Dáil Eireann

29/Jun/2004

Prelude

Business of Dáil.

Priority Questions.

Mobile Telephony.

Fishing Industry Development.

Natural Gas Grid.

Marine Safety.

Telecommunications Services.

Other Questions.

Telecommunications Services.

Water Safety.

Mobile Telephony.

Electricity Generation.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Television Subtitling.

Natural Gas Grid.

Harbours and Piers.

Irish Language Broadcasting.

Energy Resources.

Adjournment Debate Matters.

Leaders’ Questions.

Requests to move Adjournment of Dáil under Standing Order 31.

Order of Business.

Universal Postal Union: Motion.

International Agreements: Referral to Select Committee.

Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill 1999: Referral to Select Committee.

National Monuments (Amendment) Bill 2004: Report Stage.

Allocation of Time: Motion.

National Monuments (Amendment) Bill 2004: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage.

Commissions of Investigation Bill 2003: Order for Report Stage.

Commissions of Investigation Bill 2003: Report Stage.

Private Members’ Business.

Disabled Person’s Grant Scheme: Motion.

Message from Select Committee.

Commissions of Investigation Bill 2003: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage.

State Airports Bill 2004: Second Stage (Resumed).

State Airports Bill 2004: Referral to Select Committee.

Commission on Electronic Voting (Further Reports) Order 2004: Motion.

Adjournment Debate.

Civil Defence Board.

Harbours and Piers.

Health Board Services.

Visa Applications.

Written Answers.

Mobile Telephony.

Television Licence Fee.

Mobile Telephony.

Ministerial Appointments.

Fishing Fleet Modernisation.

Postal Services.

Harbours and Piers.

Decentralisation Programme.

Broadcasting Legislation.

Irish National Petroleum Corporation.

Industrial Relations.

State–Sponsored Bodies.

Coastal Erosion.

Alternative Energy Projects.

State-Sponsored Bodies.

Broadcasting Legislation.

Hazardous Waste.

Fisheries Protection.

Offshore Exploration.

Mobile Telephony.

Marine Institute.

Telecommunications Services.

Fisheries Protection.

Decentralisation Programme.

State Subsidies.

Broadcasting Legislation.

Harbours and Piers.

Industrial Relations.

Electricity Generation.

Harbours and Piers.

Postal Services.

Mobile Telephony.

Marine Safety.

Aquaculture Development.

Digital Hub.

Digital Literacy.

Aquaculture Industry.

Fishing Industry.

Coastal Protection.

Offshore Exploration.

Internet Safety Programme.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Television Licence Fee.

Telecommunications Services.

Electricity Generation.

An Post Restructuring.

Postal Services.

Barron Report.

Decentralisation Programme.

Electronic Payments.

Decentralisation Programme.

Dairy Exports.

Regulatory Reform.

Decentralisation Programme.

Work Permits.

Job Initiative.

Equal Opportunities Employment.

Grocery Industry.

Local Employment Service.

Job Creation.

Decentralisation Programme.

Departmental Properties.

Grant Payments.

Milk Quota.

Decentralisation Programme.

Grant Payments.

Capital Investment Scheme.

Milk Quota.

Grant Payments.

Departmental Staff.

Bovine Disease Controls.

Grant Payments.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Grant Payments.

Mayo Landslide.

Grant Payments.

Farm Prices.

Good Farming Practice Programme.

Grant Payments.

Farm Size.

Afforestation Programme.

Grant Payments.

EU Directives.

Bovine Disease Controls.

Single Payment Scheme.

Decentralisation Programme.

Disabled Drivers.

Decentralisation Programme.

Public Service Recruitment.

Departmental Properties.

Tax Collection.

Departmental Reports.

Tax Yield.

Decentralisation Programme.

Stamp Duty.

Decentralisation Programme.

Tax Code.

Prison Medical Service.

Decentralisation Programme.

Irish Language.

EU Summits.

Departmental Staff.

Foreign Restrictions.

Departmental Staff.

Trade Relations.

Ministerial Travel.

Bilateral Agreements.

Arts Education.

Schools Building Projects.

Site Acquisitions.

Schools Amalgamation.

Public Private Partnerships.

Schools Building Projects.

School Security.

Special Educational Needs.

Site Acquisitions.

Special Educational Needs.

Schools Building Projects.

School Security.

Schools Building Projects.

Departmental Funding.

State Examinations.

Higher Education Grants.

Schools Building Projects.

Decentralisation Programme.

Special Educational Needs.

School Transport.

Student Support Schemes.

School Staffing.

School Attendance.

School Staffing.

School Transport.

Special Educational Needs.

Home Tuition.

Schools Building Projects.

Special Educational Needs.

School Transport.

School Staffing.

Schools Building Projects.

School Staffing.

Special Educational Needs.

School Transport.

Schools Building Projects.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

Departmental Reports.

Special Educational Needs.

Schools Building Projects.

Child Abuse.

Scéim Tógála Scoile.

Schools Building Projects.

Third Level Fees.

Special Educational Needs.

Physical Education Facilities.

School Staffing.

National Induction Project.

Special Educational Needs.

School Transport.

Schools Refurbishment.

Special Educational Needs.

National Educational Welfare Board.

Educational Disadvantage.

Special Educational Needs.

Schools Building Projects.

Physical Education Facilities.

School Disputes.

Coastal Protection.

Fisheries Protection.

Search and Rescue Service.

Electrical Contracting.

Decentralisation Programme.

An Post Restructuring.

Fishing Vessel Licences.

Mobile Telephony.

Telecommunications Services.

Offshore Exploration.

Fishing Fleet Modernisation.

Fisheries Protection.

Maritime Safety.

Fisheries Protection.

Fishing Industry Development.

Decentralisation Programme.

Sports Capital Programme.

Health Board Services.

Hospital Services.

Health Board Services.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Decentralisation Programme.

Hospital Services.

Health Board Services.

Medical Cards.

Health Board Services.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Medical Cards.

Health Board Services.

Mental Health Services.

Hospital Services.

Hospital Accommodation.

Health Board Services.

Hospital Services.

Health Board Services.

Health Board Staff.

Child Abuse.

Hospital Services.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Hospital Services.

Health Board Services.

Medical Cards.

Medicinal Products.

Mental Health Services.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Health Board Services.

Hospital Staff.

Health Board Services.

Vaccination Programme.

Health Board Services.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Tribunals of Inquiry.

Health Board Services.

Hospital Staff.

Health Board Services.

General Practitioner Co-operatives.

Health Board Allowances.

Professional Indemnity Cover.

Hospital Procedures.

National Lottery Funding.

Hospital Services.

Water Fluoridation.

Long-Term Illness Scheme.

Health Board Services.

Hospital Services.

Decentralisation Programme.

Public Transport.

Trans-European Networks.

Airport Development Projects.

Decentralisation Programme.

Taxi Hardship Payments.

Driving Tests.

Ground Rents Abolition.

Freedom of Information.

Asylum Applications.

Garda Stations.

Visa Applications.

Decentralisation Programme.

Legal Profession Complaints.

Citizenship Applications.

Victims Commission.

Visa Applications.

Garda Recruitment.

Garda Youth Projects.

Prisoner Releases.

Visa Applications.

Registration of Title.

Criminal Prosecutions.

Registration of Title.

Residency Permits.

Prisoner Transfers.

Visa Applications.

Citizenship Applications.

Prison Committals.

Garda Stations.

Child Care Facilities.

Accidental Fires.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Environmental Work Schemes.

Decentralisation Programme.

Special Areas of Conservation.

National Parks.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Register of Electors.

Local Authority Funding.

Recycling Policy.

Heritage Sites.

EU Directives.

Local Authority Housing.

Grant Payments.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Departmental Bodies.

Emergency Services.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Election Management System.

Litter Pollution.

Local Authority Funding.

National Drugs Strategy.

Decentralisation Programme.

Irish Language.

Proposed Legislation.

Decentralisation Programme.

Grant Payments.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Decentralisation Programme.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Chuaigh an Ceann Comhairle i gceannas ar2.30 p.m.

Paidir.
Prayer.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Ms Hanafin):  It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that we now move on to questions to the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, which shall conclude at 4.15 p.m.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

  1.  Mr. Coveney    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he has satisfied himself that ComReg has sufficient powers to address recent overcharging problems in the mobile phone industry; and if he intends to meet the regulator to discuss this issue. [19619/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  The Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, is responsible for monitoring compliance by service providers with the requirements of the European Communities (Electronic Communications Networks and Services) (Universal Service and Users’ Rights) Regulations 3003, which are transposed as SI 308 of 2003. In accordance with the regulations and following public consultation, ComReg has issued a draft direction on the code of practice for tariff presentation. Comments on the draft have been sought by 30 June, shortly after which date ComReg intends to finalise the direction. The core objective of the code is to ensure that end users have access to accurate and comprehensive tariff information on publicly available telephone services. Service providers shall ensure that tariff information is accurate, comprehensive and accessible.

[254]ComReg has sought a comprehensive report from each of the mobile phone companies concerning the incidences of overcharging. Following consideration of both reports, it will decide on the appropriate action, within its powers, that it will take.

ComReg is also considering further initiatives to provide information to consumers on the range of communication services. These steps will ensure that consumers are sufficiently informed to make the appropriate choices in terms of the service or package which will best suit their needs.

Mr. Coveney:  Is the Minister aware of the extent and significance of overcharging in recent months? Vodafone admitted to overcharging up to 22,000 customers who were roaming between 25 May and 15 June to a value of almost €150,000 and a week earlier O2 admitted to overcharging approximately 70,000 customers. Both incidences of overcharging of roaming customers mean that in recent months Irish mobile phone users and customers have been overcharged to the tune of approximately €650,000.

What is at issue is not whether these people have been repaid or their accounts reimbursed but the fact that almost 100,000 people were overcharged for roaming. That is unacceptable. ComReg recognised this and demanded a report from O2 by 25 June, four days ago. Has either the Minister or ComReg seen that report? If so, what is happening with it and will it be published?

Mr. D. Ahern:  I agree that overcharging is unacceptable. The two companies involved admitted voluntarily to the overcharging. The enforcement of the regulations is a matter for ComReg under the legislation passed by the Dáil. The regulations allow the regulator to apply for a High Court order compelling compliance in cases where companies are unwilling to comply. ComReg may also apply to the court for the imposition of a financial penalty on the companies. The court must, obviously, consider the circumstances of the non-compliance.

I have not seen any report. ComReg is the authority responsible for the implementation of the regulations and legislation. If it has received the report, it will make decisions on foot of that report and the circumstances in each case.

Mr. Coveney:  Does the Minister agree that the essence of the problem is that Vodafone and O2 came forward voluntarily on the overcharging issue? The regulator should have recognised that overcharging was occurring. If both companies had not come forward voluntarily, would ComReg have been aware of the overcharging to the value of approximately €750,000? Is the Minister satisfied that ComReg has sufficient powers to identify, monitor and regulate the issue of overcharging and to penalise the companies involved?

[255]Mr. D. Ahern:  As the Deputy may be aware, I issued ComReg with a policy direction to drive competition in this area, to address specifically the issue of high cross-Border tariffs and to allow smaller mobile operators to have access to the existing mobile network. This will be the ultimate in driving competition. As the Deputy will be aware, a consultation process, driven by ComReg, is taking place in this respect.

In all my meetings with ComReg I ask its officials whether they require more legislative powers to drive competition in this and the wider telecommunications area, and any time that they have asked for additional powers they have been granted. When ComReg implements the policy direction I have given it in this area, I expect there will be a significant level of competition and I hope it will lead to new operators entering the mobile sector because that is what we need.

  2.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he will report to Dáil Éireann on the recent European Union agreement on the revised Irish Box and the concerns of fishing industry organisations regarding the baseline figures for fishing efforts by Spain, France and Britain in large areas of the former, much larger Irish Box; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19329/04]

Mr. D. Ahern:  The agreement reached at last week’s Fisheries Council sets fishing effort limits on the fleets of the relevant member states in various areas in western waters. These limits were set on the basis of actual fishing activity by those fleets over the period 1998 to 2002. The framework for establishing these effort limits was agreed by fisheries Ministers last October and the finalisation of the effort ceilings last week was in accordance with this agreed framework.

A detailed analytical exercise underpins the effort calculations. Each member state was required to assess the levels of fishing effort exerted by relevant vessel classes and then to submit that data to the European Commission. The Commission has analysed this data and, at last week’s Council, made a clear statement confirming that the fishing effort allocations represented the average fishing effort levels deployed in the relevant area by the respective fleets over the reference period 1998 to 2002. This is in full accordance with last October’s agreement.

I am aware of concerns expressed by some Irish industry representatives and I have kept them fully informed of the data verification that has been carried by the Commission. The Irish industry has broadly welcomed the deal, especially for the new Irish Box area to the west and south of Ireland where most — about two thirds — of the Irish whitefish catch is taken. The protection of fish stocks in this most sensitive and vulnerable area was therefore Ireland’s main priority and I welcome and appreciate the industry’s strong [256]support for the measures now in place for this biologically sensitive area. Overall, the fishing effort limits agreed last week provide the necessary protection for fish stocks in waters around Ireland, both inside and outside the new Irish Box.

Mr. Broughan:  I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that the basic framework for fishing effort, agreed last October, is still the baseline from which we are operating? In the case of the north-west, he will be aware that the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation has grave concerns about the baselines submitted by France and Britain in particular. In the cases of the west and south-west, France and Spain submitted baseline efforts which our fishing organisations view as being much higher than what was taken in the period in the question. France will get an extra 10 million kW days in respect of whitefish and Spain an extra 4 million kW days, which seems unjustified. I accept that the Department has made an achievement in respect of the sensitive areas off the south coast. However, does the Minister agree that our fishing organisations are strongly of the view that the problem with the new Irish Box is the baseline efforts we gave France, Britain and Spain over the 1998 to 2002 period, which form their baseline efforts into the future, and which are a severe threat to our industry?

The Minister made some interesting points at a fisheries conference some months ago and last week about financial incentives for environmentally friendly fishing and smarter fishing. There has been a great deal of discussion about that, especially in regard to the east and south coasts. Our east coast fishermen no longer have the protection afforded by the old Irish Box. What incentives is the Minister thinking of putting in place over the coming years for fishermen who are prepared to fish in a more environmentally friendly way?

Mr. D. Ahern:  I kept the industry fully informed both last week and during the previous months regarding the discussions between the Department and the European Commission. The baseline figures, to which the Deputy referred, are set for the period 1998 to 2002. At the insistence of Ireland, the Commission issued a statement as part of the overall deal. The overall deal was recognised publicly by the fishermen as a good deal for fishermen in this country. However, the Commission, at our request, issued a statement, which is part of the deal ultimately agreed in Luxembourg last week. It states that the Commission confirms that the fishing effort allocations by member states, as set out in Annexes 1 and 2, represent the average fishing effort levels deployed in those areas, as reported by member states over the period of reference 1998 to 2002, and that these data were assessed by the Commission in close co-operation with member states.

[257]One is comparing apples with oranges, in effect, when one is comparing the circumstances that obtained previously with those of the period 1998 to 2002. There have been many changes in the types of vessels and the effort deployed in the areas in question. All the data submitted by countries were examined resolutely by my Department officials and by the European Commission, which is standing over those figures.

  3.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he has satisfied himself with the manner in which consent has been given for an onshore import pipeline from the Corrib gas field to the proposed Bellanboy gas refinery; the procedures and analysis which were adopted in the processing of this application; and the way in which his Department assessed the structural stability of such onshore pipelines constructed in deep peat soil. [19552/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Browne):  In April 2002, as part of my approval of the plan for the development of the Corrib gas field, I gave consent to the developers to lay an onshore and offshore pipeline to which I attached a number of conditions, both technical and environmental. The developers, in carrying out this work, must comply with all these conditions.

In my consideration and appraisal of the pipeline proposal I commissioned an independent technical evaluation of the onshore pipeline. The evaluation was carried out by a pipeline technical expert, Mr. Andrew Johnston, and is entitled Corrib Gas Pipeline Project, Report on Evaluation of the Onshore Pipeline, Design Code. This study addressed design, methodology, operating conditions, pipeline corrosion, public safety, welding and testing, pipeline material quality and protection from interference. Mr. Johnston’s report states that the onshore pipeline design code has been selected in accordance with best public safety considerations and is appropriate for the pipeline operating conditions.

Subject to the developers’ undertaking to comply with a number of conditions laid down in approval or consents granted by me, the design is generally in accordance with best national and international industry practice and the pipeline is considered to meet public safety requirements. Copies of Mr. Johnston’s report have been issued on request.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  May I receive from the Department a copy of the consent letter from the then Minister, Deputy Fahey? Is the letter, which was presented in the recent additional information request pertaining to the recent planning application of 15 April, of which I have a copy, the only consent letter? If there is a separate one, I would like a commitment from the Minister of [258]State to send a copy to me. Will he also send me details on Mr. Johnston, who carried out the independent pipeline report? I have been unable to find contact details in any of the reports that are available.

Is the Minister concerned that neither Mr. Johnston’s report nor the initial design report took into account the possibility of bog-slide or bog disturbance, as occurred in the same area last summer and which could have an effect on the pipeline? Is he concerned that when the local authority asked the company about this in reference to the recent planning application, the only evidence provided in its reply was the same letter from the Minister, dated 15 April, which states nothing about possible risks from bog movement?

More importantly, considering the conditions set out in the qualified risk assessment report on the pipeline design near the road, its ability to survive leakage or the water corrosion that might occur in it, have the Minister of State and his Department received any of those reports and why did the Department not require confirmation of those reports before it provided consent? What was the hurry in issuing consent to this report only two or three months after the first designs were presented, only two weeks after the Minister’s assessment report came in and only days before the Minister left office due to the election? What was the hurry in issuing this consent and why did his Department not look for the reassurances required by the independent analyst before it gave consent?

Mr. Browne:  There was no hurrying on the issue of consent. We commissioned an independent technical evaluation of the onshore pipeline and this was carried out by Mr. Andrew Johnston. We will make his report available to Deputy Ryan this evening or tomorrow.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  I have the report. I wish to have the contact details.

Mr. Browne:  The criteria used to identify and select the route between the landfill site and the terminal were the avoidance, as far as possible, of significant ecological, archaeological and engineering features; location of special areas of conservation and special protection areas; the avoidance, where possible, of potentially difficult construction areas such as side slopes, solid rock strata, peat complexes and river crossings; and the shortest distance, bearing in mind the other criteria.

While consent was issued in April 2002, the consent to construct a pipeline is, essentially, permission in principle to proceed with the design. This is followed at the installation stage by the issue by the petroleum affairs division, PAD, of the consent to install for the various phases of pipe laying. The Deputy raised the issue of peat. While the PAD is not aware that the construction of a pipeline in deep peat soil is problematic, it [259]intends to have the peat issue addressed by the developers as part of the consent to install process. The issue raised by the Deputy will be dealt with by the PAD.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Is this the only consent letter or is there a separate consent letter which the Minister of State can provide for me? Does the Minister of State agree that the inspector’s report states that this is a highly unusual pipeline, that there are very few international standards for an onshore pipeline which takes 330 bar pressure because most pipelines take approximately 100 bar, that the real risk here arises because the pipeline will carry gas, liquid and other impurities straight from the well which could be very corrosive and that the situation will be volatile and dangerous for local people, not just for the ecology?

Mr. Browne:  Mr. Johnston is the expert in his field and the expertise in my Department confirms that the pipeline more than meets the standards laid down.

  4.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the new water safety measures that will be in place in the summer of 2004; and if he has satisfied himself that patrolling of water regulations is adequate. [19618/04]

Mr. D. Ahern:  I recently signed into law new water safety regulations aimed at Ireland’s growing marine leisure sector as part of my campaign continuously to improve safety on water this summer.

I consider the wearing of lifejackets by everybody on board small pleasure craft is now an essential element in staying safe on the water. It is now compulsory for everyone on board a pleasure craft of less than seven metres, 23 feet, in length to wear a lifejacket-personal floatation device.

The new regulations, which are titled the Merchant Shipping (Pleasure Craft) (Lifejackets and Operation) (Safety) Regulations 2004, have immediate effect. They encompass all types of pleasure craft regardless of the means of propulsion, and for the first time ever it is also compulsory for all children up to the age of 16 years to wear a lifejacket while on board a pleasure craft.

On the enforcement of the new regulation, the Coastguard, officers of the maritime safety directorate of my Department and the Garda have a major role to play. To assist in this process, over recent weeks two Coastguard vessels were deployed at Howth and Crosshaven as major boating activity areas in the country. Other vessels will be deployed on a random basis around the coastline during the coming months to promote safety awareness, including the wearing of lifejackets. I have also called on all organisations [260]involved in water based activities to promote the wearing of lifejackets in accordance with the new regulations.

The new regulations have been widely welcomed and monitoring to date has shown a high level of compliance. However, I will look to expanding the policing capacity on water if there are significant levels of non-compliance. The public too have a key role to play by taking personal responsibility for their own safety through wearing lifejackets and taking other sensible safety precautions when undertaking water based leisure activities. As it is compulsory for all children up to the age of 16 years to wear a lifejacket while on board a pleasure craft, parents too have a pivotal role to play in ensuring that children wear lifejackets at all times.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

As part of its ongoing programme of enforcement of safety rules and vessel licensing conditions, the maritime safety directorate will continue to carry out a campaign of operational safety inspections on passenger ships and boats this summer. These inspections, including unannounced checks, will be undertaken around the country in relation to vessels at sea and on inland waters to determine compliance with licensing requirements. Licence conditions relating to manning levels, the maximum passenger numbers allowed and the continued availability of safety equipment are among the issues on which the inspectors will focus.

In addition, my Department, as part of its safety awareness programme, will undertake an intensive public safety awareness campaign across the summer months on the radio and through other media, focusing on the wearing of lifejackets for all water based activities.

Mr. Kehoe:  I wish to pass on my sympathies to the families of the two men who were drowned off the coast of Waterford at the weekend.

I recognise the work the Minister has done in this area since his appointment and I am glad he recognises that the wearing of lifejackets is of prime importance. The Minister, Deputy Browne, and I remember the tragedy that occurred off the coast of Fethard two years ago.

Is the Coastguard responsible for ensuring that people wear lifejackets or do the gardaí have a role? It is difficult for the Coastguard to police this so responsibility for it should be extended. There are harbours and inland waterways all over the country where activity takes place. If we do not police this properly, the legislation will go by the wayside. What Department is responsible for policing this, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform or the Department of Defence?

I do not want to see water sports abolished because they bring in large numbers of tourists, but they must be properly policed. The requirement to wear lifejackets, particularly for the young, is welcome. Has the Minister plans for [261]programmes in schools to highlight safety in water sports? If we want to educate young people we must do it through the school system because they will be involved in water based activities in the future.

  3 o’clock

Mr. D. Ahern:  Ongoing education and inspection campaigns are part of the remit of the maritime safety directorate in my Department. The Garda Síochána and the maritime safety directorate surveyors are the authorised enforcement officers under the Merchant Shipping Act 1992 but the Coastguard also has a major role to play and has been proactive in this area. It has been more than willing to take responsibility for enforcement and since we introduced the new regulations there has been a high level of compliance.

Furthermore, people are aware of these regulations and take their personal responsibilities seriously. Unannounced inspections will continue during the summer in coastal areas and on inland waters to determine compliance with the requirements. It is not only a matter of enforcement, however, it is a matter of education. Over the two bank holiday weekends so far this summer there have been 630 announcements on national and local radio about safety at sea. This programme will continue for the August bank holiday weekend.

  5.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the position with regard to the roll-out of broadband nationally, with specific regard to his Department’s schools broadband action plan and the plan to deliver broadband to homes here; if he has given consideration to the broadband initiative by the department of education in Maine, USA; if he will back up his claims that Ireland can be at the top of the OECD table for broadband connectivity by 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19330/04]

Mr. D. Ahern:  The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband, is a matter in the first instance for the private sector companies operating in a fully liberalised market under the regulation of ComReg the Commission for Communications Regulation. In its report on Ireland’s broadband future, published in December 2003, the Information Society Commission concluded that the market has failed to respond to the demand for broadband connectivity and there is a proven need for Government intervention to accelerate the provision of infrastructure and the driving of demand.

Last December I announced my Department’s broadband action plan which will see broadband connectivity rolled out to more than 90 towns with a population of 1,500 or more, using community broadband exchanges and strategic fibre. Expenditure of €35 million each year from now until 2007 has been committed to the broadband [262]action plan. In addition to this initiative, the group broadband scheme which I launched last March will allow smaller communities to pool their requirements and obtain broadband connectivity from a range of service providers with €25 million in funding assistance from Government.

The regional connectivity agreements that my Department negotiated with Esat BT and the ESB at prices as low as one eighth of what they had been mean that all areas of the country can benefit from low-cost backhaul. These prices are on a par with the best available on the international market.

The broadband for schools programme will bring high-speed connectivity to all 4,100 primary, second level and special needs schools in the country by the start of the 2005 school year. My Department is working closely with the Department of Education and Science and the industry to deliver this €18 million programme which is being 80% funded by the industry. I am aware of the recent initiatives to provide laptop computers to high school students in the state of Maine and will follow developments with interest.

As a result of the £77 million investment by the Government in 1999 with Global Crossing, Ireland now heads the OECD league in international connectivity to more than 50 cities in Europe, America and the Far East. The significant reduction in voice and data communications costs to and from Ireland and the allied construction of world-class data centres, has been instrumental in attracting a number of major companies such as Google and eBay in the information and communications technology sector to locate their European operations in Ireland.

Mr. Broughan:  I know the Minister is not easily embarrassed. Anyone who throws his hat in the ring for the leadership of Fianna Fáil, given the groaning reaction of Fianna Fáil backbenchers to his candidature, is certainly not easily embarrassed. Was the Minister not embarrassed when he represented us in the Dundalk Institute of Technology a few months ago and the figures for broadband connectivity throughout Europe were flashed up on the screen? Denmark is top of the list, closely followed by Belgium. It showed percentages in double figures of houses linked to broadband. Ireland traipsed along with Greece at the very bottom of the list with 0.2% or 0.3% of connected households. Is it to be the legacy of the Minister’s two and a half years in this Department that he has not adopted a more vigorous attitude to remedy the market failure that still exists in this area? I welcome the recent announcements by Esat, Eircom and NTL regarding free broadband trials.

The Minister referred in his reply to the experiment in Maine, USA, which was reported in The Irish Times by Karlin Lillington, the technology journalist. Every seventh grader, in our terms every child in first year at second level, has received a laptop computer from the State. As a [263]former teacher I am aware that computers will have a revolutionary impact on education. The changing nature of education calls for care in this area. The Minister should now put forward some major initiative to highlight the developments in this field.

The Minister stated at the Dundalk conference that broadband is not the future but the present. Unfortunately, it is the future under the current Administration. Will he consider giving every first year or junior cycle child in second level schools a laptop either this September or next as part of an organised, new system of education at second level?

Mr. D. Ahern:  Any independent observer would agree there has been a dramatic change in the broadband area, mainly driven by this Minister. As the Deputy acknowledged, it is already accepted that we are now the only country in Europe in which broadband is being offered for free for an extended period. This did not happen by chance but as a result of the proactive policies of the Government.

Mr. Broughan:  It took a long time.

Mr. D. Ahern:  I have just returned from the signing of the contract for the management services entity, which will drive the promotion of the metropolitan area networks established by this Government and promote future broadband rings. I announced today a further 41 areas which will benefit, again provided for by the Government.

The price of broadband has dramatically fallen in the past year. While it is true we started slowly, before the previous election the Labour Party did not even know what broadband was as it did not refer to it in any of its election manifestos.

Mr. Broughan:  Will the Minister yield?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The time for this question has expired.

Mr. Broughan:  I have listened to the Minister for two and a half years. This drivel is the reason he will never be leader of the Fianna Fáil Party.

Mr. D. Ahern:  The Deputy does not like to hear the truth that the Labour Party’s record on this issue is abysmal. The European Commission produced figures to show that this country has had the most dramatic percentage increase in the take-up of broadband due to the stewardship of this Minister.

Mr. Broughan:  The starting point was zero.

Mr. D. Ahern:  With regard to laptops for students, we were the first nation in Europe to have computers in every school, again due to a Fianna Fáil Government.

[264]Mr. Broughan:  It is a small country.

Mr. D. Ahern:  The Deputy reads The Irish Times, which is the paper of record. My information with regard to the proposal in Maine is that the commitments made in this respect will result in only 8,400 students receiving computers, which is a very small step. I would prefer to work in conjunction with the industry to provide broadband, software and hardware to schools which will be part of the agreement.

  6.  Mr. O’Dowd     asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he has satisfied himself with the level of uptake of DSL broadband connections in the past six months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19303/04]

  72.  Mr. Deenihan     asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    his plans to introduce broadband into all schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19287/04]

  259.  Mr. Durkan     asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the full extent of requirements in respect of infrastructural investment in telecommunications; the extent to which this requirement is being met at present or is planned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19569/04]

Mr. D. Ahern:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 6, 72 and 259 together.

The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband, is a matter in the first instance for the private sector companies operating in a fully liberalised market under the regulation of ComReg. In its report, Ireland’s Broadband Future, published in December 2003, the Information Society Commission concluded that the market has failed to respond to the demand for broadband connectivity and that there is a proven need for Government intervention to accelerate the provision of infrastructure and the driving of demand.

In December last I announced my Department’s broadband action plan, to which I referred earlier. It will result in broadband connectivity being rolled out to 90 towns with a population of 1,500 and over, using community broadband exchanges and strategic fibre. A spend of €35 million each year from now until 2007 has been committed to the broadband action plan.

I also referred to the group broadband scheme which I launched last March and which will allow smaller communities to pool their requirements and obtain broadband connectivity from a range of service providers.

[265]The regional connectivity agreements my Department negotiated with Esat BT and the ESB at prices as low as one eighth of what they had been, mean all areas of the country will benefit from a low-cost backhaul.

The broadband for schools programme will bring connectivity to all 4,100 primary, second level and special needs schools. I am also aware of recent initiatives in the private sector in this respect. As a result of the £77 million investment by the Government in 1999 with Global Crossing, Ireland now heads the OECD league in international connectivity to more than 50 cities in Europe, America and the Far East. The significant reduction in voice and data communications costs to and from Ireland and the allied construction of world class data centres have been instrumental in attracting a number of major companies in the information and communications technology sector to locate their European operations in Ireland.

Internet penetration rates in Ireland are increasing more quickly than in any other European country. In the past 12 months the number of DSL customers has risen from 1,000 to 45,000, with a further 60,000 customers using flat rate Internet access and more than 1,000 using high speed corporate lines. These figures continue to increase dramatically, with upwards of 1,000 new customers being added each week, particularly as a result of the free offers for the summer period by the main service providers. The recent free trial introductory offers announced by Eircom and Esat BT and the entry of NTL into the broadband market are a welcome indication of the increasing interest in broadband as a result of lower prices and greater consumer choice.

Full details of my Department’s broadband programmes can be found on the websites, www.dcmnr.gov.ie and www.gbs.ie. My Department will continue to promote the broadband agenda with the aim of providing world class broadband infrastructure in all areas of the country. The continuing aim of the Government is to place Ireland in the top 10% of OECD countries for broadband connectivity within three years.

Mr. Durkan:  Is the Minister concerned that Ireland is losing its position at the leading edge of information communication technologies compared with ten or 12 years ago? Will the investment proposed by the Minister return Ireland to the leading edge?

Mr. D. Ahern:  Other European countries have experienced a dramatic uptake in broadband over a relatively short period of two to three years, and that is also being experienced in Ireland. I am convinced that, as a result of the Government’s investment in strategic initiatives aimed at introducing broadband in schools, major towns and villages and peripheral areas through the group broadband scheme, Ireland will have a complete, open access, technology neutral infrastructure which will avail of various technologies to ensure [266]broadband penetration into areas that could not be accessed previously.

In addition, the Government reached agreement with the ESB to spend €60 million on backhaul. The ESB wrapped fibre around high tension electricity cables, which has allowed independent operators to piggyback the infrastructure at keen prices — one eighth of what they had been — as a result of an agreement between the Department, the ESB and Esat BT. There was a problem within Ireland, which was not related to connectivity from the island to other countries, as a result of the Global Crossing investment. Earlier I signed a formal contract with E-Net, which will manage all the metropolitan networks. I assure the Deputy that this will ensure Ireland will be at the leading edge of broadband technology.

An Ceann Comhairle:  With regard to supplementary questions, the questioner has one minute and the Minister has one minute to reply.

Mr. Broughan:  Will the Minister expand on his interesting announcement regarding the E-Net contract? What are its terms and conditions? How will it operate in the coming years?

The Minister stated a number of months ago that the aim was that broadband connectivity would meet the average EU standard by mid-2005. How many homes and businesses will be connected by then? What is his target for mid-2005?

Mr. D. Ahern:  We want to be in the top 10% of OECD countries within three years. As for the announcement today, the management services entity will manage and operate the completed MANs — the existing MANs — and any new MANs that will be added on. It is basically a services concession contract where the appointee will be expected to offer a service concession fee to the State in the form of a fixed payment and revenue sharing arrangements. It will, in effect, offer very keen rates, dark fibre which will give us the highest of high speeds. Many of the definitions of broadband one sees in documents from the OECD and the EU Commission are not broadband at all but are DSL, which is an introductory broadband facility. What we are putting into the ground in most areas is dark fibre, which will give these areas incredible Internet speed.

Mr. Broughan:  Who are eNET?

Mr. D. Ahern:  If the Deputy has other queries he should put down a separate question and I can give him the information.

Mr. Kehoe:  The Minister mentioned group broadband schemes. Will those be like the group water schemes? Will we be back here in years to come talking about the group broadband schemes that are to go across the country?

Question No. 259 refers to the availability of broadband in schools across the country. I asked the Minister a similar question a year ago and he [267]was unable to answer. What percentage of schools have broadband, either through the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources or the Department of Education and Science?

On DSL broadband, when one is switching over from analog to DSL, the waiting time is up to three months in certain areas. I have a friend in Monkstown and DSL broadband is not available in that area.

Mr. D. Ahern:  I doubt that very much. If they are not able to get it through the wires in the ground they could get it through satellite or wireless, which is as keenly priced as the fixed wire system. ComReg has issued a substantial number of wireless licences which cover the entire country and I do not doubt that a place like Monkstown is facilitated. I invite the Deputy to look up our “vote for broadband” website, which I referred to earlier. People can log on and say they want broadband in their area and we then provide the service providers, who have licences or infrastructure in those areas, with a list of those people. It is a trigger mechanism which has worked very successfully abroad.

The Deputy’s other question related to schools. I do not know the proportion but broadband is available to many schools if they require it and many schools in urban areas are DSL-enabled if required. What we are doing with broadband for schools is providing a high-speed broadband Internet access in all schools through a number of technologies at no cost. This is due to the deal we arranged with the industry, where it pays 80% of the cost.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Why has the Minister ignored the recommendations of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources investigation into broadband — that we should have a co-operative approach, where the MANs are built using a combination of existing fibre from telcos and also, possibly, fibre provided by the Department? In such circumstances, is the Minister worried that without that co-operative approach there may be a falling back from investment by the private telco operators, given the extensive development of MANs which is not using their existing fibre?

Given 45,000 DSL broadband connections have been made so far and 1,000 more are being made per week, that means approximately 70,000 connections by the end of the year whereas the projection from the companies at the start of this year was a target of 100,000 by the end of the year. Is that not a failure in terms of what we were looking for?

Mr. Crowe:  I refer to gaps in digital literacy in the State and the effect it can have. If one looks at the figures, one will see that 51% of people from a professional background have access to computers and the Internet while the figure is 9% [268]among labourers. This gap is costing people not only jobs——

An Ceann Comhairle:  A brief question please.

Mr. Crowe:  How many applications for funding has the Department received from small communities for self-enabling development of broadband projects where commercial providers are not available?

Mr. D. Ahern:  I do not have the figures on that but the Deputy can log on to my Department’s website or to the link for the group broadband scheme which will show what is available. I launched this scheme quite recently and there has been significant interest but I suggest to Deputies here and elsewhere that they should encourage their constituents to use this scheme because grants of up to 55% are available in the Border, midland and west region and a lower figure in the south and east to provide broadband in the peripheral regions.

Will Deputy Eamon Ryan remind me of the point he made?

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  The Minister is not following the recommendation of the Oireachtas committee——

Mr. D. Ahern:  It is possible for all the companies on a completely open access basis to get into the fibre the State is putting in the ground. No one is excluded from it.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Why are we duplicating?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should allow the Minister to speak.

Mr. D. Ahern:  We are not duplicating. That is the song of the private operators which did not want the State providing high speed broadband to the regions——

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Can the Minister tell me there is no duplication?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask Deputy Eamon Ryan to allow the Minister to speak without interruption.

Mr. D. Ahern:  Deputy Eamon Ryan is only parroting what they are saying. It was only after the State put fibre, which is far faster than the existing network, into the 19 towns that the private companies followed providing DSL. They went into 17 of the areas we chose. The only two areas they did not choose were Manorhamilton and Gweedore. I rest my case.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  They also had fibre in the ground.

  7.  Mr. S. Ryan    asked the Minister for [269]Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    when he intends to introduce measures to provide for the more effective control of jet skis in view of the clear danger these can pose to other water users; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19219/04]

Mr. D. Ahern:  As Deputies are aware, my Department has an ongoing safety programme involving a combination of statutory regulation, enforcement and safety awareness promotion with the aim of achieving the highest level of safety at sea and on inland waters.

Two sets of regulations which contain national provisions governing the safe use of jet skis and similar craft are already in force. The Merchant Shipping (Pleasure Craft) (Lifejackets and Operation) (Safety) Regulations 2004 contain provisions relating to age restrictions, the carrying, wearing and use of lifejackets and restrictions on the use of alcohol and drugs. These provisions also apply to ski boarding, water skiing, paragliding and other towed rides.

The second set of regulations, the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000 (Prescribed Classes of Vessels) Regulations 2001 (S.I. No. 285 of 2001) prescribe personal watercraft —— jet skis — and fast power craft for the purposes of careless and dangerous navigation or operation provisions in the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000.

In addition, I am delighted to announce that on 22 June 2004, the Government approved the publication of the Maritime Safety Bill 2004, the purpose of which is to strengthen the law further against the improper use of certain fast powered craft such as jet skis. That Bill will be taken in the Seanad tomorrow. My objective is to have this legislation enacted as soon as possible.

The Bill will provide powers for local authorities to regulate and control the use and operation of jet skis and other mechanically propelled sport and leisure craft in their areas. It also provides for increases in penalties, including a provision for on-the-spot fines and for the seizure and detention of craft suspected to be involved in serious offences. This further strengthening of the law against the improper operation of fast powered watercraft will significantly enhance public safety and amenity and protect natural and other heritage areas.

Mr. Broughan:  I join my colleague in Fine Gael in commending the Minister on bringing forward the legislation at long last. As a water sports enthusiast, he has brought forward some other important measures to deal with water safety. On behalf of the Labour Party, I sympathise with the families of the two young men who drowned on Sunday.

It will not be possible to get this legislation through the Oireachtas in the next two weeks. It would have been good to have had it on the Statute Book for the summer season. In regard to the passage of by-laws, I believe the previous legis[270]lation referred to had some strong points but varying attitudes were taken by local authorities. Does the legislation mean there will be a uniform approach to the use of jet skis and other such vehicles which will be strictly implemented by the Minister’s Department?

Mr. D. Ahern:  I thank the Deputy for his remarks. Up to now, nine local authorities and three port companies have brought in by-laws and regulations for the use of jet skis. I would have liked it to have been more by now. That is one of the reasons we are bringing forward the legislation, namely, to have a uniform approach throughout the country. When we examined the different types of regulations brought in, we saw there were inconsistencies and different treatment between local authorities. I regret that we cannot get the legislation passed sooner as it would increase the fines and strengthen the existing regime. However, I would not like it thought that we do not have a legislative regime in this respect because we do. There is a responsibility on local authorities to bring forward these regulations as soon as possible.

Mr. Kehoe:  In my county of Wexford there is a major problem with the use of jet skis in Courtown where the beach is very populated during the summer. Parents and users of the beach are concerned about the use of jet skis at sea which could be the cause of accidents. The use of jet skis on rivers is also a problem in the county, of which the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, will be aware.

Fishermen are complaining about jet skis being used on the River Slaney where there is fishing activity and where nets have been laid down. Will the Minister introduce legislation or otherwise so that jet skis can only be used on certain parts of the river? Is it up to the local authorities to police this?

Mr. D. Ahern:  The legislation will take care of the type of situations to which the Deputy referred. I have come across gardaí who have intervened where jet skis have been used dangerously in my area. I compliment the Garda Síochána on intervening in this regard. As the Deputy said, some people are concerned about the use of jet skis. I exhort anyone who has a jet ski to use it in such a way that it does not put themselves or others in danger.

  8.  Ms McManus     asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the steps being taken to protect consumers, particularly children, being targeted by pornographers when third generation mobile phones come on stream; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19206/04]

Mr. D. Ahern:  I understand the Deputy’s concern in regard to this matter. However, legislation [271]already exists to tackle this problem and will apply to 3G services. It is an offence under the section 13 of the Post Office (Amendment) Act 1951 as amended by the Postal and Telecommunications Services Act 1983 to send by phone any message or other matter which is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character. It is also an offence under section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 to harass a person by use of a telephone. Anyone who has information regarding these matters should bring it immediately to the attention of the Garda Síochána for criminal investigation. Such offences are not the responsibility of ComReg. My colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, is responsible for policy on the protection of children from the transmission of pornographic images by telephones and other media.

I recently launched an industry code of practice and a parental guide developed by the Irish Cellular Industry Association. The code of practice establishes the standards that mobile operators will adhere to on the issues of parental controls for minors’ access to mobile services; malicious or offensive person-to-person communications; unsolicited commercial communications, such as spam; Internet access; and premium-rate services.

The parental guide advises parents on gaining dual control of their child’s mobile, recommends action that may be taken to prevent or best protect their child from abuse of available services, and details existing legislative protection.

I fully support any such voluntary measures by the industry that seek to protect consumers, particularly the young and vulnerable. I have offered the co-operation of my staff in the development of further safeguards. The industry has assured me that the protection of young and vulnerable users is a mutual priority.

Officials in my Department have already held discussions with the Irish Cellular Industry Association, licensed operators and ComReg, on the feasibility of introducing a registration system for pre-paid 3G mobile services. The principal aim of any such approach would be to enhance the traceability of origin of inappropriate content transmitted to vulnerable users. Consideration of the legal and technical issues surrounding this proposal will continue in consultation with all interested parties, including the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Data Protection Commissioner.

Mr. Broughan:  The Minister made a number of recent statements about concerns that have been raised in this House and in the media concerning the transmission of pornography on 3G telephones, particularly to children. Is the Minister now saying definitively that there will be a full registration system for all 3G handsets as the network gets under way later in the year? The Minister has had discussions with the Irish Cellular [272]Industry Association and has launched an industry code of practice but is he saying definitively that we will have registration? Such registration is critically necessary, given the view expressed by the Minister some months ago concerning the general situation with mobile telephones.

What action does the Minister intend to take about video pornography or graphic spamming on mobile telephones? I understand that in other countries where 3G systems have begun, such material has been used intensively as a marketing tool. Given recent international meetings between apparently respectable mobile telephone companies and elements of the pornography industry, will the Minister act decisively in this area?

Mr. D. Ahern:  None of the mobile operators in Ireland offers adult content services and they have already stated clearly that it is not their intention to ever target particularly vulnerable people in this respect. The advent of 3G telephones which will come on the market towards the end of this year or more likely in the new year, will lead to much greater possibilities for the transmission of unwanted material across telecommunications technology. As we have seen with the Internet, it is an extremely difficult matter to police. We have been having discussions with all the various players about the issue of registration of 3G telephones and those discussions are ongoing. It is my preference, and my Department is of the view also, that there should be a registration system but I am open to other suggestions as to what can be done in this respect.

As I have already stated, if any further legislation is required I will bring it forward. All of this has yet to be finally decided upon but we are holding discussions about it with the Irish Cellular Industry Association, the licence operators and ComReg.

  9.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    his views on the implications for energy policy of the recent suggestion from the chairman of the ESB that the company would require a double-digit increase in electricity prices in 2005; the amount of the dividend to be paid by the ESB to the Government in 2004; if the Government has considered forfeiting any of this dividend in order to reduce the financial pressure on the company and avert the need for an increase; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19193/04]

Mr. D. Ahern:  I am aware that the chairman of the ESB, when recently announcing the 2003 financial results of the company, intimated that higher electricity prices could be a possibility in the short term given the increase in oil, gas and coal prices over the past six years. However, I do not have a function concerning the pricing of electricity. The Commission for Energy Regu[273]lation was given responsibility for regulating ESB tariffs to its franchise customers under the European Communities (Internal Market in Electricity) Regulations 2000. Previously, the ESB would, by custom and practice, have sought Government approval before increasing its tariffs.

The CER set about a process of rebalancing tariffs ahead of full market opening in 2005, which is required to ensure that all tariffs fully reflect the cost of supplying different categories of customers and to prevent the under-recovery of generation costs. I am advised that the CER has commenced its review of the tariffs to apply from 1 January 2005 and it intends to announce the outcome of this review in September next.

The operations of State companies such as the ESB are increasingly taking place in the context of liberalised competitive markets and they are also increasingly engaged in activities outside their core business. In these circumstances, it is appropriate that they pay dividends to their shareholders out of their profits.

The Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Act 2001, while providing for the establishment of an employee share ownership plan, ESOP, also repealed the company’s break-even mandate which had existed since 1927. This, in essence, means that the ESB may declare and pay dividends in a manner akin to a commercial public limited company.

An agreement was reached between the ESB, the Department of Finance and my own Department on the question of ESB dividends. The agreement provided for a payment of 25% of profits for 2002, growing to 33% by 2005. It should, however, be pointed out that decisions on annual dividend payments to shareholders are ultimately a matter for the board of the ESB.

As regards the 2003 results, the board declared a total dividend of €67.1 million for the year. Some 95% of that amount, €63.7 million, is appropriate to the Exchequer and the remaining €3.4 million, representing 5%, is appropriate to the ESB ESOP.

The CER allows reasonable returns in the regulated segment of the ESB’s business. There is no direct link between the CER’s decision on prices and the ability of the company to pay dividends. In the circumstances, the question of forfeiture by the State of its portion of the 2003 dividend payment is not on the agenda.

Mr. Broughan:  Deputies were disappointed that the Minister was not present in the Chamber for the recent debate on Second Stage of the ESB Bill. His presence would have given us an opportunity to discuss with him in detail the future shape of the electricity market. Is it not true that the €67 million dividend operates as another stealth tax on consumers? The Minister needs to examine this in the context of future pricing, given that during his time in office we have seen a massive 29% increase in electricity prices, which amounts to a price explosion. There is a threat of [274]more price increases to come, particularly concerning the Kyoto accords.

Last weekend was a bad time to be the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, given the bad news about the interconnector to the UK. The Commission for Energy Regulation has asked the Minister to scrap one of the two interconnectors. In the near future we could be threatened not just with amber alerts but also with blackouts because the workforce might withdraw its labour due to major industrial relations concerns. The crux of these concerns is the fact that workers, business, industry and consumers do not know what the Minister intends to do about the electricity market because he will not tell us.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy is widening the scope of his question.

Mr. Broughan:  The likelihood is that when next we meet we will have another Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy has exceeded the one-minute limit allowed for his supplementary question.

Mr. Broughan:  We will never know what Deputy Dermot Ahern felt about the most important part of his portfolio.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy has taken nearly two minutes.

Mr. D. Ahern:  As usual, the Deputy is talking through his hat. The fact is that the taxpayer owns 95% of the ESB. Is the Deputy saying that the taxpayer should forgo a dividend in circumstances where that dividend can be used in general taxation to fund schools, roads and hospitals? This company is making a reasonable profit and we should be encouraging companies to do so. It is a pity more semi-State companies are not performing as well as this one.

Mr. Broughan:  Others are too.

Mr. D. Ahern:  The Labour Party appears to want it every way. The party should spell out how else we would get this money if not by means of the dividend.

The interconnector project has not been abandoned. That was a totally erroneous headline. I made it clear at the outset that the CER should investigate the possibilities of a merchant or revenue generating operation. There has been huge interest in the building of the interconnector or interconnectors. Although some companies will state we should only proceed with one at this time, it is Government policy that we proceed with two.

Mr. Broughan:  Will the Minister tell the CER?

[275]Mr. D. Ahern:  I will listen to the experts in regard to whether we should build one at this time, with a view to building a second.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We must proceed to the next question.

Mr. D. Ahern:  Nonetheless, this is a significant development and I would not wish it to go out that the Government is not behind the building of an interconnector, because it is.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We have exceeded the time allotted for this question.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  May I ask just one question?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  A short question, very briefly.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  The information from the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources is that gas prices will increase significantly in the short term no matter what happens on the world market because the long-term contracts into which Ireland entered are unfortunately coming to an end. Given that fact, what will the energy companies do to keep prices down if we do not raise prices? The Minister stated that the ESB is engaged in outside core business activities. Will he outline what those activities are?

Mr. D. Ahern:  If we could get the Corrib gas on stream it would help.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Preferably safely.

Mr. D. Ahern:  In that context, perhaps the Deputy will get some of his cohorts to withdraw their unreasonable objections to it.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  The objections are totally reasonable.

Mr. D. Ahern:  In such circumstances, we might as a nation become self-sufficient in gas, which would reduce gas prices, particularly if we can discover more and more indigenous gas.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Will the Minister answer the question?

Mr. D. Ahern:  The ESB is involved in wind and other renewable energy projects and is investing in generation in other countries, thereby increasing its portfolio. Thankfully, all the company’s decisions have been profitable for taxpayers and have lead to the company’s increased profits.

  10.  Mr. Sargent     asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if the proposed renovations to Moneypoint power station will allow for any amount of wood [276]biomass material to be included in the fuel mix for the plant; and if so the type and amount of wood material that can be used. [19313/04]

Mr. D. Ahern:  The matter of the type of fuel that can be used in Moneypoint electricity generating station is a technical matter for the ESB and not one in which I have a function. However, it is my understanding that the Moneypoint plant operates as a 915 MW coal-fired generating station, with a capacity to switch to heavy fuel-oil in exceptional circumstances such as when coal supplies are not available.

The company formally submitted to my Department on Friday, 25 June 2004 its proposals in regard to the future operation of the plant in light of obligations imposed under the EU large combustion plant and the national emission ceiling directives. The obligations under these directives must be met by 2008 and 2010, respectively.

The company’s proposals entail the installation of additional specialised equipment to reduce significantly the existing levels of sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions in line with the obligations under the directives already referred to. The proposals also include an element of renewal and upgrading of existing parts of the station to ensure the plant’s continued operation for an extended period beyond its current projected lifetime until around the year 2020.

As far as I am aware, the proposed works to be carried out on Moneypoint will not change the plant from being a primarily coal-fired generating station, as is currently the case. The question of whether the renovations will allow for the burning of fuels or materials other than coal or heavy fuel-oil is a technical matter for the company and not one in which I have a function.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Given that the Minister has a role in reducing our CO2 emissions and that the plant upgrade will not do so, since we will not benefit from the 3.5 million tonne reduction in CO2 predicted for Moneypoint in the national climate change strategy, will he not instruct the company to make it a condition of any future operation of the plant that it includes a percentage of wood material which is CO2 neutral? When will the Department take a technical view on this matter?

Mr. D. Ahern:  The ESB’s proposals came to the Department last Friday and are being examined. The proposals will be brought before the Cabinet to make a decision in regard to approval. It is not for the Government to decide what can or cannot be used, it is a matter entirely for the ESB.

Mr. Broughan:  Is the Minister concerned about the pension deficit of €510 million published in the ESB’s recent annual report which, according to accountants, the FRS17 provision may increase to €900 million? Does he have concerns about this level of pension liability in a semi-State company?

[277]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is a separate question.

Mr. Broughan:  It is an additional question to the Minister.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy will have to table a separate question on that subject.

Mr. Broughan:  The Minister wants to answer it.

Mr. D. Ahern:  The Deputy could have asked the question in the context of the previous question.

  11.  Mr. M. Higgins    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if his attention has been drawn to the long-standing campaign by organisations representing citizens with a hearing disability for 100% subtitling of television programmes by 2010; the steps he intends to take to ensure equality of viewing rights for all citizens; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19195/04]

  254.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    his policy on the development of subtitled television broadcasts to allow persons with poor hearing to enjoy the full benefit of television programmes; and if he envisages introducing legal obligations on broadcasters to fulfil targets in this regard. [19465/04]

Mr. D. Ahern:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 and 254 together.

Section 19(11) of the Broadcasting Act 2001 provides that the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland shall make rules requiring each broadcaster to take specified steps to promote the understanding and enjoyment by persons who are deaf or hard of hearing on programmes transmitted by each broadcaster.

As the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland is a statutorily independent body, I have no day-to-day role in the making of those rules. However, my Department has requested the commission to give priority to this work. I understand the commission’s work is now well advanced. The commission held a number of forum style meetings involving the various interested parties in the final quarter of last year.

The format of the consultative process was decided on by the commission having consulted with interested organisations representing people who are deaf or hard of hearing. I understand that the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland is now nearing the end of its work which is now focused on finalising access rules. While I do not have a role in drawing up the rules that would apply to both broadcasters licensed by the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland and to RTE, I am in agreement with the principle established in the Broadcasting Act 2001 that people who are deaf or hard of hearing should have improved access [278]to broadcast services and that this access should be formally provided for by the broadcast regulator, the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland.

I also welcome the commitment by RTE to increase the subtitling of home-produced programming at peak time on RTE 1 and Network 2. As part of a four-year plan RTE has committed to continuing to increase the number of hours of home-produced programming with subtitling at peak time from 620 hours in 2002 to 1,116 by 2006. This represents an increase of 80% over the period.

Mr. Broughan:  I recently met members of the Irish Hard of Hearing Association on behalf of the Labour Party. I was a little shocked and taken aback by their presentation, particularly in regard to the performance of some Irish broadcasters such as TV3, on which subtitling is practically non-existent. The association gave credit to RTE, particularly RTE One, for achieving an 80% standard, but pointed out that we should emulate the BBC and other British commercial stations on which there is a major take-up of facilities for people who are hard of hearing or deaf.

Does the Minister agree this is a fundamental equality issue? Does he further agree it is time, rather than throwing the issue to another quango or to the BCI as regulator, for him to take a political decision and state that we will have 100% subtitling on all our TV stations by 2009 or 2010? We want that standard because it is an equality issue. It should be done.

Mr. D. Ahern:  It is not for me to make a political decision in this respect.

Mr. Broughan:  The Minister is a politician.

Mr. D. Ahern:  The Deputy was a Member when the Broadcasting Act 2001, supported by the Labour Party, was passed.

Mr. Broughan:  We tried to amend it and we failed.

Mr. D. Ahern:  Section 19(11) requires the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland to make rules regarding subtitling requiring each broadcaster to take specific steps to promote the understanding and enjoyment by persons who are hard of hearing of programmes transmitted. The Deputy cannot have it every way.

Mr. Broughan:  We tried to amend it but the Minister would not let us.

Mr. D. Ahern:  As usual the Labour Party wants to have it every way. The Deputy is giving out about quangos. It was set up by the Labour Party. The Oireachtas gave it the power to makes these rules independently of the political process. I fully accept RTE. The beauty of a public service broadcaster is that it responds much better than the private sector to issues such as this. One of the reasons I brought forward RTE’s charter was [279]to include the guiding principles for which the taxpayer will get a return for the investment being made in the licence fee. It was a pity the Labour Party did not make a submission to the consultation process when the charter was going through. The Deputy could have made all those points in the submission.

Mr. Crowe:  The Minister said this is a priority issue for the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland. When will it be implemented? Is the Minister aware the hard of hearing and the deaf are interested in politics and that many have difficulty following “Oireachtas Report”? What is the priority? Is there a lack of will or is it a matter of cost?

Mr. D. Ahern:  The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland undertook significant consultation in this respect. It had a number of fora chaired by Kieran Mulvey on 7 and 25 November 2003, 11 December 2003 and 14 January 2004. These fora were attended by representatives of the indigenous broadcasters, ComReg, cable operators, the Irish Deaf Society, the Irish Hard of Hearing Association, the National Association of Deaf People and the National Council for the Blind. A series of bilateral and technical sub-committee meetings were also held. These are being evaluated. The work is well advanced.

Mr. Broughan:  When?

Mr. D. Ahern:  The consultation document is being prepared for issue to the public in July 2004. Under the legislation, the commission is required, by statute, to make available to the public a copy of any of the draft rules for inspection. It is proposed, in addition to a public notice on radio regarding the consultation, the draft rules should be circulated to a wide range of organisations, groups and individuals and, thereafter, the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland will make a decision. The timeframe for the consultation is July to mid-September with consideration of responses by the commission in October 2004. It hopes to have the access rules come into effect before December 2004.

  12.  Mr. Hayes    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the meetings he has had in the past year regarding the development of the Corrib gas field; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19292/04]

Mr. Browne:  I have organised no meetings regarding the proposed development of the Corrib gas field in the past year.

The Deputy will be aware from previous replies that the Corrib gas field project has been the subject of lengthy planning processes over the past two years. These processes are not complete and An Bord Pleanála is currently considering a [280]number of objections lodged following the granting of planning permission by Mayo County Council in respect of the proposed gas terminal at Bellanaboy. No representations have been made to me by the developers over the past year seeking meetings with me in respect of any aspects of the Corrib development.

A meeting took place on 19 September 2003 at which the Taoiseach and a number of Ministers were present. This meeting was requested by Shell. The Shell representatives took the opportunity to brief the Taoiseach and Ministers on the then state of the project and the concerns of the company regarding the planning and appeal process regarding the Bellanaboy site. No other meetings between the company and myself have occurred in the period referred to in the question. In the past year my Department has had a total of six meetings with Shell regarding the Corrib development.

Mr. Kehoe:  What assurances has the Minister of State given to the developers, Shell, prior to the matter going to An Bord Pleanála? Has he met objectors and environmental groups in Mayo during the past two years? I understand the Minister of State said he had no meetings with the developers but has he met any of the environmental groups in Mayo and, if so, did he give them any undertakings? When is it expected the matter will come back from An Bord Pleanála? If the outcome of the planning issues is positive for developers what will be the next step for the Department?

Mr. Browne:  I did not make any commitments to Shell nor did I meet any of the environmental groups from Mayo. As the Deputy is aware, Shell submitted a planning application to Mayo County Council on 17 December 2003. Planning permission was granted by Mayo County Council on 30 April 2004 for a gas terminal with 75 conditions. The decision by Mayo County Council was appealed to An Bord Pleanála by 14 parties. Shell also lodged an appeal regarding some of the conditions. The matter is now with An Bord Pleanála and I have no intention of getting involved with that body. We await its decision.

Mr. Kehoe:  Did any other public representatives from the county involved attend the meeting in December 2003?

Mr. Browne:  At the meeting with the Taoiseach and the chief executive of Shell on 19 September 2003 were the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen.

Mr. Kehoe:  There was no public representative from the county involved at that meeting.

  13.  Mr. Kehoe     asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the plans his Department has for the site owned by his Department in Ferrybank, County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19293/04]

Mr. Browne:  The site at Ferrybank consists of reclaimed foreshore. This reclamation took place as part of the works connected with the Wexford main drainage scheme and involved the deposition at Ferrybank of material that had been dredged or excavated elsewhere in the harbour.

The lease that was granted under the Foreshore Acts to authorise the deposition of the dredge spoil and other material at Ferrybank has expired. In those circumstances and as the area concerned now consists of reclaimed foreshore, the land in question is State property within the meaning of the State Property Act 1954. The Foreshore Acts do not apply to it.

I am conscious that the land occupies a strategically important location within Wexford Harbour. Accordingly, I view it as essential that an appropriate use is identified for the area that will integrate well with overall plans for the harbour area and Wexford generally. I understand the Office of Public Works is considering the area in question, along with a number of other possible alternatives, as a potential location for the proposed new headquarters of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I am advised also that the Wexford local authorities have given preliminary consideration to the possible use of part of the area for amenity and related purposes.

In view of this interest and given the location of the land in question, I believe there are good prospects for the early identification of an appropriate form of beneficial use for the land in question.

Mr. Kehoe:  I welcome the fact that this site is being considered as a potential location for the proposed new headquarters of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when it moves to Wexford. This would make an excellent site. However, certain conditions would have to be laid down before any building takes place on the site.

The Minister of State will be well aware it was invaded by wealthy business people, namely, Travellers, on the last bank holiday weekend. Wexford County Council has stated this site will not be used again by Travellers or convoys. The use of the site on the last bank holiday weekend had serious repercussions for the business people and the adjoining River Bank Hotel, which had to close that weekend. Who paid for the clean up operation on the site? Did the Department incur any of the expenditure, through Wexford County Council, because it owns the site or did the council incur the full cost?

[282]When does the Minister of State think we will receive an answer from his Department and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on a deal with the OPW if the new decentralisation package is to be put in place and the building constructed on the site in question?

  4 o’clock

Mr. Browne:  I hope the OPW will make a decision quickly on the site in question and allow us to locate the headquarters of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government there. I welcome the fact that Deputy Kehoe is in favour of decentralisation given the comments of his Leader and deputy leader on “Morning Ireland” recently, both of whom appear to be totally opposed to it.

Mr. D. Ahern:  They are trying to have it every way.

Mr. Durkan:  The Minister should get off the platform. Fianna Fáil cannot have it every way either. In the budget the party cannot make promises it cannot or does not intend to keep. It is about time the party came clean on that and cut out the nonsense.

Mr. D. Ahern:  Fine Gael Deputies say one thing here and then go home where they say something else. They are hypocrites.

Mr. Browne:  Shortly after the recent site invasion, I attended a meeting in Wexford with representatives of the OPW, Wexford County Council and my departmental officials to see what co-operative measures could be put in place to resolve the difficulty. Wexford County Council is seeking proposals on security measures for the site and we hope decisions will be made shortly. I am sure the council in conjunction with the OPW and my Department will discuss the issue of costs. I read in a newspaper last week that Wexford County Council has paid approximately €50,000 to clean up the site but I am not sure who will ultimately bear the cost.

  14.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    when he intends to bring proposals to Government to establish TG4 as an independent statutory entity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19213/04]

Mr. D. Ahern:  TG4 is primarily an Irish language television station. It first broadcast on 31 October 1996 and is currently part of the RTE family of services. While the station is overseen by Comhairle Teilifís na Gaeilge, a body appointed by the RTE authority, the programme for Government featured a commitment to support the development of Irish language broadcasting and establish TG4 as a separate statutory body. TG4 provides a comprehensive range of [283]programmes primarily in the Irish language which reflect the cultural diversity of the whole island. These include programmes which entertain, inform and educate, cover sporting, religious and cultural activities and cater for the expectations of all age groups in the community whose preferred spoken language is Irish or who otherwise have an interest in Irish. TG4 also provides news and current affairs programming primarily in the Irish language and covers proceedings in the Houses of the Oireachtas and the European Parliament. Furthermore, the station facilitates contemporary cultural expression and encourages and promotes innovation and experimentation in broadcasting.

While TG4 is primarily funded from grant-in-aid by my Department, it receives income from advertising. Section 47 of the Broadcasting Act 2001 provides for one hour of programming to be provided by RTE to TG4 each day. Provision of approximately €24 million in grant-in-aid has been made for TG4 in 2004. The Broadcasting Act 2001 provides for the establishment of TG4 as an independent statutory entity and I intend to bring forward proposals shortly to give effect to the commitment in the programme for Government in this regard.

Mr. Broughan:  At exactly this time last year, the Minister’s progress report on the programme for Government indicated that proposals would shortly be brought forward to establish TG4 as a separate statutory body. “Shortly” has now become 13 months. When does the Minister intend to bring forward the necessary legislation? Is it the case that the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland Bill must first be introduced to allow the Minister to see the overall shape of public service broadcasting or has the Minister given any thought to this scenario?

In his progress report, the Minister referred in the context of Irish language broadcasting to the 5% fund. Does the Minister have any details and figures on the operation of the fund? How much has been drawn down and how much will be used for Irish language programming?

Mr. D. Ahern:  I suggest the Deputy should put down a separate question on the 5% fund. I understand that the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland is bringing forward as part of its duties details of a draft scheme on the disbursement of the fund.

There has been a slow down on the decision to establish TG4 as a separate statutory entity due to the fairly dramatic decisions we have made on foot of the licence fee increase. We have now decided strategically to bring forward a Broadcasting Authority of Ireland Bill whereby RTE will be subject to the same regulation as independent operators. Funding into the future is also an issue for TG4. Additional costs which may be incurred when the station leaves the RTE umbrella organisation must be considered.

[284]Mr. Broughan:  The Minister mentioned Comhairle Teilifís na Gaeilge in his reply. Does he intend to establish a separate authority in the independent statutory system or will the broadcasting authority have responsibility for all broadcasting when it takes over from the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland? We all agree that TG4 has done an outstanding job on the reporting of the proceedings of the Houses of the Oireachtas and politics generally. Given its past achievements, does the Minister envisage a special role for TG4 in the projected Irish parliament channel about which we have talked on some committees dealing with broadcasting?

Mr. D. Ahern:  I agree with Deputy Broughan that TG4 has an exemplary record which is one of the reasons we wish it to be established as a separate entity. I expect the station will operate under a Broadcasting Authority of Ireland Act or pre-existing legislation as a separate commercial entity. TG4 has been reasonably successful in promoting the Parliament and I encourage it to proceed on that basis.

  15.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the number of wind energy sites that have received grant aid from his Department in the past year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19289/04]

Mr. D. Ahern:  Building of renewable energy based electricity generating plants is supported by my Department under the alternative energy requirement programme, AER VI. According to the underlying principle of this competitive process, prospective generators are invited to make a formal application to build, own and operate newly installed renewable energy based electricity generating plant and to supply electricity to the ESB under a power purchase agreement of up to 15 years. Prospective generators who submit the lowest bids in each category are offered contracts up to the available capacity. Under the most recent competitions, AER V and AER VI, which were launched in 2001 and 2003 respectively, there was no grant-aid associated with the offers of contracts. Although my Department has not provided grant aid to any wind energy site in the past year, there may be project investors who continue to enjoy tax benefits under section 486B of the Finance Act 1997 as inserted in 1998.

Sustainable Energy Ireland administers a renewable energy research, development and demonstration programme which has an overall budget of €16.25 million to 2006. The programme is open to all renewable energy technologies and covers policy studies, field research, feasibility studies and technology research, development and demonstration proposals. The programme aims to stimulate deployment of renewable energy technologies close to market and address information and education needs to raise the [285]awareness and willingness of all relevant players to actively engage in the market. The main focus of the programme is on stimulating increased application and deployment of renewable energy technologies. While Sustainable Energy Ireland has approved two wind energy projects for funding under the programme, neither has received any payment as state-aid clearance must first be obtained from the European Commission.

Mr. Kehoe:  As a strong supporter of wind energy, I welcome the alternative energy programme. However, smaller operators which have received planning permission and funding are unable to obtain contracts under AER VI. The people who are trying to develop wind energy production must be looked after in some way.

Mr. D. Ahern:  I agree that a strong element of the Government’s policy is to increase the number of renewable energy projects and the AER VI contract situation has brought forward a considerable number of those. Matters have slowed somewhat because of the moratorium, but that has been lifted. In conjunction with the various players involved, I recently set up a renewable energy forum, which is meeting as we speak, to bring forward an agreement between all the operators and interests on the way forward, especially in terms of the significant technical issues. I am glad to report that significant progress has been made by the group.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Does the Minister agree that, given the developments of the past year in wind turbine technology which allow turbines to ride through any fault in the grid system and to assist the grid operator in terms of voltage and frequency consistency, the stated level of wind generated electricity we could take, which was stated as 800 MW by the Minister in committee, now looks to be a cautious figure? Given the new technology breakthrough, we could now take 2,000 MW or 3,000 MW on to our system. Has the Minister or the Department taken an official position on that?

At the Select Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources last week the ESB admitted that its innovative and welcome Kish bank development has severe difficulty in getting off the ground and looks like it will not be built within the timeframe specified under the terms of AER VI. If an operator who has been offered an AER VI contract is clearly unable to meet the deadlines, will the Department wait until the end of the timeframe it set out or, where it is clear a project is not being developed sufficiently quickly, will it intervene and reallocate the AER VI funding to a different operator?

Mr. D. Ahern:  We have brought forward a consultation process to decide where we move following the success of the AER VI programme. I would like to think we will move to a new system [286]of awarding contracts or enticing new projects into the system.

I accept that, with new technology and better understanding of the complex technical issues, it is possible to put extra capacity on the grid. While my aspirations are one matter, we must be cautious to ensure that we do not cause blackouts because of the huge amount of wind energy being put on the system. That would cause difficulty in time of need.

Dr. Cowley:  I know six jobs will be created from what will possibly be the largest wind farm in the world, Bellacorick. However, given that 300 people will lose their jobs in the area and that three new peat burning plants will open in the midlands, what plans has the Minister for those 300 people in Mayo? An independent report is needed. The peat is available in Mayo, which could ensure Bellacorick would stay open or perhaps a new station could be provided like in the midlands where there are three new stations.

Will the Minister stop the destruction of acid drains to make way for a wind farm which will only employ six people while 300 people are made redundant? Will he allow an independent report to be carried out to prove Bellacorick peat plant could continue or that a new peat plant should be built for the west which is the most socio-economically deprived area in Ireland? Will he ensure the destruction of the drains is stopped so that whatever is in Bellacorick can be preserved to allow a new power station to be developed for the people of the west who need it more than those in the midlands?

Mr. Crawford:  Will the Minister indicate to the House when small operators can expect to receive the go-ahead for their wind farms? They have spent money and need to know when they can begin.

