Dáil Eireann

19/Oct/2004

Prelude

Ceisteanna — Questions.

Sustaining Progress.

Priority Questions.

Overseas Development Aid.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Services for Emigrants.

Other Questions.

British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

Middle East Peace Process.

Irish Language.

Adjournment Debate Matters.

Leaders’ Questions.

Request to Move Adjournment of Dáil under Standing Order 31.

Order of Business.

Adoptive Leave Order: Motion.

Residential Institutions Redress Order: Motion.

Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Order: Motion.

Water Services Bill 2003 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

Private Members’ Business.

Special Educational Needs: Motion.

Adjournment Debate.

Medicinal Products.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Hospital Services.

Industrial Disputes.

Written Answers

Foreign Conflicts.

Overseas Development Aid.

Human Rights Issues.

Foreign Conflicts.

Terrorist Attacks.

Emigrant Services.

Ministerial Travel.

Official Engagements.

Human Rights Issues.

Travel Agreements.

Emigrant Services.

Arms Trade.

Foreign Conflicts.

Foreign Travel.

Foreign Conflicts.

Arms Trade.

Emigrant Services.

European Neighbourhood Policy.

Millennium Development Goals.

Foreign Conflicts.

Military Neutrality.

Official Engagements.

EU Constitution.

State Airports.

Human Rights Issues.

Foreign Conflicts.

Conference on Poverty.

Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Foreign Conflicts.

EU Enlargement.

Foreign Conflicts.

EU Constitution.

Northern Ireland Issues.

EU Constitution.

Arms Trade.

Human Rights Issues.

EU Presidency.

Debt Relief.

Overseas Development Aid.

Middle East Peace Process.

Departmental Staff.

EU-US Relations.

UN General Assembly.

Overseas Development Aid.

International Atomic Energy Agency.

Overseas Development Aid.

Human Rights Issues.

EU Enlargement.

Foreign Conflicts.

Diplomatic Representation.

Human Rights Issues.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Foreign Conflicts.

Departmental Investigations.

Health Board Services.

Medical Qualifications.

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Health Board Services.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Cosmetic Products.

Health Board Staff.

Long-Term Illness Scheme.

Medical Cards.

ESRI Report.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Health Board Services.

Services for People with Disabilities.

National Disability Authority.

Departmental Correspondence.

Health Insurance.

Health Board Services.

Medical Cards.

Hospital Services.

Health Board Services.

Hospital Services.

Health Board Services.

Environmental Issues.

Health Board Services.

Hospital Services.

Health Board Services.

Hospital Services.

Medical Cards.

Hospital Services.

Health Levy.

Hospital Services.

Health Board Services.

Medical Cards.

Hospital Services.

Medical Cards.

Health Board Services.

Hospital Services.

Medicinal Products.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Influenza Vaccine Provision.

Hospital Services.

Medical Cards.

Hospital Services.

Compensation Payments.

National Health Strategy.

Tax Code.

Disabled Drivers.

Departmental Properties.

Tax Collection.

Public Service Recruitment.

National Parks.

Tax Code.

Flood Relief.

Garda Recruitment.

Fiscal Policy.

Tax Code.

Disabled Drivers.

Tax Yield.

Tax Code.

Fiscal Policy.

Electricity Tariffs.

Gas Tariffs.

Telecommunications Services.

Coastal Protection.

Pension Provisions.

Telecommunications Services.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Harbours and Piers.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Aquaculture Licences.

Children’s Passports.

Imprisonment of Irish Person.

Children’s Passports.

Visa Applications.

Colombia Three.

Foreign Conflicts.

Human Rights Issues.

Nigerian Democracy.

Overseas Development Aid.

UN Missions.

Foreign Conflicts.

Overseas Development Aid.

EU Constitution.

Sport and Recreational Development.

Museum Projects.

Arts Funding.

Swimming Pool Projects.

Sports Funding.

Sports Capital Programme.

Departmental Expenditure.

Job Creation.

EU Funding.

Semi-State Bodies.

Work Permits.

Export Controls.

Community Employment Schemes.

Job Creation.

Social Partnership Policy.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Pension Provisions.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Social Insurance.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Social Welfare Code.

Pension Provisions.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Social Partnership Policy.

Haulage Industry.

Air Services.

Rail Services.

Road Network.

Road Safety.

Air Services.

Rail Network.

Road Haulage.

Driving Licences.

Airport Development Projects.

Transport Policy.

Security of the Elderly.

Drugs Task Forces.

Limistéir Oifigiúla Gaeilge.

Grant Payments.

Departmental Properties.

Animal Welfare.

Grant Payments.

Land Reclassification.

Grant Payments.

Bovine Diseases.

Grant Payments.

Asylum Applications.

Garda Strength.

Citizenship Applications.

Visa Applications.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Residency Permits.

Citizenship Applications.

Garda Investigations.

Deportation Orders.

Registration of Title.

Citizenship Applications.

Deportation Orders.

Visa Applications.

Citizenship Applications.

Visa Applications.

Garda Operations.

Garda Investigations.

Garda Stations.

Closed Circuit Television Systems.

Crime Levels.

Garda Deployment.

Garda Stations.

Citizenship Applications.

Closed Circuit Television Systems.

Disability Support Service.

Proposed Legislation.

Citizenship Applications.

Decentralisation Programme.

National Identity Card.

Private Security Authority.

Asylum Applications.

Garda Strength.

Citizenship Applications.

Registration of Title.

Road Traffic Offences.

Citizenship Applications.

Closed Circuit Television Systems.

Departmental Staff.

Visa Applications.

Customer Charter.

Garda Stations.

Garda Operations.

Registration of Title.

Asylum Applications.

Prison Committals.

Garda Equipment.

Deportation Orders.

Special Educational Needs.

School Accommodation.

Post-Leaving Certificate Courses.

School Staffing.

Special Educational Needs.

Schools Building Projects.

Schools Refurbishment.

School Enrolments.

School Transport.

Schools Building Projects.

School Transport.

Research Funding.

National Drugs Strategy.

Early Childhood Education.

Higher Education Grants.

Schools Building Projects.

Institutes of Technology.

Schools Building Projects.

School Staffing.

Schools Building Projects.

Special Educational Needs.

Adult Education.

Teachers’ Remuneration.

Special Educational Needs.

School Transport.

Special Educational Needs.

Schools Refurbishment.

School Staffing.

School Accommodation.

Higher Education Grants.

Schools Building Projects.

Special Educational Needs.

Schools Building Projects.

Schools Recognition.

Schools Building Projects.

School Staffing.

Schools Building Projects.

School Transport.

Vocational Education Committees.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

School Staffing.

Teacher Training.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Special Educational Needs.

Education Policy.

Defence Forces Representation.

Defence Forces Property.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Environmental Policy.

Marine Conservation.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Waste Management.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Environmental Policy.

Waste Disposal.

Environmental Policy.

Planning Issues.

Recycling Policy.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Local Government.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Local Authority Funding.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Planning Issues.

Local Authority Housing.

Archaeological Sites.

Planning Issues.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Telecommunications Services.

Local Authority Housing.

Planning Issues.

Animal Welfare.

Departmental Policy.

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

Paidir.
Prayer.

  1.  Mr. J. Higgins    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent contacts with the social partners. [18253/04]

  2.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on the main provisions of the new social partnership agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20071/04]

  3.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Taoiseach    the matters discussed and conclusions reached at the meeting held on 13 July 2004 with the social partners under the auspices of Sustaining Progress; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21322/04]

  4.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Taoiseach    when the next quarterly meeting with the social partners under the auspices of the Sustaining Progress agreement will be held; the likely agenda for the meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21323/04]

  5.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on the implementation of the programme for Sustaining Progress; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21424/04]

  6.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    when he will next meet the social partners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21425/04]

  7.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on the recent activities of the national implementation body; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21427/04]

  8.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on the outcome of the ballot of trade unionists on the pay agreement concluded in the summer of 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21567/04]

  9.  Mr. J. Higgins    asked the Taoiseach    when he next expects to meet the social partners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22392/04]

  10.  Mr. J. Higgins    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent contacts with the social partners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22394/04]

  11.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    the progress in the implementation of the Sustaining Progress agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22458/04]

  12.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on the fifth plenary meeting with the social partners under the Sustaining Progress agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22459/04]

  13.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Taoiseach    if the issue of educational disadvantage came up at the recent meeting with the social partners. [24179/04]

  14.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on the programme for Sustaining Progress particularly in respect of housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24180/04]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 14, inclusive, together.

In June we successfully concluded an agreement on pay and workplace related issues to cover the second half of the lifetime of Sustaining Progress. The agreement provides for a general round of pay increases in the private sector totalling 5.5% over 18 months, with an additional 0.5% increase for workers earning less than €9 per hour or €351 per week. The same increases will apply to the public service, commencing on 1 June 2005. There is also a commitment to review the national minimum wage and provision for increasing the weekly ceiling for the calculation of redundancy payments by almost €100 to €600, with effect from 1 January 2005.

Among the workplace related elements covered in the agreement are an increase in maternity benefit from its current level of 70% of earnings to 80% over the lifetime of the agreement; co-operation between the parties to the agreement to address concerns relating to pensions provision, in particular, the need to increase the take-up of pensions across the economy; the further development of partnership and learning in the workplace; a continuing focus on inflation and excessive prices; and ongoing consultation on the development of workplace legislation and codes.

The agreement represents a fair deal for all concerned and this has been borne out by its ratification by the parties’ respective memberships. The agreement will serve to underpin our model of social cohesion, facilitate economic growth and maintain the industrial relations stability of recent years.

This completed review of pay and related matters in part two of Sustaining Progress com[827]plements more generally the mid-term review of Sustaining Progress which had a number of dimensions, namely, formal consideration of progress in the steering group for the programme; bilateral discussions between officials and the social partner pillars on matters of particular concern to each pillar; a separate progress report on the ten special initiatives set out in Sustaining Progress; a fifth progress report to the plenary meeting, including the report of the parties to the agreement and the steering group; and the statements on behalf of the Government by me, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Finance and the responses from each pillar at the plenary meeting on 13 July last. Copies of all the relevant progress reports and speeches have been placed in the Oireachtas Library.

The plenary meeting provided an opportunity to discuss the overall assessment of progress during the first half of the agreement and the key priorities for attention during the remainder of Sustaining Progress. The meeting also afforded an opportunity to hear at first hand and acknowledge the particular concerns of each of the social partner pillars. Housing and tackling educational disadvantage are two of the special initiatives under the agreement. Progress on these initiatives was noted in the context of the progress report on the ten special initiatives published as part of the mid-term review of Sustaining Progress.

I express my appreciation of the positive contributions made by those on all sides who contributed to the successful mid-term review. I emphasise the Government’s continued commitment to pursuing our nation’s well-being and prosperity through the process of social dialogue and I look forward to this ongoing dialogue on items of mutual interest.

The next quarterly plenary meeting of the social partners is set to take place later this month and a presentation by the Department of Finance on the medium-term economic outlook will be a key feature. Formal meetings such as these complement the meetings I hold with representatives of the social partners on a regular basis. I will continue to meet the social partners regularly and as required over the remainder of the lifetime of Sustaining Progress.

The national implementation body, which includes employer and union representatives, operates under the chairmanship of my Department. The body met on three occasions during August of this year to consider ongoing and threatened industrial action in the private and commercial semi-State sectors. It will continue to meet as necessary to consider the implications of ongoing disputes of particular significance. Meetings of the body also provide opportunities for informal discussion of the broader issues relating to the social partnership process, from the employer and trade union perspectives.

Mr. J. Higgins:  It is incredible that the Taoiseach did not refer to the 10,000 affordable [828]homes which were flagged initially as being an important part of the Sustaining Progress agreement. Since he signed off on a promise to provide 10,000 homes as an incentive to workers to agree Sustaining Progress, which has only about 12 months to run, not a brick has been put on top of a brick to achieve it. Is there any reason we should not accuse him of being guilty of a cruel deception, using the extreme concern of working people about the obscene profiteering in the housing industry, which has put a house out of the reach of a worker on an average wage, and getting a result by which workers agreed to go along with his programme but failing to deliver? Precisely what timescale has the Government set for the achievement of the building of 10,000 homes? I ask the Taoiseach not to give me the number of houses which will be built overall, etc. as I have that speech from a previous occasion. I want the specific details on that particular element.

Against a background in which the term “rip-off Ireland” has become accepted by people everywhere on the island as a result of their experiences and with prices of services and housing continuing to rip ahead, what moral right has the Government to insist that workers accept wage moderation and limits on wage increases, when it refuses to put any restraint on outright profiteering and rack-renting by a significant section of the landlord class which creates major difficulties for workers on ordinary to middle incomes?

The Taoiseach:  I did not refer to affordable housing because the Deputy put down three questions which did not mention it but I would be glad to answer.

Mr. J. Higgins:  It was part of the terms of the deal.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy had a great deal of latitude. He should allow the Taoiseach to speak without interruption.

The Taoiseach:  Substantial progress has been made towards the target of 10,000 affordable houses outlined in Sustaining Progress — I mentioned the various initiatives. There are 59 projects planned on State and local authority lands. Together with a projected 2,100 affordable units under Part V, just short of a total of 8,900 housing units are projected to be delivered. These projects are being progressed as a priority. Activity is being paralleled as necessary with a view to their earliest possible delivery.

This year we estimated approximately 500 affordable units under Part V and next year we are projecting an output of approximately 1,500 units in specific affordable housing projects. There has been progress with a number of sites. The Finglas Road site is under construction while the Bricin’s Park military site has been advertised as part of the redevelopment in that area. Adver[829]tisements for expressions of interest from developers and builders were placed at the end of last month for the Jamestown Road, Inchicore, and Infirmary Road projects. There are almost 500 units in those projects.

The group is currently examining additional strategies put forward by the Construction Industry Federation, including the option of land swaps that might accelerate delivery. The services of Des Geraghty, the former president of SIPTU, have been engaged to assist the initiative. He presented a progress report to the initiative as part of the recent pay talks.

