is no harm to remind ourselves that the former Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy De Rossa, proposed an increase of £1.80, which contrasts unfavourably with the record of the Minister for Finance over three years. Much of the criticism levelled at the pension increases has come from Fine Gael, which seems to be removing itself from the impact of a budget introduced by a Minister from another party.

Another area which has been put under the microscope by people who consider social inclusion issues is that of child benefit. The child benefit rate in the three budgets of the rainbow coalition was £30 for the first and second child and £39 for third and subsequent children. Those rates have been increased to £42.50 and £56, respectively. There have been substantial increases during the lifetime of the Government under the Minister for Finance whom Opposition speakers attempt to portray as uncaring and anti-family.

The Minister has delivered on the promises in the manifesto on income tax. While some were being left to next year, the changes announced today go a step further than was promised in the 1997 manifesto for the life of the Government.

I welcome aspects of the budget which have not been mentioned. One such aspect is the proposal to create 750 places in the support employment programme for disabled people. The programme will cost £4 million in 2000. The Minister did not mention the cost for subsequent years but there is no doubt there will be an ongoing and probably increasing cost for at least the three following years. It is an area which many Governments have neglected in the past. This is a move which will give dignity to those who have got a bad deal. I welcome the scheme.

I also welcome the scheme for employers to train employees who become disabled while in employment. There are many difficulties for those people. It is often forgotten that a person in that situation can be the family breadwinner and the financial difficulties which the family face following such an occurrence can be enormous. I am glad this element was introduced in the budget. It is very positive. The doubling of the widows and parents bereavement allowance is [957] also welcome. It is an important measure which takes account of the tremendous blow to family structure which occurs after a bereavement.

I look forward to the inclusion of the full range of carers' benefits in the Social Welfare Bill for 2000. I raised with the Minister in the millennium committee, the issue of the provision of £1 million for the construction of hostel accommodation at the National Rehabilitation Centre in Dún Laoghaire. As a result of an accident to a member of my family last year, I visited it daily for four months. I saw the enormous stress and financial difficulties imposed on parents and relatives of people who had suffered accidents. The medical staff encouraged family members to be present as far as possible but the financial strain on them was horrendous. I took that up with the Minister and the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Moffatt, and I am delighted that it has been included in this programme. There are many people who sadly will have reason to use the hostel accommodation while visiting family members. Post-operative patients will also be able to avail of out patient facilities in the hostel. I thank the Minister for this. I hope I have no further reason to use the centre myself but for those who do, it will be of enormous benefit.

Publicity has centred on the Fine Gael attack on a very small provision of the budget. I was astounded, however, to discover yesterday that there is a Fine Gael document which contains an economic policy which sets out to encourage women at home to rejoin the labour force. Fine Gael would introduce an earned income tax credit resulting in tax reductions at different levels of income for single, married one earner and married two earner taxpayers. It is extraordinary that the Fine Gael finance spokesperson should tout this policy while simultaneously attacking the Minister Deputy McCreevy. These attacks go far beyond what is acceptable in personal terms. There is hardly a more incongruous sight in politics than that of Deputy Noonan affecting to be concerned about the welfare of women when one bears in mind his record as Minister for Health during the hepatitis C scandal in particular. When that record in office is examined alongside this deeply buried policy document, the depth of the hypocrisy is nauseating.

Some commentators have been fooled in the short-term by what has been said. It will be interesting to see, when people have studied the entire budget carefully, who will be seen to have delivered. Deputy McCreevy has been in trouble fairly frequently, sometimes within his own party.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Sometimes with his own back benchers.

Mr. Killeen:  He has often been pilloried and he has often suffered. Amazingly, however, he has always survived and he has always been proved right. He will see off the hypocrites with some style on this occasion as well.

[958] Claptrap has been talked about a woman's choice between a role in the paid work force or working at home. It would be worthwhile to establish how many women in the home would wish to work in paid employment full-time or part-time. There are even more who are forced to be in paid employment who would dearly love to work in the home. There is an onus on employers to develop a more worker-friendly atmosphere for women. Taxation issues are irrelevant to the choices of the vast majority of these women. We should establish how many women are in each situation and what measures could be introduced which could improve both their lots. Flexibility in employment, not taxation, needs to be addressed.

Decentralisation has been mentioned by other Deputies. This policy has been very successful in Ennis in my constituency. Many of us would like to see that extended to other centres in the county. The Shannon River corridor scheme for hotels was also mentioned. As Deputy Ulick Burke said, this could be extended to south County Galway and to north east Clare, where there is a crying need for that sort of accommodation.

In the course of the three Rainbow Government budgets, 38,000 people were removed for the tax net. In the first two budgets presented by Deputy McCreevy, 85,000 people were removed from the tax net and this year's budget will remove a further 50,000. Taken with the impact of the minimum wage, this is a move in the right direction for the low paid. During the Minister's tenure, 161,230 people have moved from the high rate to the standard rate of income tax.

Mr. Ardagh:  This budget is the third budget in a programme of five. We are going the right way.

Mr. S. Ryan:  What about the fourth budget?

Mr. Ardagh:  The fourth budget will be introduced next year.

Mr. S. Ryan:  That was the fourth budget today.

Mr. Ardagh:  The fourth budget will be presented in 2000 and the fifth will be presented in 2001. Unless there is an early budget in 2002, there will only be five budgets in our term of office. We will ensure that the State will continue along the same path over that period. We will then come back for the sixth to tenth budgets.

I have been looking at the report of the National Economic and Social Council. Some points about our time in Government and the financial stewardship of the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, are worth noting. In the period since 1994, and I accept the other side of the House was involved in that period, employment has increased by 335,000 to 1.6 million people. This year there are five workers in Ireland for every four workers there were in 1994. Unemployment rates have fallen from more than 10% to 5.2%. We are very proud of that. The Irish [959] standard of living has increased from 58% of the EU average ten years ago to 93% in 1998. We are probably at more than 100% of that average now. It certainly will be when the full effects of the budget take effect next year.

Mr. S. Ryan:  How many thousands are living in poverty?

Mr. Ardagh:  That number is getting smaller and smaller.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Not after this budget.

Mr. Ardagh:  The increase of £1.8 given to old age pensioners by the previous Government was an insult by comparison with the increase of £7 provided this year. The increase in the real take home pay of married people was 7.5%, the highest increase indicated by these figures, which go back to 1986. By contrast, the increase for single people was only 5%. There is a need, therefore, to increase the take home pay of single people. In view of this I understand the action taken by the Minister to ensure that single people at work will have a reasonable amount of money in their pockets when they come home on Friday or at the end of the month.

I congratulate the Minister for the announcement today of a £3,000 allowance for the non-earning member of a married couple who stays at home to look after children, whether they be normal or disabled. Every cloud has a silver lining. In the constituency I represent, which includes the areas of Walkinstown, Drimnagh, Crumlin and the inner city, there are very few family units earning £28,000 or more. The debate about a £6,000 allowance for double income families did not apply to my constituents, yet when the rí rá agus rúille búille occurred they wondered if the resolution of the problem would give them anything. Thank God it did because the increase of £3,000 in the tax allowance for married couples means that the tax allowance of £10,400 for the single earner of a married couple will now be £13,400. In every married couple with children the single earner can now earn £257 per week before a penny of tax is applied to their income. There are many happy people in Walkinstown, Drimnagh and Crumlin as a result of today's announcement. I applaud the Minister.

Fianna Fáil stands on values like those of the family. The country is based on the family unit. It is the building block of our society, and the Minister's action reinforces this.

The reason for our success and for the Celtic tiger is because of the baby boom of the 1970s. It did not happen in any other European country. Those children were nurtured and provided with an education, including a free secondary school education introduced by Donogh O'Malley. They are now highly educated, technologically minded high earners and they pay good taxes. That is [960] driving our economy and is helping to maintain the standards it has now achieved.

As legislators it is our responsibility to look forward 20 to 30 years, not to think in the short-term of our existence in the Dáil over the next two years. The children being nurtured today at home by the mothers of Ireland will earn the money to look after the ageing population of this country. We must look after those mothers and the families who nurture our young children, who are this country's greatest asset. It was true in the 1970s, it will be true in the 2000s and also in 30 and 50 years hence.

I applaud the budget and all the measures it contains. I look forward to having more to say when the Finance Bill is introduced to the House.

Mr. Browne:  (Wexford): The budget is a tremendous success. The hiccup involving double income households was addressed today by the Minister. I listened with interest to Deputy John Bruton and Deputy Quinn. They jumped up and down like jack-in-the-boxes, demanding extra time to debate the budget and because of this we are here at 11.25 p.m. while members of the public are out socialising, having a pint. The world goes on and they could not care less what we are saying to each other. They are glad the budget will give them something extra, be it in their pay packets, their social welfare payments or whatever.

The Minister has been very unfairly treated over the past week. I accept the decision to exclude the stay at home mother or father with a family from the double income family provision was a mistake. The Minister recognised it and rectified it. In addition, he has done more in the past three years to ensure that the PAYE worker received some of the benefits of the Celtic tiger.

Like Deputy Seán Ryan, I was here in the 1980s when belts were tightened and tough decisions were taken. People were paying tax at the rates of 55% and 35%. When the economy started to boom Governments did not respond adequately to the needs of PAYE workers. I am glad that over the next two budgets, as in the last three, the Minister will give recognition to the role of working people and will ensure they will have decent take home pay each week to look after their families. For far too long they have been left behind.

In the discussions on a new partnership arrangement I hope more concessions will be granted to PAYE workers and especially the low paid. I am glad Mr. Geraghty and other union leader suddenly woke up. For the past two to ten years they have operated in a cosy arrangement with different Governments while the well off became richer and the less well off were at a standstill. It took Mr. Geraghty three or four days to realise there may have been a problem with the budget and to threaten to walk out of the new talks. I understand he may have rejoined them following various interventions.

When the Government enters into discussions [961] with the unions and all the other partners I hope those on low incomes and low pay will be looked after because under the last series of agreements the better off gained while poor people were left behind. I hope a new set of arrangements will be established when the current talks are concluded in the near future.

I welcome the increases in social welfare payments outlined in the budget. I listened to the hypocritical criticisms form the other side of the House regarding the increase of £7 in pensions and £4 in social welfare payments. When the great socialist, Deputy De Rossa, was Minister the biggest increase he gave to social welfare recipients was between £1.80 and £2. I have not seen him in the House for a long time. He must squirm when he sees the major advances made in the social welfare area. He neglected people on social welfare.

Debate adjourned.

Acting Chairman:  The Select Committee on Education and Science has completed its consideration of Votes 26, 27, 28 and 29 for the year ending 31 December 1998; the Select Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport has completed its consideration of Vote 32 for the year ending 31 December 1999; the Select Committee on Environment and Local Government has completed its consideration of Vote 25 for the year ending 31 December 1999; the Select Committee on Health and Children has completed its consideration of Vote 33 for the year ending 31 December 1999; the Select Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights has completed its consideration of Vote 20 for the year ending 31 December 1999; the Select Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine has completed its consideration of Vote 30 for the year ending 31 December 1999; and the Select Committee on Enterprise and Small Business has completed its consideration of Vote 34 for the year ending 31 December 1999.

Mr. Timmins:  From reports in the media it would appear that European Union Foreign Ministers have reached a broad agreement to create a European military crisis management force of up to 60,000 personnel by the year 2003. This follows the submission of a report by the Finnish EU Presidency for discussion and decision by the leaders of the 15 nations at the two day summit in Helsinki, starting on Friday next.

Apparently some member states have reservations on issues such as decision making pro[962] cedures and co-operation with NATO. However, no changes were made to the document. What reservations, if any, were raised by our Minister for Foreign Affairs? If this force is established, it is intended that it will have the ability to act fast in a crisis, strengthen Europe's security identity and reduce dependence on US military power. This dependence on the US has been all too evident in recent conflicts and it is something that Europe should not take for granted in the short or long-term.

The force would consist of up to 60,000 personnel and would include naval and air elements. The project is being driven by France and Germany and the leaders of these countries are reported as saying that the Helsinki summit should agree to set up an EU rapid reaction force with its own command, able to send troops into combat independent of the US led NATO alliance. Britain would also appear to be on-side but, conscious of US sensitivities, a similar declaration was issued by Britain and France which spoke of NATO as the foundation of our collective defence. Chancellor Schroeder appeared to be in a more bullish mood when he asked French deputies, “Why shouldn't Europeans be able to export their own popular culture, conquer markets and offer an alternative to the uniformity that is looming?”.

In Ireland we have just come out of the Partnership for Peace debate. What is the Government's view of this EU defence proposal and will the Taoiseach give this document his endorsement? What is the proposed composition of this force? What will the command and control structures be? What commitments, if any, does the Minister envisage we will have?

I hope some light can be thrown on these issues before next weekend as it is most important for the citizens of this country that they know what is in the Taoiseach's mind as he heads to Helsinki.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Dr. Moffatt):  I welcome the opportunity to set out developments in the European Union concerning security and defence. It is important to begin by clarifying what is at issue in the current EU discussions and what is not germane to these discussions. In light of the entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty, the Cologne European Council last June stated its conviction that the Council should have the ability to take decisions on the full range of conflict prevention and crisis management tasks defined in the Treaty of Amsterdam and known as the Petersberg tasks.

The approach agreed at Cologne, therefore, focuses on the Petersberg tasks and clearly sets to one side issues of collective defence. The outcome of the Cologne European Council was not in conflict with our policy of military neutrality. It reiterated the provision in the Maastricht and Amsterdam treaties concerning the different status of member states in this regard.

Furthermore, and this is a point on which there [963] is some confusion, there is no question of an EU army being set up. What is being considered is the issue of capabilities for Petersberg tasks. When considering this issue it must be borne in mind that participation in the Petersberg tasks under the Treaty of Amsterdam is on a voluntary basis and is a matter for sovereign decision in each and every case.

Events in Kosovo earlier this year have reinforced the view, which the Minister for Foreign Affairs shares, that the EU should be able to respond at an early stage to prevent and resolve conflict and to prevent and manage crises of the sort which have engulfed areas of the Balkans during this decade. Deputies will appreciate that crisis management is a broad spectrum including civilian as well as military dimensions. The Finnish Presidency progress report for the Helsinki European Council will comprise two subsidiary reports on military and non-military aspects respectively.

In preparation for Helsinki, particular consideration has been given to questions of decision making procedures and crisis management capabilities. With regard to decision making, there is a need to ensure that the EU can take effective and informed decisions on Petersberg tasks where necessary. While final decisions are not foreseen until the end of the year 2000, interim structures based in Brussels may be required. A political and security committee manned by high-level experts has been proposed, together with a committee which would have access to sound military expertise as appropriate. Deputies will recognise the need for access to sound military expertise and advice if the EU is to have an enhanced role in regard to the Petersberg tasks.

With regard to crisis management capabilities, I referred earlier to the fact that there is no question of a European army being established and that participation in Petersberg tasks would be voluntary and based on a sovereign decision in every case. Among the ideas which are being considered is a British proposal for a capability target of fifty to sixty thousand, that is, about the size of the KFOR peace keeping force in Kosovo.

In response to questions in this House last week, my colleague, the Minister of State Deputy O'Donnell, paid particular attention to the important work which has been undertaken since the Cologne European Council in seeking to improve the EU's non-military crisis management capabilities. Ireland supports the action plan proposed by the Presidency and sets out concrete proposals, including the development of a rapid reaction capability in this field.

The European Union must be able to work collectively for peace, stability and security in Europe. The key to this is peace keeping and crisis management. The current aim of the EU is to take the necessary decisions by the end of the year 2000.

The EU's contribution will be in harmony with and in support of UN and OSCE efforts. The [964] issue of collective defence obligations is not relevant to the EU debate. Security and defence issues within the EU are intergovernmental matters subject to sovereign decisions of the member states. We look forward to a positive outcome from Helsinki which will guide the EU's on-going efforts, acting on the basis of the Treaty of Amsterdam to play a more effective role in the conduct of the Petersberg tasks.

Mr. Perry:  In March this year a report was produced by Betty Brady, the Director of Nursing Studies in Dublin City University. The Health Services Employers Agency recommended that she compile the report. The study highlighted the urgent need for extra funding, staffing and equipment for the hospital, which provides care for almost 300 geriatric patients, many of whom are seriously ill.

I had to invoke the Freedom of Information Act to gain access to this report. Even then, I was only permitted to see the executive summary. It is appalling that the findings of such a study are not freely available. What is the reason for that? With £4 billion swelling the Government's coffers, it is unbelievable that an urgent need for funding and facilities at a hospital such as St. John's can be ignored. The executive summary of the report makes it clear that urgent action is required if patients are to be adequately cared for. However, the health board has put little funding, with the exception of £100,000, into St. John's to date.

I appeal to the Minister to provide for stage two, the development of the day centre at St. John's Hospital. This development consists of a day hospital which is long overdue. The facility available at present was adequate for the needs of 1989 when there were 20 patients attending the day hospital. At present, there are 80 patients attending.

The services provided in the hospital include a doctor on duty, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, eye testing clinic, dental clinic, chiropodist, speech therapist, social worker, pastoral care and dietician. There are also aids and appliances available for patients. The patients attend the services from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and can avail of a bath, a shower, music and bingo. They have their lunch there and there are a range of activities.