Mr. D. Ahern:  These are issues for the national grid, Eirgrid, and for the particular project people. The moratorium has been lifted and I would like to see some progress in the area.

With regard to the issues raised by Dr. Cowley, these are commercial decisions which are made by ESB and I have no involvement in that respect.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 21 and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy Ó Caoláin — the need for the Minister to take urgent action in a case to grant a family reunification visa to an eleven-year-old girl (details supplied) whose parents are legally resident in Ireland; (2) Deputy Ó Snodaigh — the urgent need for the Minister to grant a school (details supplied) disadvantaged status as it is the [287]only school in an area of disadvantage not to have such status; (3) Deputy Ring — to ask the Minister the current position with regard to a school (details supplied) in County Mayo; (4) Deputy Finneran — the need for the Minister to address the proposed refurbishment and extension at a school in Roscommon (details supplied); (5) Deputy Crawford — to ask the Minister for Health and Children to take immediate action to ensure that sufficient money is available for home help or home care and that the people providing this work get a proper mileage allowance; (6) Deputy McGinley — to ask the Minister the reason he dismissed the chairperson of the Civil Defence board last week; (7) Deputy Pat Breen — to ask the Minister the current position with regard to the Quilty, Scariff and Feakle sewerage schemes; (8) Deputy Neville — orthodontic services in mid-western region; (9) Deputy Glennon — the proposed sale by the Dublin Port Authority to private buyers of the harbours at Balbriggan and Skerries; (10) Deputy Cowley — to ask the Minister to examine the situation where a planned extension at a school (details supplied) to the value of €100,000 will fail to address the present and future needs of the school; and (11) Deputy Joe Higgins — to raise with the Minister the concern over the case of a person (details supplied).

The matters raised by Deputies McGinley, Glennon, Crawford and Ó Caoláin have been selected for discussion.

Mr. Kenny:  The Tánaiste and her party’s members have consistently portrayed themselves as the defenders of the people from the wrath of Fianna Fáil in Government and the standards that party would bring about if it was on its own in Government. Her party’s members tell us constantly that the Progressive Democrats Party is in Government to keep Government clean.

The Tánaiste failed to prevent the sweetheart deal on Punchestown between two Fianna Fáil Ministers or the mismanagement of the electronic voting by the Fianna Fáil director of elections. In the past month we have seen a litany of breaches of ethics by Fianna Fáil representatives. We saw the misuse of Department facilities by the Minister for Education and Science, for which he has apologised, the misuse by the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Fahey, of facilities within the Tánaiste’s Department, reports in the national press of Fianna Fáil election literature being stapled to voting cards and the misuse of the diplomatic bag to issue to foreign affairs personnel throughout the world a letter signed by the Taoiseach, a facility only made available to the Taoiseach’s party. Now we learn of approximately 2,000 letters with the forged signature of the Taoiseach, for which a Fianna Fáil councillor has accepted responsibility.

[288]Last week the Tánaiste, when under pressure, spoke of quitting office and stated that she would not be pushed. Is there no limit to her tolerance? Is there anything her partners in Government could get up to that would force her to walk away or stand up to the Taoiseach and remove herself from the trappings of office? Does the Tánaiste not recognise that these consistent trends give a clear indication that the Progressive Democrats Party in Government has been steamrolled by Fianna Fáil and that her party is far removed from keeping the country clean, something she said she would do when she entered this coalition Government?

The Tánaiste:  I am not certain what the Deputy’s question is. The forged signature used by councillor Lorcan Allen was not a Government decision. I am not here to answer for how any party deals with misdemeanours of that kind. That is a matter for the Fianna Fáil Party, not Government.

The use of Oireachtas envelopes is governed by regulation. The Committee on Members’ Interests recently issued a code of conduct on their use. Perhaps the matter should be resolved there or by the Standards in Public Office Commission. I believe Oireachtas envelopes were used widely by a number of sides in this House in the recent local elections campaign. I have in my possession some letters sent out by Deputies seeking support, not all from the Government side.

Mr. Kenny:  I did not ask the Tánaiste about what was sent out to party members. I asked if she recognises the consistent trend. She said she was there to prevent Fianna Fáil from having single party Government and the kind of ethics it would bring to Government.

The decision to allocate €50 million to Punchestown was made between two Fianna Fáil Ministers in a Government of which the Tánaiste is a member. The decision to spend €40 million on electronic voting, which has turned into a complete and utter shambles, was made by the Government of which she is a member. There are other breaches of ethics by the Government of which she is a member. Does she understand her party is being steamrolled, as the smaller party in government, by the Government and that Fianna Fáil has no intention of standing clear of breaches of ethics of which there is a consistent and clear trend, for which some Ministers have been forced to come into the House to apologise? Does she regard forgery as a serious matter? It is a criminal offence——

Mr. Allen:  Not for Fianna Fáil.

Mr. Kenny:  ——which could be reported to the Garda. In that sense, if what happened in this instance happened under my leadership, that person would be expelled from the party.

[289]The Tánaiste:  Of course forging somebody’s signature is a serious offence and it is perhaps inevitably a matter for the Garda Síochána, but how parties are governed as political parties is not a matter for me in my capacity as Tánaiste and a member of the Government. The Deputy may not agree with some of the decisions made, for example, in regard to electronic voting, but they were honest decisions.

Mr. McCormack:  Not at all.

The Tánaiste:  They were not unethical decisions.

Mr. Durkan:  They were daft.

The Tánaiste:  They were not dishonest decisions.

Mr. Hayes:  They were bulldozed through.

Mr. English:  They were a waste of money.

Mr. Durkan:  One decision cost €60 million.

The Tánaiste:  Deputy Kenny may be of a view that the priorities should have been different and he is entitled to that view.

Mr. D. Ahern:  There was all-party agreement on it.

The Tánaiste:  They were not dishonest, unethical decisions——

(Interruptions).

The Tánaiste:  ——and I am sure Deputy Kenny will accept that. I believe that all my colleagues in Government operate to the highest possible standards.

(Interruptions).

The Tánaiste:  To be fair to the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, he apologised and clarified the position last week, and we should accept that.

Mr. O’Dowd:  The man beside the Tánaiste does not think so.

Mr. Rabbitte:  I have read that there is a black puma wandering around the Ceann Comhairle’s home area——

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is not an appropriate subject for a leader’s question.

Mr. Naughten:  It is only a pussycat.

Mr. Rabbitte:  I take this opportunity to make it clear that I had nothing to do with that.

Mr. Durkan:  The Deputy did not release him.

[290]Mr. Rabbitte:  I am authorised to tell the House that Deputy Stagg also wishes that the animal should be brought under control before, as Fluther Good would say, anything derogatory happens. I assure the Ceann Comhairle on that.

Mr. Kenny:  The Abattoirs Bill is due to come before the House.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Will the Government bring forward legislative proposals to implement the all-party committee on building land and, if so, when? We have had the report on this matter for a number of months but no action on foot of it has been taken by the Government despite the fact that since 1997 the price of houses has trebled from €97,000 in 1997 to €300,000 for an average new house today. As the Tánaiste is aware, the most recent figures show that 50% of all new families cannot afford a house of their own. They show that the number on the public housing waiting list has increased from 26,000 in 1996 to 60,000 now. We know that the price of a new house has increased at nine times the rate of inflation, at five times the rate of average earnings and at four times the increase in the cost of building a house. The single factor that is fuelling this spiral is the cost of building land. The contribution of the site cost to the cost of a house is between 40% and 50% while it was between 13% and 14% in the past.

For all these years the Government has prevaricated. It has not made an intervention that has not made the situation worse. The Taoiseach dawdled for three years indicating that a constitutional impediment might exist and that he might put forward a constitutional amendment. He did not do so, and the all-party committee has borne out the submission the Labour Party made to it. In other words, it is possible to intervene in the common good to control the cost of building land at current use value plus a premium.

What is delaying the Tánaiste in acting? She had no difficulty with the citizenship referendum in rushing an amendment through this House and the other House, yet no action has been taken on this, although the situation is getting worse. The all-party committee confirmed there was no constitutional impediment, notwithstanding the fact that the Government recruited further consultants, Goodbody consultants——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy must conclude.

Mr. Rabbitte:  ——who reported a number of months ago on who owns the building land around this city. I do not know why the Government would want to know that. It already knows, or if it does not, that information is available in Mount Street.

The Tánaiste:  It is true that one in every seven houses in this State was built in the past six or so years. Therefore, there is a major demand issue [291]in addition to the points raised by the Deputy. I share his view that we need to act on the all-part committee report. Windfall gains that owners of land or developers get as a result of a planning decision of a local authority should be bestowed more on the public or the community interest rather than on the personal interest of the landowner. I understand that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is reflecting on this report and he is due to bring proposals to Government. As the Deputy said, it is an all-party committee report. As he may be aware, the representative of my party on that committee supports action along the lines the Deputy suggests. I hope we will be in a position to do that relatively soon.

Mr. Rabbitte:  I am grateful to the Tánaiste for saying that her party supports it because when my party advocated it, the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, described the notion of capping the price of building land as “gift wrapped in an ideology somewhere to the left of Stalin”. That was the view of the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon.

Mr. Connaughton:  That is what was in his script.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Where the incidence of homelessness has doubled, the price of houses has trebled and the number on the waiting list is two and a half times the number who were on it in 1996, the only measures the Tánaiste’s party in government took was to abolish the first-time buyer’s grant, bring in tax incentives for investors, ensure rents were hiked, cut rent allowance and sabotage the affordable housing scheme. The Government was committed to the provision of 10,000 net additional new affordable and social houses under Sustaining Progress, not one of which has been built.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should conclude.

Mr. Rabbitte:  How long does it take the Tánaiste to confer on this subject when there are other matters she can railroad through this House at a few weeks’ notice?

The Tánaiste:  I am sure the Deputy is aware we made a number of interventions in the market to try to take the investors out and he knows what were the consequences of that — they drove up the price of rented property. One thing we have learnt is that there are no easy answers here and when one intervenes in the market, it does not always have the consequences one might desire.

I strongly favour the notion that windfall gains bestowed on owners of land as a result of a decision of a planning authority should not go simply to the owner of the land but rather to the public or the community interest. That is more or less along the lines of what the all-party committee suggests. We can legislate for that. For a long [292]time there was a view that a constitutional referendum was required in regard to property rights, but that does not now seem to be the legal position. I hope we will be in a position sooner rather than later to bring in the necessary legislation in this area.

Mr. J. Higgins:  After the EU-US summit in Dromoland Castle, the Taoiseach stated that questions about United States prison camps were answered to his and the Tánaiste’s satisfaction. Did Mr. Bush say that Guantanamo camp will be closed or is it to the Tánaiste’s satisfaction that psychological torture continues there on prisoners kept in cages with no charge, trial or access to relatives, friends or lawyer, although the Supreme Court decision of yesterday might change that somewhat? The Tánaiste’s colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, declared he was shocked at the torture in Guantanamo, which if he was serious about it — torture being a heinous crime — one might consider he might go and arrest the instigator rather than send 4,000 gardaí to give Mr. Bush safe passage through the Irish countryside? The truth is the Tánaiste’s colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, erected Guantanamo-style detention cages for protesters in Shannon Industrial Estate, which he tried to hide given that the Garda Commissioner refused me permission to inspect them on Saturday. One could call it the Minister’s very own “Shannonamo”. It represents a shameful episode in the security arrangements.

Was the real role of the Irish Presidency at this summit to whitewash the criminal invasion and occupation of Iraq? In giving credence to the sham handover, as it is called, has it not flown in the face of the instincts of the Irish people? Does the Tánaiste believe the Irish people believe sovereignty means sticking a bunch of hand-picked bureaucrats and CIA stooges in a palace and heavily policing their ministries with colonial administrators under a foreign occupying army? That is what she gave credence to at the weekend. She has shamed the people and, unfortunately, it might be believed that we agree with her.

The Tánaiste:  I certainly do not accept that. The Irish Government, on behalf of the European Union, welcomed to Ireland the President of the United States of America, who is the head of a country that has been extraordinarily friendly to this country and with which we have very close political, cultural and economic ties. There was a very frank discussion on the prisoner issues. I understand the President, at her meeting, also raised issues of concern to the Irish people in this regard, as did the Taoiseach at the bilateral meeting.

It is the intention to have direct, fair and free elections in Iraq in January 2005. The transition process is now under a UN mandate and we very much welcome that. Ireland, as a member state of the European Union, will play its part in help[293]ing to ensure the people of Iraq, who have suffered far too much, are in a position to have life return to normal as quickly as possible and, in particular, to have their own directly-elected government elected in a fair and free manner.

Mr. J. Higgins:  The Tánaiste did not answer the question. It had nothing to do with the close ties between the people of Ireland and the United States or with business or investment. I asked her in the first instance about legitimising a criminal invasion and occupation in which 10,000 people were slaughtered. Is it now the case that any country can do that and afterwards state it will move on and conduct business as usual? Is that the message the Tánaiste gave the US President?

The Tánaiste did not answer my question on prisoners. What is the position on the appalling civil rights abuses in Guantanamo Bay and in other United States bases? The Taoiseach said the Tánaiste was satisfied with the answers given by President Bush. What answers did he give? Will Guantanamo Bay and the other prisoner camps be closed? Are people to be given lawyers and put on trial? If we do not receive answers, we will draw the inference that the Tánaiste is satisfied that torture continues to be practised in prison bases by alleged western democracies.

The Tánaiste:  As the Deputy knows, we now have a UN mandate in Iraq. The Irish Government regretted all along that the United States intervened when it did without a UN mandate. We made that very clear, as the Deputy is aware.

On the prisoner issue, the President expressed his horror and disgust, as he did in public, at what happened in Abu Ghraib in Iraq. He said those responsible would be held responsible in an open and transparent fashion.

Mr. J. Higgins:  What about Guantanamo Bay?

The Tánaiste:  The Deputy may have seen that himself at the press conference. The US Supreme Court made a decision yesterday on Guantanamo Bay. Obviously, the rule of law will take its course. We have a different approach to some issues and I made that clear last week. However, that does not take from the fact that this country should always welcome the democratically-elected head of another friendly democracy. That is what we did, just as President Bush was recently welcomed to Italy and France, to Turkey this weekend and to many other places. We engaged in dialogue with the President on points on which we agreed and on points on which there is disagreement. That is the way it should be.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Before coming to the Order of Business, I propose to deal with a number of notices under Standing Order 31. I will call on the Deputies in the order in which they submitted their notices to my office.

[294]Mr. Neville:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss the following issue of urgent national importance: the strike by prison doctors which has caused the withdrawal of the prison medical services, including checks on the mental and physical health of prisoners on their entry to prison; in particular, the urgent need for psychiatric treatment for a woman who is on suicide watch in an isolated cell away from other inmates following her sentence for the murder of her seven year old son.

Mr. P. Breen:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss the following important issue: the need for the Government to defer the flawed State Airports Bill 2004, which will give the new Dublin Airport Authority control over the day-to-day running of Cork and Shannon airports until the end of April 2005, which in turn could be detrimental to the future development of the airports as there will be no representatives from Cork or Shannon on the board.

Mr. Connolly:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss the following matters of urgent national concern: the current position on the broadband diffusion plan of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources; the circumstances in which Eircom enjoys an exclusive monopoly in the provision of broadband to Eircom PhoneWatch subscribers; the inability of rival Internet service providers to circumvent the Eircom PhoneWatch alarm system to enable them to install broadband; the restrictive practice this creates and the physical and psychological barriers created to the further development of the telecommunications market in Ireland.

Mr. Naughten:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss the following matter of urgent national importance: after months of safety critical testing of the Luas trams, the Railway Procurement Agency has failed to receive the final approval of the interim Railway Safety Commission. As a consequence, there is an urgent need for the Minister for Transport to explain the reason for the failure of the Railway Procurement Agency to achieve this safety critical target.

Mr. Ferris:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss the drastic effects that rising fuel and other energy costs are having on farmers and fishermen as a consequence of fuel and energy prices outstripping the prices being received for produce, thus damaging income levels.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss the following specific and important matter of public interest: the very grave circumstances in the nursing sector, as shown by the startling fig[295]ures highlighted by the Irish Nurses’ Organisation, which indicate that the number of vacant nursing positions in the State will rise from 700 currently to over 2,000 in the next 18 months; the fact that 70% of nurses in training leave the system within two years of qualifying; the implications of this shortage for our beleaguered public health system; and the need for urgent and effective action by the Minister for Health and Children to address what is now a nursing crisis.

Mr. Sargent:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to ascertain the Government’s position on the flagrant breaches of legislation and guidelines pertaining to pre-paid Oireachtas envelopes following the evidence amassed from all around the country to the effect that candidates supporting Government parties in the main sent canvassing cards in such envelopes or, more famously, a forged letter purporting to be from the Taoiseach and signed by him seeking votes from the people of Gorey. What action will the Government parties take to uphold the law?

Mr. Morgan:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss the following specific and important matter of public interest: in light of the announcement of the closure of the Chapelcross nuclear power station in Scotland, the necessity to redouble our efforts to close the infamous neighbouring Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant; the failure of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to use the opportunity afforded by Ireland’s Presidency of the European Union to further efforts to bring about the closure of Sellafield — a golden opportunity squandered — and to work for the progressive realisation of a nuclear-free Europe; and the necessity to appoint a new Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, perhaps after the reshuffle, who would be more proactive on this issue.

Mr. Gormley:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss the following issue of urgent national importance: the fire on Sunday last at Dublin Port and the need for the Ministers for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to investigate the causes and to ensure the best safety procedures are put in place, including an examination of storage facilities, some of which are made of plastic, in order to avoid serious pollution and possible injury and loss of life in the future.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Having considered the matters raised, I do not consider them to be in order under Standing Order 31.

The Tánaiste:  The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 13, motion re proposed approval of Dáil Éireann of certain Acts of the 1999 Congress of the Universal Postal Union, back from committee; No. 14, motion re referral to select committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the transmission of natural gas by a second pipeline; No. 15, motion re proposed approval of Dáil Éireann of the Commission on Electronic Voting (Further Reports) Order 2004; No. 17, motion re Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill 1999; No. 23, National Monuments (Amendment) Bill 2004 — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; No. 24, Commissions of Investigation Bill 2003 — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; No. 25, State Airports Bill 2004 — Second Stage (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 10.30 p.m.; Nos. 13, 14, 15 and 17 shall be decided without debate; Report and Final Stages of No. 23 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 60 minutes tonight by one question 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 the Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Report and Final Stages of No. 24 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 9.30 p.m. tonight by one question 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 proceedings on the resumed Second Stage of No. 25 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 10.30 p.m. tonight. Private Members’ Business shall be No. 50, motion re disabled person’s grant scheme.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are five proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal regarding the late sitting agreed? Agreed.

Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 13, 14, 15 and 17 without debate agreed?

Mr. Kenny:  There is a change to the Order Paper I was handed coming in. No. 16 appears to have vanished. Perhaps it has something to do with Deputy Rabbitte’s reference to the puma in Monaghan because it referred to the approval by Dáil Éireann of the Abattoirs Act.

I object to No. 15 being taken without debate. This refers to electronic voting. The Government gave no notice of this motion although the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government contacted Deputy Allen by telephone. The commission produced an interim report on 29 April. We have not seen the final [297]report from the commission. The motion in the Minister’s name refers to actions recommended at paragraph 4-5 of the interim report but does not refer to the issues raised by the commission at paragraph 4-4. These issues were deemed not to be within the commission’s terms of reference but did, in the commission’s words, “have a bearing on the successful implementation of the system of elections in Ireland”. Included in those issues, as the Minister knows, was the absence of a voter verifiable audit trail. Other issues raised in paragraph 4-4 were the responsibility of returning officers and the distribution of surpluses under the electronic scheme.

The Minister should be asked to explain the introduction of a reference to a comparative assessment in this order. The Minister voted down Deputy Allen’s efforts to have a reference in the legislation to comparative analysis between the Nedap system and other systems. Are we now to assume that this is an admission that the lack of reference to comparisons was a serious omission from the commission’s initial terms of reference? On that basis, I am opposed to taking No. 15 without debate.

Mr. Rabbitte:  No. 16 has also fallen off my Order Paper. I do not know if there is any significance to that.

It is five years since we first heard about the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill. I understand that what is effectively a new Bill has been introduced by the Minister by way of amendment. What is the Government’s intention in respect of this Bill? Is it intended to seek to enact it between now and the end of session and will the House have an opportunity to examine what seems to be substantially a new Bill?

Mr. Cuffe:  It is difficult enough to get a copy of the order on electronic voting. We will not have a comparison between electronic and the existing manual system. At the heart of the order before the House is the need to have a comparative assessment of the secrecy and accuracy of the current system with the electronic system. We should see a comparison between the two systems.

We are not getting a voter verifiable audit trail, as Deputy Kenny has pointed out. We need to have that. Surely we need to widen the commission’s terms of reference to allow it to look at the issue of a voter verified audit trail.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I object to No. 14, the motion regarding the transmission of natural gas by a second pipeline, being taken without debate. I do not oppose the proposition, but we have not had a debate on this very important area of our oil and gas resources. This is against the backdrop of a sweetheart deal by a former Minister, Mr. Ray Burke, and the Shell company regarding the Corrib field off the western seaboard. We must recognise that this matter has not been substantively addressed by the House. There are huge issues to be addressed, including the terminal siting in Mayo and the sweetheart deal which allows Shell to pay the least contribution to the [298]Exchequer of any of the companies involved in oil and gas exploration globally and to continue unchecked. We are about to allow, without debate in the Dáil, a further proposition concerning the sourcing and resourcing of our own oil and gas requirements.

I wish also to speak about No. 15, the proposed approval of the Commission on Electronic Voting (Further Reports) Order 2004. The Minister, Deputy Cullen, did not contact my party colleague and spokesperson on the environment, Deputy Morgan, although he was in contact with other party spokespersons on the matter. Equality of treatment by the Minister’s office would be appreciated. However, the missive sent by the Chief Whip’s office talks about a comparative assessment of the secrecy and accuracy of the current system for voting at elections and referendums as against the proposed Nedap/
Powervote system of electronic voting. The current system——

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot have a debate on the matter——

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I am not debating. I am saying why the matter should be taken on the floor of the House.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We are debating whether or not the matter should be taken without debate.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  We have not had the opportunity since the local and European parliamentary elections to have a debate, discussion or analysis of the conduct of the recent elections. With regard to secrecy, it was the case——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is going well outside the scope of the debate on the matter before the House.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I do not think so, a Cheann Comhairle.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The matter before the House has nothing to do with secrecy in the recent elections.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  That is the explanatory note. Of course that is what it is.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We are debating proposals——

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  That is what the order entails.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Chair is speaking. We are debating the proposal that Nos. 13, 14, 15 and 17 be taken without debate. We are not debating the contents of them.

[299]Mr. Cuffe:  No. 15 is about the secrecy and accuracy——

An Ceann Comhairle:  This debate is not. It is about whether we should take the item without debate or not.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  There are real and serious concerns because of local authorities’ disposal of the traditional timber-framed polling booths that accorded real secrecy and their replacement with cardboard interfold units, which allow four people to vote at the same time in immediate proximity.

There is a question mark over this and we have not had an opportunity to debate it.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot have a debate on the matter now.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  These deficiencies require redress on the floor of this House.

The Tánaiste:  In the case of No. 16 relating to abattoirs licences, I do not know where it has gone. It was withdrawn by the Department of Agriculture and Food but I do not know why. On No. 15, the motion re electronic voting, I indicated on the Order of Business last Thursday, when Deputy Gilmore asked, that we will renew the order on the basis of legal advice that had just been brought to the Government’s attention. Deputy Allen agreed to take this matter without debate yesterday.

Mr. Allen:  I had not seen the order.

The Tánaiste:  If the Deputy wishes to press the matter we can provide time at 10.30 p.m. this evening and revise the Order of Business to deal with the motion on electronic voting then.

On No. 17, the motion re the proceeds of crime, after the first interim report of the Flood tribunal, the Government indicated that it wished to establish a corruption assets bureau by way of legislation. After discussion, however, with both the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Attorney General it was felt that it should form part of the Criminal Assets Bureau, and this motion provides for amending legislation. The intention is to move the amending Bill to a committee, not to finish it before the summer recess.

No. 14 refers discussion on the gas pipeline to a committee. I know Deputy Ó Caoláin has always been interested in interconnectors but they were not always as benign as they are today. We will refer the matter to an all-party committee.

Mr. Kenny:  How long will we have to discuss electronic voting tonight?

The Tánaiste:  One hour.

[300]An Ceann Comhairle:  Are the proposals for dealing with Nos. 13, 14, 15 and 17 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 23 agreed?

Mr. Kenny:  I oppose this guillotine.

Mr. Sargent:  There are many people outside this House who do not want to see this legislation passed. They are afraid of the reputation of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and what might happen if he gets his hands on the powers contained in the Bill. We oppose this legislation. The Minister’s reputation precedes him.

Mr. Cullen:  There are probably as many people who do not want it passed as there were in all those protests last weekend.

Mr. Sargent:  Many of them are archaeologists in the Minister’s Department.

Mr. Cuffe:  There are certainly more people who do not want it passed than there are Fianna Fáil councillors in Waterford.

Mr. Gilmore:  This is an important Bill that will give the Minister the power to destroy national monuments. It is being rushed by the Government through the Houses. An hour for Report Stage of such a major Bill is not sufficient — that is not enough time to debate even one amendment. The Labour Party opposes the guillotine.

  5 o’clock

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I object to the guillotine applying to Report and Final Stages of the National Monuments (Amendment) Bill 2004. We had indicated throughout the passage of the legislation that a guillotine was not acceptable because of the import of what was involved in the Bill. There should be full exercise of Members’ right to participate in debate on this Bill, and the taking of amendments on Report Stage is vital to that. The time proposed will not allow for full address of the amendments that have been presented. I not only strongly object to the powers that will be bestowed on the incumbent Minister but much fear arises from these powers being vested in future occupants of that position. It is simply unacceptable.

The Tánaiste:  There was no guillotine on Committee Stage but, as everyone here is aware, it is urgent that we complete the M50. The current delays are costing us millions of euro and that is why we must pass this legislation. I cannot concede on this occasion.

Question put: “That the proposal for dealing with No. 23 be agreed.”

[299][301]The Dáil divided: Tá, 72; Níl, 57.

 Ahern, Dermot.  Ahern, Michael.
 Ahern, Noel.  Andrews, Barry.
 Ardagh, Seán.  Brady, Johnny.
 Brady, Martin.  Brennan, Séamus.
 Browne, John.  Callanan, Joe.
 Callely, Ivor.  Carey, Pat.
 Carty, John.  Cassidy, Donie.
 Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.  Coughlan, Mary.
 Cowen, Brian.  Cregan, John.
 Cullen, Martin.  Curran, John.
 Davern, Noel.  de Valera, Síle.
 Dempsey, Noel.  Dempsey, Tony.
 Dennehy, John.  Devins, Jimmy.
 Ellis, John.  Finneran, Michael.
 Fitzpatrick, Dermot.  Fleming, Seán.
 Glennon, Jim.  Grealish, Noel.
 Hanafin, Mary.  Harney, Mary.
 Haughey, Seán.  Hoctor, Máire.
 Jacob, Joe.  Keaveney, Cecilia.
 Kelleher, Billy.  Kelly, Peter.
 Killeen, Tony.  Kirk, Séamus.
 Lenihan, Brian.  McCreevy, Charlie.
 McDaid, James.  McDowell, Michael.
 McGuinness, John.  Martin, Micheál.
 Moloney, John.  Moynihan, Michael.
 Mulcahy, Michael.  Nolan, M.J.
 Ó Cuív, Éamon.  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
 O’Connor, Charlie.  O’Dea, Willie.
 O’Donnell, Liz.  O’Donovan, Denis.
 O’Keeffe, Batt.  O’Malley, Fiona.
 Parlon, Tom.  Power, Peter.
 Power, Seán.  Sexton, Mae.
 Smith, Brendan.  Smith, Michael.
 Treacy, Noel.  Wallace, Dan.
 Walsh, Joe.  Wilkinson, Ollie.
 Woods, Michael.  Wright, G.V.



[301]Níl
 Allen, Bernard.  Boyle, Dan.
 Breen, Pat.  Broughan, Thomas P.
 Bruton, Richard.  Burton, Joan.
 Connaughton, Paul.  Costello, Joe.
 Crawford, Seymour.  Crowe, Seán.
 Cuffe, Ciarán.  Deenihan, Jimmy.
 Durkan, Bernard J.  English, Damien.
 Ferris, Martin.  Gilmore, Eamon.
 Gormley, John.  Hayes, Tom.
 Healy, Séamus.  Higgins, Joe.
 Howlin, Brendan.  Kehoe, Paul.
 Kenny, Enda.  Lynch, Kathleen.
 McCormack, Pádraic.  McGinley, Dinny.
 McGrath, Paul.  McHugh, Paddy.
 Mitchell, Gay.  Mitchell, Olivia.
 Morgan, Arthur.  Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
 Murphy, Gerard.  Naughten, Denis.
 Neville, Dan.  Noonan, Michael.
 Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.  Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
 O’Dowd, Fergus.  O’Keeffe, Jim.
 O’Shea, Brian.  O’Sullivan, Jan.
 Pattison, Séamus.  Penrose, Willie.
 Quinn, Ruairí.  Rabbitte, Pat.
 Ring, Michael.  Ryan, Eamon.
 Ryan, Seán.  Sargent, Trevor.
 Sherlock, Joe.  Shortall, Róisín.
 Stanton, David.  Timmins, Billy.
 Twomey, Liam.  Upton, Mary.
 Wall, Jack.  

[301]Tellers: Tá, Deputies Hanafin and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Durkan and Broughan.

[303]Question declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The House had agreed to sit until 10.30 p.m. but there is now a proposal that the House sit for a further hour to debate No. 15 on the Order Paper. I suggest the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach bring a proposal before the House detailing the time slots, etc. for that debate.

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 24, Report and Final Stages of the Commissions of Investigation Bill 2003, agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 25, Second Stage of the State Airports Bill 2004, agreed?

Mr. Kenny:  I object to the use of the guillotine because, very serious matters concerning the State Airports Bill remain to be discussed and questions have not been answered. Given that no business plans have been produced, to introduce legislation is to put the cart before the horse. We have not had a response from the Government as to what would happen if, for instance, the Shannon Airport business plan did not stand up. Would Shannon and Dublin airports then be held by the State, with Cork Airport standing alone? I oppose the proposal because serious questions have not been answered.

Mr. Rabbitte:  I agree that the time allocated for the Bill is entirely inadequate. We have had three guillotines today, with two each planned for tomorrow and Thursday, respectively. That is no way to do the business of the House. No matter what pleas are made to the Government on this matter, we are still presented with a circumstance in which legislation is rushed through the House at the last minute.

In the case of the State Airports Bill, none of the substantive issues has been answered. We do not know the reason it took a year to produce the Bill. Now that it has been produced, it provides for a hilarious scenario in which the company will be broken up, after which we will ask its constituent parts to bring forward plans to ascertain whether the break-up was justified. There will be no business plan or anything else, apart from the other subterranean stuff that is going on and the [304]prospect of provoking industrial action at the airport, yet the guillotine is to come down on the Bill tonight when a number of my colleagues, including, I am sure, several whom I met in north Dublin in recent weeks while talking to Aer Rianta workers, would love to contribute. The time allocated is entirely inadequate and I oppose the proposal.

Mr. Sargent:  The guillotine on this Bill indicates that the Government is not thinking through the matter. The number of people employed by Aer Rianta requires that much more time be given for Second Stage to allow the Government to listen to the views of Members who have not yet had a chance to speak. I ask the Government to bear in mind that persons it appointed to the relevant boards are protesting strongly about this legislation because they know that every bank manager would throw out a proposal of this nature, which did not have a business plan. It is a requirement that the Government follow best practice and it is not doing so in this regard because there is no business plan. We should deal with the issue on the basis of a business plan. The Bill and the use of the guillotine are out of order.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The possible ramifications of the passage of this Bill for the future of the airport network is undoubtedly serious. We must recognise that one cannot treat the airport network as if it consisted of stand-alone entities. The airports are interdependent in many ways, not only in case of emergency. The Bill is a very serious proposition and it is not appropriate or acceptable that a guillotine be applied tonight at 10.30 p.m. I hope the Tánaiste will reconsider the proposal, as she has reconsidered one of the earlier propositions, for which we thank her.

The Tánaiste:  I am not in a position to concede time. It is important that the legislation is passed as quickly as possible in order that the interim boards can get on with the task of developing business at the three State airports.

Question put: “That the proposal for dealing with No. 25 be agreed.”

[303]The Dáil divided: Tá, 71; Níl, 53.

 Ahern, Dermot.  Ahern, Michael.
 Ahern, Noel.  Andrews, Barry.
 Ardagh, Seán.  Brady, Johnny.
 Brady, Martin.  Brennan, Seamus.
 Browne, John.  Callanan, Joe.
 Callely, Ivor.  Carey, Pat.
 Carty, John.  Cassidy, Donie.
 Coughlan, Mary.  Cowen, Brian.
 Cregan, John.  Cullen, Martin.
 Curran, John.  Davern, Noel.
 de Valera, Síle.  Dempsey, Noel.
 Dempsey, Tony.  Dennehy, John.
 Devins, Jimmy.  Ellis, John.
 Finneran, Michael.  Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
 Fleming, Seán.  Glennon, Jim.
 [305]Grealish, Noel.  Hanafin, Mary.
 Harney, Mary.  Haughey, Seán.
 Hoctor, Máire.  Jacob, Joe.
 Keaveney, Cecilia.  Kelleher, Billy.
 Kelly, Peter.  Killeen, Tony.
 Kirk, Seamus.  Lenihan, Brian.
 McCreevy, Charlie.  McDaid, James.
 McDowell, Michael.  McGuinness, John.
 Martin, Micheál.  Moloney, John.
 Moynihan, Michael.  Mulcahy, Michael.
 Nolan, M. J.  Ó Cuív, Éamon.
 Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.  O’Connor, Charlie.
 O’Dea, Willie.  O’Donnell, Liz.
 O’Donovan, Denis.  O’Keeffe, Batt.
 O’Malley, Fiona.  Parlon, Tom.
 Power, Peter.  Power, Seán.
 Sexton, Mae.  Smith, Brendan.
 Smith, Michael.  Treacy, Noel.
 Wallace, Dan.  Walsh, Joe.
 Wilkinson, Ollie.  Woods, Michael.
 Wright, G. V.  


[305]Níl
 Allen, Bernard.  Boyle, Dan.
 Breen, Pat.  Broughan, Thomas P.
 Bruton, Richard.  Burton, Joan.
 Connaughton, Paul.  Costello, Joe.
 Crowe, Seán.  Cuffe, Ciarán.
 Durkan, Bernard J.  English, Damien.
 Ferris, Martin.  Gilmore, Eamon.
 Gormley, John.  Hayes, Tom.
 Healy, Seamus.  Higgins, Joe.
 Howlin, Brendan.  Kehoe, Paul.
 Kenny, Enda.  Lynch, Kathleen.
 McCormack, Padraic.  McGinley, Dinny.
 McGrath, Paul.  McHugh, Paddy.
 Mitchell, Olivia.  Morgan, Arthur.
 Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.  Murphy, Gerard.
 Naughten, Denis.  Neville, Dan.
 Noonan, Michael.  Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
 Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.  O’Dowd, Fergus.
 O’Keeffe, Jim.  O’Shea, Brian.
 O’Sullivan, Jan.  Pattison, Seamus.
 Penrose, Willie.  Quinn, Ruairí.
 Rabbitte, Pat.  Ring, Michael.
 Ryan, Eamon.  Ryan, Seán.
 Sargent, Trevor.  Sherlock, Joe.
 Shortall, Róisín.  Stanton, David.
 Timmins, Billy.  Upton, Mary.
 Wall, Jack.  

[305]Tellers: Tá, Deputies Hanafin and Power; Níl, Deputies Durkan and Broughan.

[305]Question declared carried.

Mr. Kenny:  According to the schedule of business for the week, a discussion on the outcome of the EU-US summit at Shannon has not been proposed. A number of important questions need to be answered. The transfer of power to make Iraq a sovereign state is the political issue in world politics and the House should receive a report from the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste followed by a question and answer session on this important issue. The initial proposal was controversial and we do not know the full details of the discussion that took place or the concerns expressed by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste to the US President. Is it proposed to hold such a debate this week?

[306]The Taoiseach reported several weeks ago on the overwhelming support for Mr. Verhofstadt to take up the position of EU Commission President. It was then reported there was overwhelming support for the Taoiseach himself and subsequently Mr. Patten. All these candidates fell by the wayside and I am happy Mr. Barroso, whom I mentioned as a serious candidate three weeks ago, has accepted the nomination which will be ratified this evening. I assume that is the reason for the mini-Council later. Will the Tánaiste comment on that?

The Tánaiste:  Time has not been set aside to discuss the EU-US summit held at the weekend. There will be a discussion tomorrow on the IGC and the European Council meeting. A longer than usual discussion will take place but I do not [307]know whether the two debates can be married together. Perhaps the Whips will reflect on that. A meeting will take place in Brussels this evening to finalise the proposal for a new European Commission President for the next term. It is terrific that this will be finalised during the Irish Presidency. The Taoiseach did not put his name forward for selection.

Mr. Kenny:  I know that.

The Tánaiste:  During the IGC process, the Government put forward a proposal regarding how the President should be chosen but that was not acceptable to others. There should be a better way than the unedifying spectacle of nominations being made and shot down in public. We should be able to do things better and learn from that for the future.

We enjoyed a successful Presidency and it concludes tomorrow evening. Perhaps tomorrow we will have an opportunity to discuss the important matters relating to the various summits that took place.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Did I understand the Tánaiste correctly during Leader’s Questions that her party favours bringing forward legislative proposals to implement the recommendations of the all-party committee on the price of building land? Is she speaking only for her own party or is she speaking for the Government? When will legislation be brought before the House?

The Tánaiste:  I have no reason to believe the Government does not support the recommendations in the committee’s report but the Government is awaiting a submission from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. He informed me that he will bring that to the attention of the Government after he receives the NESC report on this matter.

Mr. Rabbitte:  When will that be?

The Tánaiste:  Relatively soon. I discussed the matter with the Minister a few minutes ago.

Mr. Sargent:  Will stadas oifigúil don teanga Gaeilge san Aontas Eorpach be a token of appreciation for the work for which the Tánaiste says the Taoiseach is appreciated? How tangible can that appreciation be for the people of Ireland?

Will time be made available to debate the post-Shannon summit?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The matter has been discussed. Has the Deputy a question on legislation?

Mr. Sargent:  This issue goes beyond legislation. If the peace is as bloody as the war——

[308]An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot have a debate on this. A number of Members are offering and we will not be able to hear them all.

Mr. Sargent:  I have been asked by a number of communities to raise the issue of drinking outside public houses and other licensed premises. Has account been taken of that under the intoxicating liquor Bill?

The Tánaiste:  The Bill will be taken later this year. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has circulated the heads of the Bill to his ministerial colleagues for their response.

Mr. Kehoe:  Four vicious attacks on the elderly have taken place in my county over the past ten days.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should ask a question on legislation.

Mr. Kehoe:  Mandatory sentencing is needed for people convicted of such attacks because community service does not teach the perpetrators a lesson. When will the criminal justice Bill be taken?

The Tánaiste:  The heads of the criminal justice (miscellaneous provisions) Bill are expected later this year. A criminal justice (protection of confidential information) Bill is due later this year. The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill 2002 has been enacted.

Mr. Durkan:  There is not much sign of that.

Mr. Quinn:  In marking this successful Irish Presidency, the last of its kind, the European flag, which has been raised for the six months should be maintained on various buildings.

The building control Bill has been promised on a number of occasions. Is it likely to be published later this year?

The Tánaiste:  The flag is not a matter for me but it is quite a good suggestion. I thank the Deputy for his compliments on the Presidency.

The building control Bill is expected later this year.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The nursing and midwives Bill has been promised since the publication of the nursing commission report in 1998. It was stated in January that it would be published this year and in April we were told it was not possible to indicate when it would be published. Given the crisis in nursing and the INO’s indication of 2,000 vacant posts over the past 18 months, will this legislation be brought forward? Can it help to address the crisis with which we are faced?

The Tánaiste:  Last week the Government cleared the heads of the medical practitioners Bill and I understand from the Minister for Health [309]and Children that the nurse’s Bill will be the next legislation taken relating to professionals in the health care sector. I am not in a position to say when we will have that.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Will the Tánaiste press it as a priority?

The Tánaiste:  Yes.

Mr. Allen:  Why is the report of the investigation into the hoarding of building land in the Dublin area being suppressed? It has been available to the Government since last December. Why has the Opposition not received copies of the report?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should submit a parliamentary question to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Mr. Allen:  We have been asking him but we cannot get answers. Why is the report being suppressed?

Mr. Cullen:  It is not being suppressed.

The Tánaiste:  The report is with the NESC.

Mr. Allen:  Why has it not been placed in the Oireachtas Library? It was promised in December.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Why will Government not implement the main thrust of the Harbours Act 1996 by facilitating the sale of Balbriggan and Skerries harbours, which will take place today? Will the Tánaiste intervene to ensure that the harbours will not be put into private ownership?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That does not arise on the Order of Business.

The Tánaiste:  The Deputy may not be aware of it but the order was signed this afternoon.

Mr. S. Ryan:  I am delighted the representations we made were taken on board.

Mr. Rabbitte:  On the ball.

Mr. J. Higgins:  I have a question on legislation involving the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who is in the House. I thought he might be towing one of his cages from Shannon to Monaghan to bell that big cat.

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

Mr. J. Higgins:  At least that would be some value to the taxpayer. He got no use out of them in Shannon.

An Ceann Comhairle:  If the Deputy does not come to the Order of Business, we will move on.

[310]Mr. J. Higgins:  With all the practice gardaí got capturing black balloons in their brave raid on the peace camp, a black cat would be nothing to them.

Does the Government intend to amend the legislation, as suggested by the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, to allow children to accompany their parents into licensed premises after p.m., particularly during the holiday season when food is being served? Is the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform still saying there will be no change?

The Tánaiste:  The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is keen to know if Deputy Higgins is available to go after that cat. He will give the Deputy every possible assistance. There are no plans to change the legislation.

Mr. J. Higgins:  The cat is described as black and white——

The Tánaiste:  The Deputy is good at wandering around the country. This would be something useful.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Order. We cannot keep the Order of Business going until 7 p.m. Deputy Joe Higgins should resume his seat in fairness to his colleagues on his side of the House who wish to ask appropriate questions on the Order of Business.

Mr. Cowen:  A new definition of a wildcat strike.

Mr. Stanton:  Under the Health Insurance (Amendment) Act 2001 regulations are to be brought forward to enable those over 65 to gain cover. When will those regulations be introduced?

The Tánaiste:  I will ask the Minister for Health and Children to communicate with the Deputy. I do not have that information.

Mr. Sherlock:  The enforcement of fines Bill was meant to end imprisonment, where practicable, for the inability to pay fines, but the number of people being imprisoned for their inability to pay fines is increasing all the time. Also, has any progress been made with the ground rent Bill?

The Tánaiste:  The enforcement of fines Bill issue should be addressed later this year. I apologise that the answer has been the same on the ground rent Bill for many years. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is reflecting on the matter.

Mr. Boyle:  The Government promised three legislative measures to improve services for those with disabilities, but we have been informed that the disability Bill will not be produced for the fourth promised Dáil session. The Education for [311]People with Special Educational Needs Bill has finally been enacted, but can the Tánaiste indicate when the third Bill, the Comhairle (amendment) Bill, is likely to see the light of the day? Also, will we have to wait through a fifth and sixth session before seeing the main disability Bill?

The Tánaiste:  Both the disability Bill and the Comhairle (amendment) Bill are almost finalised and they will be published together.

Mr. Hayes:  Does the Government propose to bring forward a supplementary Estimate to open the many hospital units lying idle? I refer specifically to Clonmel——

An Ceann Comhairle:  A question must be asked on promised legislation. I call Deputy Durkan.

Mr. Hayes:  ——where €25 million has been spent but €2 million is all that is needed.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Hayes should table a question for the Minister for Health and Children.

Mr. Durkan:  A commitment was given in An Agreed Programme for Government to introduce legislation to allow the Director of Public Prosecutions to appeal against unduly lenient sentences. It might be a good time now that the Government is in mid-term to review the situation to ascertain how strong that promise was.

The Tánaiste:  The Law Reform Commission has examined that matter and I understand it supports the idea of the DPP being given that power. I am sure the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will bring forward legislation to implement that proposal.

Mr. P. Breen:  Ireland’s speed limits are to be changed to the metric system at the end of October and the Road Traffic Bill was to be dealt with in this session. When does the Tánaiste expect this Bill to be brought before the House because people will have to be told how important this is?

The Tánaiste:  It will be in the autumn.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Ms Hanafin):  I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the terms of Certain Acts of the 1999 Congress of the Universal Postal Union, signed at Beijing on 15 September 1999, namely:

—the Sixth Additional Protocol to the Constitution of the Universal Postal Union;

[312]—the General Regulations of the Universal Postal Union;

—the Universal Postal Convention and the Final Protocol thereto; and

—the Postal Payment Services Agreement;

copies of which have been laid before Dáil Éireann on 26th day of May 2004.

Question put and agreed to.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Ms Hanafin):  I move:

That the proposal that Dáil Éireann, pursuant to Article 29.5.2° of Bunreacht na hÉireann, approves the terms of the agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of Ireland relating to the transmission of natural gas by a second pipeline between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Ireland and through a connection to the Isle of Man between Ireland, of the first part and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, of the other part, the text of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 23 June 2004, be referred to the Select Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources in accordance with paragraph (1) of the Orders of Reference of that committee which, not later than 7 July 2004, shall send a message to the Dáil in the manner prescribed in Standing Order 85, and Standing Order 84(2) shall accordingly apply.

Question put and agreed to.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Regarding No. 15, the Minister of State will return to the House with a proposal.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Ms Hanafin):  I move:

That, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders,

(1) That the Order of the Dáil of 18 June 2002, to the extent that it orders that the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill 1999 be considered in committee of the whole Dáil, be discharged and that the Bill be referred to the Select Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights, pursuant to Standing Order 120(1) and paragraph (1)(a)(i) of the committee’s Orders of Reference,

and

[313]

(2) That it be an instruction to the Select Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights that it has power to make provision in the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill 1999 in relation to the amendment of the Criminal Assets Bureau Act 1996, the Criminal Justice Act 1994 and the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Act 2001.

Question put and agreed to.

Mr. Morgan:  I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:

“2.—Nothing in this Act shall cause the State to derogate from its responsibility to preserve, protect and maintain to the highest possible standards the heritage of the State including its national monuments.”.

This is a straightforward amendment. How could any Minister refuse to accept it? It is at the core of the responsibility of any Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in that it seeks to preserve, protect and maintain to the highest possible standards the heritage of the State, including its national monuments. What could be more important for any Minister responsible for heritage than to protect, preserve and maintain our national monuments to the highest possible standard? Does the Bill seek to do that? Unfortunately it does not. On the contrary, it seeks to give sweeping powers to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, even a wayward one such as the incumbent. It gives the Minister the authority to tear down our national monuments if he so wishes.

To its shame, the Government does not value our heritage or history. It has proven already that it will always side with the developers and not with the conservationists. This Bill has more to do with lobbying by the National Roads Authority than with trying to preserve our national heritage and monuments. The current Minister is the man who abolished Dúchas, the one organisation with responsibility for preserving these national monuments. If he has abolished that organisation, how can we have any faith in his interest in preserving our heritage and monuments? What we have is a Department, or certainly a Minister, exploiting the Carrickmines debacle to force through this legislation which will have consequences way beyond Carrickmines and everything surrounding it.

This amendment, if accepted, would at least bring back some semblance of sanity to this legislation. Will the Minister accept the amendment? We know from Committee Stage what his attitude has been. It has been claimed with considerable merit that this Bill will legalise badly [314]designed roads and will facilitate speculators who will have even less inclination in the future to negotiate or try to resolve major issues with environmentalists or archaeologists. This amendment, if accepted, would shift the balance back from the speculators on to the side of people who really care about our heritage and national monuments.

Will the Minister explain why he will not accept an amendment which is at the core of the responsibility of any Minister who has the environment and the heritage of this country at heart? Why will the Minister not accept such an amendment if there is no hidden agenda?

Mr. Cullen:  The reason is the standard is much lower than that which we have. Our standards are much higher than in the amendment.

Mr. Morgan:  The Minister tried that on Committee Stage and last week, but it is not working. We know what is going on. The cat is out of the bag and we know what the Minister is at.

Mr. Cullen:  The cat is in Monaghan wandering around.

Mr. Morgan:  Unfortunately, there are no wild cats on the Government side because even in the case of the State Airports Bill, Government Deputies are trotting along meekly behind the Minister. There is no sign of dissent, which is most unfortunate, particularly from Deputies from the constituencies concerned. The same applies in the case of this Bill and it is most unfortunate. Why will the Minister not accept this amendment?

Mr. Gilmore:  Deputy Morgan’s amendment states that nothing in this Act shall cause the State to derogate from its responsibility to preserve, protect and maintain to the highest possible standards the heritage of the State, including its national monuments. The Bill presented by the Minister does everything to derogate from the State’s responsibility to preserve and protect our national monuments and this country’s heritage. It will give the Minister the power to order the destruction, sale and export of national monuments. It gives him sole discretion to do anything he likes to national monuments. The only semblance of constraint is that he must ask the Director of the National Museum of Ireland who has no say in the matter and is only given 14 days to reply.

When discussing the time arrangements for this Report Stage debate on the Order of Business — I regret only one hour is being given — I was interested to hear the Tánaiste tell us that this Bill is necessitated because of the increased costs associated with road construction and the necessity to complete the M50. I agree with the necessity to complete the M50. As I said on a number of occasions, if simple legislation was brought in specifically to address the completion of the M50, [315]I would have no difficulty with it, notwithstanding the regret I have about the way in which the whole Carrickmines issue was handled. However, it is interesting that the issue of the costs associated with motorway construction was raised by the Tánaiste because the Comptroller and Auditor General released a report today which makes interesting reading. I have only the summary of the findings which was e-mailed to me earlier. The Comptroller and Auditor General tells us that the cost of the roads programme has increased from the estimate in November 1999 of €5.6 billion, when the national development plan was launched, to €16.4 billion. That is three times the original estimate.

The Comptroller and Auditor General goes on to identify why the roads programme will cost three times the original estimate. He tells us that 40% of the total escalation in the reported cost was due to price movements. That, of course, does not tell us that there was 40% inflation since 1999 because, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General, one quarter of this was due underestimation of prices at the beginning of the programme. The further 16% of the increase was due to a systematic failure to cost certain elements of schemes at the planning stage. He also tells us that the programme itself grew due to changes in the scope of projects and new works accounting for approximately 20% of the increase. Part of the reason for that was that the Government threw out the road assessment study on which the roads programme had previously been based and decided to opt for motorway schemes rather than contracts which had previously been entered into — in some cases, as dual carriageways and in others as road improvement schemes. That added 20% to the cost of the entire scheme.

The report goes on to address issues such as the acquisition of land. Part of the increase was due to an agreement reached in 2001 between the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the National Roads Authority and the Irish Farmers’ Association governing the compulsory acquisition of agricultural land. That added 14% to the cost of the roads programme.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  This discussion does not relate to the terms of the amendment.

Mr. Gilmore:  It is related to the amendment because the Minister has stated on a number of occasions that the reason for this legislation and for giving himself the power to knock down national monuments is that the Government wants to cut the cost of building motorways. If one wants to cut the cost of building motorways, there are many items at which one can look other than knocking down monuments.

It is interesting to contrast the way in which the acquisition of land issue was handled with the way in which the preservation of national monu[316]ments was. When the Irish Farmers’ Association encouraged its members to refuse to allow engineers from local authorities on to their lands for the purposes of doing the tests and so on required in advance of route selection, as it was entitled to do, no emergency legislation was brought into the House to deal with it, nor would I have wished there were. It was dealt with by way of negotiation. A deal was struck which the Comptroller and Auditor General has said contributed 14% to the huge increase in the cost of building motorways.

On the other hand, when an issue arises regarding national monuments and when people who are concerned about the protection of our heritage raise issues in regard to motorways, there is no negotiation. There was no negotiation at the time of Carrickmines and there is no promise of negotiation in respect of Tara. The Government brings in legislation and states, “If we must bulldoze them, we will.” That is the way in which heritage is treated. For the Minister and the Tánaiste to justify the legislation on the grounds that it is about cutting costs is nonsense against a background where the cost of the roads programme has trebled in five years.

Even with that trebling, they still cannot deliver it. We were told that the roads programme was to have been completed by 2006. We are now told that not only will it not be delivered by the end of 2006, but that 30% of the roads programme will not even be delivered by the end of 2008. The cost trebles, the programme is not delivered on time and the Minister justifies knocking down national monuments on the basis that costs are increasing.

Mr. Cullen:  I have not said that.

Mr. Gilmore:  Let us nail the lie. The increase in the cost of the roads programme has very little to do with the preservation of national monuments or archaeology. I accept that cost issues arise and that there are unknown aspects because sometimes one does not know in advance what will be discovered once excavation begins. I am referring in particular to what the Tánaiste said earlier — the idea that all this is to save costs is nonsense.

Mr. Cullen:  I think that is slightly out of context. In fairness, I do not think she meant it quite the way the Deputy is interpreting it.

Mr. Gilmore:  That is particularly so on a day when the Comptroller and Auditor General has produced a report telling us that the roads programme is now costing three times what we were told it would cost only five years ago.

Mr. McCormack:  The initial reason for this Bill was to solve the problem at Carrickmines and thus enable the developers to join up both sections of the M50, which has a gap in the middle. Why was it necessary to include in this [317]Bill all the other powers the Minister is granting himself and his successors? Can we not separate the desire to clarify the Carrickmines-M50 issue and the other road development issues, as this amendment seeks to do? If the Minister could provide an explanation and define this, it might solve much of the problem.

Deputy Gilmore referred to the cost of roads, which is rising because new roads are being planned and site investigations are taking place for roads that will never be built. A former Deputy and Minister, Bobby Molloy, who represented my constituency, promised us that we would have a new N6 from Dublin to Galway by 2004, but we have not even bypassed Loughrea yet. Where is the roads programme going? Why did this legislation not deal solely with solving the M50 hold-up? Why has it been necessary to insert in the Bill additional ministerial powers to preserve sites and national monuments?

Mr. Boyle:  The word “heritage” is in the Minister’s title but I have yet to see evidence that he understands the term. Together with his Government colleagues, the Minister exudes a feeling that the past is eaten bread and the future represents untold riches. The most offensive aspect of the Bill is that it represents the Minister’s seething mass of frustration, rather than dealing with the responsibility we all have in the House to protect the country’s heritage. Because something is an obstacle it must be circumvented and the targets the Minister has chosen will be dealt with easily by this legislation. In the long term, however, neither the Minister nor his colleagues will be the ones left to pick up the pieces.

Unfortunately, not only does the legislation represent a disastrous philosophy, it also sends out an appalling recommendation for others in society, who are not working for State agencies, on how they will treat various monuments and other artefacts of our heritage. In recent weeks, we saw evidence of this whereby a mound in west Kerry was ground down overnight, with no questions asked.

Mr. Cullen:  I signed a preservation order immediately for that.

Mr. Boyle:  It happens because the attitude is that if something is inconvenient it can be got rid of.

Mr. Cullen:  It is on private property.

Mr. Boyle:  The message the Minister has sent out is that heritage is low on the list of priorities. That is the message the Government represents.

Mr. Cullen:  No, it is not.

Mr. Boyle:  It is typical of the “get rich” mentality whereby if we want economic success we must give the lowest priority to anything that does not have an immediate pay-off.

[318]Mr. Cullen:  It is certainly not the track record of the Government. We are spending tens of millions of euro per annum that was never spent on archaeology before.

Mr. Gilmore:  The Minister resents spending it.

Mr. Morgan:  The Government will save the money now because it will bulldoze everything.

Mr. Cullen:  There are now more archaeologists employed by the State than ever before.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Boyle has the floor.

Mr. Boyle:  If the Minister was confident about how the Government is dealing with heritage there would be no need to introduce such legislation, because the heritage would be looked after and the economic infrastructural needs of the country would be met as well.

Mr. Cullen:  Give me one example of where I gave permission to bulldoze heritage sites.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Minister will have an opportunity to reply.

Mr. Boyle:  The Minister is doing this to denigrate the heritage of the country. He is doing it to make a philosophical case and meet an economic agenda that is not in the interest of the long-term heritage needs of the country.

Mr. Cullen:  Time will tell.

Mr. Boyle:  Unfortunately, time is something we do not have.

Mr. Gilmore:  The Minister will bulldoze Carrickmines castle.

Mr. Cullen:  Will the Deputy stop? It has already been mitigated and 95% of what is there has been dealt with.

Mr. Boyle:  I would like to contribute to this debate as well, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Minister should allow Deputy Boyle to continue without further interruption.

Mr. Boyle:  Unfortunately, time will not tell us anything. The powers the Minister is seeking and the power that will be given to all subsequent Ministers will means that much of our heritage will be damaged or will disappear.

Mr. Cullen:  Not under my aegis, I assure the Deputy of that.

Mr. Boyle:  As legislators we are being asked to give powers to a member of the Government. While we know the Minister’s track record and what his thinking is, in future those powers may [319]be used by someone else whose track record, ability and commitment is even worse. I find that frightening. We should not concentrate so much power in one person to deal with problems that should be dealt with in a more general way. Unfortunately, the tenet of the legislation is exactly in that direction.

Mr. Cullen:  It is not.

Mr. Boyle:  What makes it more upsetting is that not only is the Minister making a case about the difficulty the Government continues to have concerning Carrickmines, he is also seeking powers for himself and his successors in the Department to deal with any other Carrickmines-style case in the future. It is a sledgehammer approach to deal with an area of Government responsibility that needs to be handled sensitively. The Government has chosen to do otherwise. It would be remiss of the Opposition not to say that what the Minister is doing is wrong. The legislation is wrong and, if passed, our heritage will be deemed to be unsafe.

As I am a member of the Committee of Public Accounts, I wish to speak about the special report of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Mr. Cullen:  It has nothing to do with Report Stage of this Bill.

Mr. Boyle:  That report followed an appearance by representatives of the National Roads Authority before the Committee of Public Accounts approximately 15 months ago. During that meeting, I questioned the director of the NRA, and those figures were presented. Under a cloak of cost savings, the Minister is giving powers to a State agency that has shown itself to be the most profligate in terms of public expenditure. The Minister, in his seething mass of frustration, is tackling the wrong targets. It is not the inconvenience of archaeological heritage that is holding up infrastructural development, it is the legion of contractors, back-handers and planning shenanigans that have brought us the M50 debacle and other road development problems around the country.

  6 o’clock

The Bill’s provisions go far beyond what those who were given responsibility by the House have said is needed for the future. The roads need survey of 1999 indicated very few motorways were needed. Rather, it referred to bypasses, dual carriageways and three-lane roads on which a third lane allows traffic to pass. The Government’s decision in respect of the national development plan is one of the most significant factors in terms of the additional cost of road expenditure and the long delays. If the Government was prepared to take responsibility for how it is using public money in this area, there would be no need even to suggest this type of legislation. Unfortunately, [320]however, the Government lacks that type of honesty.

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. Cullen):  I am glad to have the opportunity to respond to this amendment. People have suggested I have become frustrated, as has probably been evident during the passage of this Bill. There was a time in the House when Deputies would at least deal with the legislation. However, that has not been the case because much of the comment has not been about the Bill. This may be because some Deputies lack experience but I cannot understand some of the comments made by Deputy Gilmore, even though I admire him because he usually does his research well and knows his brief.

This legislation has been in place for more than 70 or 80 years and there was no issue with any of these issues when the rainbow Government was in power and the same procedures and principles were enshrined in legislation.

Mr. Gilmore:  Not in respect of national monuments.

Mr. Cullen:  None of this is new. The provisions have been in place for a long time. The very issues Deputy Gilmore so eloquently raised about the Minister being allowed to demolish monuments existed in legislation previously. He and his colleagues were quite happy when the rainbow Government was in power, when much positive legislation was dealt with by then Minister, Deputy Michael D. Higgins.

Mr. McCormack:  What then is the need for this legislation now?

Mr. Cullen:  When Fianna Fáil was in Opposition at the time, I do not remember raising any of the concerns the Opposition is now raising, even though this legislation was in place at the time.

It seems that these days, if enough people say something forcefully enough and long enough, it becomes fact. This is particularly the case in respect of my own position. My track record does not suggest for one minute that I approve the demolition of monuments throughout the country. Rather, the opposite is the case.

Mr. Boyle:  If Dúchas were in place, the Minister would have to do so.

Mr. Cullen:  The Deputy’s suggestion is that these are all new powers. They are not because they have been in place for a long time. Deputy McCormack asked why I was going beyond Carrickmines, the answer to which question he knows well. The courts struck down section 14 of the existing legislation. The amended section 14 is required, not just for Carrickmines but for a range of projects in regard to which no one could mitigate in terms of archaeology unless we replaced it. We had to re-write the legislation.

[321]It is interesting to remind ourselves why we are here. It is not because the Government wanted it but because of the courts. One of the Supreme Court judges described the consent process as “tortuous” and asked the Oireachtas to get its act together and put in place a process which makes some sense, is straightforward and deals with all the issues. That is what we are attempting to do here in a narrow way.

Under section 14, there was no consultative role or involvement with the National Museum of Ireland. It had no role and I decided we should give it a role under this section. Therefore, it is a new enhanced power from the point of view of the National Museum of Ireland.

Mr. Boyle:  It should have a veto. The term “consultation” does not mean anything.

Mr. Morgan:  It could just mean one telephone call.

Mr. Cullen:  If that were the case, why would I be so heavily engaged with the National Museum on the N25 project, for example? I would not bother but rather demolish everything and concrete it over, as Deputy Morgan suggested I would. However, as the Deputy well knows, I am not taking that approach.

Complex efforts are being made in this regard. A great deal of investigation has been undertaken by the Heritage Council, the National Museum of Ireland and archaeologists from my Department and the National Roads Authority, and I want them to revert to me with a proposal. They have considered the preliminary investigations and are now writing up all the reports. It will take some time to come to me but that is not my fault. I will not make a decision until all the facts are in front of me. I want an agreed process in this regard.

The archaeologists seem to be discovering layers of great importance as I am sure will apply to many other areas in the country. However, where we find archaeology, we need to find a way of mitigating it to the best possible standards. I have a great personal interest in archaeology and history of this country and I have no intention of bulldozing monuments. That is not what Ireland requires. As many speakers have stated, people do not necessarily come to Ireland for our climate, although it seems to be getting warmer. Rather, they come for our people and history.

Mr. Gilmore:  The increasing temperatures are the Minister’s fault as well.

Mr. Cullen:  I know I am being blamed for everything. The Deputy and I seem to have been permanently in this House for the past two weeks. We will be here tonight and for the rest of this week. Perhaps that demonstrates the interest we have in our respective roles.

All these powers exist. It is well known that I am not introducing anything new.

[322]Mr. Morgan:  Why does the Minister not then accept the amendment?

Mr. Cullen:  Deputies should not accuse me of doing something I am not doing. I do not mind debating a point with anyone in the House if I am introducing something which has not been in law before, but I am not doing so.

In respect of Deputy Morgan’s amendment, there is nothing in the Bill which would cause any deviation from the current highest standards of protection afforded to our national monuments and the inclusion of the amendment would be redundant. In any event, the proposed amendment is more akin to a policy statement. I suggest the Deputy reads the Bill in some detail because its guiding principles as well as many of the agreements and codes of practice which exist between the NRA, archaeologists, my Department and the Heritage Council are much higher than proposed in the Deputy’s amendment. There is no need for the amendment as it is superfluous to the highest standards already in place.

The south-eastern motorway is the final part of the M50 C-ring motorway around Dublin and is a strategic element of the national road network, providing a safe high-speed link between the M11 and the other national primary radial routes around Dublin. While the legal position in respect of Carrickmines has restricted the contractors’ access to the Carrickmines site, work on the motorway either side of the site is progressing well with both sections expected to be open to traffic by the end of the year.

As Deputies are aware, the south-eastern motorway has been subject to an environmental impact assessment, EIA, process and the Carrickmines section has been extensively excavated to the best archaeological standards. The environmental impact statement, EIS, was prepared by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in accordance with the requirements of sections 50 and 51 of the Roads Act 1993. It was published in 1997, approved by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government in 1998 following a public inquiry into the scheme and was placed in the Oireachtas Library. The EIS contains a full section on the impacts on archaeology and how they are to be addressed and also presents information on the interactions between the various environmental sectors as well as the proposed measures to mitigate the significant environmental effects.

In the planning process, which was referred to earlier, leading up to the preparation of the EIS, a number of alternative routes were examined. The options for alternatives for the south-eastern motorway were restricted to the gap between the extensive housing developments on the southern fringe of Dublin and the Dublin mountains. The available gap was particularly restricted at Carrickmines because of the housing at Brighton, Brennanstown and Glenamuck roads to the north and the housing on steeply rising ground to the south.

[323]The section of the EIS dealing with archaeology sets out the results of a series of archaeological investigations and surveys during the period 1992 to 1997, aimed at informing the road planning and route selection process. It was the first time topographical and geophysical surveys were utilised in the preparation of the archaeological section of an environmental impact statement in Ireland in respect of a road scheme proposal.

The main archaeological recommendation was to avoid all archaeological sites, including the then known remains of Carrickmines Castle which necessitated a special design. Full archaeological excavation was recommended for those areas where avoidance would not be possible. In regard to the Carrickmines site, the EIS concluded: “This significant and extensive complex will warrant excavation.” Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council arranged for full archaeological excavations to commence in August 2000 at Carrickmines and these have been carried out in accordance with the methodologies approved and licensed by my Department following consultation with the National Museum of Ireland.

As the excavations progressed, the full extent of the work necessary for the complete archaeological excavation and resolution of the area and recording, according to my Department’s requirements, gradually became clear. This had implications for the time and cost of the road project, as acknowledged by Deputy Gilmore. The original estimate by the consulting archaeologist and the licensed site director for the completion of the excavations was ten months. However, in May 2001 the period was extended by a further 12 months. This phase of excavation work at Carrickmines ceased at the end of August 2002 after a period of more than two years.

Up to 200 archaeologists were involved in the south-eastern motorway at any one time, including as many as 130 on the Carrickmines site. The final phase of archaeological resolution of Carrickmines Castle entailed further archaeological hand excavation and a finds retrieval strategy to excavate the archaeological deposits of the defensive ditches. Up to 60 archaeologists were employed on this phase of work on the site. The excavations were completed in January 2003, by which time all accessible areas to be affected by the motorway scheme had been archaeologically resolved, either by preservation by record or preservation in situ.

Further archaeological excavation will be carried out once limited areas which are not currently accessible become available, such as on the existing Glenamuck Road. All of this excavation work has added considerably to our store of knowledge. I look forward to early publication of the excavation reports to add to our understanding of the history and changing settlement patterns of south County Dublin and the knowledge of medieval and post-medieval frontier castle life in the area.

[324]The excavation work, as I explained on Second Stage, was carried out under section 26 excavation licences. However, the effect of the Supreme Court ruling was that a consent under the much less frequently used section 14 was appropriate in this case. Having had regard to the EIA process for the south-eastern motorway and especially the extensive excavations at Carrickmines, I considered it appropriate to recommend to the House that no further archaeological licences under the Act are necessary for the completion of this road. However, in accordance with the provisions of section 8 of the Bill, it is my intention to issue directions to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council to ensure the remaining archaeological works are carried out to best practice standards.

Having given the House the benefit of that detail from 1992, how can Members come in here and question that on that specific site an enormous amount of human resources and financial resources have been put at the disposal of those involved in that area? It has been an extraordinary effort of excavation, study and understanding of the kind never carried out here before. I subscribe to that view but I subscribe equally to the view that it is of no benefit to anybody to consistently run to the courts and let them decide what we as legislators are supposed to decide. It is the courts that have us involved in this debate.

Mr. Morgan:  It is the speculators.

Mr. Cullen:  It was the courts that described the process as tortuous. They asked the legislators to look at the legislation and to put it in a more streamlined and efficient manner so that we know who is supposed to be responsible for what. From the beginning it has been suggested that the Minister, or any other Minister, is the first port of call in this process, that he or she simply sits in his or her office——

Mr. Morgan:  We heard that before.

Mr. Cullen:  —— hears what is being said outside and decides to bulldoze it.

Mr. McCormack:  Like electronic voting.

Mr. Cullen:  I assure the House the world is not like that; neither is politics, the running of a Government Department, or the Dáil and Seanad. The fact is there is an extraordinary range of bottom-up procedures to be gone through before such an issue would ever come near a Minister to be dealt with. I have enormous confidence in the archaeologists, 38 of whom are employed by my Department on behalf of the people, and who do a remarkable job. They work with organisations such as the Heritage Council, the National Museum of Ireland and the National Roads Authority who also employ archaeologists to work to the best and the highest possible standards of mitigation. That should be our approach.

[325]I should say to Deputy Gilmore, and in a sense he has acknowledged it, that there are not unlimited resources to spend lifetimes working on some of these projects. Efficiency and reasonableness are required on these issues. I have stood on sites. When one goes into a room full of lawyers one will get as many opinions on something as one wants. Unfortunately, the same to a degree applies with archaeologists who have different perspectives and different approaches. I respect that. Somehow out of this process, one has to arrive at a conclusion on how to deal with an issue. It is not always what everybody in the absolutist sense wants. I want to build consensus and I want to see that happen with the M3, the N25 and all the other major projects.