Both local authority and State lands have been identified for the initiative in Clare, Cork, Dublin, Galway, Kerry, Kildare, Meath, Sligo, Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow. The potential yield from the sites in the ownership of State authorities alone is almost 3,000 houses. Almost 3,900 will be developed on local authority lands and these are distributed across the country: in Clare, Cork city and county, there will be 900 units; in Dublin city and county, there are 3,800; Galway city and county have more than 500; Kerry and Kildare have 700; Meath has 450; Sligo has 130; Waterford city has 100; Wexford has 60 and Wicklow has 50.

The precise numbers will be determined in planning the projects. They may vary depending on the need to incorporate a mix of social and other facilities. It is anticipated that a further 2,000 units will be delivered to meet the needs of the target group under the Part V arrangements. That brings the total yield to approximately 8,900. That is still short of the 10,000 target but there is an ongoing effort to identify further sites. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is currently engaged in discussions with a number of Departments and State agencies in regard to those other sites and securing land.

The sites identified have the potential to yield almost 9,000 units but the precise number can only be determined when planning starts in those areas. We have to follow the rigours of the planning process and that takes time. The idea, however, is to try to incorporate a social mix and other facilities to ensure there is a good living environment in the developments. Once the initial planning phase is over, specific planning permission for the projects will have to be obtained and developers procured to deliver the projects. A number of meetings have taken place in recent months with developers to examine the projects. We are trying to ensure the process is parallel to the greatest extent possible to prevent undue delays.

Mr. Kenny:  Does the Taoiseach understand the level of frustration among people with the way the Government does its business? While Ministers consult employers and trade unions through the social partnership scheme, they rarely, if ever, consult those who are directly affected, that is, members of the public. In the case of Aer Rianta, [830]for example, no representative of the travelling public was asked for views and in the case of proposals to privatise CIE, no bus or rail passenger was consulted. There is, therefore, a valuable element of information missing from the process. Does the Taoiseach agree that this could be addressed by the establishment of a statutory consumer enforcer as a pillar of social partnership, through which the public, who experience the direct impact of such Government decisions, could have its say? It might be most beneficial for the Ministers involved.

The Taoiseach:  I certainly agree that the public should give its view, through whatever process. I am not sure whether that should be through social partnership that deals with initiatives or reform of what workers do, workers’ rights and workers’ legislation. I am not sure that it is the best pillar to do it. Perhaps there is ground for an input. However, consumer groups and the Consumers Association of Ireland are extremely active in giving their views to all Departments. They continually seek meetings, at which they put forward their views, and receive delegations.

The Deputy suggested the possibility of users’ councils in some of these areas, a concept I am not against. The trade union movement would feel it provides this, in many cases, from the point of view of workers and users. I accept the argument that a user would believe the views would not equate in many cases. Nonetheless, with regard to transport and the travelling public, the consumer groups are strong in airing their views on measures they wish to see implemented.

Mr. Kenny:  Does the Taoiseach agree that the appointment of a statutory consumer enforcer would be an important element in bringing efficiency to the public service so that consumers could see that their rights are enforced? Does he agree that, despite all the talk, the system does not work in the way it should in respect of the money paid by taxpayers at present? The concept of having a statutory consumer enforcer to represent the views of consumers, namely, the public directly impacted upon by these decisions, would be greatly beneficial to the entire process. Does the Taoiseach share this view?

The Taoiseach:  I am not sure the appointment of a statutory enforcer of views is the way to go. Matters work best in this country when there is voluntary dialogue between the respective bodies, whether employers, boards, workers or users through the consumers’ association. To try to make that statutorily and legally enforceable would probably only bring resentment and people would begin fighting.

It is difficult enough, although not impossible, to achieve restructuring reforms. I accept the process is slow and that users would like progress made far quicker. However, workers and others have rights. While they want protection, consumer interests are often not in line with those of [831]workers or the statutory legislation that governs many of these organisations. The voluntary method of trying to involve people, hearing their views and trying to find ways forward, is probably better than statutory enforcement.

Mr. Rabbitte:  On affordable housing, we are approaching the second anniversary of the agreement, which was to provide an injection to build an additional 10,000 affordable houses. The Taoiseach told Deputy Joe Higgins that when one counts up all the bits of land that have been sequestered, the potential exists to build 8,900, which is not 10,000 but is fair enough. Approaching the second anniversary of the agreement, will the Taoiseach tell the House when any of these units will be built? Is it not the issue that not a block has yet been put on a block? I listened to the Taoiseach’s statement on going through the rigours of planning. When does he expect that some houses will be ready to be occupied? I noted his remarks about planning in Singapore and Malaysia, and the fact that the process is more rigorous here, which I understand. However, having regard to the fact that we are in this part of the world, when can people hope to move into the affordable houses promised?

What did the social partners say to the Taoiseach about the community employment scheme, the effective scrapping of the social economy programme and the shutting down of the job initiative? A press release from the Fianna Fáil office stated that a deputation of backbenchers met the new Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin. Did they do so in support of the social partners? What was their view on community employment? What arguments did they make and how will the Government respond? Were they taking advantage of the fact that the Tánaiste has moved from that Department and that, perhaps, the Minister, Deputy Martin, might be more sympathetic to understanding the need in communities for the continuation, at the optimum numbers, of community employment, job initiatives and social economy?

Regarding the Taoiseach’s remarks on commercial State companies, he described privatisation as a race to the bottom. In the context of Aer Lingus and recent developments, does that mean, now that the former Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, has been promoted, the Government no longer wishes to press ahead with facilitating the privatisation of Aer Lingus?

The Taoiseach:  Regarding the 10,000 affordable houses, some of these units are already under construction, although I readily accept there are not enough. The State must first seek the lands and must not interfere with the separate social housing programme on which a vast amount of money is being spent. In many cases the land given by the State must be properly serviced and must go through the formal planning [832]process. It is a slow process, but at meetings aimed at trying to interest them in social housing initiatives and to speed up the process of providing such housing, private developers have told me that it takes six and a half years to build a house from the time they purchase a site until the house is finished, even when they do not encounter much difficulty. That is the difficulty with which we are faced. However, many of the available sites are open green field sites and it should be possible to increase the pace in regard to these.

Deputy Rabbitte is probably aware of some initiatives that could speed up these projects but I am not sure they would win total acceptance. They involve trying to get local authorities and the group working on this problem to examine the possibility of using lands zoned for amenity and other uses but not being used for those purposes. If that could be done quickly it would speed up not only social housing projects but those for affordable housing.

I have stated that these issues must be discussed with local authorities because if Government were to act in isolation it would create problems with development plans. Genuine efforts are being made by many of the people involved in this area to come up with imaginative ways of speeding up the process which, I accept, is too slow. It takes far too much time to get a project up and running from the time a site is identified, even if the conveyancing and transfer of land are quickly dealt with. To speed up matters there is a need for some form of private sector involvement with regulations regarding land prices. There are ways in which we could improve matters without affecting the resources going into social housing.

Regarding the community employment scheme, everybody wants to keep the maximum number of people in the schemes. The figure has been fixed for last year and this year. There are issues regarding the phasing out of some of the schemes and the pressure that puts on the system. Both the Tánaiste and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, are involved in discussions on that and on the issue of people over the age of 55 years who are unlikely to return to the normal labour market but who are doing good social work involving social schemes. The Minister must come to his own conclusions when he completes his Estimates in the next few weeks.

For many years I have argued for the enhancement and development of State companies to be as efficient as they possibly can be and to give good employment. We must not endeavour to turn them into organisations where it is a race to the bottom in terms of salaries and standards. There are different ways of achieving efficiencies in State companies and some have been turned around into better operations. In my capacity in a number of ministries and as Taoiseach, my line has been that these issues must be resolved in discussions with workers’ representatives. I have been involved in discussions over the years with [833]companies from B+I Line to hospital boards and companies which moved out of State hands.

The report on Aer Lingus is now available and the Cabinet will discuss it over the next few weeks.

Mr. Rabbitte:  In respect of the potential yield of 8,900 affordable housing units, the Taoiseach remarked that some of them are under construction. Will he inform the House on the precise number under construction? He claimed that this was an additional number and that he did not want it entangled with the other substantial investment in affordable housing. Is it not the case that only 163 affordable houses were built last year? Is it not the case that when the Government changed the law on this issue at the end of 2002, it handed back 16,000 affordable housing sites to builders? Will he agree that 163 units of affordable housing is absurdly and ridiculously inadequate and a paltry contribution in terms of housing need in that category? The entire social and affordable housing provision is distressfully inadequate in meeting the needs of people in those areas.

The Taoiseach:  A broad spectrum of housing needs must be met and the Government has actively responded by increasing the level of social and affordable housing. In the first four years of the national development plan, more than €5.2 billion was spent on social and affordable housing, which is ahead of the forecast. That helps those in the low income bracket. Under the full range of social and affordable housing measures, the housing needs of 13,600 people were met last year compared to the needs of 8,500 people five years earlier. That is the highest figure in housing provision in the past 15 years. Last year, there was increased activity under the affordable housing scheme, with more than 1,500 units completed. The combined output of the 1999 affordable housing scheme and the 2003 shared ownership scheme was more than 2,500 units. That is higher than forecast in the national development plan.

  3 o’clock

The answer to Deputy Rabbitte’s question on planning legislation is “Yes”. When the changes to the housing scheme were made in 2001, developers were allowed to complete existing planning applications. As the Deputy will recall, the matter caused an outcry in the House and I had to answer questions on it on many occasions. Due to the arrangements under Part V, developers held back and there was a risk that the housing supply would dramatically decrease that year. We could not allow that to happen and we allowed the existing applications to continue. The quid pro quo was that the developers would move on the land and build, which they did and a record number of houses has been built. In future, however, Part V must be complied with and we will see more of such developments. It was the Government’s wish that it would work the other way, but that did not happen.

[834]Mr. Rabbitte:  They blackmailed us into doing so and shut down the initiative of the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Noel Dempsey. They then delivered only 163 social and affordable houses.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow the Taoiseach to continue without interruption.

The Taoiseach:  The reality is that the then Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, strongly supported by me, would have brought it to Part V and it would have gone through. The fact is that people were holding back and the output——

Mr. Rabbitte:  Whatever word the Taoiseach wants to use, be it “holding back” or “blackmailing”, they got their way.

An Ceann Comhairle:  A number of Deputies are offering.

The Taoiseach:  They got their way on a temporary basis to deal with what was then the difficulty, but Part V still comes into play. Most local authorities have informed me, although again I think they are too slow, that a number of initiatives under Part V are coming through and in future those planning applications which have not been used must, on re-application, comply with Part V rules. In the medium term, we will not lose on it.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Two months ago, in August, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council introduced a so-called affordable housing scheme. Is the Taoiseach aware of the details of that scheme where two-bedroom houses cost €335,000 and three-bedroom apartments cost €345,000? Does the Taoiseach not agree that these so-called schemes that masquerade as affordable housing initiatives simply do not fall within the intent of the initiative? Does he not further agree that this particular initiative only adds to the great disappointment of people in that area who were promised and would have had a reasonable expectation that the local council would have provided an affordable housing project that they could attain and achieve?

Is he aware that even to participate in the selection process for allocation under this particular scheme, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council imposed a non-refundable fee of €100 for all those who wished to be considered? Regardless of whether one was successful, the fee was not refunded. Given those facts, does the Taoiseach not accept that the so-called steps being taken by local authorities only masquerade under the banner of affordable housing and that this needs to be addressed by local government administrators and managers? Does he also accept that there is a bounden need to ensure all schemes that present under the affordable housing initiative have criteria that ordinary, average income families can meet?

[835]Does the Taoiseach not accept that the restoration of Part V of the Planning and Development Act is a requirement if we are to see the inclusion of social and affordable housing within major developments in all parts of the jurisdiction? Clearly, the row-back on that has allowed property developers to hold back from their responsibilities. I urge the Taoiseach to take action in this regard.

The Taoiseach:  The purpose is to provide affordable housing. I am not familiar with the scheme in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown but, obviously, it is based on the land value in the area. In another recent scheme in Ringsend, homes cost €120,000 or €130,000 and that is just a few miles from Dún Laoghaire. Clearly, the purpose is using State and local authority lands in a model that can speedily provide affordable housing that people can afford. I accept that it does not meet the criteria if the cost is €350,000.

Part V is now law. Existing planning permissions were allowed through but it takes effect in all new applications. As we go forward, local authorities have said we should see far more coming through. I am not familiar with all areas but I am aware it is already happening in Fingal. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will have all the details. The intention is not just to provide for this fresh initiative, but rather to try to develop a model through which more affordable houses may be built wherever State and local authority land is available. The Construction Industry Federation, which has done a good paper on this, believes it is possible. The industry is looking for some concessions in how these matters may be fast-tracked. I am not sure whether that is possible but I have asked that it be examined by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the local authority managers.

Mr. Sargent:  Members of the public hear of Government commitments on overseas development aid, carbon tax and the 10,000 houses. Will the Taoiseach reiterate and assure the House beyond doubt that this commitment of 10,000 genuinely affordable houses will be delivered on, given some of the doubts in this regard that he has expressed in the past? It is somewhat forgiving of ICTU and other members of the social partnership to accept that the commitment is now watertight. Will he give the House the same commitment that it is watertight?

On carbon tax, will the Taoiseach again consider whether under Sustaining Progress there is a membership role in the partnership for environmental groups as this does not exist currently? On the basis of what the House knows he is not going to do in terms of carbon tax, will he indicate what he is going to do, something which may have been discussed with the social partners? For example, was the economic analysis on the aban[836]donment of the carbon tax discussed with the social partners and how it would be costly to invest in carbon credits, or perhaps even give them away? The estimate of €50 million to €200 million has been given by a number of people who have analysed the cost to the country of the payment of carbon credits, the benefits of which are effectively given away to other countries. Will the Taoiseach say whether there have been any discussions on the economic implications of that with the social partners and whether he has given any commitment in this regard?