The service, which was designed for 20 patients in 1989, is inadequate for current needs. The stage one development was completed four years ago with a state-of-the-art foyer, shop and reception area. This completely transformed the hospital, but what is urgently required is funding for stage two which is essential for the care of patients attending the day services. It is an invaluable facility which is under huge pressure catering for its 300 patients.

I appeal to the Minister to take on board the main recommendations of the Betty Brady report. Its conclusion states:

[965] It is important to highlight in conclusion, that the staff of the hospital have demonstrated throughout this study process a very high degree of commitment. It is evident from the ward audits, comment sheets and consultations with staff on the ground, that there is a great sense of caring for the patients. However, it is clear that they are being asked to work under extremely difficult conditions.

The WLI and acuity levels within the hospital are very high. Staffing is inadequate. Facilities, maintenance and equipment fall short of expected standards. There is an urgent need to begin to address in a systematic way the resolutions of these problems and the implementation of the recommendations in this report.

The report also states:

There is a need for greater communication from the health board to staff regarding priorities and management planning. . There is a need for a review of transport arrangements . There is a need for a review of the role of voluntary agencies in the area in areas such as the visiting and entertaining of patients, provision of social and educational stimulation. Links with local community groups, businesses and educational establishments can produce a significant support network for the hospital which can act as a significant supplement to the work of the staff employed in the hospital.

Because of the significant shortage of staff and the high levels of dependency, there is a lack of a holistic approach to the caring of the patients. There have been many developments in the care of the elderly in recent years, particularly in the stimulation of the various senses and enlightened approaches to the treatment of confused mobile patients. Staff within the hospital are aware of these developments but cannot implement them because of the shortage of staff.

I appeal to the Minister of State to take on board the Betty Brady report and provide funding for stage two of the day centre which is urgently needed.

Dr. Moffatt:  The North Western Health Board, which has responsibility for the maintenance of St. John's Community Hospital, Sligo, has informed me that a development control plan was prepared for the hospital in August 1996. Phases one and two have now been completed with the provision of a new entrance foyer, including coffee dock, shop and visitors' toilets, and 30 bed dementia unit.

Phase three of this development control plan provides for the extension of the day hospital to address the following deficiencies. The day room-dining room area is too small, resulting in significant overcrowding. Average daily attendance is 55 clients, giving an annual attendance rate of over 13,000. The toilet and shower facilities are totally inadequate. Clinic treatment and bath[966] room facilities open off the central public corridor. Rear access to the facilities is difficult and unsatisfactory.

The development of the day hospital will have a direct impact on other services bordering this area, such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy, religious services and staff facilities. The overall cost of the phase three development is approximately £1 million. My Department has received no formal proposal for the provision of this amount of capital funding for the extension of the day hospital at St. John's but, should it do so at a future date, I will give it careful consideration. I am aware of the benefits accruing from a well run day hospital in the overall care plan for older people.

I have been able to allocate additional capital funding to services for older people since I came into office and work in this area is proceeding in all health boards. In the north-west, a new community nursing unit is in the final stages of construction at Killybegs, County Donegal, and should be open in the second half of next year.

I hope to provide even more capital funding to services for older people over the coming years but the demands are enormous. A large number of new community nursing units and hospital units are required in locations where there are none at present. Old, unsatisfactory workhouse type accommodation must be replaced with modern buildings and equipment. New day care centres are required in many areas while day hospitals are required in or adjacent to all acute hospitals where specialist geriatrician led services are provided.

No doubt the North Western Health Board will receive a share of whatever capital funding becomes available, but progress on phase three at St. John's Hospital, Sligo, will depend on the level of funding available and the internal priorities of the board, in so far as services for older people are concerned.

Mr. Higgins:  (Mayo): Is the Minister of State taking this debate?

Dr. Moffatt:  Yes.

Mr. Higgins:   (Mayo): I hope he is being paid.

Dr. Moffatt:  Overtime.

Mr. Higgins:   (Mayo): I hope so. His versatility for playing anywhere is impressive. It would be very impressive in Lord Edward Street. In soccer, he would have been known as a sweeper.

I thank the Chair for selecting this matter. On 2 November I raised on the Adjournment the daring £100,000 armed robbery at the Bank of Ireland bureau de change at Dublin Airport a few days previously. In two minutes and 40 seconds, two or possibly three balaclava-clad raiders rammed their BMW into the glass wall at the [967] Bank of Ireland. They made good their escape from the country's largest and busiest airport. They were in possession of a handgun and a sawn off shotgun.

A few days later another gang, armed with guns, raided the AIB branch in Tallaght. On Saturday, 6 November an even more serious armed raid and kidnapping took place. A pregnant bank manager and her husband had their home broken into in Booterstown, Dublin. They were held captive overnight and were taken at gunpoint at 5 a.m. on Sunday morning to the bank in Nassau Street, less than 500 yards from this Chamber. The manager was escorted into the bank by a gunman and was forced to open the safe. The robbers walked away with £435,000 in different currencies.

When I raised these raids on two successive weeks in the House, I was promised action and results. There was certainly action, the wrong kind of action – it was another raid. This time it was the turn of the AIB branch in Ballyfermot. Last Friday two armed raiders forced open the rear window of the bank and took the staff by surprise. The staff were ordered at gunpoint to lie on the floor. The gang went to the open safe and helped themselves to £250,000. They jumped on their motorbikes and sped away.

It is obvious that the policy of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is not working and that he is losing the battle. Armed gangs are on the rampage; zero tolerance is not working. It was a convenient cliché in Opposition. It had a ring, a resonance and it struck a chord, but it was what we all said it was – a cliché, and now it is proving nothing other than an empty echo of an Opposition dream.

The Minister trots out official statistics to try to prove that the incidence of serious crime is decreasing. The level of sex offences such as rape is increasing. In the 11 months so far this year, 48 people who were alive this time last year have died in violent circumstances, many of them at the hands of a gunman. The Minister is selective. He cites the Garda report for last year to support his case. When quoting statistics, he tells us that there were ten armed raids on banks recorded by the Garda in 1997. However, this more than trebled to 37 in 1998. These statistics relate to banks only. They do not relate to post offices, building societies, credit unions or other financial institutions.

The Minister ignores the fact that the Garda statistics contain the frightening revelation that, on top of the 61 raids last year, the figure for the first six months of this year has jumped dramatically to 92, and that is before the recent spate of armed robberies. Is it any wonder that the Garda expressed alarm at the six monthly figure? How much more alarm it must now express at the recent huge surge in armed robberies.

Will the Minister of State convey to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that what we need is action and not bluff and bluster? [968] We need action on two fronts. We need Garda action. If the Garda needs additional manpower and resources, they should be provided. We need a successful clampdown on what has become a phenomenon which unfortunately will be repeated unless we take action. The banks have been scandalously negligent. They are multi-billion pound profit organisations. Money is their business; profit is their product. They should invest much more in putting their house in order. They have an obligation to ensure their operations are secure. Their operation last weekend was not secure. An open window was the weakness on that occasion and it was a glass wall in Dublin Airport four weeks ago. Need I say more?

Dr. Moffatt:  We are all concerned when we hear of a number of armed raids in a short space of time. The Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, already expressed his concern in a previous debate with the Deputy in the House. Needless to say, the recent incidents are the subject of extensive Garda investigations.

Given the large sums of money likely to be in circulation in the run-up to Christmas, the Minister appeals to banks and other financial institutions to review their security arrangements and not to expose themselves to unnecessary risk. The Garda Síochcána will continue to advise business and commercial concerns on the crime prevention measures available and the best practices regarding security arrangements for their persons and premises.

As in previous years, appropriate Garda resources are deployed during this period to monitor this type of activity. Garda patrolling strategies continue to be monitored and modified to provide an appropriate policing response to the demands in each area. Mobile, beat and specialist patrols pay particular attention to premises which may be the subject of this type of crime. For obvious reasons, it is not possible or desirable to describe the various initiatives in place to counteract armed crime.

The Garda authorities report that, at approximately 5.10 p.m. on Thursday, 2 December 1999, two males entered the AIB Bank branch at 283 Ballyfermot Road, Dublin 10. Entry was forcibly gained through the rear, by opening a protective shutter and breaking a window. At least one of the two males was armed. They held staff at gunpoint and robbed a substantial sum of money before fleeing the scene. No persons were injured and no shots were fired. The investigation is ongoing.

With regard to crime trends in general, the House will be aware that armed robberies and armed aggravated burglaries have shown a strong and sustained decrease in recent years. The latest published Garda statistics for these offences indicate that, in 1998, there were 62% fewer armed crimes reported than in 1994, and that the detection rate had improved from 27% to 40% over that time. Naturally, the Minister is concerned about any armed robbery, but as he has pre[969] viously pointed out, while there is an upward trend in the armed raids this year, the level is still well below that of 1996. Armed raids on banks in particular are thankfully rare. During 1996, 37 armed raids on banks were recorded, ten in 1997 and 31 in 1998.

Given the understandable and justifiable concern caused by armed crime, it is reassuring to note that 1998 was a very successful year with regard to Garda seizures of firearms. Some 850 such weapons were seized last year, up from 580 in 1997. I am sure the House will recognise that this a significant factor in reducing armed crime.

Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin:  The future of the expert professional counselling service which has been provided by Killarney Counselling Centre to schools throughout Kerry remains uncertain. Since last October, the funding for this service has ceased and there appears to be no indication that the money will be forthcoming for its continuation.

The expert counselling service to schools has proved to be very valuable. Over the past two years of its operation, 232 sessions have been provided in schools in Killarney, various places in south Kerry and Castleisland in north Kerry. In 1996 a report by the local partnership recommended that an adequately resourced psychological service should be implemented as a matter of priority. Following this, a psychologist was recruited on a pilot basis and was located in the Killarney Counselling Centre.

In addition, in 1998, the centre employed a full-time adolescent counsellor to meet the needs of students in the aforementioned schools. The salary for this post has been mainly funded by the partnership. As a further expansion of the programme, an outreach service to Kenmare and Killorglin was launched last year by the Minister for Education and Science. However, only a year later, funding for this service is to end.

In an evaluation of the service by South Kerry Partnership, it was identified that the localised nature of the service meant it was very accessible. This was further underlined by the fact that students did not have to pay for the service. However, one of the most significant benefits identified by the evaluation was that school staff found the service to have been of great significance and benefit to pupils, with the number of students staying on to sit the leaving certificate increasing significantly.

In an age when qualifications are an essential pre-requisite to entry into the labour market, every effort should and must be made to reduce early school leaving. Obviously such efforts cost money but investment in the reduction of early school leaving now should and could have a significant return later.

The teaching staff at the schools where the service has been in operation are of the view that the service has made a huge difference to individual [970] pupils who may have had a number of complex problems associated with family, bad learning experiences and other forms of disadvantage. I understand that the cost of continuing this service would be in the region of £20,000, a small price to pay for a reduction in early school leaving as well as improved student-teacher relations.

The school service is very valuable and necessary and has proved itself during its pilot phase. At this point, it must be developed and mainstreamed. I appeal to the Minister, whatever else he does, to find funds to continue the service for the children of south Kerry who deserve it.

Dr. Moffatt:  I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. My colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, would like to take this opportunity to clarify the services provided by the Department of Education and Science for young people who are in need of counselling, including the recently established National Educational Psychological Service Agency.

At the outset, however, I wish to explain that my understanding in relation to the counselling centre in Killarney is that it has attracted a funding subvention from the South Kerry Development Partnership for some years. The counselling service was originally made available to three post-primary schools in Killarney and was later extended to the whole of south Kerry.

In 1997 when the Killarney Counselling Centre was established, the Department of Education and Science was already funding a guidance service in second level schools. When students required more specialised counselling than could be catered for by the school guidance counsellor, advice was sought from a psychologist employed by the Department of Education and Science.

Very soon after the Minister for Education and Science took office in 1997 he realised that there was a need to expand his Department's psychological service in order to meet demand. There was a need to increase the level of support at second level and to extend it to the primary sector. The Minister for Education and Science immediately set up a planning group, representative of the partners in education, which reported to him during the second half of 1998.

Following his acceptance of the recommendations of the planning group, the Minister, Deputy Martin, secured early this year Government agreement for the establishment of the National Educational Psychological Service – NEPS – Agency. This agency has delegated authority to develop and provide an educational psychological service to all students who need it in primary and post-primary schools and in other relevant centres supported by the Department of Education and Science.

In June 1999 the Minister for Education and Science appointed an acting director and NEPS was formally established from 1 September 1999. On that date 42 psychologists already employed [971] by the Department of Education and Science transferred to the new agency.

The expansion of the NEPS agency is now beginning. Interviews for 25 new psychologists have recently been completed and it is hoped that the new appointees will take up their positions early in the new year. Arrangements are also in train to appoint a further five senior psychologists who will be in their posts shortly after Christmas. Interviews for a further 25 psychologists are scheduled to begin during the first half of January 2000.

My colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, is committed to the development of a quality educational psychological service that will adequately meet the needs of our children and young people. It is essential, therefore, that the expansion of NEPS should proceed in a phased, orderly and equitable manner, beginning immediately after Christmas.

The NEPS psychologists will also work individually with a number of students. For example, they will work with students with learning difficulties who have not responded to remedial teaching or with mild emotional and behavioural [972] difficulties who may respond to a limited number of counselling sessions. Students who have difficulties that require detailed multi-disciplinary assessment, family intervention or long-term therapeutic counselling will be referred to specialist clinical services.

Detailed discussions between NEPS and local interests in the south Kerry area will begin as soon as possible. The aim will be to establish which part of the work of the Killarney Counselling Centre is appropriate to NEPS and to arrange for a phased transfer of such responsibility. It would at the moment be premature for the Minister for Education and Science to agree to support all the activities of the centre. He has to consider the needs of all areas of the country and of students at all levels. However, the Minister, Deputy Martin, can assure the Deputy that it is intended that NEPS will have taken on the counselling work appropriate to it by the end of its five year development period. Meanwhile, he hopes that other agencies that provide counselling services may consider continuation of such provision pending the full development of NEPS.

The Dáil adjourned at 12.05 a.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 9 December 1999.

[973]

  5.  D'fhiafraigh Mr. Sargent    den Taoiseach    cén plean atá ag an Strategic Management Initiative seirbhís a chur ar fáil do Theachtaí Dála, do státseirbhísigh agus don phobal i gcoitinne as Gaeilge nuair nach bhfuil tagairt ar bith do ghné seo an SMI sa nuachtlitir Link is déanaí, Samhain 1999. [26028/99]

The Taoiseach:  Is í aidhm an Tionscnaimh Bainistíochta Straitéisí (TBS) ná sársheirbhís a chur ar fáil do gach saoránach. Ba ghné thábhachtach í an dátheangachas den Tionscnamh ‘Seirbhís den Scoth', a lainseáladh i mí Bealtaine 1997. De réir Prionsabail na Seirbhíse den Scoth, ba chóir go gcuirfeadh Ranna agus Oifigí Rialtais seirbhísí ar fáil dóibh siúd ar mian leo a gcuid gnó a dhéanamh trí Ghaeilge. Ina dhiaidh sin, i mí Iúil 1998, d'eisigh an Rannóg TBS treoirlínte do Ranna-oifigí maidir le húsáid na Gaeilge i bhfoilseacháin don phobal. Bunaíodh na Treoirlínte seo ar pháipeár de chuid Bhord na Gaeilge dar teideal ‘Leathnú an Dátheangachais: Treoirlínte don Earnáil Phoiblí do Chláracha Gníomhaíochta'. Tá sé mar cheann de Threoirlínte an TBS go mbeadh ar a laghad píosa réasúnta i nGaeilge i gcónaí in ábhar atá le cur faoi bhráid an phobail. D'eisigh an TBS ceithre thuarascáil i 1999, agus bhí an réamhrá i nGaeilge i dtrí cinn acu.

The aim of the Strategic Management Initiative is the delivery of an excellent service to all citizens. The provision of a bilingual service to members of the public has been identified as an important aspect of the SMI's quality customer service initiative, which was launched in 1997. The principles of quality customer service, state that services should be made available for those who wish to do business in Irish. In addition, the SMI division issued guidelines to Departments-offices in July 1998 concerning the use of Irish in publications for the public. These guidelines were based on Bord na Gaeilge's “Expanding Bilingualism – Guidelines for Action Programmes in the State Sector”. One of these guidelines is that at least a reasonable amount of Irish should be used in material for the public. The SMI produced four reports in 1999, three of which contained an introduction or executive summary in Irish.

Quality customer service was also a key aspect of the next phase of the SMI, which was launched in Dublin Castle in July 1999. Speaking at that launch, I stated that the new working group, which has been set up to chart a course for the next stage of QCS , would pay particular attention to the needs of specific groups of customers, including users of Irish.

The magazine Link, the newsletter of the SMI, is issued free of charge to all civil servants, to Deputies and Senators, and to public service bodies. Although the July 1999 edition of Link[974] invited contributions in Irish, none was received. However, in line with the guidelines referred to above, every effort will be made to ensure Irish is used in future editions.