It was stated in the past few days that I have on my desk a report on the N25 and that I will not act on it. That is without foundation and is absolutely untrue. It has also been suggested that the dig was being hidden in some way from me or that it was being hidden from the people of Ireland. It was not. The preliminary excavation licences were issued. The people had to go on site to find out precisely what was there. They knew from some geophysical analysis that there was potential for many heritage sites there. It was not until they went on site and began to dig down and find what was there they began to see the extent of it. Over some months they have found out that this is quite an extensive site. Those preliminary excavation licences have run out given that the excavation has been completed. The full reports have to be prepared on the basis of those findings by the archaeologists who will decide the best way forward for the full mitigation of the entire project. That is where we are at.

This proposal will not come to me for months until all the reports are finished. At that stage I hope all the different actors involved, the National Museum of Ireland and all the other organisations, will come to a conclusion on the best way forward. I hope I will be able to say, “That is an excellent way forward and we will do that.” In spite of all the innuendo and the continual attacks that I have some other agenda, I do not have another agenda. However, I have one agenda here. I have been a Member for a long time——

Mr. Morgan:  Perhaps too long.

Mr. Cullen:  I think Deputy Gilmore and I came here at the same time.

Mr. Gilmore:  The Minister was a Member before I was.

Mr. Cullen:  I am the longest serving of the Members present. Irrespective of who is in Government, I take the view that politicians are not held in the same esteem in which they were held in the past. Perhaps we deserve it.

[326]Mr. Morgan:  The Minister can bet on that. That is why he can get away with what he is doing. People are disconnected from the system because of the shenanigans of politicians.

Mr. Cullen:  During the past ten years, and successive Government have done this, every time an issue should have been dealt with and responsibility taken it was passed on to an independent group. It was always left to somebody else to make the decision. My view of politics is different. I take the view that I am elected by the people and fortunate to be appointed by the Taoiseach of the day to serve in the Government.

Mr. Morgan:  The Minister will be disappointed shortly.

Mr. Cullen:  On those facts I will take those responsibilities. If I make a decision I will stand over it. I sincerely hope in years to come those decisions will be seen to be good decisions. Perhaps in hindsight there will be a few that were not great decisions. We are the democratically elected people of the country — all the others are unelected — and are charged with taking decisions on their behalf. I will take that responsibility and have no fear of taking the decisions and whatever goes with them. I am not a Minister who passes that responsibility outside the system to ad hoc or independent groups.

In keeping with one’s responsibilities on being elected to Dáil Éireann and becoming involved with Government, one must have a view which embraces a wide range of issues. As somebody must take a decision at the end of the day, I will do so for as long as I am fortunate enough to serve. I have no problem with that. I believe in having the best possible advice available.

Mr. Morgan:  The Minister is certainly not taking advice from us.

Mr. Cullen:  I want people who are far more knowledgeable and credible in the heritage area advising me. I will not pretend to the House that I am archaeologist and an expert. While I depend on the advice of very competent people — starting with those within my Department — to help me make the relevant decisions, it does not mean I am a rubber stamp once they take a view. I have a right to question their views and decisions, probe their approaches and ask if there are alternatives. I see that as my role. While it is quite clear that the experts are correct in 99% of cases, there are times when people concede that a Minister may have a point and that another approach could perhaps be taken.

Mr. Morgan:  Can I make a point of order?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy will have an opportunity to contribute as soon as the Minister concludes.

Mr. Gilmore:  He will not.

[327]Mr. Morgan:  On a point of order, the Minister has now been speaking for 27 minutes and the Government has guillotined Report and Final Stages to one hour. If the Minister intends to take still further time, I ask for the allocation of one hour to be reconsidered as it is not nearly enough and the Minister is using it all.

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

Mr. Cullen:  The four previous speakers took 25 minutes. I got on my feet at 6.02 p.m. to respond and I am entitled to the same time.

Mr. Gilmore:  The Minister is not.

Mr. Cullen:  On what basis?

Mr. McCormack:  The Minister is making it up as he goes along.

Mr. Gilmore:  It is bad enough that the Government has guillotined consideration of the Bill, but the Minister is not entitled to take almost half the time to waffle and engage in an exercise of self justification.

Mr. Morgan:  It is a filibuster. The Minister is a waffler. The Taoiseach’s suggestion was right.

Mr. Cullen:  I am making a statement of fact. While I am not bothered about self justification, I will not put up with constant ridicule without defending myself. I am entitled to defend myself and make no apology for doing so.

Mr. Gilmore:  The Minister has a great deal to defend.

Mr. Cullen:  While Deputy Gilmore usually brings balance to debate, he has not on this occasion. It surprises me that he has failed to acknowledge that, as well he knows, the legislation on which he is quizzing me and for which he is blaming me already exists. All the descriptions exist in law.

Mr. Gilmore:  If the legislation exists, why is the Minister bringing in a new Bill?

Mr. Cullen:  There was no problem with the Minister with responsibility for heritage having those powers when the rainbow Government was in office. That was obviously a different issue.

Mr. Gilmore:  The rainbow Government protected national monuments, but the Minister is knocking them down.

Mr. Cullen:  I look forward to the conflicts which will arise when the Green Party forms part of a Government with, most likely, Fine Gael and the Labour Party. It will probably be long after I am finished in politics.

[328]Mr. Gilmore:  I am glad the Minister is looking forward to a change of Government.

Mr. Cullen:  Sinn Féin will probably be another wagon attached to that Government.

Mr. McCormack:  The Minister has great experience of political parties. He is the only person here who has been in two.

Mr. Cullen:  It will be interesting to see when that happens whose agenda will overcome.

Mr. Morgan:  It will not be with the Progressive Democrats.

Mr. Cullen:  It will be interesting to see where the Greens will come from on the agenda of Fine Gael and, to a lesser extent, the Labour Party. Nothing will ever be done.

Mr. Boyle:  Is the Minister leaving politics that soon?

Mr. Cullen:  We are now spending more than €20 million of taxpayers’ money on archaeological excavation.

Mr. Gilmore:  And the Minister begrudges it.

Mr. Cullen:  No one should tell me that is not fair. If many taxpayers realised how much money was being spent, they might take a different view of the world, given the pressures.

Mr. Boyle:  The National Roads Authority has overspent on roads by €10 billion.

Mr. Cullen:  That does not compare like with like. While we all regret how costs have gone, Deputy Boyle should remember that this Government introduced the minimum wage and brought unemployment from 18% to 4.5%.

Mr. Morgan:  Does that entitle the Minister to rip down national monuments?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I remind the House that we are on amendment No. 1.

Mr. Cullen:  This Government created unheard of economic expansion and ended emigration.

Mr. Gilmore:  The rainbow Government turned the economy around. The Government has spent the last seven years mis-spending the money which resulted.

Mr. Cullen:  I have never denied that the rainbow Government made a contribution in its time to the events of the past ten years.

Mr. Morgan:  The Minister is not interested in the amendment. He is only interested in waffling.

Mr. Cullen:  I have always been fair on those points. We might disagree on some of the priori[329]ties, but I never said the rainbow Government did not contribute. Deputy Gilmore was a Member of the House when we began to experience significant growth in the early 1990s. The serious problem we had was that there was no correlation in terms of a decrease in unemployment figures. It took time for that to feed in. That is a useful example.

Mr. Gilmore:  It took time for the policies of the rainbow Government to kick in.

Mr. Cullen:  That is not the case.

Mr. Gilmore:  That is an historic fact.

Mr. Cullen:  Nobody can persuade me that it is not the case that the policies which changed this country were introduced in 1987.

Mr. Gilmore:  When the rainbow Government took office there were 300,000 unemployed.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I remind Deputies that we are on amendment No. 1.

Mr. Cullen:  It was the move away from 1987 to the present which was the basis of it. We have picked up and pursued it since then.

Mr. Gilmore:  You know nothing of recent history, never mind archaeology.

Mr. Cullen:  I do. I have acknowledged that you played a role. I never said you did not.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputies should address the Chair.

Mr. Cullen:  We have pursued a consistent economic and political philosophy in this country for the past 15 years which has underpinned dynamic growth. According to recent reports, this philosophy is the reason we continue to be able to compete for foreign direct investment. It is that economic and political stability and certainty, along with the low personal and corporate tax regime, which constitutes a significant element of our ability to maintain investment.

Mr. McCormack:  This has nothing to do with the amendment.

Mr. Gilmore:  It has nothing to do with archaeology either.

Mr. Boyle:  Perhaps the Minister wishes to be considered a national monument himself.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please. Please debate amendment No. 1 on Report Stage of the National Monuments (Amendment) Bill.

Mr. Gilmore:  The Minister is digging a hole. He should stop.

[330]Mr. Cullen:  I am quite comfortable standing on the platform I am on. I do not consider myself to be in any hole. The story this Government has to tell is a very positive one.

Mr. McCormack:  Keep digging.

Mr. Cullen:  It is about time we told it a bit more strongly.

Mr. Durkan:  The Minister should tell the people where the €60 million went on electronic voting.

Mr. Cullen:  Whatever about Fine Gael, we should take on those on the benches behind Deputy Durkan who are hoodwinking people. They pretend this is a game of smoke and mirrors and a three card trick whereby they can be for and against everything at the same time.

Mr. Durkan:  Fianna Fáil has been doing it for years.

Mr. Cullen:  It is a marvellous economic philosophy, but it will not wash with the people. Deputy Morgan had better come up with something better over the three years before the next general election.

Mr. Morgan:  I am looking forward to it.

Mr. Cullen:  I can assure the Deputy that old game——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  On amendment No. 1.

Mr. Cullen:  As I have said, amendment No. 1 was tabled by Deputy Morgan of Sinn Féin. It seeks to pretend after all I have said that we do not have the highest standards of preservation and protection of monuments and heritage. All the evidence in the public sector from Departments to those agencies operating on behalf of Government, including the National Museum and the Heritage Council, is that the highest standards are in place. Ireland is a model for many other countries in terms of dealing with archaeology and securing heritage. I challenge anyone to point to another country which is doing as much as Ireland. We do this in spite of the significant development demands on our economy which are equally real. We are finding a balance between necessary economic development and dealing with our heritage, especially important archaeology.

This Fianna Fáil-led Government can be proud of the tradition started and the consciousness raised by the former Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, who, to be fair to him, elevated heritage and culture to a level to which it had not been elevated before.

Mr. Morgan:  The Minister has buried them nicely in this Bill.

[331]Mr. Cullen:  The Deputy can take his view, but that is a statement of fact acknowledged far beyond the House. There is no point in failing to acknowledge it.

Mr. Morgan:  The Minister has now turned the situation around.

Mr. Cullen:  Deputy Morgan has been suggesting in recent weeks that somehow this legacy is to be undermined.

Mr. Morgan:  In that case, the Minister should accept the amendment.

Mr. Cullen:  In fact, it is being strengthened because good people have the wit to put useful legislation together which will mitigate and protect archaeology to the highest standards.

Mr. Gilmore:  The Minister is wasting the time of the House.

Mr. Cullen:  I am proud to bring such legislation to the House on behalf of the Government.

Debate adjourned.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Ms Hanafin):  I move:

That, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders or the Order of the Dáil of this day:

(1) The Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and the business shall be interrupted on the conclusion of No. 15

and

(2) The proceedings on No. 15 shall be taken immediately on the conclusion of No. 25, and shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 45 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: the speech of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; Members may share time; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a reply which shall not exceed five minutes.

Mr. Gilmore:  Since the Minister of State is proposing a change in the Order of Business for the House, will she propose an extension of the time available to debate the National Monuments Bill, particularly in view of the disgraceful abuse of the time of the House by the Minister, who spoke for half an hour in a debate which is scheduled for one hour? His contribution was an exercise in filibustering and an attempt to talk out the time available in case any of us would say anything he did not want to hear.

[332]Mr. Cullen:  The Opposition levelled a number of accusations and I responded.

Mr. Gilmore:  In view of that abuse, will the Minister of State propose an extension of the time?

Ms Hanafin:  I appreciate the Deputies want more time to discuss every Bill before the House. Unfortunately, another Bill backs onto this one and it too is on Report and Final Stages. We are under pressure of time coming up to the end of term and, unfortunately, I cannot give more time to this particular Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

In page 3, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:

“2.—Nothing in this Act shall cause the State to derogate from its responsibility to preserve, protect and maintain to the highest possible standards the heritage of the State including its national monuments.”.

—(Deputy Morgan).

Mr. Morgan:  This Minister will not be short of work because, even if he loses his portfolio in the proposed reshuffle in September, as many of us expect he will, he will easily find a position on the big screen. Gregory Peck or John Wayne would not get a look in with the Minister’s performance today. He stood here with a straight face and as much as told us that black was white.

Mr. Durkan:  He would not do a John Wayne on the job anyway.

Mr. Morgan:  This Minister brought in a Bill to allow for the destruction of the national monuments and heritage of this country and for half an hour waffled and filibustered his way through one amendment to this legislation.

Mr. Gilmore:  He would definitely do more than John Wayne.

Mr. Morgan:  He could have amended section 14 which was all that was needed. However, he chose not to and brought in a Trojan horse as a result of which the resurfacing of a boreen could cause a national monument to be bulldozed out of the way. The Minister knows well that is the effect this Bill will have. His bluffing and codding do not work. The only reason the Minister can do as he does is because the people are disconnected from the political system as a result of the decades of misrepresentation and corruption that have gone on among people such as the Minister.

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. Cullen):  The Deputy is right. We allowed Sinn Féin to fill that gap but we will take that job back from it.

[333]Mr. Morgan:  Otherwise the Minister would not have got away with what he or other Ministers are doing. I have been a Member of the House long enough to work out whether the Minister is running with this on his own account or whether he is merely a front man for his former Progressive Democrats colleagues. Either way, it does not matter. The fact is that the Minister has brought this scandalous legislation to the House. Our heritage does not belong to us. We are only minding it to pass it on.

Mr. Cullen:  Whatever I might be accused of, it is not that I am sentimentally and seriously wrong.

Mr. Morgan:  Our responsibility is to mind our heritage and pass it on. However, that is not what the Minister has done. Through this legislation he is ensuring that whoever comes along will the largest machine can bulldoze away our heritage.

It is unfortunate that we have not managed to complete debate on even one amendment in the measly hour allocated to us for debate on this Stage, one half hour of which was taken up by the Minister’s filibustering. We should move some regulations to control wayward Ministers to ensure Opposition Deputies get some opportunity to contribute positively to debates.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy has exceeded his two minutes. He should conclude.

Mr. Morgan:  It does not seem to matter anyhow, because the Government side does not listen to us.

Mr. Gilmore:  The Minister made a long speech of justification with regard to the south-eastern motorway and Carrickmines. I note he has proposed amendment No. 39, which we will not reach in the time allowed for this debate, which proposes that section 51B of the Roads Act of 1993 shall not apply in respect of the south-eastern route. Will the Minister explain in his reply what that amendment is about?

I wish to point out to the Chair and the House that this amendment does not arise from Committee Stage proceedings. I do not recall getting any notification from the Minister that he would introduce a Report Stage amendment to section 8. Certainly, no amendment in these terms to section 8 was considered on Committee Stage. I submit that amendment No. 39 cannot simply be passed here——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We are dealing with amendment No. 1 now.

Mr. Gilmore:  I know this but I am referring to amendment No. 39 which refers to the south-eastern motorway, about which the Minister spoke at great length and without interruption. Amendment No. 39 did not arise from Committee Stage and I submit that it must be recommitted to Committee Stage because it does not properly arise.

[334]I would also like to draw attention to a second amendment in the Minister’s name, amendment No. 35, which purports to amend the new procedures applying when a road scheme is referred back to An Bord Pleanála. Under amendment No. 35, which is also new, An Bord Pleanála will now be required to confine itself to considering the directions of the Minister and the proposed change to the approved road development. Here again on Report Stage we have a new amendment which changes the content of the Bill on the Minister’s direction. That particular amendment was not submitted on Committee Stage and should not be permitted to pass on Report Stage without being recommitted.

Mr. McCormack:  We might as well abandon any attempt to address any of the amendments to this Bill in the two remaining minutes of debate. The farce of what has taken place here for the past hour is unbelievable. It is incredible that the Minister would talk about his ability to listen to people and not bulldoze them into action. His track record has left a doubt in everybody’s mind, including the minds of Opposition members, about his intentions in this case. His actions on electronic voting, a motion on which will be discussed later, prove he will not listen to or take advice from anybody. What has happened during the past hour brings this House into disrepute. We would be better off——

Mr. Cullen:  Every Member opposite made a Second Stage speech.

Mr. McCormack:  ——if we had our tea, abandoned the debate and let the Minister carry on in whatever way he likes. Unfortunately, he was successful in his attempt to bury any chance of reasonable debate on this amendment. There is no point in my speaking to it at this stage because the amendments we tabled will not be reached. The Minister has succeeded in frustrating the purpose of this Report Stage debate. This debate is a farce. It is a good job——

Mr. Cullen:  The Deputy spoke for half an hour and then he blames me.

Mr. McCormack:  ——that there is nobody in the Visitors’ Gallery or in the press gallery to hear us.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy must conclude.

Mr. McCormack:  What is going on in this House——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We must conclude now and I ask the Deputy to resume his seat. The 60 minutes allocated for this debate has expired.

[335]Mr. McCormack:  The opinions of all the new councils we have elected will be dismissed. It is a scandal.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  As the time permitted for this debate has expired I am required [336]to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day: “That the amendments set down by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and not disposed of are hereby made to the Bill, that Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed.”

[335]The Dáil divided: Tá, 65; Níl, 48.

 Ahern, Dermot.  Ahern, Michael.
 Andrews, Barry.  Ardagh, Seán.
 Brady, Johnny.  Brady, Martin.
 Browne, John.  Callanan, Joe.
 Callely, Ivor.  Carty, John.
 Cassidy, Donie.  Coughlan, Mary.
 Cowen, Brian.  Cregan, John.
 Cullen, Martin.  Curran, John.
 Davern, Noel.  de Valera, Síle.
 Dempsey, Noel.  Dennehy, John.
 Devins, Jimmy.  Ellis, John.
 Finneran, Michael.  Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
 Fleming, Seán.  Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
 Glennon, Jim.  Grealish, Noel.
 Hanafin, Mary.  Harney, Mary.
 Haughey, Seán.  Hoctor, Máire.
 Jacob, Joe.  Keaveney, Cecilia.
 Kelleher, Billy.  Kelly, Peter.
 Killeen, Tony.  Kirk, Seamus.
 Lenihan, Brian.  McCreevy, Charlie.
 McDaid, James.  McDowell, Michael.
 McGuinness, John.  Martin, Micheál.
 Moloney, John.  Moynihan, Michael.
 Mulcahy, Michael.  Nolan, M. J.
 Ó Cuív, Éamon.  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
 O’Connor, Charlie.  O’Dea, Willie.
 O’Donovan, Denis.  O’Keeffe, Batt.
 O’Malley, Fiona.  Parlon, Tom.
 Power, Peter.  Power, Seán.
 Sexton, Mae.  Smith, Michael.
 Treacy, Noel.  Wallace, Dan.
 Walsh, Joe.  Wilkinson, Ollie.
 Wright, G. V.  


[335]Níl
 Allen, Bernard.  Boyle, Dan.
 Breen, Pat.  Broughan, Thomas P.
 Bruton, Richard.  Burton, Joan.
 Connaughton, Paul.  Crawford, Seymour.
 Crowe, Seán.  Deenihan, Jimmy.
 Durkan, Bernard J.  Ferris, Martin.
 Gilmore, Eamon.  Gormley, John.
 Gregory, Tony.  Hayes, Tom.
 Healy, Seamus.  Higgins, Joe.
 Howlin, Brendan.  Kenny, Enda.
 Lynch, Kathleen.  McCormack, Padraic.
 McGinley, Dinny.  McGrath, Paul.
 Morgan, Arthur.  Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
 Murphy, Gerard.  Naughten, Denis.
 Neville, Dan.  Noonan, Michael.
 Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.  Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
 O’Dowd, Fergus.  O’Keeffe, Jim.
 O’Shea, Brian.  O’Sullivan, Jan.
 Penrose, Willie.  Quinn, Ruairí.
 Rabbitte, Pat.  Ring, Michael.
 Ryan, Seán.  Sargent, Trevor.
 Sherlock, Joe.  Shortall, Róisín.
 Stanton, David.  Timmins, Billy.
 Upton, Mary.  Wall, Jack.

[335]Tellers: Tá, Deputies Hanafin and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Durkan and Broughan.

[337]Question declared carried.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I move: “That Report Stage be taken now.”

Question put and agreed to.

Mr. Rabbitte:  I move amendment No. 1:

In page 5, line 26, after “form” to insert “, and includes a thing”.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Is the amendment agreed to?

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  No.

Mr. Howlin:  Will the Minister explain why not?

Mr. McDowell:  If the Deputy can explain why it is being moved, I will explain why I will not accept it.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  I support Deputy Costello’s amendment. He must have anticipated that the Bill would not be dealt with before 7 p.m. I would not like his amendments not to be considered.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The amendment was moved.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  Yes.

Mr. McDowell:  I will elaborate on why I am disinclined to accept the amendment. An official amendment I tabled on Committee Stage introduced significant flexibility in how the term “document” is to be interpreted. Deputy Costello’s amendment, which has been moved by his colleague, introduces new elements that are not relevant. It is not necessary in view of my previous official amendment, which deleted “means” and substituted “includes”. Under these circumstances, it is not necessary to accept the Deputy’s amendment.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  I recollect the points raised by Deputy Costello on Committee Stage. He was of the view that the Bill would be improved and more all-embracing if the amendment he proposes is accepted. I recollect that he was not prepared to go to the wall on the issue on Committee Stage and, on that basis, it would not be over-presumptuous to suggest that he would not press this amendment to a vote.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Rabbitte:  I move amendment No. 2:

[338]

In page 6, line 14, to delete “any” and substitute “a director or any other”.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  The subsection in question here deals with a document in the power of a body corporate or an unincorporated body. It is a technical amendment that Deputy Costello felt would improve the Bill.

Mr. McDowell:  For the purposes of the Act, section 2(2) provides that a document in the power of a body corporate or an unincorporated body of any kind is considered in the absence of evidence to the contrary to be also in the power or possession of any individual who, because of his or her functions or position within the body corporate or unincorporated body, as the case may be, can reasonably be expected to have control over the document.

Deputy Costello’s amendment proposes to delete “any” and substitute “a director or any other”. The term “any individual” encompasses “any director”. Since the phrase applies to both bodies corporate and bodies unincorporated it is sufficiently wide as it stands. It would add no weight to the definition to specifically mention directors because other individuals, because of their functions or position within the body corporate, might reasonably be expected to have control over the document. The definition as it stands is a broad, generic definition of the kind of person expected to be in possession of the relevant documents. It would cover a director with control over the documents of the body corporate, if it were a body corporate.

Mr. Costello:  I thank Deputy Jim O’Keeffe for standing in the breach. The purpose of my amendment is to direct attention to the director because the director is the person specifically responsible with regard to a body corporate. Rather than having a general reference to those responsible, it should be noted that the director is responsible in the first instance.

Debate adjourned.

Mr. Gilmore:  I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

—deplores the failure of the Government to provide sufficient funding for the disabled person’s grant scheme, administered by the local authorities, which has created huge difficulties for persons with disabilities or mobility problems who need to make physical adjustments to their homes; and

[339]—noting the further difficulties being created as a result of inadequate funding for the home improvement scheme for the elderly, administered by the health boards;

calls on the Government to:

—provide sufficient funding to allow local authorities to clear all outstanding applications for the disabled person’s grant scheme;

—increase the maximum amount payable under the grant to at least €30,000; and

—place the grant scheme on a statutory basis.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Penrose, Howlin, Upton and Moynihan-Cronin.

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

Mr. Gilmore:  Louise is 11 years old, she has Down’s syndrome and suffers from a condition of the ear which affects her balance and which makes using stairs difficult and dangerous. Louise lives with her parents and two brothers in a two-storey council house in my constituency.

Mr. Howlin:  I raise a point of order. No member of the Government is present.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Sherlock):  There is nothing I can do about that.

Mr. Howlin:  I do not think the House can properly sit if no Member from the Government side is present.

Mr. Gilmore:  I move that the motion be agreed.

Deputies:  Agreed.

Mr. Gilmore:  The motion is agreed.

Acting Chairman:  Fan go fóill.

Mr. Gilmore:  The motion has been agreed.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Will you put the motion, Sir?

Mr. Penrose:  The motion should be put.

Deputies:  The motion is agreed.

Mr. Rabbitte:  What are you declaring, Sir?

Acting Chairman:  I do not think I have authority to declare a motion agreed. There is now a representative of the Government in the House.

Mr. Penrose:  However belated.

[340]Acting Chairman:  Belated though it be, I ask Deputy Gilmore to proceed.

Mr. Gilmore:  In deference to you, I will proceed although the record of the House should show that the motion was agreed. I trust I will be credited with the two or three minutes it has taken for the Minister of State to arrive.

  7 o’clock

For the benefit of the Minister of State I will repeat that the constituent to whom I refer is an 11 year old girl who has Down’s syndrome and a condition of the ear which affects her balance and makes using a stairs difficult and dangerous. She lives with her parents and two brothers in a two-storey council house in my constituency.

On 23 August 2001 her mother applied to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council for the provision of a downstairs toilet to reduce the number of times Louise would have to climb the stairs. On 28 August 2001, the council wrote to the occupational therapy section of the East Coast Area Health Board for a report and recommendation. Over a year later, on 10 September 2002, the occupational therapist carried out the inspection. The health board states that its occupational therapy section is understaffed.

The occupational therapist’s report, dated 18 September 2002, did not arrive in the county council until 28 January 2003 because it was initially sent in error to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which did not forward it to the council until the error was discovered following inquiries by Louise’s mother.

The occupational therapy report, dated 18 September 2002, states:

Louise is a nine year old girl with Down’s syndrome. She has also had a mastoidectomy that has affected her balance, increasing the likelihood of her falling. The hearing in Louise’s other ear is poor and may deteriorate.

Going on to describe the house, the report states:

. . .at the end of the stairs, there is a fanned turn with three steps. Enclosing the steps there is a wall. The wall poses a definite risk to Louise, as the area of most risk of falling is on the stairs. A downstairs toilet would be of benefit to Louise in facilitating toilet training and reducing the need for using the stairs during the day. In the long term a bedroom at ground floor level would be beneficial.

The report goes on to recommend works to straighten the stairs and that the provision of the downstairs toilet is a high priority.

Almost two years after that report was written, no work has been carried out. the council’s architect has yet to visit the dwelling. Yesterday, I inquired again about this case and I was told the architect would probably call within the next month to see if it needed to be referred to a consultant architect, but God only knows when Louise will get the downstairs toilet which the occu[341]pational therapist described as a high priority two years ago and which is needed to reduce the “definite risk” that using the stairs poses to Louise.

The Minister may respond to this case that the delays were with the health board and the local authority. Both the health board and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council have serious questions to answer about their handling of this application. However, Louise’s case is not an isolated one. Current applicants for the disabled person’s grant in my constituency are now being told by the council that their applications will not even be processed until the backlog from 2002 is cleared. This means that people who have had accidents, strokes or heart attacks or who suffer from some disability will have to wait between two and three years at least for necessary adaptations to be carried out to their dwellings. It is a condition of the scheme that work cannot commence until the grant has been approved so the delay in processing and approving grant applications necessarily results in the work being delayed.

People who are unable to climb stairs have to wait years for the provision of a downstairs bedroom or toilet and are often confined to using the living room as a makeshift bedroom and to the indignity of using a commode in some part of the living space of the house. Elderly or infirm people who can no longer get into a standard bath have to wait years for the bath to be replaced with a step-in shower. All over the country, thousands of people with varying types of disability are in these circumstances.

At the end of 2003, the Irish Wheelchair Association released the results of a survey it conducted throughout the local authorities. Most councils reported that their money had been used up for 2002 and were considering introducing varying stages of prioritisation, some relating to the disability and some relating to a means test. While the response varied from one council to another, one thing was consistent, all over the country the disabled person’s grant scheme has run into serious trouble.

According to the Disabilities Federation of Ireland, the recent census estimated that 8.3% of the population identify themselves as having a disability. More than 120,000 people with disabilities are dependent on social welfare payments that are insufficient to either get or service a mortgage. The disabled person’s housing grant scheme, DPG, has for more than 30 years played a crucial and central role in supporting thousands of people with disabilities to return to or remain living in their homes. In this way people have continued living active lives and contributing to their communities. It continues to allow people all over the country to participate fully as equal citizens in the communities in which they live. However, the scheme has never fully addressed the needs of people with disabilities.

As far back as 1980 the National Economic and Social Council stated that an effective housing policy for people with disabilities must involve [342]the following three elements: a satisfactory adaptation scheme, provision for special housing as part of the building programme and provision of housing with support services where the demand exists. The Disabilities Federation of Ireland has reiterated its call for these three components as part of a national accommodation and support strategy for people with disabilities.

The disabled person’s grant has come under assault due to the financial strain faced by some local authorities, particularly over the past three years. Changes to the scheme, including the introduction of means testing and the reduction of individual amounts payable, have led to increased vulnerability for people with disabilities, often at crisis points, including over-long stays in hospitals and inadequate standards of housing.

The Irish housing stock is largely inaccessible to people with mobility impairment. The disabled person’s grant was introduced to part fund housing adaptation as required by people with mobility impairment. However, people with disabilities are still trapped in inaccessible, unsuitable and potentially dangerous homes due to the failure of the disabled person’s grant scheme.

Today’s crisis in the disabled person’s grant has been well flagged to the Government. Over the past two years especially, my Labour colleagues and I have been raising the issue by way of Dáil questions. The response we have received from the Minister of State with responsibility for housing has been the same, the Government has increased the maximum allowable, the local authorities should make up the balance from their resources and the scheme is under review.

That official reply, which may be repeated again this evening, misses a number of points. Demand for disabled person’s adaptations have increased, the cost of building has increased and the waiting period has got so long that it makes a mockery of the application process. For example, applicants must submit an estimate of the cost of the works when making the initial application. What builder will hold himself to a three year old estimate if it takes that long for a local authority to approve a grant?

Major changes need to be made to the disabled person’s grant scheme. The scheme should be put on a statutory basis so persons with a disability will be able to get their house adapted as of right. Putting the disabled person’s grant on a statutory basis would also eliminate the inconsistencies that apply from one local authority to another.

The maximum grant should also be increased from the current level of €20,320 to €30,000 and indexed to the cost of building thereafter and, in line with the recommendations of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities, the Government should increase the disabled person’s grant to cover 100% of the cost of approved building work. At present only two thirds is paid by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the balance must be found from local authorities’ own resources. As a result, access to the disabled [343]person’s grant varies from one local authority to another, depending on that council’s rate base or income from other sources. Access to the disabled person’s grant should be based on need, not on an accident of residence.

The Government should now make the necessary funds available to clear the backlog of disabled person’s grant applications. I include in this applications for disabled person’s alterations to council-owned dwellings and applications for the home improvements scheme for the elderly.

I ask the Minister not to tell us that the funds are not available. The €60 million he squandered on the failed experiment with electronic voting would provide every waiting applicant with a downstairs toilet, a bedroom extension or a walk-in shower. Tax revenues for the first four months of this year were €500 million ahead of target. This is now a question of priorities.

When this was a relatively poor country, people with disabilities could apply to their local authority for a grant to adapt their house. The grant would be approved and the works would be completed within the same year. Now, with the Government’s finances bulging, people with disabilities who urgently need a home adaptation are being told by the Government that there is not enough money, are being told by their local authority that it does not have the architects to inspect the dwelling and are being told by the health board that it does not have the occupational therapists to assess their need. Could there be more damning evidence of this Government’s mismanagement that in economically-abundant times, its message is that the disabled must wait?

I ask the House to accept this motion. I especially ask Fianna Fáil Deputies, who reportedly came back from the recent local and European election campaign with the needs of disabled person’s grant applicants ringing in their ears, to support this motion. I say to them to recall now the homes they called to in May and June, to remember the plight of the people with disabilities and their distraught parents and families, to remember their promises to them that they would do their best for them and not to let them down when this motion is voted on tomorrow night. I ask them to support this Labour Party motion so that before this House goes into recess for the summer, people with disabilities can be assured that their needs will be treated as a priority.

Mr. Penrose:  This is an important motion and will establish who in the House supports rights-based legislation and who supports the idea that matters like this should be left to the discretion of local authorities or Departments.

For the last 35 years, the disabled person’s grant has played a crucial role in helping the many people with disabilities or mobility problems to remain living as independently as possible in their own homes. Almost 18,000 have been [344]assisted in improving their homes under the scheme and have been able to participate fully in their communities as equal citizens as a result. The grant has also played an important role in relieving pressure on hospital beds.

Now, however, many people stay longer in hospital as they wait for a disabled person’s grant to which they are entitled, but which has been put on the long finger because of a lack of finances. The continuing financial strain placed on local authorities which manage the scheme, results in many people losing out. This is a national scandal that must be addressed immediately to help people with disabilities to make the necessary physical adjustments to their homes.

In Westmeath County Council, an efficient local authority, where people are making strenuous efforts to stretch limited resources, as of November 2003, €3.5 million was required, without taking a single extra application after that date. The 2004 budget for disabled person’s grants amounts to €1.05 million, with €650,000 already committed to grants approved in 2003. Funding of grant applications currently in hand is being considered in the context of the 2004 and estimated 2005 budgets. This is disastrous for those on the lists.

They are further segregated according to priority. Priority 1 cases receive approval while priority 2 and priority 3 cases are put back and will not be heard of again. People who need these essential facilities are not being catered for and are dying. It is a scandal that this can happen while the Minister wastes money on electronic voting and Punchestown. This is the dividing line between right-wing and left-wing ideology. Everything else can be catered for but we must look after people first. That is the fundamental compassionate view of an economy — it should serve the people, not something else.

Disabled person’s grants appear to be issued on a first come, first served basis. According to research carried out by the Irish Wheelchair Association, a significant proportion of local authorities had long since used up their grant allocation for the year by November. Those people who apply after a particular time of year have no hope of receiving grant approval that year.

This grant has been in existence for more than 30 years but the basic fundamental requirements for the operation of the scheme have not changed and, while any increase is to be welcomed, it will be of little use. Where would a person get a room and a bathroom added to a house for €20,000? We must deal with reality, it would cost around €50,000.

The scheme is still funded at the discretion of the local authorities and the money often runs out before the end of the year, resulting in a major shortfall in the implementation of this scheme for the rest of that year. Local authorities have to make the scheme fit the demand that exists but they implement different criteria. It is important, therefore, that the scheme is on a statutory foot[345]ing. Its administration must be equal across every local authority. People could argue that they face discrimination because if a local authority is cash rich and can administer the scheme, people within that area will get a higher priority than people in a different local authority area. The Minister should seek the advice of the Attorney General on this issue.

Let us take the example of someone who has been in an accident and is left in a wheelchair. It makes sense that all the provisions that person needs to live as full and independent a life as possible are in place by the time he or she is discharged from hospital. It is absolutely essential that proper planning is in place before someone comes home from hospital but this is simply not the case. In 2001, a 72 year old person was discharged from hospital after having his leg amputated. As soon as he became wheelchair bound, the occupational therapy department in Beaumont Hospital applied on his behalf for the grant to build a bathroom with an accessible shower but he was left for months. While the situation may have been sorted out since then, there are many other people like him who are still waiting in similar conditions for grant approval.

There was a case outlined in The Irish Times of a person who spent four years on a hospital bed in his parents’ front room. He was left suffering from brain damage after being in a car accident when he was 29. Speaking in April to The Irish Times, he said: “It was very embarrassing sleeping in my parents’ front room for four years in a hospital bed. They never complained but it was annoying me that any visitors to the house had to walk through my bedroom first.” Although he was not able to secure a bank loan to make up the remaining moneys to carry out the work, with the help of the Irish Wheelchair Association, his parents and the credit union, he raised the difference.

The Irish Wheelchair Association estimates that it costs €50,000 for a downstairs bedroom and toilet but the current scheme awards a maximum of €20,320 to adapt a room in an existing house or €12,700 for a new house. At the very least, the scheme must offer recipients the more realistic figure of €30,000. Anything less is merely paying lip-service to this very important scheme. Recipients already have to provide at least 10% of the cost of the works and for many this means attempting to secure a bank loan or having to beg, borrow and turn to family members and friends to raise the money.

We must also acknowledge the importance of being independent. The smallest modifications to a home can mean all the difference between someone with a disability or mobility problem remaining self-sufficient and independent or being confined to a nursing home or residential care. It is clear there is a compelling case for the grant levels to be raised.

It is a major problem that there is no statutory entitlement to the grant and that its payment is at the discretion of the local authority. Many local [346]authorities are finding that, with the current demand, they run out of money early in the year and are simply unable to meet the demand for grants, even in the most extreme of cases. It is clear more funds must be made available to local authorities to enable them to ensure that all applications are funded. There is no consistency in the administration of the scheme. Behind these applications are people who have suffered due to the failure of the disabled person’s grant. Their cases are not once-off and their experiences are repeated throughout the country. The Minister must take the opportunity to review and completely overhaul, standardise and most important, improve the scheme. Up to now the Government has failed to provide sufficient funding for people with disabilities. The recent increases in funding for local authorities do not go far enough. The Labour Party believes it is vital that the level of grants for home adaptation for people with disabilities is raised significantly. The service must become rights based and not one constrained by the local authority cash constraints and limits.

Dr. Upton:  I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion on behalf of those people who are very often least able to fend for themselves and often left longest waiting. The waiting lists in my area seem to go on forever and the queues seem to extend indefinitely. It is not good enough that disabled people are kept waiting for long periods of time to be provided with what are often very basic needs that would allow them to live with what would be considered a minimum of comfort, independence and security. It is totally unacceptable that disabled people are kept waiting not just for months but in many cases for years. They are told, “I am sorry, we do not have anybody to visit you for at least 15 months to two years.”

People with disabilities are not able to wait for months, let alone years, to know if their bathroom will be approved or if their bedroom extension will be given to them. Frequently people say, “Why did I bother? It is just not worth it.” There is hassle involved in the form filling, waiting for the application to be approved and so on. They become disillusioned. They say, “I will be dead by the time this grant is approved; why did I bother?” There is a follow-on disruption to their house which may be caused by any modifications that may arise. They want to have the house adapted so they can live in comfort but they frequently find it is simply not worth the trouble.

As my colleagues have stated, the amount of the grant is not adequate to meet the requirements of even a modest modification or adaptation. The mere €20,000 which is now approved will frequently go nowhere near meeting the real cost. People often must borrow the money from the credit union or beg the money from their family. These are people who are at risk in any case and it puts further stress and strain on them.

People make a reasonable assumption that the grant will be available to them within what they [347]would consider to be a reasonable length of time. They do not have a problem with waiting a couple of weeks or months. However, the process drags on. The inevitable bureaucracy of the number of people to be seen and visited spoils it for the applicants and makes them bitter towards the whole business.

It is one thing to wait for approval from the local authority but I wish to raise another issue this evening. The delay in obtaining reports from occupational therapists has been mentioned by my colleagues. The waiting time for the occupational therapist is approximately 15 months to two years. The provision of what I consider to be very basic changes is often delayed for years before an occupational therapist can give approval. I have many constituents waiting for an occupational therapist’s report before the grant can even be considered. Why is there such a delay and why is no action being taken to ensure the supply of occupational therapists can at least go some way towards meeting the demand?

I hear frequently from health board officials who state, “I am sorry, we do not have the occupational therapy posts filled.” Why is there only one school of occupational therapy in this country with the numbers attending the course capped? The queue goes on and on.

An elderly lady in my constituency has been given the run-around so many times in her attempts to obtain approval for such basic needs as a handrail and a special chair. The hospital occupational therapist decided and approved the requirement. Later, however, the whole process, for whatever reason, had to be re-enacted with the occupational therapist from the local health board. The only problem is that the lady lives in a third-floor flat and in order to be approved for the chair, she had to go to the occupational therapist. If she were able to negotiate the stairs in the first place, she probably would not want the occupational therapist to visit. She has been informed she must wait for up to 15 months for an assessment. There is some form of arrogance associated with this situation. A disabled person must do battle with three flights of stairs in order to be assessed for something that has already been approved by another professional. Is it not possible for the file to be passed from one group to another or one person to another? How much time and money is spent or wasted on this kind of inefficiency?

Individual occupational therapists will often do their very best to accommodate people. They will give as much information as possible. There is a serious block in the system in terms of the availability of occupational therapists to make these grants available and to allow approval to go ahead. Why can the shortage of occupational therapists not be addressed? Has consideration been given to recruitment from abroad? Is it not possible for some straightforward elements of the occupational therapists’ reports to be addressed by the use of students on placement? I am not [348]asking that professional, fully-qualified occupational therapists be replaced but there must be some system whereby some accommodation can be made.

It often happens that two or three months after the grant has been approved, the person dies. This is an indication of the block in the system, the length of time wasted and the frustration of those people who are entitled to minimum requirements for adapting their homes and making life more comfortable and tolerable.

Acting Chairman:  There are 14 minutes remaining.

Mr. Howlin:  Deputy Moynihan-Cronin and I have seven minutes each. I wish I had longer but I have seven minutes to address what I regard to be a basic social justice issue. We spend a lot of time in this House, probably rightly, on the weighty matters of the European Presidency. We are proud to strut the stage with the best and the good in any of the European fora. This issue is a defining issue, whether we have the right to call ourselves a civilised and just society. What we are discussing is affording some of the most vulnerable people in our society the basic means to hold on to their dignity. If we cannot do that in an efficient, caring, reasonable manner, then we forego the right to strut with the great and the good and pretend that we are a civilised, developed society.

Three different schemes touch upon the matters being discussed. They are the disabled person’s grant, the essential repairs scheme operated by the local authorities and the housing aid for the elderly scheme which is operated through the health boards. They are often used to send a fool further. When the money is inadequate for the local authorities to deal with essential repairs or when the disabled person’s grant for the year is allocated in its entirety, somebody is sent to another venue to fill out more forms, to be assessed by more people marching through their house and hopefully, at the end of the day, they might receive something. More likely than not, they simply waste time in the waiting.

I wish to speak about three of the most recent cases from my own county and I could pick many more from my files. All three cases touch on the basic tenet of dignity, the ability to bathe oneself and have access to a toilet. To think that in the dying days of our Presidency of the European Union, what is being debated in the House is whether we can provide such basic facilities as these to the citizens of our State.

The first case is that of an elderly couple who because of medical conditions such as breathlessness, hypertension and cardiac failure, can no longer use the bath. They applied to the local authority for funding to provide a walk-in shower at ground floor level. The senior staff officer of my local authority responded:

While I appreciate that a grant is sought urgently for the adaptations proposed in this [349]case, I regret to advise that sufficient funding is not available at present to approve a grant for these works. The application may be reviewed if there is a significant health and mobility deterioration. In the event that all the highest priority grant applications are finalised during 2004, the Council will consider the case again.

The money was used up. This is a letter dated March of this year and this elderly couple have been refused a grant.

Mr. Rabbitte:  The Deputy should not shout in case he wakes the Minister.

Mr. Howlin:  The second case relates to a young person in my constituency who suffered serious brain damage in an unfortunate accident. The health board notified the applicant that no funds were available for modifications to provide a walk-in bath and asked that the person call later in the year.

The third case relates to an application for housing aid for the elderly. I will cite the deputy appeals officer’s response to my representations.

As you are aware funding for this scheme is allocated by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Board [that is, the health board] must operate the scheme within limited funding provided. Because of the large number of applications received for assistance under the scheme a means test may be carried out to establish an applicant’s ability to contribute towards the cost of work involved. Having viewed this application I am in agreement with the decision of the board.

These cases are examples of the reality on the ground. When young people who are disabled or elderly people who have served and built the tiger economy of which we are so proud, and about which we boast, need assistance from the State to afford them basic dignity, they are denied it due to lack of money. If there are any priorities, surely expenditure in these areas should take precedence over the billions we can find for other matters.

My colleagues have spelt out what is needed in this effort. We must have a rational scheme and co-ordination between the three current schemes. We must have rights based provision set down in law, which is simple, workable and uniform in its application because it is clear that the likelihood of receiving a grant depends on the local authority to which one applies. My experience is that some local authorities make better provision and are better able to provide than others. This is not good enough because people have a right to basic services.

The Houses of the Oireachtas have an obligation to set out the appropriate rights in statute law and provide ease of access to ensure the assessment and applications can be completed easily and processed quickly. What we have done [350]is put in place barriers. We pretend we are giving a service when we know the money is not available and tell people, as in the three cases I have outlined, that they may as well give up and enter a nursing home, rather than end their days in dignity because we do not have the wherewithal, either the resources or the wit, to provide essential services for people in need. A government which cannot get this basic element of social provision right is not entitled to call itself a socially just government.

Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin:  I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on this issue in which I have a great interest. After the recent local elections, we listened to a stream of representatives of the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats parties wonder about the reason their parties performed so badly when the economy is in such a wonderful state and so many jobs are being created. Unfortunately, the people about whom we are speaking tonight are not benefiting from the wonderful economy and are not able to take up the jobs being created. The Government is concerned with economics and jobs, rather than people. That is the reason the Fianna Fáil Party did so badly in the local elections. We all heard that message on the doorsteps.

I support the motion and pay tribute to the organisations which represent people with disabilities, particularly NAMI. They deal with this issue morning, noon and night on behalf of their members, families and friends. The disability organisations support the motion and want the grant to be raised to a realistic figure of €30,000. They also want a full review of the scheme to be completed without delay to ensure all the issues raised in the House tonight are addressed.

I will describe a very sad case with which I am dealing. I do not know how anybody living in this supposedly wonderful economy will be able to live with himself or herself on hearing this story. It relates to an elderly couple who had to move out of their house because the roof is made from asbestos. The lady of the house is suffering from serious health problems and the couple were forced to move into a mobile home. The local authority recently sent them a letter notifying them that they must move out of the mobile home by the end of August because they do not have planning permission for it. We have since applied to the local authority for a grant to replace the roof and to the health board to replace rotten window frames. If it takes the usual length of time to process the applications and award the grants, the couple will be forced to live in a house with an asbestos roof with which no health and safety official would dare deal. The couple is facing the difficulty that no builder wants to go near the roof. If the roof is not repaired and the local authority removes the mobile home from the site because it does not have planning permission, who will deal with the couple? I do not want to live in a society in which two pensioners who cannot afford to make neces[351]sary repairs will be put out of their house on to the side of the road. I do not care what planning laws we break; people are entitled to their home.

The disability Bill the Government promised in its programme for Government is still being discussed. The reason it was not produced before the local elections was that it will not be rights based. The Government is not fooling anybody, whether people with disabilities, the organisations representing them or the Labour Party. The Taoiseach stated the legislation will be introduced in the House in the next session. Although I have not been involved in any discussions on the matter, I know it will not be rights based. The Opposition will continue to table motions such as this in the House until we have rights based disability legislation.

Last year, Kerry county councillors received a letter from the local authority regarding capital allocations for disabled persons and essential repairs grants. It stated:

Kerry County Council recently received a capital allocation of €1,378,000 from the Department of the Environment & Local Government in respect of payment of Disabled Persons and Essential Repairs Grants. This is the first time in recent years that a cap has been placed on Disabled Persons and Essential Repairs Grants expenditure by the Department of the Environment & Local Government.

This allocation of €1,378,000 represents a 22% reduction on the provision made in the Revenue Estimate for Disabled Persons and Essential Repairs Grants in 2003.

This letter was written by an official, not a politician. I and other members of the local authority in County Kerry raised hell about the matter and shamed the Department into giving us an additional few bob. It is an absolute disgrace that one must shame a Department and Minister into giving money to those most in need.

I implore the Government to consider people with disabilities. It heard the message on the doorsteps and knows people with disabilities are out there but will not come on a radio programme or go to the newspapers. They have their dignity and I ask the Government to have the dignity to look after them.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. Gallagher):  I move amendment No. 1:

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

“acknowledges the achievements of the Government in significantly improving the housing grant assistance available to disabled and elderly persons in the past five years by:

—providing a substantial increase in combined funding for the disabled person’s and essential repair grant schemes from [352]€18.6 million in 1999 to €65 million in 2004;

—increasing the effective maximum grant available under the disabled person’s grant scheme from €10,158 to €20,320 and the essential repairs grants scheme from €1,143 in 1999 to €9,523;

—increasing the maximum disabled person’s grant available in individual cases from 75% to 90% of the approved cost of the works;

—increasing the level of recoupment to local authorities from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government from 50% to two thirds;

—retaining the disabled person’s new house grant towards the purchase or construction of a new house;

—increasing the funding for the special housing aid for the elderly scheme from €7 million in 1999 to €11.6 million in 2004; and

notes that a review of the disabled person’s grant scheme is being finalised by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and supports the continued actions by the Government to respond to the housing needs of elderly and disabled persons through a range of targeted initiatives

I wish to share time with Deputy Seán Power.

I am pleased to reply to the motion. The Government is committed to a strong sound and appropriate housing programme. An investment of €1.8 billion will be made in 2004 across the full range of programmes, with particular priority being given to programmes that assist those in most urgent need. The continued increased allocations for disabled person’s grants, essential repairs grants and the special housing aid for the elderly schemes are evidence of this commitment.

I am well aware of the pressures on both the disabled person’s grant and special housing aid for the elderly schemes. These are only two of a number of housing schemes operated by my Department and, in that context, it is necessary to balance the competing claims of the various schemes to ensure the available funds, which are limited, are directed to those whose housing need is greatest.

I will first put the disabled person’s grant in context and outline the improvements that have been made to the terms and funding of the scheme over the past few years. Demand under the scheme has increased significantly in recent years. Regulations governing the scheme provide that a housing authority may pay a grant for the provision of additional accommodation or the carrying out of works of adaptation that, in the opinion of the authority, are reasonably necessary for the purpose of rendering a house more suit[353]able for the accommodation of a member of the household who is physically handicapped and the works are necessary for his or her proper accommodation, or who is suffering from severe mental handicap or severe mental illness for which he or she is undergoing treatment and the works are necessary for his or her proper treatment and accommodation. The framework for the disabled person’s grants scheme is laid down in the statutory regulations. The regulations are intended, as far as practicable, to give appropriate flexibility to local authorities.

There is no definite list of approved works that qualify for grant assistance and it is a matter for the local authorities to decide on the general criteria they apply. The regulations do not seek to provide a strict definition of “disability” for the purposes of the grant and, in recent years, more and more applications are in respect of age-related mobility problems. This trend is likely to continue. Unlike most other schemes of Government assistance, no system of prioritisation is laid down in the regulations on medical or income grounds. The only stipulation is that the grantee should occupy the house as his or her place of residence on completion of the works.

The regulations are loosely framed to allow authorities to deal with applications in a flexible manner, to open the grant to as many applicants as possible and to provide a service which the local authorities feel is appropriate in their own areas. This has been one of the strengths of the scheme. It does, however, make it more difficult to manage and to ensure the available funding is directed to those who need most assistance on mobility and income grounds. The major increase in demand for assistance under the scheme can be attributed to the improvements the Government has made to it over the past five years. The maximum grant has been doubled from €10,158 to €20,320, the percentage of grant available has increased from 75% to 90% of the approved cost of works and the level of recoupment to local authorities has increased from half to two thirds.

My Department notifies local authorities of a combined allocation each year to cover the payment of disabled person’s and essential repairs grants. The terms of the grant schemes were not only significantly improved but the funding to cater for demand was also increased. In the period 1999 to 2003, expenditure on disabled person’s and essential repairs grant totalled almost €245 million and covered 33,000 individual grants. The budget provision for these schemes this year is the highest ever at €65 million, an increase of €10 million on last year’s provision.

It is a matter for individual local authorities to decide on the funding to be provided for the disabled person’s and essential repairs grants schemes in their areas from the combined allocations notified to them for this purpose by my Department. The available funding of €65 million for expenditure in 2004 was notified to local authorities on 20 May last. Local authorities were advised to notify my Department if their allo[354]cation was inadequate or surplus to their requirements to facilitate the reallocation of funds to obtain optimum effectiveness from the funding. A small number of authorities will seek increased funding. The scope for reallocation of funds will be kept under ongoing examination in my Department during the rest of the year and all requests for additional funding will be considered in this context.

When calling for further increases in funding, Opposition Members forget that local authorities fund one third of each grant from their own resources, normally from their revenue account in the context of the estimates process. While all authorities are free to seek an increased allocation, this does not allow them to increase expenditure, unless there is a corresponding increase in the their own revenue contribution. Local authorities have become much more conscious of the need to proactively manage the disabled person’s and essential repairs grants schemes in the recent past to ensure they remain within their allocation and do not put undue pressure on their own revenue accounts.

Many of them have introduced a system of prioritisation on medical grounds and have adjusted the level of grant available. It is essential that local authorities should continue to manage the scheme to ensure activity is related to their ability to fund their own contribution to the funding required while having regard to priorities in their area.

The special housing aid for the elderly scheme is administered by a task force set up in 1982 under the aegis of the Department to undertake an emergency programme to improve the housing conditions of elderly persons living alone in unfit or unsanitary accommodation. Various statutory and voluntary bodies involved in this area are represented on the task force. The scheme has, since its inception, been administered with flexibility and a minimum of formality in the interests of elderly persons whose housing conditions have been improved. However, over the years, health boards have developed a priority list to ensure the most urgent cases are dealt with as quickly as possible within the terms of the guidelines.

Typically, aid is available for necessary repairs to make a dwelling habitable for the lifetime of the occupant. The scheme was extended in 2000 to include the provision of suitable heating systems to meet the needs of elderly persons, where necessary. The community care departments of the health boards operate the scheme, using various mechanisms to carry out work under the scheme. The scheme is extremely effective. More than 51,000 cases were processed between 1982 and 2003. A further 1,395 jobs were under way by the end of 2003, the latest date for which figures are available.

The Government has significantly increased funding for the scheme from €5 million in 1997 to a record €11.6 million in 2004 in recognition of the valuable work being done. The allocations to the boards are determined by the task force from [355]the funding available and are based not on the geographical spread of the population, but on the statistical returns received from the health boards showing the level of activity within the area, the number of applications on hand and the estimated cost of these applications. The success of the scheme is due, primarily, to active co-operation between the various statutory and voluntary bodies involved in its operation.

Apart from the disabled person’s grant and the special housing aid for the elderly schemes, the essential repairs grant scheme, which is also operated by local authorities, provides grant aid for elderly persons towards the carrying out of works which, in the opinion of the local authority, are reasonably necessary to prolong the useful life of a dwelling.

Like the disabled person’s grant scheme, significant improvements to the terms of the essential repairs grant scheme since 1999 have also led to increased demand for assistance. The maximum grant is €9,523. Expenditure on the scheme increased from €5 million on 966 grants in 1999 to €13 million on 2,842 grants in 2003. Recoupment costs have also increased from €1 million on 836 grants in 1999 to more than €11 million on 3,262 grants in 2003. That is more than a tenfold increase in recoupment.

A disabled person may qualify for a new house grant of up to €12,700 where a suitably designed or specially adapted new house is being purchased or built specifically to meet the needs of a disabled member of a household. There can be no doubt that the improvements made to these grant schemes and the significantly increased funding provided to meet increased demand are clear indications of the Government’s commitment to meeting the housing needs of disabled and elderly persons.

The Government is very conscious of the need to ensure that the needs of disabled and elderly persons are taken into account in all aspects of housing policy. Local authorities have been asked to draft five-year action plans covering the full range of their housing programmes. These plans, to be agreed with my Department, will ensure that a fully strategic approach is taken by local authorities to the needs of all sectors of the community and will ensure that the requirements of disabled and elderly persons are specifically identified and better reflected in the authorities’ housing programmes for the period in question.

In addition to the various schemes for the adaptation of existing dwellings the Government is making significant progress in the provision of new dwellings for elderly and disabled persons through the capital assistance scheme. The number of dwellings provided under this scheme for elderly persons in 2003 was 382, with grant assistance of almost €44 million, and 255 for persons with disabilities, with grant assistance of more than €29 million.

Members will be aware that a review of the operation of the disabled person’s grant scheme [356]is under way in the Department. I have already mentioned that in addition to the essential repairs grants scheme and the scheme of special housing aid for the elderly, the DPG is increasingly used by elderly people. This effectively means that this sector is now being catered for by three separate grant schemes. For this reason it is considered that the relationship between the disabled person’s and essential repairs grants and the special scheme of housing aid for the elderly should also be taken into account in the context of the review. The response to increased demand for assistance under any grant scheme should not always be that we should “throw more money at it”. It is often necessary to stand back and have a fresh look at the overall position and that is what we are doing now. We need to see if the substantial amounts of money we are already spending are being used to best advantage, if structures that have been established for the implementation of these schemes are still appropriate and if they are being operated in the simplest, most efficient and most cost-effective way possible.

We are conscious that people who apply for those grants often do so at a vulnerable stage in their lives and it is essential that the application and approval processes for those who are eligible should be as straightforward as possible. It is expected that the review will be finalised very shortly and details of any amendments, if necessary, will be announced thereafter.

Mr. S. Power:  This is a very important subject. Members dealing with constituency matters on a daily basis will realise that this is a real issue which affects people throughout the country. Many of those people do not believe they have a voice to air their serious grievances and they feel very hard done by.

The Government can make the case that it has substantially increased the housing grant assistance available to disabled and elderly people in the past five years and I will instance five areas where that is the case. First, the combined funding for disabled persons and essential repairs grants schemes was €18.6 million in 1999 and that has increased to €65 million this year, a significant increase in anyone’s language.

Second, the effective maximum grant under the DP grant scheme has increased from €10,158 to €20,320 over that five-year period, so we have seen a doubling of that grant. Third, the essential repairs grant has increased from €1,143 in 1999 to €9,523 today. Fourth, the increased maximum disabled person’s grant available was 75%, but that has been increased to 90% of total cost of works and local authorities can now recoup 66% of costs, where it was 50% previously. Fifth, the special housing aid for the elderly scheme has increased from €7 million in 1999 to €11.6 million in 2004.

On the face of it those figures are quite impressive but the reality is different. I will deal with Kildare and its surrounding area, a region I am more familiar with than the national stage. [357]The figures I have given represent what is happening throughout the country but I will look at the situation from a Kildare point of view. Last year in Kildare we provided €1.6 million for the disabled person and essential grants scheme, a hefty 60% increase on 2002. This year, for the first time, Kildare County Council has provided funding in its estimates for that scheme —€330,000. That means we will have less than €1 million for the scheme this year, while last year we had €1.6 million. We often talk about giving local authorities extra powers but this is obviously a case where the disabled persons and essential repairs grant scheme is not a priority.

It is estimated that the funding provided this year will meet one third of the demand but with some shame I have to say that no grants have been paid in Kildare at all in 2004, though we are almost halfway through the year. Very few grants have been paid out since July last year and we now have a serious backlog in applications and total frustration among applicants. That is totally unacceptable. We are treating the applicants as fools and that cannot be allowed to continue. Kildare County Council has no difficulty in providing millions for new civic offices but when it comes to looking after the most vulnerable members of our society, they are obviously not a priority. I ask the Minister of State to examine this situation to see what can be done to rectify it. It beggars belief that this policy is being pursued by Kildare County Council in 2004.

Most Members are familiar with the minor essential works carried out by health boards, such as insulating cylinders, installing smoke alarms, repairing windows and doors — there was a time when doors and windows would be replaced, but that is not done any more — minor roof works, dry lining a bedroom wall and providing radiators. Showers may be provided for the elderly but not for the disabled.

The big difficulty here is that the health board has only five workers and two foremen engaged on the eastern community works and looking after the Kildare-west Wicklow area. The difficulty for the health board is that a no-go area exists as far as working with Kildare County Council on a similar scheme is concerned, so many people are now applying to the health board, which can only carry out minor essential works. The health board is receiving many inappropriate applications which should be sent to Kildare County Council.

The health board deals with Kildare, Dublin and Wicklow, and while the Kildare-Wicklow area represents 13% of the population, in the past year it has enjoyed 52% of the budget. More than half the money being allocated in that area has been spent in the Kildare-Wicklow area. While I welcome such expenditure in Kildare, it is obvious the scheme is in need of an overhaul. That type of spending cannot continue.

The budget for the three counties for this year will be €1.6 million and a 15% top up payment. Where people get the disabled persons grant, the [358]health board will provide a top-up. A major change must take place. A small number of workers have been working extremely well. Last year approximately 60 people benefited from the work in the Kildare-Wicklow area but, unfortunately, there is still a long waiting list. Apart from dealing with the waiting list, they must deal with a number of applications which are totally inappropriate and do not fit in with the minor essential works which are supposed to addressed.

  8 o’clock

The essential repairs grant scheme is targeted at older people living in substandard housing conditions. Listening to the contributions of Labour Party members, it is obvious that major changes are necessary in this area, and the Minister of State touched on that. The solution to many problems has been to throw more money at them. However, it has been obvious for some time that there is duplication in the schemes and that one scheme implemented and operated by one body would be a far more efficient way to use scarce resources.

It appears that some local authorities treat this matter with the importance it deserves while others have been paying lip-service to it, which is not acceptable. There must be uniformity throughout the country in the way this problem is dealt with. Surely it should be the policy of every local authority to allow people to live in comfort and dignity. That is all people want when they apply. They do not want to live in conditions which those of us here would not tolerate for a night, never mind a lifetime. A country can be judged on the way it looks after its citizens who cannot look after themselves. It is important the matter is addressed in a manner deserving of it.

Since my election to this House I have listened to many Private Members’ debates. With few exceptions, Private Members’ motions are voted down. Opposition motions are debated, sometimes belittled and usually voted down. The Opposition tables a motion, which is generally critical of Government policy, and the Government tables an amendment to it generally congratulating itself on its performance. Is it any wonder there is such cynicism among the electorate given that type of performance in the House regardless of which party is in Government? With the exception of former Deputy, Alan Shatter, who had much success on Private Members’ business, the majority of Opposition Members must find it very frustrating in that they put a great deal of hard work into and undertake much research to table Private Members’ motions but they are very often voted down and discarded. It is important that changes quickly.

Mr. P. McGrath:  Tomorrow night.

Mr. S. Power:  We should realise the Opposition does not get it wrong all the time. Regardless of what motions come before us, there is always a certain amount of good and logic in them. Rather than pick holes in motions brought [359]before us, we should pick on the good points and work and build on them. We would have a more effective and efficient democracy if we did that.

In private, few Members of the Houses would disagree with the motion before us. Any Deputy or Senator who is in touch with the grassroots in his or her constituency would be very much aware of the difficulties encountered by people trying to live with some dignity and comfort. That is really what tonight’s motion is about. I do not expect the Government to vote in favour of the motion but it is important that it takes on board the thrust of the motion and that we put in place systems to deal with the serious problem in respect of the schemes.

The Minister of State indicated that one does not necessarily have to throw money at a problem or that by throwing money at it one will solve it. I agree with that. Given the cost of building and repairing houses, it is difficult to get builders to do the small jobs. Fortunately, there is still a number who are prepared to do them. However, prices have increased substantially and it is important that we look at the grants available, particularly in the December budget, and at making major changes.

As the Minister of State said, we have made much progress. Certainly from the point of view of providing resources, we have targeted money at this problem in a fairly substantial way. However, I am not sure we have got value for that money. It is important the scheme is streamlined and that we deal with the problem much more efficiently and effectively. When people make a genuine application, they should be given some indication as to when work will be carried out so that we do not lead them down the garden path as at present in that many people apply and assume the good news is just around the corner. Unfortunately, for many, they are dead before the good news arrives. It is an area which is in need of a total shake up, although the Minister of State referred to a review.

It is ridiculous having different schemes which overlap and duplicate the work. In some cases, we are forcing people into making two applications rather than one. They believe that if they back two horses in the race rather than one, they have a better chance of getting a result. In some cases, people apply for a scheme which does not really apply and it is a total waste of time.

For a long time we have neglected the disabled and it has only been in recent years that they have got a voice. We have substantially increased the amount of money and the services provided for the disabled. However, when one is starting at a very low base, it is easy to throw figures and percentages at people and to pretend we are making much progress. We have neglected the disabled for a long time and it is important to rectify that. I congratulate the Labour Party Members on tabling the motion. Whatever review takes place and whatever conclusions or recommendations are brought forward, it is important that we sig[360]nificantly reduce the waiting time. Extra funding and increased grant levels are appropriate and it is vital one scheme is in operation for all.

Mr. McCormack:  I wish to share my time with Deputies Stanton, Paul McGrath and O’Sullivan.

We are speaking about the most vulnerable sector of our community, namely, people who are waiting and are being frustrated in their applications for the essential repairs grant and for the housing grant for the disabled. I compliment Deputy Sean Power on a well-judged contribution. Sometimes it is not easy to follow him on Private Members’ time, although I often must do so. If the Minister of State had made the contribution Deputy Power did, we would probably have a more sensible debate. I do not know what way he will vote when the Government amendment is put. It reads:

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

“acknowledges the achievements of the Government in significantly improving the housing grant assistance available to disabled and elderly persons in the past five years”.

Deputy Seán Power was certainly not convinced by the amendment tabled by the Government because that is not the factual position. Services for those seeking the disabled person’s grant have not been increased in the past five years. In fact, Deputy Power gave the best opposition speech in this debate concerning the situation pertaining from the Government’s point of view.

People who apply for the disabled person’s grant are being frustrated at every level. When they apply they cannot obtain an inspection. In addition, they have to supply three estimates at the time of application, which are not relevant three years later when the application may be dealt with. In most local authorities, including the two in Galway, applications are not currently being examined because they have not yet cleared the backlog from 2002. Up to a year ago, applicants were told their applications were being examined and they were waiting for the health inspector. Any excuse was given but because of pressure from the opposition both here and at local authority level, applicants are now being told the truth — that the applications cannot be examined because the 2002 list has not yet been cleared.

Some of the applications are simple and may concern a disabled person who can no longer climb stairs and is thus seeking grant aid for a downstairs toilet or shower It is very frustrating for such people to experience delays.

As regards the duplication in the applications process, I cannot understand why the health board deals with one application, while local authorities deal with another. When frustrated applicants ring up a local representative concerning applications for house repair grants, one must go to two agencies to discover the details and one finds that there are nearly always two files on [361]every application. That is because when applicants do not get a reply from the health board, they apply to the local authority either for an essential repairs grant or a disabled person’s grant. I fail to understand why this process cannot be combined in one application which could be dealt with by one agency.

It is not often that Ministers get my sympathy but I felt sorry for the Minister of State having to read out the script that was prepared for him. He said that “the success of the scheme is due in large extent to the active co-operation of the various statutory and voluntary bodies involved in the operation”. It is quite the opposite, however, because it is a case of non co-operation. When one rings the health board they do not have a clue about the county council file and vice versa.

The Minister of State also said “the Government is very conscious of the need to ensure, that the needs of the disabled and elderly persons are taken into account in all aspects of housing policy”. Worse still, he said: “Local authorities have been asked to draft five-year action plans covering the full range of housing programmes.” We have more and more action plans and reports — anything but doing the necessary work. Staff should be available to deal with applications and somebody should be able to visit the applicant within a few weeks of an application being made. They should be able to say whether the applicant is qualified to obtain assistance and, if so, how they can be helped. After that, it should only be a matter of making the money available.

Recently, in my constituency, I dealt with the case of an elderly brother and sister who were living together. Both were invalids and unable to climb stairs. They sought a grant for a downstairs toilet and shower. Eventually after three and a half years the work was sanctioned but both of them died before the work was completed. That is the sad reality. I have dealt with other cases where people were forced to put their elderly relatives into institutional care because they could not have their grant applications processed. In many cases the applications are for minor alterations to a house which would enable such people to live out their lives in their own homes.

The Minister of State should forget about asking councils to prepare a five-year plan. He should provide the necessary money and local authority staff to ensure that all applications are dealt with in a humane manner, so that people will not be left frustrated by delays as they are now.

Mr. Stanton:  I congratulate the Labour Party for tabling this important motion. In the past 15 months, three such motions have been tabled dealing with the disabled person’s grant: in April 2003, July 2003 and May 2004. On the last occasion we had such a debate, the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Noel Ahern, said local authorities should live within their means. He also said we simply cannot continue to live with the kind of increases in [362]grants that had occurred — 3,000 grants in 1996, 6,000 in 2001, and 9,000 in 2002. He implied that some counties had approved too many grants. Did he mean that some grants should not have been approved or that there should be a quota system? Perhaps he thinks there are too many people with disabilities.

I call on the Minister of State to introduce the disability Bill, which we have been promised for the past couple of years. There have been many false dawns. I support the Minister of State who, I know, is trying to publish the Bill, but where is it? It should be published so that we can debate it over the summer period.

Some 120,000 people with disabilities are dependent on social welfare payments. The maximum grant for someone who needs to have a house adapted is €20,000. Earlier in the debate, the Minister of State said there was no prioritisation but he should take note of what is happening in County Cork where the county council has had to devise a number of categories. Category one comprises persons who are totally incapable of accessing their home environment. Category two comprises people who have severe difficulties in accessing their home environment and where the provision of facilities would reduce their level of dependency. Category three includes persons who experience minor difficulties in accessing their home environment.

The grants were suspended more than a year ago in Cork and it is only now that they are beginning to plan for them coming on stream again. People have rung me and other colleagues concerning house adaptation grants for elderly or injured relatives who cannot get into their homes or gain access to upstairs rooms. We have had to tell them that we are sorry but there is no money for that. Despite all the Government’s blather about increased funding, the system is not working. All Deputies have discovered that this is so. Any Deputy who goes knocking on doors — and I know the Minister of State, Deputy O’Dea, is a great man for knocking on doors — will have come across this problem. I call on the Ministers to kick butt in the Department to get some action on this.

More than a year ago, we were told that the schemes were being reviewed, but they are still being reviewed. Let us get our priorities right. Let us look after the most vulnerable in society — those with disabilities, those who need to have their houses adapted in order to have some level of independence and dignity. They should not have to be carried upstairs to use the toilet or be obliged to relieve themselves in the kitchen or sitting room. The moment a person with a disability has a requirement, the State should move quickly and decisively to help that person immediately.

The Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, spoke earlier of the need to be careful about money, and to pro-actively manage the disabled person’s grant and essential repair grant schemes to ensure they remain within their allocation. The [363]Government, however, has not been pro-actively managing its own finances in other areas. We are sick of mentioning electronic voting and the equestrian centre in Punchestown where tens of millions of euros were squandered, yet the most vulnerable are left waiting for years and forced to go through all kinds of red tape.

According to Cork County Council, those in category one will be looked after first, so those applications will begin to be processed. Up to now, however, they were not being processed, which is not good enough. The reviews and delays are leading to people being stuck in hospitals or inappropriate nursing homes, thus contributing to waiting lists for houses and medical care. They may be confined to potentially dangerous homes causing immeasurable strain for the individuals concerned and for their families. I join Deputy Seán Power in asking the Government to take this issue seriously, examine it and sort it out once and for all.

Mr. P. McGrath:  I compliment the Labour Party for tabling this motion and welcome the opportunity to address the House on it. I also compliment Deputy Seán Power on his thoughtful presentation to the House tonight. He is familiar with what people are saying about the difficulties they are experiencing in regard to disabled person’s grants and has made some worthwhile proposals. However, when his speech is published in the local press, as no doubt it will be since it will read very well, I wonder if he will also tell the local press that he voted in favour of the Government motion which proposes to do nothing, to examine the issue again and talk about it some more.

To put this issue in perspective, we must examine the people to whom we are referring in a practical sense. For example, I received a telephone call in my clinic yesterday about an elderly lady whom I know who suffers severely from arthritis. She has had hip replacements, which have failed and is now in a nursing home. She could be discharged to her own home, where her daughter will look after her but, unfortunately, she needs a stair lift which costs €5,000. I contacted the local authority to ask if she qualified for a disabled person’s grant and was told it had not been taking applications since October of last year. When I asked when the local authority would take applications again, I was told it was not known. When I asked what could be done for the lady, I was told “nothing”. If, I asked, the lady raised a loan to pay for the lift herself, would the local authority pay her the grant when the grant system is open again. I was told it would not.

What would the Minister of State say to that person? Would he tell her to remain in the nursing home, taking up a bed, facilities and nursing care that she does not really need, when she could be at home being looked after by her family if the State had the cop-on to grant this small amount of help? What are we to do but sit and wait?

[364]I am aware of another case in which a person had a stroke and despite having made a good recovery is wheelchair bound. As is the case with most of our houses, this person cannot manage in the house while wheelchair–bound. Again I contacted the local authority to inquire about the disabled person’s grant only to be told it was closed for applications and advised to return some time when it might be re-opened. What is that person to do in the meantime? He or she must stay in an institution, using up State funds on a level of care which is not required. This is short-sighted, foolish and shows that the Minister of State is not doing his job.

I agree with Deputy Seán Power when he referred to the need to amalgamate all the agencies. It is ridiculous that the local authorities which deal with the disabled persons’ grants must get input from the health boards. Up to some time ago in my area, it often took six months for the health board to respond to queries on DPGs. In addition, the essential repairs grant and housing aid for the elderly scheme are available. Surely, these grants should all be pulled together and placed under the aegis of one unit at local authority level, which is where the competent people are located. The local authorities have engineers and can deal with contractors in order to get the work done. Therefore, let us centralise the system quickly.

We must next ensure that the system is freed up in order that no more are there people, such as I have described, who are frustrated, annoyed and ask what they have done to the State to deserve such treatment.

Ms O’Sullivan:  There is pretty much cross-party agreement on this issue, although that will not be the case when we vote on the motion tomorrow night. Nonetheless, there is agreement on the importance of the disabled person’s grant, the housing aid for the elderly scheme administered by the health boards and the importance of doing something about them. The solutions are relatively simple and mainly relate to resources but the resources are not there. All that is really needed is the political will to put the resources in place and make the kinds of necessary organisational changes suggested by Deputy Seán Power, such as providing the extra occupational therapists required to make assessments.

Public representatives know the problems very well. We go out and talk to people on the doorsteps, as does the Minister of State, Deputy O’Dea, Deputy Power and the various candidates who recently ran for election. However, what has been missing has been an understanding from Government at top level that these are the issues which need to be prioritised. For example, when one spends money on such basic issues, it makes a great deal of difference to the quality of people’s life and their ability to live in their own homes. Until the Government cops on to the fact that it needs to address these simple issues, it will encounter the kind of alienation from the ordi[365]nary people that many Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats canvassers have experienced in recent weeks.

I hope something will come from this motion. I hope there will be an examination within the relevant Departments and something will be done about the issue. We are talking tonight about people who cannot go to the toilet in their own homes, cannot get into their baths or showers or, in many cases, cannot get into their houses. Many have to stay in a hospital, nursing homes or elderly care units because they are missing a simple link which would allow them to be at home with their loved ones and avoid being a burden on the State, which is another aspect of the issue.

If one were to carry out a cost benefit analysis of putting extra money into the disabled person’s grant and the housing aid for the elderly scheme, one would find it hugely of benefit to give people the opportunity to live in their own homes. Many people are waiting on trolleys in accident and emergency units because beds are occupied by people who would not need to be there if they could have these kinds of appliances in their own homes. In this manner, the Government could address one of the main political issues of the last election, namely, the issue of people on trolleys in out-patient departments. The problem would not be solved but we could put some dent in it if people could get a disabled person’s grant when they needed it rather than two or three years afterwards as other colleagues have described.

We have all described individual cases tonight. I know a woman who was in an elderly care unit for a year longer than she needed to be. Had her family received the disabled person’s grant, they would have been able to take her home but instead she occupied a bed that someone else needed. She did not want to be there, neither did her husband want here there. He wanted to take care of her at home, but he could not do so because of the waiting time for the disabled person’s grant.

It is not rocket science nor does it require a huge level of organisation but it needs resources. We can all see it at local authority level. Many of us who were, until recently members of local authorities, have tried to get extra funding for disabled person’s grant schemes during the estimates round. Sometimes we have been able to put in extra money at local level but not if it has not been forthcoming at national level, from where it is matched. If there is no decision at national level to grant this money, local authorities are so strapped for cash that they simply cannot assign the money for such important issues as this.

Just as a person in a Department in Dublin may not have an understanding of what it is like on the ground, often a person working in the local authority or health board may not have the same sense of urgency about an issue as a member of the local authority or Deputy who is talking to these people, understands the problems and is [366]dealing with people who, for example, cannot use the toilet in their own houses.

There is a huge level of personal indignity in all of this. People do not want to be dependent on others to do things for them. They do not want to be in a nursing home or hospital when they could be at home looking after themselves if they only had a stair lift or a bar with which to get up off the toilet or a bathroom and bedroom downstairs. It is not much to ask, given the rich economy we enjoy. I urge the Government to take this motion seriously.

Debate adjourned.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Select Committee on Finance and the Public Service has completed its consideration of the International Development Association (Amendment) Bill 2003 without amendment.

Debate resumed on amendment 2:

In page 6, line 14, to delete “any” and substitute “a director or any other”.

—(Deputy Rabbitte).

Mr. Costello:  Before Private Members’ business, I was saying the reason the amendment seeks to delete “any” and substitute “a director or any other”, is that the subsection is vague and it should be made clear that a director is always presumed to have possession of a company’s documents and other persons in senior positions should be presumed likewise. It directs attention towards the director as the likely possessor of the documents — this would be the person under law in a corporate entity — as the director is the person who is responsible in the first instance. It would take the vagueness out of the text.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  The phrase in the Bill is “... in the power of any individual who, because of his or her functions or position within the body corporate or the unincorporated body, as the case may be, can reasonably be expected to have control over the document.” Even a mention of director would not mean every director. It would have to be a director who would have control over the document. It does not add anything to the phrase “any individual”, to add “a director”. If I were to accept the Deputy’s amendment, the word “director” would not mean just any director, it would have to be a director or any individual who, because of his or her functions or position within the body corporate or the unincorporated body, could reasonably be expected to have control over the document. It does not add anything. It might be used to narrow [367]the scope of any individual because the phrase “any individual” might be construed as being cognate to director and might narrow the meaning of “any individual”. From that point of view, I remain of the opinion that the phrase “any individual” is wide and to insert the reference to a director before it would not achieve the aim of the amendment because a director would still have to be, on the wording of the subsection, somebody who had control, not merely any director but a director who could reasonably be expected to have control over the document. Acceptance of the amendment would not improve the text but would disimprove it.

Mr. Costello:  I am trying to be helpful.

Mr. McDowell:  I know that.

Mr. Costello:  If the Minister thinks I am not helpful I will leave it at that.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Amendment No. 3. Amendments Nos. 4 to 6, inclusive, 8, 13, 48, 49 and 53 are related. Amendments Nos. 7, 9, 12, 14, 47 to 56, inclusive, 54 to 58, inclusive, 60, 62 to 64, inclusive, are related and cognate. Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 are alternatives to amendment No. 6 and amendment No. 54 is an alternative to amendment No. 53. Amendments Nos. 3 to 9, inclusive, 12 to 14, inclusive, 47 to 58, inclusive, 60, 62 to 64, inclusive, may be discussed together.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  I move amendment No. 3:

In page 6, line 32, to delete “Government” and substitute “Houses of the Oireachtas”.

I support the central thrust of the Bill. It has the possibility of being a useful weapon in the tribunal armoury. It has the possibility of providing a relatively inexpensive and relatively quick investigation of matters of public interest. My major reservation is encapsulated in this and the related amendments in that the Bill effectively involves sidelining the Houses of the Oireachtas. That is dangerous, undemocratic and the wrong approach. I had hoped the Minister would give the Houses of the Oireachtas some role, not necessarily in all the situations I have described, but at least involving it to some degree in the proceedings. Effectively, it has no role in respect of a commission of investigation, other than a formal role of passing a positive resolution when the Government of the day or the Minister puts a draft of the proposed order before the House. In all other respects, the powers for dealing with the commission are retained either by the Government or the Minister. Effectively, it is the Minister, with the approval of the Minister for Finance, who establishes the commission by making an order. The Minister has overall responsibility for the working of the commission. The terms of reference are set by the Minister. I see a case for [368]the terms of reference to be drafted by the Minister but the Houses of the Oireachtas should have an opportunity to make an input. The costs and the time frame are determined by the Minister. Any amendment of the terms of reference can be made by the Minister without any reference whatever to the Oireachtas. The members of the commission are appointed by the Minister, again without reference to the Oireachtas.

In regard to the reports, there are provisions in the Bill dealing with interim reports, draft reports and final reports. Everything goes to the Minister. It is the Minister who publishes the report. If the commission is to be terminated, it is the Government, without any reference to the Oireachtas, that does it. That is unwise. I hoped the Minister would see justification for the involvement of the Oireachtas to a greater degree in the operations of the Bill.

It is important if such a commission is set up that there is public confidence in it. There is a danger that there may be queries about the Government of the day or about particular Ministers. Sadly, there have been such queries about particular Ministers and questions raised about them. I am not pointing at the Minister. A Minister sat on that position one time and when I asked him a certain question he nearly blew a gasket at the temerity of suggesting that he might have had an overseas bank account. The only mistake I make was that he had not one but a number of them.

Unfortunately, because of proceedings which have been before the tribunals there is a certain query on the part of the public that would not be satisfied or resolved by a commission of investigation totally set up by the Government of the day, totally reporting to the Ministers of that Government, without any reference to the Oireachtas. There is a danger the public may not have full confidence in the process because of the way the procedure has been designed to exclude the Oireachtas. It is the wrong approach. There should be a greater role for the Oireachtas. We debated this on Committee Stage, including the various possibilities. Given that we are on Report Stage, I am not sure it is possible to have any amendment re-framed and included by the Minister. It remains only to say it will constitute the major defect of the Bill if not one of these amendments is accepted. Deputy Costello and I have placed a full menu of amendments before the Minister, a number of which could be accepted even at this point. From the perspective of improving the Bill and ensuring public confidence in the system being established, I urge the Minister to accept them.

Mr. Costello:  These amendments are at the nub of the changes we would like to see introduced in the legislation. There are two critical points, of which one is the fact that the order to establish a commission can only be made by the Government and cannot be amended by the Houses of the Oireachtas. Second, the terms of reference of [369]a commission are likewise not subject to amendment. The legislation is dictatorial and unilateral and is not amenable to change by the Houses of the Oireachtas. The principle of establishing a commission is positive and we have all supported it and acknowledged the great need for a structure with the general powers provided in the legislation before us. However, the Government is being very jealous of its powers with the mechanism which is being provided for any Minister who should choose to go down this path. The provision takes from the good intentions in establishing a commission and from its democratic nature.

It would be much more preferable for a commission established to conduct an investigation into a matter of public concern to have the blessing of the House. The House should have the power to amend the draft order, initiate the process and play a role in the establishment of a commission in conjunction with the Government. The terms of reference drafted by a Minister should be discussed by the Oireachtas and after due consideration amended appropriately. While that appears to be the proper approach, it is prohibited under the legislation. When the Sub-Committee on the Barron Report discussed proposals for investigations in this jurisdiction which were modelled on the content of this legislation, there was a strong belief among members that any commission would have much greater authority if it were established by the Houses of the Oireachtas rather than an individual Minister. I hoped the Minister would take this on board and that the Houses of the Oireachtas would be ultimately responsible for establishing a commission of investigation rather than a Minister. I hoped also that the final substance of a commission’s terms of reference would be decided in conjunction with the Houses after due opportunity to amend any proposals before them.

I cannot understand why the Minister is not prepared to adopt this approach or, at least, provide an option whereby the Oireachtas would be the establishing body given that some of the commissions will be required to investigate matters of great public concern with serious ramifications. I hope the Minister will be able to take these amendments on board when he brings the legislation before the Seanad. To do so would not delay the Bill, but would be extremely appropriate.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  As I indicated on Second Stage, Sinn Féin broadly supports the Bill which emerged on foot of recommendations from the Labour Reform Commission. I hope we will see more socially constructive legislation of this type rather than what we have seen up to now. While Sinn Féin has some problems with the Bill, none is so profound that we would oppose its passage. As the amendments under discussion are among those which should be made, it is positive that they were tabled by my colleagues, Fine Gael spokesman Deputy Jim O’Keeffe and Labour [370]spokesman Deputy Costello. I did not duplicate them to save time to allow us to get to later amendments, some of which I tabled. As we will not have time to deal with every amendment, I hope we can return to this at some point in the future.

The amendments under discussion seek to address the need for the legislation to provide powers to the Oireachtas rather than to the Government. It should be the Members of the Houses who set the time frames, costs and remits of commissions of investigations and, if need be, amend and approve their terms of reference. The Minister should provide in advance for the opportunity to be kept informed in opposition of the progress of commissions his Government establishes. Those commissions should be accountable to Members from his party when they are in opposition. The more accountability and transparency we provide, the more the public will buy into what we propose here and support it in opposition to the current system of tribunals which are not nearing any type of end.

It would be useful if the Minister could find it in his heart to accept the series of amendments under discussion. They make sense and would allow the Houses of the Oireachtas, particularly the Dáil, to play a full role in the establishment of commissions. If the Houses of the Oireachtas do not play a full role and commissions are established on foot of Government decisions, there will be continuous opposition to them from Deputies on this side. The amendments tabled by Deputies Jim O’Keeffe and Costello go some way towards ensuring that such commissions will be transparent and accountable to both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Mr. McDowell:  The grouped amendments under discussion are fundamental in nature. While I appreciate fully that they are proposed and tabled in good faith, we must work out in our own minds what the fundamental difference between commissions of inquiry and tribunals of inquiry is intended to be.

We are not putting in place “tribunals of inquiry light”, if I may use that phrase. This is not just a slightly toned down tribunal of inquiry system. It is something fundamentally different in that the consequences of the establishment of a commission of inquiry are substantially different from those which appertain to the establishment of a tribunal of inquiry. They are different in that in the case of a tribunal of inquiry the reports of that body are apt to reject evidence, condemn behaviour, blame people and hold them up to public criticism — aptly and appropriately one expects.

Strong power is vested in a tribunal of inquiry. The reports, going back to the report of Mr. Justice Flood, that the media expect in the context of a tribunal are strong, condemnatory, rejective of people’s testimony and stern. One only has to look at the contrasting manner in which the strong findings of Mr. Justice Flood’s report, [371]compared with the findings of Judge Lindsay’s report on the blood issues, were treated by the media to understand that when tribunals of inquiry are established, an expectation exists that the report will be strong.

The media were unfair to Judge Lindsay with regard to her report and I said that at the time. The media expected robust stuff from every tribunal following the strong example set by Mr. Justice Flood. Whether strong medicine is, or is not, apt in particular cases is a matter for the judgment of the independent tribunal, rather than a matter for the media to comment on or for public opinion.

We are dealing here with something different. In this case we must remember that a commission of inquiry is not there to reject contested testimony and to come to a view that one person is definitely telling the truth and another definitely lying on an issue. If people are identified in a report of a commission inquiry, it is specifically provided in statute that they must be notified of the proposed report on them and given an opportunity to vindicate their rights in the court with regard to how the proposed report affects them. This huge safeguard is provided because it is appreciated that if we do not tease out conflicts of evidence in public and do not allow the full panoply of the law and the full right to cross examine in public, to rebut and to do all the things thought to flow from the in re Haughey decision, there must be constitutional safeguards provided for people who might be adversely affected by the publication of a report.

We are dealing with something which is essentially different from the tribunal of inquiry process. It is something which is not intended to be deployed as a simple substitute for tribunals of inquiry. This process is not just plan B for a matter of public controversy but something substantially different.

What the Government has in mind for this legislation is a system of inquiry which brings the same powers of compulsion and investigation as an inspector might have under company law when appointed by the courts at the application of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. It brings the same degree of constitutional protection which would apply in that case, even to the point of being entitled to apply to the courts not to have the report published because it is unfair to the person in question. It has that flexibility and at the same time a degree of realism. We are not unleashing scaled down or emasculated tribunals of inquiry on people but are dealing with something else and I would like the House to bear that in mind. The emphasis in the structure of this Bill is to give a substantial degree of flexibility and a degree of efficiency and speed to inquiries which is not available if one goes through the full canonicals and rubrics of tribunals of inquiry.

One of the problems with tribunals of inquiry — anybody involved with them would admit this [372]— is that they are fairly cumbersome brutes once established. It is difficult to haul them back once set in motion. It is difficult to say of any tribunal that the terms of reference were set a little wide and it was turning out differently from what was intended, continuing for longer than intended, or taking roads of inquiry not in mind when established. By definition and structure, tribunals once launched into the public domain are difficult to pull back, control, amend or refocus. They are also difficult to control with regard to time, expense, duration or procedure, because they are so hugely independent.

The public requires something different from tribunals of inquiry. The commissions of inquiry must not simply be different because they lack some of the downsides of tribunals of inquiry, but because a distinction must be drawn between situations where a full-blown tribunal is appropriate and ones where it is unnecessary. One only has to look at the number of current controversies which are the subject of calls for statutory inquiries — I do now wish to become involved in them now — to see that the Government is, under present law, confronted with an all duck or no dinner approach. Currently there is either a tribunal of inquiry established on the one side or there is what is portrayed to the public’s imagination as being a wholly inadequate form of inquiry, with no powers of compulsion and very little powers of investigation.

It would be a huge mistake to see this legislation as simply proposing a slightly toned down tribunal of inquiry. What we have in mind is something which is designed to be significantly different while being fair to people and guaranteeing their rights. It is something which is speedier, more adaptable and flexible and less expensive, solemn and ponderous in its proceedings than a full-blown tribunal of inquiry.

  9 o’clock

Looking back over terms of reference of tribunals of inquiry since I was first elected to this House in 1987, I note that when the great decision to unleash a tribunal has been made, this House and the Seanad have erred generally on the side of liberality in setting the terms of reference, on the side of generosity in the fixing of timeframes and towards a lack of economy in putting in place mechanisms to control costs. The public requires us to establish a different species of inquiry, which is not a full-blown tribunal of inquiry, for different situations because tribunals are considered to be over-elaborate for some purposes.

The purpose of these amendments, effectively, is to put the Houses of the Oireachtas as opposed to the Executive in the driving seat. It should be recalled that a precondition for the establishment of a commission of inquiry is set out in section 3(2), namely, that an order establishing such a commission can only be made if a draft of the proposed order and a statement of the reasons for establishing the commission have been laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and each [373]House has separately approved the draft which has been put before it.

Mr. Costello:  Neither House can amend it.

Mr. McDowell:  The Houses can reject it. In those circumstances, it seems that this measure is more apt for the purposes I have in mind. If in any case, be it the Kilkenny incest case or the swimming inquiry, both of which were non-statutory and both of which succeeded because of the subject matter and the circumstances in which they were established without significant statutory powers, the person conducting the inquiry finds that he or she needs the terms of reference changed, has run into unexpected obstacles or finds that the matter is becoming much more complex than he or she thought, the formula set out in the Bill allows quick and efficient changes to be made in that process. If a problem emerges in June, one would not have to wait for Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas to address their minds to it come the following October or whenever.

Mr. Costello:  God forbid they would have to wait for the House of the Oireachtas to address it.

Mr. McDowell:  That is the reality at present. I urge the House to bear in mind that this is a different animal from a tribunal of inquiry. This is intended to be speedy, efficient, flexible and responsive. In those circumstances the best way to bring about speedy and effective outcomes of inquiries is to have Executive rather than ministerial responsibility for the subject matter of these amendments. We always have the guarantee that the reports from commissions of inquiry are not equivalent to tribunal reports. They are not reports which, in general terms, will discredit people or expose them to massive blame in circumstances where they would not have the right to go to court to seek a pre-emptive decision preventing their unfair treatment. This, therefore, is a balanced approach.

If I were proposing the amendment of tribunals of inquiry law to allow Ministers to take all powers in respect of tribunals of inquiry, which are now vested in the Houses of the Oireachtas, and leave the tribunals as powerful and their scope as far-reaching as they are, I could see grave force in Deputy O’Keeffe’s amendment and the other amendments. Then I accept it might legitimately be said that the Government is trying to reduce an important and serious power of the Houses of the Oireachtas in a manner which would be open to abuse, but that is not the case in this context. I urge the House to take a view to the contrary.

What are needed are speedy and effective inquiries where those conducting them roll up their sleeves. I do not know who will be appointed to these commissions of inquiry, but they should come back with the goods rapidly because they will be given flexibility. When they [374]run into problems they should report to the Minister and point out that they need their terms of reference altered in this or that respect. The public will expect that it will not be a matter of six months, a year, 18 months, two years or 15 years before these inquiries yield results, but merely a matter of months because they will be smart, apt and flexible inquiries which will be conducted in circumstances that do not give rise to the ponderousness of tribunals.

For these reasons I am against the gravamen of these amendments, although I understand from where they are coming. If I thought for one moment that this was a means whereby the Government could effectively disembowel the system of tribunals of inquiry and achieve exactly the same result in unfair circumstances by manipulating the equivalent of a tribunal by simply directing it through changes of its terms of reference and the like to achieve desired results, I would have some sympathy for the proposal. However, given that the reports of these commissions of inquiry will not be equivalent to the reports of tribunals of inquiry in their scale and effect, I do not believe it is necessary to have such democratic accountability in respect of each and every step taken thereafter. The Executive accountability to this House and the system of approval of the draft order is sufficient for their purpose.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  I agree with 95% of what the Minister had to say. I agree we have problems with the system of tribunals. They are cumbersome and expensive. I would like to examine the existing system to ascertain if improvements could be effected thereto. However, that is a separate issue. I agree that in many instances we have unleashed animals that have continued for periods we did not anticipate. We should be cautious about doing anything similar in future, but that is not the point I want to make.

I want to deal with the question of democratic accountability, to which the Minister referred in his last remarks. I agree with the approach in the Bill and the recommendations in this regard of the Law Reform Commission. The Bill seems to be largely modelled on the approach of the Law Reform Commission which suggests a private, low key inquiry where the essence is on speed, cost and getting results. That has nothing to do with democratic accountability. The basic point is that the Oireachtas is being excluded and virtually entirely sidelined from the process. It could be that there would be issues of ministerial involvement directly or indirectly in the matter which is the subject of a commission of investigation. It could be that there would be a vested interest and conflict on the part of the Executive which could be buried by the Executive by establishing a commission and then controlling every single aspect of it. On that basis how can we expect the public to have confidence in this new system? I will think of a simple example to illustrate my point.

[375]Acting Chairman (Dr. Cowley):  The Deputy must conclude. He will have the right to reply to the amendment.

Mr. McDowell:  What about section 9, which provides that a commission will be independent?

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  The point is that the Executive retaining control of a commission from beginning to end, including the report, will not result in democratic accountability. I have seen reports, including reports that might not even be of a sensitive nature, lying on Ministers’ desks for many months. A case in point is the report on the implementation of the strategic management initiative in the Garda Síochána, which lay on the desk of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform since last December.

Mr. McDowell:  When it was published there was not much of a furore.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  The point is that it lay on the Minister’s desk for six months until certain information was released that caused him to rush its publication. If there were sensitive issues involved in the report of a commission of investigation, that report would lie on the Minister’s desk, or possibly be locked inside a drawer, and would not be released until after the next general election, at which time the next Minister would take over.

With all due respect to the Minister, he has not addressed the point. We all agree with the new approach adopted but we want democratic accountability. Merely saying it is not apt that an order be laid before the Houses or that it might cause delay because of a summer recess is not an answer. This approach is wrong and I urge the Minister to provide, even at this late stage, at least some role for the Oireachtas in this Bill.

Mr. Costello:  The Minister has referred to the very valuable function of this legislation, namely, that it will be able to deal speedily and effectively with matters of significant public concern. That is absolutely desirable but there are two serious points that must be addressed. The first point is distinct from Deputy Jim O’Keeffe’s point on bona fides of Ministers and significant public concern about some people’s activities and relates entirely to the procedures for dealing with matters of significant public concern that would require the establishment of a commission of investigation. It is surely important that both Houses of the Oireachtas grant their imprimatur in a meaningful fashion with regard to a commission with the fairly extensive powers which we are providing under this Bill. These powers include powers of search and seizure.

Even if the Houses of the Oireachtas decide to accept the draft order laid before them by the Minister, it is inappropriate to exclude them from having a say in how the commission will operate. Given that the Minister, looking deeply into his [376]heart, will decide the terms of reference and also appoint the commission, the administrative staff, etc., it is surely important that at least the terms of reference be debated. Everybody would agree on the need to appoint a commission if the reason for its establishment were of considerable public concern.

We have seen throughout the world that individual members of governments, even in democratic states, can be found compromised in certain areas. It might very well be that such individuals would be the persons whose role it would be to establish the commission of investigation. It may not be in the interests of Governments or individual members thereof to establish, in a meaningful fashion, a commission of inquiry that could do damage to them. Therefore, the Oireachtas should have some role if the matter in question is of significant public concern. It should not be left entirely to the Executive or the Minister.

The Minister may be doing a disservice by not giving any role to the Oireachtas. It has no meaningful role whatsoever in the establishment of any commission of investigation under this legislation.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  The Minister has not proven his case on this issue. I have still to be persuaded that the specified Minister is a more appropriate person in regard to this issue than the Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Other Deputies have pointed out that there is no role for the Houses in setting up the commission and setting its terms of reference.

Sections 31 to 38 deal with the report of such a commission and there is no mention of the Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas other than the specified Minister, despite the Minister’s statement that a draft of the proposed order, stating the reason for the establishment of the commission, would be laid before the Houses. We have no role thereafter.

This House needs to ensure that it retains its existing powers. Since I have become a Member we have been giving them away and ceding them to statutory bodies that are less answerable to the House than the Minister. Under this Bill the Minister has all the powers. I hope the current Minister will not be in power all his life. It would be good for him and other members of Government, if they were on this side of the House, to be able to question commissions that Deputy Costello and I will set up and also to query the remit we give thereto.

It is true that the commissions are a different species and we welcome that. Everybody on this side of the House has welcomed the need for speed in dealing with these issues. We have shown ourselves to be capable of amending orders and dealing with legislation in double-quick time if it is urgent, as it has been on some occasions. One such instance concerned a bridge in Waterford and high seas. We can return from holidays early if——

[377]Mr. Costello:  The National Monuments (Amendment) Bill.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  That is another Bill that we dealt with in double-quick time. Our ability to pass legislation quickly disproves the argument that the Houses should not have a role so the necessary provisions can be made quickly. If there were a need for speed, this side of the House would not be found wanting. The Minister should accept the amendments tabled by Deputies Costello and Jim O’Keeffe.

Mr. McDowell:  Consider sections 5 and 6. Under section 5(1), the terms of reference are not as broad as the general powers of the Oireachtas. Section 5(2) states that a statement containing an estimate of the cost, a timeframe, etc., must be prepared. Section 6(1) states: “The power to set a commission’s terms of reference includes the power to amend, at any time before the submission of the commission’s final report, those terms with the consent or at the request of the commission for the purpose of clarifying, limiting or extending the scope of its investigation.” Section 6(2) states: “A commission may not consent to or request an amendment of its terms of reference if satisfied that the proposed amendment would prejudice the legal rights of any person who has co-operated with or provided information to the commission in the investigation.” There are huge circumscribing protections in all of this.

I am amused by Deputy Ó Snodaigh saying I may be on the other side of the House. Maybe I will and maybe I will not at some stage.

Mr. Costello:  The Minister may be demoted in the autumn.

Mr. McDowell:  Maybe I will lose my seat and will be spared the pleasure of seeing himself and Deputy Costello establishing these commissions. However, I was attracted by the notion that Deputy Ó Snodaigh saw himself and Deputy Costello as setting these things but there was no reference to Deputy O’Keeffe. I wonder what is going on over there. Maybe this is the new alternative Government of the left coming into being.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  I would have thought Deputy Ó Snodaigh would have been thinking of a direct replacement with the Minister.

Mr. McDowell:  Exactly. I strongly urge upon the House that I want to establish things that work very quickly and that the track record of the House in setting terms of reference has not been good.

Mr. Costello:  We have never got the chance.

Mr. McDowell:  We have always erred on the side of vagueness and have had controversy as a consequence. Let us be focused, tight, efficient, [378]get on with the job and produce different results in future.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  We have a very short time and there is another issue I would like to discuss. I fundamentally disagree with the Minister on this issue but he is not for turning. This is an indication of an underlying tendency on the part of the Minister which has been talked about. It is not democratic to do things the way the Minister is insisting on doing it. However, he is insisting and he has the fire power to push it through the lobby. On the basis that we have only a few minutes left to discuss the Bill I will not push the issue to a vote so that we can deal with another issue which should be discussed.

Question, “That the words proposed to be deleted stand”, put and declared carried.

Amendment declared lost.

Mr. Costello:  I move amendment No. 4:

In page 6, lines 38 to 43, to delete all words from and including “if—” in line 38 down to and including “House” in line 43 and substitute the following:

“if a resolution approving terms of reference for the proposed commission has been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas”.

Question, “That the words proposed to be deleted stand”, put and declared carried.

Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 5 to 14, inclusive, not moved.

Acting Chairman:  Amendments Nos. 15, 36 and 37 are related and may be discussed together.

Mr. McDowell:  I move amendment No. 15:

In page 9, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:

“(2) The specified Minister may direct that a competitive tendering process be used in selecting persons with relevant qualifications and experience (including barristers and solicitors) for appointment under subsection (1).

(3) The specified Minister may prepare guidelines that are to be followed if a direction is given to use a competitive tendering process.

(4) Before directing that a competitive tendering process be used, the specified Minister shall consult with the chairperson of the commission concerned or, if the commission consists of only one member, with the sole member.

(5) In considering whether to direct that a competitive tendering process be used, [379]the specified Minister may have regard to——

(a) the subject matter of investigation,

(b) the time frame for the submission of the commission’s final report to the specified Minister,

(c) the qualifications and experience required for appointment,

(d) the functions to be performed by the persons,

(e) the likely costs of the performance of those functions, and

(f) any other relevant factor.”.

This amendment arises out of a discussion on Committee Stage during which Deputy O’Keeffe raised the question of tendering when recruiting persons to provide advice and assistance. The issue of a tendering facility was debated on Committee Stage and this amendment provides the means for recruiting in this way.

Section 8 deals with the recruitment and appointment of staff, for example lawyers and other specialist staff, to advise and assist a commission. The proposed amendment provides that the specified Minister may — not shall — direct, following consultation with the commission, that a competitive tendering process should be used. Discretion is being allowed as tendering may not be appropriate in every case.

The amendment also foresees that tendering may, in certain circumstances, be availed of for the recruitment not only of lawyers but also of other specialists. The proposed amendment provides that in deciding whether or not to use a tendering process the specified Minister will have to have regard to the subject of the investigation. There may be instances where the subject matter is so specialised and specific that the pool of expertise would be so small that a tendering process would not be practicable. The Minister must also have regard to the timeframe for the submission of the final report, the qualifications and experience required for the appointment, the functions to be performed, the likely costs and any other relevant factor. The amendment deals specifically with the staff retained by a commission.

Two other areas which give rise to costs are already provided for. A separate regime is already provided in sections 23 and 24 in respect of cases where a witness seeks to have fees paid by him or her to a lawyer refunded by the commission and the Minister. Section 17 sets up a procedure whereby when someone obstructs a commission or fails to co-operate with it so that other parties or the commissioner incur additional costs, that person can be held liable for those additional costs.

I agree that the tendering process is discretionary but it would be a mistake to make it manda[380]tory in every case. There may be cases where mandatory tendering would impede a commission and create a white elephant.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  The Minister has accepted my proposal in principle. I am happy with that. I believe huge savings can be made in payments to barristers, solicitors and other experts by commissions. This precedent can be applied to other tribunals. I am glad the principle has been accepted and will be in legislation.

I was, initially, inclined to question the fact that the Minister will have discretion and will not be required to have a tendering process but this is a small point. The principle has been included in the statute and a statutory precedent has been established. I hope the precedent will be extended throughout the public service for the appointment of highly paid specialists of all kinds, not just lawyers. It is not for me to be totally against lawyers but they should be involved in a competitive process when they are dealing with the State.

On that basis, I accept the formulation now proposed by the Minister and I am prepared not to press my own amendment.

Mr. Costello:  I agree with the amendment originally tabled by Deputy Jim O’Keeffe. The exorbitant fees and the length of time tribunals have been running have given the process a very bad name. Some reasonable procedure needs to be put in place to curtail that. Since we are now establishing commissions of investigation in a new format, it is appropriate that we introduce a tendering process. I would prefer to see it compulsory but we must crawl before we run. This is a most welcome proposal. I hope it has the required effect.

We must also examine the question of fees and how they are computed. The idea that anyone should get a daily fee for work that takes months or years is untenable.

Acting Chairman:  I am now required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of 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, that Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed.”

Question put and agreed to.

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

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  In the absence of my colleagues, and signalling to them to come straight away, I will avail of a minute of their time to express my concerns about this Bill.

In many ways I do not oppose the Minister’s ideas per se but I am concerned that the proposal [381]before the House was not thought out fully. I am concerned from the point of view of the future of the airports, particularly Cork Airport, and about the situation generally. It makes no sense to proceed in this way. Surely we should have all the figures and the facts before us before we make such important decisions.

I did not like the way the Government announced a few weeks ago that it proposed to introduce legislation and that it would pass through the House before the summer recess on 8 July. This was before the Bill had been circulated. If ever there was an indication of an arrogant and autocratic Government, that was it. The notion that it would presume that a Bill that had not even been seen by Members would be rubber-stamped by the Oireachtas is the supreme example of arrogance.

The approach adopted is wrong from every point of view — the business and staff have no confidence in the Minister’s ideas because business plans have not been produced and they have no security as regards their situation in the absence of such plans. I am opposed to the process as much as the substance. There may be merit in the substance of the Bill but the onus is on the Government to prove that.

Mr. Deenihan:  I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Shannon Airport is critical to the western seaboard. A recent survey showed that over 50% of transatlantic passengers who disembark in Shannon Airport will wind up in Kerry, while only 21% of those who disembark in Dublin will go there. Shannon Airport is, therefore, vital for regional development.

Dublin Airport is much too dominant in the market. It accounts for 84% of European traffic, 81% of UK traffic and 80% of Aer Rianta traffic. In contrast, Shannon Airport accounts for just 7% of Aer Rianta’s UK and European traffic, according to the 2002 figures. Dublin Airport also has 56% of transatlantic traffic but this represents only 5% of its business mix because of its enormous dominance of European and UK services. Shannon Airport has 44% of transatlantic traffic, representing 32% of its traffic mix. Any change in the bilateral agreement that affects Shannon Airport will have major repercussions for the entire western seaboard.

None of the five reports that have been commissioned into airport services recommended the approach now being taken by the Government. The PricewaterhouseCoopers report has been quoted most often in the House. That report failed to show that Shannon and Cork Airports could survive as viable stand-alone entities. The report also acknowledged that additional capital expenditure would have to be met by increasing landing charges, which would reduce competitiveness. It stated there would have to be a major investment of €36 million in Shannon Airport in the years between 2005 and 2008. Will this happen if Aer Rianta is broken up and a company is established in Shannon with few resources?

[382]Recently the Minister received a report, based on departmental figures, that estimated Shannon will need an annual subvention of €10 million to survive. The ending of the stop-over will form an integral part of any new arrangement so Shannon will not have the necessary numbers arriving from America. In Farranfore Airport, which is operated on a shoestring budget, things are tight, but I cannot see the same practices that have helped to make Farranfore Airport successful working in Shannon Airport. Comparisons have been made between the two airports but they are inaccurate.

I fear that Shannon Airport will be the loser if we go down this road. In the past, I supported an arrangement where there would be a separate entity to support Shannon Airport under the umbrella of Aer Rianta, with a subsidy from Dublin Airport, which is successful and profitable. That would ensure the cake was shared nationally — it was a vehicle for a regional strategy. This proposal, however, is doomed to failure.

The Minister wants to create change and I admire him for that but in this instance he is wrong. The business plans should have been prepared first with the legislation following if the plans were viable. If that was the case, Shannon Airport would still be part of Aer Rianta under the new name of Dublin Airport Authority, with Cork Airport standing alone. There is no way the figures will add up so Shannon can survive on its own.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Michael O’Leary says they add up.

Mr. Deenihan:  For the sake of Shannon Airport, I advise the Minister to rethink what he is doing here or it might have devastating consequences for the western seaboard and the mid-west.

Mr. Allen:  This Bill is putting the cart before the horse. It is a case of Ministers passing the biscuit from one position at the Cabinet table to the other. I object to guillotining the Bill. I do not know why it was introduced in haste. It is being pushed through the House now and will be pushed through the Seanad next week and there will then be a hiatus until such time as financial reports are completed.

I am not here to whinge but to be factual. Cork has received a number of raw deals in the past. Promises were made about a blood transfusion service in Cork but there has been no sign of any developments. Delays in the construction of the Cork School of Music added to our woes. We have no option but to take the proposals in this Bill at face value.

If Cork Airport is to be viable and to develop to its full potential it needs a carriageway between the new terminal building and the old building. It requires a new fire station, ramp space, taxiways, a new cargo facility and apron stands. I do not see how all this can be achieved. [383]Cork Airport has been promised €160 million free of charge and a new terminal free of charge. In the long term, it is like giving a hospital to a community without fitting it out. There will be a new terminal building but the airport will not have the capacity to expand because the site is very confined on 600 acres. It has only 13 apron stands and will require more if it is to develop its business. I do not see how that can be achieved by this Bill. I would have preferred to see the financial reports on each of the airports completed before this legislation was presented to the House.

If handled incorrectly, the break up will not only impact on Cork Airport, but will have a very negative effect on the Cork region as a whole, affecting sectors such as local and international business and the tourism sector stretching from Waterford to Kerry. How does it fit in with the spatial strategy published last year and about which very little has been done? How does it fit in with aviation policy, if such a policy exists?

Cork Airport has developed a holiday charter business in recent years but business travel has gone downhill. Aer Lingus last year discontinued its early morning flight from Cork. Aer Arann now provides that service. Baggage cannot be booked through from Cork to the final destination; passengers must disembark at Dublin, claim their baggage and check it in again, which is crazy. The flights from Cork do not connect with early morning flights to Europe. Aer Lingus’s policy has left Cork out on a limb.

The Minister’s ill-conceived proposals will cause Cork to suffer even further. It is an ill-thought out Bill being pushed through the House. It does not give the Opposition, which was presented with the Bill last week, the time and opportunity to consult the people who will be most affected, the business community in the region and those within the airport who have given sterling service to the airport since it was opened in the 1960s. It is a friendly and efficient airport but it has been strangled by the heavy hand of Dublin.

Mr. Neville:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I am extremely disappointed that the time is so short. The guillotine has ensured that those of us from the area who wish to make detailed contributions do not have the opportunity to do so. The Minister has decided that the House should not discuss this Bill. His own party, parliamentary party and transport policy group have requested him to allow further detailed discussion. Obviously the Minister is responsive neither to the Dáil nor to his own parliamentary party and transport policy group.

It is of vital importance to the mid-west region and to the west of Ireland that Shannon Airport remains viable. There are many question marks over the viability of Shannon Airport following a break-up. I do not understand why the Minister [384]would break up something and then decide on a business plan to see if this is viable and to draw up a plan for the future with financial projections, passenger forecasts and everything that goes with an airport viability plan. It stands any business theory on its head to make a decision before a study of the viability of that decision is completed.

There are serious doubts about the viability of the airport following the break-up. Shannon Airport is vital for the development of both the west and mid-west of Ireland yet every time Shannon Airport is discussed here, Deputies from the mid-west and the west must defend the stopover and the viability of the airport. We are still doing it in 2004, trying to ensure the survival of Shannon Airport and expressing our doubts that the present approach and policy of the Government will ensure the viability and survival of Shannon as an important resource vital to the survival of the business and tourism development of the mid-west and the west region.

American business makes up 44% of Shannon’s traffic; 50% of business in the Shannon free zone is American, dependent on viable and immediate access to the American market. IBEC has repeatedly stressed the importance of Shannon Airport to the continuation of American business in the mid-west region. It contributes to the attractiveness of the mid-west region for business from the United States in particular. One of the attractions is a viable, efficient airport with immediate access. That is being put in question again.

I was a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport which examined the Shannon stopover. We learned that everyone in Dublin Airport has an agenda for Shannon Airport to become a junior regional airport to Dublin. The Minister proposes putting the airport under the authority of Dublin Airport for a period. Once Dublin takes over Shannon, that is the death-knell of Shannon.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe:  I wish to share my time with Deputies Hoctor, Haughey and Dennehy.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe:  I am very much in favour of the break up of Aer Rianta. I have always said it is essential and vital for Cork. It gives Cork an unprecedented opportunity for development and growth.

I have listened over the years to many members of staff complaining that Dublin rules. Cork Airport is third in line when it comes to infrastructural development, when it comes to a marketing budget and capital projects. Everybody in this House will have witnessed how much we were forced out on a limb to ensure that the new terminal at Cork Airport was deemed essential, given that the throughput in the airport for which the present terminal was built, was in terms of 700,000 passengers and the airport now has 2.4 [385]million passengers. The time has long come and gone since that terminal was needed for Cork Airport to provide facilities for passengers. How often have I stated Cork Airport had a marketing budget of €300,000 or €400,000 in comparison? In just a few years, however, annual passenger turnover has increased from 700,000 to the current figure of 2.4 million.

Mr. Broughan:  Aer Rianta must have done a good job.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe:  There is scope for more development.

Mr. S. Ryan:  That can be achieved under the current structure.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe:  Rather than being the hind tit in terms of the three State airports, Cork Airport has shown, with meagre funding, that people want to use it. People on the Continent want to visit Cork and Kerry. People in the United States would also love an opportunity to use the airport. I am not afraid of an open skies policy.

Mr. P. Breen:  Cork Airport does not offer transatlantic services.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe:  I welcome it because it offers an opportunity to Cork and Kerry to benefit from visitors from the United States who will appreciate the south-west and develop the tourism package that is part and parcel of the region.

Mr. S. Ryan:  It will be sold off to the Fianna Fáil Party’s friends.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe:  The new terminal building is welcome and comes not before time.

Mr. S. Ryan:  From where did the money come?

Mr. B. O’Keeffe:  I pay a special tribute to the friendly, welcoming and kind staff in the airport who ensure the service is local, friendly and, above all, compassionate.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Hear, hear.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe:  Well done to the marketing staff and management of Cork Airport. Although we were beaten on Sunday, we are proud to stand alone with confidence that we can deliver more and more passengers and create a self-sufficient airport.

I have heard mealy-mouthed expressions of confidence in the staff of Cork Airport and complaints of being restricted under the old regime, which nevertheless survived and grew. I am amazed at the growth the airport achieved, despite the inadequacy of its budget. I am also amazed at the confidence of its staff, the heavy-handed manner with which it has been dealt over the years by a Dublin bureaucracy which has restricted its development.

[386]I have certain reservations and inform the Minister, without apology, that with regard to the €150 million cost for the new terminal, I want a level playing pitch once Cork Airport is operating on a stand-alone basis. I do not want it to——

Mr. S. Ryan:  The Deputy wants Dublin to pay for the terminal in order that it can be privatised afterwards.

Mr. Sherlock:  From where will the €250 million cost of refurbishment come?

Mr. Broughan:  It is the first step towards privatisation.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe:  Dublin is already paying the cost of the over-emphasis of Bord Fáilte and other agencies on developing Dublin. The cost is nothing new or exceptional and has been borne in Dublin already.

It is vital that a business plan for Cork Airport allows it, as a stand-alone airport, an opportunity to develop. The Minister must not impose conditions on the new terminal. We must be given an opportunity to build on the airport’s confidence and the progress already achieved. It must be allowed to flourish as a magnet for counties Cork and Kerry.

Mr. S. Ryan:  We will make the Deputy the chief executive.

Ms Hoctor:  Gabhaim buíochas as ucht na deise labhairt sa Teach anocht ar an mBille tábhachtach seo. I welcome the opportunity, however brief, to address the House. I have been astonished by speakers from the Opposition benches. I have a good memory and remind my colleagues that when a very important decision about Shannon Airport was made in April last year on the question of continuing to service troops passing through the airport, not one Deputy from the mid-west region supported the motion before the House.

Mr. P. Breen:  The service for troops is intermittent and a minor part of the airport’s business which will not keep it going.

Mr. S. Ryan:  It is keeping the war going.

Ms Hoctor:  At least, the Opposition took a stand and voted against the motion but not one Deputy from the mid-west region voted to support Shannon Airport. Deputy Breen is aware of this and should not try to convince me that he is concerned about the airport’s future.

Mr. P. Breen:  The Deputy does not know her facts.

Ms Hoctor:  I know the Deputy and the deputy leader of the Labour Party were not present on that occasion.

[387]Given that the programme for Government provides for legislation on State airports, it should come as no surprise that the legislation is before the House one year after the Minister announced the break-up of Aer Rianta. I welcome the legislation and was one of the first members of the mid-west regional authority to do so.

Mr. P. Breen:  The Deputy should come down to Shannon and welcome it.

Ms Hoctor:  I make no apologies for welcoming it.

Mr. Durkan:  The Bill will result in the abolition of the Shannon stop-over.

Ms Hoctor:  Dublin Airport has an average of 45,000 passengers per day and up to 80,000 per day during the busy summer period. While that is fine, I would not be pleased if I was living on the north side of Dublin where congestion is appalling. Why should we in the mid-west contribute to this congestion when we have a state-of-the-art, under-utilised and under-capacity facility at Shannon Airport? I will not take lectures on how it should be run from people in Dublin because decisions on the airport have for too long been largely made in Dublin.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Michael O’Leary is making the decisions.

Ms Hoctor:  While Aer Rianta, with its limited capacity, has done a good job, it always made decisions with Dublin in mind, rather than Shannon.

Mr. S. Ryan:  The Minister is listening.

Mr. Durkan:  He has a panel for Shannon Airport but is not saying who is on it.

Ms Hoctor:  The legislation offers a great opportunity to develop Shannon Airport. US Airways services from Philadelphia and Continental flights from Newark are excellent examples of what can happen when innovative opportunities are afforded to the airport. One has only to visit it to get easy parking and realise that it is under-utilised. The deficiencies in the running of the airport are largely evident in the lack of short haul flights to the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe. Most of us must still travel to Dublin to fly to the Continent. It does not make sense that 80% of continental flights take off from Dublin when we have a large rural community in the mid-west and on the west coast who wish to travel but must travel to Dublin and add to its congestion when they want to leave the country.

I have no doubt Dublin Airport will develop and the second terminal will be built. We have every trust in the Minister in this regard but we must also develop Shannon Airport.

[388]Mr. S. Ryan:  He put off a decision on the second terminal resulting in a loss of more money.

Mr. P. Breen:  He is putting the cart before the horse.

Ms Hoctor:  The Deputies complain the legislation is proceeding too fast. They should make up their minds.

Priority must be given to attracting more low cost carriers to Shannon Airport to develop a series of new routes, largely to the United Kingdom and the Continent. The airport has a serious deficiency on such routes.

I compliment the Minister on moving forward on this matter. The 2 million passengers currently using Shannon Airport will not increase to 4 million without additional structures being put in place, specifically as regards the road network which falls within the Minister’s remit. The new bypass recently opened on the N7 is excellent but development on the route must continue. We know the development of the western corridor is planned and urge the Minister to move ahead with it with the National Roads Authority.

The rail network must also expand. Developing the Shannon to Ennis and Ennis to Limerick rail links and the Nenagh-Roscrea-Ballybrophy rail line is necessary. If these areas of the mid-west were served, Shannon Airport would be better served.

Mr. S. Ryan:  That sounds like the promise to drain the River Shannon.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe:  Deputy Ryan would like to drain the rest of the country to clog up Dublin.

Ms Hoctor:  We are not interested in going to Dublin. If Shannon Airport is left as it is, it will not grow. We must also consider the dispersed population it serves. When one adds counties Galway, Clare, Limerick and Kerry, however, there is no doubt that it can meet its capacity. I compliment the Minister on his courage in introducing the legislation and fully support him.

Mr. S. Ryan:  That is not what the Deputy says behind the Minister’s back.

Ms Hoctor:  The Deputy has not been listening to me.

(Interruptions).

Acting Chairman:  Order, please.

Mr. Haughey:  I am not happy that Second Stage is being rushed through the House. Dáil business was changed unexpectedly last week to accommodate this legislation. Less than five hours was devoted to Second Stage and only one hour has been provided this evening. That is not enough.

[389]Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Is the Government Chief Whip listening?

  10 o’clock

Mr. Haughey:  I accept the decision was taken by the Government to break up Aer Rianta but both Houses need more time to debate these issues. The case for the break-up of this State company has not been made to date. Many questions regarding this matter remain unanswered and, unfortunately, we cannot obtain the answers, given the limited time available on Second Stage.

I ask the Government, even at this late stage, to consider referring the Committee Stage of the legislation to the Select Committee on Transport so that it can be discussed at length over the summer.

Mr. Allen:  That will get the Minister off the hook.

Mr. Haughey:  Will the legislation be needed? The Ministers for Finance and Transport may veto these plans next year if they are not satisfied with the business plans presented. In addition, the agreement of the House will also be needed. Would it be more sensible, as previous speakers have said, if the business plans were presented first?

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Mr. Haughey:  I refer to the ten-year business plan submitted by the chairman of Aer Rianta. This plan is acceptable to the unions. Under the plan, Aer Rianta highlights the difficulties that will be faced by Cork and Shannon Airports in the years ahead.

On Friday, 13 June 2003 I met representatives of SIPTU at their request in Leinster House together with a number of Members to discuss the union’s concerns about the break-up of Aer Rianta and other matters. I wrote to SIPTU on 3 July 2003 and informed the union of my opposition to these proposals. I stated I would highlight their concerns to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Transport, which I duly did. The Government decided later in July to proceed with these plans and, even though I have concerns about the legislation, as a Government Deputy I am obliged to support it.

Under the legislation, the Minister is essentially introducing competition between Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports. He wishes to ensure the three new boards are commercially focused. In addition, he also proposes to introduce competition within Dublin Airport by providing for the construction of a second terminal run by private interests. I hope the Minister’s plans work for everyone’s sake and that conditions will improve. The fear, however, is that an ideology is being pursued for the sake of it when a more pragmatic approach might be preferable.

[390]Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Mr. Haughey:  SIPTU produced a document last year entitled A Ruthless Act of Institutionalised Vandalism. While as legislators, we are obliged to listen to all concerns and not only those of trade unions, SIPTU highlights nine different myths surrounding Aer Rianta. They are as follows: Aer Rianta’s airport charges are excessive; Aer Rianta is another State-owned white elephant; congestion at Dublin Airport shows that Aer Rianta is basically incompetent; competition between the three Aer Rianta airports would make them more efficient; competition between the airports would reduce running costs; competition between them will drive down air fares for passengers and boost tourism; the Minister has a mandate to break up Aer Rianta; Shannon Airport will thrive as an independent company; and the unions in Aer Rianta are opposed to change.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Michael O’Leary can continue to tell lies but the Minister will not respond to him.

Mr. Haughey:  There is chaos in Dublin Airport and the travelling public fully realise this. Severe congestion is being experienced and, therefore, new airline business cannot be attracted. A total of 15 million passengers use the airport currently and that could increase to 30 million in the next ten to 15 years. A new terminal is needed to provide for new routes, increase employment and generate more tourism. The debate centres on whether this should be the proposed pier D or an independent terminal. Thirteen expressions of interest were submitted for the new independent terminal. The procedure for selecting the winning entry, if that route is pursued, must be transparent, accountable and open. I said this to the Minister earlier and he agreed.

Aer Rianta said €8 million has been spent on pier D and it is looking to recoup that amount. Many questions need to be answered and I hope that can be done on Committee Stage.

Mr. S. Ryan:  The spirit of Fianna Fáil still exists. De Valera must be spinning in his grave. Shame on the rest of the party’s backbenchers.

Mr. Dennehy:  Members representing the different areas surrounding the three airports are giving the legislation a different welcome and they are placing a different emphasis on its contents. We, in Cork, have felt for a long time that we have been deprived of certain benefits that accrued in other areas, particularly Shannon and Dublin. Dublin ruled the roost. Cork is an efficient, capable airport which has been selected as the best national airport three years running by consumers.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Why put that at risk?

[391]Mr. Dennehy:  If one is afraid of change and competition, one should shout, roar and bellow and attempt to slow progress by all means.

Deputy Batt O’Keeffe mentioned the competition faced by Cork Airport while Deputy Allen and others are also aware of it because we all challenged the unfair marketing budget available to one airport compared with others. We believed it was wrong.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe:  Remember what Peter Barry did for Cork.

Mr. Dennehy:  We all made representations about this, as it involved a misuse of State funds to channel the money in one direction.

Cork Airport has never had an artificial prop. Airlines have never been forced to land there to use the airport and that is the key to its success. The airport was losing up to £800,000 per year in the mid-1980s, but through staff changes, cutbacks and the hard work of staff, those losses were turned around quickly. Four major improvements were made at the airport, all of them funded through the budget of the Cork business unit. Only one proposal was refused. Funding of £250,000 was sought in the mid-1980s to extend the runway and it was refused by the Minister of the day.

Mr. B. O’Keeffe:  A Fine Gael Minister.

Mr. Dennehy:  That was the only time the airport ran into trouble.

Mr. Durkan:  The Deputies should go back to 1977 to find out why. I hope they have better memories than that.

Mr. Dennehy:  Members who want days and months to debate the legislation have come into the House bellowing and doing nothing else. That is not debate.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Government backbenchers are only realising today at the last minute that there is a problem.

Mr. Broughan:  We only had four hours to debate it.

Mr. Sherlock:  What are the advantages for Cork Airport?

Mr. Dennehy:  The airport has optimised every opportunity it has had and does not fear competition or challenge. It is the most efficient and best airport.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Why privatise it?

Mr. Dennehy:  No airline will be forced in there. Willie Walsh has said airlines could fly transatlantic routes out of Cork Airport. That should be allowed.

[392]Mr. S. Ryan:  The Deputy should ask his Minister to do it because he is preventing that.

Mr. Allen:  Aer Lingus will not fly between Cork Airport and Dublin Airport.

Ms O’Sullivan:  I wish to share time with Deputy Stanton.

I congratulate Deputy Haughey on his fine contribution. I welcome the true spirit of Fianna Fáil in his contribution, which has been so cowed by the Progressive Democrats over recent years that few of its members are willing to stand up and speak. It is time they did. It is also time the rushed passage of the legislation was stopped. According to this evening’s news reports, the Minister is being asked by members of his own party to slow the passage of the legislation and to wait until the autumn. I ask the Minister to do so in the interest of sanity because, aside from everything else, he is throwing away 45 years of progress at Shannon Airport, including Shannon Development Limited which was founded by the Lemass Government in 1958. Maybe that is why Deputy Haughey is conscious of history.

The Shannon Development Company has been thrown into the mix because the Shannon Free Zone’s assets are to be transferred in order to hold up the new airport company, which will appear to be non-viable unless it has that funding. That will put Shannon Development into an impossible situation. This is not just a threat to the future of Shannon Airport but to the future of Shannon Development and the entire region, where over 40,000 jobs are directly dependent on the airport.

It is absolute madness to do this without a proper business plan. The Minister should not go ahead and split the airports into three different companies before receiving business plans for them. That is absolute madness.

I do not know how Humpty Dumpty can be put back together once he has been broken up, and that is what seems to be happening with this legislation. Aer Rianta is to be broken up, then the individual boards draw up business plans, but if the Minster for Finance, whether it be Deputy McCreevy or not, does not approve the process it has to be undone. How can the process be undone if it is legislated for in this rushed fashion? None of us has the time to make a proper point because of the tiny amount of time allocated to us, though I would love to be able
to develop the issues involving Shannon
Airport.

The Tánaiste said recently that there was support for this move in Shannon, and there is, but it is in Progressive Democrats-controlled organisations in Shannon such as the board of Shannon Development.

Ms Hoctor:  There is not——

[393]Mr. S. Ryan:  Deputy Hoctor got it wrong about the hospitals. She should not get this wrong as well.

Ms Hoctor:  I did not get it wrong.

Ms O’Sullivan:  In addition to splitting up Aer Rianta the Government is also getting rid of the 50-50 gateway status. Deputy Dennehy should not say that is propping up anything in Shannon — it gives equality to Shannon and Dublin. There are as many people who want to fly into Shannon as into Dublin.

Mr. Dennehy:  The Deputy’s colleagues are afraid to discuss this.

Mr. Allen:  Deputy Dennehy should roar at the Minister.

Ms O’Sullivan:  These three major changes in Shannon — to Shannon Development, to Aer Rianta and to the transatlantic corridor, are being made in the interest of the Progressive Democrats philosophy. Fianna Fáil should be ashamed to sign up to this Progressive Democrats agenda and the Minister should listen to his own party members rather than to the 3% or 4% of the electorate which votes for the Progressive Democrats.

Mr. S. Ryan:  And to Michael O’Leary.

Ms O’Sullivan:  Please do not throw the entire Shannon region down the tubes just for ideology.

Mr. Stanton:  I am pleased to have the chance to voice my concerns. I agree with what speakers have said about the importance of Cork Airport to the economic and industrial growth of the area. It is absolutely vital. The airport has not received much support in the last 20 years and massive investment is needed, though I welcome the extension of the terminal. I also agree with previous speakers’ comments about marketing problems with the airport.

I am very concerned about the future of the airport and we must ensure that funding is available to expand it. Runways need to be lengthened, the terminal building must be refurbished, new ramp areas and cargo buildings are needed, the apron must be extended and more land must be bought also. That is crucial for the economic survival of the entire region.

If the funding is not there to do that, how does the Minister see this essential expansion of the airport occurring? We are told that approximately €160 million is being made available and there is some talk of a lease-back also — the Minister should explain that. We know what is needed and that €160 million is available, but I am told by some people that up to €250 million may be needed for the airport to expand and be viable.

Does the Minister have figures to show that Cork and Shannon will be stand-alone, indepen[394]dent entities and will not be dependent on low-cost carriers for survival? Since the Cork tunnel came into operation the airport has become more important, and people from all over the southern part of the country use it. There may also be a need for a light rail link from the airport to the city.

All of this must be funded, and my information is that the profits the airport will generate are relatively small and will not be enough to fund the essential infrastructural work which will be required. If that expansion cannot be funded then the airport will stagnate and may begin to die. That cannot be allowed to happen.

I have seen massive queues in the airport, leading out of the old terminal, and we must ensure the airport is comfortable. I am told that cutbacks are already being made in the new terminal, with walkways not being covered, for example. That cannot continue.

It is important to get this right and I am worried about the rush. Let us do this right if we are to do it at all.

Minister for Transport (Mr. Brennan):  I thank Deputies for their contributions. I have taken careful note of what they have been saying and I look forward to fleshing out many of these details on Committee Stage on Thursday.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Will there be time for Committee Stage on Thursday?

Mr. Brennan:  The reforms provided for in the Bill are focused on developing Dublin Airport, Cork Airport and Shannon Airport going forward and to increase traffic, to bring in more airlines and to increase significantly the number of passengers and jobs at the airports. The only sensible way to grow those jobs is to grow the business at the three State airports and it is important to emphasise that they will remain State-owned airports. Growing business and bringing in airlines are the challenges I am trying to focus on.

Under strong and focused leadership Shannon and Cork airports can have a fresh start and they will be able to develop separate business strategies and concentrate on marketing initiatives. Cork and Shannon airports will no longer have to play second fiddle to Dublin Airport, settle for the crumbs from the table or settle for a Dublin attitude which is “Let’s just keep shovelling subsidies down to Cork and Shannon as long as they are quiet within the monopoly and do not give us too much trouble.”

I have more confidence in Shannon Airport and Cork Airport than that. Shannon can double the number of passengers from 2 million at present to 4 million, which is the estimate of its incoming chairman, Pat Shanahan. It has been suggested that Cork Airport can also grow from 2.3 million passengers to over 3 million in a short period.

[395]One sees a good example of why this is necessary in flight patterns, as 90% of people who fly to the UK from Ireland go from Dublin and 93% or 94% of those travelling to the Continent travel through Dublin. I know of no reason why many of those people——

Mr. S. Ryan:  Why is that happening?

Mr. Brennan:  ——cannot use Shannon or Cork airports if those airports are extensively marketed. More and more people can be attracted to Shannon or Cork in the future.

Dublin Airport passenger numbers are set to grow from the present level of 15 million per year to 30 million over the next 15 years. That is phenomenal growth. The new Dublin Airport Authority has national and international aviation experience and will be able to focus on meeting the urgent needs of Dublin Airport, which is growing rapidly and needs constant attention.

The Bill provides the necessary legislative framework for the restructuring and the establishment of the airports on a separate basis eventually. It provides for Aer Rianta’s mandate to be changed by ministerial order so that it includes a responsibility to restructure the company on an orderly basis. On the day the order is made a new board will be appointed and Aer Rianta will become the Dublin Airport Authority.

The Bill was carefully put together after substantial discussions which went on for over 12 months. It is enabling legislation and allows implementation in a two-stage process. First, the airport authority takes office in Dublin, Shannon and Cork and it immediately gets down to pressing on with statutory business plans and agreeing on a delegated basis what functions each of the three authorities can carry out in the interim period.

During that period the assets will remain with the Dublin authority, as I explained. Assuming the shareholders, that is, the Ministers for Finance and Transport, are satisfied with the viability of the business plans, the assets will then transfer and Shannon and Cork will become fully independent and autonomous——

Mr. S. Ryan:  Is the Minister not satisfied in bringing in this legislation?

Mr. Brennan:  ——which will happen on or after 30 April 2005.

Over the past 12 months as I have visited Shannon and Cork and talked to interests, trade unions and workers in Dublin, there has been considerable support in many quarters for the concept of what we are trying to do. Most criticisms are about the mechanics and the timing. Most pleas, which have been made to me in the past couple of weeks centre around the way we are doing this. Almost everybody prefixes their comments by saying they understand that mon[396]opoly is not the way forward and that the way forward is to give Shannon and Cork their own wings, if Members will pardon the pun, and imbue and establish them with strong regional leadership. Most criticisms made to me are about the pace, mechanism and timing.

Mr. S. Ryan:  No one disagrees with that.

Mr. Brennan:  We can tease that out as we go through the Bill. Shannon and Cork Airports can survive. The alternative vision being painted for Shannon and Cork is that they will be nice and quiet, stay inside the monopoly, take the huge subsidies coming——

Mr. S. Ryan:  It does not have to be a monopoly. What about the Fianna Fáil manifesto prior to the last general election?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Allow the Minister to speak without interruption.

Mr. Brennan:  The alternative vision seems to be to relegate Shannon and Cork to continual subsidisation as long as they stay quiet and do not rock the boat. I have a bolder vision for the future of Shannon and Cork with strong regional leadership improving those airports, doubling the number of passengers, doubling the employment in due course and putting those two airports on the map.

Ms O’Sullivan:  Why is Aer Lingus sacking people in Shannon Airport?

Mr. Brennan:  At the end of the day, it is a matter of whether one has faith in the people of the Shannon and Cork regions——

Mr. Durkan:  Or in the Government.

Mr. Brennan:  ——to improve and develop their airports into the future. I have that confidence. I have seen them do so in other areas and I am sure they will do so in this area.

The Department of Transport produced figures for six airports in the UK and Europe with similar passenger traffic. It produced figures for six airports with approximately 2 million passengers per year, which is approximately the size of Shannon and Cork. All six are substantially profitable. What they have are strong boards, strong chief executives, strong chairpersons and strong regional support, and they are growing.

Mr. Broughan:  They have big populations.

Mr. Brennan:  The alternative is that we are supposed to turn to Shannon and Cork and say they are relegated not to have that growth.

Under the terms of the restructuring, both airports will begin debt free. That means a debt of €70 million will come off Shannon and approximately €120 million off Cork. At present those debts are being serviced by a rapidly growing [397]Dublin Airport. Given the contribution of Shannon and Cork to Aer Rianta over the years, it is entirely appropriate that, as they go their way, they are given a clean balance sheet and a good start and that the €70 million and €120 million are lifted off those airports.

Mr. Allen:  That will not clear the balance sheet.

Mr. S. Ryan:  What about Aer Rianta International?

Mr. Brennan:  It is also necessary to invest in the infrastructure in the region and I have asked the National Roads Authority to bring forward the development of the Galway-Shannon motorway. I have provided funds for the consultancy study for the rail link into Shannon and to press on with the extension of the Shannon relief road. It is critical to continue to make the investments in the Shannon region, which I am doing as part of that.

The trade unions have made it clear they are opposed to the restructuring proposals, and I acknowledged that in the Government’s discussions with them.

Mr. Allen:  As are many Government backbenchers.

Mr. Brennan:  The Government has, however, after lengthy discussions with the trade unions, taken on board a large number of the concerns, and it will continue to do so as the legislation progresses. To assist in addressing these concerns, we reached agreement in a number of important areas. A section of the Bill specifically states that there will be no diminution in the terms and conditions of employment of workers in the companies as they transfer to new authorities in time.

Mr. S. Ryan:  What about new workers? That applies to existing workers.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please.

Mr. Brennan:  The second area we negotiated with the trade unions was to the effect that no assets would transfer to Shannon or Cork until at least 30 April 2005, which would give us an opportunity to work out much of the detail of the financial aspects. We also agreed with the trade unions that the drawing up of detailed business plans would commence with the new authorities which would get down to fleshing out the existing business. Aer Rianta is a public limited company and it has business plans.

Mr. Broughan:  The Minister is a vandal who is smashing an Irish multinational company.

Mr. Brennan:  I wish to make it clear that we have agreed with the trade unions that there will be a process of engagement during the transition [398]period and that we will discuss with them in great detail the finalisation of the business plans.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Will the Minister give way to a question?

Mr. Brennan:  PricewaterhouseCoopers has also put forward a view that restructuring——

Mr. S. Ryan:  I am asking a question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Minister’s 15 minutes is nearly concluded.

Mr. S. Ryan:  I am asking the Minister to give way for one question.

Mr. Brennan:  I would prefer to get on with it if the Deputy does not mind.

Mr. S. Ryan:  I just want to ask one question. Where stands Aer Rianta International?

Mr. Brennan:  I will take those questions on Committee Stage.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Will we have enough time on Committee Stage?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Allow the Minister to continue.

Mr. Brennan:  I reiterate that the findings of the PricewaterhouseCoopers study, which my Department has, makes it clear that the establishment of three independent entities will allow these issues to be addressed in a focused way with fresh ideas, a clearly defined capital pool allocated to each airport and an autonomous approach pertinent to the business priorities of each airport.

Mr. S. Ryan:  The Minister should read the entire report.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please. Allow the Minister to continue.

Mr. Brennan:  I wish to mention the issue of airport charges because they have been talked about quite a bit. Many of the financial challenges facing the airports have been incorrectly attributed to the restructuring process. The reality is — this has been written in all the studies — that irrespective of the restructuring, that is, if there was no restructuring, charges may have to increase at Dublin Airport.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Why does the Minister not tell that to Michael O’Leary?

Mr. Brennan:  The increases indicated——

Mr. S. Ryan:  Why does the Minister not tell that to Michael O’Leary and stand up to him?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please.

[399](Interruptions).

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Sean Ryan should resume his seat.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Senator O’Rourke was the only one prepared to stand up to him.

A Deputy:  And Deputy Sean Haughey.

Mr. Brennan:  The increases indicated by PricewaterhouseCoopers arise from pre-existing capi[400]tal investment and from existing expenditure at the airports, and have nothing whatsoever to do with the restructuring proposals for the airport.

The intention in progressing with this legislation and project is to ensure continued growth, in particular of Shannon and Cork, to ensure that they are able to grow and develop as strong international airports into the future rather than consign them to possible continual subsidisation inside a group structure.

Question put.

[399]The Dáil divided: Tá, 58; Níl, 45.