The Taoiseach:  As I indicated earlier, sites for up to about 8,900 houses have now been identified and the group involved is still endeavouring to try to locate other sites from the State and its agencies. Obviously, the planning process will have to be gone through. The group has worked hard to find a model that will move this matter on. It has engaged actively with the CIF and the social partners. Part V is working and hopefully will work more effectively in the future, now that people must adhere to the current planning permission.

On the other matter, I have not been directly involved in the discussions about the carbon tax and it did not come up at the meetings I have referred to in the reply. However, I know there have been discussions and assessments made by all of the employer groups about the effect of the economic analysis. I know that information was shared with the social partners. I cannot, however, speculate as to the level or degree of discussion involved. Perhaps the Deputy could table a parliamentary question to the Minister in this regard.

Mr. Allen:  Will the Taoiseach say what the views of the social partners were about the figures he has just produced? Do they agree with him that the houses that come on stream under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 which form part of the 8,900 houses, which figure is a roll-back on the original number of 10,000, were never to be included in the original commitment? That was the understanding of many Deputies on this side of the House. Now suddenly the Taoiseach is——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Will the Deputy confine himself to the question?

Mr. Allen:  I will. Will the Taoiseach say whether the social partners gave an opinion as regards the other side of the housing scenario, namely, the escalating waiting lists throughout the country for social housing? There are in excess of 50,000 applications at present. In my city, for the first time, the numbers have reached the 5,000 mark. Have the social partners any views on that side of the equation?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Before the Taoiseach replies I will hear a question from Deputy Kenny.

[837]Mr. Kenny:  It is a different question, a Cheann Comhairle.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is it related to the questions before us?

Mr. Kenny:  It is, yes. In respect of the progress on benchmarking and the €1.3 billion, is the Taoiseach in a position to state that for future benchmarking awards, there will be a more transparent and robust method of scrutiny so that the public will see the advantages and increased efficiencies and productivity that will come from future benchmarking awards? In analysing any of the Departments, State agencies or local authorities to which benchmarking awards have been paid, it is difficult to identify the increased efficiencies that would allow members of the public to say, as a consequence of those awards being paid, that they are getting better services in the various areas.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Two other Members are offering. I will hear a brief question from each of them and then a final reply from the Taoiseach.

Mr. Rabbitte:  I apologise to the Taoiseach but if he answered my question about the number of units under construction, I did not catch it, and I would like to ask the question again. I also welcome the appointment of Des Geraghty but I would like the Taoiseach to outline his precise mandate in this situation. Also, did any of the social partners raise the question of the savage 16 cuts in social welfare and what is the disposition of the Government in terms of responding to those concerns?

Mr. F. McGrath:  Did the issue of educational disadvantage come up in the Taoiseach’s talks with the social partners, and the question of pupils and young people from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds where there is poverty, violence, drugs and dysfunctional activities? Hidden among that sector is a very small minority of violent young people who may kill people in future and end up in prison? Does the Taoiseach accept that between 100 and 300 young people are now in that category and that recent events have shown they are a threat to the broader society? Will he accept also that we must support families, parents, social workers and juvenile liaison officers to prevent those young people getting into trouble? Was the question of an allowance——

An Ceann Comhairle:  We do not have time for another question, Deputy.

Mr. F. McGrath:  ——for teachers working in disadvantaged schools raised in the talks?

The Taoiseach:  To answer the last question first, the question of an allowance for teachers in disadvantaged schools is an educational matter, [838]and I am aware there has been ongoing discussion about teachers in genuine disadvantaged areas.

Deputy Allen asked about the number of houses. As I said in my reply, 2,100 Part V affordable units are now coming through the system. They are part of the 8,891, which is not a final figure. Efforts are still being made by a number of State agencies in that regard. I am aware the Department of Health and Children is examining an inventory of the health boards to identify lands which could potentially yield approximately 1,500 units.

Mr. Allen:  They were supposed to get 10,000 extra houses.

The Taoiseach:  Including those under Part V. If they get enough estate land they will go well above their figure. The point is that it is not stopping. The idea is not to reach 9,000 or 10,000 and then stop but to continue. If we were to get all the sites, we would have well over 10,000, even if we exclude those under Part V. It is a question of the State agencies being able to release the land but they have not done badly in that regard. They have already released several thousand units from State areas, including Gormanstown and others.

Deputy Rabbitte asked about the sites. A total of 160 units are under construction on Finglas Road. Advertisements have been placed for the building of 200 units on St. Bricin’s military site and there have been expressions of interest from developers in respect of sites at Jamestown Road, Inchicore and Infirmary Road, which will make a total of 465 units. They are not under construction but merely expressions of interest from people to begin construction. There are other smaller ones in several local authority areas.

The social partners were anxious to find a model that could be used in all areas. I have read out the list of counties involved. If there is not a fairly standard model we will have great difficulty in moving this on and who knows how long it will take. The social partners came up with a model and Des Geraghty assisted in trying to achieve progress in the initiative and finding a joint approach. They are also trying to achieve the movement of the CIF because if the number of private houses declines over the next few years, which most commentators say is likely, we need to engage the CIF and the private sector builders to move into the construction of local authority houses, or affordable housing at a lower cost.

There is great difficulty in this area as many local authorities find it hard to spend the budgets they have because the builders are too actively engaged in the private sector, which has an effect on local authority housing. They have endeavoured to interest private builders in involving themselves more in the affordable housing area, not social housing. That is what Mr. Geraghty——

[839]Mr. J. Higgins:  Why does the Taoiseach not set up a State building company?

The Taoiseach:  The social partners have raised the issue of last year’s changes in social welfare numerous times and in discussion have sought further changes.

Much work has been done in this round of the social partnership discussions regarding educational disadvantage. The social partners have been involved in a long series of measures, details of which I can give to Deputy Finian McGrath if he would like it. This particularly covers educational disadvantage in inner cities but not only there.

Deputy Kenny asked about the transparency of the system. The answer I have received from all those involved in the system is ‘yes’ but they need some flexibility in how they deal with the issue. They make the point that if the way they do the benchmarking is laid out in the open it will create great difficulties. This is not done in areas where there is benchmarking, in either the private or public sectors — the private sector here and the public sector in other countries. They do not have a problem with trying to be more transparent but they must have some flexibility in looking across grades and professions and doing some work that is perhaps not as transparent as everyone would like it to be. Otherwise, they will never be able to complete the exercise. I have asked them about this twice in the course of the year and that is the reply they have given me. On the second occasion I spoke to people involved in the exercise.

  156.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if the Government will achieve the United Nations target for overseas development aid by 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25416/04]

  157.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if it is his intention to achieve the UN target for overseas development aid within the period announced to the UN General Assembly; his views on whether the allocation in 2003 left the percentage virtually unchanged; the progress he expects to make in each year to the target year 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25371/04] ]

  158.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the reason the Government’s commitment to increase overseas aid spending to the UN target of 0.7% of GNP by 2007 will not be met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25372/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. C. Lenihan):  I propose to take Questions No. 156 to 158, inclusive, together.

The programme for Government commits
the Government to spending 0.7% of GNP on
official development aid by 2007. The Government will make every effort to meet that target. Our spending on official development aid has increased dramatically in recent years. In 1997 we spent €158 million on ODA. This year we will spend approximately €475 million. Our aid as a percentage of GNP has also increased significantly in the intervening years. In 1992 the figure was 0.16% of GNP. Last year it was 0.4% of GNP.

These increases mean that Ireland is now one of the world’s leading aid donors. We are in joint seventh place in terms of per capita spending on aid, well above the European average. The negotiations for the Estimates for 2005 are currently under way. The Government is committed to building quickly on the substantial progress to date in order to achieve the UN target of 0.7%. The figures for 2002 and 2003 were lower than we would have hoped. However, this was against the background of the economic slowdown that affected all areas of public expenditure. We should be proud of what has been achieved in our development aid programme. Our peers in the OECD regularly evaluate us. The most recent evaluation in 2003 concluded that our development programme is of the highest quality. The taxpayer is getting good value for money. The OECD review stated that our programme distinguishes itself by its sharp focus on poverty reduction and commitment to partnership principles. The focus of our development programme is in line with the UN’s millennium development goals. These goals were set by the international community as a framework by which the commitment to reduce poverty in the world can be judged.

To reduce poverty we must tackle the underlying causes as well as the symptoms. This means that in addition to providing immediate relief to those suffering from conflict, disaster and famine, we must tackle the underlying causes of poverty through long-term assistance programmes. The focus of our programme is on assisting long-term economic growth and the provision of basic services such as education and health care. Good governance, inclusive political processes and human rights are also important elements of our programme.

I am confident that Ireland has a high quality development aid programme with the proper focus on poverty reduction. I intend to make a strong case in the course of the Estimates process for substantial increases so as to reach the UN target of 0.7%.

Mr. Allen:  The Minister stated that we will make every effort to meet the target. Does he agree that this comment is a major retreat from the Taoiseach’s solemn commitment made in [841]2000, when he claimed that we would make the 0.7% target by 2007? Does the Minister agree that that comment was made to get a seat on the UN Security Council? Like the promises made before the last election, this promise has evaporated. In order to meet the target, there are three opportunities in the three budgets before 2007. The first step in reaching the target is to increase the spending to about €570 million this year, increase it to €724 million in 2006 and bring it up to the €892 million required to meet the 0.7% target by 2007.

Can the Minister give a commitment that the Government will bring forward legislation to provide that 0.7% of GNP will be allocated directly to overseas development aid? Enacting legislation will safeguard that budget.

Mr. C. Lenihan:  The Deputy has asked a number of questions, the most pertinent of which is on the 0.7% of GNP target. That remains the target of the Government and was arrived at by Cabinet decision. If he listened to both the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach in recent days and weeks, the Deputy would know that target remains in place. We intend to achieve it in line with the Government decision. Some people seem to have mistakenly formed the opinion that I reneged on that commitment. I simply expressed a certain amount of scepticism about our ability to reach the target within the given time frame. The Deputy should not be under any illusion; the time frame for the commitment remains there——

Mr. Allen:  The Minister of State should answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should allow the Minister to speak without interruption.

Mr. C. Lenihan:  The commitment remains to be achieved. For the purposes of discussion on the Estimates, my Department will go into discussions with other Departments and will make the case that the target should be achieved within the time frame outlined.

The idea of needing to incorporate the commitment within legislation is a double-edged instrument. One of the dangers of doing that is that it would lead to calls in other areas, such as health and education, for similar types of commitment. In general, the management of the public service demands a certain amount of flexibility in resource allocation between different Departments. There is also a much used argument against such a particular measure, which is that if the economy was subject to a sharp reduction in growth, then the overall amounts of money available to overseas development aid would sharply reduce in actual amounts. That is a result that most of us would profoundly regret. An instrument designed to guarantee a particular result would actually achieve the exact opposite when [842]our economy went into reverse. For those reasons the Government would discount such a proposal.

Mr. Quinn:  I congratulate the Minister officially on his appointment. I think this is the first time he has taken questions. For those of us who have had that experience, including Deputy Allen, it is not in the same category as a maiden speech, but it is not far away.

Is the commitment to reach the target of 0.7% by 2007 the same as the commitment to deliver on benchmarking? In other words, is the Government’s commitment to deliver on benchmarking as solid and as clear as the Minister’s commitment to use every effort to reach 0.7% of GNP? Are these on the same level, of a similar reliability? My second question is on the idea to put the commitment on a statutory basis. Does the Minister see any difference between that commitment and the one made by the former Minister of Finance in statutory terms, irrespective of the economic circumstances of the day, to commit €1 billion or 1% of GNP to our national pension reserve fund? That is now enshrined in legislation. There is no provision for a downturn in the economy. Why can the same type of commitment not be made to the Third World as is being made to our future pension requirements?

Mr. C. Lenihan:  I thank the Deputy for his gracious comments on my latest appointment. For the Department of Finance benchmarking is an issue. The bulk of benchmarking actually has been delivered at this stage. The remainder has yet to be delivered and some of it is subject to local agreement on improvements in performance and efficiency.

Mr. Quinn:  Is it subject to negotiation or is it given?

Mr. C. Lenihan:  I am not the Minister of Finance and I will not make pronouncements on his behalf. He may take umbrage at them. The pension provision is also an entirely separate matter for the Department of Finance. There is an issue with holding percentage figures in stone. The effect of that is that if there is a reverse in the economy, the actual amount will decrease.

Mr. Quinn:  What does that do to benchmarking?

Mr. C. Lenihan:  I will not answer the question despite the best efforts of the Deputy, as it is not my Department. The right person to direct that question——

Mr. Quinn:  I am talking about the level of commitment in Government terms.

Mr. C. Lenihan:  The Deputy should direct that question——

Mr. Quinn:  Benchmarking is sacrosanct; this is variable.

[843]Mr. C. Lenihan:  I am not suggesting for a minute that it is variable. In my reply to Deputy Allen, I made it absolutely clear that the figure of 0.7% by 2007 is enshrined by a Cabinet decision. It can only be unwound despite——

Mr. Quinn:  He claimed he made a strong case.

Mr. C. Lenihan:  Despite pronouncements by Deputies on both sides of the House on this matter, it would not have been possible for me to renege on such a promise, as I am not a member of the Cabinet. It has not arrived at a position other than the position as stated routinely in the programme for Government and by the Taoiseach and other members of the Government. That is that the figure remains intact and it is the target of all efforts to achieve that target by the date prescribed.

Mr. Allen:  Will he do it?

Mr. Gormley:  I join others in congratulating the Deputy on his elevation. I feel it is deserved. The Minister of State has said that he expressed scepticism. Can his statement be attributed to naivety and inexperience, or was it choreographed? Had he spoken to other members of the Cabinet before he made his statement? The Taoiseach said in Bodenstown that a firm decision has been made, but he was unclear when he was asked about the 2007 deadline. I would like the Minister of State to clarify whether the commitment has been copperfastened. Will the Minister of State deliver the 0.7% target by 2007?