  6.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the plans, if any, he has to meet the newly appointed Ministers to the Northern Ireland Executive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25909/99]

  7.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the plans, if any, he has to visit Northern Ireland before the end of 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25910/99]

  8.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. [26053/99]

  9.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Taoiseach    the plans, if any, he has to meet with President Clinton in the immediate future. [26054/99]

  10.  Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    the role his Department will play in the implementation of the cross-Border and all-Ireland aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. [26075/99]

  11.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    the plans, if any, he has to meet the Northern Ireland First Minister and Deputy First Minister following the devolution of powers to the Northern Executive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26201/99]

  12.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    the progress made in regard to the implementation of the aspects of the Good Friday Agreement for which his Department has responsibility; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26202/99]

  13.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    when the first full meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council will take place; the plans, if any, he has to participate in it; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26203/99]

  14.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    when the first meeting of the British-Irish Council will take place; the plans, if any, he has to participate in it; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26204/99]

  15.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    when the Council of the Isles will be established; the basis on which representatives of Dáil Éireann will be selected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26205/99]

[975]

  16.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    the plans, if any, he has for a meeting with the British Prime Minister on the margins of the EU Summit in Helsinki to review progress in Northern Ireland following the devolution of powers to the Northern Executive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26206/99]

  17.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent discussions with the First Minister of Northern Ireland and the Leader of the UUP, Mr. David Trimble; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26211/99]

  18.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent discussions with the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Mr. Seamus Mallon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26214/99]

  19.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the communications, if any, he has had with President Clinton since the UUP executive council meeting on 27 November 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26215/99]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 19, inclusive, together.

The first plenary meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council will take place in Armagh on Monday next, 13 December 1999. In line with the provisions of the relevant Agreements, I will lead the Government delegation from this jurisdiction. The first meeting of the British-Irish Council in plenary format will take place on Friday, 17 December, in London. Again, in line with the provisions of the relevant Agreements, I will lead the Irish Government delegation.

Strand Three of the Good Friday Agreement provides that “the British-Irish Council will meet in different formats: at summit level, twice per year; in specific formats on a regular basis, with each side represented by the appropriate Minister”. However, the Agreement also provides that “the elected institutions of the members will be encouraged to develop interparliamentary links, perhaps building on the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body”. Now that the Agreement has entered into force, steps will be taken to follow-up on the parliamentary aspect. This will require consultation with and within the two Houses of the Oireachtas. It will be necessary to take account of the existence of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body, which has already considered its future in light of the Agreement and which will need to be consulted further.

My Department has played a key role, with the other Departments involved, including through intensive contact with No. 10 Downing Street, in supporting and assisting the efforts by Senator George Mitchell, in his review, to overcome the difficulties which had prevented the implementation of the institutional aspects of the Agreement. The outcome of those efforts has been apparent over the past three weeks and has led to the British-Irish Agreement entering into force and to the implementation last week of the insti[976] tutional and constitutional aspects of the Agreement.

In addition, my Department played a major role in the implementation of the North-South aspects of the Agreement, including the negotiation of the areas for implementation bodies and for co-operation through existing bodies in each jurisdiction, the negotiation of the supplementary international agreements on the North-South Ministerial Council, the British-Irish Council, the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and especially the implementation bodies, in the preparation and enactment of the British-Irish Agreement Act, 1999, and the British-Irish Agreement (Amendment) Act, 1999, in the settlement of the procedure for the North-South Ministerial Council and in preparation for such practical matters as the joint designation by the Irish and British Governments of persons to carry out on an interim basis the functions of chief executives of the implementation bodies, pending the appointment of actual chief executives, – which has been done – , the nomination of persons to be chairpersons, vice chairpersons and directors of those implementation bodies that will have them and the settlement of the negotiating position of the Irish Government on the locations of the headquarters and other locations of the bodies.

All these matters were taken forward vigorously with a view to the establishment of the implementation bodies, which occurred on Thursday last and to enabling them to be operational as soon as possible. This involved a large amount of co-ordination with all other Departments involved, including on such matters as financial memoranda and staffing principles for the bodies.

My Department has also played a substantial role in advancing follow-up in regard to the six agreed areas for co-operation, where implementation is to be by existing bodies in the two jurisdictions, so as to enable a solid follow-up on these matters in the initial meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council in various sectoral formats. My Department has also had a significant input in regard to implementation of other areas of the Agreement as they apply to this jurisdiction, including, for example, human rights aspects, matters relating to the victims of violence and the promotion of reconciliation, but other Departments are primarily responsible for these areas.

For the future, my Department will continue to play an active role in the further implementation of the Agreement, in all the areas that I have already identified and in providing the necessary support for me in my participation in the meetings of the plenary format of the North-South Ministerial Council, which are to take place twice a year. As regards wider arrangements for steering and co-ordinating the implementation of the cross-Border and all-island aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, this requires careful consideration which I and the Government will be giving to the matter in the period immediately ahead.

Further to the provision under the section of [977] the Good Friday Agreement relating to rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity, which states that the Irish Government will “continue to take further active steps to demonstrate its respect for the different traditions in the island of Ireland”, the Irish Government has paid £150,000 for the Irish Peace Park in Messines, and has committed a further allocation of £50,000. Some £24,000 has been allocated to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association towards the costs of developing a multimedia presentation aimed at highlighting the sacrifices made by all traditions on this island in World War One. Funding has also been allocated to the Cork Lions Club towards the costs of restoring the Cenotaph on South Mall in Cork City and to the Ulster Society, towards the costs of their ongoing activities aimed at promoting Ulster-British heritage and culture. A grant is also being made to the Ulster Historical Foundation towards the costs of their project entitled History of the Irish Parliament.

I was glad to announce, on Sunday last, that the Government has agreed in principle to purchase the site of the Battle of the Boyne. A special interdepartmental committee, established by my colleague the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, has been tasked with bringing forward comprehensive long-term proposals for the development of the site. We are spending £150,000 on immediate interim measures to improve public access, visitor facilities and information material. In opening up this hugely important part of our shared heritage to the people of this island and to overseas visitors, the Government will continue to consult closely with representatives of the unionist tradition, with the relevant local authorities and with community groups.

I have been in regular contact with the officeholders and parties in Northern Ireland and with other relevant Government leaders over recent days and weeks. On the subject of a meeting with President Clinton, there are no plans for such a meeting in the near future. However, I met the President at the OSCE Summit in Istanbul three weeks ago. I hope to meet with the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in Helsinki on Thursday evening next, 9 December where we will take the opportunity to review progress in Northern Ireland as well as to discuss European matters.

  20.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    if he has received the recent report on the Judiciary by the All-Party Committee on the Constitution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25072/99]

The Taoiseach:  I welcome the fourth progress report on the courts and the Judiciary published by the All-Party Committee on the Constitution on Wednesday 24 November 1999. The report [978] recommends a number of changes to the Constitution which require serious consideration.

The crucial recommendations made by the committee relate to issues such as the establishment of a Judicial council and the reform of the current impeachment procedure. The report will be considered in detail by the Government at an early opportunity.

  21.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on progress made by his Department in implementing the strategy document on the IFSC which he launched in March 1999; the role his Department is playing in implementing and monitoring the strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25074/99]

The Taoiseach:  I launched the Government's strategy for the development of the international financial services industry in Ireland last March. The strategy sets out a vision for the development of the international financial services industry in Ireland, building on the success of the IFSC. It also provides a comprehensive implementation plan based around 19 priorities. Following the strategy's publication, I spoke at a seminar in Dublin Castle on 18 June for industry members and the public sector.

While the implementation of individual commitments remains a matter for each responsible Department or agency, a public sector group chaired by my Department is co-ordinating and monitoring progress. In addition, the IFSC clearing house group and working groups bring together industry representatives with the different Departments and agencies to implement the strategy and address other relevant issues.

A progress report on the implementation of the strategy is being prepared by the IFSC clearing house group. I expect this will be completed by the end of this year and submitted to Government early in the new year. I believe this will show good progress with the priority actions outlined in the strategy and this is reflected in the continued growth and development of the centre.

  22.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    if he has satisfied himself with the progress on the key issues for the implementation of his Department's strategy statement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25075/99]

  23.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the progress, if any, made to formulate the legislative and administrative priorities of his Department for 2000; and the achievements of the 1999 programme. [25081/99]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 22 and 23 together.

My Department's strategy statement covering the period 1998-2001 was laid before both Houses [979] of the Oireachtas on 1 May 1998. The major goals for the Department set out in it may be summarised as follows: facilitating the efficient functioning of Government; achieving and maintaining lasting peace on the island of Ireland and the realisation of a new agreed three stranded political settlement; developing a strategic focus for this country's interests and image at international level; working with the social partners to develop and implement national programmes of economic and social development; and the ongoing development of an efficient public service.

As will be clear from recent developments and my replies to previous questions in the House, very significant progress has been made in achieving the goals and work is ongoing on the basis of divisional business plans to achieve these.

As part of the overall strategic planning process in my Department, a series of presentations of the business plans to the management advisory committee is currently under way. This will assist in the process of prioritising the work of the Department and the associated resources required. In addition, work is currently under way on a progress report on the strategy statement, as required under section 4 of the Public Service Management Act, 1997. It is anticipated that this work will be completed early in the new year and that copies of the progress report will then be submitted to Government and will, when approved, be laid before both Houses for their information.

On a related point, the strategic management initiative division of my Department is charged with the ongoing development of an efficient public service which delivers excellent services and in which authority, responsibility and accountability are clearly set out at all levels. The SMI is now moving from design to implementation, and a number of key priorities have been identified for current and future work. These are: deepening the quality customer service initiative; the regulatory reform action programme; freedom of information; new financial management systems; human resource management issues, including performance management and recruitment; and gender equality.

I am happy with the progress which is being made with regard to all of these areas.

In addition, my Department has undertaken a comprehensive programme of financial management reform during 1999. This programme includes the implementation of the reforms set out in the strategic management initiative and approved by the Government during 1999, an examination of how greater value for money can be obtained from administrative expenditure, and an assessment of how information technology can be better deployed to improve the service provided by the finance unit. Professional advice has been engaged to assist with the reform process.

In response to the legislative priorities of my Department for 2000, drafting on a Bill to place [980] the National Economic and Social Council and the National Economic and Social Forum on a statutory footing is at an advanced stage. It is expected that this Bill will be published early in 2000.

Overall, I consider that my Department has made a significant contribution to moving the agenda forward in relation to the key areas set out in the Department's strategy statement and I am very satisfied with its performance in this regard.

  24.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on the disparity between Central Statistics Office crime survey statistics and Garda crime figures. [25120/99]

The Taoiseach:  The CSO included a range of questions on crime and victimisation in the September to November 1998 quarterly national household survey; and published the results on Tuesday 23 November 1999.

The CSO's report contains estimates of the level of incidence of crime over a 12 month period and includes statistics on how people perceive crime and safety in Ireland today. The report showed that crime had affected one in every eight households during the previous year.

The CSO survey results are not directly comparable with the crime figures published each year by the Garda Síochána. This is because there are fundamental differences in how the two sets of figures are compiled and classified. While the Garda report provides a very detailed breakdown of indictable and non-indictable offences, the CSO survey gives a more aggregated view of the level of crime. The survey results show that not all crimes are reported to the gardaí. For example, almost 90% of vehicle thefts were reported to the gardaí whereas the level of reporting of vandalism was under 40%. For most other types of crime, about 60% of incidents are reported. The most common reason for not reporting a crime was that it was not serious enough or there was no financial loss.

These findings are consistent with the results of the ESRT's 1982 survey of crime in Ireland, and with international experience of comparing crime surveys with police statistics.

  25.  Ms Fitzgerald    asked the Minister for Defence    the compensation scheme, if any, he will establish to deal with deafness compensation claims from Army personnel; the timeframe in this regard; if he has the support of the representative associations; the criteria to be used; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26443/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  As Deputies will be aware, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment in the case of Hanley v[981] Minister for Defence yesterday, Tuesday, 7 December 1999.

It will take time to evaluate the implications of this important judgment for Defence Forces hearing loss claims. However, I am confident from a preliminary examination that the tariff laid down by the Supreme Court should form a basis for the introduction of a compensation scheme. I am hopeful that such a scheme can be established as speedily as is possible, subject to the approval of the Government. This scheme will be based on the hearing disability assessment system contained in the Green Book. I would prefer such a scheme to be administratively straightforward and provide a speedy process for dealing with claims. In this regard I would anticipate that once an individual has had his hearing tested, his Green Book disability assessed, his entitlement to compensation under the scheme can be determined and paid to him within a reasonable period.

I know that the representative associations share my determination to remove these claims from the courts and I look forward to their continued support in this regard.

  26.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Defence    the plans, if any, he has to update the legislation governing the Red Cross Society; if he will list the Government representatives currently on the central council; the representations, if any, he has received from staff of the society concerning problems within the organisation; the orders made by the Government under section 2 of the Red Cross Act, 1938; the plans, if any, he has to amend any orders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26172/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  I do not believe amendments are required, at this time, to the legislation governing the Red Cross.

As outlined in my reply to the adjournment debate in this House on Wednesday, 24 November 1999 regarding the Irish Red Cross Society, a new secretary general was recruited by the society earlier this year. One of the first tasks undertaken by him was a strategic review of the operation of the society. I am informed that this review will encompass the views and opinions of all organs of the society to ensure the strengthening and development of the society. 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. It is intended that the review will be completed by mid-2000. It may transpire that legislative changes may be required at that time and my Department will respond as required in this regard.

I have received no representations from the staff concerning problems within the organisation and as I have already indicated in this House, I have no function in the administration of the Red [982] 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. My Department, as in the past, is available to provide help and assistance to the society as and 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.

With regard to section 2 of the Red Cross Act, 1938, no orders or amendments to orders, have been made or are being considered under this section.

The following persons were nominated by Government on 23 April 1997, to serve as members of Central Council for the period 1 May 1997 to 30 April 2000:

Mr. Pat O'Reilly Mr. Des Kavanagh
Mr. Jim O'Loughlin Ms Colette Treanor
Mr. Robert Byrne Ms Geraldine McLaughlin
Ms Margaret Garry Ms Deirdre Healy
Ms Elaine Bolger Mr. John Lovett
Mr. John Costin Ms Carmel O'Brien
Mr. Gerry O'Sullivan Mrs. Hannah Cuddy
Mr. Richie Ryan Mr. James Sewell

  27.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Defence    the plans, if any, he has to mark the millennium with the issuing of a special medal to all members of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26325/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  No formal proposal has been made by the military authorities in relation to the issue of a medal to mark the millennium. I understand, however, that they have informally indicated a desire that such a medal should be considered in the context of a similar proposal from An Garda Síochána.

  28.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Defence    the reason his Department will not accept an application from Gaelscoil Chill Dara for an access to its proposed new school site at Lumville, the Curragh, County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26173/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  I am advised that the Department of Education and Science has indicated to my Department that it is considering the possibility of such a school being established on an alternative site.

[983]

  29.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Defence    the procedures and compensation arrangements in place with reference to members of the Reserve Defence Force in the event of injury during training or while attending annual training camp; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26379/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  Members of the FCA and An Slua Muiri who are injured in the course of their duties may apply for compensation under a non-statutory scheme administered by my Department. Typically, this would cover injuries sustained on duty while participating in annual camp, field days, exercises, parades and courses of instruction. The scheme applies to all ranks and includes provision for compensation for medical disablement by way of periodic payments and for loss of earnings and-or certain medical expenses.

In general, formal application under the scheme must be made to my Department within six months of the date on which the injury was sustained. Eligible applicants are referred to the Army Pensions Board for medical examination and assessment of their percentage degree of disablement due to the qualifying injury. The board is an independent statutory body which investigates such matters in the case of members of the Defence Forces.

Based on the board's findings, successful applicants may be awarded periodic compensation from the date of the injury. The rates of payment depend on the percentage level of disablement assessed by the board and are the same as the rates of disablement benefit payable under the social welfare occupational injuries scheme. These payments are revised annually in line with increases in disablement benefit, while the level of disablement may be reviewed by the board from time to time.

Periodic compensation may be payable for the lifetime of the injured member if permanently disabled. Compensation for loss of earnings may not be paid for more than 26 weeks in respect of any injury.

  32.  Mr. Yates    asked the Minister for Defence    if a decision has been taken to replace the helicopter lost in the Tramore crash; and if he will make a statement on the re-equipment of the Air Corps. [26289/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  The question of future equipment requirements for the Air Corps will be dealt with in the context of the White Paper on Defence which I plan to bring forward by the end of the year. Following the review of the Air Corps, which was carried out by consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers, I asked the chief of staff to prepare, in conjunction with the general officer commanding the Air Corps, a [984] draft implementation plan for my consideration, to give effect to the effectiveness and efficiency recommendations made in the consultants' report. The draft plan was submitted recently and is being examined in the context of the preparation of the White Paper.

Work on the paper will be completed by the end of the year and I intend to bring forward my proposals immediately for consideration and approval by Government.

  33.  Mr. L. Burke    asked the Minister for Defence    if he has received the report on the review of the Reserve Defence Force; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26309/99]

  39.  Dr. Upton    asked the Minister for Defence    the proposals, if any, he has to allow members of the FCA to serve abroad in peacekeeping operations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26199/99]

  51.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Defence    his views on the future of the Reserve Defence Force; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26308/99]

  58.  Ms Clune    asked the Minister for Defence    when he will publish the report on the Reserve Defence Forces. [26294/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 33, 39, 51 and 58 together.

The Defence Forces Review Implementation Plan 1996-1998 – which was approved by Government in March 1996 – provides for a special study of the Reserve Defence Force, which consists of the first line reserve made up of former members of the Permanent Defence Force, An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil and An Slua Muirí, to be undertaken during the lifetime of the plan. Accordingly, in November 1997 I announced the setting up of a joint civilian-military steering group to carry out this examination. As part of the examination process, the chief of staff established a military board to conduct a study of the reserve.