 Ahern, Michael.  Ahern, Noel.
 Andrews, Barry.  Ardagh, Seán.
 Brady, Johnny.  Brady, Martin.
 Brennan, Seamus.  Browne, John.
 Callanan, Joe.  Callely, Ivor.
 Carty, John.  Cassidy, Donie.
 Coughlan, Mary.  Cregan, John.
 Cullen, Martin.  Curran, John.
 Davern, Noel.  de Valera, Síle.
 Dempsey, Tony.  Dennehy, John.
 Devins, Jimmy.  Ellis, John.
 Finneran, Michael.  Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
 Fleming, Seán.  Glennon, Jim.
 Grealish, Noel.  Hanafin, Mary.
 Haughey, Seán.  Hoctor, Máire.
 Jacob, Joe.  Keaveney, Cecilia.
 Kelleher, Billy.  Kelly, Peter.
 Killeen, Tony.  McDowell, Michael.
 McGuinness, John.  Martin, Micheál.
 Moynihan, Michael.  Mulcahy, Michael.
 Nolan, M.J.  Ó Cuív, Éamon.
 Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.  O’Connor, Charlie.
 O’Dea, Willie.  O’Donovan, Denis.
 O’Keeffe, Batt.  O’Malley, Fiona.
 Parlon, Tom.  Power, Peter.
 Power, Seán.  Sexton, Mae.
 Smith, Michael.  Treacy, Noel.
 Wallace, Dan.  Walsh, Joe.
 Wilkinson, Ollie.  Wright, G.V.



[399]Níl
 Allen, Bernard.  Boyle, Dan.
 Breen, Pat.  Broughan, Thomas P.
 Bruton, Richard.  Burton, Joan.
 Connaughton, Paul.  Costello, Joe.
 Crawford, Seymour.  Crowe, Seán.
 Deenihan, Jimmy.  Durkan, Bernard J.
 Ferris, Martin.  Gilmore, Eamon.
 Gormley, John.  Hayes, Tom.
 Healy, Seamus.  Higgins, Joe.
 Howlin, Brendan.  Lynch, Kathleen.
 McGinley, Dinny.  McGrath, Finian.
 McGrath, Paul.  Mitchell, Olivia.
 Morgan, Arthur.  Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
 Murphy, Gerard.  Naughten, Denis.
 Neville, Dan.  Noonan, Michael.
 Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.  O’Dowd, Fergus.
 O’Shea, Brian.  O’Sullivan, Jan.
 Penrose, Willie.  Rabbitte, Pat.
 Ring, Michael.  Ryan, Eamon.
 Ryan, Seán.  Sargent, Trevor.
 Sherlock, Joe.  Shortall, Róisín.
 Stanton, David.  Upton, Mary.
 Wall, Jack.  

[399]Tellers: Tá, Deputies Hanafin and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Durkan and Broughan.

[401]Question declared carried.

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. Cullen):  I move:

That the Bill be referred to the Select Committee on Transport in accordance with Standing Order 120(1) and paragraph 1(a)(i) of the Orders of Reference of that committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. Cullen):  I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the Commission on Electronic Voting (Further Reports) Order 2004, which was made on 24th June, 2004 under section 22(5) of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2004.

This motion arises because of the wish expressed to the Government by the Commission on Electronic Voting in a letter received last week that an order should be made under section 22(5) of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2004 to ensure and put beyond doubt the commission’s continued mandate. The possibility of such a request to extend the work of the commission was provided for under the recent legislation and is to be effected by a Government order with the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

The Government considers that it is proper and reasonable to accede to this precautionary request from the commission. Therefore, I am pleased to bring this order before the House. It will provide further assurance and amplification for the commission in respect of its continuing role and equip it with an explicit mandate to continue to assess the secrecy and accuracy of the Nedap-Powervote system and issue a further report or reports for this purpose.

Apart from its technical content, the order before the House is an important affirmation of the work of the commission which has already shown itself to be entirely independent. Its standing is above reproach. Moreover, the Government has acknowledged the importance of the commission’s initial findings and accepted its main recommendations on further testing requirements. This demonstrates that the security, accuracy and integrity of our electoral system are of the highest importance to it.

In parallel with the continuation of the commission’s work, my Department is establishing, in consultation with the commission, an extensive testing programme intended to address the concerns raised by the commission with regard to the secrecy and accuracy of the electronic voting system. This testing regime will also provide further validation of the system, building on, and [402]where necessary adding to, the comprehensive set of tests and certifications carried out to date by the independent testing agencies.

To progress this work, my Department will shortly appoint an independent project manager from the private sector to oversee its work programme and ensure the speedy and efficient presentation of outputs to the commission. The project manager will be tasked with developing an appropriate testing and validation programme in response to the commission’s concerns, overseeing prompt execution by relevant contractors and ensuring the work programme is implemented to best practice standards.

The Government is also requesting the commission to include in its assessment a comparative study of the secrecy and accuracy of the current paper based electoral system with the electronic voting and counting system. In this way, the commission will be able to focus more closely on the relative merits of the two systems and consider practical improvements and efficiencies that electronic voting can bring to the electoral process.

I thank members of the commission for their intensive work since its establishment in March this year and their continued efforts in providing the necessary assurance and confidence in the electronic voting system.

Mr. Allen:  I am glad we have the opportunity to discuss this motion this evening. I do not mean to be confrontational but the Minister never seems to be able to learn from his mistakes. He put himself in a deep political mire recently by not consulting, seeking advice or, most importantly, listening when advice was given. As a result of his reluctance to take advice and listen to those who held different views, he was forced into a U-turn on electronic voting which we have since learned has cost the taxpayer €65 million, a conservative estimate.

I have heard the Minister state from time to time that the machines in question will be used and that the money spent will not be wasted because most of the faults lie with the software, not the actual machines which he insists will be used for 20 years. They are not accessible to the blind and cannot be retro-fitted by any means I can see. Is it seriously contended that no accessibility improvements will be made for the next 20 years? No provision has been made for the blind to vote in secret. Moreover, the fundamental problem lies with the machines as a paper trail is most necessary.

I thought that the Minister, in extending the terms of reference of the commission, would take into account some of the content of the report published by it in April. The order proposed by him endorses paragraph 4.4 of the report, namely, that there needs to be a final definitive version of the software and all related hardware and software components to be used in elections; there needs to be a full independent review and testing of the source code of the final system to be used and any subsequent software modifi[403]cations will necessitate a further full system retest. The commission report also said there should be independent parallel testing of the system, including, where possible, in a live electoral contest; that there should be independent end-to-end testing of the system; and that there should be testing and certification by a single accredited body of the suitability of each new version of the entire system for use at elections in Ireland.

Each of these points contained in paragraph 4.5 of the commission’s report has an important impact but not least the first and third points. When one considers that calls are being made from all quarters to add a verifiable paper audit trail, this is a modification to the hardware. If the commission goes ahead and spends time and money verifying a system with no verifiable paper audit trail and one has to be added, which it does, then it is a case of going back to square one. As the commission points out, there needs to be a final definitive version for any testing to be meaningful. Paragraph 4.4 of the report states:

The Commission also makes the following observations in relation to the chosen system which, although not falling strictly within its terms of reference, have a bearing on the successful implementation of the system at elections in Ireland:

Under the system, voters who wish to register an abstention by voting for no candidate cannot do so in secrecy;

The system does not have a voter-verifiable audit trail (VVAT), argued by many to:

Reassure voters that their vote has been correctly recorded,

Create a disincentive to the manipulation of the system by providing an external check on accuracy,

Enable recovery from a serious system failure.

I could continue to read page 23 of the report in full but time does not permit. I thought, in view of what the commission said in its initial report, that in any widening of the terms of reference of the commission that issue would be put to it for its consideration. Instead the Minister continues to bury his head in the sand and continues to ignore the arguments put forward by so many people.

The Government must remove the cloak of arrogance, take its head out of the sand and commence a consultative process with the Opposition parties and the public to ensure the best way forward, even at this late stage. I appeal to the Minister to call a truce and refer the question of electronic voting to a statutory electoral commission, which should be set up and which would take over the role of the endless list of Government-appointed commissions dealing with elections and referendums in Ireland. There is the Referendum Commission, the constituency commission, the [404]Standards in Public Office Commission and the relevant section of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. They would be streamlined once and for all. The commission would also be responsible for the introduction of a safe, secure, transparent and verifiable electronic voting system.

My party supports the principle of electronic voting but only if introduced, following consultation and transparency. I ask that we get together as mature politicians to resolve this problem in a sensible and open fashion because I do not see that the Minister’s way will resolve it. In his speech he said he will shortly appoint an independent project manager from the private sector to oversee his work programme and ensure a quick and efficient presentation output to the commission. Any person appointed by the Minister or the Government is not independent. Let us remove the charade and get down to real business. Let us be adults and mature in our political approach to a system that needs to be looked at in a mature way.

The way forward is a statutorily based electoral commission along the lines I have suggested. Otherwise we will continue indefinitely with questions and answers resulting in dissatisfaction and the undermining of confidence in the electoral system on the part of the public. The time has come for mature political reflection on where we stand. Let us get together and make progress in the interests of those we represent.

Mr. Gilmore:  The motion seeks to extend the mandate of the Commission on Electronic Voting, an issue I raised here last week. I pointed out it was my understanding that the mandate of the commission was due to expire on 30 June and that an order was required to extend it. I am pleased the Minister has brought forward the necessary motion to do so.

I join in the tributes paid to the commission. It was appointed in unusual circumstances and given a short period in which to carry out its work. It worked to an incredibly strict and pressurised deadline. It also worked in the context of the Government wishing to use electronic voting in the recent local and European elections. Notwithstanding those difficulties the commission produced a comprehensive and independent report. It has done the country and the electoral system a great service in the way in which it carried out its mandate. I understand the commission is to produce a full report and that the report published in April was an interim one. I look forward to examining the full when published.

Mr. Cullen:  There are a number of reports. It is up to the commission. It is not being confined to publishing one report.

Mr. Gilmore:  I look forward to the report or reports. When one looks at the interim report the commission produced, one wonders what the [405]Government was at in attempting to progress the electronic voting system in the way it was doing. The commission went further in its criticisms of the system than did any Member. It was a thorough and comprehensive critique of a flawed system.

The issue at this stage is not about who was right or wrong on electronic voting but how to ensure public confidence in the voting system is enhanced whatever type is used. All of us, whether on the Government or Opposition side, should apply our minds and energies to that issue. On the Government side in particular there needs to be a resolve that, whatever the outcome from the further examination to be carried out by the commission and the final report that will ensue, any changes in the way in which elections are conducted should only be proceeded with on the basis of general political consensus. The attempt which was made to move unilaterally to electronic voting on the basis of a simple head count in the Dáil or the Oireachtas committee was mistaken. The lesson that needs to be learned from this exercise is that if we want the public to have confidence in the voting system, we need to ensure general agreement and confidence in the House on the system of voting, whatever type that may be.

  11 o’clock

I am curious as to why the Department is appointing an independent project manager to work with the commission. Why is responsibility for appointing an independent project manger if required not being given to the commission rather than to the Department? It is not clear from the Minister’s contribution whether the independent project manager will work to the commission or the Department. The manager was described as being responsible for ensuring speedy and efficient presentation of outputs to the commission.

Mr. Cullen:  As I would not like there, to be any confusion on that, it is important to clarify the matter. The appointment has nothing to do with the commission. As the commission is completely independent, any appointment it makes will be a matter for itself. All I was doing was providing the House with the information that I felt an expert was needed within the Department to marshal and organise all of the responses and to deal efficiently with the commission. That is all I meant. I did not want it said further down the road that nobody was told I intended to make this appointment. I want interaction with the commission to be efficient and knowledgeable. I would not like there to be confusion and for it to be said that the appointment had anything to do with the commission. It does not.

Mr. Gilmore:  While I am glad the Minister has told us that, I am not reassured. The contrary is the case. The appointment by the Minister of a project manager on electronic voting suggests that he has determined to go ahead with it. I must [406]again caution against proceeding with a change in the voting system without political agreement.

Mr. Cullen:  I do not mean to interrupt the Deputy, but the appointment is not being made for that reason. It became obvious to me that we needed within the Department a person with the level of expertise required to interact with the experts I presume the commission will appoint. The aim is simply to organise as efficiently as I can the responses to the commission. The appointment has no implication on whether or not electronic voting will introduced, it aims simply to handle in-house the challenging situation the commission has outlined in its recommendations. I perceived a gap which needed to be professionally filled.

Mr. Gilmore:  The Minister is the political head of his Department and he makes the call as he sees it. The problem with the proposals on electronic voting did not relate to lack of technical expertise or project management in the Department. The problem was political. With respect, the Minister must take responsibility for that himself.

Mr. Cullen:  I have done that.

Mr. Gilmore:  The Government must take collective responsibility also.

A long time ago, I made the point that I did not want to see electronic voting or proposals to change the way we vote becoming issues of partisan politics. I still do not. We must return to a point at which we can, as Deputy Allen said, discuss electronic voting or other changes to the voting system reasonably and on the basis that general political agreement is required. We cannot consider these issues in an atmosphere in which Government unilaterally asserts its intention to proceed irrespective of what the Opposition says. With round 1 of the electronic voting issue behind us, the Minister must reassure the House that having considered the reports of the commission in greater detail, any steps to move matters forward will be taken on the basis of general political agreement. There can be no question of Government deciding unilaterally to proceed with changes to the way in which people vote irrespective of the criticisms and concerns being raised by the Opposition.

If the Minister provides us with an assurance that this will not happen, the Labour Party will constructively participate in any discussion or examination of the reports of the commission. We have yet to be assured that the leaf has been turned and that political consensus will be sought rather than seeking to progress electronic voting to the disadvantage of other participants in the political process.

Mr. Cullen:  Does Deputy Gilmore want the commission to continue its work?

Mr. Gilmore:  Yes, I do.

[407]Mr. Cullen:  Are we to ignore or accept the outcome?

Mr. Gilmore:  We must discuss——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy should conclude.

Mr. Gilmore:  I was interrupted several times by the Minister.

Mr. Cullen:  I was trying to be helpful. Deputy Gilmore asked me a question.

Mr. Gilmore:  To answer the point, the commission reports to the House and the House should consider its reports with an assurance that the Government will not proceed unilaterally. This process is no longer the property of the Government, it is the property of the House.

Mr. Cullen:  Interesting.

Mr. Gilmore:  The commission reports to the House.

Mr. Cullen:  For the record, it was the House which appointed the Commission on Electronic Voting, not the Government.

Mr. Connolly:  I wish to share time with Deputies Sargent and Ó Caoláin.

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

Mr. Connolly:  The report of the Commission on Electronic Voting has exposed the Government’s unbridled arrogance, squander-mania and poverty of political acumen. In particular, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government ignored all evidence to the contrary to extol the proposed electronic system’s security and reliability. The shattering of this myth by the commission provides ample grounds for the Minister to consider the wisdom of his persistence in sticking with the electronic voting scheme.

In previous Dáil debates, I said I was not against the introduction of electronic voting per se. Instead, I stated my preference for a system of electronic voting which incorporated a separate and verifiable paper-based audit against which the electronic system could be cross checked. I pointed out that public confidence in our democracy and voting system could be seriously undermined if the proposed electronic voting system were not seen to be reliable. With his typical disdain, the Minister refused steadfastly to entertain any constructive criticism of the proposed system. He also dismissed in somewhat disparaging terms the legitimate concerns raised by many politicians and others in recent months and insisted instead on ramming through the Nedap-Powervote system, the source code — the logic behind the voting system — of which [408]is retained as a trade secret in company vaults in Holland.

Mr. Cullen:  As it is in the case of every other country.

Mr. Connolly:  That was a large part of the problem we had here.

Mr. Cullen:  I would hate to be sitting here if the Government had the source code. I do not want to know what Deputy Connolly would say then.

Mr. Connolly:  The Government had already spent more than €52 million on the mothballed voting machines and engaged in a €6 million marketing campaign to persuade a sceptical voting public of the questionable merits of the electronic system.

Mr. Cullen:  The facts do not get in Deputy Connolly’s way.

Mr. Connolly:  This has all been rendered academic by the commission’s findings while almost €60 million has been squandered on a Minister’s fetish for speed and automation.

Mr. Cullen:  The figures keep increasing.

Mr. Connolly:  The key considerations of fairness, accuracy and security were discounted.

Mr. Cullen:  Where are they coming from? Do Deputies make them up before they come into the House?

Mr. Connolly:  The Minister is at it again with his back-to-the-wall defensiveness.

Mr. Cullen:  Pick a figure. It is a lucky dip.

Mr. Connolly:  It is the arrogance which has come through during this entire debate.

Mr. Cullen:  The Deputy knows the correct figures and he should use them.

Mr. Connolly:  I have only 200 seconds and I do not wish to see them burnt up just like that.

Mr. Cullen:  Where did Deputy Connolly get the €60 million sum?

Mr. Connolly:  An almost identical sum of €58 million was being excised in heartless cuts to the social welfare budget which inflicted untold misery on the most vulnerable in our society at the same time as the Minister was indulging in his pet electronic voting fantasy.

Mr. Cullen:  I assure the Deputy that it was not my pet project.

Mr. Connolly:  I do not know whose it was if it was not the Minister’s.

[409]Mr. Allen:  We know whose pet project it was.

Mr. Connolly:  In excess of 100,000 medical cards were culled, services for the disabled were pruned, health care for the elderly cut and educational services for the disadvantaged steadily whittled away merely to satisfy the whim of a Minister who failed to read the signs before embarking on an ill-advised crusade to bludgeon through a flawed and suspect voting system. The Minister should have realised that electronic voting was a disaster waiting to happen and that the people would not be beguiled by his apparent acquiescence to the commission’s findings.

Any further Government sallies into the realms of electronic voting must involve the widest possible consultation with expert groups prior to the adoption of a system, the hallmarks of which will be voter verifiable paper records, open software and provision for people with disabilities. Then and only then will people’s concerns about electronic voting be eliminated.

Mr. Sargent:  Like others, I pay tribute to the courage of the Commission on Electronic Voting in stating the bald facts. It was aware this would not enamour it to the Government press office but it did what it had to do and deserves our tribute.

In principle, the Green Party supports the development of a voter verifiable audit trail as part of an electronic voting system. However, bringing this about requires all-party consultation to ensure it will be above party politics. Unfortunately, the Government has failed in that regard. A courteous official rang me the other day to inform me of this motion. He stated it was required to enable the commission finish its work.

Mr. Cullen:  I tried to telephone the Deputy personally but was unable to get through to him.

Mr. Sargent:  I appreciate that, as I know the Minister had other things to do. However, the official represented him well and was very courteous.

We should examine the motion more carefully rather than just allow the commission continue. We have learned much from its first report but rather than kick to touch, we should recognise that transparency is something that has not yet been established to the satisfaction of the majority of the people. The Minister has said there will be an extensive testing programme. However, he does not seem to realise, no matter how extensive, that is not the same as having transparency in the system.

We must grasp the nettle, put together actual specifications for a voting and counting system and work to address them. If they happen to coincide with what the Nedap system can accommodate, that is a bonus. However, we should not be locked into having to use the Nedap system or [410]finding some way of fitting the round peg into a square hole. We must be prepared for whatever the commission decides. As matters have turned out, to a large extent it was reckless to have gone ahead with the Nedap system. I understand the Australians considered the system but found they could more cost effectively produce their own. We must be prepared for that to happen here in terms of cost effectiveness and other requirements and specifications.

We require the publication of the full report of the commission. There was a reluctance to publish it due to defamation issues. The Oireachtas is supposed to guard against this. We should get on and publish the report. We should also put in place an independent body to analyse the contracts made with Nedap. There is considerable suspicion that it was paid too much. When we see what the Australians and others have managed to acquire, it appears we should have managed to get what we got for a lot less than what we paid.

The commission should do more than what is being set in place through the motion. We should examine the lessons learned and put specifications in place. If they result in the Nedap system, then well and good. However, we should not lock ourselves into the system without examining the issue fully.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I welcome the fact that the Government has conceded to a debate requested by the Opposition. All too often motions are passed without any debate in the House.

Let us recall that for no good reason the Minister attempted to ram through fundamental changes in how we vote without considering the dangers and implications of such changes. Attempts to introduce electronic voting for the recent European and local elections had to be abandoned after concerns raised by Sinn Féin and other parties and interest groups were found to be valid by the commission which concluded that the secrecy and accuracy of the proposed system could not be proven.

Many of the concerns raised by Sinn Féin and others remain to be addressed. The issue of a paper trail remains central to our concerns on the proposed introduction of electronic voting. This is the critical factor in ensuring public confidence. Without a paper trail, voters cannot be assured that the choice they enter on the machine is the same as that which is recorded by the machine. Neither do we have any assurances that all source codes will be available for proper public scrutiny.

This order under section 22(5) of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2004 requests that the commission should make such further reports as are necessary concerning the work envisaged by it under paragraph 4.5 of its interim report which called for a final definitive version of the software and all related hardware and software com[411]ponents to be used in the State; a full independent review and testing of the source code of the final system to be used, pointing out that any subsequent software modification would necessitate a further full system retest; independent parallel testing of the system, including, where possible, in a live electoral context; independent end-to-end testing of the system; and testing and certification by a single accredited body of the suitability of each new version of the entire system to be used in the State.

The Minister must tell the House what progress has been made on the commission’s recommendations for action. For example, will he bring forward proposals for independent parallel testing of the system in a live electoral context? Is this what is meant by the inclusion of the request that future reports from the commission include a comprehensive assessment of the secrecy and accuracy of the current system for voting at elections? The Minister needs to properly update the House on these issues.

The introduction of electronic voting cannot go ahead until we are absolutely certain as to the secrecy and accuracy of the system to be used, have in place a voter verifiable paper trail and, despite the Minister’s earlier response, publication of all the source codes. I hope he will address these matters.

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. Cullen):  I thank members of the Opposition for their contributions. I will not rehearse all the old arguments. I am glad the commission is doing such a good job and that the House has such confidence in its independence which was not expressed when the commission was first set up. It has, however, proved its independence to all and that it will do its job.

The commission which was set up by the Houses of the Oireachtas has produced an interim report which makes a number of recommendations. It has asked for time to produce further reports. This is entirely a matter for it. The decision to use electronic voting was not a Government one but of the Houses of the Oireachtas. We look forward to receiving the further reports of the commission which we will await. We will not pre-empt in any manner or form what the commission may or may not state. We should allow it to get on with its work and produce its report or reports. I share the view of the Government and the reports will be made through this House to the Oireachtas. We will examine them in detail. I hope we will receive a final report from the commission on the issue. Whatever its decision, I hope it will be accepted by all Members of the Houses because of the veracity, independence and standing of the commission.

Question put and declared carried.

Mr. McGinley:  In 2002, Dr. Michael Ryan was appointed chairman of the Civil Defence Board, However, in the short time that has passed since this appointment the Minister has allowed a situation to develop where there appears to have been a total breakdown in communications between his Department and the Civil Defence Board, and this has now resulted in the dismissal of the chairperson.

Speaking at the time of Dr. Ryan’s appointment, the then Minister of State at the Department of Defence and Government Chief Whip, Deputy Brennan, stated he was delighted that people of the highest calibre had agreed to serve on the board. It is hard to credit that things could have gone so badly wrong in the short time since then. We must also have concern for the possible long-term damage to Civil Defence in Ireland that has arisen from this extraordinary situation.

The Minister has questions to answer on this matter. In the first instance, I want to know why he refused to meet with the chairperson and other members of the Civil Defence Board. The chairperson of the Civil Defence Board wrote to the Minister on 28 October 2003 and requested such a meeting. On 12 December 2003 a further letter was sent to an official at the Minister’s Department with a similar request. More recently, on 24 March last, the chairperson of the Civil Defence Board wrote again to Minister and urged that he agree to meet a delegation at the earliest opportunity.

Organising such a meeting should have been a straightforward matter. Only a little over a year ago in May 2003, the Minister signed the order establishing the board and declared his full confidence in its membership. Why then did he refuse to extend the basic courtesy of a meeting to the members of the Civil Defence Board?

Decentralisation is also an issue in this astounding situation. I am aware that the Civil Defence Board has grave concerns that the facility selected for decentralisation to Roscrea will not meet the future needs for the development of Civil Defence in Ireland. The board has ambitious plans for the role and expansion of Civil Defence. Obviously, if the board has concerns with regard to the selected building, it has an obligation to voice these concerns. However, in raising this matter with the Minister the chairperson of the Civil Defence Board has discovered that the Minister is only interested in pursuing the decision already made, regardless of whether it meets the needs of Civil Defence. Voices of dissent will not be tolerated.

I wish to raise the failure of Minister to implement the Civil Defence Act 2002. This perhaps has been the most contentious point in the relationship between the Department of Defence and the Civil Defence Board. It is clear from the [413]Civil Defence Act 2002 that the board must assume a variety of important functions, and that it does not exist simply to advise the Minister, although it does have some consultative and advisory roles.

It is clear that the Civil Defence Board has fundamental concerns that the key elements for which the board has responsibility, such as staffing, finance and facilities, have been retained by the Department of Defence contrary to the Civil Defence Act 2002. For example, the Minister has failed to appoint members of staff to the Civil Defence Board, and the budget and estimates for the activities of the board have been decided upon by the Minister without any consultation with the board. In failing to provide the Civil Defence Board with the staff it requires to carry out its statutory functions and in retaining all control on matters of finance and facilities, it is clear that the Minister has reserved to his Department functions that are clearly vested in the Civil Defence Board under the 2002 Act.

Civil Defence is critical to the security and protection of people in the State, and is relied upon for the smooth and safe running of many events around the country. Civil Defence volunteers offer invaluable support to the Garda and Defence Forces. This support should be built upon, not weakened. However, in failing to meet the Civil Defence Board, in railroading through decisions on decentralisation without any regard to concern or consultation, and in centralising power in his Department, the Minister has damaged Civil Defence and must account for his actions to this House.

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  On 23 April 2004, I requested the Secretary General of my Department to carry out an investigation of the manner in which Dr. Micheál Ryan had been carrying out his duties as chairman of the Civil Defence Board.

On 4 May 2004, having considered the Secretary General’s report, I wrote to Dr. Ryan informing him that I was contemplating his removal as chairperson and as a member of the Civil Defence Board pursuant to paragraph 7, Schedule 2, of the Civil Defence Act 2002 on the basis that it might be necessary for the effective performance of the functions of the Civil Defence Board. I invited him to write to me within 14 days, namely, by 18 May, making any representations that he wished to make in regard to my proposed course of action. I undertook to consider his representations in conjunction with the report of the Secretary General before making a final decision. Owing to Dr. Ryan’s absence abroad on holidays and at the request of his legal representatives, I extended the period for reply until 14 June.

A reply from Dr. Ryan’s solicitors and a statement prepared by Dr. Ryan were provided on 11 June. I reviewed the report of the investigation carried out by the Secretary General of my Department and the documentation received [414]from the solicitors. This review led me to form the opinion that Dr. Ryan’s actions have hampered the effective performance of the Civil Defence Board’s functions pursuant to sections 8(1)(n) and 8(1)(o) of the Civil Defence Act 2002. I formed the opinion that the functioning of the board was hampered by the following actions.

Dr. Ryan contacted the owners of properties adjacent to the property chosen for the Civil Defence headquarters in Roscrea, to use Dr. Ryan’s words, “to seek out any potential objections or difficulties which may arise”. The effect of this contact was apparently to ridicule the choice of Civil Defence headquarters. This led to one of the said owners contacting me through a third party and had the effect of undermining my decision to decentralise Civil Defence to Roscrea.

At a Civil Defence Board meeting on 4 March 2004, Dr. Ryan asserted that he needed to consider his position because of his relationship with the director general and adjourned the meeting, having advised the board that it could not convene in his absence. This had the effect of hampering the effective performance by the board of its functions and, in particular, the board’s function of advising and assisting the director general pursuant to section 8(1)(o) of the Civil Defence Act 2002.

Dr. Ryan gave an address at a Civil Defence conference on 3 April 2004 in which he indicated that he proposed to fill the post of chief Civil Defence officer without sanction, contrary to the provisions of section 36(5) of the Civil Defence Act 2002 which are as follows:

The Board shall appoint a person who shall be a uniformed officer to be known as the “Chief Civil Defence Officer” to perform such ceremonial or related functions as the Board may determine and who shall hold office on the terms and conditions (including terms and conditions relating to remuneration and allowances for expenses) that the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, may determine.

Dr. Ryan asserted that he did not infringe this section or advocate any course of action which sought to infringe the above section. What Dr. Ryan asserted, as referred to at the conference, was a proposal under which a part-time Civil Defence officer would be appointed to accept the role of chief Civil Defence officer on a voluntary basis at no cost to the State until such time as a fully sanctioned position as chief Civil Defence officer arose.

I therefore formed the view that, on his own admission, Dr. Ryan proposed to fulfil the post of chief Civil Defence officer without sanction. It is clear from the terms of section 36(5) that the terms and conditions of the chief Civil Defence officer are for me, as Minister, to determine. If it were proposed to appoint a chief Civil Defence officer on a voluntary basis, I would still have to sanction the terms and conditions of that officer’s appointment. By referring to this proposal Dr. [415]Ryan hampered the effective performance by the board of its functions pursuant to section 8(1) in general and section 8(1)(o) in particular.

I therefore decided, pursuant to powers conferred on me by paragraph 7 of Schedule 2 of the Civil Defence Act 2002, to remove Dr. Ryan as a member of the Civil Defence Board, with immediate effect, as it appeared to me that his removal was necessary for the effective performance by the board of its functions. In this regard, I wrote to Dr. Ryan on 24 June 2004 informing him of my decision.

There is no crisis within the board. I took the action of removing the chairman as I consider this course to be in the best interests of Civil Defence nationwide. The organisation continues to serve local communities in a voluntary and selfless way. I have appointed a new chairman to the Civil Defence board and I want the board to concentrate on the development of the organisation in the interests of local communities.

I intend to continue to assist it in every way I can. I have increased the Estimate for Civil Defence each year since my appointment. It has purchased 116 ambulances, we invested €2 million in protective clothing and we will continue to serve the interests of Civil Defence without fear or favour.

Mr. Glennon:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this very important issue. I also thank the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, for taking the debate. I raise the issue in the context of the imminent sale — tomorrow, we understand — of the harbours of Balbriggan and Skerries into private ownership. I understand that the Tánaiste may already have made some reference to the sale in the House today. I am not party to what she said but no doubt the Minister of State will inform us all.

North County Dublin, or Fingal as it is more commonly known and as the natives prefer to call it, is steeped in history, particularly maritime history. St. Patrick landed off Skerries in the 5th century, the Danes landed at Lambay in the 8th century and, in more modern times, the gun-running Asgard, under skipper Erskine Childers Snr., landed its cargo at Howth in the early 20th century.

North County Dublin, which is now an extension of suburban Dublin, is blessed with a number of harbours dotted along the coast, including Howth, Rogerstown, Rush, Loughshinny, Skerries and Balbriggan. These harbours have been bustling centres of trade of all descriptions. In the 19th century my grand-uncle sailed schooners out of Skerries as far as St. John’s in Newfoundland, Genoa in Italy, and Tangiers in Morocco. In the 20th century, activity was mainly confined to fishing but the occasional coal boat came over from the coal mines of north-west England and discharged its cargo in the autumn to keep the home fires burning in Skerries and Balbriggan.

[416]Since time immemorial, the locals of the area and visitors — there was once a flourishing tourism trade in the area but now it is based much more on day trips — have always had uninterrupted access to these harbours. There is one unfortunate exception, namely the harbour at Rogerstown. As the Minister of State is very well aware, it presents a sorry sight today in that it is the only harbour on the coast that is under lock and key, with access denied to all comers, whether they come by land or sea.

Fingal, as we are all aware, is probably the most rapidly expanding area of the country and the uses of its harbours have changed dramatically in recent years. Fishing is in decline, unfortunately. In my youth, the harbours were mainly used by the thriving fishing industry and there were a few leisure craft. Now the balance is gradually shifting and leisure craft are becoming dominant. However, there is still a very strong fishing community and much business is done in this area. The new marinas in Malahide and Howth are probably a portent of developments further along the coast.

It is in this context that I raise the issue of the proposed sale of Skerries and Balbriggan harbours. The Dublin Port Company has assured us that, as of tomorrow, it is its intention to sign off on the sale of these magnificent assets. They are assets not only to the local community but to the wider community. It has made it patently clear that it will be signing off under what it considers to be its present legal liability. The only thing we know about the buyer is that it is not a public authority of any description but from the private sector. The port authority says it has no alternative. I do not agree with it but there is not much point arguing with it at this stage.

We are here tonight at what is very much the 11th hour to request the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to activate the legislative mechanism open to him under section 88(4) of the Harbours Act 1996 which provides for the transfer of both of these harbours to Fingal County Council and further provides that the subsection shall come into operation on such a day as is fixed by order made by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, with the consent of his colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Clare has the Burren, Killarney has its lakes, Dublin has Phoenix Park and St. Stephen’s Green. Nobody would ever contemplate the passing of any of those magnificent assets into private ownership. The people of Skerries and Balbriggan should not be asked to contemplate this in respect of their two major natural assets. I urge the Minister of State to do the right thing to enable the local authority, the local communities and Balbriggan Town Council——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should conclude. In fairness to the staff of the House I ask [417]Ministers and Deputies not to exceed the five minutes allowed.

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Browne):  I am pleased to have this opportunity to inform the House that earlier today I made an order, with the consent of my colleague the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to give effect to the transfer of the harbours at Balbriggan and Skerries to Fingal County Council. The transfer is effective from tomorrow, 30 June 2004. The making of this order will ensure that the harbours will be retained in public ownership as a resource to be enjoyed by the public for the future.

I will outline to the House the background to this development. It has been the long-standing policy of my Department to transfer a number of regional harbours, including those of Skerries and Balbriggan, to the control of the relevant local authority. Section 88(4) of the Harbours Act 1996 provides for the transfer of both these harbours to Fingal County Council. The Act provides that the subsection shall come into operation on such a day as is fixed by order made by me with the consent of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Officials from my Department have continued to work closely with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to progress our long-standing policy regarding the transfer of certain regional harbours to the relevant local authorities. In the past week, my Department has been facilitating discussions involving public representatives, including Deputies Glennon, Sargent and Séan Ryan, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Fingal County Council and Dublin Port Company with regard to the future of the two harbours in question. The opportunity now presents itself to all interested parties to work with the county council to ensure that the two harbours will prosper and provide ongoing benefits and amenity value to the communities of Balbriggan and Skerries.

I am particularly pleased that this decision has been made and that we have concluded the matter to the satisfaction of the public representatives. Deputy Glennon has been beating a path to my door and has been ably assisted by the Deputies in his constituency and I am pleased that, because of the transfer to Fingal County Council, the harbours will remain in public ownership. It will be the responsibility of the council and the local communities to develop them.

Mr. Crawford:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this very important issue and I thank the Minister of State for attending at this late hour. There are two elements to the matter. First, there is the failure of the health board to provide adequate mileage allowance, [418]never mind all the red tape involved in the claim form, for home helps and home carers. Then there is the issue of the serious cutbacks in the hours available to those in need.

Can the Minister of State justify a mileage allowance of 19 cent per mile in 2004, with petrol costing €1.06 per litre, insurance very expensive and the rise in motor tax in the last budget? I have a letter from the health board dated 11 March 2004 advising that arrears had been paid for June 2000 to December 2002 and that the board was preparing to pay all outstanding arrears for 2003. Staff with only one client do not qualify for any mileage payment. Payment of 19 cent per mile is promised for the journey from the first client to the second and so on, but not after the last client for the home help’s way home.

Mileage is paid in arrears of at least one year. For this allowance, home helps or home carers must provide insurance that indemnifies the North Eastern Health Board, no matter what that costs. They must also include a copy of the tax book or vehicle registration book to prove they have a car available. I suggest these people are treated more like criminals than caring people.

I tried to telephone two of the people concerned tonight, just after 10 o’clock. Of course, they were not available. They were out putting clients to bed at a time when much more senior medical people would not be available, no matter what the cost. I beg the Minister of State to intervene and to have these people paid through a simple system on time and at a realistic rate.

The second issue is the cutback in hours available to clients who need home helps or home carers. The North Eastern Health Board has cut hours in half in the Cavan-Monaghan area. People who had been provided with care for five hours per week, or one hour per day on Monday to Friday, have had their hours cut to two or three hours. Imagine someone who needed help to get out of bed each day that their family was at work. Are they supposed to stay in bed two or three days per week?

Some common sense and real care is needed. Only this week I was advised of the case of a severely handicapped individual. This person has been offered five hours per week of home help on returning home from respite care. A close friend of this person, now working in the health system in another health board region, stated that the same person would get five hours per day, seven days per week without any question in that other region. Why should someone living in counties Cavan or Monaghan be treated as a second class citizen? Have our people any rights under the Constitution which is supposed to treat all people equally? What is the proper cost of home help care? Our hospital is closed and people need help. It would cost much more to put people into homes for the elderly.

No money is available for transport to bring patients to clinics elsewhere. Only today, I received a letter refusing an old age pensioner who is receiving treatment in Cavan hospital any [419]support towards transport costs. The letter simply states that money is not available in that health board area.

I call on the Minister to review the finances available for the home support area. Family carers together with home helps and home carers have the potential to save the Government millions if the system was properly structured and financed. Meanwhile, people should not be forced to sell their birthrights for what is often only a short stay in a nursing home. Out of a budget of more than €11 million, cutbacks should not be necessary if proper administrative structures were in place. I beg the Minister of State to make sure the home help and home carer structures are revisited and refinanced.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. Callely):  I acknowledge Deputy Crawford’s genuine concern in this regard. I pay tribute to the many people involved in the home care support services which are available throughout the country and who do a tremendous job in a front-line service.

I am concerned at some of Deputy Crawford’s comments. I will let some of them go because I believe they do not merit repetition. I am sure he would dissociate himself from the statement that people who do this tremendous work in a very caring way are being treated like criminals.

Mr. Crawford:  That is how they feel.

Mr. Callely:  Deputy Crawford also referred to serious cutbacks in home help hours for those in need. It would be a sad reflection on any of the providers of home help care if they are cutting back on services to people in need. I do not believe that is happening.

Let me give an example of what may be happening. A person who has had a hip replacement operation might need the assistance of a home help for the period of recuperation from the operation. Statistics might show that person’s home help being cut back but only because the person is recovering and no longer needs home help. If the professional administrators in Deputy Crawford’s area are cutting back on home help hours for those in need I would like evidence of that so I can take up the matter with the people concerned. That is not what is happening.

I pay tribute to those involved in the delivery of service. The policy of my Department is to maintain older people in dignity and independence at home for as long as possible in accordance with their wishes, to restore independence at home to those older people who become ill or dependent and to encourage and support the care of older people in their own community by family, neighbours and voluntary bodies. Home care supports are vital to the implementation of this policy.

Following the publication in 1998 of the report, The Future Organisation of the Home Help Ser[420]vice in Ireland, by the National Council on Ageing and Older People, there has been a major step forward in the implementation of the home help scheme since 1999, both in the amount of service delivered and treatment, wages and holiday entitlement of the home helps themselves. Upwards of €30 million has been injected into the system to insure that home helps receive a decent level of pay and other benefits. I am delighted that my public record shows I was instrumental in that development. In 2003, expenditure on the home help service was over €110 million and this year funding of €113.75 has been allocated to the service.

The total increase in expenditure on the home help service across all health board areas since 2000 is over 113%. I emphasise this figure in the context of claims that the service is being cut back. The Government is committed to developing the home help service as part of a package of community supports such as the new personal care packages, which I have introduced, and other schemes for older people living in the community.

In line with the substantial increases in investment in services over recent years, major progress has been made in enhancing the terms and conditions of employment of home helps employed in the health service. In 2000, around 14,000 home helps benefited from substantial pay increases and benefits, including holiday pay as well as lump sum payments under the national level agreement concluded by the Health Service Employment Agency. This agreement represented a fundamental step in regularising the employment status of home help personnel employed by health boards.

Turning to the issue of travel expenses for home help personnel, in view of the role played and duties performed by these people, a key element of the 2000 agreement was the introduction of an automatic entitlement to payment of an allowance in respect of travel costs incurred by home helps. Such payments had traditionally been available to home helps on an ad hoc basis, with entitlements varying from region to region.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask the Minister of State to conclude. It is very unfair to the staff of the House at this hour of the night when Members go well beyond the five allotted minutes on the Adjournment.

Mr. Callely:  I will conclude by saying that there is a banding system that is meant to be user friendly. Rates apply to the distances the home helps travel and the system should work effectively. If not, the Deputy can bring it to my attention.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The case I am raising is that of a 12 year old girl named Precious who is living on her own in Nigeria. Her parents have been granted leave to remain in Ireland on the [421]basis of their two Irish citizen children. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, whom I regret is not present, is aware of the case to which I am referring as I have spoken personally to him about it and raised it on the floor of this House earlier this year during the debate on the Immigration Bill.

I am raising this matter again now because there is new information requiring urgent reconsideration of her family reunification visa which the Minister has denied on two occasions. Her family has just been informed that Precious has become a victim of the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation. I stated in my letter of appeal to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in December that she was in danger of falling victim to this practice and I am unable to find the words to express my sadness and anger that this has now come to pass.

Female genital mutilation is a horrifying procedure — I doubt the Minister would disagree with that. Its short-term complications can include shock, haemorrhage, tetanus and infection. Long-term, it can lead to a multitude of complications as well as psychological effects. To my profound regret, Precious has not been able to escape this brutal procedure but, with the Minister’s permission, she would at least be able to obtain proper medical treatment in the company and comfort of her parents and her two Irish siblings. Surely this is the least she deserves after her ordeal.

Precious’s family, who are still trying to come to terms with what has happened to their daughter, have also learned that the same tribal leaders who subjected Precious to this horror are now trying to force her into a marriage with a much older man. If she remains in Nigeria she will be kidnapped and forced into this marriage, there is no question about it. Her parents, now living in Dublin, are sick with worry about her and, indeed, who would blame them? Their 12 year old daughter has been violated in the cruellest way imaginable and now faces being handed over to an older man about whom they know absolutely nothing, including whether he will subject her to further abuse or allow her to keep the limited contact she has had with her parents in the five years since they fled the country.

Precious’s parents have been resident in Ireland for five years and have applied for naturalisation. As Irish citizens, they will be entitled to family reunification under Irish and European law. The naturalisation currently takes 18 months and Precious and her family simply cannot wait that long. Naturalisation is at the Minister’s discretion and there is no guarantee that their application will be approved. The important thing now, however, is that the family are reunited.

In response to Precious’s earlier applications, the Minister stated that he has stopped approving family reunification visas in these matters as a result of the L&O decision. I remind him that nothing in that decision mandated that response, nor was anything said in that decision about [422]parents such as Precious’s who have already been granted leave to remain. There is nothing in Irish law to prevent him granting this visa, it is entirely within his power to do so and it is beyond my comprehension why he has refused.

I also question the anomaly in our immigration laws concerning family reunification visas. If Precious’s parents were already citizens, refugees or even migrant workers, this visa would have been granted long ago. Why are people granted leave to remain in this State not similarly allowed to be joined by their children? Is it a case of some families being more equal than others?

There are serious questions to be asked about the constitutionality of a policy which excludes a certain category of people from the protections of Article 41 based solely on the reason for their legal residence in this country. There is no justifiable basis for this. It is a spurious distinction and anyone looking at the situation honestly would agree with me. I do not understand the Minister of State’s laughter as this is a serious and sad case.

It is too late to undo what has been done to Precious, but it is not too late to prevent her and her family suffering further anguish. If the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform does not act quickly, however, it will soon be too late. I plead once more on behalf of this child not to allow this to happen.

Mr. Callely:  On behalf of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I am pleased to respond to the matter raised by the Deputy. This debate centres around the issue of family reunification for families where members of the family have permission to reside in the State. It is important to clarify certain matters surrounding the issue of family reunification. The Refugee Act 1996 contains provisions which oblige the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to allow family reunification to certain family members of refugees, including spouse and dependent children. This provision operates on the premise that since a person who has refugee status is unable to return to his or her own country through fear of persecution, it is a reasonable and humanitarian gesture to allow other close family members to join them here.

It was also the general policy of successive Ministers to operate a similar policy in respect of persons who were given leave to remain in the State on the basis of having an Irish born child. It is important to bear in mind, however, that the policy was a concession and that the family in Ireland did not enjoy a statutory right to be joined by the family member in question.

As Deputies on all sides of the House are aware, the issue of claims for leave to remain in the State by the non-national parents of an Irish born child has been a matter of serious concern to Government for some time. A claimed right to reside in Ireland based solely on the birth of a child in Ireland had come to be used as a method of attempting to circumvent normal immigration controls. That concern extends also to the knock-[423]on consequences of granting permission to remain to the parents of Irish born children and the extent to which the vehicle of family reunification was being used to bring other family members into the State.

In light of the Supreme Court’s decision in the cases of L&O, the Government decided that the separate procedure which then existed to enable persons to apply for residency on the sole basis of parentage of an Irish born child would no longer apply and this procedure ended on 19 February 2003. The Government also decided that the general policy of allowing such parents to be joined in the State by other family members would no longer apply. The visa application to which the Deputy refers falls into the latter category.

It is generally the case that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform does not comment on the detail of individual cases, but because the Deputy has put information on the case to the House and due to the manner of his presentation, it is appropriate that l reply accordingly.

The parents in this case were granted leave to remain on the basis of parentage to an Irish born child in 2001, having withdrawn their applications for asylum made the previous year. A visa application was made in October 2002 for the purpose of allowing their other daughter to come and reside in the State. No reference whatsoever was made in this context to the threat of female genital mutilation and the visa application was refused. This decision was appealed and fresh information was supplied in support of this appeal to the visa appeals officer. The issue of female genital mutilation was never raised in this [424]context either. The first time this issue was raised with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform was in the course of this debate, despite the fact that the parents have had an opportunity to raise it on two separate occasions prior to this.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  That is not true.

Mr. Callely:  I understand that the father and mother have one other child living in Nigeria. Therefore, there are two children living in Nigeria at present who have been separated from their parents for over four years. The current family reunification application relates to the eldest child who is now 12 years of age. It is not clear to me why the family waited one year after obtaining residency in the State to apply for family reunification for their daughter. Similarly, it is not clear to me why no application has been made in respect of the other younger child resident in Nigeria or if an application will ever be made for that child.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  He is a male and a very different situation pertains to him in Nigeria.

Mr. Callely:  The visa process is predicated on credibility. On the basis of the information available, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is not satisfied that the information supplied by the Deputy is credible. It is, of course, open to the parents to reapply for a visa at any point and if they choose to do so they should present information in support of the application which they consider relevant.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  That is a tragic reply.

The Dáil adjourned at 12 midnight until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 30 June 2004.

The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies received from the Departments [unrevised]

Questions Nos. 1 to 15, inclusive, answered orally.

  16.  Mr. O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he intends to take actions in response to overcharging by companies (detail supplied) with respect to roaming charges to customers, to ensure that this overcharging is not likely to happen in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19304/04]

  22.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if, in view of the wide range of schemes and pricing options offered by mobile phone companies, he will consider the introduction of regulations requiring companies to simplify the cost breakdown of charges; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19205/04]

  54.  Ms Lynch    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if, in view of a number of disclosures of cases in which mobile phone companies overcharged subscribers, he has satisfied himself that adequate procedures are in place to protect the interest of the consumer in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19204/04]

  62.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if, in view of the fact that mobile phone operators currently offer in excess of 30 different tariffs to consumers, he has plans to introduce an APR-style charge system to help consumers compare prices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17940/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 16, 22, 54 and 62 together.

The requirements relating to mobile phone charges and associated information are set out in the European Communities (Electronic Communications Networks and Services) (Universal Services and User’s Rights) Regulations 2003, SI 308 of 2003, (USO Regulations). The Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, has responsibility for monitoring compliance by service providers with the aforesaid requirements. I have no statutory function in this regard.

In accordance with the regulations and following earlier public consultation, ComReg has issued a draft direction to operators relating to a code of practice for tariff presentation. Com[426]ments on the draft direction have been sought by 30 June next and I understand that ComReg intends to finalise the direction shortly thereafter. The core objective of the code is to ensure end-users have access to accurate and comprehensive tariff information on publicly available telephone services. Service providers shall ensure that tariff information is accurate, comprehensive and accessible. The purpose of the tariff information principles is to ensure that end-users have access to transparent and up-to-date information for services relevant to their telephony needs.

ComReg has sought a comprehensive report from each of the relevant mobile phone companies concerning alleged incidents of overcharging and will decide on the appropriate action it may take following the consideration of the reports. ComReg is also considering further initiatives to provide information to consumers on the range of communication services available. These steps will ensure that consumers are sufficiently informed to make the appropriate choices in terms of the service or package, which will best suit their needs.

  17.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    his views on the recent report from the Comptroller and Auditor General on television licence fee collection; if he has had discussions with An Post arising from this report and its specific proposals to quit the television licence collection scheme; his plans to implement the Comptroller and Auditor General’s recommendations to revamp the scheme in view of its unprofitability; the alternative arrangements his Department will put in place should An Post decide to quit the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19208/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  As the Deputy is aware, I recently received the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the efficacy of the television licence fee collection process.

The report considers how the Department evaluates the effectiveness of the television licence fee collection, how the agency relationship between the Department and An Post is organised and the efficiency of the collection procedures used by An Post as agent of the Minister. It identifies deficiencies in the collection process and the progress made in the past two years in improving the system. The report’s key recommendations on the management of the collection process by my Department are that: it put in place a service level agreement with An Post; it adopt specific or measurable targets to be achieved through the contract; it should routinely produce estimates of the licence fee evasion rate; and it should put in place a coherent set of per[427]formance targets for sales, maintenance of data base and prosecution of evaders.

These recommendations are being carefully considered by my Department with a view to early implementation of the most useful of them. This is being done with the assistance of a liaison group I established in January 2003 comprised of representatives from An Post, RTE and my Department. The role of this group is to examine ways of improving the licence fee collection. The group is assisted in its work by an independent consultant from KPMG.

In September last, An Post placed a question mark over its wish to continue operating the television licence fee collection system in the context of its recovery strategy. However, it has since indicated its wish to continue to manage the system and my Department is currently negotiating a two–year contract with the company. We will separately consider longer term options for the provision of this service in the near future.

  18.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he has satisfied himself that there are no adverse health effects from mobile phones and mobile phone antennae; the way in which he intends to limit the use of mobile phones by children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18481/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  My Department maintains a watching scientific brief on health issues relating to electromagnetic energy, including those related to mobile phones and base stations.

In 2002 the health council of the Netherlands, after a detailed evaluation of the health effects of mobile telephones, concluded that there was no reason to recommend that mobile telephone use by children should be limited.

In 2003 the national radiological protection board of the United Kingdom, NRPB 2003, noted that little had been published on childhood exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields. To examine the question of children’s sensitivity to non-ionising radiation, the World Health Organisation held an expert workshop in Istanbul, Turkey, earlier this month. My Department’s chief technical adviser participated in this workshop where the latest research in this field was reviewed. The workshop concluded that, while children were clearly more sensitive, no adverse health effects have been established despite extensive, focused research.

I am satisfied that my Department is in possession of the most up-to-date information available on this subject. The information indicates that there is no demonstrated adverse health effect from the use of mobile phones and their base stations, and therefore is no reason for me [428]to act to limit the use of mobile phones by children. My Department will continue to monitor the scientific evidence and participate in the relevant international projects and committees.

The Deputy may be aware that the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources is planning an investigation of mobile telephones and any potential adverse health effects, commencing this autumn. My Department will provide whatever assistance is considered necessary by the committee in its work.

  19.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    when he expects to appoint a new member to the Commission for Communication Regulation; the procedure which will be used for making the appointment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19210/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  The Communications (Regulation) Act 2002 provides that ComReg shall consist of at least one and not more than three members. I propose to fill the position of commissioner which becomes vacant at the end of June. The new appointee will join Mr. John Doherty, chairperson, and Ms Isolde Goggin who were appointed as commissioners in December 2002.

As Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, I will appoint the new commissioner following the holding of an open competition on behalf of ComReg by the Office of the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commissioners. I expect this competition will be advertised shortly and the appointment will follow in due course after that.

  20.  Mr. Sargent     asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the way in which the development of selective fishing gears is advanced which might qualify for the proposed new European support mechanism for environmentally friendly fishing methods; the examples of fishing gear which his Department would propose for inclusion in any such programme; the way in which they could be introduced; and the benefits that might be expected from their use. [19314/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  With a particular perspective on the large quantities of fish that are caught each year and discarded by EU fishing vessels, and the catching of over-fished stocks as an unwanted by-catch, the Irish Presidency identified the need to promote and encourage fishermen to move towards more environmentally friendly fishing, including the use of more selective fishing gears. The principal benefit [429]expected to flow from the development and use of such gear would be a significant reduction in such discards, which are estimated to amount to some 20 million tonnes of fish worldwide per annum.

Ireland’s initiative was endorsed by all member states and the Commission at last week’s Fisheries Council. The agreed conclusions set out a number of specific work assignments over the next two to three years in particular. There is also provision for a more long-term commitment in the context of new community funding arrangements post-2007.

Now that the EU has prioritised this matter, the immediate task for my Department is to undertake, in association with BIM, the Marine Institute, the fishing industry and other interested parties, the necessary planning and organisation of a national programme.

The focus of Ireland’s programme will be on those fisheries of particular interest to Irish fishermen and also bearing in mind the over-riding requirement to assist recovery of key whitefish stock particularly. The development of this programme, which I hope can be significantly progressed within a few months, will be informed by work already under way in BIM on, for example, by-catch reduction measures in the Irish sea prawn fishery. This is a good example of the type of initiative that can be taken. I believe that we can in the coming months develop a range of other projects. The timeframe for use of any modified gears will be determined by the duration and outcome of what are likely to be multi-annual studies.

  21.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the position with regard to restructuring An Post in view of the company’s recent announcement that it recorded operating losses of €43 million in 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19194/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  Deputies will be aware of the precarious financial situation that I outlined in some detail to the House on 23 March in regard to An Post. On top of losses in 2001, the company has lost €60 million approximately between 2002 and 2003 and has forecast further losses this year. Losses on this scale and of this duration are simply unsustainable. It is neither in the interests of the company nor its employees or customers that the situation remains unchecked. If the company is to return to profitability, it needs to be restructured. If this is to be a success, it is crucial that all stakeholders play a constructive part in this process.

The current IR issues in An Post have been simmering for some time. The problems in An Post are long-standing and deep-seated and it is clear that the solution to the current issues must [430]put the company on a long-term sustainable financial and operational footing. The full scale of the financial problems facing An Post became clear to myself and my Department during the second half of 2002 and to the then management of An Post sometime later. It is important that all stakeholders fully recognise the seriousness of the financial position and the threat this represents to the future of the company.

Once the scale of the financial difficulties became clear last summer a recovery strategy was approved by the board and presented to me. The strategy sets out a roadmap to return An Post to profitability by 2005. It includes significant restructuring and job losses amounting to approximately 1,500. However, buy-in from the unions is crucial to agreement and implementation. This has not been an easy process — change is not easy. Following the industrial dispute last March, the Labour Relations Commission put forward a framework to resolve the differences between management and unions. Both parties are currently in talks under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission. Although these discussions were due to finish in May, it was agreed by all parties to extend the process given the progress, albeit slow, that was being made. The talks are continuing and while some progress has been made, substantial issues remain to be resolved.

It is in all our interests that An Post continues to be a strong player in the Irish postal market and continues to provide quality services to customers and sustainable employment for staff. The recovery strategy approved by the board of An Post sets out the basis on which the company, in partnership with the trade unions, can move forward. While my Department is more than willing to assist in any way possible to facilitate an agreement, the responsibility for agreeing and implementing the plan rests primarily with the board, the management and unions in An Post.

Question No. 22 answered with Question
No. 16.

  23.  Dr. Twomey    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he has urgent recommendations to extend pier facilities at Kilmore Quay, County Wexford, in view of the restricted access to Waterford Harbour to fishing boats and the importance of the fishing industry to County Wexford. [19010/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  The harbour at Kilmore Quay is owned by Wexford County Council and responsibility for its development and maintenance rests with the local authority in the first instance.

No proposals have been received from Wexford County Council to extend the pier facilities at Kilmore Quay, although I am aware of [431]some local interest in such a development. My Department has, in the past, funded substantial development at the harbour including the provision of a new breakwater and dredging of the approach channel. Proposals for further development can only be entertained if the owners of the facility, Wexford County Council, make a submission to the Department and confirm that they are prepared to part fund the development. The only proposal on hand dates from April 2003 when Wexford County Council submitted an application for funding of €100,000 towards rock revetment and maintenance works at Kilmore Quay.

There is no funding available in 2004 under the fishery harbours development programme for works at Kilmore Quay. The question of funding the rock revetment works at Kilmore Quay will be addressed in the context of the amount of Exchequer funding available going forward and overall national priorities.

As regards the question of restricted access to Waterford Port for fishing boats, the Port of Waterford Company operates under the Harbours Acts 1996 and 2000. Under the Acts, the primary function of the company is the management, control, operation and development of its harbour ensuring that its revenues are sufficient to meet its expenditures. In the light of this statutory requirement the company informs me that it has been conducting a review of its non-core assets to determine the appropriateness of their retention in present circumstances.

The company now provides its core facilities for ships and goods at Belview, County Kilkenny. Accordingly, the property at the North Quays is one of the company’s principal non-core assets and I am informed that the company is taking the preparatory steps necessary in order to be in a position to offer the property for sale. The only area in the port of Waterford where restricted access exists is in the North Quays. I am advised that access to the North Quays is to be extended for a period of one to two months on a week to week basis pending the resolution of outstanding issues in the preparation of the quays for sale.

I understand that investigations are ongoing regarding the provision of alternative facilities within the harbour for the large trawlers that have used the North Wharf and Frank Cassin Wharf as a refuge in bad weather. While initial negotiations were facilitated by a senior official from my Department, this is now a matter for the port company and the fishermen.

  24.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he intends to make funding available for the development of Adam’s Quay in Kinsale Harbour to facilitate the fishing fleet there in the near future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19300/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  Under the National Development Plan 2000-2006, €84.35 million is allocated for capital investment in fishery harbours infrastructure and facilities. Up to the end of 2003, my Department spent €83.44 million under this programme. Exchequer funding of €21.14 million is allocated in respect of fishery harbours and related facilities for 2004.

Adam’s Quay is owned by Kinsale Harbour Commissioners and responsibility for its repair and maintenance rests with the local authority in the first instance. I am aware of the significance of Kinsale Harbour which includes Adam’s Quay as a fishery harbour and its importance to the local economy. In 2001, the Department provided funding of €76,088 to Kinsale Harbour Commissioners towards studies and investigations for the proposed development of Adam’s Quay, costing a total of €101,450. Early in 2002, Kinsale Harbour Commissioners submitted a geophysical survey report and a ground investigation report to my Department for consideration. The proposed works include a quay development and an ice plant building and the total cost of construction is estimated at €1.4 million.

There is no funding available to my Department in 2004 under the fishery harbour development programme for work at Adam’s Quay. I intend to promote the larger fishing harbours such as the five fishery harbour centres under the control of my Department as centres of excellence where only the best facilities and best practice will become the order of the day.

The question of funding development works at Adam’s Quay in the post-2004 period will depend on the amount of funding available for works at fishery harbours generally and overall national priorities.

  25.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the plans to decentralise his Department; if a site has been found; the percentage of employees in his Department wishing to move; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19295/04]

  38.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the details of surveys that have been undertaken, in regard to proposals for decentralisation, to establish the number of persons employed in his Department and in boards or agencies operating under the aegis of his Department who are willing to move to the new locations announced by the Minister for Finance in his Budget 2004 speech; the results of any such survey; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19223/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 25 and 38 together.

As part of the Government’s decentralisation plan, it is proposed to relocate my Department’s [433]Dublin-based headquarter staff and a number of its agencies as follows:

Location Approximate number of staff
Cavan 380 (Department)
Clonakilty 90 (Department)
Drogheda 49 (Maritime Safety Directorate and Coast Guard)
Clonakilty 90 (BIM)
Dundalk 45 (Sustainable Energy Ireland)
Carrick-on-Shannon 65 (Central Fisheries Board)

As Deputies will be aware, civil servants and State agency employees have been invited to indicate their interest, in order of preference, in moving to any of the 51 decentralisation locations across 25 counties. This exercise is being carried out by the Civil Service Commission using a computer web-based mechanism called the central applications facility. After the first eight weeks of the central applications facility, the decentralisation implementation committee will analyse the levels of interest in the various locations and will submit its second report next month.

Until such time as the Flynn committee has submitted its second report, there will be no reliable data available on the numbers of staff interested in relocating. While some informal preliminary surveys were conducted very shortly after the Government’s announcement on decentralisation, these can be best described as snapshots of the initial reactions to the announcement. They did not have the benefit of the up to date, detailed, specific information now associated with the central applications facility, nor were they informed by the work that has been carried out by the Flynn committee in moving the decentralisation agenda forward. I would not, therefore, attribute any validity to the outcome of such surveys, and suggest that it would be prudent to await the official data emerging in the next Flynn report.

  26.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the progress that has been made on the proposed inclusion in the draft new television without frontiers directive to allow national Governments regulate the advertising inserted by outside satellite broadcasters specifically for that national advertising market. [19312/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  The regulation of broadcasting services specifically targeted at one member state but are subject to the national regulations of another member state was raised by Ireland in its formal submission to the EU Commission as part of the Commission’s review of the television without frontiers directive.

The issue was the subject of further discussion at the informal meeting of broadcasting Ministers [434]held in Dublin and Drogheda from 1-3 March under the Irish Presidency of the EU, at which a number of member states indicated support for the Irish position.

The meeting provided an opportunity for Ministers to hold a political discussion on some informal matters in an informal setting. In a very open, wide-ranging and provocative debate there was a marked divergence of views on the issue of jurisdictional competence. Some member states spoke forcefully against any change to the country of origin principle. Others argued strongly that broadcasting services that specifically target one member state but derive from a broadcaster in another should be subject to the regulation of the target country. Other member states indicated that while they had not adopted a position on the question they were in favour of the matter being explored further as part of the Commission’s review of the directive.

At the meeting Ireland sought from the Commission a commitment that it would engage with the issue as it considers how the directive should be amended. While initially adopting a strong stance that there could be no concessions on the issue, the Commission recognised that a number of member states had serious concerns regarding jurisdiction and undertook to engage with the relevant member states concerned. This engagement will take place in the context of the review of the directive over the coming months. It is anticipated that this process will result in proposals for amendment of the directive, which will likely be brought forward by the Commission in 2005.

  27.  Mr. Sherlock    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the amount paid to date to the Exchequer in respect of the sale of facilities (details supplied); the balance which remains outstanding; when he expects that this will be paid; if he has satisfied himself at the rate of payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19222/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  At present, it is estimated that the final net return to the Exchequer arising from the sale of the business and commercial assets of the Irish National Petroleum Corporation, INPC, will be in excess of some €30 million. The INPC has already paid €20 million to the Exchequer.

In November 2003, the board of the INPC, cognisant of its obligations under the Companies Acts to retain sufficient assets to meet potential liabilities, determined that it would not be appropriate to make a further payment to the Exchequer at that stage as a number of outstanding matters have still to be resolved.

These matters, comprising chiefly of environmental claims lodged against the INPC and a contractual dispute with a former customer, have potential financial implications and consequently [435]the INPC is not currently in a position to divest itself of its remaining financial assets.

It has always been accepted that the total cash return to the Exchequer arising from the INPC transaction would be considerably less than the headline sale price of US$100 million as the INPC had, for example, to use some of the proceeds to discharge the company’s debt.

I am satisfied however, that the transaction represented a very positive outcome for the State, particularly having regard to the fact that the Government also placed an obligation on the private owners to operate the facilities for a period of at least 15 years as a condition of the sale.

  28.  Mr. Gilmore    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the information available to him regarding the industrial dispute involving sub-post office owners and An Post over bank holiday working and other issues; his views on whether it is in the interest of customers that sub-post offices should be open for as long a period as possible; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19199/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  The issue surrounding the obligations of postmasters to open their offices on a Saturday of a public holiday is clearly a contractual matter between An Post and each postmaster. The recognised representative body for postmasters is the Irish Postmasters Union.

My understanding on the matter is that in April this year approximately 43 out of a total of 1,400, postmasters closed their offices on the Saturday of the Easter bank holiday weekend. On 17 May last, An Post was granted a High Court order restraining 43 postmasters from closing their offices on the June bank holiday. The company also obtained an injunction against the Irish Postmasters Union.

A court date of 14 June was set for a mention of the case in which An Post maintained that all postmasters were the subject of contractual obligations to open their premises for five and a half days each week.

However, upon a request from the Irish Postmasters Union the hearing was adjourned for two weeks until 28 June last to provide parties with an opportunity to consider resolution proposals. The latest information I have is that the matter has been adjourned for a further two weeks to allow more time for negotiation.

On customer interests, the post office network has undergone restructuring in recent years on foot of recommendations made following a substantial examination of the network. The report, as part of its remit, considered the changing demographic, working and retailing trends of customers. However, in the final analysis, the opening hours of sub-post offices are matters to be determined between An Post management [436]and the Irish Postmasters Union having regard to consumer requirements.

  29.  Ms Burton     asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he will make a statement on the ESB results for 2003. [19197/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  The year 2003 was a relatively good year for ESB as can be seen from the published financial results. Copies of the annual report and accounts have been laid in the Oireachtas Library.

The results revealed a healthy financial position for the company with turnover of €2,342 million being up by 9% over the previous year. Both the operating profit of €354 million and profit after tax of €249 million were also up on the previous year. Interest and taxation was €105 million and a total dividend of €67.1 million was declared. The dividend will be apportioned €63.7 million to the Exchequer and €3.4 million to the ESB employees who have a 5% stakeholding in the company.

The results also revealed a year end deficit of €1.07 billion in the pension fund based on the accounting standard FRS 17 retirement benefits. Valuations prepared in accordance with FRS 17 require scheme assets to be recorded at market values at the balance sheet date. These valuations are not indicative of the long term funding position of the scheme, which is formally assessed by way of triennial actuarial valuation.

An actuarial valuation of the scheme was conducted as at 31 December 2003 and it disclosed an actuarial deficit of €510 million. Discussions on appropriate measures to address this position are ongoing between the company and staff. ESB stated at its press conference that it was confident the issue could be overcome in consultation with staff and recalled that similar difficulties had been overcome through the company’s internal partnership processes in the 1990s.

Although profit after tax was €249 million, it would be easy to assume this represented excessive profits but this would be ignoring the complete picture. First, the level of profits must be viewed in the context of the size of the company, which has fixed assets of nearly €5 billion. ESB’s current level of debt stands at €1.9 billion and this debt, which is set to increase over the coming years, needs to be serviced. The level of profits also needs to be viewed in the context of the company’s capital expenditure programme. In 2003, ESB invested more than €650 million in the network infrastructure in Ireland. The replacement and upgrading of almost 17,000 km of distribution network was completed and a record 77,000 new customers were connected to the system.

  30.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for [437]Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if his attention has been drawn to the concerns expressed by a person (details supplied) at the implications for coastal erosion of climate change; when he expects to bring forward the proposed coastal zone management legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19217/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  My Department is aware of concerns expressed at the implications for coastal erosion of climate change. A report was commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency on the general implications of climate change for Ireland and my Department provided coastal elevation data for the coastal part of that study. The results of the study are currently being examined by the Department in the context of the national coastal protection strategy study initiated by the Department in 2002 and which is currently in progress. This study will seek to identify the most effective means, technically, financially and environmentally in responding to particular instances and types of erosion in Ireland. It is expected that when this study is completed a more targeted approach to programme delivery will result in a fewer number of schemes being funded per year but will enable greater level of efficiency to be achieved.

In May 2002, a recommendation towards the development of an integrated coastal zone management strategy was adopted by the EU Council of Ministers for the Environment. This calls, in particular, on member states to carry out a stock take of the laws, institutions and actors that impact the coastal zone and to draw up a national strategy or strategies for integrated coastal zone management. The recommendation also establishes a number of broad principles on which such strategies should be based. A report on the action taken has to be submitted to the European Commission by February 2006.

My Department has indicated its intention to publish during 2004 legislative proposals for the consolidation and modernisation of the law on foreshore administration and to support the development and operation of more integrated approaches to the management of coastal areas and their resources.

  31.  Mr. Cuffe    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if, in view of the lifting of the moratorium on new connections to wind farms and the recent advances in wind turbine technology which should overcome many of the network concerns expressed by our transmission operator, the level of wind capacity that he now believes could be given grid connections. [19309/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  The question of the level of wind capacity which can safely be [438]given grid connections is ultimately a technical matter to be determined by relevant experts.

The Commission for Energy Regulation has informed me that it hopes to publish a final decision on the lifting of the moratorium this week. I understand the general principle underlying this decision is that any obligations or restrictions on wind generators seeking connections to either the transmission or the distribution systems should be necessitated by the need to protect system stability and security. There is, therefore, not a new ceiling as such. I also understand that any objections or restrictions should be proportionate to the potential threat to system safety, stability and security posed by a continuation of the projected increase in wind connections which triggered the moratorium in the first place. Further modelling work may also be required by the system operator to ultimately determine the level of wind that can be safely and securely accommodated on the system.

On 6 May last I established the renewable energy development group. The group is chaired by my Department and includes representatives from the Commission for Energy Regulation, Sustainable Energy Ireland, ESB national grid and the Economic and Social Research Institute of Ireland among others. The group will consider and make recommendations on the impact of renewable energy on the electricity supply system and any necessary actions with regard to investment including, codes, guidelines and security standards. This will take into account any required action following on from the wind connection moratorium.