I invite the Minister of State to comment on another intriguing comment made by the Taoiseach at Bodenstown. He said he knew that some people in the audience would like to relate aid with trade. Perhaps the Minister of State, who was in the audience, can explain to the House what the Taoiseach meant by that comment.

Mr. C. Lenihan:  The Deputy asked a number of questions. I thank him for his good wishes. I wish to put one suggestion to bed immediately. Neither naivety nor choreography led to my use of the phraseology I used when speaking about the 0.7% target during an interview with RTE on 5 October last. I said, based on my experience of financial and management issues when I was working in the private sector, that when one is trying to achieve a target, one must examine realistically the figures that underpin it.

Mr. Quinn:  The Minister of State should stop while he is ahead.

Mr. C. Lenihan:  I expressed my opinion after I had studied the books and examined the percentages in the Department of Foreign Affairs. I wish to make clear that our ability to achieve the target was disturbed somewhat by the downturn in 2002 and 2003. The moneys which would have made it much easier to achieve the target were not devoted at that time.

[844]I wish to respond to the question asked by Deputy Gormley by speaking about the wider issue of whether the capacity to achieve the 0.7% figure exists in the Department of Foreign Affairs and the NGO sector. Would it be good to make a splurge of funding available at a particular time by simply transferring moneys to projects in the Third World? It is obvious that one can distribute aid at the drop of a hat. There is a huge wellspring of need. Issues of capacity arise as we try to increase overseas development aid.

Mr. Quinn:  Mr. David O’Donoghue has said——

Mr. C. Lenihan:  We need to try to improve the capacity of the non-governmental organisations and their organisations and staff.

Mr. Allen:  It is a strange one.

Mr. Quinn:  There is no capacity.

Mr. C. Lenihan:  We should increase resources at departmental level to ensure that aid is spent in a proper fashion.

Mr. Gormley:  Will the 2007 target be achieved?

Mr. C. Lenihan:  It is not just me who has made this——

Mr. Gormley:  The Minister of State is not answering the question. Will the 2007 target be achieved?

Mr. C. Lenihan:  I have said that the Government remains committed to achieving that target. As I understand it, the Cabinet has not made a decision to the contrary. The Tánaiste and the Taoiseach have spoken about this matter over the past week. When I addressed the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs on 12 October last, I made it quite clear that the 2007 target is the focal point of the Government’s activity.

Mr. Quinn:  Is it as firm as benchmarking?

Mr. C. Lenihan:  That is the target we are trying to achieve. We will work as hard as we can, in the context of the forthcoming Estimates, to achieve the level of funding that will allow the target to be reached. I cannot make it any clearer.

Mr. Gormley:  What about aid and trade?

Mr. C. Lenihan:  Before I speak about aid and trade——

Acting Chairman (Mr. McCormack):  I ask the Minister of State to conclude so that Deputies can ask supplementary questions.

Mr. C. Lenihan:  I wish to address an issue which is quite relevant. Mr. John O’Shea of GOAL has said that he would favour a smaller [845]budget which is spent carefully to an enlarged budget which is not spent carefully. That is a very relevant point.

Mr. Quinn:  Who would not spend it carefully?

Mr. C. Lenihan:  I do not refer to the comments of a Government spokesman, but of an independent source.

Mr. Quinn:  Who would not spend it carefully?

Mr. C. Lenihan:  I do not have to tell the Deputy that planned growth is an issue. I think he ran an architect’s practice before he was elected to this House — he is probably still involved in such areas. No increase in spending should be sanctioned by the State if we are not absolutely clear that the State is getting value for money.

Mr. Allen:  What about electronic voting?

Mr. C. Lenihan:  When one speaks about the Third World——

Mr. Allen:  That is a new one.

Mr. C. Lenihan:  ——one should consider the sort of regimes which can exist there.

Mr. Quinn:  Aid is now related to value for money.

Mr. C. Lenihan:  There is huge scope for the misuse of funds in such regimes.

Acting Chairman:  I ask the Minister of State to conclude.

Mr. C. Lenihan:  It is important that Ireland’s overseas aid should be spent in a proper fashion.

Mr. Gormley:  Nobody is arguing with that.

Mr. C. Lenihan:  Ireland has a very good international reputation.

Mr. Quinn:  Does that mean we should not pursue the 0.7% target?

Mr. C. Lenihan:  The OECD has praised Ireland’s programme twice in recent years on these precise grounds. Every country in the world does not receive such an appraisal, but Ireland has received such an accolade. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and I are determined to ensure that remains the case. Regarding the relationship between aid and trade——

Mr. Allen:  Give us a chance.

Acting Chairman:  The Minister of State will have to conclude.

Mr. C. Lenihan:  I have to wait for the Deputy to ask about that issue.

[846]Acting Chairman:  I will allow Deputy Allen to ask a supplementary question.

Mr. C. Lenihan:  With respect, Deputy Gormley asked about relating aid with trade.

Acting Chairman:  I have to allow other Deputies to ask supplementary questions.

Mr. Allen:  The Minister of State mentioned the OECD on a number of occasions. Does he accept that the most recent OECD report stated that the Government is “faltering” in its attempts to reach the target? Does the Minister of State doubt the capacity of the non-governmental organisations to spend the €570 million they expect to receive this year? I have heard such a suggestion today for the first time.

Mr. Quinn:  That is what he is saying.

Mr. Allen:  The Minister of State is casting doubt on the organisations. He said that if the organisations receive additional money, he doubts their capacity and that of the Department to allocate it.

Acting Chairman:  I am anxious to allow other Deputies to speak.

Mr. Allen:  The Minister of State also questioned the organisations’ efficiency and ability to spend the money effectively. That is a new one on me. I ask the Minister of State to clarify his position in that regard.

Mr. C. Lenihan:  The Deputy is misrepresenting me.

Acting Chairman:  I will take supplementary questions from Deputies Gormley and Quinn.

Mr. Gormley:  I asked a specific question about the Taoiseach’s comments at Bodenstown about relating aid with trade. He said that certain people in the audience at Bodenstown want aid to be related to trade. I did not see too many people there, so the Taoiseach must have been talking about specific people. I would like further information in that regard. That some members of the Government do not consider the question of aid to be a vote winner seems to me to be a problem. Such people would prefer the money to be spent in other ways. They want to spend money on aid only if it will generate trade. That always seems to be the Government’s bottom line.

Mr. Quinn:  If there is a problem with capacity, as perceived by the Department of Foreign Affairs in terms of the national development co-operation programme, does the Minister of State agree that the target could be reached and our moneys spent wisely by investing prudently in the global fund for combating AIDS, to which the Taoiseach has so eloquently committed himself? [847]There is no capacity constraint, in reality. Doing it efficiently may involve domestic difficulties, but the balance of funding required to meet the target could be invested in a number of internationally approved global funds, such as the global fund for combating AIDS, which is totally under-subscribed.

Acting Chairman:  I ask the Minister of State to conclude, because the time for this question has elapsed.

Mr. C. Lenihan:  The answer to Deputy Allen’s question is “No”. The Government does not question the current capacity of the Department or the non-governmental organisations to deal with the funds which are being allocated to the organisations or flowing from the Department. There is absolutely no issue there. We will significantly increase funding for overseas development assistance as we try to achieve the target figure of 0.7%. It is obvious that the Government’s plans to improve significantly the level of aid have implications for resources and staffing.

Acting Chairman:  We have to move on.

Mr. C. Lenihan:  Deputy Gormley raised the possibility of a connection between trade and aid. I am not in a position to read into, interpret or extrapolate from the Taoiseach’s comments in Bodenstown, but I imagine that he was trying to highlight the fact that a number of countries in Europe and elsewhere are increasing the pressure to link overseas development aid with trade issues. In other words, such countries want to use the overseas development aid they provide as a tool to access more trading opportunities in the countries which receive such aid. I think the Taoiseach was saying, from a deeply idealistic point of view, that Ireland does not approve of such an approach to overseas development aid and rejects it in all circumstances.

Mr. Gormley:  The Minister of State was saying quite the opposite.

Mr. C. Lenihan:  That is very important.

Acting Chairman:  We have to move to the next question.

Mr. C. Lenihan:  That is how I read the Taoiseach’s comments. Deputy Quinn is absolutely correct to say that if we had a surfeit of money for overseas development aid but a shortage of programmes to which it could be distributed, it could be given to funds such as the global fund for combating AIDS. Ireland’s contribution to that fund has increased by ten times in recent years, from €5 million to €50 million.

Acting Chairman:  I have to call Question
No. 159.

[848]Mr. C. Lenihan:  The next point I would like to make is that to do so would be rather purposeless. We would be better developing our programmes organically, growing and improving them and expanding the number of countries we prioritise and target.

Acting Chairman:  The time allowed for the question has expired.

  159.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will elaborate upon his statement, made while attending discussions in Belfast on 12 October 2004, regarding the participation of Sinn Féin in government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25495/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The comments I made at Hillsborough on 12 October were in response to specific questions from the media on the implications for participation in government in this jurisdiction if the issue of IRA weapons were conclusively and definitively resolved and the DUP were asked to accept Sinn Féin as partners in the Northern Ireland Executive.

My response was clearly predicated on circumstances changing and the republican movement demonstrating that it had definitively addressed the question of arms and accepted the reality that there could not be two armies in this State. I acknowledged the possibility that, in those changed circumstances, the question of Sinn Féin participating with others in government in the South could arise.

My comments were fully consistent with the Taoiseach’s views on the subject, namely, that there must be an end to paramilitarism, that we must see the decommissioning of weapons, and that there can be no place for a private army. Our Constitution provides for only one Army —Óglaigh na hÉireann — as the Taoiseach made abundantly clear last Sunday, and as I did in the interview in question.

It is important that we do not lose sight of the central objective of the current discussions, namely, the full implementation of the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement. The Government is focused on two immediate and related priorities: achieving definitive closure on paramilitary activity and capability; and, in a new climate of confidence, restoring the full operation of the institutions of the Agreement on a stable, enduring and inclusive basis.

The realisation of that enormous prize of peace and political stability, which would transform politics in both jurisdictions on this island, was the main focus of my discussions with the Secretary of State last week. It will continue to be one of my key priorities in the days and weeks ahead, and I look forward to the continued support of the House in that vital project.

[849]Mr. Allen:  Although the Minister’s statement did not depart from Government policy, it aroused deep controversy. If the statement was in line with Government policy, why did the Department of Foreign Affairs immediately rush out a memorandum to explain the Minister’s statements? Why did it pointedly omit the expression that he hoped that Sinn Féin would be in government in the future? Since the Minister signalled that Sinn Féin would be the preferred partner in government, all things being equal, did he discuss his statement with the Taoiseach or Tánaiste before he made it? Certain media have said that the question was inspired. Since the Minister made those comments, has the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste spoken to him about them?

Mr. D. Ahern:  The whole premise on which the peace process is based is to ensure that those perpetrating violence on this island take the constitutional route from day one. We would get those involved in violence or those within their ranks who participate in it to do so. That is exactly the basis on which I made my remarks, which were quite clear. I specifically stated that there might be only one recognised Army and that, until that was the case, no party such as Sinn Féin, which in effect has a private army associated with it, might participate in a democratic process in the Republic. I made that quite clear regarding Sinn Féin. The other issue, of what would happen in the North, was also part of the thought process. The question was asked, in the event of full arms decommissioning, an end to paramilitarism, and the DUP sitting down with Sinn Féin in an Executive, whether there might be a different scenario in the South. I said that there would be one. I look forward to the day when there is no violence on this island and no guns, either on or under the table.

People must take risks for peace. That has been the hallmark of all the movement in the peace process in recent years. Let us be thankful that we have come such a long distance. Those who have perpetrated violence have also gone a long way. We must do more. One hopes that, in the next few weeks, we will see some improvement. I cannot guarantee that, but it is important that people accept that, if we achieve full decommissioning and complete peace on the island, people’s democratic entitlement must be recognised.

Mr. Allen:  I have no doubt that the statement made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Ahern, was part of a softening up process for the Irish people. If Fianna Fáil were in a tight corner after the next election, they would do a deal with the Devil himself to stay in power. The Minister spoke about arms and having peace on the island, but he did not give his views on the activities of the IRA in this jurisdiction. What is his attitude towards the IRA? Must all those activities cease before his party can even consider speaking about power sharing?

[850]Mr. D. Ahern:  At no stage in the interview did I postulate a scenario where Fianna Fáil would enter a coalition with Sinn Féin. However, it is ironic that the Deputy is saying that. In no way did I suggest that there would be a coalition between Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. No person on this side of the House has had to deal with Sinn Féin in his own constituency like I have. I was born and bred five miles from the Border, where I still live. I know Sinn Féin’s policies, both economically and from other points of view. I know what problems they have perpetrated in my constituency. I have said time and again for 30 years that their policies dramatically affected my constituency, particularly economically but also socially.

Acting Chairman:  The time allowed for the question has expired.

Mr. D. Ahern:  I find it a little ironic listening to Deputy Allen criticise the suggestion, which was not made by me. His party said in 1992 that it would never participate in a coalition with Democratic Left. Two years later it changed its mind.

Mr. Allen:  The Minister is not comparing like with like.

Mr. D. Ahern:  Big change, that.

  160.  Dr. Cowley    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the progress made to date on the implementation of the recommendations made in the task force on policy regarding Emigrants Ireland and the Irish Abroad document; the recommendations on which progress has already been made; if he intends to make progress on recommendation 515, namely, the opportunity for EU citizens, particularly Irish pensioners who are residing abroad, to have free travel on the holidays here, especially in view of the Good Friday Agreement, Article 2 of the Constitution and the facility afforded under this Agreement for reciprocal travel arrangements, particularly for persons with pre-1953 pensions who are already in the Irish system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25485/04]

Mr. D. Ahern:  The report of the task force on policy regarding emigrants is being implemented progressively. As my predecessor noted in welcoming the report, it contained many detailed recommendations that are wide-ranging and whose implementation can only come about on a phased basis over several years.