Part of the function of the steering group was to oversee and guide the military board in its task. On 2 September 1999, when the steering group had completed its review of the reserve, including consideration of the military board report, it submitted to me a draft report which I am currently in the process of examining. Pending completion of consideration of the draft report, I do not intend to make any comment on the findings or recommendations contained in the report or on the procedures that will be necessary to implement such findings or recommendations. As I have indicated previously, I plan to publish the steering group report in due course.

I am satisfied that an indepth study of the reserve has now been undertaken involving a considerable amount of work by both the military [985] board and the steering group. The military board, as part of its task, sought the views of the membership on the future organisation and structure of the reserve. From the outset there was ongoing liaison between the steering group and the military board and meetings of the steering group were attended in part by either the chairman or the secretary of the military board who kept the group well briefed on the board's progress. The steering group also advised the military board regarding aspects of the reserve that should be examined or that should be looked at in greater depth by the military board.

The steering group met each of the Permanent Defence Force representative associations, who made presentations to the group regarding their areas of concern, and it met on three occasions with the Reserve Defence Force Representative Association which also made presentations to the group.

The question of members of the FCA undertaking overseas service with units of the Permanent Defence Force is one of the aspects of reserve service that was examined by the study groups. General criteria governing selection for overseas service come within the scope of representation. Any matters relating to overseas service by members of the reserve which come within the scope of representation will be raised with the associations at the appropriate forum.

  34.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of officers of the rank of captain and below who left the Permanent Defence Force in each of the years from 1997 to end October 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26322/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  The military authorities advise that the number of officers of the rank of captain and below who left the Permanent Defence Force in the years 1997 to the end of October 1999 is 61 in 1997, 48 in 1998 and 34 in 1999. A number of the officers who retired in 1997 retired under the provisions of the voluntary early retirement scheme.

  35.  Mr. S. Ryan    asked the Minister for Defence    the reason he issued an instruction to the Naval Service to relocate its headquarters from Dublin to Cork in advance of the implementation of key structural changes in the Defence Forces as recommended in the Price Waterhouse report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26189/99]

  60.  Mr. Bradford    asked the Minister for Defence    if he has received the implementation plans for the Naval Service and Air Corps; and, if so, the way in which he will act on these. [26286/99]

[986]

  70.  Mr. Noonan    asked the Minister for Defence    when he will implement a plan for the future of the Naval Service and Air Corps; the proposed timetable for the investment in these services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26303/99]

  85.  Mr. S. Ryan    asked the Minister for Defence    the position regarding the implementation of the Price Waterhouse report on the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26192/99]

  106.  Ms Fitzgerald    asked the Minister for Defence    when he will begin the implementation plans for the Naval Service and Air Corps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26444/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 35, 60, 70, 85 and 106 together.

The 1998 Price Waterhouse report on the Air Corps and the Naval Service set out a range of recommendations for more effective and efficient air and sea services. Some of these recommendations could be proceeded with fairly quickly while others would take longer to implement. It is important that the recommendations be implemented in a structured and coherent way that contributes to the overall development of the Defence Forces.

The relocation of Air Corps and Naval Service headquarters to Casement Aerodrome and Haulbowline, County Cork, respectively, was a key recommendation of the Price Waterhouse report. I considered it essential that these moves be implemented and I directed that they take place as quickly as possible. These relocations are entirely logical and sensible and are in accordance with the principles of good management practice. They provide a vital support element for the broad manpower and organisational recommendations upon which plans are being developed Furthermore, they provide concrete evidence of my commitment to implementing the VFM and efficiency recommendations in the Price Waterhouse report.

The relocation of Naval Service headquarters to Haulbowline, County Cork was completed early last month and the military authorities have advised me that that the Air Corps headquarters will be relocated to Casement Aerodrome early next year.

In October 1998, I directed the chief of staff to arrange for the general officer commanding the Air Corps and the flag officer commanding the Naval Service to submit implementation plans that would give effect to the effectiveness and efficiency recommendations in the Price Waterhouse report. Draft implementation plans for both services were submitted to me in the last few weeks. Both plans require full and careful consideration and they are currently being examined in detail in my Department.

[987] As with the reorganisation of the Defence Forces, the changes in the Air Corps and the Naval Service will be of a positive nature aimed at ensuring the ongoing development of these services consistent with the needs of the State and the taxpayer. The broader development of both services will be dealt with in the context of the White Paper on Defence which presents a positive opportunity to develop the Defence Forces for the long-term. Work on the White Paper will be completed by year end and I intend to bring forward my proposals immediately for consideration and approval by the Government.

Investment in both services has of course continued during the White Paper process and considerable sums have been expended under the Defence Vote on weapons, ammunition, transport, communications and equipment for the Air Corps and Naval Service.

Accommodation requirements at Casement Aerodrome are the subject of ongoing review, particularly in light of the need to cater for personnel in the Air Corps headquarters and at Gormanston who are due to relocate to Casement. Contracts amounting to £3.4 million have been completed at Casement Aerodrome since 1996 and this year, projects with an estimated final cost of over £5 million have commenced.

About £22.5 million will be spent on Naval Service equipment this year including £11.5 million in respect of the fishery protection vessel. This new vessel, which cost a total of £22.5 million, will be commissioned into the Naval Service on Wednesday, 15 December 1999 and will become operational immediately thereafter. Consideration is currently being given to the question of the purchase of an additional fishery protection vessel, similar to LE Róisín, as a replacement for the LE Deirdre which has completed almost 28 years in use to date and is approaching the end of its economic service life.

  36.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Defence    if claims for deafness compensation will be met from his Department's budget or from Exchequer resources; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26263/99]

  46.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Defence    if his Department is the only Department involved in payments in relation to Army deafness cases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26320/99]

  48.  Mr. Belton    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will give details of the compensation scheme he will establish to deal with deafness compensation claims from members of the Defence Forces. [26276/99]

[988]

  61.  Mr. Barrett    asked the Minister for Defence    the way in which he will finance the compen sation scheme he will set up in relation to Defence Forces compensation claims. [26296/99]

  63.  Mr. Finucane    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of claims to date for deafness compensation within the Defence Forces; the cost and number per month in 1999 of these claims; the plans, if any, he has to establish a compensation scheme; if so, the date for its establishment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26302/99]

  76.  Mr. McDowell    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of serving members of the Defence Forces who have lodged claims arising from deafness; the number of cases settled to date; the number outstanding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26182/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 36, 46, 48, 61, 63 and 76 together.

The number of hearing loss claims received by my Department up to 30 November 1999 is 14,665. The number of serving members of the Defence Forces who have lodged claims is 4,339. Of these, 2,943 claims remain outstanding, while 1,396 have been disposed of. A total of 67 claims have been disposed of by court awards and 1,268 by out of court settlement at a cost of £29.5 million. Forty seven claims have been withdrawn and 14 claims dismissed by the courts. A sum of £9.9 million has been paid in respect of plaintiffs' legal costs, giving an overall total cost of £39.4 million in respect of serving members of the Defence Forces.

The average quantum of damages per claim for the period January to November 1999 was £11,970. This is reduced from an average of £30,874 in 1996. Details in respect of expenditure and numbers of claims per month in 1999 are set out in the tabular statement. The number of claims outstanding is 10,178.

Payments in relation to awards and settlements, as well as plaintiffs' costs, are made from the Department of Defence Vote. The State's legal costs in respect of these claims are met from the Attorney General's Vote. No other Departments are involved in making payments in relation to Army hearing loss litigation claims.

As Deputies will be aware, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment in the case of Hanley v Minister for Defence yesterday, Tuesday 7 December 1999. It will take time to evaluate the implications of this important judgment for Defence Forces hearing loss claims. However, it seems from a preliminary examination that the tariff laid down by the Supreme Court may form a basis for the introduction of a compensation scheme. I am hopeful that such a scheme can be established as speedily as possible, subject to the approval of the Government. This scheme will be based on the hearing disability assessment system contained in the Green Book. I would prefer such a scheme to be administratively straightforward [989] and provide a speedy process for dealing with claims. In this regard I anticipate that once an individual has had his hearing tested and his Green Book disability assessed, his entitlement to compensation under the scheme can be determined and paid to him within a reasonable period.

The cost implications will form part of the [990] examination being conducted by my Department into yesterday's judgment. In this regard it is anticipated that this year's financial outturn for hearing loss claims will be of the order of £38 million. A sum of £57 million has been provided in the defence estimate for Army hearing loss compensation in the year 2000.

Month Number of New ClaimsReceived Number of Claims Settled Number of Claims Awarded Total Award andSettlement Total Paid in Plaintiffs' Legal Costs*
January 99 116 3 £1,911,174.39 £929,344.71
February 99 130 11 £2,083,145.50 £966,439.19
March 62 293 6 £3,544,539.35 £1,534,803.32
April 127 247 4 £3,044,644.09 £1,185,821.15
May 76 197 6 £2,829,743.00 £1,102,134.54
June 119 199 10 £2,252,912.44 £871,687.83
July 33 333 26 £3,713,503.23 £1,045,733.18
August 127 3 0 £21,523.00 £2,422.50
September 75 4 0 £15,618.00
October 93 144 3 £1,543,378.00 £17,191.92
November 51 244 9 £2,835,326.00

*Costs may not have been finalised in all cases where settlements or awards have been made.

  37.  Mr. Spring    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of women who are officers and other ranks in the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps; the proportion of the overall this represents in each case; the plans, if any, he has to increase the number of female personnel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26196/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  Women are eligible for service in the Army, Air Corps, Naval Service and in the Reserve Defence Force and to compete for all appointments on an equal basis and under the same general conditions as those which apply to men. All female personnel undergo the same training and receive the same military education as their male counterparts.

To encourage increased participation by women in the Defence Forces, I decided last year to reduce the height requirement for all female recruits to 5' 4”. The following table indicates the number of women within the Permanent Defence Forces as of 30 September 1999 the most recent date for which such figures are currently available from the military authorities. These figures provide a breakdown between officers and various non-commissioned ranks across each of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps.

Strength of Female Defence Forces as on 30 September, 1999.

LtGen MajGen BrigGen Col LtCol Comdt Capt Lt TotalOffrs Sm Bqms Cs Cqms Sgts Cpls TotalNcos Ptes
Army 0 0 0 0 0 7 30 29 66 0 0 1 1 14 39 55 234
Air
Corps
0 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 4 0 0 0 0 1 1 2 17
Naval
Service
0 0 0 0 0 0 1 4 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 28

Strength of Male Defence Forces as on 30 September 1999.

LtGen MajGen BrigGen Col LtCol Comdt Capt Lt TotalOffrs Sm Bqms Cs Cqms Sgts Cpls TotalNcos Ptes
Army 1 2 5 37 130 352 329 137 993 29 39 137 257 1,049 1,875 3,386 4,465
Air
Corps
0 0 1 1 8 28 40 36 114 5 4 37 12 109 184 351 396
Naval
Service
0 0 1 2 9 33 29 30 104 7 5 59 13 175 185 444 402

% of female personnel of total: Officers Other Ranks
Total
Army 3.9% 6.2% 3.5%
Air Corps 2.6% 3.4% 2.5%
Naval Service 3.4% 4.6% 3.2%

[991]

  38.  Mr. Hayes    asked the Minister for Defence    the discussions, if any, he has had with the Department of the Environment and Local Government regarding the ongoing need to provide shelter for the homeless in Dublin; if facilities exist which could be utilised for this purpose in view of the need to recognise the suffering of homeless persons at this time of the year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22501/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  I have had no discussions with the Department of the Environment and Local Government concerning the need for the provision of shelter for the homeless in Dublin. There is no surplus military or civil defence accommodation in the Dublin area which could be utilised for this purpose.

My Department is involved in ongoing discussions relating to the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers and refugees both in Dublin and other parts of the country. My policy is to be as helpful as possible in this matter.

  40.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the changes, if any, likely in training, equipment and procedures with participation in Partnership for Peace; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26238/99]

  54.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Defence    if his attention has been drawn to the views expressed by the president of PDFORRA at its recent annual conference that additional funding of up to £200 million would be required over the next four years to allow the Defence Forces to meet its commitments, particularly in view of Ireland's membership of Partnership for Peace; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26187/99]

  55.  Ms Fitzgerald    asked the Minister for Defence    the cost of Ireland's participation in Partnership for Peace for the Defence Forces; the discussions, if any, which have taken place in regard to the participation of the Defence Forces in Partnership for Peace exercises; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26260/99]

  87.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Defence    the additional financial obligations, if any, which will arise for the Defence Forces arising from the decision to join Partnership for Peace; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26193/99]

  90.  Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Defence    the projected cost to his Department and to the Defence Forces of membership of NATO's Partnership for Peace. [26324/99]

[992]

  92.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Defence    the specific military exercises, if any, the Government has agreed to participate in under Partnership for Peace. [26098/99]

  107.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the extent, if any, to which it is proposed to re-equip the Air Corps arising from participation in Partnership for Peace; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26472/99]

  108.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the degree to which the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service have co-operated with the military authorities in other EU member states in the context of Partnership for Peace; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26473/99]

  111.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the plans, if any, he has to re-equip the Army in the context of participation in Partnership for Peace; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26476/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 40, 54, 55, 87, 90, 92, 107, 108 and 111 together.

Participation in PfP imposes no mandatory financial obligations for Ireland. Participation is voluntary and is based on the principle of self-differentiation, that is a state selects for itself the nature and scope of its participation in PfP activities. The areas of interest to Ireland are as set out in the presentation document which was approved by Dáil Éireann on 9 November 1999 and which was presented to the NATO secretariat upon signature by Ireland of the PfP framework document on 1 December 1999. Following Dáil approval, Ireland joined PfP and the EAPC on that date. In view of the increasing role which PfP is playing in facilitating co-operation in conflict prevention, peacekeeping and humanitarian operations within Europe in support of the United Nations, it is envisaged that participation by the Defence Forces will relate to activities in those areas in order to develop capacity for future co-operation. Such participation will assist the Defence Forces in improving their capability for multi-national peacekeeping and peace support operations in the future. It is the policy of the Government to ensure that the Defence Forces are adequately trained, equipped and resourced to undertake whatever overseas operations with which they are tasked from time to time in line with the situation as enunciated by the Taoiseach that participation in PfP need not involve any significant rise in defence spending but simply a more productive use of existing resources under a planned approach over the next ten years.

On the basis of its presentation document Ireland will shortly develop, in consultation with the NATO secretariat, an individual partnership programme which will cover a two year period initially and which will set out the level and extent of proposed participation in such areas as co-operation in peacekeeping principles, doctrine, [993] training and exercises and inter-operability in peacekeeping operations. The contribution which the Defence Forces can make in the light of their peacekeeping experience as well as the resources which can be offered, such as the United Nations Training School at the Curragh, will also be reflected in the individual partnership programme. Co-ordination arrangements between the Departments principally concerned have been set up. No decisions, however, have as yet been made in relation to specific activities to be included within the individual partnership programme.

With regard to costs, each state funds its own participation in PfP activities. In addition, states contribute to the cost of mounting exercises in which they decide to take part. In the case of participation by the Defence Forces in PfP activities, it is envisaged that any costs arising within the Defence Vote in a specific year will be proportionate to the level of participation selected in advance and reflected in the individual partnership programme and will be balanced, taking account of overall budgetary constraints as well as existing operational commitments by the Defence Forces both at home and overseas. Certain staffing and other administrative costs will also fall to be met by the Defence Vote in respect of the assignment of military and civilian staff to the mission in Brussels and at the Department's headquarters in Dublin. It is also envisaged that Ireland will be represented at the PfP co-ordination cell in Mons, Belgium, where we already maintain a military liaison officer for SFOR and KFOR.

  41.  Mr. Cosgrave    asked the Minister for Defence    the recent findings, if any, of asbestos in Naval Service ships; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26268/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  Following the attendance of a Naval Service Officer at a recent national asbestos seminar organised by the Health and Safety Authority, it was decided to carry out a survey of the older vessels of the naval service fleet. A firm of environmental consultants was appointed last October and LE Deirdre was the first ship to be surveyed. The results of the survey showed that chrysotile, white asbestos, was detected in the machinery spaces on certain items, that is, engine exhausts and manifold lagging.

Due to the high degree of commonality of equipment among the four ships of the offshore patrol vessel, (OPV) class, it was suspected that similar results would be likely in the other three ships. Subsequent surveys of these ships –LE Emer, LE Aoife and LE Aisling– confirmed this to be the case.

The situation at present is that the firm of environmental consultants has been requested to prepare, as a matter of urgency, tender specifi[994] cations for the removal of asbestos from these ships. Such specifications are expected to be available shortly and reputable contractors will be appointed at the first opportunity.

I assure the Deputy that this matter is being taken extremely seriously by my Department and everything will be done, in line with health and safety requirements, to resolve the issue and return the naval ships to their duties as soon as possible.

  42.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Defence    if he envisages the continuation of the troop commitment to south Lebanon; if he will give details of the urgent situation there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26301/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  Members of the Defence Forces have been deployed for service with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) since 1978. Some 611 Defence Forces personnel are serving with the Irish contingent UNIFIL.

The UNIFIL mandate is reviewed by the United Nations Security Council every six months following a report by the Secretary General of the United Nations. UN Security Council Resolution 1254 of 30 July 1999 has extended the mandate of UNIFIL for a further period of six months, that is, until 31 January 2000.