  32.  Mr. Boyle    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the steps his Department is taking to resolve the impasse within the ESB with regard to the establishment of Eirgrid; and if the industrial relations difficulties that have been encountered relate exclusively to executives within the proposed new company or to all the staff due to be transferred. [19306/04]

  71.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the position with regard to establishing an ESB national grid as an entirely separate entity; the reason for the failure to make progress on this issue to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19211/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 32 and 71 together.

As the Deputies may be aware, the European Communities (Internal Market in Electricity) Regulations 2000, S.I. 445 of 2000, made in December 2000, provided for the separation of the operation of the transmission system from the rest of ESB into a newly formed independent State owned company. This separate State com[439]pany, Eirgrid, was formally incorporated in February 2001 but as yet it is not discharging the functions of transmission system operator.

The delay in establishing Eirgrid as a fully functioning and operational entity is attributable to various problems and disputes which arose in the course of the complex negotiations ensuing since the making of the regulations. However, despite the delay, the Eirgrid model, once in place, will be effective and beneficial to all players in the market and I therefore announced my intention, on 10 March 2004 having reviewed the situation, to retain Eirgrid as the independent TSO.

In order for Eirgrid to be able to operate the transmission system, the governing regulations provided that an agreement was to be made between Eirgrid and ESB, which would set out the respective roles and responsibilities as between Eirgrid, in its capacity as TSO, and ESB, in its capacity as owner of the transmission network.

The regulations also provided that the practical arrangements regarding the transfer of staff, rights, liabilities and contracts from ESB to Eirgrid be put in place in the form of a transfer scheme.

My Department has no direct role in the making of the infrastructure agreement or transfer scheme. These are a matter for the companies involved to agree, with the negotiation of both overseen by the Commission for Energy Regulation.

Neither the infrastructure agreement nor the transfer scheme is yet in place. It has been difficult to bring the process of operationally establishing Eirgrid to a satisfactory conclusion in the absence of a chief executive officer of the company being in situ which has been delayed through contractual difficulties.

I hope these contractual difficulties have been resolved and I can advise the Deputies that a revised draft CEO contract is currently with the company for determination subject to my consent and that of the Minister for Finance. I am disappointed that three years after its formal incorporation as a company, Eirgrid is still not up and running as the TSO and, as shareholder, I wish to see a speedy resolution to the outstanding issues. My Department is working closely with the company to facilitate progress. I expect all parties to the negotiations to use their best endeavours to bring this process to a speedy conclusion and to expedite the operational establishment of the company.

  33.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if his attention has been drawn to the claim made by a person (details supplied) that the Government has given the kiss of death to social services provided by An Post by refusing to address the urgent need for State financial support for the company; his views on the claims made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19200/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  As the Deputy is aware, under the provisions of the Postal and Telecommunications Services Act, 1983, An Post is a commercial State body with a statutory obligation to be financially viable. Toward that end, the board and management of the company are obliged to tackle the current loss-making situation and return the company to profitability. In October last year, the board of An Post presented me with a recovery plan for the company detailing a change management programme and cost saving measures aimed at turning the company around. The recovery plan is subject to union agreement and negotiations, in this regard, are ongoing.

With regard to the non-commercial aspects of the post office network, in 2001 the Government, with the approval of the EU Commission, agreed an equity injection of €12.7 million to An Post to ensure that a network of post offices could be maintained throughout the State delivering a range of services. In addition, the company has recognised that the best way to secure the future of post offices is to increase footfall by offering a range of services geared towards consumer needs. Significant progress has been made with utility bill payments and banking services now offered via the post office. Clearly the availability of attractive consumer products is the best way of securing a sustainable future for the post office network.

On the letterpost side, the company continues to enjoy a monopoly position in a substantial part of the postal market in order to compensate for non commercial postal services. However, this monopoly will be reduced in 2006 and may be gone altogether by the end of this decade. This only emphasises the need to restructure the cost base particularly in letterpost and this has been recognised by the major stakeholders as evidenced by the continuing discussions under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission. Offering a high quality, competitively priced service is the only realistic strategy for the letterpost division of An Post.

An ongoing subvention by the State does not represent a long-term viable solution for An Post.

  34.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he will consider amending the Radio and Television Act 1988 in order to clarify the rights of independent radio stations to broadcast legitimate news stories on the day prior to an election and to ensure that radio stations are not subjected to undue pressure to drop stories; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19216/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  I do not propose to bring forward amending legislation on this matter. Broadcasting legislation imposes general obligations on broadcasters in relation to [441]news and current affairs programming. These legislative provisions require the broadcaster to present such programming in an objective, impartial and fair manner. The legislation does not set out in detail what a broadcaster may or may not do on the day prior to an election. I am strongly of the view that primary legislation is not the place for dealing with such detail but that rather it should be addressed through codes and guidelines administered by the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland as it is at present.

The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland is a statutory independent body established under section 3(1) of the Radio and Television Act 1988 and section 10(1) of the Broadcasting Act 2001. Section 9(3) of the 1988 Act provides that the commission shall draw up, and may from time to time as occasion requires, revise a code governing standards and practice for any matter specified in section 9(1) and 9(2) of the Act which deal with fairness and impartiality. The guidelines issued recently were in line with those issued over the past decade by the commission and its predecessor, the Independent Radio and Television Commission, in respect of previous elections and referendums.

  35.  Mr. Boyle     asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the position with regard to the Silvermines tailing pond site; and when he expects remediation measures to take place which will prevent further toxic dust clouds and polluted leachate coming from the site. [19307/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  The Department met with Mogul of Ireland Limited on 24 May last concerning the company’s proposed remediation plans for the tailings pond and other sites at Silvermines, County Tipperary. More detailed plans are expected shortly from the company, and these will set out provisional time frames for commencement of remediation works.

Mogul also met a sub-committee of Silvermines Environmental Action Group with responsibility for Gortmore tailings pond on 28 May 2004.

There is an emergency action plan operated by Mogul and the local authority to deal with dust blows and other problems which may occur at the tailings pond. The Department has not received any notification of occurrences of serious dust blows or escapes of polluted leachate at the site in recent years. The last recorded serious dust blow occurred in the mid-1980’s.

  36.  Mr. Coveney    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he has satisfied himself that fishing efforts by foreign trawlers will not increase in the fishing area, outside of the new Irish box area, but in the area formerly referred to as the Irish box on the [442]west and north west coast; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19296/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  The agreement reached at last week’s Fisheries Council sets fishing effort limits on the fleets of the relevant member states in various areas in western waters. These limits were set on the basis of fishing activity by those fleets over the period 1998-2002, inclusive. Accordingly, as future effort levels are capped by this reference period, the question of increased fishing effort by any fleet either inside or outside the new Irish Box area does not arise.

The framework for establishing these effort limits was agreed by Fisheries Ministers last October and the finalisation of the effort ceilings last week was in accordance with this agreed framework.

The Irish industry has broadly welcomed the agreement, particularly for the new Irish box area to the west and south of Ireland where most of the Irish whitefish catch is taken — about
two thirds of the total. The protection of fish stocks in this most sensitive and vulnerable area was therefore Ireland’s main priority and I very much welcome and appreciate the industry’s support for the measures now in place for this biologically sensitive area.

Overall, fishing effort limits agreed last week provide the necessary protection for fish stocks in waters around Ireland, both inside and outside the new Irish Box.

  37.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the information available to his Department regarding the proposed development of the Corrib gas field; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19214/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  All relevant approvals/consents from my Department were issued in early 2002 in respect of the proposed development of the Corrib gas field. These approvals/consents include: plan of development approval dated 15 April 2002 under the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act 1960; consent to construct a pipeline dated 15 April 2002 under the Gas Act 1976, as amended; consent under section 5 of the Continental Shelf Act 1968, as amended, dated 15 April 2002; foreshore licence approval 17 May 2002 under the Foreshore Act 1933, as amended.

Mayo County Council granted planning permission on 30 April 2004 for an onshore natural gas terminal at Bellanaboy, County Mayo. The decision by the council was appealed to An Bord Pleanála on 21 May 2004 by 14 parties, including an appeal on some of the conditions by Shell E & P Ireland Limited. Shell has until the 30 June 2004 to provide a response to An Bord Pleanála on the 13 other appeals lodged.

[443]Under section 126 (2)(a) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 the statutory objective of An Bord Pleanála is to ensure that every appeal or referral is determined within a period of 18 weeks beginning on the date of receipt by the board of the appeal or referral.

Question No. 38 answered with Question
No. 25.

  39.  Mr. M. Higgins    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the position with regard to encouraging competition in the mobile phone market here; if he has plans to request ComReg to implement new policies calling for lower prices for mobile and fixed line telephone bills; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19202/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 68 of 12 May 2004.

  40.  Mr. Sherlock    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    his views on the findings of the report of a person (details supplied), commissioned by the Marine Institute, which was critical of marine policy and which, in particular, criticised the dual regulatory and developmental role of his Department as inappropriate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19221/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  The Marine Institute is involved in the early stages of preparing a marine research and innovation strategy for 2005-10. The strategy is to be developed over the next 12 months and the approach being adopted includes, inter alia, extensive consultation with stake holders on various aspects of research and innovation in the marine sector. To support the development of the strategy, the Marine Institute commissioned a study to evaluate the socio-economic contribution of marine-related activities to the Irish economy. The deliverables from the study, which is being carried out by Peter Bacon and Associates, include a review of relevant policy — existing and future — at national and EU level. I am advised that the status of the material referred to by the Deputy has been misrepresented as a draft report. In fact it consisted of working papers from an initial consultation workshop, organised by the consultant, designed to stimulate debate among attendees. The study will take cognisance of the contributions of the participants to the workshop. Accordingly, no statement is warranted as necessary at this stage.

  41.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Minister for [444]Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the level of co-operation which exists between his Department and local authorities in relation to the development of the broadband telecommunications project. [19273/04]

  43.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he will liaise with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government with a view to formulating a co-ordinated approach to the development of the broadband project. [19274/04]

  44.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the amount which has been spent to date on the broadband project. [19277/04]

  48.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the towns which have no plans for the roll out of broadband; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19288/04]

  50.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    when he estimates that the broadband project will be completed. [19276/04]

  64.  Mr. Gogarty    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the metropolitan area networks that are now in operation; and the initial figures for the level and nature of traffic on the fibre optic rings. [19310/04]

  76.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the average costs charged by local authorities on the installation of the broadband system. [19275/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 41, 43, 44, 48, 50, 64 and 76 together.

Under the NDP 2000-2006, an indicative €200 million, part-funded by the ERDF, was set aside for regional broadband infrastructure projects. Of this funding €64 million has been invested in the construction of the metropolitan area fibre networks in 19 towns and cities, in association with the local authorities, who received grant assistance of 90%.

Officials of my Department have worked closely with other Departments, agencies and the local authorities, to ensure that the projects have been completed on time, within budget and with minimal delay or disruption. Full operational details of the individual projects, including construction costs for each of the MANs, together with maps and other information, are given on my Department’s website www.dcmnr.ie. Thirteen MANs are now in a position to offer interim access and full details of these are also on the website.

[445]Government funding has been secured until 2007 for a range of broadband roll-out projects. In December last I announced the next phase of the broadband action plan, which includes the roll-out of broadband to more than 90 towns with a population of 1,500 and over and the group broadband scheme for smaller towns and rural communities. Design details for the town MANs are currently being worked on, and work will commence on 41 of these in the autumn. The Management Services Entity, MSE, is the independent body that will manage, market and maintain the MANs. Earlier today I announced the award of the MSE contract to eNet. Details of eNet’s product offerings and costs of access will be posted on eNet’s website in the coming days.

  42.  Mr. Cuffe    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if his Department has received representations from the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation with regard to the management of wild salmon stocks here and our continued use of off shore driftnetting of wild salmon stocks; and if any organisations have made offers to his Department to share the cost of any buy-out scheme for driftnetting licences or if the Government has considered seeking outside financial assistance for such a buy-out. [19308/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  As I previously advised the House in my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 172 of 31 March 2004, my Department has received a number of items of correspondence from the North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF) in recent years. The most recent representation from NASF was received within the past week and basically reiterates the organisation’s general concerns about the netting of wild salmon by Irish commercial fishermen. Neither the North Atlantic Salmon Fund nor any other organisation has made formal offers to my Department to share the cost of a buy-out scheme for driftnetting licences.

The overriding objective of the Government is to preserve the salmon resource in its own right and for the coastal and rural communities that it helps to support. The economic goals for a sustainable commercial salmon fishery based on quality and value rather than volume and the development of salmon angling as an important tourism product are both fully compatible with the primary objective.

Since publication of the salmon management task force report in 1996, my Department has introduced a range of conservation measures which have seen considerable advancements made in salmon policy and in particular the management of the drift net salmon fishery. As part of these measures, the drift net season is now confined to a two-month period in June and July on a four-day week basis. Fishing is only allowed during daylight hours and is confined to the area [446]within the six-mile limit. My Department has also introduced the wild salmon and sea trout tagging scheme regulations, which limits the total allowable commercial catch of salmon.

On the advice of the National Salmon Commission and the National Fisheries Management Executive, I set a total allowable commercial catch of 161,951 fish for the 2004 season. This represented a reduction of 20,049 fish or 11% cut on the total allowable commercial catch for 2003 -182,000 fish. This total allowable catch is consistent with the Salmon Commission’s recommendation of last year that a three-year strategy should be put in place aimed at reaching the scientific advice on precautionary catch limits over the period 2003-05.

The current strategy of developing a sustainable commercial and recreational salmon fishery through aligning catches on the scientific advice by next year holds out the strong prospect of a recovery of stocks and of a long term sustainable fishery for both sectors.

There are serious reservations about a national buy-out as a cost efficient workable instrument. It is clear that buy-out is most attractive to those who take few salmon. It is not necessarily an effective means of achieving the shared objective of a restoration of salmon stocks. For some time now, the Government has ruled out buy-out as an effective means of achieving the restoration of salmon stocks and instead promoted the application of quotas on commercial fishing and bag limits on angling to achieve catch reductions as the best instrument available to achieve this objective.

As a result, I have no plans to introduce proposals to purchase commercial salmon fishing licences but I intend to keep the matter under review and I am open to any relevant proposals in the context of the policy outlined.

Questions Nos. 43 and 44 answered with Question No. 41.

  45.  Ms Shortall     asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if his attention has been drawn to the concerns expressed by staff of the Central Fisheries Board at the proposal to relocate the board to Carrick-on-Shannon; if no members of the staff have indicated a wish to relocate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19224/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  The proposal to relocate the Central Fisheries Board to Carrick-on-Shannon is being pursued as part of the Government’s wider decentralisation programme and as such will be undertaken in accordance with the proposals of the decentralisation implementation group’s report. All public servants, including the Central Fisheries Board staff, have an opportunity to apply through the central applications facility, CAF, on a voluntary basis for the [447]decentralised location of their choice and to rank their preferences for different locations.

Information gathered through the CAF during this first phase until 8 July 2004 will be analysed by the Civil Service Commission and passed to the decentralisation implementation group, providing it with the information required for the next phase of the implementation plan. I understand relevant information will be made available to individual Departments and agencies and staff interests, after which it will be possible to make an initial determination of the numbers of staff interested in relocating to various locations, including Carrick-on-Shannon.

I am advised that management of the Central Fisheries Board has been as proactive and supportive as possible in helping staff to consider all the options open to them recognising that the decision is ultimately a matter for each individual, having regard to his or her own circumstances and the entirely voluntary nature of the project.

  46.  Mr. S. Ryan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if an estimate has been made by his Department of the direct and indirect subsidies provided by the State to a sea vessel (details supplied); if his attention has been drawn to the claim by the chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, Deputy Perry, that these subsidies may have been worth up to €100 million; his views on this assessment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19220/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  No grant aid from the State or the European Union was paid towards the vessel referred to by the Deputy. The refrigerated sea water, RSW, segment of the Irish fleet, in which the vessel concerned is licensed and registered, has been excluded from grant aid support for renewal and modernisation for many years. I am not aware that the company concerned has received any assistance that could be described as an indirect subsidy.

By way of background, the European Commission’s agreement to facilitate the introduction into the fleet of the vessel referred to was subject to resolution of outstanding over-capacity engine power in the Irish pelagic fleet segment. To address this long-standing problem, which was not caused by the company concerned, the company removed its other vessel from the Irish and EU registers and its engine power capacity was permanently deleted. The tonnage capacity of the pelagic segment was already within the EU capacity limit and, in the circumstances, the company was allowed to retain the tonnage capacity of the vessel removed from the Irish fleet. The use of this capacity is, however, subject to advance approval and must not conflict with legal or fleet policy obligations.

[448]Sea fishing boat licensing policy permits the use of a maximum of 4,474 gross tonnes of the capacity formerly associated with the vessel removed from the fleet, subject to approval. I understand the Independent Licensing Authority has to date approved the assignment of specified quantities of that capacity to other vessel owners in the pelagic segment of the fleet for use as replacement capacity for the purpose of licensing of larger replacement vessels.

  47.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the main features of the RTE charter recently published by him; the way in which it is intended to monitor compliance with the charter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19215/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  The purpose of the charter is to provide an understanding to the people of Ireland of what is expected of RTE in return for the significant public funds provided to RTE from the proceeds of the television licence fee. Broadcasting legislation requires RTE’s radio and television services to have the character of a public service, to be offered free to air and to be universally available, where practicable, to the whole community on the island of Ireland.

Building on RTE’s statutory remit, the charter is a statement of principles which clarifies what is expected of RTE as the national public service broadcaster, including RTE’s accountability to its audience. The main guiding principles of the charter deal with RTE’s public service remit, regional emphasis, children, Irish language programming, social inclusion, physical, sensory and intellectual disability and gender. In addition, RTE has made commitments in respect of the provision of services and accountability.

I will keep the charter under review so that it continues to reflect change in the nature of society and changes in the broadcasting environment. A formal review of the charter will be carried out in five years. The full text of the charter is available on my Department’s website, www.dcmnr.gov.ie, in both English and Irish.

Question No. 48 answered with Question
No. 41.

  49.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the planned new harbour development in Baltimore Harbour, County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19301/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  Officials from my Department and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government are considering the modalities for the transfer of [449]Baltimore Harbour and certain other harbours operating under the Harbours Act 1946 to local authority ownership. I expect this work will take a number of months to come to fruition since it involves, inter alia, the undertaking of an audit of the assets and liabilities of the harbours to be transferred. As part of that audit process, plans for the further development of the harbours and the funding of such development will be taken into account. In the meantime, engineers from my Department are visiting the regional harbours, including Baltimore Harbour, to identify works which might be undertaken to protect the public and the fabric of the harbours with the limited resources available to my Department in 2004.

Question No. 50 answered with Question
No. 41.

  51.  Ms Burton    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the information available to him regarding the industrial relations situation in the ESB and the threat of industrial action that may lead to electricity blackouts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19196/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  The industrial relations situation in the ESB is a matter to be dealt with in accordance with the established industrial relations procedures within the company and is not one in which I have a function. As the Deputy will be aware, a ballot was undertaken by the ESB group of unions in May 2004, which provided a mandate for industrial action in circumstances where the company proposes or proceeds with structural or organisational change which impacts on staff without prior agreement. On foot of this mandate, the group of unions held a meeting yesterday to consider its position in the light of developments on a range of industrial relations issues. While no decision was taken at that meeting, a further meeting of the group of unions is scheduled for next Friday, 2 July 2004.

In a related development, the ESB Officers Association, ESBOA, served notice of industrial action on the company last Friday, 25 June 2004. This will take effect on 12 July 2004 and the union has indicated there will be a withdrawal of labour on that date. I view all of these developments with great concern and expect that the ESB management and unions will use all the industrial relations mechanisms available to them to ensure the situation does not escalate. In the meantime, I have asked my officials to keep me fully briefed on the situation as it develops.

  52.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the role his Department has with regard to the introduction of competition in the electricity gen[450]eration market here; if the Government has reached an agreement with the board of the ESB and the relevant trade unions such that the company will be able to retain a certain percentage of power generation within the market here; the effect which the electricity market liberalisation directive, due for transposition in July 2004, will have on such an agreement; if reports have been carried out in regard to this matter; and if so, if he will make them available to the relevant opposition spokespersons. [18124/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  The February 2000 tripartite agreement between the Government, the ESB and the ESB group of unions recognised that the issue of the ESB’s dominance in the electricity market must be addressed by willingly facilitating real and substantive competition. Against this backdrop, the ESB has publicly stated on several occasions that it is committed to reducing its share of the generation market to 60% by 2005.

By virtue of the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 and the European Communities (Internal Market in Electricity) Regulations 2000, a new regulatory regime, under the oversight of the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, has been established in Ireland, designed to facilitate and stimulate properly regulated and fair competition. These two legal instruments implement EU electricity directive 96/92/EC concerning common rules for the internal market in electricity.

The Electricity Regulation Act 1999 provided for the introduction of limited competition in the electricity market and for the establishment of the CER. Under the Act, any party can apply to the CER for the necessary authorisations to build new plan, a licence to generate and-or a licence to supply. The first phase of liberalisation was introduced with effect from 19 February 2000, in accordance with EU requirements. Ireland exceeded those requirements by opening 31% of the market, whereby 400 or more of the largest electricity customers were enabled to choose their supplier. All customers also became free to purchase electricity from any green or combined heat and power, CHP, licensed supplier from February 2000 and April 2001 respectively.

Further market opening took place on 19 February 2002 when 40% of the electricity market, representing 1,600 business customers, became free to shop around for keener prices in the competitive market. The latest market opening on 19 February last extended this from 40% to 56%. All large and many small and medium-sized businesses are eligible to buy their electricity from suppliers licensed by the CER. The full liberalisation of the electricity market on 19 February 2005 is provided for in the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 (Eligible Customer) (Consumption of Electricity) Order 2003. Every single customer will then be eligible to source their electricity from any licensed supplier and [451]the entire market becomes contestable. This date is well in advance on the July 2007 deadline for full liberalisation set down in the recently adopted EU electricity directive 2003/54/EC. This Directive makes no provision on power generation retention within the market here.

  53.  Ms O’Sullivan     asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if his attention has been drawn to the serious public concern at the implications of the proposed sale of Balbriggan and Skerries Harbours; if his Department has made an assessment of the implications of the sale for marine policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19212/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  I am aware of the concerns expressed regarding the decision by Dublin Port Company to place Balbriggan Harbour and Skerries Harbour on the open market to be sold by public tender. I am informed by Dublin Port Company that it has decided to offer the two harbours for sale because they constitute a burden on the users of Dublin Port as the company derives no revenue whatsoever from them. My Department has confirmed that the decision of the company to offer the harbours for sale is not incompatible with its commercial remit under the Harbours Act 1996. The two harbours are non-core assets of the company, the principal object of which is to provide facilities and services for ships, goods and passengers.

It is the long-standing policy of my Department that these harbours should be transferred to local control. The Harbours Act 1996 provides for the transfer of the two harbours to Fingal County Council. However, the order to commence the relevant provision of the Act has never been made. The principal reason the transfer has not taken place is that Fingal County Council states it is not in a position to agree to the transfer in the absence of a commitment to Exchequer funding of €10 million for remedial and maintenance works on the harbours.

As the deadline for the conclusion of the tender process by Dublin Port Company approaches, my Department is facilitating discussions involving public representatives, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Fingal County Council and Dublin Port Company. The focus of these discussions is on exploring whether there exists an alternative approach to the sale of the two harbours on the open market.

Question No. 54 answered with Question
No. 16.

  55.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    [452]the information available to him on the pilot survey carried out by An Post on the possible use of roadside post boxes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19201/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  Following the decision of the Commission for Communications Regulation last year that postal customers cannot be forced to accept roadside letter boxes, An Post ran a pilot programme in the Sligo mail area from October 2003 to January 2004 to assess the extent to which households would accept roadside delivery boxes on a voluntary basis.

The company undertook a comprehensive programme of engagement with customers informing them of the pilot scheme and to encourage their participation on a purely voluntary basis. Despite this extensive programme, take-up was very low, with only 32% of the targeted customers, those with letterboxes more than 10 metres from the public road, volunteering to take a delivery box. Delivery costs are one of the biggest operational costs to An Post and it was anticipated that the introduction of roadside delivery could significantly reduce these costs.

However, on the basis of the results of the pilot, the financial analysis indicates that the cost of installing the boxes would exceed the savings generated. Accordingly, I understand that the board of An Post decided that the roadside boxes will not be installed in the pilot area and the customers who volunteered were informed of this decision. The company is currently considering the implications of the results for its programme of reducing delivery costs nationally.

  56.  Ms Lynch     asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the position in regard to his plans to reduce roaming charges for mobile phone users in Border areas whose phones may stray on to UK networks; if his attention has been drawn to ComReg’s response to his recent policy directive on the issue that it can only be dealt with on a pan-European basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19203/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  I am aware of ComReg’s work on the issue of international roaming and acknowledge their efforts and that of some operators in addressing this issue to date, but it is not simply a matter of mobile operators introducing all-Ireland tariffs, although this in itself is welcome. The level of such tariffs and the terms and conditions attached also need to be examined in order to ensure that consumers are getting a fair deal and value for money.

The regulation of call roaming charges comes under ComReg’s jurisdiction, but as Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, I have responsibility for overall telecommunications policy. Moreover, as a Minister from a [453]Border county, I am aware of the effect of high mobile call roaming charges on local people and local businesses and have expressed my dissatisfaction at the level of call roaming charges being applied by mobile operators in this State many times.

One appropriate mechanism for advancing this issue is the European one, and in this connection I am aware that ComReg participate within the Independent Regulators Group, IRG, and the European Regulators Group, ERG, with a view to agreeing a co-ordinated action plan on a market review for international roaming.

In addition I understand that the issue of inadvertent roaming when mobile users near the Border inadvertently cross on to another network, without actually crossing any border, has been discussed at a number of Ireland-UK bilateral meetings and that ComReg will continue to work with Ofcom on seeking further progress on this issue. ComReg has a memorandum of understanding, MoU, with the NI regulator, Ofcom, on cross-Border co-ordination of GSM and 3G frequencies and there is also a MoU in place between Irish and UK operators aimed at improving co-operation in the Border region. Minimising cross border roaming costs on the island of Ireland would be beneficial for all Irish mobile phone users, particularly those who live close to the border and I welcome the continuous work being done by ComReg in this area.

I have asked ComReg to report to me quarterly on the implementation of each of the policy directions I issued to it in March, including the one on national and cross border roaming, and I look forward to progress on this issue.

  57.  Mr. Coveney    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he has satisfied himself that sufficient policing capacity on the water is available to enforce water safety legislation around our coastline; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19297/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  I recently signed into law new water safety regulations aimed at Ireland’s growing marine leisure sector as part my campaign to continuously improve safety on water. The new regulations which are titled the Merchant Shipping (Pleasure Craft) Lifejackets and Operation) (Safety) Regulations 2004, have immediate effect. They encompass all types of pleasure craft regardless of the means of propulsion.

It is now compulsory for everyone on board a pleasure craft of less than 7 m, 23 ft, in length to wear a lifejacket-personal floatation device and for all children up to the age of 16 years to wear a lifejacket while on board a pleasure craft.

On the enforcement of water safety legislation around our coastline, the Coastguard, officers of the Maritime Safety Directorate, the Garda and the public all have a major role to play.

[454]To assist in this process two Coastguard vessels were deployed at Howth and Crosshaven as major boating activity areas in the country. Other vessels will be deployed on a random basis around the coastline during the coming months to promote safety awareness including the wearing of lifejackets.

The regulations have been widely welcomed and monitoring to date has shown a high level of compliance. However, I will look to expanding the policing capacity on water if there are significant levels of non-compliance. The public has a key role to play by taking personal responsibility for their own safety through wearing lifejackets and taking other sensible safety precautions when undertaking their water based leisure activities. Parents too have a pivotal role to play in ensuring that children wear lifejackets at all times.

As part of its ongoing programme of enforcement of safety rules and vessel licensing conditions, the Maritime Safety Directorate will continue to carry out a campaign of operational safety inspections on passenger ships and boats this summer. These inspections, including unannounced checks, will be undertaken around the country in relation to vessels at sea and on inland waters to determine compliance with licensing requirements. Licence conditions relating to manning levels, maximum passenger numbers allowed, the continued availability of safety equipment are among the issues which the inspectors will focus on.

  58.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if his Department has investigated reports of illegal mussel dredging in the oyster beds of Lough Swilly; if this dredging is harming those oyster beds; if action has been taken on the promise made in 2001 to appropriately amend the granting of mussel licences in the area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19009/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  Following the granting of two aquaculture licences for the bottom cultivation of mussels in Lough Swilly, local oyster fishermen claimed that parts of the areas licensed overlapped with wild oyster beds in the lough. In light of these complaints, the cross-Border aquaculture initiative, cbait, was asked to carry out a survey of the lough. The objective of the survey was to determine the location and extent of the oyster beds and to ascertain if there was any overlap between those areas and the sites licensed for mussel cultivation.

The results of the survey indicated that there was a minor degree of overlap. Following consultation with the persons to whom the aquaculture licences had been granted, it was agreed that they would surrender the parts of their areas that had been found to contain oysters. Arrangements were made to have the mussel seed removed from the areas concerned, and any oysters retrieved [455]during this process were relaid. Since then, the oyster fishermen have applied for an aquaculture licence in respect of oyster beds in the lough. This application is being considered by my Department. I am advised that there is no evidence of any dredging activity which would be harmful to the oyster beds.

  59.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the position regarding the development of the proposed digital hub in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19290/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  The digital hub, which is the Government’s flagship project in the digital content sector, intends to provide a high quality environment for Irish and international new media companies, research and development and educational-community initiatives in the Liberties-Coombe area of Dublin. The digital content industry has been identified by our development agencies as a high growth, value added industry where this country already exhibits significant strengths. A substantial amount of progress, which I will outline, has been made in realising the aims of the project.

The Digital Hub Development Agency Act 2003 was enacted in July of last year. The legislation has placed the Digital Hub Development Agency on a statutory footing. Property purchase amounting to €75 million has been completed. The digital hub is currently engaged in negotiations to select a preferred developer for the refurbishment of the properties. Three consortia were short listed for the development contract. The digital hub is at present evaluating the final bids received in May. It is envisaged that the evaluation committee will present its analysis to the board on 30 June before delivering a recommendation for my consideration. It is planned that when completed, the project will deliver 500,000 sq. ft. of enterprise, learning and educational, residential and retail space. The refurbishment of the print depot which has been progressed as a joint venture between the Digital Hub Development Agency, Enterprise Ireland and Dublin City Council is complete. Over 30 digital media companies have located in the hub, with continued growth forecast for 2004. Construction of a 3 km. high speed, fibre broadband network in the hub at a cost of €2.29 million is complete and the facility to offer high quality competitively priced telecommunications services to firms locating in the hub is now available.

The Liberties learning initiative is an education-community based programme, which uses technology to tackle social and educational disadvantage within the city centre. Supported by €1.3 million funding from Diageo Ireland, the programme is delivering a range of learning and showcasing projects focused on the creative use [456]of digital media and reflects the national priorities of building a knowledge-based society and addressing the digital divide.

The schools programme of the Liberties learning initiative seeks to develop a range of programmes in 16 local primary and second level schools aimed at addressing the digital divide. These include providing information and communication technology, ICT, equipment and technical support to local schools providing professional training to teachers so they are fully informed about the education benefits of ICT and advising and informing the schools of employment opportunities in the digital sector. The schools programme aims to equip local children with the skills needed to live in a digital age, and to work in the digital media industry, which will be located on their doorstep.

The Liberties learning studio was opened in December 2002 and provides a flexible multipurpose space, which can be used for a range of learning activities including community, enterprise and showcasing events. The facility is being used for many purposes including the following: teacher training; digital community tutor training; awards ceremonies for local groups; exhibit launches; talk digital; digital media talks; and community events.

  60.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the EU is proposing spending €10 million of EU funds for purposes such as improving digital literacy and upgrading the digital infrastructure over the 2000-06 period; his views on whether more funds should be invested in this area; and his further views on the gaps in digital literacy in the State. [19278/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  Digital literacy programmes in Ireland are the primary responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science. However, my Department, together with the Department of Education and Science, is co-operating on an innovative and radical public private partnership venture under which it is proposed to transform the information and communications technology serving all Irish primary and post primary schools.

Earlier this year the Minister for Education and Science and I reached agreement with IBEC for the establishment of a three year, €18 million joint Government-telecommunications industry fund to resource the provision of high speed broadband connectivity to all first and second level schools nationwide. The case for such provision is compelling, particularly with regard to improving and ensuring the quality of the education experience; access to global information sources; the possibilities of communication and collaboration between school communities, at home and abroad; a seamless transition from [457]second to third level education; the skills required for competitiveness of the economy; and the inclusion of geographically remote schools.

The conclusion and implementation of such an agreement will enhance Ireland’s ability to meet its Lisbon Agenda objectives, and will drive demand and deployment of broadband technologies and ICTs within the wider community.

Under the proposed agreement, private telecommunications companies will contribute €15 million, that is, €5 million per annum, to a joint Government-IBEC-TIF fund of €18 million. This fund will be used to provide broadband connectivity to all schools over a three year period. The Government contribution of €3 million will be funded from departmental allocations.

A prior information notice has been published in the Official Journal of the European Communities, which effectively initiates the public tendering process. The target is to award contract(s) to successful bidders in November 2004 and to complete roll out by September 2005.

The strategy will include the development of a centrally managed national schools broadband network. This network will link the broadband connectivity provided to all schools to a central point. The development of the network is a key recommendation of the Datanet International report commissioned by the Department of Education and Science and is the practice in a number of European countries. This approach offers a number of distinct advantages including central provision of content filtering, virus scanning, firewall and intrusion detection services for all schools allowing for significant cost economies and enhanced security; centralised network utilisation monitoring for rapid fault rectification and increases in schools bandwidth as required; facilitating schools in communicating with each other directly — in effect, using the schools network as a virtual private network; allowing for the provision of webmail accounts for all schools, teachers and pupils in the State; central hosting and delivery of curriculum-related digital content and applications; and allowing for onward connectivity to education networks in the US, Europe Asia and the rest of the world.

The Minister for Education and Science also intends to establish a national help desk facility that will provide advice and support to schools on connectivity, troubleshooting and other technical issues facing schools operating ever more complex ICT processes. This will seek to ensure that such issues do not become impediments to effective integration of ICT in schools.

By facilitating multi-user access to a wide range of multimedia applications through the Internet, much faster download of educational content and enhanced communications between school communities, the provision of broadband to the classroom will greatly enhance the potential of ICT in teaching and learning in schools. It is critical, however, that this resource is used effectively for the benefit of the learner. This will require a [458]coherent integrated strategy across a range of issues including equipment provision and maintenance in schools, technical support and advice, enhancement of teacher skills and best practice in ICT applications, curriculum development, access to quality digital content for learning and fostering an e-learning culture within schools.

The Minister for Education and Science is considering proposals for a new strategic action plan for ICT integration in schools that will address these issues and build on developments to date. He intends to announce his plans in this regard in the near future.

  61.  Mr. English     asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the position regarding an investigation into the aquaculture industry here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19291/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  A comprehensive review of the procedures for monitoring, control and enforcement in respect of aquaculture has been undertaken in my Department. The work involved is substantially completed and will be finalised as soon as possible. The review has considered, in particular, whether the extensive programme of monitoring and inspection currently in place for fish farms needs to be refined or reinforced. If changes are required to legislation, procedures or practices on foot of the review, the necessary action will be taken as a priority.

Question No. 62 answered with Question
No. 16.

  63.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the value of fish catches by Irish fishing vessels and others in each of the past five years; the extent to which the value is likely to fluctuate in the future with due regard to likely conditions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19271/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  The value of landings by all Irish fishing vessels for the last five years for which statistics are available are as follows: 1998 —€192.3 million; 1999 —€189.5 million; 2000 —€189.0 million; 2001 —€253.6 million; and 2002 —€209.9 million. It is difficult to make forecasts as to the extent to which this value is likely to fluctuate in the future as it is dependent not only on volume of catches, but also on market conditions. At European level, I am working with the Commission and my European partners to secure the ongoing viability of stocks through measures such as the environmentally-friendly fishing initiative, effective control across all member states, and targeted stock recovery plans. [459]At national level, my Department will continue to work with Bord Iascaigh Mhara, the fisheries development agency, to further the development of the sector.

Question No. 64 answered with Question
No. 41.

  65.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he received responses from each coastal local authority to his request in July 2002 for their proposals for coastal protection work for the period 2003-06; the budget which has been allocated to such works; and the role his Department is taking in organising coastal protection in view of the concerns about climate change, rising sea levels and Dublin City Council alone estimates they may need €150 million for coastal defence work. [19305/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  In July 2002 my Department requested all coastal local authorities to submit proposals for coastal protection works for the period 2003-2006. In all, 195 proposals with an estimated total cost of over €120 million were submitted from all of the coastal local authorities.

Under the coast protection measure of the National Development Plan 2000-2006 €52.01 million is identified. Expenditure under this measure in 2003 was €2.9 million and an allocation of €780,000 for the coastal protection programme has been made available to my Department for this year. Given the nature and importance of this issue going forward, I decided that we need to develop a more strategic approach to the whole issue of coastal protection. To inform that approach, I have allocated a half a million euros to a major coastal protection strategy study. The study will address the nature and extent of erosion at various locations and different types of coastline in Ireland and seek to identify the most effective means, technically, financially and environmentally, in responding to particular instances and types of erosion. It is expected that when this study is completed a more targeted approach to programme delivery will result and will enable a greater level of efficiency in responding to coastal erosion change around the country.

  66.  Mr. Gogarty     asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the level of exploration activity due to be carried out in Irish territorial waters this summer; and the reporting requirement that our licence operators required to the Government with regard to their work programme and discoveries. [19311/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  The level of exploration activity is directly related to the number of authorisations issued. At present both licences and activity are at a relatively low level. This summer one exploration well and one seismic survey will be completed. The exploration well will be drilled in the Celtic Sea by Providence Resources plc under its Licensing Option 03/1. The seismic survey was undertaken by ENI in the Porcupine Basin under its Exploration Licence 1/99 and was completed on 16 June.

Under the terms of their authorisations, operators are obliged to give my Department a copy of all original data as it is acquired, and usually in electronic form. The operators are also obliged to make presentations on the data giving their interpretations and analyses of it to specialists in my Department, who analyse the data independently. In addition operators are obliged to submit six-monthly reports giving outline details of exploration activity both undertaken in the previous six-month period and to be carried out in the six-month period ahead.

  67.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin     asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the main features of the safer Internet plan agreed by communications Ministers at their recent meeting, designed to combat child pornography on the net; the way in which the plan will operate here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19207/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  The safer Internet plus programme 2005-08 is the second of two European Union programmes to promote safer use of the Internet and new on-line technologies, particularly for children, and to fight against illegal content and content unwanted by the end user.

The first action plan covered a four year period from 1 January 1999 to 31 December 2002. It had a budget of €25 million. That programme set up a European network of hotlines for reporting of illegal material, particularly child pornography, encouraged self-regulation and codes of conduct for the Internet industry, supported development of filtering and rating systems and stimulated awareness actions.

The new programme, which will have a budget of €45 million, was agreed by telecommunications Ministers at a Council chaired by me earlier this month. It will continue to promote safer use of the Internet and new on-line technologies particularly for children, and pursue the fight against illegal, harmful or unwanted content, building on the experience from the initial safer Internet programme.

However, the scope will be broadened to include new media, and new issues such as spam. The scope of the programme will expand to include accession countries, with action directed [461]primarily at the end users, parents, educators and children.

The plan is administered by the European Commission’s Information Society Directorate General. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has primary responsibility for the implementation of the plan in Ireland.

  68.  Mr. Crawford    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he intends to take action to promote the use of wood biomass as an energy fuel source for power and heat generation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19302/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  In December 2003 my Department, in association with Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI, set up a bioenergy strategy group, BSG. The primary objective of the group is to consider the policy options and support mechanisms available to Government to stimulate increased use of biomass for energy conversion, and to make specific recommendations for action to increase the penetration of biomass energy in Ireland.

Biomass can be subdivided into waste categories and purpose grown energy crops including short rotation forestry and miscanthus grass. The use of biomass as fuel for generation of both electricity and heat are within the remit of the BSG.

Input to the group is from a wide range of interested parties, including those in the wood processing industry, Teagasc and the Department of Agriculture and Food. The BSG will produce a strategy report for publication. It will contain a road map for the development of biomass energy with the identification of staged, achievable targets and recommendations for future action.

It is expected that this report will be available at the end of this year and will link in with the Department’s renewables consultation process and newly formed renewables development group.

Ireland has an excellent growing climate and an ongoing supply of raw material for wood fuel. Wood residues are already being used to produce heat for sawmills across the country and the wood energy market is poised for growth, with a number of commercial start-ups and a supply chain emerging.

Wood residues can be broken down into four categories: pulpwood residues, sawmill residues, forest residues and recycled wood. Responsibility for commercial development would be a day-to-day decision for the commercial companies involved.

  69.  Mr. Crawford     asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    his views on the progress which has been made [462]by RTE since the licence fee increase; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19279/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  The television licence fee was increased by €2 from 1 January 2004 which brought the annual cost of a licence to €152. I approved the increase in the television licence fee so as to ensure that RTE would be in position to continue to deliver the quality of service it is mandated to and which the people of Ireland deserve and expect.

RTE has published its annual statements of commitments for 2004. This document taken together with RTE’s change management commitments for 2004 will be key inputs when RTE’s performance in 2004 is being evaluated for the purpose of the annual licence fee adjustment. RTE’s annual report has been published and highlights a significant improvement in RTE’s financial position in 2003, especially in light of significant deficits in 2001 and 2002. RTE’s financial position shows a surplus of €2.3 million for 2003 compared to deficits of €46 million in 2001 and €22 million in 2002.

  70.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    Ireland’s international ranking in the telecommunications industry; when he expects this country to re-establish itself at the leading edge of the industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19272/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  A range of indicators can be used to measure the position and rate of progress of a country’s international rating in the telecommunications sector. No single measurement gives a comprehensive picture. The Deputy will be aware that Ireland is a leader in certain aspects of telecommunications development and lags in others.

He should also be aware of the fact that the rate of growth in key areas such as broadband penetration is one of the highest in the world. The Irish telecoms sector is highly rated in terms of international capacity and mobile penetration. The broad aim of Government policy is to strengthen the competitiveness of the sector generally. The development of the ICT in education programme is an important initiative in this regard.

Question No. 71 answered with Question
No. 32.

Question No. 72 answered orally with Question
No. 6.

  73.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for [463]Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he has satisfied himself that Moneypoint power station will remain fuelled by coal into the future as part of the overall energy fuel mix; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19299/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  As a result of our peripheral location at the end of the European energy supply chain with few indigenous energy sources, the issue of maintaining a balanced fuel mix in electricity generation is of major importance to Ireland. It has been estimated that if Moneypoint’s 915 MW of coal-fired capacity was replaced by the same amount of gas-fired plant, Ireland would be over 80% reliant on natural gas for its electricity generation needs by 2010. This could have very serious consequences for our national competitiveness in the event of a major spike in the price of gas or a crisis in global gas supply. That said, it is also important to ensure that our national electricity generating stock is as operationally and economically efficient as possible and does not add unduly to the cost of electricity to industry and the ordinary consumer.

The ESB has now finalised its proposals in regard to the future operation of the Moneypoint plant. These proposals, which envisage the plant continuing to operate as a coal-fired generating station, have been developed in the light of obligations under the EU large combustion plants and national emission ceiling directives. The proposals were formally submitted by the company to my Department on Friday last, 25 June 2004, for the necessary ministerial approval and they are now being examined in detail in that context.

  74.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the position regarding the restructuring of An Post; the further position regarding financial recovery; the number of times he has met with An Post in 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19294/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  I have met with An Post on 29 January, 4 February and on a number of occasions during the industrial relations difficulties in March. In addition, my officials meet regularly with An Post management and they brief me on general developments in the company.

Deputies will be aware of the precarious financial situation that I outlined in some detail to the House on 23 March in which An Post finds itself. On top of losses in 2001, the company is set to lose approximately €60 million between 2002 and 2003 and is forecast to be loss making in 2004.

Losses on this scale and of this duration are simply unsustainable. It is neither in the interests of the company, nor its employees or customers [464]that the situation remains unchecked. If the company is to return to profitability, the company needs to be restructured. If this is to be a success, it is crucial that all stakeholders play a constructive part in this process.

The current IR issues in An Post have been simmering for some time. The problems in An Post are longstanding and deep seated and it is clear that the solution to the current issues must put the company on a long term sustainable financial and operational footing. The full scale of the financial problems facing An Post, became clear to myself and my Department during the second half of 2002 and to the then management of An Post sometime later.

It is important that all stakeholders fully recognise the seriousness of the financial position and the threat this represents to the future of the company. Once the scale of the financial difficulties became clear last summer a recovery strategy was approved by the board and presented to me.

The strategy sets out a roadmap to return An Post to profitability by 2005. It includes significant restructuring and job losses amounting to approximately 1,500. However, buy in from the unions is crucial to agreement and implementation. This has not been an easy process, change is not easy. Following the industrial dispute last March, the Labour Relations Commission put forward a framework to resolve the differences between management and unions.

Both parties are currently in talks under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission. Although these discussions were due to finish in May, it was agreed by all parties to extend the process given the progress, albeit slow, that was being made. The talks are continuing and while some progress has been made, substantial issues remain to be resolved.

It is in all our interests that An Post continues to be a strong player in the Irish postal market and continues to provide quality services to customers and sustainable employment for staff. The recovery strategy approved by the board of An Post sets out the basis on which the company, in partnership with the trade unions, can move forward. While my Department is more than willing to assist in any way possible to facilitate an agreement, the responsibility for agreeing and implementing the plan rests primarily with the board, the management and unions in An Post.

  75.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if his attention has been drawn to recent reports that An Post is set to apply to ComReg for a 14.5% increase in the price of a stamp in an attempt to cut crippling losses at the company; when he expects that ComReg will make a decision on the application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19209/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  I understand that An Post has applied for a price increase to the Commission for Communications Regulation. Under the European Communities (Postal Services) Regulations 2002, ComReg is the designated independent body responsible for pricing policy in the postal sector with regard to the universal service segment of the postal market. I have no function in any consideration of this matter nor on the timing of any decision by ComReg.

However, I have made it clear to An Post that having secured substantial price increases in the past, the company should refocus its efforts on providing quality services to customers which is part of its universal service obligations.

Question No. 76 answered with Question
No. 41.

  77.  Mr. B. Smith    asked the Taoiseach    when the report of Mr. Justice Barron into the Belturbet bombing will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19031/04]

  78.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Taoiseach    if he has acknowledged receipt of the letter before action which was sent on behalf of persons (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19033/04]

  81.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Taoiseach    if he has acknowledged the receipt of a letter before action; and in light of the gravity of the situation facing the Government, would it not be appropriate to read the contents into the official record of Dáil Éireann. [19056/04]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 77, 78 and 81 together.

I received the report on the Dublin bombings of 1972 and 1973 today. Mr. Justice Barron’s consideration of a number of other events, including the Belturbet bombing will be annexed to the report and I expect to receive those annexes before the end of the week. Following necessary consideration by relevant Departments and the Attorney General, the report will be considered by the Government. It would be the intention that the report would be considered by the Oireachtas and published.

The letter before action was acknowledged on 18 June and the matter is under consideration. A response will issue shortly.

  79.  Mr. Kenny     asked the Taoiseach    the number of posts decentralised in the Central Statistics Office move to Cork; the number of posts filled on promotion and by staff maintaining their current grade in each case; the number that were already serving staff and the number in each case that were transferred from other Departments or semi-State organisations of the total number who [466]decentralised; the period of time which elapsed between the initial announcement of the decentralisation plans and the date on which the decentralisation was completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19034/04]

  83.  Mr. R. Bruton     asked the Taoiseach    the average annual increase in salary costs, overtime and travel to, from and in the decentralised offices in the three years following decentralisation compared to these costs for those business units in the three years preceding decentralisation, in respect of the last decentralisation by his Department. [19094/04]

  84.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the number of persons decentralised and the full duration of the project, in respect of the last decentralisation by his Department; the number of internal and external transfers which were required to obtain the requisite number of persons decentralising; the amount of time necessary to train decentralising persons and the percentage and duration of overlapping staff which was required; and the additional costs for overtime and travel and subsistence incurred. [19109/04]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 79, 83 and 84 together.

A total of 383 posts were decentralised to Cork by the Central Statistics Office in 1994. Of these, 158 staff transferred in their existing grade, 59 from the CSO and 99 from other Departments. A total of 116 staff were transferred on promotion and 109 were recruited to the Civil Service. The decentralisation was announced in June 1991 and the subsequent move to Cork took place in two phases in January 1994, when about 300 staff moved to the Cork office. The remaining staff were appointed during the course of 1994.

The CSO began putting the professional management structure in place from February 1993 with the recruitment and training of statisticians. This early recruitment allowed for on the job training and overlap in Dublin before moving to Cork. Detailed manuals were prepared describing the work procedures, statistical processes and computer systems in all sections of the office and job descriptions were prepared for all posts from staff officer level upwards. The intake of volunteers from other Departments began in summer 1993. Training of new staff was mainly on the job and was conducted by serving staff and line management, with some courses also provided by the CSO training unit and the Civil Service training centre.

Details of salary costs, overtime and travel and subsistence for the CSO for the years 1991 to 1997, as published in the appropriation accounts, are set out in the following table. A comparable breakdown is not available in respect of activities which transferred to Cork. These figures include a number of large scale periodic activities such as the population and agricultural censuses in 1991, the household budget survey in 1994 and the census of population in 1996.

Year Salaries of which: overtime Travel & subsistence of which: home travel
€m €m €m €m
1991 8.717 0.244 0.429 n.a.*
1992 10.865 0.227 0.310 n.a.
1993 11.160 0.226 0.364 n.a.
1994 11.392 0.300 0.578 0.321
1995 11.306 0.301 0.519 0.350
1996 14.227 0.255 0.484 0.297
1997 15.580 0.366 0.565 0.376

  80.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    the progress that has been made by his Department to date in implementing the recommendations of the Accenture report, Delivering a World Class Payments Environment, which was published in June 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19035/04]

The Taoiseach:  Following publication of the Information Society Commission report, prepared by Accenture and entitled, Delivering a World Class Payments Environment, in June 2003, the e-strategy group of Secretaries General met to consider the commission’s report and agreed to prioritise a response. The e-strategy group established an ad hoc group of senior officials from key Departments to consider the issues involved in greater detail, to shape an appropriate response and to bring forward proposals for the consideration of the Cabinet committee on the information society. This includes examining the feasibility of setting a target date by which all payments to and from public sector organisations would be capable of being supported electronically. It also involves putting in place a process of dialogue and consultation with the key public and private sector stakeholders to agree a shared way forward.

Subsequent to a general council agreement in July 2003, all new entrants to the Civil Service who take up their positions on or after 1 October 2003 are paid by electronic fund transfer or EFT. It was also agreed that there should be a drive to [468]increase substantially the proportion of existing staff paid in this way. It is intended that a memo will shortly be brought to Cabinet outlining the issues involved in moving to e-payments.

Question No. 81 answered with Question
No. 77.

  82.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the risk analysis and the cost benefit analysis which he has carried out or proposes to carry out in respect of decentralisation as it affects his Department. [19079/04]

The Taoiseach:  There are no proposals to decentralise any section of my Department or any of the bodies or agencies operating under its aegis. Having regard to this, it would be unnecessary to conduct either a risk analysis or cost benefit analysis in respect of decentralisation.

Questions Nos. 83 and 84 answered with Question No. 79.

  85.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Taoiseach    the volume and value by commodity of dairy exports for each of the past five years. [18846/04]

The Taoiseach:  The data requested by the Deputy is presented in the following tables. Table 1 shows the value of dairy exports identified by main commodity type while Table 2 shows the corresponding volumes for these goods. 2003 is the latest complete year for which data are available.

Table 1

1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
Dairy exports by value €(000) €(000) €(000) €(000) €(000)
Butter 361,510 356,408 329,374 319,143 351,320
Cheese 273,424 294,915 388,808 355,994 296,098
of which: unprocessed cheese (i.e. Cheddar, Brie, Edam etc.) 221,379 242,885 333,638 296,491 236,842
Processed cheese, not grated or powdered 31,334 31,788 28,775 25,494 24,558
Fresh cheese including whey cheese, and curd 11,421 10,269 16,745 24,506 22,571
Grated or powdered cheese 9,219 9,964 9,524 9,478 12,030
Milk and cream 291,983 400,376 247,323 176,044 207,026
of which: milk in solid form, with less than 1.5% fat content 154,619 247,881 107,076 63,204 85,740
Milk and cream, in solid form, with fat content exceeding 1.5% 91,257 107,450 101,566 77,237 89,323
Milk and cream, of a fat content of 1% to 6% 34,404 34,783 28,262 26,168 17,185
Cream of a fat content exceeding 6% 7,287 5,132 6,954 4,996 4,710
Milk of a fat content not exceeding 1% 4,247 4,975 3,372 4,328 9,991
Whey 40,572 49,225 58,234 49,638 45,926
Buttermilk, curdled milk and cream, kephir, etc. 21,343 28,152 26,906 20,784 19,535
Ice cream and other edible ice 11,914 19,882 13,270 11,672 11,496
Yoghurt 3,694 6,607 11,648 10,251 14,915
Other products of natural milk constituents 3,069 4,344 2,756 4,191 3,723
Birds’ eggs 482 691 2,595 4,415 3,880
Overall total 1,007,991 1,160,600 1,080,914 952,132 953,919

Table 2

1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
Dairy exports by volume Tonnes Tonnes Tonnes Tonnes Tonnes
Butter 126,114 120,997 113,701 104,199 124,846
Cheese 86,651 90,588 116,543 114,629 99,017
of which: unprocessed cheese (i.e. Cheddar, Brie, Edam etc.) 69,848 74,397 97,484 92,354 78,465
Processed cheese, not grated or powdered 9,443 9,037 8,489 7,735 7,679
Fresh cheese including whey cheese, and curd 4,974 4,652 8,080 12,038 9,837
Grated or powdered cheese 2,370 2,501 2,465 2,497 3,023
Milk and cream 244,163 290,706 175,335 157,353 189,208
of which: milk in solid form, with less than 1.5% fat content 82,490 124,861 44,234 35,106 46,750
Milk and cream, in solid form, with fat content exceeding 1.5% 46,272 47,865 39,944 34,093 44,138
Milk and cream, of a fat content of 1% to 6% 93,210 94,819 72,679 63,157 38,455
Cream of a fat content exceeding 6% 4,088 2,583 3,442 2,335 2,444
Milk of a fat content not exceeding 1% 17,933 20,398 14,986 22,589 57,354
Whey 41,355 50,928 55,474 45,132 51,234
Buttermilk, curdled milk and cream, kephir etc 40,316 39,761 12,092 13,614 14,107
Ice cream and other edible ice 7,421 11,135 7,322 6,471 7,183
Yoghurt 1,754 3,758 6,501 5,562 9,690
Other products of natural milk constituents 1,629 1,880 1,399 2,020 1,836
Birds’ eggs 390 613 931 1,972 1,941
Overall total 549,793 610,366 489,298 450,952 499,062

  86.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Taoiseach    if his Department proposes, as part of the better regulation process, to prepare guidelines on consultation in like manner to the code of practice on consultation prepared earlier in 2004 by the Cabinet Office in the UK; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19175/04]

  87.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Taoiseach    his views on whether, in all future instances involving pro[470]posed regulation or regulatory change whereby property rights are being restricted or curtailed, it will be necessary in keeping with the principles of better regulation both to consult fully all affected landowners and conduct a regulatory impact analysis with particular reference to the impact of the proposals on the stakeholders in question; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19176/04]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 86 and 87 together.

[471]The Government White Paper on better regulation, “Regulating Better”, sets out an action plan outlining the steps that will be taken to implement the principles of better regulation, including publication of guidelines on consultation and the piloting and introduction of regulatory impact analysis. The precise form and content of the guidelines on consultation will be a matter for the better regulation group of senior officials when it commences work in the coming weeks. I expect that it will have regard to all examples of good practice from other EU and OECD member states. I will ensure that the group is made aware of the document recommended by the Deputy.

With regard to regulatory impact analysis, RIA, it is proposed first to pilot and then mainstream a system, whereby Government Departments and offices can gain a better understanding of the likely impacts of proposed legislation. My Department has a role in developing the overall system that will be used. Beyond that, the application of RIA to specific legislative proposals is a matter for individual Departments and offices and it is one in which I have no function.

With regard to the specific issue raised by the Deputy, my Department has no plans to introduce legislation affecting the property rights of landowners. It will be a matter for the Department and office which is sponsoring the legislation to apply guidelines on consultation and on RIA in an appropriate fashion when they have been developed.

  88.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the risk analysis and the cost benefit analysis which she has carried out or proposes to carry out in respect of decentralisation as it affects her Department. [19080/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ms Harney):  My Department has recently prepared and submitted to the central implementation group, an initial implementation plan for the decentralisation of those sections/offices of the Department which have been approved by me for relocation to Carlow. The plan clearly demonstrates that risk minimisation and mitigation were a primary concern for the Department when making decisions in the context of decentralisation. In addition, many of the areas of the Department identified for relocation have recently undergone business process re-engineering exercises which will now be revisited in the context of decentralisation.

Officials of the Department are now planning to prepare an overall risk assessment framework to assess direct and indirect risks, threats to, and opportunities for the synergies between the Department and its agencies during and post [472]decentralisation. My Department will undertake a detailed examination on the various issues which may impact on the cost of implementing the decentralisation programme in order to both quantify and, where possible, minimise the various costs involved. However, at this early stage in the decentralisation process it is important to be aware that crucial information, such as the outcome of the results of the central applications facility, will be a critical factor in the effective analysis of cost benefits in respect of the decentralisation programme and in the development of risk assessment and risk mitigation strategies.

The four agencies operating under the aegis of my Department which have also been identified for decentralisation — FÁS, the National Standards Authority of Ireland, the Health and Safety Authority and Enterprise Ireland — have also finalised their initial implementation plans and have indicated that they will undertake separate risk assessments within their organisations to identify potential issues with regard to their internal and external interfaces. It will also be the responsibility of the agencies to undertake any examination of the costs and benefits associated with their relocation under the decentralisation programme.

  89.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the average annual increase in salary costs, overtime and travel to, from and in the decentralised offices in the three years following decentralisation compared to these costs for those business units in the three years preceding decentralisation, in respect of the last decentralisation by her Department. [19095/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ms Harney):  To date the Patents Office is the only office in my Department that has decentralised. The Patents Office moved to Kilkenny in 1998. The total costs for salaries, overtime and travel for the three years prior to decentralisation — 1995, 1996 and 1997 — were €6,474,802. The comparable costs for the three years following decentralisation — 1998,1999 and 2000 — were €6,679,704. This represents an overall increase of 3.2%.

The average annual increase in salary costs, overtime and travel for this office in the two years preceding decentralisation, 1996 and 1997, were as shown in the tables. It should be noted that comparable 1994 figures are not available and, accordingly, no figure for increase in 1995 on 1994 is possible.

%
Salaries + 2.3
Overtime + 123.2
Travel + 22.6

[473]The average annual changes over the subsequent three years 1998 to 2000 were as follows:

%
Salaries — 3
Overtime — 3.4
Travel + 45

  90.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number of persons decentralised and the full duration of the project, in respect of the last decentralisation by her Department; the number of internal and external transfers which were required to obtain the requisite number of persons decentralising; the amount of time necessary to train decentralising persons and the percentage and duration of overlapping staff which was required; and the additional costs for overtime and travel and subsistence incurred. [19110/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ms Harney):  The Government decided on 14 March 1995 to relocate the Patents Office, an office of my Department, to Kilkenny. The Government decision required that the business services unit of the Department of Finance undertake a study of the Patents Office to establish the necessary management structure, business processes and information technology requirements to ensure a successful relocation to Kilkenny. The Department of Finance commenced its review in September 1995. After its completion in late 1996, my Department pro[474]ceeded with arrangements in January 1997 for the move of the Patents Office to Kilkenny. The Patents Office relocated to Kilkenny on 1 September 1998, which involved the relocation of 68 posts in total.

Of the staff who transferred to Kilkenny in September 1998, 15 staff were relocated from within my Department, 43 were transferred from other Departments and four specialist staff were recruited directly to the Patents Office in Kilkenny. With regard to job and people changes required to achieve decentralisation of the Patents Office, the best estimate of the Department is that there were an average of 3.5 people changes for every job decentralised.

The training in period required for administrative staff varied across grades and was dependent on the specific duties involved, ranging typically from one month to three months. The overlapping of administrative staff also varied from a number of days to one month, the period being determined by the specific duties and grades involved. Three information technology unit staff for Kilkenny were in place one year in advance of the move. Staff vacancies and priorities elsewhere across the Department at the time also impacted on the period of staff overlap. Eight staff were designated as key trainers in advance of the move and each provided training to new staff arriving in the office from late 1997 until relocation on 1 September 1998. The period that key trainers overlapped with their direct replacements ranged from one month to three months.

The costs for overtime and travel and subsistence for the Patents Office for the period 1996 to 2002 are outlined in the following table.

Amounts in Euro

1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002
Overtime 16,548.81 58,486.56 104,732.19 48,200.25 31,145.14 26,960.97 24,278.28
Travel and Subsistence 30,419.03 20,047.73 38,535.08 60,335.84 52,155.84 72,958.08 70,976.84

  91.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if the work permit renewal for a person (details supplied) in Dublin 7 can be expedited in view of the special circumstances. [19239/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ms Harney):  I am informed that a permit in respect of the individual concerned was issued on 24 June 2004.

  92.  Ms O’Sullivan     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if further cuts in the jobs initiative scheme are planned by her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19255/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Fahey):  The average participation rate on job initiative in 2004 will be in the region of 2,100. The total funding allocation for employment schemes in 2004 has been fixed at €351 million, which is similar to the level of funding provided in 2003. This allocation will support up to 25,000 places across the three FÁS employment schemes: community employment, social economy and job initiative.

The number of places being funded is similar to the number of participants at year end 2003 and no reductions are planned on the overall participation levels on these schemes in 2004. FÁS has been given some flexibility in the management of its financial allocation for employment schemes in order to maximise progression to the labour market while at the same time facilitating the support of community services.

  93.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the opportunities available for persons (details supplied) in County Donegal with disabilities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19380/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Fahey):  There are a number of interventions in place in County Donegal which would provide employment opportunities in the open labour market for people with disabilities. These interventions can be accessed through FÁS, the training and employment authority, the National Training and Development Institute — NTDI and the North Western Health Board. To this end, persons wishing to access employment should contact the local FÁS office in Letterkenny, where all options available to them will be explored and where they can receive advice on the most appropriate course of action to help them gain employment in the open labour market.

  94.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number of submissions she has received in the past 12 months in favour of removing the ban on below-cost selling. [19390/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ms Harney):  During the past 12 months, I have received one written submission recommending the revocation for a trial period of the current prohibition on below-cost selling of grocery goods. In addition, I am aware that the chairperson of the Competition Authority, in a recent speech, has repeated an earlier recommendation that the groceries order be removed.

  95.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if her attention has been drawn to the fact that there has been a decline of 1.8% in the grocery market share of independent and owner managed stores here between 2003 and 2004; and her plans to address this. [19391/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ms Harney):  I am not aware of the source of the data referred to in the question and, therefore, am not in a position to comment further, other than to say that fluctuations in market shares are a normal feature of competitive markets.

  96.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if her attention has been drawn to the report, Ghost Town Britain, and if she has assessed its implications for the independent retail sector here. [19392/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ms Harney):  The main implications of the report regarding policy matters falling within my Department’s responsibility concern competition policy, particularly regarding predatory pricing and below-cost selling of food. These are matters for which legislative provision in this country is made in the Competition Act 2002 and the Restrictive Practices (Groceries) Order 1987. I am currently reviewing the 1987 order and will take into account, in so far as may be appropriate, the conclusions and recommendations of the report concerned.

  97.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    when she expects the County Clare local employment service to resume operations; if persons employed in the service up to its termination will be re-employed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19516/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Fahey):  Following the closure of Clare LES, FÁS, at my request, commenced a comprehensive review of the labour market needs of the Clare region in the context of the closure. The review is now complete and a report has been prepared and circulated.

The report recommends the establishment of a new service. In light of this recommendation, a meeting has taken place between FÁS regional management in the mid-west and Eirí Corca Baiscinn, an ADM funded group in County Clare, to discuss the proposed service. The board of management of Eirí Corca Baiscinn is currently preparing a submission on the service for discussion with FÁS, following which a decision will be made on the future operation of the service.

  98.  Mr. Crawford    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number of jobs that have been created by the IDA in each of the six Border counties in each of the past seven years; if she has satisfied herself that sufficient progress has been made in this region in view of the Good Friday Agreement; if not, the ongoing problems that are hindering such progress; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19614/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ms Harney):  IDA Ireland is the agency with statutory responsibility for the attraction of foreign direct investment, FDI, to Ireland and its regions. The following table shows the number of jobs that have been created in IDA supported companies in each of the six Border counties for the years 1997 to 2003, inclusive. In summary, a total of 6,170 jobs have been created in IDA supported companies in the Border counties over the period from 1997 to [477]2003. Considerable progress has also been made in marketing the Border counties for FDI and IDA is continuing to do so at an accelerated rate for inward investment.

Since 2000, IDA has placed a major emphasis on the delivery of investment to the Border, midlands and west, BMW, region. It is hoped that, through the greatly enhanced infrastructure resulting from the implementation of the national development plan and the focus on the gateway and hub towns designated under the national spatial strategy, considerable investment can be secured for the region over the next few years. IDA has also contributed to, and greatly supports the Border regional authority’s plan. This plan is [478]geared towards the creation of a critical mass of industries in the region and to addressing the infrastructural and educational disadvantages of the region to enable it to compete on an equal footing with other regions. This process has been assisted by the fact that conditions for industrial development in the Border counties have been considerably enhanced as a result of the institutions and programmes established as a result of the Good Friday Agreement.

I am confident the strategies and policies being pursued by the IDA Ireland, together with the ongoing commitment of Government to regional development, will bear fruit in terms of additional sustainable investment and jobs for the BMW region in the future.

Number of jobs created in IDA supported companies in each of the six Border counties over the period 1997 to 2003 inclusive.

1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
Cavan 116 49 35 34 68 47 9
Louth 406 162 351 1012 155 179 48
Monaghan 28 24 0 1 22 57 10
Donegal 80 54 67 308 353 179 141
Leitrim 33 17 73 4 336 117 575
Sligo 154 241 83 185 92 163 102

  99.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Defence    the risk analysis and the cost benefit analysis which he has carried out or proposes to carry out in respect of decentralisation as it affects his Department. [19081/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  The implementation plan for the decentralisation of my Department has been submitted to the central decentralisation implementation group. The plan addresses such issues as risk assessment and mitigation strategies, service and business continuity, timing and phasing issues and business processes and systems. The costs associated with the plan are not yet determined.

  100.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Defence    the average annual increase in salary costs, overtime and travel to, from and in the decentralised offices in the three years following decentralisation compared to these costs for those business units in the three years preceding decentralisation, in respect of the last decentralisation by his Department. [19096/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  The finance branch of my Department, comprising 176 staff in all, was decentralised to Galway in 1989. The comparative figures requested by the Deputy with regard to salary costs, overtime and travel are not readily available. Given that the decentralisation to Galway occurred in 1989, some 15 years ago, the compilation of such information would require a disproportionate allocation of staff resources.

[478]

  101.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of persons decentralised and the full duration of the project, in respect of the last decentralisation by his Department; the number of internal and external transfers which were required to obtain the requisite number of persons decentralising; the amount of time necessary to train decentralising persons and the percentage and duration of overlapping staff which was required; and the additional costs for overtime, travel and subsistence incurred. [19111/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  In July 1979, the Government decided that 166 staff of my Department should be decentralised to Galway. While an amount of preliminary work was carried out in the period following that decision, including the identification of a site on lands owned by my Department at Renmore, Galway, the project did not proceed at that stage. In 1987, the Government re-affirmed the decision to decentralise part of the Department to Galway. On foot of that decision, construction of the offices at Renmore commenced and 176 staff transferred to the new building in June-July 1989. Of the 176 staff who relocated, 43 were already serving in my Department.

Details of the number of internal transfers, the amount of time necessary to train personnel and the increase in overtime and travel costs are not readily available. Given that the decentralisation to Galway occurred in 1989, some 15 years ago, the compilation of such information would require a disproportionate allocation of staff resources.

  102.  Mr. Wall     asked the Minister for Defence    if his Department has structural insurance cover on a house (details supplied) in County Kildare; if so, if an assessment of the house has taken place; the position regarding the assessment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19156/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith):  The State carries its own insurance on properties in its ownership and, accordingly, my Department does not have commercial structural insurance cover on the house referred to by the Deputy. Following damage to the property, an assessment of the house was undertaken. However, the house is one of a number of houses which it had been decided to offer for sale and, in this regard, it is not the policy to carry out refurbishment but rather to sell such houses in the condition in which they stand.

  103.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if his Department will grant forestry premiums due to a person (details supplied) in County Leitrim. [19555/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The 2004 forestry premium will be paid to the person in question next week.

  104.  Mr. P. Breen     asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Clare will not qualify for milk quota from the national reserve; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19066/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  In 2000, I put in place a scheme for the allocation of 5 million gallons of the additional quota negotiated under Agenda 2000 to young milk producers who satisfied certain defined criteria. Furthermore, in 2001 an additional 4.5 million gallons was allocated to young farmers. Under those schemes the educational-training requirements were categorised at two levels, one level applying in the case of persons born before 1 January 1968 and another in the case of those born after that date. The person named applied under both schemes referred to above but as he did not satisfy the educational requirements appropriate in his case, he did not qualify for an allocation.