Already there has been considerable progress, with action initiated on a large number of the recommendations. I am particularly pleased to say that a dedicated unit, the Irish abroad unit, has now been established within the Department of Foreign Affairs and is fully functioning. The unit is charged with co-ordinating the provision of assistance to our emigrants and advancing [851]effective and coherent strategies in that important area of national policy. The officials assigned to the unit are working in close consultation with Departments and voluntary agencies engaged in the delivery of services to emigrants. Since it became operational, members of the unit have already had productive meetings with a range of voluntary agencies that provide front-line support to our emigrants in both the United States and Britain. I am convinced the unit will ensure that our emigrants have an effective channel of communication to the Government and that our response to their needs will become quickly and progressively more focused and effective.

Key recommendations of the task force called for a strategic and integrated approach to meeting the needs of the Irish abroad under three headings: pre-departure services intended to ensure, as far as possible, that people who emigrate do so voluntarily and on the basis of informed choice, and are properly prepared to live independently in a different society; services to Irish people abroad, particularly those who have emigrated involuntarily and find themselves vulnerable or at risk of social exclusion; and services to returning emigrants, especially the reintegration into Irish society of elderly emigrants who wish to come home.

I am happy to report that progress is being made in all three of those key areas. The Department of Social and Family Affairs actively supports organisations that provide pre-departure services and services to returning emigrants. This year, for instance, it has provided grants to ÉAN, the umbrella group that provides support for emigration and return migration information providers, and to Emigrant Advice.

Additional information

My Department will also grant €50,000 towards a conference organised by ÉAN to take place at the end of November.

As regards funding, my predecessor announced in July an additional €1 million, on top of the significant increase in funding already provided for emigrant services in 2004, bringing the total to some €5 million. That money will be disbursed before the end of the year, the bulk of it going directly to front-line service providers in Britain. The DION committee, which considers applications for funding in Britain, has also been asked to give a higher priority to providing assistance to older Irish emigrants in Britain who may wish to return to Ireland. To date, €1.2 million has been allocated to services for the elderly Irish in Britain. In addition, €182,000 has been allocated to projects aimed at assisting people who wish to return home to Ireland.

With regard to the recommendation on free travel within Ireland for our pensioners living abroad, this is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, who set [852]out the position in reply to a question on 6 October.

The Deputy can be assured that the Government’s commitment in the entire area is strong, growing and long-term.

Dr. Cowley:  I thank the Minister for his reply and congratulate him on his appointment. I wish him every success.

I hope, though I am not sure, that in his reply the Minister mentioned the emigrants in Britain who have done such great work for us. However, I will not go into that. Perhaps the Minister might address recommendation 515 of the task force report on travel, which was mentioned in the question. He said that, for many elderly Irish, the issue is not simply one of free travel, since they are not being given their due recognition as full citizens of their own country. The task force recommended that measures be introduced as a matter of urgency to enable Irish pensioners living overseas to enjoy free travel on public transport when they visit Ireland from abroad. It is usual to say that it is too difficult to do this, and that the privilege would have to be afforded to every other EU citizen if it were not to be discriminatory. The point I made was that people in receipt of their pre-1953 pension are already in the system, having been assessed. For them to be recognised as a special group and given free travel does not mean that such travel must be given to all older people in the EU.

The London-Irish Elders Forum has campaigned for many years for free travel for Irish pensioners when they come home to Ireland. I attended a meeting of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body yesterday and the Home Secretary, Mr. Murphy, made much of the common travel area between Ireland and the UK. The only recognition in law of this area was in the Amsterdam treaty, from which Ireland sought a derogation. Neither Ireland nor England incorporated the Schengen Agreement because of the common travel area arrangements. Will the Minister consider the matter? Does he agree that a successful legal challenge could be brought by an Irish pensioner in Britain asserting that the denial of travel concessions discriminates against and could be a breach of an Irish citizen’s constitutional rights?

Mr. D. Ahern:  I thank the Deputy for his kind remarks. I have some knowledge of this matter as a result of my five years as Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs and during my tenure in that Department I sought to see if we could give some help to Irish pensioners returning to Ireland and wishing to avail of free travel. The Deputy may say this is the usual bureaucratic response but it was not possible to take action unless there was an EU-wide agreement to such free travel. That is true regardless of who stands on what side of the House. I recall that when Deputy John Bruton was Taoiseach, and afterwards, he was to the fore in promoting [853]the concerns of Irish emigrants, particularly those in the UK.

Some three or four years ago, while Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, I introduced the pre-1953 pension, for which €72 million has been awarded this year. Some 77% of that figure, €56 million, is being spent on Irish emigrant pensioners who had the pre-1953 stamps. That is one of the best responses ever to Irish emigrants. The free transport issue for Irish pensioner emigrants is difficult and we would love to find a solution. I welcome the moves regarding free transport North and South for pensioners but the other issue is larger.

  161.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the issues discussed and matters raised at the meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, held at Farmleigh on 7 July 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25305/04]

Mr. D. Ahern:  The then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy MP, co-chaired a meeting of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference at Farmleigh on 7 July this year. The then Minister, Deputy Cowen, was accompanied at the meeting by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and the then Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Tom Kitt. The Secretary of State was accompanied by Mr. John Spellar MP and Mr. Ian Pearson MP, Ministers of State at the Northern Ireland Office. Copies of the communiqué of this meeting have been placed in the Dáil Library.

The conference on 7 July reviewed political developments including the discussions on 25 June in Lancaster House. The imperative of seeing an end to all forms of paramilitary activity and of restoring a stable and inclusive partnership government in Northern Ireland was reasserted and the conference looked forward to the intensive talks in September. As the House will be aware, these talks subsequently took place at Leeds Castle on 16-18 September. The conference reviewed the various commitments made in the Joint Declaration, which are not conditional on acts by others, and agreed to continue to monitor and advance their implementation. Progress was welcomed on a number of individual commitments in the areas of human rights, equality and criminal justice.

Security and policing issues were also reviewed. The continuation of a peaceful and orderly marching season was encouraged and those involved in seeking to defuse tensions arising from contentious parades were commended. The conference also discussed cross-Border security [854]co-operation, and ongoing North-South and east-west issues within the framework of the Good Friday Agreement.

Regarding the Cory reports, both Governments agreed that it was important to continue to move forward to establish the inquiries that have been announced following Judge Cory’s report and discussed progress in their respective jurisdictions. The Irish Government reiterated its view that the British Government should establish as soon as possible a public inquiry into the Pat Finucane case, as recommended by Judge Cory. On 23 September the British Government announced steps to enable the establishment of an inquiry which will be based on new legislation to be introduced at Westminster.

On the broader issue of dealing with the past, the conference agreed that any approach would need to have widespread acceptance across all sections of the community in Northern Ireland, and to respect the views of victims.

Additional information

In addition, the Government raised concerns in relation to the impact of the requirement to register annually on the rate of registration by eligible voters in Northern Ireland, particularly among marginalised and socially disadvantaged groups. The British Irish Intergovernmental Conference will meet again this autumn.

Mr. Quinn:  Arising from the Minister’s comprehensive reply, can he confirm what the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, stated on the radio on Sunday, that at Leeds Castle, arising from the talks to which the Minister’s reply refers, Sinn Féin asked for a question to be answered in public to the effect that in some circumstances Sinn Féin could participate in a coalition government south of the Border? Did the Minister anticipate the question put to him on this matter and prepare the answer in consultation with the Taoiseach and senior officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs in response to a very explicit request made in Leeds Castle by representatives of Sinn Féin on behalf of themselves and the IRA?

Mr. D. Ahern:  I was not present in Leeds Castle and I do not want to touch on the issues currently being discussed among the parties following the talks held there.

The comments made by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, were reported to me. I was asked a specific question with regard to a time when we would have complete peace, full decommissioning and an end to paramilitarism, with the latter being demonstrably shown and with the DUP and Sinn Féin in government together in Northern Ireland. I referred to the circumstances in the Republic and I look forward to a time when there will be no violence in this island, when the gun will be removed from Irish politics.

[855]Mr. Quinn:  Was the Minister aware that the question would be asked?

Mr. D. Ahern:  I cannot anticipate questions asked by journalists. I am not a clairvoyant.

Mr. Quinn:  Was the Minister aware that a question of that kind was likely to be asked?

Mr. Gormley:  Did the Minister know that Tommy Gorman was going to ask that question? Was he tipped off in advance?

Mr. D. Ahern:  No. I answered the question when it was put to me. I gave an answer which showed that on one hand we cannot dictate that the DUP and others should sit in government with Sinn Féin in a time of peace. I did not suggest that there would be a coalition between Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil. On this side of the House, within Fianna Fáil, I am probably one of the people who would be vehemently opposed to the type of policies which Sinn Féin has pursued over the years.

Mr. Allen:  Did the Minister discuss this issue with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste before and after the question was asked and answered? What was the trend of any conversations that took place?

  4 o’clock

Mr. D. Ahern:  As I said, I cannot anticipate questions asked by journalists. I discussed my interview with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and the former fully verified my account publicly in Bodenstown where he said that I made the essential point, namely that there can be no allegiance to another army, that no organisation can come in from the cold until it professes and accepts allegiance to Óglaigh na hÉireann under our Constitution and no other Óglaigh na hÉireann. I look forward to the day when it does so.

  162.  Mr. Gilmore    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    his position on the roadmap for peace in Palestine and Israel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25293/04]

Mr. D. Ahern:  The Government believes that the roadmap remains the most likely framework within which to achieve a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The members of the international quartet — the European Union, Russia, the United States and the Secretary General of the United Nations — remain committed to the roadmap. This commitment was reiterated in the quartet’s statements of 4 May and 22 September.

The General Affairs and External Relations Council considered this issue again on 11 October in Luxembourg and in its conclusions reaffirmed the EU’s long-standing positions on the quartet roadmap and Israel’s proposed unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. While an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip could represent [856]a significant step towards the implementation of the roadmap, the council underlined that the withdrawal must not be an attempt to replace the roadmap and the two-state solution it encompasses. It also recalled that settlement activity is contrary to the roadmap.

The council reaffirmed the conditions endorsed by the Tullamore declaration on the conditions which must be met by any Israeli withdrawal plan. The following five elements are essential to make a Gaza withdrawal acceptable to the international community: it must take place in the context of the roadmap; it must be a step towards a two-state solution; it must not involve a transfer of settlement activity to the West Bank; there must be an organised and negotiated hand-over of responsibility to the Palestinian Authority; and Israel must facilitate the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Gaza.

It is of the utmost importance that no further time should be lost in implementing the provisions of the roadmap. I call on both sides to make every effort to fulfil the commitments they have entered into in respect of the roadmap.

Mr. Quinn:  I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply on what is a complex set of affairs. What is the Government’s attitude to the status of President Yasser Arafat? Is it of the view that he continues to retain the support of the Palestinian people or does it share the view expressed by Ariel Sharon and others that he is a discredited leader with no effective mandate and with whom they cannot do business?

Mr. D. Ahern:  The Government still regards Yasser Arafat as somebody who has significant influence and input in respect of this matter. From discussions I had with Kofi Annan in the past week, I am aware that this is also the position as far as he is concerned. I do not agree that Mr. Arafat has been discredited and I am of the opinion that he has an important role to play. One of the main things we must do is ensure that the Palestinian Authority has the wherewithal and status to move forward in respect of the roadmap.

Mr. Quinn:  Does the Minister accept that the attitude of Ariel Sharon, and the position he has adopted, to Yasser Arafat is a major impediment to the implementation of the roadmap?

Mr. D. Ahern:  It is important that we are not overly critical of one side or the other in respect of this matter. We must contend with the violence perpetrated by Hamas on one hand and the over-reaction of the Israeli Government on the other. However, we must also accept that people on both sides, including Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon, are endeavouring, as best they can, to bring peace to that part of the world. The unrest there is leading to instability in the wider region. As I stated at the first meeting I attended of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, [857]the violence perpetrated on this island drove people further apart. Unfortunately, the same is the case in the part of the world under discussion. The longer the conflict goes on, the worse matters will become and the more destabilising an influence it will have in the general region. That is why the council in Luxembourg reiterated the view expressed in Tullamore in respect of the roadmap and the two-state solution.

Mr. Gormley:  Does the Minister agree that building of a wall by the Israelis is a symbol of a type of apartheid? Does he agree with the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign that it is time to introduce a boycott of Israeli goods in light of the repression we are witnessing, similar to that which occurred in South Africa in the past?

Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  Does the Minister agree that Israeli actions in Palestine in recent months run contrary to the roadmap? Does he also agree that extending the privileges of the European neighbourhood policy, including everything except institutions, would send the wrong signal to the Palestinian people? That signal would be to the effect that human rights abusers will be rewarded. What action will the Government take in respect of the debate on 5 November?

Mr. D. Ahern:  First I will answer Deputy Ó Snodaigh’s question on the European neighbourhood policy. It is a policy of the EU to maintain good relations, from a political, economic and institutional point of view, with nations in and around its borders and we support it. As regards Israeli participation in the plan of action in that respect, we also welcome their involvement. By getting Israel involved in the ENP, it is hoped that stability will be brought to that part of the world.

With regard to Deputy Gormley’s question, we intend that the vast majority of what we will do in respect of this matter will be done through the united voice of the EU. The issue of a boycott has not been raised in that context. We would be more willing to proceed on the basis of using the greater power the EU possesses, as one body, in respect of putting pressure on Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

  163.  D’fhiafraigh Mr. Sargent    den Aire Gnóthaí Eachtracha    cén dul chun cinn atá déanta aige agus ag an Rialtas sa chomhphlé le ballstáit eile an AE chun stádas oifigiúil a bhaint amach don Ghaeilge agus ar chuir an Rialtas litir chuig an gCoimisiún fós ag lorg an stádais seo agus an gceapann an tAire go ndéanfar socruithe san idirphlé leis na ballstáit eile agus leis an gCoimisiún le gur féidir le Comhairle na nAirí an Ghaeilge a thabhairt isteach faoi Rialachán 1 (1958) ag an gcruinniú a bhéas acu i Mí na Nollag 2004. [23055/04]

  181.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the response which has been received [858]from the European Commission in respect of the status of the Irish language within the EU; if bilateral discussions have taken place in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22756/04]

Mr. D. Ahern:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 163 and 181 together.