On 12 October 1999 the Government approved the provision of a replacement contingent to UNIFIL comprising approximately 620 personnel all ranks for a six month period beginning 20 October 1999. The Government decision also allowed for preparations to be made for the selection, training and equipping of a further contingent of approximately 620 personnel all ranks to provide for the possibility of Ireland's continued participation in the UNIFIL peacekeeping force beyond January 2000 in the event of the further extension of the UNIFIL mandate.

With regard to the Middle East peace process, I understand that, unfortunately, the final status negotiations are not proceeding smoothly. This is not unexpected. The new Israeli Government has declared its intention to withdraw its forces from Lebanon not later than July 2000. The legal situation is that UN Security Council Resolution 425 of 1978 requires Israel to end its presence in South Lebanon. If this is to be implemented, the attitude adopted by armed elements within Lebanon to the Israeli backed South Lebanese Army (SLA) and to Israel will be crucial. There is, however, an ongoing risk of an escalation of attacks against the SLA in the area as part of a final push to ensure that the withdrawal is actually effected. This scenario could call for the possibility of a revision of the role of UNIFIL in a post-withdrawal situation. Developments in the coming months may give a clearer indication as to what that future role for UNIFIL would be in the re-establishment of Lebanese sovereignty [995] over its territory. In this regard indications are that the Lebanese authorities would seek a reinforcement of UNIFIL until such time as its function could be undertaken by the Lebanese army.

I visited the area from 20-22 June 1999 in order to see for myself the situation on the ground and, more important, to raise the seriousness of the prevailing security situation in the UNIFIL area of operation with both the Israeli and Lebanese authorities and to seek assurances that the reckless shelling of IRISHBATT positions by the Israeli Defence Force/De Facto Forces (IDF/DFF) which undoubtedly led to the death of Private Kedian would not recur. During the course of my visit I met with the Israeli Minister of Defence and also with the Lebanese Minister of Defence, the latter in relation to ongoing hostile activity perpetrated by the Armed Elements, (Hizbollah). I sought assurances from both that there would not be a recurrence of the recent serious shelling incidents as well as other hostile activity. I indicated to both sides that, while Ireland is committed to the UNIFIL mission, should there not be a cessation of such incidents, serious consideration would have to be given by the Government to the withdrawal of the Irish contingent.

While there have been no major incidents in recent months, the security situation in the UNIFIL area of operations continues to be relatively tense. I visited UNIFIL again from 20-24 September 1999 and found the situation to be calmer than in the earlier part of the year.

There are no plans to alter the current level of Defence Forces commitment to UNIFIL.

  43.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the plans, if any, he has to increase the strength of the Army, Air Corps or Naval Service in the foreseeable future with particular reference to coastal surveillance in the context of fisheries protection and the prevention of drug trafficking; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26239/99]

  98.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of ships in the Naval Service; the number at sea at any given time; the proposals, if any he has to ensure the recruitment of additional personnel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26194/99]

  110.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    if he has satisfied himself on the adequacy of the Naval Service in view of the competing demands of fisheries protection and the protection of coasts against drug trafficking; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26475/99]

[996]Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 43, 98 and 110 together.

The ongoing recruitment campaign for enlistment in the Defence Forces, which I have approved, is designed to address any shortfalls in personnel numbers. I have already provided the House with specific details on this in the reply to a question earlier this afternoon.

The main day-to-day role of the Naval Service is to provide a fishery protection service in accordance with the State's obligations as a member of the European Union. The service is tasked with patrolling all Irish waters from the shoreline to the outer limits of the exclusive economic zone. These patrols are carried out on a regular and frequent basis and are directed at all areas of Irish waters as necessary. Fishery protection patrols are complemented by assistance provided by the Air Corps in the form of aerial surveillance by the two Casa maritime patrol aircraft.

Responsibility for the prevention of the illegal importation of drugs rests primarily with the Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners. During the course of routine patrols Naval Service vessels may be deployed to anti-drug smuggling operations. Naval Service vessels are specifically tasked from time to time to carry out drug search and interdiction operations in aid of the civil authorities.

The Naval Service is equipped with a total of seven vessels comprising one helicopter carrying vessel, four offshore patrol vessels and two coastal patrol vessels. At any given time there would generally be three or four vessels on patrol. A new fishery protection patrol vessel, the LE Roisin, will be commissioned on Wednesday, 15 December 1999 and will become operational thereafter. Consideration is also being given to the question of the purchase of another fishery protection vessel similar to the LE Roisin as a replacement for the LE Deirdre, which has completed almost 28 years in service.

Existing resources enable the Naval Service to respond effectively to tasks involving fisheries protection and the prevention of illegal drug importation.

  44.  Mr. Currie    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of aircraft in the Air Corps over 20 years old; the plans, if any, he has to re-equip the Air Corps; the timetable for this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26273/99]

  77.  Mr. J. O'Keeffe    asked the Minister for Defence    his views on whether the Air Corps is adequately equipped, financed and manned to fulfil its functions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26100/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 44 and 77 together.

In the four year period 1996-9 about £50 million was spent on air corps aircraft and equipment [997] purchases and operational costs generally. Appropriate provision will continue to be made for expenditure required in those areas.

The Air Corps fleet comprises 18 fixed wing aircraft and 14 helicopters, including one fixed wing aircraft and one helicopter operated by the Air Corps on behalf of the Garda Síochána. The number and types of the fixed wing element of the fleet are as follows:

2 CASA CN-235

1 Gulfstream IV

1 Beech Super Kingair

7 Siai – Marchetti SF 260W

6 Cessna

1 Defender 4000 (Garda)

The helicopter element consists of the following:

7 Alouette III

2 Gazelle

4 Dauphin 365F

1 Ecureil AS355N (Garda)

The aircraft which are more than 20 years old comprise all of the Siai-Marchetti, five Cessna, one Gazelle and all of the Alouette III.

The remaining aircraft were purchased within the last 20 years –

1 Cessna–1981

1 Gazelle Helicopter–1981

1 Beech Super Kingair–1980

4 Dauphin 365F Helicopters–1984/1985

1 Gulfstream IV–1992

2 CASA CN 235–1994

1 Defender and 1 Ecureil (Garda)–1997.

All of the aircraft mentioned are operational and undergo regular maintenance and scheduled overhauls to ensure that they are fully airworthy and meet the certification standards laid down for the aviation industry. In the circumstances it is not proposed to withdraw them from service at present.

The longer term development of the Air Corps, including the question of future aircraft requirements, will be dealt with in the context of the White Paper on Defence. Work on the paper will be completed by the end of the year and I intend to bring forward my proposals immediately for consideration and approval by Government.

In the meantime, I asked the Chief of Staff to prepare, in conjunction with the general officer commanding the Air Corps, a draft implementation plan for my consideration, to implement the effectiveness and efficiency recommendations made by the consultants Price Waterhouse in their review of the corps. The draft plan from the Air Corps was submitted recently and is being examined in the context of the White Paper.

The establishment of the Air Corps is 930 and its current strength is 884. This figure is comprised of 118 officers, 353 NCOs and 413 privates. A total of 48 personnel were recruited in 1999, comprising 13 cadets, 15 apprentices and 20 for general service. I am satisfied that the current [998] level of manning will permit the Air Corps to carry out the operational duties allotted to it.

  45.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Minister for Defence    the plans, if any, he has to increase the number of officers from the ranks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26197/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  I fully support the principle of commissioning suitably qualified non-commissioned personnel in all areas of the Defence Forces.

Non-commissioned personnel who attain particular specialist or degree qualifications may be appointed to commissioned rank to fill vacancies in areas in which they are qualified provided that they satisfy an interview board as to their suitability. It is the policy that the filling of such vacancies by commissioning enlisted personnel be given first consideration.

In 1998 two non-commissioned personnel were commissioned as air traffic control officers in the Air Corps. Two non-commissioned Naval Service personnel were commissioned as electrical engineer officers in the Naval Service on 3 November 1999. A competition for suitably qualified non-commissioned personnel to be commissioned as officers in the information technology area of the Defence Forces was recently completed and the successful candidates will be appointed shortly.

A potential officers course for 15 Army-Air Corps personnel commenced on 13 September last and is due to be completed in July 2000. Successful candidates will then be commissioned as officers. A similar course for the commissioning of ten Naval Service personnel as watchkeeping officers has also recently been advertised and applications are currently being assessed. It is the intention of the Naval Service that this course will commence in January 2000.

  47.  Mr. Shatter    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of boardings made to date in 1999 by the Naval Service on boats suspected of illegal drug importation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26299/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  Responsibility for the prevention of the illegal importation of drugs rests primarily with the Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners while the main day-to-day role of the Naval Service is to provide a fishery protection service in accordance with the State's obligations as a member of the European Union. During the course of routine patrols, Naval Service vessels may be deployed to anti-drug smuggling operations. Naval Service vessels are specifically tasked from time to time to carry out drug search and interdiction operations in aid of the civil authorities.

Government measures to improve law enforcement in relation to drugs, including the establish[999] ment in 1993 of a joint task force involving the Garda, the Customs Service and the Naval Service, have helped to maximise the effective use of Naval Service resources in combating the illegal importation of drugs. It is not the practice, for security reasons, to disclose specific details relating to Naval Service involvement in drug search and interdiction operations. However, I would like to report that the Naval Service has been involved in 11 drug interdiction operations, under the direction of the aforementioned joint task force to date this year.

  49.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Defence    if he sought or received a report on the strategic review recently carried out by the Irish Red Cross; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26176/99]

  84.  Mr. Gilmore    asked the Minister for Defence    if his Department's representatives on the central council and executive committee are paid up members of the Irish Red Cross Society in accordance with the rules and statutory organisations of the society; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26177/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 49 and 84 together.

Following the appointment of a new secretary general to the Irish Red Cross Society earlier in the year, one of the first tasks he undertook was a strategic review of the operation of the society. I understand this review to be totally inclusive, involving all staff members and volunteers, with the view to ensuring the strengthening and development of the society. The Red Cross is being assisted by a consultant in these matters. It is expected that the review will be completed by the middle of next year.

It may transpire that legislative changes may be required as a result of the strategic review.

As I have previously indicated 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 question as to whether members of the central council have their contributions in order is solely a matter for the Red Cross Society.

  50.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Defence    when the White Paper on Defence will be published. [26306/99]

[1000]

  80.  Ms O. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Defence    the ongoing discussions, if any, between his Department and the Department of Finance in relation to total staff in the Defence Forces; his views in this regard; his views on the PricewaterhouseCoopers recommendations in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26265/99]

  99.  Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Defence    when the White Paper on Defence will be published; if his attention has been drawn to the serious concern created among members of the Defence Forces that proposals to shed up to 3,000 positions were holding up the publication of the White Paper; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26175/99]

  105.  Ms Fitzgerald    asked the Minister for Defence    his views on the future total numbers of personnel in the Defence Forces; his further views on the PricewaterhouseCoopers recommendations in this regard; the numbers envisaged in the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps in each of the years 2000 to 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26442/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 50, 80, 99 and 105 together.

The White Paper on Defence will be completed by year end and I intend to bring forward my proposals immediately for consideration and approval by the Government. Those proposals will address all aspects of the development of the Defence Forces, including the overall defence policy framework, manpower, organisation, equipment and resourcing generally. It would be premature for me to comment on any one aspect of the White Paper in advance of a draft being considered by the Government.

In that regard, all of the key stakeholders have had an opportunity to make an input to the White Paper. The Department of Finance is one of those stakeholders and, as part of the White Paper process, contact has been made with that Department to allow it to amplify its views in anticipation of a draft White Paper being considered by the Government. Allowing for the normal consultative process at Government level and printing of the final text, I would see the White Paper being published in the first weeks of the new year.

Significant new challenges are facing the Defence Forces and the White Paper will ensure that the Defence Forces are developed to face these challenges.

  52.  Mr. D. Carey    asked the Minister for Defence    if his attention has been drawn to the condition of officer accommodation in the Air Corps; the action, if any, he is taking to improve the situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26288/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  The question of improving officers' living accommodation at Casement Aerodrome in premises known as the old wing, officers' mess, has been under consideration and a pilot work project is [1001] being carried out for evaluation in that context. The old wing consists of 40 rooms of which 11 are occupied at present. Officers' living accommodation located elsewhere at the aerodrome is considered satisfactory. In 1996 a new accommodation wing to the officers' mess containing 16 bedrooms was provided at a cost of £430,000 – all of these rooms are occupied.

  53.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Defence    his views on the suggestion that Baldonnel should be used as a civilian airport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26191/99]

  81.  Mr. Creed    asked the Minister for Defence    the recent meetings, if any, he has had with various parties who have expressed an interest in developing Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, for commercial purposes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26318/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 53 and 81 together.

In recent times a number of approaches have been made by private concerns regarding the possible use of facilities at Baldonnel Aerodrome. My main concern, in examining these proposals, would be to protect the military aviation interests at the aerodrome. The question of extending usage of these facilities for hire or reward requires careful consideration as it may have implications regarding licensing of the facility for commercial use. However, the greater utilisation of this underused resource could have benefits for both military and civil aviation in Ireland.

The use of Baldonnel for civil aviation purposes is a matter for consideration by the Minister for Public Enterprise in consultation with myself in the context of overall airports policy generally. In that regard I am aware that advisers have been appointed jointly by the Minister for Public Enterprise and the Minister for Finance to assist in the examination of Aer Rianta's report on its future strategic direction and I understand that the report will be submitted to the Ministers concerned very shortly.

This report will help in assessing the position of Baldonnel against that wider policy backdrop. Following consideration of the report it is intended that the Minister for Public Enterprise and myself will report to Government with specific recommendations in regard to the future of Baldonnel. It would not be appropriate for me at this stage to speculate on what these recommendations will be.

  56.  Mr. Shatter    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of new recruits in the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps in 1999; and his recruitment plans for 2000. [26270/99]

[1002]

  115.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Defence    if he has satisfied himself with the recruitment rate into the Defence Forces; if he will give details in this regard; the plans, if any, he has to enhance the recruitment measures in place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26489/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 56 and 115 together.

The 1999 general service enlistment recruitment campaign was advertised in February, with an original view to the enlistment of some 550 recruits to the Permanent Defence Force in 1999. Subsequently I authorised the intake of an additional 100 recruits in 1999. To date, some 527 recruits have already been enlisted, as follows:

Army 410
Naval Service 97
Air Corps 20

The Government's policy of continuous ongoing recruitment is being maintained. I am satisfied with the level of recruitment into the Permanent Defence Force and I would envisage no difficulty in reaching the recruitment quota for 1999.

Proposals for general service recruitment in 2000 have been received from the military authorities and are currently being examined by my Department.

  57.  Mr. J. O'Keeffe    asked the Minister for Defence    his views on whether the Naval Service is adequately equipped, financed and manned to fulfil its functions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26099/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  In recent years considerable sums have been expended under the Defence Vote in updating Naval Service equipment. Total amounts spent on such equipment for the past four years are as follows:

1995 £4.3m.
1996 £4.1m.
1997 £10.1m.
1998 £15.5m.

It is estimated that expenditure on Naval Service equipment in 1999 will be similar to that for last year.

The more important developments in relation to the improvement of Naval Service equipment include the placing of a contract for a new fishery protection patrol vessel and the refit of five of the existing seven Naval Service vessels. The new vessel, which cost approximately £22.5 million, has been delivered and will be commissioned on 15 December next. Refits involve replacing and/or refurbishing obsolete or deteriorated equipment and are necessary to extend the operational life of a vessel. Earlier this year a half-life refit of LE Eithne was completed in the naval dockyard, Haulbowline, at an estimated cost of [1003] £2.06 million. In previous years four other vessels –LE Deirdre, LE Emer, LE Aoife and LE Aisling– have been similarly refitted. The LE Orla is being refitted at present and LE Ciara is due to undergo similar refurbishment next year. These refits have been facilitated on a part-cost recoupment basis under the European Union fishery protection programmes.

The ongoing recruitment campaign for enlistment in the Defence Forces, which I have approved, is designed to address any shortfalls in personnel numbers in the Defence Forces, including the Naval Service. To date in 1999, a total of 97 general service recruits have been enlisted in the Naval Service. The Naval Service will continue to enlist general service recruits during the remainder of 1999 and again in the course of the year 2000 to address manpower shortages.

A special recruitment campaign for general service recruits launched specifically for the Naval Service in September 1999 has already attracted some 400 inquiries. A total of 45 applicants were due to report for enlistment this week. Additionally, 17 apprentices and four radio-radar technicians have been enlisted this year and a number of personnel have transferred from the Air Corps to take up radio-radar technician appointments. In September last three Naval Service cadets were commissioned and eight Naval Service cadets were enlisted and are currently in training in the Cadet School, Defence Forces Training Centre. They will return to the naval base in January 2000. Proposals for the cadet competition for 2000 are currently being finalised by the military authorities.

Two non-commissioned personnel were commissioned as electrical engineer officers on 3 November last and a direct entry competition for watchkeeping officers was advertised recently. Proposals for a direct entry competition for marine engineer officers are at an advanced stage. Vacancies which have arisen at non-commissioned rank are being filled internally by promotion and vacancies created in the lower ranks consequent on these promotions are being filled by the ongoing recruitment process.

The Naval Service has recently sought applications from eligible non-commissioned Naval Service personnel to participate in a potential watchkeeping officers course which is due to commence in January 2000. On successful completion of this course these personnel will be appointed as commissioned officers in the Naval Service to fill appointments as watchkeeping officers.