Allocations of milk quota from the national reserve are granted on the basis of recommendations from the milk quota appeals tribunal. The tribunal is a body established to consider and advise on applications for additional quota from individual producers who have suffered severe hardship in the context of the milk quota system. The person named last submitted an application for additional quota on the grounds of hardship in the 2002-03 quota year and he received an allo[480]cation on that occasion. He may apply again to the tribunal in the current 2004-05 quota year when the forms become available in the autumn.

  105.  Mr. M. Moynihan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    when the transfer of milk quota to a person (details supplied) in County Cork from the vendor will be finalised. [19075/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The transfer of the quota in this case will be finalised within the coming week and that transfer will have effect from the 2003-04 milk quota year.

  106.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the risk analysis and the cost benefit analysis which he has carried out or proposes to carry out in respect of decentralisation as it affects his Department. [19082/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  My Department established an implementation committee which is headed by an assistant secretary to oversee all aspects of the decentralisation programme. This committee has commenced the process of identifying and categorising the risks associated with decentralisation. The main risks are expected to come under the headings of service delivery, financial, human resources and accommodation. Proposals to deal with identified risks will be submitted to the Department’s risk management committee and the audit committee. This process will be carried out in accordance with established procedures for risk management in the Department.

  107.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the average annual increase in salary costs, overtime and travel to, from and in the decentralised offices in the three years following decentralisation compared to these costs for those business units in the three years preceding decentralisation, in respect of the last decentralisation by his Department. [19097/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The 1998 decentralisation of part of my Department to Johnstown Castle, Wexford, did not result in any increase in average annual salary costs or overtime. Expenses are paid in respect of travel to and from Johnstown Castle. However, the information is not recorded in the format required by the Deputy and would not be easily calculated.

  108.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the number of persons decentralised and the full duration of the project, in respect of the last decentralisation by his Department; the number of internal and external transfers which were required to obtain the requisite number of persons decentralising; the amount [481]of time necessary to train decentralising persons and the percentage and duration of overlapping staff which was required; and the additional costs for overtime, travel and subsistence incurred. [19112/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The last decentralisation by my Department took place in 1998 to Johnstown Castle, Wexford. To obtain the requisite number of persons decentralising 51 officers were relocated, 119 officers were transferred in from other Departments and 123 officers were directly recruited. As is normal practice, a general induction course was provided for all staff commencing with my Department and on the job training was given to all staff. The training provided varied from grade to grade and post to post but, on average, a month of on the job training and overlap was provided. No additional overtime costs were incurred and a separate figure for travel and subsistence is not readily available.

  109.  Mr. Neville     asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    when beef premium will be awarded to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [19139/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The person named submitted three applications under the 2003 special beef premium scheme: one on 26 August 2003, in respect of nine animals, one on 18 November 2003, in respect of four animals, and one on 30 December 2003, in respect of 55 animals. The 80% advance payment has issued in respect of the first two applications. No payment has yet issued in respect of the third application, as five of the 55 animals applied on were not CMMS compliant at the date of application. My Department has been in correspondence with the person named with a view to resolution of these issues to facilitate the outstanding payments.

  110.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the position regarding an application for funding by a co-operative (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19245/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The co-operative in question has submitted an application to my Department for grant aid from the 2004 call under the capital investment scheme for the marketing and processing of certain agricultural products under the national development plan. This application, in respect of the installation of a sewerage treatment plant and improvement of facilities in the mart premises, which was received in my Department on 14 June is currently being processed and will be evaluated with other applications for grant aid for consideration by a selection committee. This will take [482]place over the summer and the co-operative will be informed of the outcome.

  111.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the position regarding the case of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; if, in view of the circumstances, the quota can be transferred; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19246/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The milk quota regulations provide that where a holding is transferred by sale, lease, gift or inheritance by a person to a relative, as defined, the milk quota attached to that holding is transferred to that person. The transfer of milk quota without land is not permitted, even between relatives, except in cases where there is a land and quota leasing arrangement in place. In that case, the milk quota may be purchased without the land so long as the lease has been in place for at least one year.

  112.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    when decisions will be made regarding force majeure or exceptional circumstances with regard to the establishment of entitlements under the single payment scheme under the mid-term review of Agenda 2000. [19247/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  My Department is processing the applications received from farmers in respect of the force majeure or exceptional circumstances measure. Applicants are being notified directly of the decision in their case. In many instances, it is necessary to seek further information and or additional documentation from farmers in order that their applications can be fully assessed. I urge farmers to respond promptly to these requests. Any applicant who is dissatisfied with the decision in his or her case is entitled to appeal the decision to the single payment appeals committee.

  113.  Mr. Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if he will increase staffing levels for his Department’s credit union buildings (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19248/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  Arrangements have been made to assign an additional supervisory agricultural officer to the Killarney office. That officer will take up duty in the near future. In the interim, steps have been taken to ensure that undue delays do not occur by the temporary transfer of staff from other areas to deal with the issue of payments.

  114.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will have cattle registered to his herd. [19249/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The person named has been recorded as the buyer of these animals.

  115.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if his Department will make a REP scheme payment due to a person (details supplied) in County Leitrim; and if his Department is unable to award same, the reason therefor. [19318/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  My Department wrote to the person named on 16 June 2004, detailing a number of reasons his application could not be accepted. It is open to him to submit an amended application that deals with the issues referred to in the letter from my Department.

  116.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    , further to Parliamentary Question No. 198 of 6 April 2004, the further action he is taking to address this issue which has been raised regarding the impact which the mid-term review of Agenda 2000 will have on the rights of participants in the early retirement scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19374/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The position has already been set out in detail in my response to the Deputy in Question No. 198 of 6 April 2004.

The legal position laid down in the Council regulation is that all livestock premia and arable aid schemes are to be fully decoupled from production as and from 1 January 2005 and will be replaced by the new single payment scheme, to be introduced from 2005. The quota regime in respect of the livestock premia schemes will cease to be in existence from 31 December 2004. Consequently, quotas including individual suckler cow and ewe premium quotas will no longer exist for any farmer after that date and will not be required to ensure payment of the single payment scheme in the future.

Under the European Council regulation introducing the single payment scheme, a farmer may have access to the scheme if he was an active farmer during the reference years 2000, 2001 and 2002 and received payments under the livestock premia and/or arable aid schemes in those years. In addition, farmers for whom entitlements will be established must activate those entitlements in 2005 by continuing to farm and submitting an area aid declaration in that year. In general, farm[484]ers must also have an eligible hectare of land for each payment entitlement.

Farmers who joined the early retirement scheme before the reference period and had leased out their holdings during the entire reference period will not have any entitlements established for them under the single payment scheme, as they were not farming in the specified reference period. The person who was leasing the land and was actively farming during the reference years will have entitlements established for him or her. It should be noted that entitlements are attached to the farmer who was actively farming during the reference period and are not attached to the land.

However, family members who take over a holding, by transfer free of charge or by a lease of five or more years, that was leased out to a third party during the reference period will be able to apply to the national reserve for payment entitlements under the single payment scheme. This will be of particular benefit in the case of farmers who joined the early retirement scheme before the reference period and where a family member now wishes to take over the holding that was leased out to a third party during the reference years.

Farmers who leased out their holding during or after the reference period, will, because they were active farmers in one or more of the reference years, have entitlements established for them. However, they will need to commence farming again in 2005 and continue to farm in order to activate their entitlements and draw down the single payment for themselves. If they do not return to farming and activate their entitlements the entitlements in question will revert to the national reserve.

During the course of negotiations on the detailed rules, Ireland secured agreement that a farmer who was farming during one of more of the reference years and who has since leased out his holding to another farmer can apply in 2005 to establish his entitlements and then lease those entitlements out to the farmer who has leased the land. To avail of this provision there must be a lease agreement in place in 2005, which includes a clause providing that the entitlements are to be leased out to the person who is leasing the land. This provision will also be of particular benefit to farmers who joined the early retirement scheme during or after the reference period.

  117.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    when area aid will be awarded to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [19386/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The person named included a number of forage parcels on his 2003 area aid application on which a number of over-claims was established. Two of the land parcels which were over-claimed were declared by the person as forage but, in fact, [485]represented 17.61 hectares of forestry. An overall over-claim of 62.22 % was established.

Under EU rules when the over-claim is greater than 20% of the found area, a 100% penalty must be applied and no area aid linked payments can issue to the applicant.

  118.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if he has finalised his proposals to compensate farmers affected by a landslide at Dooncarton, north Mayo; if a package of €100,000 was promised in respect of this in March 2004; if he has decided on its allocation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19387/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The guidelines for this scheme have been drawn up and application forms have been prepared. However, the scheme requires formal EU approval as a state aid before it can proceed. My Department is maintaining close liaison with the European Commission on this and I expect that approval will be forthcoming shortly.

  119.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Wexford missed out on the high rate of extensification; if there is an appeal system available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19388/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  Under EU regulations, 2003 extensification premium at the higher rate of €80 per qualifying animal may only be paid where the stocking density of the holding is less than 1.40 livestock units per hectare. Where the stocking density is between 1.40 and 1.80 livestock units per hectare, both figures inclusive, the rate of premium payable per qualifying animal is €40.

A stocking density of 1.4077 livestock units per hectare was established for the holding of the person named. On 11 June 2004, two payable orders amounting to €1,440 issued to her, representing her full entitlement in respect of 36 qualifying animals. There is an appeals system available to the person named. She may appeal the decision to the agriculture appeals office, Kilminchy Court, Portlaoise, County Laois. Any appeal made should be lodged with the appeals office within a period of three months.

  120.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if a report has been compiled on the impact which the increasing grocery market share of large supermarkets and retailers has had on farm prices; and if he will carry out an investigation into this phenomenon. [19389/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  Various reports have been compiled on the factors influencing farm prices. A report by [486]Agri-Aware detailed concerns that retailers had been the main beneficiaries of food price increases and that producers had not benefited proportionately. A report commissioned by RGDATA, IBEC and the grocery wholesalers organisation IADT found that the main influences on increasing food prices, albeit at less than the rate of inflation, were processing and distribution costs, overheads and exchange rate fluctuations rather than prices at farm gate. Other reports have compared farm gate prices with retail prices on a gross basis without analysing processing, marketing and distribution costs. The product which leaves the farm gate is usually transformed before it appears on the retail shelf. Continuous change in consumer demand has driven the increase in ready to go meals, prepared foods and a range of end products, which is far more extensive than that available 20 years
ago.

The vast bulk of the food we produce is exported and returns from export markets have a greater impact on farm prices and producer returns than the retail structure of the domestic market. Producer returns also only partly consist of market prices and cannot be seen in isolation from the direct supports under the Common Agriculture Policy. My Department will, for example, pay €1.6 billion under EU funded agricultural measures in 2004. This expenditure mainly consists of direct payments to farmers, worth on average €13,000 per farmer. The decision to decouple payments will allow farmers to focus more clearly on the demands of the market and of the final consumer. FAPRI Ireland’s research forecasts some increase in prices and reduced input costs, which will impact positively on farm incomes.

My Department does not have any direct role in determining the prevailing prices charged for food products on the retail market. In a single market, food products are traded freely and governments do not have the authority to set the levels of mark up at different stages of processing and sale.

  121.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the percentage of farm holdings scheduled to be inspected by his Department under the good farming practice programme during 2004; the measures of the good farming practice to which the inspections relate; the procedures governing the process through which the selection of farms for inspection is effected; if it is a requirement that farmers be individually advised prior to inspection of a holding being undertaken: the nature and extent of such notices; if decisions of inspecting officials may be appealed; if he will provide a copy of the guidelines as issued to officials with respect to the inspection of farm holdings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19402/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  In accordance with EU regulations, good farming practice checks have been a feature of on farm inspections since 2001. My Department is obliged to inspect 10% of applicants for the ewe premium scheme and 5% of applicants under the bovine premia schemes and the area based compensatory allowance scheme.

The measures checked are matters that would be considered good practice in normal farming activity. Broadly, the checks relate to grassland management, protection of watercourses and wells, protection of wildlife habitats, maintenance of farm boundaries, use of pesticides and chemicals, visual appearance of the farm and farmyard and animal welfare. In accordance with the regulation, the selection process is by risk analysis and relates to scheme criteria, the amount of aid sought, the changes in declarations from year to year and findings in previous years. Under most schemes, the regulations provide that the inspection should be unannounced. In certain circumstances notice may be given but must be limited to 48 hours.

Under the protocol for direct payments to farmers applicants are entitled to seek a review of any decision taken. A person other than the person who made the original decision is assigned to carry out the review. In the event that a farmer is not satisfied with the outcome of the review he or she is then entitled to appeal to the appeals office in Portlaoise. This office is independent of the Department. In line with my commitment to ensuring the maximum level of transparency, a copy of inspection guidelines is provided to clients when requested. I am arranging to have a copy of the good farming practice manual forwarded to the Deputy.

  122.  Mr. Noonan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    when payment of a grant will be made to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19404/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  An application for grant aid on behalf of the person in question is currently being processed by the forest service of my Department. The site which was planted earlier this year is subject to a field inspection. I have asked that this process be expedited and a decision given on the application as quickly as possible.

  123.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if the outstanding suckler cow grants due to a person (details supplied) will be awarded; if a decision will be expedited; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19408/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  My Department has been in communication with the person named regarding his eligibility for grants which he has been paid under [488]the cattle headage and area based compensatory allowance schemes. Applicants for those schemes are required to be resident within 70 miles of the holding. It is believed that the person named was resident in America and was, therefore, ineligible for grants paid to him under those schemes. My Department’s local office has written to the person named asking him to provide documentary evidence regarding his residency in Ireland. On receipt of this, a decision will be made regarding payment of grants due to him under the suckler cow scheme.

  124.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    his views on whether there is a need for major consolidation of holdings to allow farmers to achieve economies of scale in agricultural production to allow them to achieve incomes from farming comparable to those in the non-farm sector. [19507/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  Over the ten-year period 1992 to 2002 there has been a gradual consolidation in farm size. The CSO figures show that there has been a gradual reduction in farm numbers, with the number of farms of less than 20 hectares declining by 30% over this period, while the number of farms over 20 hectares has remained stable. This has resulted in an increase in the average farm size from 27 hectares in 1992 to 32 hectares in 2002 which compares favourably with an EU average of 19 hectares.

One of the most significant trends in recent years has been the shift toward part-time farming, with 42% of holders having an off-farm job. Part-time farming must be recognised as providing an important option for those who wish to remain in farming while supplementing their income from other sources. This situation is not unique to Ireland, with 30% of EU farmers having an off-farm income. The Government has a number of policies in place to facilitate and encourage structural change, including measures such as installation aid, retirement, leasing and stamp duty. These measures bring about structural alterations that work for the betterment of farming and general society.

CSO data shows that on average farm households have marginally higher disposable incomes than other households, at 103% of the State average. This is supported by ESRI data which indicates that farm households have lower levels of consistent poverty than their urban or other rural counterparts.

  125.  Mr. Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    his views on the number of broad leaf deciduous trees being planted in the country; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that just 4% of Coillte stock falls into this category; if his Department has a strategy to pro[489]mote the planting of such stock; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19508/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  Under the afforestation programme provided in the rural development plan 2000-2006, Ireland is committed to 30% of planting to broadleaves by 2006. In 2003, broadleaf planting amounted to 28% of total planting. I am confident the 30% target will be achieved by 2006.

I understand that Coillte’s broadleaf stock represents 4% of the company’s estate. More than 20% of the national forest estate is made up of broadleaves and I expect this level to increase in the years ahead.

  126.  Mr. Ellis     asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if his Department will award the balance of premiums due to a person (details supplied) in County Leitrim. [19509/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The person named submitted three applications under the 2003 special beef premium scheme: one on 21 February 2003, in respect of 15 animals; one on 26 November 2003, in respect of 68 animals and one on 31 December 2003, in respect of 97 animals. The 80% advance payment has issued in respect of 15 animals applied for under the first application.

During 2003, 113 animals eligible for the slaughter premium scheme were slaughtered under the herd number of the person named. Seven of these were also eligible for the national envelope top up on beef breed heifers. The 80% advance payment has issued in respect of all animals slaughtered. The person named applied for premium on 66 animals under the 2003 suckler cow premium scheme. His 80% advance instalment, amounting to €11,835.12, issued on 9 December 2003.

All outstanding payments under the 2003 special beef premium, slaughter premium and suckler cow premium schemes, less a 10% deduction in respect of penalties for breaches of good farming practice, will issue shortly to the person named. A 10% deduction of the amount paid under the 2003 disadvantaged area compensatory allowance will also be made.

With regard to 2003 extensification premium, a stocking density of 1.2954 livestock units per hectare has already been established for the holding. Payment of this premium, less a good farming practice penalty of 10%, cannot be made to the person named until he is paid his entitlement under both the 2003 special beef premium and suckler cow premium schemes.

In regard to the good farming practice penalties, the person named was convicted under section 3 of the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act 1977, as amended by the Local Government (Water Pollution) Amendment Act 1990, on 5 March 2004 and in accordance with the terms and conditions of the schemes and the scale [490]of penalties set out in my Department’s booklet, entitled Good Farming Practice, he is subject to a 10% penalty on all livestock premium and disadvantaged area compensatory allowance payments. He has also been advised through his solicitor that he may appeal this decision to the Agriculture Appeals Office, Kilminchy Court, Portlaoise, County Laois.

  127.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if he has received all the necessary documentation from a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath for their area aid and other schemes; and if same will be dealt with as soon as possible. [19510/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The person named did not apply under any of the bovine premia schemes, other than the suckler cow premium scheme. An application for premium for 26 animals under the 2003 suckler cow premium scheme was received on 27 June 2003. The 80% advance instalment, amounting to €4,662.32, issued to the person named on 20 October 2003 and the balancing payment of €1,165.58 issued on 30 March 2004. These represent payment in full in respect of the 26 animals applied on.

With regard to 2003 extensification premium, on 11 June 2004, a payable order for €2,080 issued to the person named, representing his full entitlement in respect of the 26 animals that had already qualified for payment of 2003 suckler cow premium on his holding. Payment under the 2003 ewe/supplementary premium and ewe national envelope was made to the person named on 21 October 2003 and 10 March 2004, respectively. The person named was paid his full entitlement of €3468.33 under the 2003 area based compensatory allowance scheme on 23 September 2003.

There is no record of an area aid application having been received from the person named under the 2004 area aid scheme. The closing date for receipt of suckler cow applications for 2004 is 30 June 2004.

  128.  Dr. Cowley    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if his Department will go ahead with its action programme for the implementation of the EU nitrates directive even though his attention has been drawn to the fact that this proposal is unworkable and unaffordable and that the general feeling is that it will damage farming; his views on whether he should honour the Government’s commitments given in Sustaining Progress; if his attention has been drawn to the disastrous future effects if suppliers have to cut stocking rates, consequently leading to an increase in milk production costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19545/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The implementation of the nitrates directive is, in the first instance, a matter for the [491]Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Ireland is legally obliged to put into effect an action programme for the further implementation of the nitrates directive. The European Court of Justice, in its judgment of 11 March 2004, held that Ireland had not fulfilled its obligations under the nitrates directive by reason of its failure to establish and implement an action programme in accordance with Article 5 of the directive. It is open to the court, on the application of the European Commission, to impose substantial fines against Ireland if early action is not taken to give full effect to the directive by establishing and implementing an action programme.

Furthermore, the terms of the action programme need to be finalised at an early date given that continued EU co-funding of major schemes such as REPS, disadvantaged areas compensatory allowances, early retirement and forestry is conditional on satisfactory implementation of the nitrates directive. The directive is also EU legislation with which farmers must comply under the single payment scheme.

While Ireland must meet its obligations under the directive, it is my objective and that of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to ensure that it is implemented in a way that will not impact adversely on the viability of Irish farmers or impose unnecessary restrictions or obligations on them. A draft action programme prepared by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, in conjunction with my Department and in consultation with Teagasc, was presented in December last to representatives of the main farming organisations and other stakeholders. Written submissions on the draft action programme have been received from 70 stakeholders, including all the main farming organisations. A revised draft is now being prepared and will be conveyed to the farming organisations in the near future.

The implementation of the nitrates directive has been the subject of discussion between officials of both Departments and the farming pillar under Sustaining Progress. Together with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, I will meet farming organisations in the near future to discuss the matter further. The Government is committed under Sustaining Progress to using the flexibility in the nitrates directive to seek European Commission approval for organic nitrogen limits of up to 250 kg per hectare a year to be allowable in appropriate circumstances. When the draft action programme has been submitted to the Commission, Ireland will also submit a derogation proposal designed to take account of the unique characteristics of Irish agriculture. The objective will be to achieve approval for appropriate derogation arrangements in a manner that underpins the future of our commercial agriculture sector.

[492]In keeping with other commitments in Sustaining Progress, I have already taken significant steps to address the possible costs at farm level of the implementation of the draft action programme. At the beginning of the year I made changes in the farm waste management scheme and the dairy hygiene scheme which will make these measures more accessible to a greater number of farmers and increase their monetary value. With effect from 1 June, I introduced changes to the rural environment protection scheme which will deliver an average increase of 28% in payments to participating farmers. In addition, the scheme of capital allowances for expenditure on farm pollution control has been extended to the end of 2006.

  129.  Mr. Callanan    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the number of herds locked up under the tuberculosis and brucellosis schemes. [19579/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The latest statistics show that on 1 June 2004 there were 134 brucellosis restricted herds and on 16 June 2004 there were 2,983 TB restricted herds.

  130.  Mr. Perry     asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if his attention has been drawn to the circumstances outlined in correspondence (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19582/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh):  The position is that European Commission Regulation 795/2004 provides that when single payment entitlements are being calculated for farmers affected by agri-environmental commitments during the reference period, care must be taken to avoid “double compensation”. The Commission regulation gives farmers the option of either getting the single payment based on a reference period when no stock reduction was in place and getting a reduced agri-environmental payment or getting the single payment based on the reference period 2000 to 2002 and getting an agri-environmental payment which includes an element of compensation for destocking.

For those farmers who are currently participating in REPS and who had reduced sheep numbers during the reference period 2000-2002, my Department intends to use that reference period in calculating the single payment. This means that the single payment will be based on years when sheep numbers were reduced but the intention is that the farmers concerned, if they entered into REPS contracts before January 2005, will be entitled to keep the existing payment under measure A for the duration of those contracts. Individual farmers in this category will be able to apply to my Department to exercise the option outlined earlier.

[493]My Department intends to use the average amount paid in the reference years 1997-98 for all farmers currently participating in the national compensation scheme. This means farmers concerned will get the benefit of the ewe numbers that they had prior to the destocking that took place at the end of 1998. This will have to be offset by a reduction in the level of compensation payable from 2005 onwards by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The farmers concerned will not therefore suffer any loss.

  131.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    the risk analysis and the cost benefit analysis which he has carried out or proposes to carry out in respect of decentralisation as it affects his Department. [19083/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  My Department has completed its initial implementation plan as required by the decentralisation implementation group. This plan will require further development as additional information emerges about the people, property and business issues identified in the decentralisation implementation group’s report. Business units have already identified possible risks which will have to be managed to ensure on time delivery of the decentralisation programme. Other risks may be identified as the plan goes through further iterations. Strategies to mitigate these risks will be incorporated into the plans of the individual business units. My Department will work to minimise the cost impact of decentralisation.

  132.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    the average annual increase in salary costs, overtime and travel to, from and in the decentralised offices in the three years following decentralisation compared to these costs for those business units in the three years preceding decentralisation, in respect of the last decentralisation by his Department. [19098/04]

  133.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of persons decentralised and the full duration of the project, in respect of the last decentralisation by his Department; the number of internal and external transfers which were required to obtain the requisite number of persons decentralising; the amount of time necessary to train decentralising persons and the percentage and duration of overlapping staff which was required; and the additional costs for overtime, travel and subsistence incurred. [19113/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  I propose to take Question Nos. 132 and 133 together.

No posts in the Department of Finance were decentralised as part of the last decentralisation programme.

  134.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Minister for Finance    the position regarding the interdepartmental report of the review group on the disabled drivers’ and disabled passengers’ scheme; when he received this report; when he expects to publish the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19133/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  I received the interdepartmental report of the review group on the disabled drivers’ and disabled passengers’, tax concessions, scheme in September 2002 and it has been under consideration in my Department. The report is a substantive one and needed to be studied carefully. This process has now been completed and the report will be made available shortly.

  135.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of persons who have registered with the CAF to date; and the percentage of those who registered who did not select a location. [19134/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  The central applications facility, CAF, was launched on 12 May 2004 and is being operated by the Civil Service Commission. Information and analysis on applications from the CAF will only become available after 8 July next and will be provided to the various interested parties, including the decentralisation implementation group, staff and management interests and so forth as soon as possible.

  136.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Finance    the reason for making a person sit an examination for the position of clerical officer in the public service for Dublin and making them sit a further examination if they wish also to go on the provincial list; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19250/04]

  137.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Finance    when the appointments to the provincial list positions of clerical officer in the public service will next be advertised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19251/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  I propose to answer Questions Nos. 136 and 137 together.

The Civil Service Commission advertised a provincial competition for recruitment to clerical officer for appointment to 16 locations in March 2003. There were a total of 8,604 applications and a panel is in place for each of the 16 locations. Candidates can track the progress of the panels on the Civil Service website at www.publicjobs.ie. To date, 49 assignments to provincial locations have been made.

[495]Vacancies in provincial locations are filled from two sources, existing transfer requests from civil servants and from panels set up for locations under provincial competitions run by the Civil Service Commission. There are no immediate plans to advertise another provincial campaign. In the medium to longer term, it will be necessary to consider the development of regional recruitment and promotion systems building on regional arrangements. This will be the subject of further discussions with the Civil Service unions.

The most recent Dublin competition was advertised in September 2003. There was a total of 3,703 applications and, to date, 158 assignments have been made. This is a separate competition with its own regulations governing the competition process. While some candidates may have applied for both the Dublin and provincial competitions, it is necessary for all candidates to undergo the selection process set out in the regulations for that particular competition. This is to ensure that all applicants for a competition go through the same recruitment process and the order of merit that is produced reflects the outcome of the selection procedures conducted from the eligible pool of candidates who applied for the post.

  138.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of buildings in the Dublin area which are currently allocated for decentralisation under the Government’s plans which have been renovated by the OPW during the past five years; the nature of the renovation and the cost associated with renovating the various Departments concerned in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19252/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  The OPW is currently in the process of compiling and analysing a range of information in respect of the office space in Dublin, both owned and leased, which is occupied by Departments and State-sponsored bodies earmarked for decentralisation. The result of this analysis will form the basis for the formulation of options for the rationalisation of State accommodation in the Dublin area post decentralisation. These options are likely to include: disposal of State owned buildings; redevelopment of buildings; early termination of leases; relocation of Departments/offices within the Dublin portfolio.

The criteria that will be used in the rationalisation assessment process will include, inter alia, the rental costs of leased properties, the market values of owned properties, the location of the various properties concerned and an appraisal of their general condition.

  139.  Ms Burton    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of individuals, companies and trusts [496]being investigated by the Revenue Commissioners arising from the Ansbacher accounts at the latest date for which figures are available; the number of cases where settlements have been agreed and the total amount paid to date; the number of cases still outstanding; if additional action has been taken by the Revenue Commissioners arising from the report of the Ansbacher inspectors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18611/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that their Ansbacher review team has inquired into 289 cases to date and 75 of these cases have concluded settlements with the Revenue Commissioners. The 289 cases, taking account of spouses and connected companies, consist of 300 names. The 289 cases are made up of 179 cases listed on the High Court inspectors’ report and 110 similar cases discovered by the Revenue Commissioners or listed on the authorised officer’s report.

A total of 211 cases have been under active investigation. The remaining cases consist of 62 non-resident persons, including 17 former Irish residents, 12 individuals who claimed the 1993 amnesty provisions and four cases with insufficient identity information. The investigation includes examining the tax position of disclosed entities and accumulating and assembling information on other connected entities. The number of connected entities to cases under investigation is now nearly 700.

The Revenue Commissioners continue to make use of their legislative powers to seek books, records, documents and information in the cases being investigated. Where appropriate, prosecutions will be considered but these will depend on the level of evidence available. The Revenue Commissioners have made five successful applications to the High Court for the production by financial institutions and third parties of books, records and other documentation relevant to liabilities of Ansbacher account holders. Some 150,000 documents have been received under the terms of the High Court orders. Advanced investigative computer software is used in controlling and managing the documentation.

To date a total of €42.79 million has been received, mostly by way of payments on account, in respect of 87 cases. This is made up of the following.

Cases involving Ansbacher or Ansbacher type arrangements 75 Cases 34.55 million
Other cases involving offshore funds or deposits 12 Cases 8.24 million
Total 87 Cases 42.79 million

The 75 cases which have concluded settlements with the Revenue Commissioners consist of 40 cases which were settled on payments of €25.89 [497]million, included in the amount outlined, 25 non-resident cases which are covered by the provisions of double taxation agreements, eight which had no additional liability and two which were covered by the 1993 amnesty provisions.

The Revenue Commissioners made an application under section 11 of the Companies Act 1990 for a copy of the High Court inspectors’ report, which was made available on 6 July 2002. The information in this report has been carefully considered as regards the tax liabilities of the persons concerned. In addition, the Revenue Commissioners made a further application to the High Court for access to the supporting papers to the High Court inspectors’ report. Judgment was delivered by the President of the High Court on 25 May 2004 to allow access to the supporting papers relating to clients of Ansbacher named in the High Court inspectors’ report and those persons and companies, including members of the board, found by the High Court inspectors to have failed to co-operate with their inquiry.

The judgment also allows for the Revenue Commissioners to make application and grounding affidavit for the obtaining of information and documents relating to any other individual or company. Access to documents is subject to the direction of the High Court. The matter as to the precise terms of the High Court order was adjourned for further directions by the High Court. The Revenue Commissioners have informed me that the investigations are time consuming and complex and are likely to continue for some time to come.

  140.  Ms Burton    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of individuals, companies and trusts being investigated by the Revenue Commissioners arising from the Clerical Medical Insurance/NIB inquiry at the latest date for which figures are available; the number of cases where settlements have been agreed and the total amount paid to date; the number of cases still outstanding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18612/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that arising from the Clerical Medical Insurance/NIB inquiry, 452 cases have been targeted for investigation. To date, 291 cases have been settled on payment of tax, interest and penalties amounting to a total of €45.35 million. A further 113 cases have been finalised with no additional liability arising. The remaining 48 cases are the subject of ongoing investigation, in respect of which €5.02 million has been paid on account.

In the course of 2003, three cases were prosecuted, with fines being imposed in two cases and a suspended sentence imposed in the other. The individuals concerned have also settled their tax affairs and paid the outstanding tax, together with interest and penalties. A further case is currently under investigation with a view to prosecution.

[498]Aggregate results of the ongoing investigations have been published each year since 1998 in the annual reports of the Revenue Commissioners. Individual details of settlements have also been published where the provisions of section 1086 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 applied.

  141.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Finance    further to departmental correspondence (details supplied), if the report has been completed; its recommendations; when it will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19377/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  The report has not yet been completed. I expect that it will be available for publication in the next two to three months.

  142.  Mr. F. McGrath     asked the Minister for Finance    if he will use the €47 million collected from tax defaulters to end, once and for all, the day care, respite care and residential waiting lists for persons with intellectual disabilities. [19393/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  With regard to how the amount referred to by the Deputy should be used, it is important to realise that provision for receipts from ongoing investigations is made each year as part of the projections for total tax revenue. As such, they are included in the total resources that underpin the Government’s expenditure targets for the year. To the extent that any of the figure to which he refers may have been realised from special investigations, such receipts are once-off in nature and cannot be treated as “ordinary” or ongoing resources. This fact has been recognised in the past when such once-off receipts from, for example, tax amnesties or the sale of State assets, have been used mainly to meet liabilities with no recurring costs, such as reducing our debt burden or providing for future pension needs.

I remind the Deputy that I provided €10.1 billion in the 2004 Estimates allocation for the Department of Health and Children, which represented an increase of 8% on the 2003 outturn. For the most part, it is for the Minister for Health and Children to allocate these resources in whatever way he sees fit with regard to the provision of health services. In 2004, some €1.9 billion is being invested in services for persons with disabilities, covering the intellectual, physical, sensory, autism and mental illness areas. This represents an increase of €1.2 billion since 1997.

  143.  Mr. Haughey    asked the Minister for Finance    when a decision will be made regarding the transfer location of civil servants working in ICT in the Department of Social and Family Affairs; [499]and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19394/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  A decision on the decentralised locations for ICT staff in the Department of Social and Family Affairs will be made by the Government as soon as possible. The decision will take full account of the conclusions outlined in paragraph 5.19 to 5.22 of the report of the decentralisation implementation group, dated 31 March 2004.

  144.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will consider an abatement of stamp duty to encourage farmers to swap land, with no or little cash changing hands, to facilitate consolidation of fragmented holdings into workable units. [19528/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  Stamp duty is a tax on documents, mostly legal documents, used in the transfer of property. When a property is purchased or swapped, stamp duty is paid on the document that transfers ownership. Stamp duty is a significant contributor to the Exchequer. Its receipts allow for a broader tax base than would otherwise be possible and form an important element of State revenues.

The stamp duty code contains a significant exemption for transfers of land to young trained farmers, under the age of 35 years, provided they have attained relevant educational qualifications. It encourages the more productive use of agricultural land. In the 2004 Finance Act I updated the list of educational qualifications and made certain changes to the standards that must be attained in order to qualify for the exemption.

The proposal suggested by the Deputy would narrow the tax base. It would also inevitably lead to calls for other concessions to be introduced into the stamp duty code. I do not intend to introduce an abatement.

  145.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Finance    the progress made in decentralising the offices of the Revenue Commissioners to Newcastle West, County Limerick. [19610/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  Progress on the decentralisation of Revenue staff to the location is dependent on a number of factors, including the availability of suitable accommodation. Negotiations are ongoing with OPW. I hope to have a decision on a site in the near future.

  146.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    the assessment that was undertaken within his Department of the proposal for a Tobin tax; if it was submitted to an international agency for consideration; the countries that have offered to [500]support it; and the position that Ireland has adopted. [19615/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. McCreevy):  The Tobin tax was considered in a number of fora, including the informal ECOFIN meeting at Liege on 22 September 2001. The Belgian Presidency indicated that it wished to pursue the matter in the context of a general study to be carried out by the Commission on the issue of globalisation. Most Finance Ministers, myself included, continue to have reservations about the proposal. We believed that it was not clear that a further examination of the issue by the Commission would ensure that satisfactory answers would be given to the many questions concerning the tax, including the difficulties relating to practical implementation of the tax; its doubtful effect on short-term speculative capital movements; its conflict with the basic tenet of free capital movement in the EU; its disproportionate effect on small business and consumers; the probability that the tax would simply drive participants into other non-taxable alternatives; and the negative impact on liquidity in the foreign exchange market.

At a formal ECOFIN meeting on 16 October 2001 it was agreed that the Commission would carry out a study on globalisation and examine the arguments for and against a Tobin tax. On 14 February 2002 a study, entitled Responses to the Challenges of Globalisation, was published. It concluded that the Tobin tax, “while as a source of additional revenue a currency transaction tax may look appealing, its feasibility is, however, not demonstrated”. There have been no further developments at EU level on the possible introduction of the Tobin tax. The European Commission has not presented a formal proposal on the topic. I am not aware of any specific developments by an international agency nor am I in a position to comment on the current policy position of other governments.

Apart from consideration in an EU context, the issue was discussed by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs on 12 January 2000. Officials from my Department attended the meeting. Its chairman acknowledged that Ireland could not act unilaterally in the matter. He also pointed to the practical difficulties that would be caused at EU level by such a tax given that not all EU members participate in the euro. Ireland must be mindful that we have a much higher level of trade and capital flows with currencies outside the eurozone compared to other euro countries. Therefore, the tax would be likely to have a disproportionate impact on Irish business and consumers. As indicated in replies to previous questions, I do not propose to introduce such a tax as I remain unconvinced of its feasibility.

  147.  Mr. Carey    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the medical attention that is being given to a person (details supplied) to relieve their medical condition. [19070/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen):  I am aware of the case to whom the Deputy refers. On 10 April 2003 and again on 11 June 2004, the Irish embassy in London contacted the governor’s office of HMP Full Sutton in relation to the health of this person. The governor’s office confirmed that his medical needs were assessed, that he was referred to and under the care of NHS consultants, and he was receiving the recommended medication for his condition. On my instructions, the Irish embassy in London again contacted the governor’s office in the past week. It was confirmed that the individual concerned was taken to an outside hospital on 23 June for a CT scan and that action will be taken on any recommendations arising from this test. My Department will continue to keep in contact with the prison authorities. It will provide all appropriate consular assistance to the individual concerned.

  148.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the risk analysis and the cost-benefit analysis that he carried out or proposes to carry out in respect of decentralisation as it affects his Department. [19084/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen):  In accordance with the timetable set out in the report of the working group on the accountability of secretaries general and accounting officers, the Mullarkey report, my Department is putting in place a risk management programme. As the Mullarkey report envisaged, the risk management programme will identify and address strategic, operational, financial and reputational risks and establish procedures for mitigating those risks.

Under the Government’s recently announced decentralisation programme, my Department’s development co-operation directorate shall decentralise to Limerick. Work on the establishment of a formal risk management system for the directorate’s overseas aid programme commenced in 2002. Following a pilot programme in Zambia, a series of risk management workshops was held in the programme country missions and risk registers were developed. Risk reporting is now integrated into the regular aid mission reporting system. The assessment and management of risk has become a key element of programme approval procedures. The roll-out of formal risk management throughout the DCD at headquarters is under way and is expected to be completed by the end of 2004.

The Department plans to hold a further workshop in September to deal specifically with the risks associated with decentralisation. It will take account of the wider implications of decentralisation for the Department in general as well as for DCD. The aim will be to identify key risks, identify and assess the adequacy of existing controls, [502]consider how these controls can be improved and identify those responsible for putting controls in place. Some preliminary risk analysis has already been undertaken in the context of preparation of my Department’s decentralisation implementation plan. Further work will be done in advance of the workshop. In developing and putting into effect our implementation plan, we will seek to maximise the potential benefits accruing to the Department and its staff while minimising any additional costs that may arise.

  149.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the average annual increase in salary costs, overtime and travel to, from and in the decentralised offices in the three years following decentralisation compared to these costs for those business units in the three years preceding decentralisation, in respect of the last decentralisation by his Department. [19099/04]

  150.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the number of persons decentralised and the full duration of the project, in respect of the last decentralisation by his Department; the number of internal and external transfers which were required to obtain the requisite number of persons decentralising; the amount of time necessary to train decentralising persons and the percentage and duration of overlapping staff that was required; and the additional costs for overtime and travel and subsistence incurred. [19114/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 149 and 150 together.

The Department of Foreign Affairs established a passport sub-office in Cork city in 1987. Two of the original three posts were filled from within the Department. The third officer came from another Department. The three officers were given appropriate training in the passport office in Dublin before taking up duty in Cork. The staffing complement of the office was increased in the intervening years as a consequence of its upgrade to full passport issuing status with responsibility for processing all applications from the Munster area. This was done in line with significant annual increases in passport demand since 1987. Its current staff complement is 56 posts.

The Office of Public Works is responsible for the provision of office accommodation. No significant costs arose for my Department in connection with the establishment of the Cork office. It was established as a new business unit. Therefore, the type of cost comparisons sought by the Deputy cannot be made.

  151.  Mr. O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the progress that was made during [503]Ireland’s EU Presidency in regard to having Irish recognised as an official EU language; if he expects that Irish will be recognised as an official EU language within the lifetime of the Government, in view of the fact that it is a commitment in the Programme for Government. [19142/04]

  152.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the progress that was made during Ireland’s EU Presidency in regard to having Irish recognised as an official EU language; if he expects that Irish will be recognised as an official EU language within the lifetime of the Government, in view of the fact that it is a commitment in the programme for Government. [19143/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 151 and 152 together.

The question of the status of Irish in the EU is not specifically connected with Ireland’s EU Presidency or with the recently agreed constitutional treaty. The Irish language already has full treaty status in the EU. Earlier this year we established an interdepartmental working group to analyse all the issues involved in this complex area with a view to identifying opportunities to further enhance the status of the Irish language in the EU. Ministers are studying the working group’s report to identify how we might best proceed in the matter with the EU institutions and other member states. The recognition of Irish as an official and working language of the EU would require an amendment of Regulation 1/1958 that governs the EU’s translation system. Its amendment by the Council of Ministers would require the unanimous support of member states.

  153.  Mr. O’Connor    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will report on the most recent EU summit in Brussels. [19254/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen):  I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 8 on 24 June.

  154.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the number of civil servants employed in the non-proliferation section of his Department; the salaries of same; and the annual cost of running the section. [19395/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen):  A total of four officers are normally assigned to the disarmament and non-proliferation section. They fill posts at counsellor, first secretary, third secretary and clerical officer level. The staffing complement of the section was temporarily increased for the duration of the EU Presidency by two additional first secretaries-assistant principal [504]officers, a stagiaire and an additional clerical officer.

The following salary scales apply:

Grade Core number Salary scale
Counsellor 1 69,194-85,589
First Secretary 1 52,919-65,985
Third Secretary 1 28,312-50,112
Clerical Officer 1 18,736-30,384

Overtime, travel and subsistence expenses are paid in accordance with normal Civil Service regulations.

  155.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if the Government will make representations to the Israeli authorities regarding the restrictions being placed on a person (details supplied) despite the recent court decision in their case. [19396/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen):  The restrictions placed on the person named are the subject of proceedings before the Israeli courts. Outside interference would not be helpful or appropriate while those proceedings are in train.

  156.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the number and grade of personnel in his Department dealing with Latin America; their role and function; and his views on whether the full potential in trade, manufacturing and investment of the region can be achieved. [19604/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen):  A total of four officers are normally assigned to the Latin America and Caribbean section of the political division of my Department, filling posts at counsellor, first secretary, third secretary and clerical officer level. Its staffing complement was temporarily increased for the duration of the EU Presidency by one additional first secretary-assistant principal officer and will return to its normal level in the near future.

The section’s role and function is to advise the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Government on developments in Latin America and the Caribbean. It also contributes to the formulation of Irish foreign policy for the region in line with the Department’s strategy statement for 2003-2005. In consultation with my Department’s EU, bilateral economic relations, cultural and development co-operation divisions, the section works to pursue closer bilateral relations with Latin American countries. Through active participation in EU common foreign and security policy meetings it also contributes to the development of EU policy on Latin America.

A first secretary, third secretary and a clerical officer are assigned to the section of the bilateral [505]economic relations division that deals, inter alia, with Latin America. The division has overall responsibility for the enhancement of Ireland’s trade and economic relationships. It was closely involved in preparations for the Taoiseach’s visit to Mexico in January 2003 and the President’s visits to Argentina, Chile and Brazil last March. Those visits were accompanied by trade missions.

Latin America accounts for a relatively small proportion of total Irish trade. On an individual country basis, Mexico ranks first as Ireland’s largest trading partner in the region. Latin America accounts for a relatively small proportion of total Irish trade. Irish exports to Mexico stood at €500 million in 2003, compared with €141 million to Brazil, €42 million to Chile and €24 million to Argentina. Economic prospects for the entire region are improving and may offer new trade and investment opportunities for Irish companies. Improvements in the world economy, together with increased trade growth, should boost Latin America’s economic growth over the medium term. The United Nations has forecast growth in the region at around 4% in 2004, as well as posi[506]tive growth in the region’s per capita gross domestic product, after six years of decline or stagnation. Ireland has resident embassies in Brasilia, Buenos Aires and Mexico City.

  157.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the extent of bilateral trade between Ireland and Cuba for each of the past five years; and the trade sectors involved. [19605/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen):  In 2003 trade between Cuba and Ireland reached over €1.7 million. Our trade with Cuba is modest and tends to fluctuate considerably, as shown in the following tables for the years 1999 to 2003, inclusive.

Irish exports to Cuba were valued at €521,000 in 2003. Imports from Cuba were valued at €1.265 million, an increase of 34% over 2002. Last year Ireland’s principal exports were in the categories of cork and wood manufactures and beverages. Imports from Cuba in 2003 were primarily in the fruit and vegetable category, though tobacco products made up one fifth of total imports.

Trade with Cuba 1999-2003

Exports €000 Imports €000 Balance €000 Total Trade
1999 677 603 +74 1,280
2000 2,057 801 +1,256 2,858
2001 880 1,211 —331 2,091
2002 189 945 —756 1,134
2003 521 1,265 —744 1,786

[505]The development of the Cuban market is not a major focus of Ireland’s export promotion activities as trade is marginal and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. As a trading partner with Ireland, Cuba ranked No. 136 in 2003.

  158.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the number of visits by Irish ministers to Cuba in the past five years; the Ministers involved in each case; and the number of official invitations issued by Cuban authorities. [19606/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen):  One official visit was made in the past five years. At the invitation of the Cuban Government the then Minister of State at the Department of Finance and Office of Public Works, Deputy Cullen, visited Cuba to attend the South Summit of the group of 77 on 10 to 14 April 2000. I am aware of 11 more official invitations to visit Cuba in that period that Ministers did not accept.

Since 5 June 2003 Ireland and its EU partners have decided to limit bilateral high level governmental visits to Cuba in protest at the continuing flagrant violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of members of the peaceful opposition. The measure was reaffirmed by the Gen[506]eral Affairs and External Relations Council on 14 June 2004.

  159.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the extent of bilateral agreements that exist between Ireland and Cuba; and if agreements exist in the area of drugs control and movement of drugs and in the area of prisoner transfer. [19607/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen):  An agreement between the Government of Ireland and the Government of Cuba on air transport entered into force on 8 June 1991. It provided for the establishment of air services between and beyond our respective territories. Proposals for agreements on combating illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, mutual assistance in criminal matters and the transfer of sentenced prisoners have been received in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform from the Cuban authorities. Draft agreements are being considered in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and its consultations with relevant agencies and interested parties are ongoing. Following completion of these processes, matters will be decided in the context of the outcome of aforementioned consultations and [507]the need for such agreements with third countries generally.

  160.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the efforts being made through the Irish Presidency to have arts in education given a focus in either the year 2005 or a year soon after in line with the designation in 2004 of the sport in education topic. [19370/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The Irish Presidency in the education sector had a full agenda. It succeeded in making substantial progress on a number of important areas such as lifelong guidance and the Europass framework for transparency of qualifications and competencies. The Netherlands Presidency will discuss the importance and position of education and culture in a Union of 25 member states. Proposal for actions at EU level regarding education in the arts could be considered in this context.

  161.  Mr. Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the steps his Department intends to take to deal with overcrowding in a school (details supplied) in County Kildare in which enrolment continues to rise; and when the proposed extension to the school will be allowed to proceed. [19012/04]

  173.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position regarding an application by a school (details supplied) for capital funding. [19041/04]

  174.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if his attention was drawn to the fact that in September 120 first year students will join a school (details supplied) in County Kildare seeking capital funding for an extension and that this figure is 30% greater than any other year in the school’s history; and if his attention was further been drawn to the effect that such numbers will have on the safety and security of the school and the problems in organising classes due to the positioning of prefabs. [19042/04]

  175.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if his attention was drawn to the fact that a school (details supplied) in County Kildare with a catchment area of 17 primary schools, including two primary schools in the town, applied either years ago for capital funding and is still on his Department’s list; and his plans to advance the application. [19043/04]

  176.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if his attention was drawn to the support for and concerns of a number of multinational companies about the development of a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; and his views on overcoming the concerns of such companies. [19044/04]

  178.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the meetings his Department had with a local authority in determining the population figures for an area (details supplied) when a school seeks capital funding for a project. [19046/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 161, 173 to 176, inclusive, and 178 together.

The large-scale building project for the school referred to by the Deputies is listed in section 8 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department’s website at www.education.ie. This project is at an advanced stage of architectural planning, detail design and bill of quantities. It was assigned a band 2 rating in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large scale projects.

The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the schools building programme. It will give greater clarity on projects that are not progressing in this year’s programme. I will make a further announcement during the year. Three prefabricated classrooms were approved for the school as an interim measure and to alleviate accommodation difficulties. Its school authority, County Kildare vocational education committee, is aware of the measure.

The country is divided into post-primary catchment areas and each area has a post-primary education centre. The areas were drawn up in the late 1960s in the context of the free education scheme. The catchment boundaries were determined following consultation with local educational interests and the intention was that certain primary schools would feed exclusively into each centre. My Department endeavours to provide accommodation to meet the educational needs of the catchment area.

As much as 47% of the school’s intake comes from outside the catchment area. Apart from the fact that this is not a sustainable position, taking almost half of the pupil intake from outside of its catchment area impacts negatively on at least one other local school in the general area. It is a matter for the school’s management authority to limit its enrolment to within its catchment area. Ongoing dialogue with local authority officials is an integral element of the workload of officials of my Department’s school planning section. They work on a broad range of issues, including the changing demographics of an area.

  162.  Mr. Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the progress achieved in acquiring a site for a school (details supplied). [19013/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The OPW’s property management section acts on behalf of my Department on site [509]acquisitions generally. It is exploring the possibility of acquiring a site for the school. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on a specific site due to the commercial sensitivity of site acquisitions. The relevant information will be placed on my Department’s website when a site is acquired.

  163.  Mr. Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the progress that has been achieved in the proposed amalgamation of the three existing post-primary schools in Kildare town; and if a site was acquired for a new community school. [19014/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  My Department has agreed to amalgamate the three post-primary schools and to purchase a site to facilitate it. The process of identifying and acquiring a suitable site is ongoing.

  164.  Mr. Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if his Department proposes to use the public private partnership process in the delivering of new school buildings in County Kildare. [19015/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  Consideration of any new PPP project will be based on an evaluation of the completed pilot PPP schools project. A thorough assessment of affordability of any new project will also take place in the context of the competing demands on the capital funding envelopes going forward.

  165.  Mr. Crawford    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he received a business plan for a school building (details supplied) in County Monaghan; when the college can expect to have the necessary building work carried out either by Community Enterprise Limited or by his Department to make it a single campus school; and if he is aware that the school straddles both sides of the N2 national primary road and this is extremely dangerous for everyone concerned. [19016/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  My Department’s school planning section received documentation from the school’s authorities. All capital projects are being reviewed with a view to inclusion as part of a multi-annual schools building programme from 2005, details of which will be announced later this year.

  166.  Mr. O’Connor    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will take immediate and effective action in respect of the serious concerns of the local community regarding ongoing vandal[510]ism at a school (details supplied) in Dublin 24; if his attention was drawn to the clear need to fast-track a response to deal with these difficulties on an important local educational campus; and if officials of his Department will visit the school and meet parents and staff to discuss options. [19017/04]

  168.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if his attention was drawn to the vandalism carried out at a school (details supplied) in Dublin 24; and the measures he proposes to introduce to support the pupils, parents and teachers associated with the school. [19036/04]

  169.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if over €24,000 in repairs was spent after attacks on (details supplied) in Dublin 24; if preventative measures are a priority for his Department; and if an application from the school’s management is being considered. [19037/04]

  170.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if his attention was drawn to the different groups and Departments associated with a school (details supplied) in Dublin 24; and if, in the interest of co-operation he will initiate a meeting to discuss the ongoing vandalism and attacks on the school. [19038/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 166 and 168 to 170, inclusive, together.

I can appreciate the concern of the school community at the wanton vandalism of school property. In the first instance though, the management authorities of the school should report the matter to local gardaí. Local gardaí are best placed to provide practical advice and support and to make recommendations as to how best to mitigate the potential risk to the school. Most Garda stations have a crime prevention officer on the staff who will work with management authorities. If the Garda recommend equipment that cannot be procured from normal funding sources an application for contingency funding can be made to the schools building section.

The school may apply for funding for long-term security measures required at the school as recommended by the Garda. The school’s management authorities may apply for funding under the 2005 summer works scheme. Details of the scheme will be announced later this year.

  167.  Cecilia Keaveney    asked the Minister for Education and Science    about a special needs assistant appointed for a person (details supplied) in County Donegal. [19018/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  My Department received an application for a special needs assistant for the pupil. My officials are liaising with my Department’s [511]inspectorate and a response will issue to the school shortly.

Questions Nos. 168 to 170, inclusive, answered with Question No. 166.

  171.  Mr. McCormack    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if his Department received an application from the committee of a school (details supplied) in County Galway asking for a site to be acquired for an educate together secondary school in Galway; if he sanctioned the application; and its position. [19039/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  Correspondence was received from City of Galway Vocational Education Committee on post-primary provision on the east side of Galway city. Officials in my Department are reviewing the provision of post-primary education in the City and all information will be taken into account.

  172.  Mr. O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Education and Science    further to Parliamentary Question No. 126 on 6 May, the position of an application for funding to provide a special classroom with modifications for wheelchair access for a school (details supplied) in County Louth. [19040/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  Recently my Department’s technical staff visited the school. They noted the modifications required to facilitate the special class for September. The schools building section is examining the technical report. My Department will contact the school authorities very shortly.

Questions Nos. 173 to 176, inclusive, answered with Question No. 161.

  177.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the criteria for a school to move from board two to board one of the scale as adopted by his Department in administering the capital funding for schools. [19045/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I presume that the Deputy is referring to the criteria used for prioritising large-scale schools building projects. They are published in the schools building programme and available on my Department’s website www.education.ie. The guidelines are used in assessing the priority to be afforded to projects. They are applied at the initiation of each project and reviewed as necessary at each stage up to construction.

[512]Question No. 178 answered with Question
No. 161.

  179.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if an application was made under the summer works programme by a school (details supplied) in Dublin 24 for securing grills on windows. [19049/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The school did not make an application under the scheme. It is open to the school’s management authorities to apply for security measures under the 2005 summer works scheme. Details of the scheme will be announced later this year. In the meantime the authorities may expend funding under the grant scheme for minor works to address urgently required security measures.

  180.  Mr. O’Connor    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if his Department was contacted about the need for a primary school in Westbrook-Saggart Abbey; and if he is aware that the local community wants a school. [19058/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  My Department’s planning section meets the planning department of the South Dublin County Council on a regular basis. They discussed the need for additional educational provision. As a result sites for primary schools were reserved at Fortunestown and Saggart. Further consultations on new schools are needed with the local authority. Topics for discussion is the rate and likely timescale of housing developments and the capacity of existing schools in the area to meet the anticipated demand.

The overall enrolment trend in schools in the Tallaght area is downward. In light of the proposed additional housing in the area, my Department will continue to monitor developments. Any needs identified will be addressed by increasing existing school capacity or providing new schools, as appropriate.

  181.  Mr. Aylward    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason for the delay in payment by his Department to contractors employed on a school project (details supplied) in County Waterford. [19059/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The client is County Kilkenny Vocational Education Committee. It is responsible for the management and delivery of the project. Recently my Department received the final account for the project and my technical staff are examining it. My Department will keep the VEC advised of developments.

  182.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he is satisfied with the provisions being made to accommodate children and adults with special needs sitting their State examinations. [19063/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I formally established the State Examinations Commission on 6 March 2003. It is statutorily responsible for all operational matters for the certificate examinations. The commission operates a scheme of reasonable accommodations for candidates with special needs at the examinations. The range of accommodations available to candidates includes the use of readers, scribes, tape recorders and the use of computer technology in certain cases. The students may also apply to have a part of an examination waived and to be marked out of 100% on the balance. The school authority, on behalf of its candidates, applies for accommodations. Each case is considered on its merits. School authorities may also approve rest periods, taking of medicine into the examination hall and the use of low vision aids without recourse to the commission. I am satisfied that there are appropriate arrangements to accommodate students with special needs sitting the examinations.

  183.  Mr. O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if an application for a higher education grant by a person (details supplied) in County Louth can be reviewed. [19064/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  Under the terms of my Department’s grant scheme, maintenance grants are available to eligible students pursuing approved undergraduate courses in other EU member states, including the UK. Students attending approved courses in other member states are subject to the same conditions of funding as students attending approved courses in the State. The main conditions of funding relate to age, residence, means, nationality and previous academic attainment.

The scheme operates under the Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Acts 1968 to 1992. These Acts define a mature student to mean a person: Of not less than 23 years of age, or such other age as may stand specified for the time being in regulations made by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance, who have secured places in approved institutions and have reached that age on the 1st day of January, or such other date as may be prescribed from time to time by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance, in the year of entry to such institutions. An independent mature student is defined to mean a mature student who was not ordinarily resident at home with his or her parents from the October preceding their entry to an approved course. Independent mature [514]students are assessed without reference to either their parents’ income or address.

When assessing the means of students other than independent mature students, the Acts specify that the students’ means and those of their parents or guardians must be below a prescribed limit. The provision requires that parental income be taken into account irrespective of circumstances in any case where the student is not an independent mature student. Generally speaking, candidates continue to be assessed under the terms and conditions of the scheme appropriate to their year of entry. Accordingly, candidates who were not classified as independent mature students at the time of entry to an approved course may not generally be assessed as such for the duration of their course.

There is provision for candidates who are re-entering as mature students, following a break in study of at least one year, to pursue or complete an approved course for the first time. Such candidates may be assessed under the terms of the scheme appropriate to the year in which they re-enter. Candidates who were not independent mature students at the time of entry to an approved course may be reclassified as same for the purpose of completing a course or commencing a subsequent course. Unless students meet the prescribed age requirement at the time of entry or re-entry to an approved course, they may not be assessed as an independent mature student under the terms of the scheme.

The candidate in question does not meet the requirements to be assessed as an independent mature student. His reckonable income exceeds the prescribed income limits for a grant. I regret that it is not possible to allow grant aid in this case.

  184.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when funding will be made available for the new Ennistymon community school, County Clare. [19069/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  When I published the 2004 schools building programme I outlined that my strategy would be grounded in capital investment based on multi-annual allocations. My officials are reviewing all projects that were not authorised to proceed as part of the 2004 schools building programme. This is being done with a view to including them as part of a multi-annual schools building programme from 2005. I expect to make further announcements during the year. The proposed project in County Clare will be considered in this regard.

  185.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the risk analysis and the cost-benefit analysis that was carried out or proposed [515]to be carried out in respect of decentralisation as it affects his Department. [19085/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The first report of the decentralisation implementation group recommended that each decentralising Department or agency should prepare an implementation plan and identify the risks associated with decentralisation and the means of mitigating them. My Department’s implementation plan includes a risk analysis and suggested mitigation measures.

The Deputy will be aware from the group’s first report that Office of Public Works is due to prepare a public sector benchmark for value for money purposes. A more detailed analysis will be undertaken when the information is available.

  186.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the average annual increase in salary costs, overtime and travel to, from and in the decentralised offices in the three years following decentralisation compared to these costs for those business units in the three years preceding decentralisation, in respect of the last decentralisation by his Department. [19100/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The last decentralisation arrangement involving my Department took place in 1995. The information requested is no longer available. Such details are not normally retained for longer than seven years.

  187.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of persons decentralised and the full duration of the project, in respect of the last decentralisation by his Department; the number of internal and external transfers that were required to obtain the requisite number of persons for decentralising; the amount of time necessary to train decentralising persons and the percentage and duration of overlapping staff that was required; and the additional costs for overtime and travel and subsistence incurred. [19115/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  My Department last decentralised to Tullamore in 1995 and there are 187 posts at that location at present. Some of the staff moved from my Department’s Dublin offices of my or from other Departments. Some were promoted and some were recruited for Tullamore. My Department does not keep personnel statistics in a format that would indicate the number of staff in each of these categories.

Training periods would have varied considerably depending on the degree of knowledge of the specific area of work and the previous experience of the staff members being trained. Some of the training took place prior to a transfer and some afterwards. I do not have detailed statistics on the duration of the training, the periods of overlap required or the costs involved.

  188.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    his views on the need to develop specific programmes in secondary schools to assist children who had special help in primary school; and if he will develop programmes to track them in the secondary school system and to provide them, when possible, with additional help particularly for literacy skills. [19131/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  My Department allocates teacher posts and special needs assistant posts to second level schools and vocational education committees to cater for pupils with special educational needs. Applications for such support are made to my Department by the relevant school authority. Each application is considered on the basis of the assessed needs of a pupil. The nature and level of the support provided is determined by the advice of the psychological service. Learning support or remedial teacher services are provided to all second level schools. The service is focused on students with literacy or numeracy difficulties.

My Department’s teacher education section has developed a strategy designed to meet the continuing professional development needs of personnel working with children with special educational needs. It involves a major expansion of the range of postgraduate professional training programmes available to teachers in the special needs area and the establishment of the special education support service to support school staff locally. I am confident that the advent of the national council for special education will prove of major benefit in developing policy in the area. It will ensure that all children with special educational needs receive the support they require when and where they require it.

  189.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason a school (details supplied) in Dublin 4 received no decision on its application for resource teaching hours for two persons; if his Department proposes a change of policy to allocate a support teacher for every 150 children on a school’s roll; and the way in which this would apply to this school that has around 100 pupils. [19132/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  My Department received applications from the school for special education resources. Applications for resource teacher support were received between 15 February and 31 August 2003. The applications were considered and all schools have been notified of the outcome. Schools were notified of the resources that may be put in place immediately. I intend that all applications for SER received by 30 June, including the two applications from the school, will be responded to before the commencement of the 2004-2005 school year.

[517]The teacher allocations involved will be made in the context of a new weighted system that I announced recently. An additional 350 teacher posts are being provided to facilitate the introduction of the new system. It will involve a general weighted allocation for all primary schools to cater for pupils with a higher incidence of special educational needs. For example, students with borderline, mild and general learning disability, specific learning disability and with learning support needs. It will also allow for allocations in respect of pupils with a lower incidence of special educational needs.

The weighted allocation will be made as follows. In the most disadvantaged schools as per the urban dimension of Giving Children an Even Break, a teacher of pupils with special educational needs will be allocated for every 80 pupils to cater for the subset of pupils with higher incidence special needs; the ratio will be one teacher for every 140 pupils in all boys schools; one for every 150 pupils in mixed schools or all girls schools with an enrolment of greater than 30% boys; one for every 200 pupils in all girls schools, including schools with mixed junior classes but with 30% or less boys overall. The details of the new model will be set out in a comprehensive circular. It will be issued to all schools for the commencement of the new school year.

The weighted allocation will enable teaching support to be provided to pupils with a higher incidence special educational needs. It will obviate the need for schools to submit applications for pupils in the higher incidence categories. Schools may continue to apply for specific teacher allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence disabilities. My Department proposes to devise clusters in respect of allocations to be made under the weighted model. Sanction for the filling of posts will be considered in the context of these clusters and the weighted arrangements. The Department will communicate with schools in this regard before the commencement of the coming school year.

  190.  Mr. Grealish    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when a reply on school transport from the Claregalway-Carnmore area to the secondary school in Oranmore will be provided. [19148/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The transport liaison officer, County Galway Vocational Education Committee was asked to submit a report on the case. The Deputy will be advised of the position when it is assessed.

  191.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will investigate the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 17. [19155/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  My Department contacted Coláiste Dhúlaigh about the matter. Its principal advised that a subscription on the college’s book rental scheme was received for the pupil concerned. The college informed about any hardship. It deals with all hardship appeals as they arise.

My Department operates a grant scheme that contributions towards the cost of school textbooks for needy pupils in post-primary schools. A needy pupil is defined as a pupil from a family where there is genuine hardship because of unemployment, prolonged illness of a parent, large family size with inadequate means, single parenthood, or other family circumstances such as substance abuse that would indicate a similar degree of financial hardship. Principal teachers administer the book grant schemes in schools in a flexible way under the terms of the schemes based on their knowledge of circumstances.

  192.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if the contracts of the 11 special needs assistants at a school (details supplied) in Dublin 24 will be immediately confirmed; and his views on whether, in view of the fact that this school is in a severely disadvantaged area and caters for a large number of children with behavioural and emotional difficulties, it is unacceptable to consider reductions in the number of special needs assistants at the school. [19179/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  Special needs assistants may be approved to support a pupil with a significant medical need for such assistance, a significant impairment of physical or sensory function or where their behaviour is such that they are a danger to themselves or other pupils. The criteria used for the assessment of the need for special needs assistant support is outlined in my Department’s circular 7/02. It may be accessed on my Department’s website under the heading children with special needs. My Department continues to review existing arrangements for the allocation of special educational supports to primary schools. A review ensures that each school has the level of resources required to cater for its pupils with special educational needs.

Since 1998 the number of special needs assistants in primary schools has grown from about 300 to in excess of 5,500 full-time and part-time posts. Special needs assistant posts will be retained in schools where there is a continuing care need in accordance with circular 7/02. Account is being taken of existing levels of special needs assistant support allocation in schools. In cases where a reduction in the level of special needs assistant support is proposed, there will be provision for schools to appeal, having regard to the care needs of the pupils concerned. Details of the appeals mechanism will be set out in a communication to schools.

  193.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the steps taken to assist a person (details supplied) in Dublin 7 and their parent; and the measures put in place to address the issue. [19180/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The issue is a matter for the national educational welfare board. It was established under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 as the single national body with responsibility for school attendance. The Act provides a comprehensive framework promoting regular school attendance and tackling the problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. The board’s general function is to ensure that each child attends a recognised school or receives a certain minimum education. I am arranging to pass the Deputy’s query to the NEWB for direct reply to him.

  194.  Ms Burton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will comment on special needs assistants at a school (details supplied) in Dublin 15, in particular the threat by his Department to revoke two special needs posts from 31 August 2004; and if he is aware that the school, for the past decade, focused on the provision of special needs for children in the Huntstown, Clonee and Dublin 15 area. [19182/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  Special needs assistants may be approved to support a pupil who has a significant medical need for such assistance, a significant impairment of physical or sensory function or where their behaviour is such that they are a danger to themselves or other pupils. The criteria used for the assessment of the need for special needs assistant support is outlined in my Department’s circular 7/02. The circular may be accessed on my Department’s website under the heading children with special needs. My Department continues to review existing arrangements for the allocation of special educational supports to primary schools. The basic purpose of the review is to ensure that each school has the level of resources required to cater for its pupils with special educational needs.

Since 1998 the number of special needs assistants in primary schools has grown from about 300 to in excess of 5,500 full-time and part-time posts. Special needs assistants posts will be retained in schools where there is a continuing care need in accordance with circular 7/02. I intend that all applications for special education resources received by 30 June will be responded to before the commencement of the 2004-05 school year. Account is being taken of existing levels of special needs assistant support allocation in schools. In cases where a reduction in the level of special needs assistant support is proposed, there will be provision for schools to appeal, having regard to the care needs of the pupils concerned. [520]Details of the appeals mechanism will be set out in a communication to schools.

  195.  Mr. Cregan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will review the school transport in a catchment area (details supplied) in County Limerick. [19183/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  My Department does not propose to carry out a review of the catchment area referred to by the Deputy.

  196.  Mr. Carey    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if the application for resources to support the transition and ongoing needs of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 11 will be expedited. [19184/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  My Department received an application for special educational resources for the person. It is being considered and a response will issue to the school shortly.

  197.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Education and Science    about an application by a person (details supplied) in County Kildare for home tuition. [19185/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  On 18 June my Department sanctioned ten hours’ home tuition per week for the month of July for the pupil.

  198.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if his Department received an application from a school (details supplied) in County Wexford for refurbishment and new accommodation; when these works will be sanctioned; and if he is aware of the poor conditions at the school. [19186/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  An application was received from the school’s management authority. All projects not proceeding to construction as part of the 2004 schools building programme are being re-evaluated with a view to including them in a multi-annual programme from 2005 onwards. The school’s application will be included in the review.

  199.  Ms Harkin    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the arrangements in place for September for resource hours and special needs assistants for a school (details supplied) in County Leitrim. [19187/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  My Department received applications for special education resources from the school. I intend that all applications for SER received by 30 June will be responded to before the commencement of the 2004-05 school year. Applications for resource teacher support that were received between 15 February and 31 August 2003 were considered. Schools were notified of the outcome and whether resources may be put in place immediately. Applications received after 31 August 2003 and by 30 June 2004 will be processed in the near future. The outcome will be notified to schools before the commencement of the 2004-05 school year.

  200.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if school transport will be provided to persons (details supplied) in County Mayo. [19188/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  A report was requested from Bus Éireann. The Deputy will be advised of the position as soon as it is assessed.

  201.  Dr. Upton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if a full-time support teacher will be provided for a school (details supplied) in Dublin 8 in view of the particular needs of the children attending the school; and his views on whether it should be accorded disadvantaged status, in view of the catchment area. [19189/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  A detailed review of all disadvantaged initiatives is nearing completion. It will impact on existing initiatives. I hope to announce the outcome of the review shortly.

  202.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when he will complete a review of schools building projects that will form part of his multi-annual budget; and when his review will be published. [19260/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  Officials in my Department’s school planning section are reviewing all of the projects that were not authorised to proceed to construction as part of the 2004 schools building programme. When the review is completed I will publish details in the context of a multi-annual programme of works.

  203.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when the independent education appeals board that deals with the issue of allocation of teachers was set up and by whom; and the number of persons on the board and their details. [19280/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I established an appeals committee for the 2003-04 school year. It considers appeals by school authorities against decisions of the Department of Education and Science in regard to teaching staff allocations for second level schools and vocational education committees. It also operates independently of my Department and its decision is final. The committee comprises three members nominated by my Department who have relevant experience and expertise. The three members of the current committee are: Mr. Jim Lyons, Ms Elspeth Henderson and Mr. Parthalán Ó Ceilleachair.

  204.  Mr. McCormack    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when an additional resource teacher will be appointed to a school (details supplied) in County Mayo in view of the fact that some hours have been granted since September 2003 to one student who will enter third class in September 2004. [19283/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  My Department received an application for special education resources for the pupil at the end of January. I intend that all applications for special educational resources received by 30 June will be responded to before the commencement of the 2004-05 school year. Applications for resource teacher support that were received between 15 February and 31 August 2003 have been considered. Schools were notified of the outcome and whether resources could be put in place immediately. Applications received after 31 August 2003 and by 30 June 2004 will be processed in the near future. The outcome will be notified to schools before the commencement of the 2004-05 school year.