The Government decided on 14 July to initiate a process of discussions with the other EU member states and EU institutions with a view to seeking official and working status for the Irish language in the EU under Regulation 1 of 1958. The regulation is the legal instrument that governs the official and working language regime of the EU institutions. As a first step, we have undertaken initial bilateral discussions in Brussels with representatives of other member states and EU institutions. These discussions are ongoing and once they have progressed sufficiently to clarify the issues arising, as well as practical options in relation to achieving its objective, the Government will decide how it can most effectively proceed further, including the tabling of a formal proposal, with this matter.

The outcome and length of negotiations on this matter cannot be predicted with certainty. Unanimity among the 25 member states is required for amendment to Regulation 1 of 1958 which governs the language regime of the Union. The Government is determined to try to make early progress in this matter.

Mr. Sargent:  Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as an bhfreagra. Tá an Rialtas ag plé na ceiste seo le fada ach tá gá le freagraí daingneacha, “sea” nó“ní hea”. Níor chuala mé na freagraí a raibh mé ar a lorg go fóill. Ar scríobh an Rialtas litir go foirmiúil chuig an Coimisiúin agus Comhairle na nAirí ag déanamh an iarratais seo? An féidir í a feiceáil? An mbeidh rún ar an gclár ag an chruinniú de Chomhairle na nAirí atá beartaithe do dheireadh na bliana an Ghaeilge a chur ar an liosta faoi airteagal 1 do rialachán 1, 1958? Tá gá le freagra díreach dó sin. An bhfuil aon dhul chun cinn déanta faoi aonad chomhordaithe aistriúcháin a bhunadh leis an chuid den acquis communitaire nach bhfuil aistrithe go Gaeilge cheanna a aistriú? Tá go leor oibre ansin agus tá a lán ann a bheadh sásta á déanamh.

Mr. D. Ahern:  It is not a question of “yes” or “no”. The contacts that have been made were made at diplomatic level with all the countries involved. While some progress has been made, there is a difficulty in respect of some countries with regional languages which may want to obtain recognition in that regard. As stated earlier, unanimity is the issue.

A sensitive sounding out of the positions of other countries is taking place at present. The discussions are at a preliminary stage but we would like to believe we would be able to progress a proposal on this matter at a meeting in the not too distant future. This is a particularly sensitive issue. While the Irish language has treaty status [859]and the Amsterdam treaty confirmed this, it is the only language in which treaties may be published yet it is not an official language. The Government decided to try to address this matter and that is why the initial contacts have taken place at diplomatic level. I am not in a position to say that letters are in place. We leave the matter to diplomatic representatives acting on behalf of the State.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  An bhfuil an tAire sásta sprioc-dáta a chur leis na comhráití seo a chríochnú? Sna cainteanna go dtí seo, an bhfuil dul chun cinn déanta? Cén stáit a léirigh bá leis an rud atá ar lorg ag Gaeilgeoirí agus pobal na hÉireann?

Mr. Allen:  Recently, I told a member of the public I would raise a question he put to me in the House at the first opportunity. Why was the status of the Irish language not addressed during our Presidency and before the accession of the new member states?

Mr. Gormley:  Níl an tAire ag déanamh a dhícheall ar son stádas na Gaeilge. Cad faoi stádas na Gaeilge sa tír seo? Tá an nuachtán laethiúil Ghaeilge, , faoi bhrú agus tá daoine ag iarraidh an deontas atá ag dul do a bhaint agus an t-aon nuachtán laethiúil Ghaeilge a chur ó dhoras. I ask specifically about the language daily, , which will have its funding removed. Unionist politicians, in particular, argue that it does not deserve funding. An gcosnóidh an tAire an nuachtán seo? Will he protect this newspaper because it is extremely important?

Mr. Sargent:  An nglacann an tAire go bhfuil an-difríocht idir teanga conartha agus teangacha eile sa Spáinn, mar shampla, nach dteangacha conartha iad agus nach bhfuil comparáid ann? Tuigim nach bhfuil litir ann, agus tá díoma orm nach bhfuil, ach ar labhair an tAire go pearsanta, nó ar labhair ionadaíocht ar a shon, sa Bhruiséil le stáit eile faoin gceist seo? Tá sé ag rá go bhfuil síá plé idir dhaoine ach ní dúirt sé go raibh sé féin ag plé léi go díreach. Ar labhair sé go pearsanta le hionadaíocht buan sa Bhruiséil faoi stádas na Gaeilge?

Mr. D. Ahern:  As regards our position during the discussions on the European constitution, the status of a number of languages, Basque, Catalan and Galician, was raised and it was agreed that the treaty would be translated into these languages, which is similar to the position regarding the Irish language. A declaration on minority languages was also agreed but there was no question of reopening the issue of Article 1 of the 1958 treaty.

The Government made a decision to pursue this issue in July last and since then significant progress has been achieved. Our representatives in Brussels have made direct contact with all the member states and there has been a degree of [860]positive reaction towards and understanding of our position regarding the Irish language. At the same time, however, the question of the status of other minority languages that do not have recognition in the European Union also arises. We will need to overcome this issue given that unanimity is essential in this regard.

Mr. Gormley:  Chuir mé ceist dhíreach faoi .

Mr. D. Ahern:  I do not know what is the position regarding the newspaper, . The Deputy will have to raise the matter with the Minister with direct responsibility.

Mr. Allen:  Chuir mise ceist.

Mr. D. Ahern:  I answered the question regarding discussions on the European constitution.

Mr. Allen:  The Minister did not provide an explanation. Why was the matter not pursued during the Presidency? Why did we wait until July when it had expired to follow up the issue when the most opportune time to do so was before the accession of the new states?

Mr. Sargent:  Chuir mé ceist agus tá mé ag fanacht ar fhreagra go fóill. Ar labhair an tAire go pearsanta? An mbeadh suim aige sa cheist go
n-ardófadh séí le baill stáit eile? An bhfuil suim aige i gceist freisin, mar tá sé, mar Aire Gnothaí Eachtracha, ag plé le daoine ar an dá thaobh ó Thuaidh agus is féidir leis an cheist a chur ansin? Is ceist don Tuaisceart é fosta.

Mr. D. Ahern:  I will have to check the position regarding in the Department. I understand the reason the matter was not raised during the Presidency was that the Irish language became a real issue with the accession of ten new countries.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 21 and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy Twomey — the need to discuss what role the Minister has taken in the continuous monitoring of medications available in Ireland and if she is aware of any more ongoing concerns regarding this or other medication; (2) Deputy Howlin — the need to discuss the policy of the Government and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in deporting families with Irish born children who have established long-term residence and deep ties here; (3) Deputies Cregan, Collins and Neville — the need for the Minister to intervene with a view to resolving a dispute due to the ongoing hardship being experienced by poultry growers in west Limerick, the possible implications for chicken processing and the potentially damaging effects [861]to poultry growth nationally; (4) Deputy Costello — the need for the Minister to provide paid legal representation for a family (details supplied) at the Morris tribunal; (5) Deputy Pat Breen — the need for the Minister to assign more resources and Garda personnel to Kilrush Garda station in County Clare to deal with the recent upsurge in vandalism and criminal activity in the town; (6) Deputy Moynihan-Cronin — the need to discuss the delay in the provision of funding for the new hospital in Dingle, County Kerry; (7) Deputy McManus — the need for the Minister to outline the steps she proposes to take to deal with the ongoing crisis in many accident and emergency units of acute hospitals as highlighted by the problems experienced at the Mater Hospital over the weekend; (8) Deputy Gregory — the need to discuss the crisis in the accident and emergency department in the Mater Hospital, Dublin 7; (9) Deputy Eamon Ryan — the need for the Minister to outline what is the maximum level of central Government funding that could be made available for rebuilding of the Dundrum family recreation centre swimming pool which closed on 15 July last; and if the Minister will approve an increased subvention from the pool refurbishment scheme, given that the approved level of funding of €3.8 million still leaves a significant shortfall between the building cost and other revenue sources and the community developed pool provided a vital service for the people of south Dublin for 34 years prior to its closure; (10) Deputy Upton — the need for the Minister to put in place a voucher system to enable people to avail of physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy services; (11) Deputy Healy — the need to commence the Clonmel flood alleviation scheme as announced by the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, earlier this year, including the completion of phase one in 2004 and the public consultation process in the autumn of 2004; and (12) Deputy Cowley — the need for the Minister to explain the reason six people must travel from County Mayo to Galway for dialysis treatment when a dialysis unit in County Mayo could operate an extra dialysis shift if four extra nurses were employed.

The matters raised by Deputies McManus, Cowley and Twomey and Cregan, Collins and Neville have been selected for discussion.

Mr. Kenny:  The crisis in our accident and emergency departments has, unfortunately, become an accepted part of a health system, on which €44 billion has been spent in the past eight years. This afternoon, I am informed that 164 patients lie on trolleys in Dublin hospitals, of whom 49 are in Tallaght Hospital and 39 in the Mater Hospital. Outside Dublin at least another 50 patients are waiting on trolleys for attention. I had occasion to meet members of the families of some of the patients in question outside the gates of the House this afternoon.

[862]As bad as these circumstances are, they have the potential to get much worse. Gross overcrowding in our hospital wards and waiting rooms greatly increases the possibility of transmission of bugs and viruses. The winter vomiting bug has been reported in Beaumont Hospital, there is clear potential for an outbreak in the Mater Hospital and the trend for its spread is already ahead of that of last year. What is the Government’s strategy to head off a crisis which will occur if the winter vomiting bug takes a foothold in our hospitals, particularly accident and emergency units?

The Taoiseach:  I acknowledge, as the Tánaiste did last week, the number of people in accident and emergency departments. The Government has been endeavouring over the summer to make a number of alterations to improve the situation, as we have done in recent times, by increasing the number of consultants and facilities, trying to improve facilities in accident and emergency departments and dealing with the longer term problem, which has been ongoing in accident and emergency departments for years, that is, people on trolleys and temporary beds awaiting the discharge of other patients.

What we have been endeavouring to do, as Deputy Kenny knows, is to give additional resources to the health boards, not only to Dublin where the problem is most acute, to allow patients to move from beds to nursing homes, while providing for proper medical care and family arrangements. Over recent months we have escalated the process of trying to provide adequate arrangements and we will continue to do that.

Notwithstanding the fact that we have provided more than 900 beds, there still is a problem and we have to alleviate it by putting in the resources to provide additional nursing care facilities in private nursing homes, where there is spare capacity, and provide additional resources for accident and emergency departments. Approximately 78% of the people who attend accident and emergency departments do not require hospitalisation; about 22% do. It is through the efficient segregation and treatment of those patients and following the discharge policies in hospitals that we can try to obtain beds as quickly as possible. Of course, the inevitable reality is, and has been for many years, that there are people in hospitals who cannot be moved for one reason or another so it is up to the hospital authorities and we who fund them to try to provide the facilities and the beds. That is what we are endeavouring to do to an increasing extent. Deputy Kenny is aware of the numbers from replies the Tánaiste and I have given to the House. We will continue to try to provide the beds.

The vomiting flu is always a difficulty at this time of the year. A few years ago some of the major Dublin hospitals were closed to the public for almost the entire winter because of the vomiting bug or other ailments and diseases. There are [863]now well tested policies within the hospitals to deal with these matters.

Mr. Kenny:  The Taoiseach gets one out of ten for that response. The first two minutes were the usual prepared response and the last couple of sentences were about the winter vomiting bug, which is the question I asked. People have been asked to stay away from Cavan General Hospital. In Galway, 60 beds are vacant but an embargo on nurse recruitment means the nurses cannot be employed.

I will make two suggestions to the Taoiseach in respect of the winter vomiting bug. There was a carer outside the gate of this House two hours ago who displayed severe symptoms of this bug, having been minding a patient this morning. Will the Taoiseach make a serious effort to see to it that hygiene is improved in our hospitals? The standard of cleanliness ranges from outright filth in some cases to revolting in others. It is just not good enough that a standard applies whereby, in some cases, the cheapest is the norm. It is perfectly obvious——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy’s minute is concluded.

Mr. Kenny:  It could not be up yet, a Cheann Comhairle.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is.

Mr. Kenny:  You are on a speed watch.

An Ceann Comhairle:  If the House is agreeable, the Chair will put a clock up when Members speak.

Mr. Kenny:  What will the Taoiseach do to improve the standard of hygiene in our hospitals, which have become havens for the transmission of bugs and viruses?

Second, will the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste initiate a major campaign to urge patients to visit their general practitioners in the first instance as distinct from going to accident and emergency units, which are already overcrowded and are havens for the transmission of bugs and viruses? This is normally done in January but if it were done now, it would relieve some pressure and possibly avert the closure of a major accident and emergency unit in Dublin hospitals this winter.

Mr. F. McGrath:  There have been seven and a half years of talk.

The Taoiseach:  I am sorry Deputy Kenny thought my first answer did not deal with the issue. We have given the highest priority to emergency medicine departments. We have put in a large amount of resources — I will not rattle off the figures — to facilitate the discharge of patients who have completed their acute phases of treatment. Already, approximately 520 [864]patients have been discharged and resources have also been given this year to facilitate more discharges. These patients are discharged mainly to private nursing homes.

In the Dublin academic teaching hospitals this summer, the Minister for Health and Children provided for the appointment of special nurses for accident and emergency, establishment of rapid assessment teams, a clinical decisions unit and provision of multi-disciplinary teams to assist patients. We have also increased the number of emergency consultants.

Mr. F. McGrath:  One still cannot get a bed. It is disgraceful.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow the Taoiseach to continue without interruption.

The Taoiseach:  Let us not——

Mr. F. McGrath:  There are 120 people on trolleys.