I am satisfied that a fair share of available resources has been allocated to the Naval Service to enable it to discharge effectively the tasks assigned to the service.

I will continue to keep the matter under review in the context of the implementation of the Pricewaterhouse report on the Naval Service.

[1004]

  59.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Defence    the plans, if any, he has in relation to Clancy Barracks; and the timetable proposed for its final closure and transfer of personnel. [26305/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  I expect Clancy Barracks to be vacated next year and arrangements will be made for its disposal following its evacuation.

With regard to the transfer of civilian personnel – approximately 100 – consequent upon the closure of the barracks, I am currently examining a number of options which have been discussed with a representative group of civilian employees from Clancy Barracks. These options include transfer to the Curragh or transfer to other appropriate locations in the Dublin area. I am also in discussion with the Minister for Finance on the details of a redundancy package which may be offered in certain cases.

Arrangements have been made with the military authorities to advise the representative associations of progress regarding the evacuation of personnel from the barracks.

  62.  Dr. Upton    asked the Minister for Defence    when the LE Róisín will be operational; the plans, if any, he has to provide additional vessels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26200/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  The LE Róisín will be commissioned into the Naval Service on Wednesday, 15 December 1999 and will become operational immediately thereafter.

Consideration is being given to the question of the purchase of another fishery protection vessel similar to the LE Róisín as a replacement for the LE Deirdre which has completed almost 28 years in use to date and is approaching the end of its economic service life.

  64.  Mr. G. Reynolds    asked the Minister for Defence    if he has received the final report into the accident at Kilworth Ranges, County Cork in December 1997; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26310/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  A court of inquiry was initiated immediately following the accident which occurred at Kilworth Firing Range on 9 December 1997 in which five Defence Forces personnel were injured, one seriously. The inquiry encompassed the findings of a military police investigation and a technical board of inquiry. Weapons handling training on the 60mm mortar continued but live firing for training purposes ceased pending completion of the aforementioned investigations. The report submitted [1005] to higher military authority gave rise to additional queries which could only be addressed by the re-convening of the court of inquiry and this was done. The report of the reconvened court of inquiry was submitted to me on 10 August last. As I indicated in reply to Question No. 46 on 19 October 1999, the military authorities are currently reviewing the report in order to determine what, if any, changes to drills and procedures should be made in respect of live firing with the 60mm mortar on training exercises. Until this review is completed the military authorities have continued the suspension of live firing with the 60mm mortar.

  65.  Mr. G. Reynolds    asked the Minister for Defence    the intake of cadets in the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps in each of the years from 1980 to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26311/99]

  69.  Mr. Creed    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of officers in the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps who enlisted as cadets since 1980 and have retired or resigned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26315/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 65 and 69 together.

The information requested cannot be compiled in the time available. I will forward it to the Deputy as soon as it has been compiled.

  66.  Mr. Sheehan    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will respond to the recent comments expressed by a senior officer of the Air Corps; the action, if any, he will take to address these concerns; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26304/99]

  75.  Proinsias De Rossa    asked the Minister for Defence    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the Defence Forces website was carrying a statement from the Chief of Staff welcoming the decision to join Partnership for Peace at a time when Dáil Éireann was still debating the matter; the guidelines, if any, issued to the Defence Forces regarding comment on political or policy matters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26188/99]

  91.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Defence    the steps, if any, being taken to address the concerns expressed at a recent awards ceremony by the officer commanding the Air Corps (details supplied) regarding low morale and delays in providing for re-equipment; the representations, if any, he made to the Defence Forces regarding the content of his speech; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26190/99]

[1006]Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 66, 75 and 91 together.

As I indicated to the House on previous occasions the position in relation to comments by members of the Defence Forces on political matters is that Defence Forces regulations prescribe as follows:

The granting of interviews or the divulging of information by any officer or man of the Permanent Defence Force to members of the public on matters pertaining to the service or to the conduct thereof is forbidden. Comment, if any, in publications, lectures, broadcasts or talks, touching on questions of a political nature – whether national or international – shall avoid strictly any reference which might be construed as being of a controversial nature.

There are no formal guidelines which apply specifically to senior officers. However, a tradition of strict political neutrality has governed senior public service managers since the foundation of the State and senior military officers have always been governed by that tradition. In recent years, there has been a growing public interest in defence and security issues. As a consequence, a more wide-ranging public debate has ensued. Given these changed circumstances, guidelines may now be appropriate. I share the Deputy's underlying concern that members of the Defence Forces should not make any comment whatsoever on matters of a political nature or on matters which are for decision by Government or which will come before either House of the Oireachtas for discussion or decision. The reason for this is simple. We live in a democracy and politicians are answerable to the people.

I have arranged to have the current regulations reviewed so as to ensure that they meet present day requirements and that every member of the Defence Forces is fully familiar with, understands and adheres to their content. I have also initiated consultations with the Chief of Staff regarding any observations he may have on the preparation of possible guidelines on the matter which may be issued for the information of every member of the Defence Forces.

  68.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Defence    if his attention has been drawn to comments made by the general secretary of PDFORRA at its recent annual conference that there was growing unrest in the Defence Forces over pay; the steps, if any, he will take to deal with this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26174/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  Since the 1990 Gleeson report of the commission on Defence Forces remuneration and conditions of service, Defence Forces pay has broadly increased in line with other public service employees. In relation to the most recent national [1007] pay agreements – PCW and Partnership 2000 – the Defence Forces representative associations have been particularly successful in negotiating pay increases and other benefits for their members.

I am also pleased to add that discussions are taking place with PDFORRA in the context of a successor to the Partnership 2000 pay agreement. While I look forward to a positive outcome to these discussions, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further at this stage.

  71.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Defence    the reason the loyalty bonus to encourage experienced pilots to remain in the Air Corps has been abandoned; if he has satisfied himself that there will be sufficient pilots to meet the operational needs of the corps; the number of qualified pilots in the corps; the number of pilots engaged on flying duties; the average monthly flying hours for pilots; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26185/99]

  79.  Mrs. Owen    asked the Minister for Defence    the action, if any, he will take to deal with pilot shortages in view of the dropping of the incentive scheme for flying officers. [26292/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 71 and 79 together.

The service commitment scheme was introduced in 1997 for pilot officers of the Air Corps. From the outset the scheme applied primarily to experienced personnel who were rated on and flying the Gulfstream IV, Beechcraft, CASA and Dauphin aircraft which are the principal operational aircraft in the Air Corps. The scheme was introduced with a view to assisting in the retention in service of senior pilots in key appointments in areas such as search and rescue, maritime surveillance and ministerial air transport. The gratuities available under the scheme were designed to strike a fair and reasonable balance between the demands of the external commercial environment and the need to exercise responsibility in relation to public service pay. Such financial incentives are not uncommon in defence forces in other countries where similar difficulties exist in retaining highly qualified and readily marketable personnel. The scheme, moreover, was perceived to offer a more acceptable avenue of approach for all concerned than the imposition of any compulsory retention.

The service commitment scheme was introduced for a two year period and I am satisfied that, as a significant incentive scheme, it has helped to stabilise the drain of key pilots from the Air Corps and to create an environment of some predictable certainty for the medium term future in that regard. A total of 17 pilots had opted to participate under the terms of the service commitment scheme by the time of closure [1008] of the scheme at the end the original two year period of sanction. Application for entry to the scheme was entirely voluntary in nature.

The Air Corps, having reviewed the operation of this scheme, is to bring forward proposals in relation to the retention of pilots and its proposals are now awaited.

The military authorities advise that there are currently 84 pilot officers in the Air Corps. The average monthly flying hours for pilots are being compiled and will be forwarded to the Deputy.

  72.  Mr. Spring    asked the Minister for Defence    the position regarding the provision of new armoured personnel carriers for the Defence Forces; when the vehicles will come on stream; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26195/99]

  113.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Defence    the arrangements, if any, he has entered into on the purchase of armoured personnel carriers for use by the Defence Forces; when they will be delivered; the quantity and specifications of these vehicles; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26487/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 72 and 113 together.

I am pleased to announce that a contract was entered into last week between my Department and Mowag of Switzerland for the supply to the Defence Forces of forty armoured personnel carriers, initial spares, special tools and training courses. The signing of the contract on 30 November 1999 was the culmination of a lengthy competitive process to select the vehicle most suited to the needs of the Defence Forces.

The 40 vehicles, known as Piranha 111H 8 x 8, will be manufactured as 34 troop carrier variants, four command variants, one recovery variant and one ambulance variant. The total cost of the contract, which will be spread over five years, is in the region of £40 million, including VAT. The payment schedule is as follows:

Year Amount
1999 IR£8.0m.
2000 IR£8.0m.
2001 IR£5.0m.
2002 IR£8.0m.
2003 IR£3.9m.
Total IR£32.9m.

The balance of the total cost of the contract is made up of VAT payments.

Funding for this purchase programme is available as a result of the reduction in the strength of the Permanent Defence Force. There will be net pay savings of the order of £15 million a year and it has been agreed that from 1999 onwards 50% of the pay savings will be made available to pro[1009] vide additional funding for equipment and infrastructural programmes for the Defence Forces.

The first two vehicles will be produced towards the end of next year and will undergo rigorous inspection and acceptance testing. The full production run will commence in June 2001 and I am delighted that all of the vehicles will have been delivered by January 2002 – almost two years ahead of previous expectations.

The purchase of modern APCs forms an integral part of the ongoing re-equipment programme and is regarded by the Defence Forces as the most urgent equipment requirement to enable them carry out all of the roles assigned by Government.

  73.  Mr. Higgins (Mayo)    asked the Minister for Defence    if the Naval Service will partake in the next BALTOPS operation. [26298/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  Participation in a future BALTOPS exercise will be considered should an invitation to participate be received in my Department. No such invitation has been received.

  74.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Defence    the number who attended at the annual camp, January to September 1999; the number of weeks each attended; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26307/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  The attendance by members of An Fórsa Cosanta Aitiúil and An Slua Muirí at annual training and courses of instruction during the period 1 January 1999 to 31 October 1999 was as follows:

Brigade No. of Persons who attended 7 days training No. of Persons who attended 14 days training No. of Persons who attended 21 days or more training
Eastern 1,661 193.00 41.00
Southern 1,662 467.00 50.00
Western 2,279 218.00 6.00
Defence Force
Training Centre FCA
711.00 111.00 15.00
An Slua Muirí 237.00 40.00 nil
Total 6,550 1,029 112.00

  78.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Defence    the contact, if any, he has had with other defence ministries in the EU; if he has attended recent meetings of EU Defence Ministers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26258/99]

[1010]Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  At the invitation of the Austrian Minister for Defence, I attended a meeting of Defence Ministers of the member states of the European Union in Vienna on 3 and 4 November 1998. The invitation from the Austrian Minister was extended in September last year when Austria held the Presidency of the EU. The meeting, a once-off and informal event, was non-decision making in character and was held outside the institutional framework of the EU.

Discussions focused primarily on the development perspectives of European peacekeeping and crisis management with particular emphasis on the practical effect of the inclusion of the Petersberg tasks in the Treaty of Amsterdam. This reflected a recognition that the need to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts, such as those that have occurred in the former Yugoslavia, is the current key security challenge facing the UN and the international community as a whole. On the basis of our voluntary and long peacekeeping experience, Ireland is ready to make a continuing contribution to strengthening the international community's conflict prevention and crisis management capabilities and I made this known during the course of the meeting.

I received an invitation from the German Minister for Defence to attend a meeting of European Defence Ministers in Bonn on 28 May 1999 in order to, inter alia, exchange views on developments, such as the Kosovo crisis, in advance of the EU summit in Cologne. Due to prior commitments I was unable to attend. Ireland's permanent representative to the Western European Union, Ambassador Eamon Ryan, represented me at the meeting.

Defence Ministers of the 15 member states of the European Union were invited by the Finnish Presidency to participate in discussions at the recent EU General Affairs Council on 15 November 1999, particularly with reference to the question of military capabilities for the Petersberg tasks. I attended the meeting and contributed to these discussions, emphasising Ireland's strong and long-standing tradition in UN peacekeeping and crisis management.

Apart from the aforementioned meetings, I have had occasional informal discussions with European Defence Ministers on the margins of Western European Union Ministerial Council meetings as the occasions presented.

  82.  Mr. Gilmore    asked the Minister for Defence    if the Government was represented at the recent general assembly of the International Red Cross in Geneva; the outcome of the assembly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26178/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  The 27th conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent was held in Geneva from 31 October to 6 Nov[1011] ember 1999. The Government was represented at the conference and general assembly by the permanent representative of Ireland to the United Nations in Geneva and by a senior official of my Department who is a Government nominee on the central council of the Irish Red Cross. The chairman and the secretary general of the Irish Red Cross also attended. The conference discussed and agreed the promotion and implementation of humanitarian action appropriate for the challenges of the new millennium. The report of the conference will be available next year.

  83.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will appoint an ombudsman for the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26198/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  As I have indicated to the House on previous occasions, the question of the appointment of an ombudsman for the Defence Forces has been raised by PDFORRA under the conciliation and arbitration scheme for the Permanent Defence Force. The terms of the scheme, which have been agreed with the association, provide that discussions at conciliation and arbitration are confidential to the parties involved. Accordingly, the Deputy will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to comment further on this issue.

Revised complaints procedures for the Defence Forces were agreed with PDFORRA and RACO and implemented with effect from May 1996. The revised procedures provide for the appointment of an independent complaints inquiry officer to investigate grievances on behalf of the Minister. All complaints, other than the most trivial or vexatious, are referred to him by the Minister. The agreement also provided that the revised complaints procedures should operate on a trial basis for two years, after which a review of the procedures should take place. This review is now being undertaken by sub-committees of the conciliation council established for that purpose. I have no wish to interfere in their deliberations but I will say that it is vital that all members of the Defence Forces have confidence in the outcome of that review. It should not be beyond us to create a procedural formula for dealing with grievances that satisfies all concerned and at the same time maintains the ethos of the military way of life.

  88.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Defence    the method by which troops serving in East Timor communicate with their families; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26319/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  Defence Forces personnel serving with INTERFET in [1012] East Timor normally communicate with their families by telephone and by post.

The issue of the applicable allowances, including postal and telecommunications allowances, in respect of INTERFET has been raised with the representative associations under the Defence Forces conciliation and arbitration scheme. As proceedings under the scheme are confidential, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further at this stage.

  89.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Defence    the steps, if any, being taken to deal with the problem of rat infestation at the officers living quarters at Baldonnel Aerodrome; the costs incurred in providing hotel accommodation for personnel while the problem was being dealt with; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26186/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  A recent allegation in regard to rat infestation at the officers quarters at Casement Aerodrome was investigated by the military authorities and by a pest control contractor. No basis for this allegation was found. As a precautionary measure, however, fumigation of the building was carried out by the contractor. The cost of temporary accommodation for military personnel during this process was about £4,800.

  93.  Mr. McDowell    asked the Minister for Defence    when he will receive the findings of the board of inquiry into the killing of Private William Kedian while serving with UNIFIL in May 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26181/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  A UNIFIL HQ board of inquiry and an Irish contingent board of inquiry were established to investigate and report on the circumstances surrounding the death of Private William Kedian and the wounding of Private Ronald Rushe. The Irish contingent board of inquiry report has been forwarded to United Nations headquarters in New York. The UNIFIL HQ board of inquiry report has recently been completed and has also been passed to United Nations headquarters in New York.

  94.  Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Defence    the arrangements, if any, being made to compensate members of the Defence Forces who may be required to work over the millennium new year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26183/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  The question of paying some additional remuneration [1013] to Permanent Defence Force personnel who are on duty over the new year period has been raised by both RACO and PDFORRA under the conciliation and arbitration scheme for the Permanent Defence Force. The terms of the scheme, as agreed with the associations, provide that discussions under it shall be confidential to the parties involved. The Deputy will appreciate, therefore, that it would not be appropriate for me to comment further on this issue. The claims presented will of course be dealt with in the context of similar claims in the public service.

  95.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Defence    the plans, if any, he has to change security arrangements in the Border counties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26312/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  The primary responsibility for internal security rests with An Garda Síochána. The Defence Forces, pursuant to their role of rendering aid to the civil power, assist the Garda as required.

Requests to the Defence Forces by the Garda in relation to Border duty include the provision of armed parties for the purpose of protecting gardaí and the carrying out of duties such as vehicle checkpoints, mobile patrols, specialist search team tasks and explosive ordnance disposal tasks.

The Defence Forces will continue as necessary to respond to requests from the Garda for aid to the civil power in the Border area.

  96.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Defence    the position on the sale of Orchard Park houses at the Curragh, County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26179/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  The houses at Orchard Park will be offered for sale to the occupants in the near future in line with the 1995 local authority tenant purchase scheme.

  97.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Defence    the steps, if any, being taken to address the acute shortage of doctors and dentists facing the Army medical corps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26184/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  There are a number of vacancies for doctors within the medical corps, despite frequent advertising for qualified personnel over recent years. In 1999 one medical officer was recruited to the medical corps.

Proposals for the recruitment of dentists have been received from the military authorities and are currently being examined by my Department.

In common with other health service providers [1014] within the public sector, the Army medical corps is encountering difficulty in recruiting medical personnel. However, my Department will continue, in consultation with the director of the medical corps, to seek to recruit additional personnel. I would emphasise that in any case where Army medical officers or dental officers are not available, suitable local arrangements are made with civilian medical and dental practitioners to ensure that the appropriate level of professional care is available to members of the Defence Forces.