The teacher allocations involved will be made in the context of a new weighted system that I announced recently. An additional 350 teacher posts are being provided to facilitate the introduction of the new system. It will involve a general weighted allocation for all primary schools to cater for pupils with higher incidence special educational needs, for example, those with borderline, mild and general learning disability, specific learning disability, and also those with learning support needs. It will also allow for allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence special educational needs.

The weighted allocation will be made as follows. In the most disadvantaged schools as per the urban dimension of Giving Children an Even Break, a teacher of pupils with special educational needs will be allocated for every 80 pupils to cater for the subset of pupils with higher incidence special needs; in all boys schools the ratio will be one teacher for every 140 pupils; in mixed schools, or all girls schools with an enrolment of greater than 30% boys, one for every 150 pupils; and in all girls schools, including schools with mixed junior classes but with 30% or less [523]boys overall, one for every 200 pupils. I intend that the details of the new model will be set out in a comprehensive circular to issue to schools for the commencement of the new school year.

The weighted allocation will enable teaching support to be provided to pupils with higher incidence special educational needs and this will obviate the need for schools to submit individual applications for pupils in the higher incidence categories. Schools may continue to apply for specific teacher allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence disabilities. My Department now proposes to devise clusters in respect of allocations to be made under the weighted model. Sanction for the filling of posts will be considered in the context of these clusters and the weighted arrangements. My Department will communicate with schools in this regard before the commencement of the coming school year.

  205.  Mr. Ellis    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if his Department will sanction three special needs assistants for a school (details supplied) in County Leitrim. [19319/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  My Department received applications for three special needs assistants from the school. Special needs assistants may be approved to support a pupil who has a significant medical need for such assistance, a significant impairment of physical or sensory function or where their behaviour is such that they are a danger to themselves or other pupils. The criteria used for the assessment of the need for special needs assistant support is outlined in my Department’s circular 7/02.

I refer the Deputy to circular SP ED 9/04. It may be accessed on my Department’s website, www.education.ie under the heading, Children With Special Needs. It advises schools that they will be advised of the outcome of their applications as soon as possible in advance of the next school year.

  206.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if the transport pick-up point for persons (details supplied) in Lower Termon, Dungloe, County Donegal will be revised. [19321/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  A report was requested from Bus Éireann. The Deputy will be advised of the position when it is assessed.

  207.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when it is proposed to carry out remedial work on a school (details supplied) in County Donegal. [19322/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  My Department received an application for improved accommodation from the school. When publishing the 2004 schools building programme, I outlined that my strategy will be grounded in capital investment based on multi-annual allocations. My officials are reviewing all projects that were not authorised to proceed to construction as part of the 2004 schools building programme. This is being done with a view to including them as part of a multi-annual schools building programme from 2005. I expect to make further announcements during the year. The application from the school will be considered in this regard.

  208.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Education and Science    , further to Question No. 120 of 13 May, when he intends to lay the list of additional institutions before the Houses of the Oireachtas. [19324/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  My Department received correspondence from individuals and survivor groups identifying a number of additional institutions that may be eligible for inclusion in the Schedule of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002. Discussions between my Department and other Departments took place that may have provided a regulatory or inspection function in the operation of these facilities to ascertain whether they are eligible for inclusion. In some cases the initial information received was limited due to the long period that had elapsed since the institutions were closed. Therefore, the process of verifying each of them was time consuming and is continuing. Inquiries into all of the institutions have not been completed. I am considering proposals that will enable progress to be made on the institutions where inquiries have been completed. The proposals are at an advanced stage.

  209.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Education and Science    further to the reply of the Minister of State of 19 May 2004, the progress to date on the implementation of the McIver report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19326/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The recommendations in the McIver report are wide-ranging and encompass proposals that extend beyond post leaving certificate provision. During the past 12 months, officials in my Department have had meetings with the management and staff representative interests in the sector to examine their respective priorities and to consider issues surrounding a number of the recommendations of the report. Further meetings with all the relevant stakeholders in the sector will be necessary in the period ahead in connection with this report.

[525]One of the recommendations in the report envisaged the formation of a council of further education colleges to engage with the National Adult Learning Council and the Department of Education and Science on policy and research, provide for a leadership mechanism within the sector, animate inter-college planning processes and co-ordinate joint initiatives among colleges. As an initial step, on Tuesday, 4 May 2004, my Department facilitated a meeting of the stakeholders in the sector with a view to having them prepare proposals about the composition and remit of the council. In June 2004, the Department asked the parties involved to reflect again on the issue of the composition of the council in the light of recent discussions. My Department is continuing to facilitate discussions between the sides on this matter.

  210.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will report on progress in the implementation of the Donnellan report on a centre (details supplied) in Dublin 11; when he proposes to recruit a new director; if the situation will not be allowed to drift, thereby causing uncertainty and instability among staff and residents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19328/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  As the Deputy will be aware my Department issued the review of the Finglas child and adolescent centre, carried out by Mr. Michael Donnellan, to all the stakeholders at the centre and sought their views on the recommendations and conclusions contained in the report. Most of the stakeholders have responded and a number of meetings have taken place between my officials and the relevant parties. This consultation process will be completed this week and I expect to be in a position to make a statement on the future of the centre in the near future.

  211.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position regarding an application for a special needs assistant which was submitted in May 2003 for a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; the reason for the further delay; when he proposes to make a decision in this case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19344/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  My Department has received an application for 12.5 hours part-time special needs assistant support and 2.5 hours resource teaching support for the pupil to whom the Deputy refers. It is my intention that all applications for special educational resources received by 30 June 2004 will be responded to before the commencement of the 2004-05 school year. Applications for resource teacher support that were received between 15 February and 31 August 2003 for which a response is outstanding have been con[526]sidered and schools have now been notified of the outcome. This outcome indicates to schools the resources that may be put in place immediately. Applications received after 31 August 2003 and by 30 June 2004 will be processed in the near future and the outcome will be notified to schools before the commencement of the 2004-05 school year.

The teacher allocations involved will be made in the context of a new weighted system which I announced recently. An additional 350 teacher posts are being provided to facilitate the introduction of the new system. This system will involve a general weighted allocation for all primary schools to cater for pupils with higher incidence special educational needs such as, for example, those with borderline mild and mild general learning disability, specific learning disability and also those with learning support needs. It will also allow for individual allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence special educational needs.

The weighted allocation will be made as follows. In the most disadvantaged schools as per the urban dimension of Giving Children an Even Break, a teacher of pupils with special educational needs will be allocated for every 80 pupils to cater for the subset of pupils with higher incidence special needs; in all-boys schools, the ratio will be one teacher for every 140 pupils; in mixed schools, or all-girls schools with an enrolment of greater than 30% boys, one for every 150 pupils; and in all-girls schools including schools with mixed junior classes but with 30% or less boys overall, one for every 200 pupils. It is intended that the details of the new model will be set out in a comprehensive circular to issue to schools for the commencement of the new school year.

The weighted allocation will enable teaching support to be provided to pupils with higher incidence special educational needs and this will obviate the need for schools to submit individual applications for pupils in the higher incidence categories. Schools may continue to apply for specific teacher allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence disabilities. My Department now proposes to devise clusters in respect of allocations to be made under the weighted model. Sanction for the filling of posts will be considered in the context of these clusters and the weighted arrangements. The Department will communicate with schools in this regard before the commencement of the coming school year.

Schools which have applied for special needs assistant support will be advised of the outcome of their applications as soon as possible in advance of the next school year. Account is being taken of existing levels of special needs assistant support allocation in schools. In cases where a reduction in the level of special needs assistant support is proposed, there will be provision for schools to appeal, having regard to the care needs of the pupils concerned.

[527]My Department recognises the difficulties some schools have been experiencing while awaiting the outcome of applications for special educational resource and the introduction of the weighted model. The process has been complex and time-consuming and I am endeavouring to have all aspects completed as quickly as possible. I also wish to acknowledge the co-operation and support of schools in this regard.

  212.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Education and Science    further to the recent announcement by him, if he will give approval to an application for a resource teacher for a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19345/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  My Department received an application for 3.5 hours resource teaching support for the pupil referred to by the Deputy. It is my intention that all applications for special educational resources received by 30 June 2004 will be responded to before the commencement of the 2004-05 school year. Applications for resource teacher support that were received between 15 February and 31 August 2003 for which a response is outstanding have been considered and schools have now been notified of the outcome. This outcome indicates to schools the resources that may be put in place immediately. Applications received after 31 August 2003 and by 30 June 2004 will be processed in the near future and the outcome will be notified to schools before the commencement of the 2004-05 school year.

The teacher allocations involved will be made in the context of a new weighted system which I announced recently. An additional 350 teacher posts are being provided to facilitate the introduction of the new system. This system will involve a general weighted allocation for all primary schools to cater for pupils with higher incidence special educational needs such as, for example, those with borderline mild and mild general learning disability, specific learning disability and also those with learning support needs. It will also allow for individual allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence special educational needs.

The weighted allocation will be made as follows. In the most disadvantaged schools as per the urban dimension of Giving Children an Even Break, a teacher of pupils with special educational needs will be allocated for every 80 pupils to cater for the subset of pupils with higher incidence special needs; in all-boys schools, the ratio will be one teacher for every 140 pupils; in mixed schools, or all-girls schools with an enrolment of greater than 30% boys, one for every 150 pupils; and in all-girls schools including schools with mixed junior classes but with 30% or less boys overall, one for every 200 pupils. It is intended that the details of the new model will [528]be set out in a comprehensive circular to issue to schools for the commencement of the new school year. It is intended that the details of the new model will be set out in a comprehensive circular to issue to schools for the commencement of the new school year.

The weighted allocation will enable teaching support to be provided to pupils with higher incidence special educational needs and this will obviate the need for schools to submit individual applications for pupils in the higher incidence categories. Schools may continue to apply for specific teacher allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence disabilities. My Department now proposes to devise clusters in respect of allocations to be made under the weighted model. Sanction for the filling of posts will be considered in the context of these clusters and the weighted arrangements. The Department will communicate with schools in this regard before the commencement of the coming school year.

My Department recognises the difficulties some schools have been experiencing while awaiting the outcome of applications for special educational resource and the introduction of the weighted model. The process has been complex and time-consuming and I am endeavouring to have all aspects completed as quickly as possible. I also wish to acknowledge the co-operation and support of schools in this regard.

  213.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Education and Science    , further to Question No. 106 of 11 March 2004, if his officials have engaged with the school authorities regarding the decline in enrolments and the future viability of the school in regard to determining the way forward for it, especially in view of the fact that stage two development for the school promised before the general election in 2002 has yet to be sanctioned. [19348/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  Official from my Department have engaged with the school authority in this regard. When publishing the 2004 school building programme, I outlined that my strategy going forward would be grounded in capital investment based on multi-annual allocations. My officials are reviewing all projects which were not authorised to proceed to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme and I expect to be in a position to make further announcements on this matter in the course of the year.

  214.  Dr. Upton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will address the information requested in Parliamentary Questions Nos. 198 to 200, inclusive, of 22 October 2003. [19349/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The letters referred to form part of a [529]substantial correspondence from the person concerned over a number of years outlining a range of concerns and allegations concerning a young offenders centre and related matters. I have been made aware of the general content of this correspondence.

Departmental records indicate that a meeting was held in March 1988 between officials of my Department and management at the Finglas children’s centre to pursue complaints made to the Department by a then serving member of staff. The complaints related chiefly to matters involving financial management and control aspects of the centre but also included allegations of physical abuse of young people. The Department’s records indicate that the Department officials advised the director that all such matters should be brought to my Department’s attention immediately and should be investigated thoroughly.

The only identifiable allegation regarding physical abuse related to an alleged assault of a boy by a staff member at the centre in 1985. Staff in the Department interviewed the then director of the centre in late 1992 in this regard. The director assured my Department that this incident had been investigated at the time and it had been found that the incident was a necessary case of physical restraint of a disruptive young person, which was misinterpreted by a staff member.

Following further allegations of abuse at Finglas children’s centre and Trinity House school, a Garda investigation was carried out in 1994. On foot of that investigation, in 1994 the Director of Public Prosecutions directed that there was no evidence to support allegations of abuse. On receipt of further correspondence in 1996, the matter was referred from my Department to the Garda for investigation. In addition to this investigation, as the Deputy is aware, the Garda, in conjunction with the Eastern Health Board, my Department and the management of Finglas children’s centre were engaged in a look-back investigation into allegations of abuse in relation to this centre. Arising from this investigation, files were sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions regarding allegations of abuse at the centre. My Department provided every possible assistance to the Garda and made available all relevant records in this regard.

Allegations of financial irregularity were also investigated by the Department. Although many of these were not substantiated, the investigations into these allegations was a contributory factor in later identifying weaknesses in the financial systems on Trinity House school which were addressed.

The letter of February 1993 referred to in the question, was received from the person in question enclosing copies of correspondence with the then Minister for Finance and the then Minister for Enterprise and Employment. As these matters were the subject of consideration by the Committee of Public Accounts, the Department [530]of Finance would have been briefed on developments taking place in this regard.

  215.  D’fhiafraigh Mr. McGinley    den Aire Oideachais agus Eolaíochta    cad é an dul chun cinn atá deánta go dáta maidir le hiarbhunscoil a chur ar fáil ar Oileán Thoraí; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [19350/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  Nuair a chuireas an scéim tógála scoile 2004 i gcló, chuireas in iúl go mbeadh mo stráitéis i ndul chun chinn bunaithe ar dháiliú ilbhliantúil i bhfuilleamh caipitiúil. Tá mo oifigigh ag déanamh athbhreithniú ar na tionscnaimh uile nach bhfuil údarás tógála faighte acu go fóill mar chuid de scéim tógála scoile 2004, le súil go mbeidh siad san áireamh mar chuid d’fheachtas ilbhliantúil tógála scoile 2005 agus táim ag súil go mbeidh ar mo chumas breis eolais a fhógairt faoin ghnó seo le linn na bliana. Cuirfear an t-iarratas ó Choláiste Pobail, Oileán Thoraí san áireamh sa chomhthéacs seo.

  216.  Mr. McGinley    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position regarding an extension to a school (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19351/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  A large-scale building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is listed in section 9 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department’s website at www.education.ie. This project is at early stages of architectural planning. It has been assigned a band 2 rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large-scale projects. It is planned to progress this project to the next stage of architectural planning during 2004.

The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme which, in turn, will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing to tender in this year’s programme, such as the project in question. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

  217.  Mr. McGinley    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position regarding the extension or renovation to a school (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19352/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I am pleased to inform the Deputy that, as part of the devolved initiative contained in section 2 of the 2004 school building programme, the school in question has accepted a maximum grant of €275,000 to fund the provision [531]of additional school accommodation and improvement works.

  218.  Mr. McGinley    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if his Department has been in contact with the Office of Public Works in a effort to identify a site for a new primary school in Gortahork, County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19353/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  When I published the 2004 school building programme, I outlined that my strategy going forward will be grounded in capital investment based on multi-annual allocations. My officials are reviewing all projects, which were not authorised to proceed as part of the 2004 school building programme, including projects requiring the acquisition of a site, with a view to including them as part of a multi-annual programme from 2005 and I expect to be in a position to make further announcements on this matter in the course of the year. The proposed project at Gortahork will be included in this review.

  219.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the circumstances under which non-nationals whose parents reside here on work permits may qualify for reduced third level fees; if such reductions in fees apply to all third level colleges, including institutes of technology; if the three-year residency rule means three full years of two years and part of a third year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19355/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The main conditions of my Department’s free fees initiative are that students must be first-time undergraduates and hold EU nationality or official refugee status and have been ordinarily resident in an EU member state for at least three of the five years preceding their entry to an approved third level course.

I emphasise the distinction between the criteria that determine eligibility under the free fees initiative and the criteria by which individual third level institutions establish what rates of tuition fees should be charged in cases where a student does not qualify for free fees. Third level institutions are autonomous bodies and, as such, may determine the level of fees to be charged in cases where the free fees initiative does not apply. The classification of a student as an EU or a non-EU applicant is a matter for each institution to determine in this regard.

  220.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason rural disadvantaged schools are only entitled to 50% of the resource teacher allocation of the urban disadvantaged schools as per Department circular SP ED 09/04; if he will review this situation; and [532]if he will make a statement on the matter. [19373/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The differentiated system of weighted allocation teacher allocation referred to in circular SP ED 09/04 is intended to recognise the evidence that factors such as disadvantage and gender have a bearing on the incidence of special educational need. The new arrangements also take full account of the 350 posts I secured to facilitate their introduction. I should point out also, that the needs of pupils in lower incidence categories of disability will continue to be met on an individual basis.

  221.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if his Department’s inspectorate contacted a family in County Mayo, as promised in the reply to Question No. 315 of 27 April 2004; the progress that has been made on the placement of a person with special needs (details supplied) in County Mayo in the education system; and the education that has been offered to them to date. [19401/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I understand that my Department’s inspectorate has a vacancy in the area that the pupil referred to by the Deputy resides. However, my officials are making arrangements for an alternative member of the inspectorate to contact the parents concerned shortly.

  222.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if a definitive decision will be made regarding the allocation to a school (details supplied) of a special needs assistant to ensure that the school will have adequate time to advertise the position; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19403/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I wish to refer the Deputy to Circular SP ED 09/04 which may be accessed on my Department’s website, www.education.ie, under “Children with Special Needs”. The circular advises schools that have applied for special needs assistant support that they will be advised of the outcome of their applications as soon as possible in advance of the next school year.

Special needs assistants may be approved to support a pupil who has a significant medical need for such assistance, a significant impairment of physical or sensory function or where their behaviour is such that they are a danger to themselves or other pupils. The criteria used for the assessment of the need for special needs assistant support is outlined in my Department’s circular 07/02. This circular may be accessed on my Department’s website.

Since 1998, the number of special needs assistants in primary schools has grown from about 300 to in excess of 5,500 full-time and part-time posts. My Department continues to review existing arrangements for the allocation of special edu[533]cational supports to primary schools. The basic purpose of the review is to ensure that each school has the level of resources required to cater for its pupils with special educational needs.

Account is being taken of existing levels of special needs assistant support allocation in schools. In cases where a reduction in the level of special needs assistant support is proposed, there will be provision for schools to appeal, having regard to the care needs of the pupils concerned. Details of the appeals mechanism will be set out in a communication to schools.

  223.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will make a statement on the situation regarding the provision of a resource teacher at a school (details supplied) in County Kerry. [19405/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I can confirm that my Department has received five applications for special educational resources, SER, from the school to which the Deputy refers. All applications for special educational resources received after 31 August 2003, including the applications from the school in question are being considered by the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS. In those cases, it is intended that the applicant schools will be notified of the outcome as soon as possible in advance of the commencement of the next school year.

  224.  Mr. McGinley    asked the Minister for Education and Science    his plans to address the backlog of 8,000 applications for special educational resources; if he intends to carry out an assessment of each; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19331/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  It is my intention that all applications for special educational resources received by 30 June 2004 will be responded to before the commencement of the 2004-05 school year. Applications for resource teacher support that were received between 15 February and 31 August 2003 for which a response is outstanding have been considered and schools have now been notified of the outcome. This outcome indicates to schools the resources that may be put in place immediately. Applications received after 31 August 2003 and by 30 June 2004 will be processed in the near future and the outcome will be notified to schools before the commencement of the 2004-05 school year.

The teacher allocations involved will be made in the context of a new weighted system which I announced recently. An additional 350 teacher posts are being provided to facilitate the introduction of the new system. The new system will involve a general weighted allocation for all primary schools to cater for pupils with higher incidence special educational needs, for example, those with borderline mild and mild general learning disability, specific learning disability, and [534]also those with learning support needs. It will also allow for individual allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence special educational needs.

The weighted allocation will be made as follows: In the most disadvantaged schools as per the urban dimension of Giving Children an Even Break, a teacher of pupils with special educational needs will be allocated for every 80 pupils to cater for the subset of pupils with higher incidence special needs; in all-boys schools, the ratio will be one teacher for every 140 pupils; in mixed schools, or all-girls schools with an enrolment of greater than 30% boys, one for every 150 pupils; and in all-girls schools including schools with mixed junior classes but with 30% or less boys overall, one for every 200 pupils. It is intended that the details of the new model will be set out in a comprehensive circular to issue to schools for the commencement of the new school year.

The weighted allocation will enable teaching support to be provided to pupils with higher incidence special educational needs and this will obviate the need for schools to submit individual applications for pupils in the higher incidence categories. Schools may continue to apply for specific teacher allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence disabilities. My Department now proposes to devise clusters in respect of allocations to be made under the weighted model. Sanction for the filling of posts will be considered in the context of these clusters and the weighted arrangements. The Department will communicate with schools in this regard before the commencement of the coming school year.

Schools which have applied for special needs assistant support will be advised of the outcome of their applications as soon as possible in advance of the next school year. Account is being taken of existing levels of special needs assistant support allocation in schools. In cases where a reduction in the level of special needs assistant support is proposed, there will be provision for schools to appeal, having regard to the care needs of the pupils concerned.

My Department recognises the difficulties some schools have been experiencing while awaiting the outcome of applications for special educational resource and the introduction of the weighted model. The process has been complex and time-consuming and I am endeavouring to have all aspects completed as quickly as possible. I also wish to acknowledge the co-operation and support of schools in this regard.

  225.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the progress in providing funding to a college (details supplied) in County Kilkenny for a community leisure and recreation facility; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19511/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  An application for a PE hall at the school to which the Deputy refers is being assessed in the context of the school’s long term projected enrolment. All projects that are not proceeding to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme will be included as part of a multi-annual programme from 2005 onwards, further details of which will be announced later.

  226.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare with regard to a teaching post through Kildare Vocational Education Committee; if a suitable teaching position will be offered to them in the near future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19512/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The appointment of teachers by vocational education committees, VECs, is a matter for the relevant VEC, subject to agreed procedures. As my Department has no role in the appointment of individual teachers in the VEC, it would not be appropriate for me or my Department to intervene in any such case.

  227.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he has received a submission from the steering committees of the national induction project, primary and post-primary, in respect of phase 3 of the project; if he has considered the proposals submitted; his intentions regarding the continuance or otherwise of the national induction project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19513/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The national pilot project on induction covers primary and post-primary levels. The project operates under the aegis of a steering committee which includes representatives from my Department along with representatives from the teacher unions as well as the universities and colleges of education.

The primary and post-primary project teams have made a joint submission to my Department in relation to the continuation of the national pilot project via an additional phase, namely, phase 3. Consideration of this submission and any decision on the future of the national pilot project will be informed by evaluation reports on phase 2 of the project by the primary and post-primary project teams. It is understood that these reports are currently in progress.

  228.  Mr. Haughey    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position regarding a request earlier in 2004 by a school (details [536]supplied) in Dublin 9 for extra hours for two of its part-time staff; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19514/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I am aware of the application to which the Deputy refers. I have asked my Department’s inspectorate to investigate the issue in question as a matter of urgency. My officials will inform the school authorities of the outcome of the application as soon as possible.

  229.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if Bus Éireann has furnished the report to his Department regarding the provision of a school bus service to a national school (details supplied) in County Kerry; the current situation regarding this application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19515/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  My Department is examining a Bus Éireann report in respect of the application for school transport to the school referred to in the details supplied. When the examination is completed the Deputy will be advised of the decision.

  230.  Dr. Upton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of applications that were received from schools under the 2004 summer works schemes for schools; the number of applications that were successful and the amount of money disbursed under the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19536/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The total number of applications received under the 2004 summer works schemes for schools was 1,212. In all, 442 projects will be carried out under the scheme this year, 292 in primary schools and 150 in post-primary schools. The scheme will be funded to the amount of €31 million.

  231.  Dr. Upton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if he will provide every assistance to schools (details supplied) in Dublin 12 in obtaining assistance for new windows. [19537/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The scope of the works required at the school referred to by the Deputy are appropriate for consideration under the summer works scheme which was announced in December last. The closing date for applications under the scheme was 30 January 2004. I note that the school in question did not make an application for replacement windows under this scheme.

Subject to a review of the summer works scheme 2004, it is planned to invite applications for the 2005 scheme later this year. Full details [537]will be posted on my Department’s website at www.education.ie as soon as possible. In the interim, the school authority should use their devolved grant to deal with urgent works required.

  232.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position regarding an application by a person (details supplied) in County Kildare for a special needs assistant in September 2004 in view of the concerns of the consultant child psychiatrist in regard to this person; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19548/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I wish to refer the Deputy to circular SP ED 09/04 which may be accessed on my Department’s website, www.education.ie, under the heading, Children With Special Needs. The circular advises schools that have applied for special needs assistant support that they will be advised of the outcome of their applications as soon as possible in advance of the next school year. I can confirm that my Department has received an application for a full time special needs assistant for the pupil referred to by the Deputy.

Special needs assistants may be approved to support a pupil who has a significant medical need for such assistance, a significant impairment of physical or sensory function or where their behaviour is such that they are a danger to themselves or other pupils. The criteria used for the assessment of the need for special needs assistant support are outlined in my Department’s circular 07/02. This circular may be accessed on my Department’s website.

Since 1998 the number of special needs assistants in primary schools has grown from approximately 300 to in excess of 5,500 full-time and part-time posts. My Department continues to review existing arrangements for the allocation of special educational supports to primary schools. The basic purpose of the review is to ensure that each school has the level of resources required to cater for its pupils with special educational needs.

Account is being taken of existing levels of special needs assistant support allocation in schools. In cases where a reduction in the level of special needs assistant support is proposed, there will be provision for schools to appeal, having regard to the care needs of the pupils concerned. Details of the appeals mechanism will be set out in a communication to schools.

  233.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of children in receipt of an education at primary and at second level, respectively, in a place other than at a recognised school; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19560/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The arrangements for monitoring education provided in places other than recognised schools are contained in the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. The National Educational Welfare Board was established to implement the provisions of the Act. The NEWB is currently implementing a system of registration for children being educated at home or who attend non-recognised schools.

No definitive information is available to the Department at present on the numbers involved. However, initial estimates have been made that between 300 and 500 families may be educating their children at home. In addition, the latest published data in my Department’s annual statistical report indicates that the numbers of students attending non-aided primary and post-primary schools are 6,400 and 2,700 respectively.

  234.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of young persons registered by the National Educational Welfare Board in the register of young persons in employment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19561/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  Under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000, any young person aged 16 or 17 who wishes to leave school to enter employment must apply to the National Educational Welfare Board to have their name included in a special new register. The purpose of the register is to safeguard the educational welfare of young people who leave school early to take up employment.

Prior to registration, the board will prepare a plan in consultation with the young person and other relevant parties for the purpose of assisting him or her to continue to avail of educational and training opportunities. When the young person is registered, a certificate is issued to him or her by the board. An employer must inspect this certificate before employing the young person. The certificate may be withdrawn where the board forms the opinion that the young person is failing to make all reasonable efforts to carry out the education plan prepared for him or her and that it would not be in the young person’s best interests to continue in employment without also continuing to carry out the plan. The board is obliged to give notice in writing to the young person, his or her parents and his or her employer of its intention to withdraw the certificate and to invite them to make representations to the board concerning the matter. I am informed by the board that a number of expressions of interest in the register has been received and are being followed up. No names have been entered on the register to date.

  235.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of scheme attendance notices issued by the National Educational Welfare Board since its establishment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19562/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The Education (Welfare) Act 2000 became fully operational with effect from 5 July 2002. The Act provides for the repeal of the previous school attendance legislation under which responsibility for the enforcement of school attendance rested with four local authorities in the cities of Dublin, Cork and Waterford and with the Garda for the remainder of the country.

Under the Act, the National Educational Welfare Board was established to ensure that every child attends school regularly or otherwise receives an education. At this stage of its development, the aim of the board is to provide a service to the most disadvantaged areas and most at-risk groups. Five regional teams have now been established with bases in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford and staff have been deployed since early December in areas of greatest disadvantage and in areas designated under the Government’s RAPID programme. A total of 13 towns with significant school going populations, 12 of which are designated under the Government’s RAPID programme, also now have an educational welfare officer allocated to them. These towns are Dundalk, Drogheda, Navan, Athlone, Carlow, Kilkenny, Wexford, Bray, Clonmel, Tralee, Ennis, Sligo and Letterkenny. In addition, the board follows up on urgent cases nationally where children are not currently receiving an education.

The Act provides that a parent may be prosecuted where the board forms the opinion that he or she is failing in his or her duty towards a child’s education. This is a step of last resort after every possible step to improve attendance has been taken and where the board feels that a prosecution will bring about change.

My Department has been informed by the board that there have been no scheme attendance notices issued since its establishment. However, the practice and procedures for issuing such notices are being developed by the board at present and it is intended that they will be in place from the commencement of the next school year.

  236.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of students expelled from primary and second level schools in the school year 2003-04; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19563/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The National Educational Welfare Board has issued its first annual attendance report questionnaire to all schools. In the questionnaire schools are asked to state the number of students expelled in the school year 2003-04. Post-primary schools have been asked to submit their returns by 30 June and primary schools have until 16 July to reply.

Section 29 of the Education Act 1998 provides for an appeal to the Secretary General of my Department where a board of management of a [540]school or a person acting on behalf of the board refuses to enroll a student, suspends a student for a cumulative total of more than 20 days in an academic year or expels a student from the school. In the calendar year 2003, there were 34 appeals against expulsion in the post-primary sector and one in the primary sector. To date in 2004 there have been 28 appeals against expulsion in the post-primary sector and one in the primary sector. The number of appeals taken in any year does not necessarily reflect the total number of expulsions in that year as some parents may choose not to appeal the decision.

  237.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if all sections of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 are being implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19564/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  All sections of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 came into operation on 5 July 2002. The Act provides a comprehensive framework for promoting regular school attendance and tackling the problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. It also established the National Educational Welfare Board on a statutory basis as the single national body with responsibility for school attendance. The general functions of the board are to ensure that each child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education.

To discharge its responsibilities, the board is developing a nationwide service that is accessible to schools, parents-guardians and others concerned with the welfare of young people. For this purpose, educational welfare officers, EWOs, are being appointed and deployed throughout the country to provide a welfare-focused service to support regular school attendance and discharge the board’s functions locally.

The board has appointed a chief executive officer, directors of corporate services and educational welfare services and a management team of eight staff. To date, 62 educational welfare officers have been appointed. I understand that the board will shortly be making a further EWO appointment which will bring the service delivery staff to its authorised complement of 63 service delivery staff.

At this stage of its development, the aim of the board is to provide a service to the most disadvantaged areas, including areas designated under the Government’s RAPID programme and most at-risk groups. Five regional teams have now been established with bases in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford and an educational welfare service is now available, for the first time, in the cities of Limerick, Galway and Kilkenny. A total of 12 towns with significant school going populations, 11 of which are designated under the Government’s RAPID programme, also now have an educational welfare officer allocated to them. These towns are Dun[541]dalk, Drogheda, Navan, Athlone, Carlow, Wexford, Bray, Clonmel, Tralee, Ennis, Sligo and Letterkenny. In addition, the board will follow up on urgent cases nationally.

The board has also moved to provide a service to families who decide to have their children educated in places other than in recognised schools. A small number of people with the appropriate skills have been allocated to this work and assessments will commence shortly. My Department has recently issued guidelines to assist the board in meeting its responsibilities in this area. An information leaflet and an application form have issued to families who are educating their children at home. Work is also proceeding on the establishment of the register for 16 and 17 year olds who leave school to enter employment.

The board has recently written to all primary and post primary schools requesting an annual attendance report for the school year 2003-04 which will provide comprehensive data on the levels of non-attendance by pupils. The data are essential for the planning of the future development of the national educational welfare service and for the development of services-programmes designed to prevent non-attendance. My Department will examine any recommendations and advice on school attendance and early school leaving received from the NEWB following an analysis of the annual attendance data.

  238.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the details of the personnel or consultants involved in the review of educational disadvantage schemes; the modus operandi used in this review; if individual schools involved in these schemes have been consulted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19583/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  Since my appointment as Minister for Education and Science, I have made it clear that addressing educational disadvantage is my top priority. By ensuring that available educational resources are targeted at the most disadvantaged people in the education system at all levels, my objective is to ensure that all young people leave the education system with a high quality education and related qualifications to support their full participation in society and in the economy.

My Department operates a wide range of programmes specifically designed to tackle educational disadvantage and one of my key concerns is to ensure that a fully integrated and cohesive overall strategy is adopted in this area for the future. To this end, the educational disadvantage committee, which is an independent statutory body chaired by Professor Áine Hyland, vice-president and professor of education, University College Cork, undertook a root and branch review of the Department’s existing educational disadvantage programmes at my request. The recommendations from this process, and [542]those arising from a forum on educational disadvantage organised by the committee, have helped to inform the review. The Educational Research Centre has also been engaged to assist in this regard. Individual schools involved in educational disadvantage schemes have had an input to the review process. The review is currently being finalised and I will be making an announcement in this regard once it has been completed.

  239.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that 51 Down’s syndrome children are awaiting assessment by his Department for provision of full-time learning assistants for the school year beginning in September 2004; if his attention has further been drawn to the urgency of having this dealt with and of the deep concern felt by the parents of these children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19608/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I take it that the Deputy is referring to applications for special needs assistant support for children with Down’s syndrome. I refer him to circular SP ED 09/04 which may be accessed on my Department’s website, www.education.ie, under the heading, Children With Special Needs. The circular advises schools that have applied for special needs assistant support that they will be advised of the outcome of their applications as soon as possible in advance of the next school year.

Special needs assistants may be approved to support a pupil who has a significant medical need for such assistance, a significant impairment of physical or sensory function or where their behaviour is such that they are a danger to themselves or other pupils. The criteria used for the assessment of the need for special needs assistant support are outlined in my Department’s circular 07/02. This circular may be accessed on my Department’s website.

Since 1998 the number of special needs assistants in primary schools has grown from about 300 to in excess of 5,500 full-time and part-time posts. My Department continues to review existing arrangements for the allocation of special educational supports to primary schools. The basic purpose of the review is to ensure that each school has the level of resources required to cater for its pupils with special educational needs.

Account is being taken of existing levels of special needs assistant support allocation in schools. In cases where a reduction in the level of special needs assistant support is proposed, there will be provision for schools to appeal, having regard to the care needs of the pupils concerned. Details of the appeals mechanism will be set out in a communication to schools.

I am anxious to ensure that special education support services are properly targeted at the children who require them and that the substantially increased resources which are being made avail[543]able in the special educational area have the desired effect of ensuring that all children assessed as having special needs receive the support they require.

  240.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of cases being assessed in the special education section of his Department; the number of cases being assessed by the national educational psychological service section of his Department; the proposals he has to relieve this backlog; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19609/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  It is my intention that all applications for special educational resources received by 30 June 2004 will be responded to before the commencement of the 2004-05 school year. Applications for resource teacher support that were received between 15 February and 31 August 2003 for which a response is outstanding have been considered and schools have now been notified of the outcome. This outcome indicates to schools the resources that may be put in place immediately. Applications received after 31 August 2003 and by 30 June 2004 will be processed in the near future and the outcome will be notified to schools before the commencement of the 2004-05 school year.

The teacher allocations involved will be made in the context of a new weighted system which I announced recently. An additional 350 teacher posts are being provided to facilitate the introduction of the new system. The new system will involve a general weighted allocation for all primary schools to cater for pupils with higher incidence special educational needs, for example, those with borderline mild and mild general learning disability, specific learning disability and also those with learning support needs. It will also allow for individual allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence special educational needs.

The weighted allocation will be made as follows: in the most disadvantaged schools as per the urban dimension of Giving Children an Even Break, a teacher of pupils with special educational needs will be allocated for every 80 pupils to cater for the subset of pupils with higher incidence special needs; in all-boys schools, the ratio will be one teacher for every 140 pupils; in mixed schools, or all-girls schools with an enrolment of greater than 30% boys, one for every 150 pupils; and in all-girls schools including schools with mixed junior classes but with 30% or less boys overall, one for every 200 pupils. It is intended that the details of the new model will be set out in a comprehensive circular to issue to schools for the commencement of the new school year.

The weighted allocation will enable teaching support to be provided to pupils with higher incidence special educational needs and this will [544]obviate the need for schools to submit individual applications for pupils in the higher incidence categories. Schools may continue to apply for specific teacher allocations in respect of pupils with lower incidence disabilities. My Department now proposes to devise clusters in respect of allocations to be made under the weighted model. Sanction for the filling of posts will be considered in the context of these clusters and the weighted arrangements. The Department will communicate with schools in this regard before the commencement of the coming school year.

Schools which have applied for special needs assistant support will be advised of the outcome of their applications as soon as possible in advance of the next school year. Account is being taken of existing levels of special needs assistant support allocation in schools. In cases where a reduction in the level of special needs assistant support is proposed, there will be provision for schools to appeal, having regard to the care needs of the pupils concerned.

My Department recognises the difficulties some schools have been experiencing while awaiting the outcome of applications for special educational resource and the introduction of the weighted model. The process has been complex and time-consuming and I am endeavouring to have all aspects completed as quickly as possible. I also wish to acknowledge the co-operation and support of schools in this regard.

  241.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position with a school (details supplied) in County Mayo; the stage it is at; the amount of money it will cost to deal with the problem of asbestos in the school in summer, 2004; if it would be more prudent to move this school to the next stage and put it out for tender to build a new school premises. [19611/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The large-scale building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is listed in section 8 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department’s website at www.education.ie. This project is at stage 4-5, detail design-bill of quantities, of architectural planning. It has been assigned a band 3 rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large-scale projects.

The school planning section is currently reviewing all projects, which were not authorised to proceed to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme, including the school referred to by the Deputy, with a view to including them as part of a multi-annual school building programme from 2005. The proposed project and its advancement including the current band rating assigned to this project, will be considered as part of this review. The Department cannot indicate the estimated cost for the asbestos removal as this is regarded as commercially sensitive.

  242.  Mr. Hayes    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when approval will issue on an application for the provision of a sports hall at a school (details supplied) in County Tipperary. [19612/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  An application for a sports hall at the school referred to by the Deputy is at early architectural planning and is included in section 9 of the 2004 school building programme. All projects that will not go to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme are being re-evaluated with a view to including them as part of a multi-annual programme from 2005 onwards. Scoil Ruain will be included in this review.

  243.  Mr. Crawford    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the steps he or his Department staff have taken to solve the ongoing dispute at Drumcrave national school outside Cavan town where parents have withdrawn the majority of the 57 pupils; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that without independent intervention between the parents and management of this school its future could be at risk and permanent damage will be done to the 57 children involved if a resolution is not found; his views on whether this is unacceptable; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19613/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I am aware of the difficulties arising from the dispute in the school to which the Deputy refers. I am concerned at the impact of the dispute on the education of the pupils in the school and I have asked my Department’s inspectorate to monitor the situation. The resolution of the dispute is a matter for the authorities of the school in the first instance. However, I would urge all involved to take all the necessary steps to resolve the dispute as speedily as possible, having due regard to the rights of all concerned.

  244.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he received responses from each coastal local authority to his request in July 2002 for their proposals for coastal protection work for the period 2003-06; the budget that has been allocated to such works; the role his Department is taking in organising coastal protection in view of the concerns regarding climate change and rising sea levels (details supplied). [19553/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  Responsibility for coast protection rests with the property owner whether it be a local authority or a private individual. In July 2002 my Department requested all coastal local authorities to submit proposals for coastal protection works for the [546]period 2003-06. In all, 195 proposals with an estimated total cost of over €120 million were submitted from all of the coastal local authorities.

Under the coast protection measure of the National Development Plan 2000-2006, €52.01 million is identified. Expenditure under this measure in 2003 was €2.9 million and an allocation of €780,000 for the coastal protection programme has been made available to my Department for this year.

I have allocated €500,000 this year to a major coastal protection strategy study which my Department commenced in 2002. The study is addressing the nature and extent of erosion at various locations and different types of coastline in Ireland and seeking to identify the most effective means, technically, financially and environmentally, in responding to particular instances and types of erosion. Last year, expenditure on the study focused on an aerial survey of the Irish coastline using oblique digital video photography. The purpose of the survey was to obtain a comprehensive and up to date record of the present coastal erosion situation around the entire coastline of Ireland in order to facilitate the identification of priority areas for future expenditure. The completed survey also provides a useful baseline for the preparation and commissioning of future surveys. It is expected that when this study is completed a more targeted approach to programme delivery will result and will enable a greater level of efficiency in responding to coastal erosion change around the country.

I can confirm that Dublin City Council submitted proposals to my Department for funding costing in the region of €28.15 million. The council undertook a coastal zone risk assessment study during 2003, towards which my Department contributed €80,000.

The question of providing funding for coast protection works in the post-2004 period will depend on the outcome of the coast protection strategy study, the amount of Exchequer funding available for such works and overall national priorities.

  245.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the stage of advancement of the development of selective fishing gears which might qualify for the proposed new European support mechanism for environmentally friendly fishing methods; if he will provide examples of fishing gear which his own Department would propose for inclusion in such a programme, indicating the timeframe within which they might be introduced and the benefits which might be expected from their use. [19554/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  With a particular perspective on the large quantities of fish that are caught each year and discarded by EU fishing vessels, and the catching of over-fished [547]stocks as an unwanted by-catch, the Irish Presidency identified the need to promote and encourage fishermen to move towards more environmentally friendly fishing, including the use of more selective fishing gears. The principal benefit expected to flow from the development and use of such gear would be a significant reduction in such discards, which are estimated to amount to some 20 million tonnes of fish worldwide per annum.

Ireland’s initiative was endorsed by all member states and the Commission at last week’s Fisheries Council. The agreed conclusions set out a number of specific work assignments over the next two to three years in particular. There is also provision for a more long-term commitment in the context of new EU funding arrangements post-2007.

Now that the EU has prioritised this matter, the immediate task for my Department is to undertake, in association with BIM, the Marine Institute, the fishing industry and other interested parties, the necessary planning and organisation of a national programme. The focus of Ireland’s programme will be on those fisheries of particular interest to Irish fishermen and also bearing in mind the overriding requirement to assist recovery of key whitefish stock particularly.

The development of this programme, which I hope can be significantly progressed within a few months, will be informed by work already underway in BIM on, for example, by-catch reduction measures in the Irish Sea prawn fishery. This is a good example of the type of initiative that can be taken. I believe that we can, in the coming months, develop a range of other projects. The timeframe for use of any modified gears will be determined by the duration and outcome of what are likely to be multi-annual studies.

  246.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the situation with regard to the proposed Doolin Coastguard search and rescue centre; when he envisages the centre to commence; the funding that has been allocated towards the centre; if a site has been acquired for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19068/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  The Irish Coastguard of my Department operates a station house building programme for coastal units around the coast. The Office of Public Works manages this programme for the Coastguard.

The current position regarding the proposed new search and rescue station house at Doolin, County Clare, is that while financial sanction has been granted in principle for the development the OPW have not yet been able to acquire a suitable site. It is not possible, therefore, to state a commencement date for the centre. However, the [548]OPW is in negotiations for acquisition of a site near Doolin and, as soon as a suitable site has been acquired, the construction process, including building design, planning permission application and tendering, will be proceeded with as quickly as possible. Until the process of site acquisition is completed no specific funding can be allocated for the Doolin project. The Irish Coastguard and the OPW are giving top priority to the project for a Doolin search and rescue centre in their work under the station house building programme.

  247.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    when the proposed scheme for the regulation of standards in electrical contracting, to be operated by the Commission for Energy Regulation, will be established; the reasons for the delay in establishing the scheme; if he will bring forward new measures to deal with the regulation of electrical contractors here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19077/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  I have recently been informed by the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, that all parties have agreed to implement interim measures, on a voluntary basis, for the regulation of the electrical contracting industry. This interim measure is the first in a two-phase proposal advocated by the CER in a report to my Department, which it presented in March 2002.

The CER undertook a review of the current system for regulating electrical contractors, identified any shortcomings and considered options to address the deficiencies taking account of the cost effectiveness, efficiency, and impact on the quality and safety of electrical installations of each option. The interim measures involve the commission assuming the role of supervisory regulator for the proposed scheme; and the distribution system operator, DSO, being required to assume responsibility for the day to day operation and monitoring of the scheme.

The DSO was tasked with developing new and more detailed criteria which, when underpinning legislation is in place, applicants to the commission for a licence to act as an electrical contracting regulatory body will be obliged to meet. In this regard, the DSO held discussions on the proposed new criteria with all relevant stakeholders, including the Association of Electrical Contractors of Ireland, AECI; the Electrical Contractors Safety and Standards Association, ECSSA; the Electrical Contractors Association, ECA; the Electro-Technical Council of Ireland, ECTI; and the Register of Electrical Contractors of Ireland, RECI.

The CER has confirmed that all parties have now agreed the general criteria which are based on internationally recognised product certification and quality systems standards. These criteria will address specific electrical contracting [549]industry requirements and ensure that the industry is operated in a manner which meets the highest standards of public safety. They take effect immediately and the commission will be undertaking a widespread publicity campaign over the coming months to alert the general public to the scheme.

The second of the phases proposed involves the interim measures being underpinned by legislation and specifically providing for: authorising the commission to licence self-regulatory bodies within the sector, in line with criteria submitted by the distribution system operator, DSO; access by authorised officers to premises to inspect electrical installations in respect of public safety requirements; and a penalties regime for non-compliance. In so far as this is concerned, the Government has approved the heads of a comprehensive electricity Bill which will provide, inter alia, for statutory authority for the commission’s role as regulator of the electrical contracting industry. The Bill is currently with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for drafting.

  248.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the risk analysis and the cost benefit analysis which he has carried out or proposes to carry out in respect of decentralisation as it affects his Department. [19086/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  My Department has prepared an initial decentralisation plan which encompasses risk analysis and risk mitigation strategies to ensure business continuity. The plan sets out a number of strategies and actions which are being progressed in light of developments at the centre. As part of the plan, a costing exercise is being undertaken.

  249.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the average annual increase in salary costs, overtime and travel to, from and in the decentralised offices in the three years following decentralisation compared to these costs for those business units in the three years preceding decentralisation, in respect of the last decentralisation by his Department. [19101/04]

  250.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the number of persons decentralised and the full duration of the project in respect of the last decentralisation by his Department; the number of internal and external transfers which were required to obtain the requisite number of persons decentralising; the amount of time necessary to train decentralising persons and the percentage and duration of overlapping staff which was required; and the additional costs for overtime, travel and subsistence incurred. [19116/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 249 and 250 together.

The last decentralisation of a business unit for which I have responsibility was the transfer of my Department’s accounts branch to Castlebar, County Mayo. In 1976, approximately 50 staff in the accounts branch of the then forest and wildlife service were decentralised to Castlebar. As a result of departmental reconfigurations over time, the accounts branch of my Department based in Castlebar today consists of 18 staff. Given the number of years that have elapsed, the extent of reconfiguration of departmental boundaries since this decentralisation and the consequent relocation of records, my Department is not in a position to source the specific information requested by the Deputy in respect of the Castlebar decentralisation.

  251.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the position regarding the decentralisation of the Central Fisheries Board to Carrick-on-Shannon; if his attention has been drawn to the statement by SIPTU indicating the deep dissatisfaction of the staff who are proposed for decentralisation and the attendant risk of industrial action; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19140/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  The proposal to relocate the Central Fisheries Board to Carrick-on-Shannon is being pursued as part of the Government’s wider decentralisation programme and, as such, will be undertaken in accordance with the proposals of the decentralisation implementation group’s report.

While I am aware of ongoing discussions regarding the decentralisation programme between the Irish Congress of Trade Unions State agencies sub-group and the Department of Finance, I am not a party to those discussions. I am also aware of the continuing policy adopted by SIPTU confirmed, I understand, at its recent meeting with shop stewards advising members not to co-operate in any way with implementation mechanisms, plans, etc., but also expressing the earnest wish to resolve the matter through dialogue and discussion. I sincerely hope that these issues can be resolved through collaborative discussion at national and local level.

  252.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the role he has had in the ongoing negotiations in An Post with regard to the future development of the company. [19379/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  As Minister with responsibility for An Post, I have taken a significant interest in the company, especially [551]since the scale of the financial difficulties became apparent. The financial difficulties being experienced by An Post are the outward manifestation of long-standing and deep-seated structural problems within the company.

The board of An Post submitted a recovery strategy to me last September. This strategy sets out a road map to return the company to profitability by 2005 and the way forward is the agreement and implementation of the recovery strategy. I outlined this view to the board of the company when I met it last September and reiterated it to company management since then. In addition, my officials meet An Post management on a monthly basis and formal reporting structures have been established.

While my Department will continue to assist in any way possible the necessary restructuring, the agreement and implementation of the recovery strategy is primarily a matter for the board and management of An Post and the trade unions, and in this regard negotiations are ongoing between management and unions under the auspices of the LRC.

  253.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if a person (details supplied) in County Cork will be granted the lobster pot licence for which they applied in July 2003. [19399/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  I assume the Deputy is referring to applications for sea-fishing boat licences submitted under the scheme for the licensing of traditional pot-fishing boats in the Irish inshore fleet. The programme for Government contained a commitment to introduce a new fleet licensing policy to ensure equity, transparency and an independent appeals process. Following on from that commitment, the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2003 was enacted. Among other things, this Act transferred the function of sea-fishing boat licensing from the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to the licensing authority for sea-fishing boats which operates on an independent basis, subject to criteria set out in section 3 of the Act. For this reason, all applications for sea-fishing boat licences are now considered by the licensing authority for sea-fishing boats. The head of the licensing authority is Mr. Aidan Hodson, registrar general of fishing boats, and the office of the authority is at the Department of Communications Marine and Natural Resources, Leeson Lane, Dublin 2. I understand from the licensing authority that the process of consideration of the large number of applications received under the scheme is nearing conclusion and all applicants, including the person referred to by the Deputy, will receive a written response within the next few weeks.

[552]Question No. 254 answered with Question
No. 11.

  255.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the steps he proposes to take to improve the quality of the mobile telephone service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19565/04]

  256.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he has had contact with or received communication from the telecommunications regulator regarding the need to improve the quality and extent of the mobile telephone service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19566/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 255 and 256 together.

In common with other Deputies, I understand the importance of citizens and businesses having access to a high quality mobile telephone service with coverage across the country. The responsibility for achieving this rests with the mobile phone operators, which are regulated by ComReg. While I am responsible for setting policy in the telecommunications sector, the key role on the ground of ensuring the operators provide quality signals and satisfactory signal coverage rests with ComReg. My officials are in regular communication with ComReg on a variety of issues. However, the specific issues that the Deputy raises are the responsibility of ComReg to regulate. The Irish mobile penetration rate now stands at 88%, with approximately 3.5 million mobile subscribers at the end of March 2004. The average European Union mobile penetration rate is just above 80%.

  257.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the steps he intends to take to address deficiencies in the telecommunications network with particular reference to the need to bring the quality of service here into line with that in other neighbouring and competing jurisdictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19567/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  Quality of service in the telecommunications sector is a matter for the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, and I have no function in the matter.

  258.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    his plans to meet at an early date the communications requirements of both the industrial and domestic sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19568/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  The immediate responsibility for meeting the communications requirements of the industrial and commercial sector in Ireland lies with the private companies which operate in a liberalised market under the regulatory supervision of the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg.

Question No. 259 answered orally with Question No. 6.

  260.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the full extent of research or exploration currently ongoing in respect of identification of deposits of oil, gas or other minerals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19570/04]

  262.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the oil, gas or mineral exploration sites currently showing greatest promise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19572/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 260 and 262 together.

The level of petroleum exploration activity is directly related to the number of authorisations issued. At present, both licences and activity are at a relatively low level. This summer one firm exploration well is planned and one seismic survey has been completed. The exploration well will be drilled shortly on the Blackrock prospect in the Celtic Sea area by Providence Resources plc under its licensing option 03/1. The seismic survey was undertaken by Eni Ireland BV in the Porcupine Basin under its exploration licence 1/99 and was completed on 16 June.

In addition to petroleum exploration, the industry carry out joint research projects in the Irish offshore under the chairmanship of my Department. This research is aimed at promoting a greater knowledge and understanding of the Irish offshore and topics include geology and geophysics, engineering and the environment. Several projects have been completed under the joint research effort and many more are underway or at the planning stages.

With regard to non-petroleum minerals, as the Deputy knows, exploration in this country is undertaken by private enterprise holders of prospecting licences granted under the Minerals Development Acts 1940 to 1999. There were 281 current prospecting licences at the end of May 2004. Continuous exploration activity is one of the requirements for holding a prospecting licence. My Department continues to be actively engaged in promoting investment interest in minerals exploration from overseas companies, in order to keep the level of exploration in the coun[554]try as high as possible, and has undertaken several initiatives in this regard.

The Dooish exploration well, which was drilled in 2002 by Enterprise Energy Ireland, now Shell E&P Ireland, off the Donegal coast and which discovered a gas condensate accumulation, was re-entered and deepened in 2003. Both my Department and Shell E&P are continuing to analyse the well results and integrate them with other data from the area. However, it is extremely encouraging that this well, only the second to be drilled in the Irish sector of the Rockall Basin, proved to be a significant discovery, and my Department has emphasised the positive implications of this discovery for the prospectivity of the basin as a whole.

The mineral exploration sites currently showing the greatest promise are largely adjacent to existing base metal mines at Navan, County Meath — Tara Mines Limited — Lisheen. County Tipperary Anglo American and Galmoy, County Kilkenny — Arcon Mines Limited. Additional resources have been discovered which have the potential to extend the life of those mines, and applications for additional State mining facilities for these are currently being dealt with in my Department. Another very promising area where significant zinc mineralisation has been found is east County Limerick, while gold exploration in County Monaghan continues to provide encouragement.

  261.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the full extent of direct investment or tax foregone in respect of oil, gas or other mineral exploration in the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19571/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  In respect of oil and gas, while I or my Department does not have the costs of exploration activities, these activities included the drilling of six offshore and two onshore exploration wells. In addition to these there have been 24 3D and 14 2D seismic surveys. Costs would also include the acquisition, processing, analysis and interpretation of the data from these surveys.

In respect of non-petroleum minerals, the total exploration expenditure by holders of prospecting licences from 1998 to 2002, the most recent five year period for which figures are available, was €48.33 million. With regard to tax foregone, in respect of petroleum and non-petroleum minerals, this is a matter for the Minister for Finance.

Question No. 262 answered with Question
No. 260.

  263.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he has satisfied himself that the Irish fishing fleet has been modernised and equipped in line [555]to meet modern standards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19573/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  The Government recognises the overriding importance of securing a safe, modern and competitive Irish fleet and to this end €95 million is being invested under the National Development Plan 2000-2006. Fleet development has been a particular implementation priority and the Government has delivered on this priority by approving 60 renewal and modernisation projects and 111 safety projects under the current programme.

  264.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the extent to which the capacity of the Irish fishing fleet has been enhanced in the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19574/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  Ireland’s fleet capacity levels are set by the EU. The position at 31 December 1996 was 72,334 gross tonnes and 208,179 kw. This was increased on 31 January 2001 to 83,704 gross tonnes and 213,409 kw. and, with effect from 1 January 2003, this limit was again increased to 86,981 gross tonnes and 230,226 kw. The latter tonnage and power amounts are subject to revision.

  265.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the beneficial effect of EU fish conservation policies to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19575/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  Under the reformed Common Fisheries Policy, conservation policies are directed towards long-term stock recovery and management plans. These plans aim towards a progressive recovery of certain stocks to a safe biological level over a period of time and may include such elements as limitations on catch and fishing effort, strengthened control and enforcement and seasonal closures. Recovery plans have recently been agreed for certain cod stocks including the Irish Sea and waters to the north-west of Ireland and for northern hake. Two further plans have been proposed by the Commission and further proposals are expected shortly. As these plans are long-term in nature, their effects will not become apparent for some time. However, I am confident that they will succeed in their aims of conserving stocks as they are a multi-faceted and tailored approach to the problem.

I am nonetheless very conscious of the need to develop further measures to assist stock recovery. For this reason, in the context of the Irish Presidency, I launched the environmentally-friendly [556]fishing initiative, which began with a conference in Dundalk in March and culminated with agreement on Council conclusions in Luxembourg last week. The agreed conclusions set out a number of specific work assignments during the next two to three years, in particular, to promote and encourage the achievement of more environmentally-friendly fishing and a resultant conservation dividend.

  266.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if adequate health and safety standards currently apply to all passenger and cargo sea-going vessels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19576/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  I have previously advised the House that standards for all sea-going vessels are developed and adopted at international level. These standards apply to passenger and cargo sea-going vessels and include health and safety standards at an operational level on board these vessels.

Under Irish and international law all passenger and cargo vessels, trading into and out of Irish ports are required to carry the appropriate certification to demonstrate compliance with International Maritime Organisation, IMO, and International Labour Organisation, ILO, requirements. All vessels are subject to surveys and inspections under the relevant flag state or port state control inspection system. The international conventions covered by these inspections include the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, the STCW convention. All crew on board a vessel must have proper certification to ensure that they are suitably trained and can adequately and safely discharge the duties of the positions they hold.

The surveyors attached to the maritime safety directorate of my Department conduct regular inspections of vessels, including unannounced checks, to ensure compliance with the relevant conventions and regulations. Safety conditions relating to manning levels, maximum passenger numbers allowed, the continued availability of safety equipment are among the issues which inspectors focus on.

The monitoring of vessels by regular inspections is proving to be an effective measure in encouraging full compliance and implementation of the health and safety standards and is an effective method in ensuring that the vessels operating into and out of Irish ports and waters are complying with international convention requirements.

  267.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    [557]if he has satisfied himself that sufficient resources are available to meet requirements in terms of fisheries protection and coastal surveillance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19577/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  Control and enforcement is a fundamental element for the effective implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy. The newly reformed CFP, agreed in December 2002, provides for strengthened control and enforcement measures. I fully endorse this enhanced commitment to control and enforcement.

Effective enforcement of conservation rules is a priority for all member states and each member state has a clear responsibility to monitor and control fishing activity within their respective jurisdictions. The challenge of achieving effective control and enforcement of fisheries’ rules is ongoing and requires close collaboration and co-operation between member states. It is clear that fisheries enforcement throughout the EU must continue to improve if the conservation imperatives facing the management of our European fish stocks are to be met and this will require the continued commitment of resources to meet this challenge successfully.

Ireland invests heavily in this regard with increased resources allocated to monitoring and surveillance activity both onshore and at sea. In particular, the number of sea fisheries protection officers has been increasing significantly in recent years and they are deployed at coastal ports. Overall, I am satisfied that adequate resources are available for fisheries protection but the matter will be kept under ongoing reivew. I will continue to work for more effective control in all member states in order to ensure a level playing field for the fishing industry.

  268.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the extent to which the need of fishing families are being met following the introduction of catch restrictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19578/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. D. Ahern):  Ireland’s national quotas for 2004 show an overall growth of approximately 8%, in volume terms, on the equivalent figure for 2003. While this figure includes a modest reduction in the whitefish and shellfish quotas, from 37,635 tonnes in 2003 to 36,005 tonnes in 2004, this is more than offset by increased pelagic quotas. In addition, the quotas of whitefish and shellfish available to Irish fishermen in 2004 exceed the landings figure for the Irish fishing fleet in 2002, the latest year for which figures are available.

The catching sector, together with associated processing industries onshore, continues to make [558]a major contribution to employment and income in our coastal regions. It is my policy to maximise these economic and social benefits within a framework aimed at ensuring stability and sustainability in the industry going forward.

  269.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the risk analysis and the cost benefit analysis which he has carried out or proposes to carry out in respect of decentralisation as it affects his Department. [19087/04]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  As the Deputy will be aware, the decentralisation implementation group, chaired by Mr. Phil Flynn, in its first report on 31 March 2004 recommended that each organisation participating in the decentralisation programme should prepare its own implementation plan and submit it to the group. My Department has submitted its initial implementation plan which addresses the main issues arising from the decentralisation of the Department to Killarney.

The plan identifies the main risks associated with the move and outlines strategies to mitigate such risks. I am particularly conscious of the issues such as service and business continuity, efficiency and effectiveness and financial implications and intend that strategies are put in place to minimise any such risks. The plan also sets out the significant advantages for the organisation and for the staff who will move to Killarney.

At this stage, it is not possible to undertake a cost benefit analysis of the decentralisation of my Department. The further development of the plan as additional information becomes available in respect of the issues relating to people, property and business as identified in the Flynn report will entail appropriate cost benefit and risk analysis of the decentralisation of my Department to Killarney.

  270.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the average annual increase in salary costs, overtime and travel to, from and in the decentralised offices in the three years following decentralisation compared to these costs for those business units in the three years preceding decentralisation, in respect of the last decentralisation by his Department. [19102/04]

  271.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the number of persons decentralised and the full duration of the project, in respect of the last decentralisation by his Department; the number of internal and external transfers which were required to obtain the requisite number of persons decentralising; the amount of time necessary to train decentralising persons and the percentage and duration of overlapping staff which was required; and the additional costs for overtime, travel and subsistence incurred. [19117/04]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 270 and 271 together.

To date, no section of my Department has been decentralised under a Government decentralisation programme. Accordingly, no information of the nature sought by the Deputy exists.

  272.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the organisations that applied for sports capital grants in 2004; the organisations which were successful; the amount they received; and the amount applied for and received on a county basis in each case. [19372/04]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  The national lottery-funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, allocates funding to sporting and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country. The programme is advertised on an annual basis.

The 2004 national lottery-funded sports capital programme was advertised in the national newspapers on 30 November and 1 December 2003. The deadline for receipt of applications was 16 January 2004. A total of 1,304 applications were received before that deadline and these were evaluated against the programme’s assessment criteria, which are outlined in the guidelines, terms and conditions of the programme. Following this evaluation process, last month I announced provisional funding allocations total[560]ling €50.8 million to 717 projects. The following schedule lists the provisional grant allocation and the amount sought by each applicant under the 2004 sports capital programme. Where the “Sought” column is blank this indicates that the applicant did not supply this information on the application form.

I will shortly be making further announcements under the 2004 sports capital programme in respect of funding for projects of major significance which, while meeting local needs, will also add considerably to the national and regional sporting infrastructure which is required both for increasing levels of participation and improving standards of performance. Where the grant column is blank it should indicate where the decision on a grant allocation has not yet been made.

In keeping with Government policy, the allocations reflect special priority for the development of sports and recreational facilities in areas designated as disadvantaged, that is, RAPID, CLÁR and local drugs task force areas. The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, whose Department administers the CLÁR programme, recently announced additional top-up funding of over €1.3 million from CLÁR to projects that were provisionally allocated funding under the 2004 sports capital programme. The Minister will also shortly be announcing top-up funding for projects that were provisionally allocated funding under this year’s sports capital programme which were located in RAPID areas and were endorsed by their local RAPID area implementation teams.

County Applicant Grant Sought
Carlow 632,000 1,415,490
Bagenalstown Soccer/Tennis/Pitch and Putt Club 60,000 74,000
Ballon GAA Club 40,000 53,568
Ben Mulhall Memorial Park Association 60,000 100,000
Carlow Golf Club 0 100,000
Carlow Sports and Social Club 20,000 50,000
Dr. Cullen Park Committee c/o Coiste Condae Ceatharloch CLG 200,000
Éire Óg GAA Club 200,000 262,823
Myshall-Drumphea Sports Council Ltd 0 170,000
New Oak Boys Football Club 2,000 3,124
Old Leighlin Basketball Club 10,000 12,000
Old Leighlin GAA Club 10,000 10,460
Palatine GAA (Cnoc Arda) 45,000 50,000
Rathanna Community Group 0 90,000
Rathvilly GAA Club 45,000 50,000
St. Patrick’s Boys AFC 70,000 95,000
Tinryland GAA Club 70,000 94,515
Cavan 925,000 2,849,130
Bailieborough Swimming and Leisure Centre 0 143,752
Baillieborough Shamrocks GAA Club 0 33,800
Ballinagh Leisure and Sports Complex Trust Ltd 70,000 105,000
Ballyhaise Multi-purpose Sports Facility 20,000 92,414
Ballyjamesduff Soccer Club 50,000 60,000
Castlerahan GAA Club Ballyjamesduff 0 90,000
Cavan Amateur Boxing Club 0 5,000
Cavan Town Council — Tullacmongan Pitches 50,000 120,651
Coiste Bhreifne uí Raghallaigh an Cábhan 200,000
Cootehill GAA Club 20,000 36,580
Crosserlough GAA Club 70,000 105,000
Drumalee GAA Club 15,000 25,500
Drumgoon GAA Club 0 130,000
Drung GAA Club 0 300,000
Kill Community Development Limited 60,000 92,600
Killeshandra Leaguers GAA Club 0 150,000
Kingscourt Handball and Racquetball Club 100,000 134,254
Lacken Celtic GAA Club 150,000 250,000
Laragh Area Development Group Limited 0 98,998
Loch Gowna GAA Club 0 152,296
Mullahoran GAA Club 80,000 150,000
Shercock Sports & Recreation Facilities Ltd 65,000 103,285
St. Mary’s Brass and Reed Band 0 20,000
Templeport St. Aidan’s GAA Club 100,000 150,000
Virginia Rugby Football Club 75,000 100,000
Clare 1,027,000 4,168,664
Banner GAA Club 30,000 50,000
Burren Sub Aqua Club Ltd 20,000 28,484
Clonlara Leisure Athletic & Sports Society Ltd. 150,000 200,000
Corbally United Football Club 0 230,000
Corofin Community GAA Development 20,000 27,000
Cratloe GAA Development Committee 150,000 190,000
East Clare Golf Club 0 165,325
Ennis RAPID Community Assembly 90,000 154,869
Ennis Sub Aqua Club 20,000 31,272
Ennis Town Council — Lees Road Centre 1,314,428
Ennistymon Recreation and Leisure Centre 22,000 25,000
Killaloe Ballina Tennis Club 25,000 33,000
Killmurry GAA Club 25,000 28,000
Kilmaley Sports and Leisure Complex 0 187,972
Lifford Oldtown Football Club 50,000 85,000
Meelick GAA Club 45,000 50,000
Park Rangers AFC 5,000 6,500
Parteen St Nicholas GAA Club 30,000 37,000
Scariff GAA Club 0 110,000
Seanchonill Sports Centre 0 396,388
St. Breckan’s GAA Club Lisdoonvarna 40,000 80,426
St. Senan’s Rugby Football Club 160,000 210,000
Tulla Soccer Club 70,000 255,000
Wolfe Tones Camogie Club 75,000 97,000
Wolfe Tones na Sionna GAA Club 0 176,000
Cork 4,874,000 23,696,715
Aghada GAA Club 0 295,000
Ardfield/Rathbarry Rowing Club 7,000 10,000
Ballincollig GAA Club 70,000 90,000
Ballydehob Community Association Limited 0 93,055
Ballyhea GAA Club 90,000 121,000
Ballymartle GAA Club 0 152,000
Ballyphehane Community Association 0 350,000
Baltimore Sailing Club 35,000 52,483
Banteer Community Sportsfield Ltd 45,000 54,429
Banteer Youth Club 1,000 2,100
Bantry Rowing Club 8,000 14,911
Bishopstown Hurling and Football Club 50,000 70,000
Blackpool Community Co-op Service Centre Ltd 40,000 55,356
Blackrock National Hurling Club 0 200,000
Blarney GAA Club 50,000 126,000
Boherbue GAA Club 25,000 29,400
Ból Chumann Na hÉireann 160,840
Brian Dillon’s GAA Club 100,000 151,040
Carrigaline United AFC 0 44,098
Casement Celtic Football Club 26,000 30,000
Castlelyons GAA Club 65,000 77,000
Castletown Kinneigh Table Tennis Club 0 120,000
Charleville Rugby Club 60,000 72,675
Clonakilty Enterprise Board Ltd 0 50,000
Clonakilty GAA Club 100,000 226,467
Clonakilty Rugby Club 70,000 81,232
Coachford Soccer Club 75,000 85,000
Cobh GAA Club 80,000 200,000
Cobh Pirates R.F.C 0 51,212
Cobh Ramblers Football Club 265,000
College Corinthians AFC 250,000 1,930,388
Community and Renewal Enterprises 150,000 225,000
Cork Amateur Weightlifting Association 0 1,000
Cork Boat Club 0 25,997
Cork City Council — Fairfield Dressing Rooms 90,000 130,000
Cork City Council — Mahon Sports Project 100,000 140,000
Cork City Council — Togher Community Association/Ballyphehane Community Association 80,000 100,000
Cork Co. Council — Powerscourt Housing Estate, Mallow 70,000 112,000
Cork County Cricket Club 4,000 5,000
Cork CSI Campsite Activity and Sports Centre 50,000 60,000
Crosshaven Rowing Club 6,000 11,300
Crosshaven Rugby Football Club 0 31,500
Cuman Peile Mhichil Naofa 40,000 50,000
Cumann Camogaíochta Iniscartha 40,000 58,908
Cumann Iománaíochta agus Peile Baile na mBocht (Mayfield GAA) 30,000 40,000
Cumann Iománaíochta Cloch Dhubh (Cloughduv Hurling Club) 180,000 217,341
Davis College Community Facility, Mallow 0 194,964
Dolphin Swimming Club 0 2,027
Donoughmore Hurling and Football Club 20,000 26,200
Dromina GAA Club 50,000 64,000
Dromtariffe GAA Club 40,000 56,000
Durrus and District Community Council 150,000 240,000
Fermoy Boys/ Girls Amateur Boxing Club 5,000 7,000
Fermoy Concert Band 0 19,355
Fermoy GAA Complex 0 60,800
Fermoy Rowing Club 35,000 45,000
Fishermen’s Rowing Club, Cobh 0 4,200
Freemount GAA Club 35,000 41,669
Glandore Harbour Yacht Club 10,000 14,744
Goleen and District Community Council 0 150,000
Harlequins Cricket Club 0 8,961
INE Church of Ireland Cork Young Mens Association 200,000 250,000
Irish Amateur Rowing Union 1,500,000
Kanturk AFC 60,000 70,560