The Taoiseach:  There are 900 additional beds and——

Mr. F. McGrath:  There have been seven and a half years of talk.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is not the leader of Fine Gael.

The Taoiseach:  In addition, in many of these hospitals large capital works are taking place. The reality is that there are different arrangements in different hospitals for accident and emergency units. Some hospitals do not have these difficulties but all the large hospitals do. We have to try as best we can——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach’s time has concluded.

The Taoiseach:  ——to provide beds in private care so patients who are on trolleys can be admitted.

With regard to hygiene, I hope Deputy Kenny is not correct about the extent of the problem. I accept his point that it is always better to act before the winter when the issue of flu becomes more difficult. Large resources are, and always have been, put into cleaning in our hospitals. We will ensure that where there are problems with hygiene, they are dealt with.

Mr. Rabbitte:  The Taoiseach does not demonstrate an awareness of the extent of public anger about this issue. When the country was far less wealthy it did not have the phenomenon of patients, families and nurses picketing Dáil Éireann on this issue. The consultants say there are 3,500 fewer beds in the system now than there were in 1990. In the past, when there was a flu epidemic during the winter, one would be confronted with the prospect of people on trolleys. [865]Now, it is the norm. In every hospital there are patients on trolleys. Even in provincial hospitals, where it never happened previously, there are patients on trolleys. We had the prospect today of a patient in the Mater Hospital being treated in the staff canteen and the prospect of a young man on a drip lying on two chairs.

When will the Taoiseach stop flying around the world and focus on the most acute problem confronting our community? What would we do if we were confronted with the circumstances posited by Deputy Kenny in terms of a flu epidemic or the winter bug, given our current circumstances? A total of 70 beds are inappropriately occupied in the Mater Hospital and there were 132 patients on trolleys in this city yesterday. That is how grievous the situation is. People want to hear what emergency measures the Taoiseach will take. What steps will he cause the Tánaiste to take to relieve this situation?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy’s time is up.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Relatives of patients do not easily congregate outside Dáil Éireann to express their desperation. It requires a response from the Taoiseach, as leader of the Government.

The Taoiseach:  I am aware of the problem and I have been aware of it for 30 years.

Mr. McCormack:  It is time to do something about it.

The Taoiseach:  With the onset of the winter period there is always pressure on accident and emergency departments. There are now more acute difficulties and there are many reasons for that. The Mater Hospital and other hospitals have always had a difficulty in their accident and emergency departments.

Many things have happened in the past seven years. There are now 900 more beds in the system.

Ms O. Mitchell:  It is only 500 beds.

Mr. Allen:  It is a misprint.

The Taoiseach:  In the recent past we have been putting in dedicated facilities, including staff at consultant, medical and nursing level. In the Mater Hospital, which has been the subject of discussion in recent days, the project of upgrading the accident and emergency department by the ERHA has been completed. The facilities include a dedicated triage area, a new resuscitation area and a wound care area. Deputy Kenny made the point that it improves the situation to have general practitioner services on campuses, as at St. James’s, which I accept.

Mr. F. McGrath:  That is no excuse.

The Taoiseach:  However, the most immediate issue, which we have been addressing for months, [866]is to provide as many places as possible for stand-down facilities, in the most appropriate circumstances for patients who, for one reason or another, do not need an acute hospital but are not in a position to return home. We can provide for them nursing home and care hospitals appropriate to their medical needs and to their family circumstances.

Mr. Gormley:  The Government has been in power for more than seven years.

The Taoiseach:  I am talking about this week. The Government is this week trying to enhance those facilities and trying to provide more beds so that patients can move from acute care, when they do not need it, to stand-down beds.

Mr. McCormack:  The Government should lift the embargo on hiring nurses.

Mr. Rabbitte:  After seven and a half years in Government, the Taoiseach is still theorising about the solution. I have no idea what he intends to convey to the public by stating he has been aware of this problem for 30 years. Most people would draw the conclusion that, after that period, he should move out and let someone else try his or her hand at the problem.

The hospital consultants state there are now 3,500 fewer beds in the system than in 1990, which is not 30 years ago. I remind the Taoiseach of the fanfare with which he assembled a number of Ministers with the then Minister, Deputy Martin, to announce a health strategy that promised 3,000 beds. Where are the 3,000 beds? Are these press conferences any more than a fanfare to attract the media and to get soft headlines for the weekend?

A Deputy:  They are sick events.

Mr. Rabbitte:  We have had many reports from the former Minister for Health and Children but little action. Some 3,000 beds were promised in the health strategy. Will the Taoiseach tell us precisely how he intends to utilise the spare capacity in private nursing homes to deal with the phenomenon of patients retained in acute hospitals who ought not be there? Will the Government open the facilities which have been built but not commissioned? The Mater Hospital is short 60 nurses, four in accident and emergency alone. Will the Government do anything to assist recruitment? The public are looking for tangible, speedy, emergency measures as well as a longer-term solution to the problems that confront our community.

The Taoiseach:  Some 520 patients have already been discharged and work is ongoing to facilitate the discharge of more patients. That is the current position, not a plan for the future. More than 1.2 million people are treated in our accident and emergency departments, a much higher figure than ever dealt with before. A greatly increased [867]number of consultants are meeting, dealing with and assessing patients. While there were only three or four consultants in the country previously, there are now 51. There are dedicated accident and emergency nurses, rapid assessment teams and clinical decision units.

Ms McManus:  Hundreds are on trolleys.

Mr. Gormley:  That will not help people today.

The Taoiseach:  All of these facilities are in place. While there is a longer-term plan to have 3,000 beds, 900 are in place. Longer-term developments are ongoing at James Connolly Memorial Hospital and at hospitals in Naas, south Tipperary, Roscommon and elsewhere, including at the Mater Hospital.

Ms McManus:  The wards are closed at the James Connolly Memorial Hospital.

The Taoiseach:  The provisions to which I refer have been in place since the summer and show we are addressing this issue.

Mr. Gormley:  The Minister, Deputy Martin, is a happy man.

The Taoiseach:  With regard to my reference to the past 30 years, during the busy time of year for the medical system in Europe, there is never a period without problems in accident and emergency. What is needed is to try to quickly provide the best facilities within accident and emergency, and the best discharge policies compatible with the patient’s medical and family needs. That is precisely what we are endeavouring to do.

Ms McManus:  That is nonsense. Shame on the Taoiseach.

Mr. F. McGrath:  The Taoiseach is talking rubbish.

Mr. Sargent:  The Taoiseach has informed us in many ways that he feels people’s pain. Does he appreciate, given everything he has experienced over many years, that the 2001 health strategy commitment of funding for 3,000 extra hospital beds by 2011 is completely inadequate, that the time frame is neither real, appropriate nor adequate and that it must be re-assessed and a new plan brought forward?

Is it not clear, despite the money invested in the health system, that there were 3,500 more beds in 1990? Does this not suggest that we have not done enough and that those waiting in accident and emergency wards have an extremely good reason to feel angry at this Government? Despite the Celtic tiger investment, the greyhound industry licking its lips at the extra €55 million in funding and horse breeders neighing with delight at the tax breaks received, are those [868]who are hospitalised or need hospitalisation not right to be apoplectic with anger?

What of the case of the 84 year old woman who was the focus of protests outside the gates of Leinster House today? She has been seriously ill since last Saturday but was left waiting and is still waiting on a trolley beside the area where the bed pans are emptied, as I was informed today by people at the hospital. That type of treatment for someone of 84 years of age who was brought to hospital by emergency ambulance is all too common. How many stories like this, reflected in the reality of people’s lives, will be necessary before the Taoiseach realises that 2011 is never-never time and that 3,000 beds are needed now?

Other countries are able to provide this with less of the economic success to which the Taoiseach constantly refers, yet he is failing to do it in this country. Does the Taoiseach realise that people must be prioritised? Greyhounds and horses have had the running for long enough.

The Taoiseach:  Some 900 beds were provided of the 3,000 beds which were to be provided over a decade. Deputy Sargent will agree that this target was based on the professional assessment of all involved in the health sector.

Mr. Gormley:  The consultants say we need more beds.

The Taoiseach:  It is a third of what was to be provided over a decade. The long-term aim is for more beds, which is already happening.

Mr. Sargent:  It is not.

The Taoiseach:  It is happening at hospitals at Temple Street, Castlebar, Limerick, Cork University, Naas and James Connolly Memorial.

Ms McManus:  The facilities are closed.

The Taoiseach:  Deputy Rabbitte asked me about the short-term facilities. We have already announced a package for this and the facilities are opening. However, a current problem exists. Not everywhere but in a number of locations, there is a requirement to better operate the accident and emergency discharge policy-——

Ms McManus:  What will the Government do?

Mr. Sargent:  We need more beds.

The Taoiseach:  ——so that patients in beds who do not require intensive, specialist acute care are moved to an appropriate location in accordance with their medical needs.

Ms McManus:  What will the Government do about it? Where will they be put?

The Taoiseach:  In private nursing homes.

[869]Mr. F. McGrath:  People cannot afford nursing homes.

The Taoiseach:  Some 520 patients have been discharged to date. The Department of Health and Children has already identified the areas where we can find more spare capacity. That must be matched by the doctors and medical staff being happy that the patients they discharge — it is not just a question of moving them — are discharged compatible with the medical needs and family circumstances of the individual patient, which is happening.

Ms McManus:  Blame the doctors.

The Taoiseach:  In addition, we provided many initiatives over the summer, as I stated we would——

Ms McManus:  They are not working.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow the Taoiseach speak without interruption, please.

The Taoiseach:  ——and appointed additional nurses, doctors, consultants and stand-down facilities. This is not a plan; it happened last summer.

Mr. Sargent:  I am not sure the Taoiseach appreciates the urgency of this matter. Whether the report and the target date of 2011 seemed fine, the date is not fine now. When the Taoiseach refers to private nursing homes, which seem to be seen as some form of panacea, does he not realise that 20 people were waiting for beds in the Mater Hospital just one hour ago? Some have been waiting since last Thursday. One lady has waited since 10.15 a.m. on Saturday. Her doctor stated his hands were tied, that he could not treat her in casualty and that she needed a bed on his ward. Fortunately, she got a bed approximately one hour ago after waiting all weekend.

Regarding private nursing homes, I have a reply to a question to the Minister for Finance about the introduction in the Finance Act 2001 of capital allowances in respect of capital expenditure on private hospitals. We asked how much money is involved and the reply was that the Revenue Commissioners state that tax relief for such schemes is not at present captured in any way as to provide a specific basis for compiling Estimates of cost to the Exchequer. Effectively, the Government is talking about pennies for the public sector and for beds in hospitals but it cannot say how much money is spent on tax breaks for individuals who will become rich out of the misfortunes and illness of others. Will the Taoiseach get the figures so that we can calculate the extent to which the Government has abandoned the health service in the interests of people who want to benefit and profiteer from it?

The Taoiseach:  That is totally incorrect. We are spending €10.5 billion which is a three-fold [870]increase in the health budget. We have 35,000 more people working in it. There is a capital programme in practically every county in the country.

Mr. Gormley:  We are below the EU average.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the Deputy not satisfied with his leader’s handling of the question?

Mr. Gormley:  I am very satisfied.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask him to afford the same courtesy to the Taoiseach as was afforded to the leader of his party. He is entitled to be heard in silence and Deputy Sargent is entitled to hear his reply in silence.

Mr. Gormley:  He is talking waffle.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow the Taoiseach to speak without interruption.

The Taoiseach:  The reason for giving incentives a number of years ago was an increase in the aged population. It was correctly argued that in order to provide more facilities for elderly people we should involve the private sector, under clear regulations, in building more nursing homes. That has worked. That is how, in the short term, we have been able to provide discharges of 520 patients to assist in this area. The capital programme and the provision of additional beds is a long-term issue. I instance what we are doing now to identify where additional places are needed and to deal with people who everybody accepts have major problems. We have put in specialist nurses, consultants, rapid assessment teams, clinical decisions units, multi-disciplinary teams. We must continue to do that. These initiatives will help people——

Mr. Gormley:  They are not helping the people.

The Taoiseach:  ——more than merely engaging in political chat about it.

(Interruptions).

The Taoiseach:  Regarding the hospital system, we continually try to put in better facilities. It would be a good idea if people acknowledged the major improvements in areas of our hospital system other than accident and emergency.

Mr. Gormley:  Tell that to the people outside.

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 Deputies in the order in which they submitted their notices to my office.

[871]Ms McManus:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss the following specific and important matter of public interest requiring urgent attention, namely, the need for the Minister for Health and Children to outline the steps she proposes to take to deal with the ongoing crisis in many accident and emergency units of acute hospitals as highlighted by the problems experienced at the Mater Hospital over the weekend. In view of the importance of this issue I hope the Chair will agree to this request.

Mr. Gregory:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to raise a matter of urgent importance, namely, the crisis in the accident and emergency section of the Mater Hospital, Dublin 7, where patients are waiting for long periods on trolleys owing to a shortage of beds; and the need to take urgent action and provide the necessary resources to resolve this issue.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to raise a matter requiring urgent consideration, namely, the Government policy of deporting non-national parents of Irish citizen children, which may be illegal under EU law in view of the ruling of the European Court of Justice in the Chen case earlier today.

Mr. Crowe:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss a matter of public interest requiring urgent consideration, namely, that in a time of dramatic economic development and growth households and families in west Tallaght face a considerable risk of poverty and social exclusion as highlighted by a recent report, the need for urgent action and a solutions-based approach to the area’s long and short-term problems.

Mr. Ferris:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss the alarming statistics on suicide among those aged 15 to 24 years and the role which social deprivation and marginalisation plays in this problem.

Mr. Neville:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss the following issue of national importance, namely, the report on the review of the care and treatment of a suicide victim in the course of her admission to the acute psychiatric inpatient unit at the Midwestern Regional Hospital in Limerick in September 2002 and, in particular, the discharge from the special care unit of St. Patrick’s Hospital, the failure of communications between consultant psychiatrists, the level of training by admitting psychiatrists and the formulation of treatments planned without direct consultant assessment and the absence of a high observation unit in Limerick.