  100.  Ms Clune    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the measures in the national development plan under which projects in receipt of funding under the New Opportunities for Women programme will be able to apply for funding in view of the fact EU funding will not continue beyond 1999; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26392/99]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ms Harney):  The conclusion phase of the current 1994-99 round of ESF funding means that EU moneys will cease to be committed at the end of 1999. However, continued European Social Fund support in the Structural Funds period 2000-06 will continue to play an important role in the development of employment and human resources initiatives over that period. The national development plan refers in chapter 14 to the prospects for Ireland's involvement in the new proposed EU initiatives in the next round. I would encourage projects funded under the existing ESF funded initiatives to fully exploit any opportunities available under the new EU initiatives outlined in the plan such as the new EQUAL initiative which will be co-ordinated nationally by my Department. Total expenditure allocated under the Employment and Human Resources Development Operational Programme referred to in chapter 5 amounts to £12.6 billion. I expect organisations and groups previously funded under the NOW programme and other strands of the community EMPLOYMENT initiative to seek funding under this programme and under a number of other measures proposed in the social inclusion, human resources and employment sections of the plan. Other measures such as the social economy programme should provide further support for community groups and enterprises.

[1015]

  101.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the position in relation to a factory (details supplied) in County Donegal in respect of its premises, its redundancy packages and the stab ility of the workforce; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26393/99]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ms Harney):  The company announced on 28 October 1999 that it would implement a number of measures to maintain its competitiveness in the marketplace. These measures include around 190 redundancies in Buncrana in January 2000. This was the company's best estimate regarding both the number of redundancies and the likely timing based on its business prospects. As these prospects become clearer both the number of redundancies and the timing of these could alter, but not to any significant degree. It is intended that the redundancy terms will be as previously agreed.

Although the business will continue to react to challenges in the marketplace, no further job losses are anticipated during 2000. The effect of these measures is that the company expects that approximately 1,000 jobs will be maintained at the Buncrana plant through next year – a significant improvement on the company's earlier expectations. The company is committed, moreover, to maintaining, at a minimum, an employment level of 600 jobs at the Buncrana plant until at least the year 2006.

The company has not indicated that it has any plans in relation to its premises.

  102.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if his Department will provide financial support for the Amnesty International office in Pristina, Kosovo, which was established to collect evidence and conduct research into past human rights violations and current ones against Serbs, Roma, Muslim, Slavs and ethnic Turks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26399/99]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Andrews):  No approach for Government funds has been made by Amnesty International to support the operation of its office in Pristina.

Amnesty International, as one of the leading worldwide voluntary movements which work to prevent some of the gravest violations by Governments of people's fundamental human rights, is zealous in protecting its impartiality and independence. In these circumstances, Amnesty International, neither seeks nor accepts funds from Governments. All contributions are strictly controlled by guidelines laid down by Amnesty's International Council. These state, inter alia,“Amnesty does not seek or accept Government funds for its campaigning work under any circumstances; such funds would be accepted for purposes such as human rights education”.

In this latter connection, for example, the Government, through the human rights and democratisation budget line of Irish aid was pleased to support an Amnesty International pro[1016] ject involving the printing and production of a poster to mark the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights last year.

I understand that the Irish section of Amnesty International recently launched its Christmas fund-raising campaign which included an appeal to support the establishment of its office in Pristina. It is through small individual donations raised by appeals such as this, that the organisation attracts most of its funding. I am sure that the Irish people will respond with their customary generosity.

Finally, I would like to wish Amnesty International well in this endeavour and I look forward to receiving its reports on the situation in Kosovo.

  103.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    his views on the suitability of towns within Inishowen for locating the North-South Implementation Bodies in view of its Border location and the history of difficulties it has had attracting investment, due in large part to its geographical location; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26405/99]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Andrews):  As the Deputy will be aware from previous responses to questions on the possible locations of the headquarters and offices of the new implementation bodies, it has not been possible up to now, in the absence of the necessary political and institutional context, to take decisions on these matters. Such decisions are for the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, working together in the North-South Ministerial Council, to take.

The implementation bodies and the North-South Ministerial Council have now been established, as of 2 December and the council will have its inaugural plenary meeting on Monday next, 13 December. The question of the headquarters and locations of the bodies will be on the agenda for that meeting, and I am hopeful that agreement will be reached.

Much preparatory work has already been done at official level and a variety of potential locations have been examined in both jurisdictions. Among the factors taken into account have been the need for the equitable allocation of locations as between North and South, and within the two jurisdictions, bearing in mind the limited number of bodies; the functions and activities of the bodies; and the current location of staff carrying out pre-existing functions which have been transferred to the bodies.

However, as no decisions have been taken the Deputy will, I am sure, appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me to anticipate the discussions in the North-South Ministerial Council by elaborating further.

[1017]

  104.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Public Enterprise    if she will examine the application by persons (details supplied) in County Sligo for a farm electrification grant; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26406/99]

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke):  An application from the persons concerned was received in my Department on 15 November 1999. Additional information in support of the application was requested on 17 November 1999 and was supplied on 22 November 1999.

The application was then assessed. It did not meet the criteria for eligibility and was not approved as farming was not the applicants' main occupation and principal source of income. The applicants were informed of the decision. I understand the ESB will be in touch with them shortly to quote standard terms of supply.

  109.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the position in relation to the utilisation of the former Devoy Barracks, Naas, County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26474/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  Agreement has been reached between my Department and Naas Urban District Council on the transfer of part of Devoy Barracks to the council for local purposes. The balance of the property has been rezoned for housing in line with the development plan for Naas UDC, which was adopted on 29 May 1999. A tender competition has been held for the appointment of selling agents to undertake the sale of the barracks and the successful tenderer will be appointed shortly. The sale of the barracks will proceed early in the new year.

In the meantime, I have permitted the use of the site by a film producer for filming purposes in line with the Government's commitment to support the film industry. Filming will be completed within the next few weeks.

  112.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Defence    the companies engaged to supply disturbed pattern type combat uniforms; when the order for supply of these uniforms was placed; where the uniforms are manufactured; when they will be issued; the branches of the Defence Forces which will receive them; the cost in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26486/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  Contracts were placed by the Government Supplies Agency on behalf of my Department with the following companies for the supply of combat suits in disruptive pattern material:

[1018]

(1) Westport Clothing Ltd (2) Seyntex N.V.
Castlebar Road Seyntexlaan 1
Westport 8700 Tielt
Co. Mayo Belgium.

The order was placed with Westport Clothing on 16 October 1998 and the order was placed with Seyntex NV on 5 May 1999.

Both the fabric and garments of the suits supplied by Westport Clothing were manufactured in China. The fabric of the suits supplied by Seyntex NV was manufactured in Belgium while the garments were produced in Romania.

The uniforms are expected to be issued to and in use exclusively by Army personnel by early March 2000. The total value of the orders is £1.455 million approximately, exclusive of VAT.

  114.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Defence    the plans, if any, he has to close further Defence Forces installations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26488/99]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  There are no proposals at this time to close any further military barracks.

  116.  Mr. Yates    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    if a person (details supplied) in County Wexford will be paid a suckler cow premium and beef cow entitlements; and if the issues related to the transfer of the farm and livestock from his parents, who are on the early retirement scheme, will be resolved. [26402/99]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh):  The issues relating to the transfer of the holding from the parents of the person named to him for the purpose of payment of headage and premia grants have been resolved. The person named applied on 32 beef cows under the 1999 beef cow scheme. As payment under this scheme is based on a maximum of 30 beef cows, his full entitlement of £2,250 will issue to him within the next two weeks. On the basis of his suckler cow quota for 29 suckler cows he will be paid the 60% advance of £2,316.64 under the 1999 suckler cow premium scheme within the next two weeks.

  117.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    if, further to Parliamentary Question No. 81 of 29 June 1999, payments will be released for a person (details supplied) in view of the fact all documentation has been furnished; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26411/99]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh):  As stated in my reply of 29 June 1999 to Parliamentary Question No. [1019] 81 the person named submitted an incomplete 1998 area aid application in that he did not submit sufficient maps to cover all of the land on his application. Even though the area aid unit had issued maps to enable him to identify the location of the remainder of his land, no reply was received and because this resulted in a 41% overclaim by the herdowner a 100% penalty was then applied.

In the past couple of weeks the person named completed and returned the maps which the Department had asked him to complete last May. Despite the time lapse I am having the data entered on the Department's electronic database and the associated livestock applications processed with a view to issuing any payments that may be due.

  118.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    the plans, if any, he has to extend the alternative enterprise scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26413/99]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh):  Under the National Development Plan, 2000-06, an amount of £12 million has been provided for an alternative enterprise scheme.

The detailed terms and conditions of the new scheme are under consideration.

  119.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    if he will review an appeal by a person (details supplied) in view of the fact an error was made on three tag numbers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26414/99]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh):  The person named applied on 16 beef cows under the 1999 cattle headage scheme and the 1999 suckler cow premium scheme. At an inspection carried out on 13 July 1999, four of the animals applied on were absent and one animal had no eartag. The person named was advised of the position on the day of inspection. My Department wrote to the person named on 2 December 1999 advising that no grants were payable on the absent and untagged animals and that the grants payable on the remaining animals would be subject to a reduced payment in accordance with the terms and conditions governing the schemes. He has been given the opportunity to have this decision reviewed by writing to my Department setting out any facts which he wishes to put forward to support his case. Any such review will be considered as a matter of urgency.

The person named was also advised that his herd and that of another person have been amal[1020] gamated for payment purposes under the schemes as the cattle listed on the application of the person named were found to be grazing on lands declared on the other person's area aid application. The person named may seek to have this decision reviewed also.

  120.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    if he will review the appeal by a person (details supplied) in view of the genuine error made in entering the tag number on one of his animals; if so, when a decision will be made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26415/99]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh):  The herdowner lodged an appeal with the headage and premia appeals unit on 26 November 1999 concerning his 1999 cattle headage application. Appeals are dealt in the order in which they are received and require individual examination. This appeal will be dealt with in due course and the herdowner will be notified of the outcome.

  121.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    the reason a farm retirement pension has not been paid to a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26418/99]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh):  This pension will be approved for payment shortly.

  122.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    the reason an application for a farm retirement pension by a person (details supplied) in County Galway has not been processed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26419/99]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh):  According to my Department's records, the person named has not yet made an application under the scheme of early retirement from farming. However, I understand an application will be lodged shortly.

  123.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    when a REP scheme payment will be made to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [26420/99]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh):  The person named will be visited within the next ten days by a departmental rural development and environment inspector to carry out a plan and on farm inspection.

[1021] No decision on payment can be taken until this inspection has been completed.

  124.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    when a 1998 REP scheme grant will be paid to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [26421/99]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh):  The person named will be visited within the next ten days by a departmental rural development and environment inspector to carry out a plan and on farm inspection.

No decision on payment can be taken until this inspection has been completed.

  125.  Mr. Bradford    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    if he will make an early announcement on the follow-up to Leader II. [26490/99]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh):  Following the conclusion of consultation with member states, the EU Commission has indicated that it intends to finalise the guidelines for its new rural development initiative, Leader +, later this month.

I will be in a position to announce the details of the initiative as soon as the finalised guidelines are issued.

  126.  Mr. Bradford    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development    if he will review the terms and conditions of the pollution control grants scheme in view of the fact that few applicants have qualified for it. [26491/99]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh):  My Department does not propose to review the terms and conditions of the existing national scheme for the control of farm pollution as it is considered that the level of uptake under this scheme has been satisfactory. The detailed terms and conditions of a new scheme proposed under the national development plan for the period 2000 to 2006 currently being drawn up will take account of farmers needs within the financial resources available.

  127.  Ms O'Sullivan    asked the Minister for Finance    the plans, if any, he has to change the rules whereby a person cannot retire and take up a pension before the age of 60 in view of the fact that some civil servants will have served their 40 years before reaching their 60th birthday; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26381/99]

[1022]Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  As the Deputy may be aware, the minimum retirement age for the generality of public servants is 60. Claims for a reduction in that age have traditionally been rejected on a number of grounds, including the cost of such a reduction, the fact that 60 has been the norm in the public service for well over a century, that 65 is the normal minimum retiring age in the private sector and that the trend in European administrations is to increase rather than reduce retiring ages.

A reduction in the retiring age of civil servants would be very expensive. For example, a pension based on 40 years service payable from age 58 would be about 10% more expensive than one payable from age 60. It also has to be borne in mind that, without any improvement in the existing terms, the cost of public service pensions is projected to quadruple from £636 million to some £2,522 million by 2037.

However, I would point out that all aspects of public service pensions, including retirement age, are being considered by the Commission on Public Service Pensions which is expected to report shortly.

  128.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has established a study or review group with a view to receiving submissions or advising on the proposed valuations Bill; and, if so, if he will supply a list of members and a contact address. [26382/99]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  The position regarding the valuation legislation is that it is proposed to radically overhaul the valuation system which has been in place since the middle of the last century. The Government has given approval for the preparation of legislation which will: modernise the valuation code; enable a revaluation of all rateable property to be carried out; and make the system more transparent to ratepayers and rating authorities.

In preparation for the introduction of this new legislation an interdepartmental committee comprising representatives of the then Department of the Environment and Local Government and the Department of Finance, as well as the valuation office was established. This committee reviewed the valuation system in detail and reported to the then Minister for Finance in 1995. The report of the interdepartmental committee provided the basis for the proposed valuation legislation.

With Government approval, a series of public information seminars were held earlier this year in Limerick, Cork, Waterford, Sligo, Dublin and Galway. The Minister of State, with responsibility for carriage of the legislation, Deputy Cullen, and the valuation office made presentations on the purpose and broad outlines of the legislation. The presentations were followed by question and answer sessions. The seminars were advertised locally and organisations such as IBEC, the cham[1023] bers of commerce and local government representatives were notified in advance.

In addition, as is normal, the Minister of State has been available to meet groups that wish to discuss the proposed legislation. He has also replied to a number of submissions made by interested parties.

There will be further opportunity for the proposed legislation to be fully debated and discussed when the Bill is published. The current situation is that the Bill is in the final stages of drafting and it is intended to publish it as soon as possible in the new year.

  129.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Finance    the locations within County Donegal which will be considered for decentralisation of Departments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26394/99]

  130.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Finance    the special consideration, if any, Donegal will receive for decentralised Departments in view of the difficulties in attracting foreign investment to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26395/99]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 129 and 130 together.

As I indicated in my Budget Statement, the Government intends to proceed with a new and radical round of decentralisation which will see the maximum possible number of public service jobs transferred from Dublin. No decisions have yet been taken about the specific locations which will be included in the new round. However, I have noted the case made by the Deputy for the inclusion of County Donegal in the new round.

  131.  Mr. Yates    asked the Minister for Finance    when a tax clearance certificate will be issued to a person (details supplied) in County Wexford to allow him draw down BSE depopulation payments; if this will be expedited; and if a C2 certificate will be issued. [26396/99]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that a tax clearance certificate issued to the person concerned on 3 December 1999 following payment on 2 December 1999 of outstanding taxes. An application for a C2 certificate should be made to the Inspector of Taxes, Wexford. On receipt the application will be examined and if in order, the certificate will issue immediately.

[1024]

  132.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Finance    the way in which he has estimated that the increase in excise duty on cigarettes by 50p per packet will raise £132 million in a full year in view of the fact that the scale of the increase has been in part justified on the ground that it will result in reduced consumption; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26397/99]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  The estimated yield of £132 million has been calculated by the Revenue Commissioners, based on current consumption figures, projected consumption figures for the year 2000 and the effect the price increase will have on the projected consumption figures.

As the Taoiseach said in the House on budget night when moving the necessary Financial Resolution, the Government remains very concerned about the level of smoking, particularly the increase in smoking among the young. I am sure that the Deputy is well aware of the direct cost to the Exchequer because of the adverse health effects.

It is expected that the significant increase of 50p will reduce projected cigarette consumption below what it otherwise would have been in the year 2000, particularly among young smokers who may be more price sensitive than others.

  133.  Mr. Power    asked the Minister for Finance    the correspondence, if any, he has received from Ulster Bank staff in relation to the hostile bid Nat West has received from the Bank of Scotland; the representations, if any, he has made in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26409/99]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  I can confirm that two Deputies have forwarded to me correspondence from the assistant general secretary of the Irish Bank Officials Association concerning the future of the employees of Ulster Bank in the event of a merger or take-over of the bank. As the matters referred to in the correspondence are more appropriate to my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minster for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, I have forwarded them to her for her attention.

I have had no correspondence from Ulster Bank staff in relation to the specific issue of a hostile bid by the Bank of Scotland for the National Westminster Bank Group.

  134.  Mr. Bradford    asked the Minister for Finance    the timetable for the programme of decentralisation promised in his budget speech. [26492/99]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  In view of my announcement of the Government's intention to proceed with a new and radical round of decentralisations only last week, I am not yet in a position to outline a timetable for its implementation. The Deputy will appreciate that such an [1025] undertaking involves considerable preparation and planning. In the first instance I intend to bring proposals before my Government colleagues in consultation with whom I will identify those sections which are to be relocated and the provincial centres to which they are to be relocated. Thereafter there are considerable logistical arrangements to be put in place, including the training of staff and the provision of suitable accommodation. Because of the extent of the decentralisations proposed I will be anxious to ensure that the quality of service provided for the public is in no way compromised. Nonetheless the Deputy can be assured of my commitment to proceed with this new round of decentralisations without any undue delay.

  135.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if, further to Parliamentary Question No. 106 of 7 November 1999, he will acknowledge receipt of the pre-budget submission of a group (details supplied) which was passed on to him on 9 November 1999 from the Department of Finance; if he has considered the group's funding request; if he will give positive consideration to the application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26388/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The Carmichael Centre made a pre-budget submission for funding for its administrative costs and the various costs of services, such as training, which it provides for the various organisations using its centre.

These organisations cover a wide spectrum of activities, only some of which are related to health services. It would not, therefore, be a matter for my Department exclusively to fund the services provided by the centre. The centre levies a charge on each of the organisations using its centre and I would consider this as the most appropriate means of funding the centre. The organisations which provide a health service are funded by the health boards.

  136.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number on the waiting list for orthodontic treatment in the Southern Health Board and Kerry regions; the longest period a patient is on the waiting list; the measures, if any, he will take to improve the service in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26389/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  The provision of orthodontic services and the maintenance of treatment waiting lists is the statutory responsibility of the health boards. I understand from the Southern Health Board that waiting lists are maintained on a regional basis and that there are just over 8,000 patients in the region awaiting orthodontic treatment. According [1026] to the board, three years is the longest waiting period for a patient on the current treatment waiting list.

Orthodontic services continue to be developed in accordance with the dental health action plan. The action plan provides for the development by each health board of a consultant-led orthodontic service. My Department is making an additional £250,000 on an ongoing basis available to the Southern Health Board in year 2000 for the further development of its orthodontic services.

  137.  Mr. Yates    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if he has received a submission from the Irish Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus for financial assistance in the sum of £32,000 to deal with its ongoing deficit accumulated over a five year period; if so, if a response has been made; if not, the plans, if any, he has to support the organisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26404/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  Voluntary agencies providing services for people with physical and-or sensory disabilities are funded by the health boards under the provisions of section 65 of the Health Act, 1953. The association must approach each health board in which it is providing services for section 65 funding in relation to those services.

In keeping with the recommendations in the report, Towards an Independent Future, my Department is reviewing the overall position regarding the provision of funding for these agencies. This review comprehends the difficulties, which many agencies have encountered in recent years, regarding the build up of deficits arising out of the provision of health services for the sector. The Irish Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus will be included in the review.

  138.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the plans, if any, he has to appoint a full-time consultant nephrologist for the Sligo and Leitrim areas in view of the fact that a full-time consultant would facilitate the development of more comprehensive services and choices for renal patients; if this appointment will be made as a matter of urgency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26407/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  On the occasion of the publication of the spending estimates for 2000, I announced the allocation of £3 million revenue funding and £3 million capital funding next year for the commencement of a programme for the development of renal dialysis services. This programme, which I would hope to see completed over three years at an estimated total cost of £20 million will be aimed at achieving a structured enhancement of the capacity of the [1027] system to meet existing and anticipated growth in demand for renal services over the coming years.

In particular, it is intended to: address existing infrastructural constraints that are limiting the ability of certain haemodialysis centres to meet demands for access to their services; ensure that regional dialysis centres are adequately resourced to give patients access to services close to their own home; provide for the availability of a consultant nephrology service in all regions with a view to widening the availability of alternative dialysis treatment programmes – such as CAPD and CCPD – for optimal and equitable individual patient choice and address wider health and social needs of the renal population through supporting the Irish Kidney Association in its development of targeted programmes in these areas.

The deployment of the £3 million revenue and £3 million capital that is being made available in 2000 will be primarily directed at addressing immediate requirements that are apparent from my Department's review of services in the area. In tandem with this, my Department will be engaging in further detailed consultations with all relevant interests and further examining the epidemiology of end-stage renal failure with a view to informing the most effective means of investing the further resources that will be made available in 2001 and 2002. Immediate requirements for the improvement of services for renal patients in the North Western Health Board will be taken into account in this overall context.

  139.  Mr. Power    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if the incidence of cancer in children is increasing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26408/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  National figures on the incidence of cancer are available from the National Cancer Registry for the years 1994 to 1996. The incidence of cancers among children for these years is set out in the table following. Due to the relatively small numbers of cases, the incidence rate can vary significantly from year to year. There is no evidence that the incidence of cancer in children is increasing.

Year Male Female Total
1994 64 62 126
1995 85 62 147
1996 57 49 106

Since the national cancer strategy was initiated, considerable developments have taken place in the cancer services. These developments include additional consultant medical oncologists being appointed together with appropriate support [1028] staff. Funding is in place for further consultant medical oncology posts. Other consultant staffing have been appointed in the areas of haematology, histopathology and palliative care.

The Council for Children's Hospital Care is in the process of reorganising paediatric cancer services in consultation with the cancer specialists concerned. This reorganisation arises from a recommendation regarding the structure of paediatric cancer services by the National Cancer Forum.

I am confident that these measures will ensure that high quality cancer treatment is available to all cancer patients.

  140.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when orthodontic treatment will be made available to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [26416/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  As I explained to the Deputy in response to his question of 9 November 1999 the provision of orthodontic treatment for eligible persons in Limerick is the statutory responsibility of the Mid-Western Health Board.

On foot of the Deputy's first question regarding this individual, I wrote to the chief executive officer of the Mid-Western Health Board to investigate the position in relation to this case. I understand the board sent the Deputy a reply dated 22 November 1999 explaining that the individual was assessed on 10 July 1998 and was considered eligible for treatment. At present the board is dealing with patients who were placed on the waiting list in June-July 1998 and the individual referred to by the Deputy will be given an appointment as soon as possible.

  141.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number by gender who committed suicide in the first six months of 1999. [26417/99]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Cowen):  Data on mortality are routinely published in the annual and quarterly reports on vital statistics compiled by the Central Statistics Office. Figures for the second quarter of 1999 will not be available until later this month. During the first quarter of 1999 there were 88 male deaths and 16 female deaths from suicide. These figures are provisional as they refer to deaths registered during January to March 1999 rather than deaths which actually occurred during that period.

[1029]

  142.  Mr. Aylward    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    if he will confirm a compulsory purchase order for a pro ject (details supplied) in County Kilkenny. [26401/99]

Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey):  Consideration of the compulsory purchase order referred to has reached an advanced stage, following its processing through various stages by my Department. There will be no avoidable delay on my part in making a decision on the matter.

  143.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a sewerage and water scheme is urgently required for Dromahaire, County Leitrim, in view of the fact it is a designated area in the rural renewal scheme and has potential for further growth and development; when the funds will be allocated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26410/99]

Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey):  The north Leitrim regional water supply scheme, included in my Department's 1999 water and sewerage services investment programme as a scheme to be advanced through planning, provides for an improved water supply to the villages of Drumkeerin, Dromahaire and Manorhamilton. Contract documents for this proposal are currently under examination in my Department. It does not relate to a distribution system within the village of Dromahaire itself. However, a water distribution and sewerage scheme for Dromahaire has been included by Leitrim County Council in its priority schemes for the purpose of future investment programmes under the National Development Plan, 2000-06 and will be taken into consideration by my Department in framing future work programmes.

  144.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs    the relationship between his Department and an organisation (details supplied) in County Cork; the resources, if any, his Department has made available to the organisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26384/99]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The organisation referred to in the question is funded by my Department as the southern regional support agency for projects funded under community development and family and community services resource centre programmes.

As a support agency, the organisation is responsible for the provision of support and advice for local community development projects. It is also responsible for the promotion of good practice and the setting of standards for the work of the projects. It has been contracted to carry [1030] out the necessary pre-development work in the areas which have been targeted for the expansion of both the community development and family and community resource centre programme, to bring them to contract stage.

Under the current three year contract with the Department, 1998-2000, the group was allocated funding of £60,000 for 1998 and £100,922 for 1999. The increase in the budget for this year is due to the fact that the organisation has undertaken preliminary start-up work to establish five new projects in the region and to provide support for existing projects under the family and community resource centre programme.

  145.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands    her views on the provision of a Comhaltas Ceoltóirí centre on the northside of Dublin Bay as a centre for the tuition, practice and performance of traditional music and dance; and if funding will be provided for the project. [26434/99]

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera):  An amount of £713,000 was allocated in the recent budget towards the cost of the development of CLASSAC, a centre for traditional music in Clontarf. I expect that discussions regarding the development of the project will take place shortly between officials of my Department and representatives of the project promoters.

  146.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands    the criteria used by her Department in deciding whether a building merits inclusion in list 1 or list 2 of protected buildings; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26387/99]

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera):  The decision on whether a building merits inclusion in list 1 or list 2 of protected buildings is solely a matter for a planning authority. From 1 January 2000 that system will change as a result of new provisions to strengthen the protection of the architectural heritage under the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1999. The listing system will be replaced by a record of protected structures and it will be the responsibility of a planning authority to place a structure on that record. Under the 1999 Act I will issue guidelines to assist planning authorities in their responsibilities. I intend to circulate these in draft form early in the new year and to engage in extensive consultations before issuing them formally.

[1031]

  147.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands    the timescale for the renewal of the Dublin city section of the Royal Canal from Newcomen Bridge to Russell Street, Dublin 1. [26423/99]

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Miss de Valera):  A programme of landscaping work has been jointly agreed, in principle, between my Department and Dublin Corporation which will cover two pilot areas on the Grand and Royal Canals, Dublin. The Royal Canal section covers the area from Newcomen Bridge to Russell Street Bridge, and the Grand Canal section is from Portobello to Harolds Cross Bridge. A firm of landscape architects has been appointed to undertake the design and supervision of these schemes. I understand that presentation drawings will be shortly submitted to the corporation and to my Department for approval. It is expected that work will begin next year in both pilot areas and that the programme of works will be phased over a three year period.

As the Deputy is aware, the section of the Royal Canal adjacent to Russell Street Bridge has been closed to the public to facilitate the construction of the new canal end stand at Croke Park. It is hoped that the navigation can be reopened at this point by April 2000.

  148.  Mr. O'Shea    asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands    the action, if any, she will take to obtain the agreement of the European Union to have Irish recognised as an official language of the Union; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26494/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Éamon Ó Cuív):  Every suitable opportunity will be availed of to promote the status of the Irish language in the European Union, including its recognition as an official language.

  149.  Mr. Sheehan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when registration will be completed and new folios available in a Land Registry application by a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [26435/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue):  I am informed by the Registrar of Titles that this application refers to a transfer of part and amalgamation. I understand that the transfer application, which was lodged by the person named by the Deputy and others, contains an application for amalgamation of property with other property vested by the Land Commission in one of the applicants.

I can inform the Deputy that the matter is being expedited by the Land Registry and will be finalised as soon as possible, but I am not in a position to indicate precisely when that will be.

[1032]

  150.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the plans, if any, he has to increase the number of interpreters for the deaf community; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26391/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  I am aware of a severe shortage of interpreters. A number are completing training at present at Bristol University under an EU HORIZON programme. Under a joint initiative by the National Association for Deaf People, the Irish Deaf Society and the Sign Language Association of Ireland, the training of ten communicators by FÁS will begin in March and will lead to a qualification from the National Council for Vocational Awards.

Generally, the role of my Department in this matter is confined to the provision of financial support for organisations that provide such training. Applications for grants in respect of the training of interpreters are and will continue to be sympathetically considered.

  151.  Mr. Sheehan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if funding will be provided in 2000 for the provision of two extra classrooms and a physical education hall at St. Goban's secondary school, Bantry, County Cork. [26428/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  An application from County Cork Vocational Education Committee for additional accommodation in respect of St. Goban's College has been received in my Department. The application is currently under consideration in the planning and building unit.

Officials of the unit will meet shortly with the chief executive officer of County Cork VEC to discuss the accommodation requirements of the college.

  152.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of requests received by his Department under the Freedom of Information Act, 1997, since the Act commenced; the number refused; the subject matter of those refused; the grounds of refusal; the number of refusals appealed; and the outcome, if any, of these appeals. [26429/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The total number of freedom of information requests received by my Department from 21 April 1998 – date of commencement of the Act – to 30 November 1999 was 814.

All requests received are considered under the framework of the Freedom of Information Act, 1997, and are granted or refused on the basis of that Act. In total 108 requests were refused and [1033] a further 85 were part refused. There is no pattern to the subject matter of the requests refused, which covered a wide range of issues encompassed in my Department's operations.

Seventy nine appeals have been submitted to the Department following refusal of a freedom of information request. Seven of these appeals were granted and a further nine part-granted. Thirty four appeals were rejected and 29 are currently under consideration.

  153.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of adult asylum seekers or economic refugees who do not speak English as their first language; and the number for whom adult education in English is being provided. [26430/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  I regret to inform the Deputy that complete statistics on the number of adult asylum seekers or economic refugees who do not speak English as their first language are not available.

I will, however, arrange for officials of my Department to furnish the requisite information to the Deputy as soon as possible.

  154.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of non-national children in primary and secondary schools who do not speak English as their first language; the number benefiting from the allocation of an additional teacher for this purpose; and the programme for extra tuition which is necessary to assist integrating into normal classroom instruction. [26431/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The details regarding the number of non-national children attending primary and second level schools who do not speak English as their first language are not available. However, I am aware that increasing numbers of non-national children have been enrolled in a number of schools in the Dublin area recently. I also understand that very 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 in primary schools were provided early this year to address the difficulties associated with teaching non-English speaking pupils from various ethnic backgrounds. A further 15 posts in primary schools were sanctioned during the summer to assist schools where large numbers of refugee children from Kosovo had been enrolled. My Department has also allocated approximately 12 whole-time equivalent second level teaching posts specifically to cater [1034] for the needs of children who do not speak English as their first language.

I am currently examining what additional educational provisions might be made to meet the needs of non-English speaking pupils.

  155.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when permanent recognition will be given to the multidenominational school at Griffith Barracks which is currently planning for rapidly growing enrolments. [26433/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  An application for permanent recognition of Griffith Barracks national school has been received in my Department. The application is being examined in the planning section in the light of a report by a Department inspector on the operation and development of the school.

I have asked that this examination be completed and a decision conveyed to the school authorities as soon as possible.

  156.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if St. Joseph's co-educational primary school, East Wall Road, Dublin 3, will retain its reception year until the school is included in the Breaking the Cycle programme, the Early Start programme or when it obtains a resource teacher. [26441/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The primary curriculum is designed as an eight year course. It is flexible and child-centred and can be adapted to cater for the individual needs of pupils. Furthermore, there is no official programme for a middle infant class within the primary curriculum. As a general rule, primary pupils should progress from one standard to a higher standard at the end of each school year.

My Department advised the board of management of St. Joseph's school in June 1999 that the three year junior cycle should be eliminated at the end of the 1998-99 school year and a two year infant cycle re-established. It is the policy of my Department that schools operate a two year infant cycle and the retention of the reception year cannot be allowed.

I understand that St Joseph's is included in the disadvantaged areas scheme and as a consequence benefits from the allocation of a disadvantaged concessionary teacher, inclusion in the home-school-community liaison scheme and supplementary capitation payments.

Breaking the Cycle is a five year pilot project and my Department's inspectorate is closely monitoring its operation. The Education Research Centre is evaluating the project. At this stage it would be premature to consider the inclusion of additional schools in Breaking the Cycle.

[1035] The Early Start pre-school programme which was introduced in 1994 is currently in operation on a pilot basis in 40 primary schools focused on areas of particular disadvantage.

The Education Research Centre in Drumcondra evaluated this project over the period from September 1994 until June 1997 and the evaluation report was submitted to my Department in 1998. This report is being considered in the context of the report of the forum on early childhood education. In addition, a White Paper on early childhood education is in preparation. Consequently, the extension of the Early Start pre-school service to additional schools in designated areas of disadvantage will not be considered until that work is concluded.

My Department has received an application for resource teaching support from this school and my Department's inspectors are currently investigating the application. On receipt of this report my Department will be in contact with the school authorities.

  157.  Ms Clune    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if the proposed extension to Gaelscoil an Attian, Tadhg Ó Muruín, Douglas, County Cork, is included in his Department's 2000 Estimates; if so, the amount allocated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26479/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  I take it that the Deputy is referring to Gaelscoil an Athar Tadhg Ó Murchú, Douglas, Cork city.

A building project at this school is currently at the early stages of architectural planning. Every effort will be made to advance the project through the remaining planning stages.

[1036] It is not the practice of my Department to indicate in advance of obtaining tenders the estimated cost of a project. To do so would compromise the tendering process.

  158.  Ms Clune    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the school extensions and new start-ups promised; the amount, if any, allocated for all projects in his Department's 2000 Estimates; the projects not included in the Estimates which will have to await funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26480/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  One hundred and seventy nine million pounds has been allocated in the Estimates for the year 2000 in respect of primary – £79 million – and post-primary buildings – £100 million. This will allow a substantial number of school building projects to advance to construction. Progress to construction in respect of individual projects depends on factors such as the completion of architectural design, planning permission, etc. In so far as is possible, it is intended to allow projects which have completed architectural design and for which tenders have been sought to proceed to construction.

  159.  Mr. S. Ryan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will report on the proposed extension to Pope John Paul II national school, Malahide, County Dublin; if all stages will be processed as a matter of urgency in view of the fact this extension is urgently needed for September 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26482/99]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin):  The architectural planning process for the proposed extension at Pope John Paul II national school, Malahide, County Dublin is currently progressing and every effort will continue to be made to advance the project through the various planning stages.