Mr. Connolly:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss a matter of national importance, namely, the early imple[872]mentation of the package for Monaghan and Cavan General Hospitals as announced by the Minister for Health and Children on 29 September last to avoid a situation where it is found necessary to transfer patients despite the availability of ICU beds at Monaghan and Cavan General Hospitals.

Mr. Boyle:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss a matter of national importance, namely, the findings and recommendations of the first known study of family budget research for those families dependent on social welfare payments as issued by the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice, a study that reveals such payments bring about a weekly shortfall in meeting the basic needs of such families to the extent of between €6 and €24.

Mr. Gormley:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss an issue of urgent public importance, namely, the increase in the numbers of US troops passing through Shannon Airport on their way to Iraq to bolster the illegal occupation of that country and the need for the Government to admit that it has finally abandoned neutrality.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is appropriate to read only the notice as submitted to my office. Having considered the matters raised, I do not consider them to be in order under Standing Order 31.

The Taoiseach:  It is proposed to take No. 13, motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Draft Order entitled Adoptive Leave Act 1995 (Extension of Periods of Leave) Order 2004 (back from committee); No. 14, motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 (Additional Institutions) Order 2004 (back from committee); No. 15, motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2004 (back from committee); No. 16, Water Services Bill 2003 [Seanad] — Second Stage (resumed).

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 13 and 14 shall be decided without debate; the proceedings on No. 15 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 45 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: (i) subject to (ii), the speeches shall be confined to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism and to the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, and which shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; (ii) Members may share time; (iii) a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes. Private Members’ business shall be No. 33, motion re Special Needs.

[873]An Ceann Comhairle:  There are two proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 13 and 14, motions re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Draft Order entitled Adoptive Leave Act 1995 and the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002, agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 15, motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2004, agreed?

Mr. Sargent:  In the context of the wider implications and the needs of this country in terms of accident and emergency shortfalls and the suffering in our hospitals, it is important that the probity of allocating so much money to what effectively is an industry and also an entertainment be dealt with not only by a committee with a narrow remit but in the Dáil by way of debate. For that reason I seek a debate in this House.

Question, “That the proposal for dealing with No. 15 be agreed”, put and declared carried.

Mr. Kenny:  There is some confusion abroad about the consequences of the statement made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, concerning the possibility of Fianna Fáil negotiating with Sinn Féin to participate in Government.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That does not arise on the Order of Business and the matter has already been dealt with.

Mr. Kenny:  It does.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It cannot be raised on the Order of Business.

Mr. Kenny:  Given the concerns expressed by a great number of people, will the Taoiseach arrange a debate on Northern Ireland? All parties support the Good Friday Agreement but the deliberate statement of the Minister for Foreign Affairs has obviously added confusion.

Deputy Neville has consistently highlighted the disastrous funding of the psychiatric services and the high rate of suicides. Will time be made available for a debate on the implementation of the report of the national task force on suicide?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is a debate promised?

The Taoiseach:  If the Whips wish to discuss having a debate on the report.

Mr. Rabbitte:  I hoped the Taoiseach would have replied to Deputy Kenny because it is important that he takes the first opportunity since his return from his overseas visit to clear up the confusion in the public domain behind the motivation and purpose of the recent statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern.

[874]An Ceann Comhairle:  The issue was discussed on Question Time.

Mr. Rabbitte:  If the Minister was flying a kite and the Taoiseach thinks he has brought him down to earth again——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I would prefer if the Deputy did not continue when he is out of order.

Mr. Rabbitte:  It is important that we understand if it was about replacing the Progressive Democrats in Government or a benign gesture in the context of the Northern Ireland discussions.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is out of order. He knows there are other ways in which he can raise the matter.

Mr. Rabbitte:  It would be helpful if the leader of Government simply availed——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask the Deputy not to pursue this course as he is out of order.

Mr. Rabbitte:  I accept the Chair’s ruling. However, the leader of Government as distinct from the Minister for Foreign Affairs should clarify the issue for the public.

Will there be a debate to discuss the implications of yesterday’s report published by the child development initiative on Tallaght?

The Taoiseach:  The report published yesterday was a good one and if we can find time for a short debate on it, it would be useful.

Mr. Sargent:  I would like to think the Taoiseach would take the opportunity to clarify the statement of his Minister for Foreign Affairs——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I have already ruled the matter out of order.

Mr. Sargent:  I was simply hoping that the Taoiseach might take the opportunity to address the issue when replying. The charities regulation Bill has been promised since before I became a Member of the House. The Costello report goes back to 1990 and even the time of the hospital sweepstakes. Those hospitals that must raise extra funds to meet Exchequer shortfalls want to know when the Bill will be in place.

The Taoiseach:  An external report on this issue was completed in September. This will now inform the preparation of draft legislation. Matters can proceed now on foot of the availability of this report.

Ms O. Mitchell:  Report Stage of the Railway Safety Bill is scheduled for tomorrow, one and a half years after Committee Stage was taken. Yesterday, Deputies received 50 pages of technical amendments from the Minister for Transport. [875]Will the Taoiseach arrange for the Bill to be returned to Committee Stage as it is a now effectively a new Bill? It is unacceptable that the Minister should bring——

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is a matter for the House.

Ms O. Mitchell:  It is a matter for the Taoiseach to ensure the orderly arrangement of business. It is unacceptable that what is effectively a new Bill is introduced in such a manner.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is a matter for the House when the Bill comes before it.

Mr. Kenny:  With 52 pages of amendments?

Mr. Allen:  It is off the rails.

Mr. Howlin:  The Tánaiste promised legislation some considerable time ago to change the work permit system by giving non-national workers a green card that would accrue to them rather than their employers. Will this promise be fulfilled in the work permits Bill, which is on the list of promised legislation, or in a separate Bill?

The Taoiseach:  The employment permits Bill is ready and will be taken in this session.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  In view of the Government’s reiteration of its commitment to increase overseas development assistance spending by 0.7% of gross domestic product will legislation be introduced to ring-fence this money which will befit the capacity of the fourth wealthiest state in the world? Will secondary legislation or a ministerial order be required to facilitate the immediate regularisation of residency rights of non-national parents of some 11,000 children citizens?

The Taoiseach:  No legislation is required on either issue. The first issue was dealt with by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs on Question Time.

Mr. Durkan:  What is the current intention concerning the broadcasting authority bill which was promised for 2005 but is making very slow progress?

The Taoiseach:  The heads of the Bill are expected before Christmas and it will be next year when it is published.

Mr. Gilmore:  At the beginning of 2003, the Taoiseach referred the proposal to control the price of building land to the All-Party Committee on the Constitution. It is six months since the committee reported. On Thursday last, I asked the Tánaiste if the Government has any plans to introduce legislation on foot of the report. Will there be a debate on the report?

[876]An Ceann Comhairle:  Is legislation promised?

The Taoiseach:  Not at this stage, but it has been dealt with in detail on a number of occasions on Taoiseach’s Question Time. If the Whips can find time for these debates, it is fine with me.

Mr. Gilmore:  It will be on a Thursday.

Mr. Sargent:  The Taoiseach will not be here.

Mr. Gormley:  When will legislation on the referendum on the European Constitution be published? What is the likely date for the referendum?

The Taoiseach:  The Government has not considered this. Although it must be within the next two years, the Government has not yet set a date.

Mr. Stanton:  In light of the stress parents find themselves under at present, when will the parental leave (amendment) Bill be published? When will the family law Bill, promised for some time, be introduced? When will the Bill to consolidate the Social Welfare Acts be introduced?

The Taoiseach:  The heads of the parental leave (amendment) Bill have been approved and it will be published in the new year. The heads of the family law Bill, to provide for pension adjustments in the context of separation agreements and other reforms, are expected before Christmas and it will be drafted then. I am informed that it is a very detailed Bill. The social welfare (consolidation) Bill will be introduced after the Social Welfare Bill 2005.

Mr. Costello:  Arising from the recent statements by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, on cracking down on fireworks by giving extra powers to the Garda and increasing penalties for fireworks, will legislation be introduced before Hallowe’en?

Mr. Rabbitte:  When it is, we can expect plenty of fireworks.

Mr. Durkan:  That will be the day.

Mr. Stanton:  We can expect much smoke.

Mr. O’Dowd:  And noise.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call on Deputy Broughan.

Mr. Costello:  The Minister has issued statements to the media that he will clamp down on fireworks by toughening existing legislation so that elderly people will feel more secure during Hallowe’en. Will an amendment to the Explosives Act be introduced?

[877]Mr. Rabbitte:  The Minister is reading The Wind in the Willows by the banks of the Shannon.

Mr. Durkan:  Or A Bridge too Far?

Mr. Costello:  The relevant legislation is 125 years old. Is any amendment promised in this area? The Minister stated it when he was abroad. When can we expect it?

Mr. O’Donoghue:  Deputy Costello is firing on all cylinders.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow the Deputy to speak without interruption.

Mr. Rabbitte:  If you let off fireworks down in Roosky nobody would notice.

Ms Harney:  We already have.

Mr. Broughan:  In recent years, most people were surprised to find we had an e-Minister because she was largely invisible in carrying out her duties.

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

Mr. Broughan:  Is the Chief Whip, Deputy Kitt, now the e-Minister? Some people think we do not have one.

Mr. Martin:  We are all e-Ministers.

Mr. C. Lenihan:  What “e” is the Deputy inquiring about?

The Taoiseach:  It is the same job.

Mr. O’Dowd:  I understood there was a commitment from Government to have a debate on the national spatial strategy when it was published, but that was almost two years ago. Can we have that debate as soon as possible, please?

The Taoiseach:  There was a debate at the time it was published. The Deputy should raise the matter with the Minister.

Mr. Kenny:  I thought it appropriate that the House would pass on its good wishes to the Clerk of the Dáil who is recuperating.

Has the Taoiseach had any hand, act or part in the discussions to bring Mick O’Dwyer from Laois to become manager of the Dublin Gaelic football team?

The Taoiseach:  I join in the best wishes to the Clerk of the Dáil.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Kitt):  I move:

[878]

That Dáil Éireann approve the Draft Order entitled Adoptive Leave Act 1995 (Extension of Periods of Leave) Order 2004, copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 9 September, 2004.

Question put and agreed to.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Kitt):  I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the following Draft Order:

Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 (Additional Institutions) Order 2004,

copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 4 October, 2004.

Question put and agreed to.

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the following Order in draft:

Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2004,

a copy of which order in draft was laid before Dáil Éireann on 22 September, 2004.

  5 o’clock

The Government is committed to the ongoing development of the Irish racehorse and greyhound industries. In 2001, following the establishment of the horse and greyhound racing fund under the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001, a major period of development of both the horse and greyhound racing industries commenced. In the four years to date, this fund has provided a guaranteed level of funding to Horse Racing Ireland and Bord na gCon, which by the end of 2004 will amount to €206.4 million and €51.6 million, respectively. This money has been well invested leading to undeniable benefits for both sectors and has marked a revival of interest in both sports, to the benefit of the economy. It has not only helped towards providing some top class racing venues and facilities, but it has underpinned significant employment in both industries and the prize money it has facilitated has been an important boost for both horse and greyhound breeding.

The reason for bringing these important draft regulations before the House is to enable the horse and greyhound racing fund to be continued to allow Horse Racing Ireland and Bord na gCon to progress their important development plans, which have already yielded tangible results but which require a further period of investment to reach completion.

[879]When I presented these regulations to the Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs on 6 October last, I was heartened by the cross-party support the motion received. In particular, spokesmen from Fine Gael and Labour gave the motion their complete backing and were fully supportive of the funding that both the horse and greyhound sectors have received in recent years and the importance of its continuation through the horse and greyhound racing fund.

Under the provisions of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001, the horse and greyhound racing fund is guaranteed a level of income based on accrued excise duty on off-course betting, subject to a minimum level based on the 2000 level adjusted for inflation. Any shortfall in the amount generated by the excise duty is made up by direct Exchequer subvention.

Under the existing legislative provision an aggregate total for the fund is set at €254 million, £200 million. This limit will now be reached before the end of 2004. Therefore, unless action is taken, the fund will lapse and support to these industries will cease, leaving both the horse and greyhound industries facing severe financial difficulties. In these circumstances, both industries would be forced immediately into reducing significantly their current levels of activity and I am convinced their long-term viability would be precarious.

The development strategies of both Horse Racing Ireland and Bord na gCon are predicated on the continuation of the fund and neither are in a position to generate enough income to replace the fund in the short term. In the discussions with the racing bodies leading up to the establishment of the fund in 2001, security of funding over time was a central issue, and the 2001 legislation sought to address this matter. Failure to ensure the continuation of this fund while neither industry has yet completed its development plans would be a breach of faith.

Since 2001, income from this fund has been used to increase prize money levels and meet administration and integrity costs, in addition to a programme of capital investment which has underpinned a growth in both sectors. The growth of both these industries has also helped generate and support significant employment and income, particularly in rural Ireland in a period when direct farm employment has been in decline. It is estimated that the bloodstock sector provides 4,700 direct full-time job equivalents with a further 11,875 full-time job equivalents arising in the racing and betting industries. The total number of people earning an income from horse racing, betting and breeding, both full and part-time, including those employed in related industries, has been estimated at 25,000 or approximately 1.5% of the country’s workforce. Horse racing is also a significant element of Ireland’s tourism product, attracting an estimated 50,000 overseas visitors a year.

[880]Racecourses at Limerick, Cork, Fairyhouse, Listowel and Galway have all seen major refurbishment. There are plans for major developments of horse racing’s flagship tracks at Leopardstown and the Curragh with the purchase of strategic land attached to Leopardstown racecourse. There are also plans to develop Ireland’s first all-weather racetrack.

The recently published Indecon report validates the economic contribution made by the bloodstock and horse racing industry in Ireland. In 2003, the total attendance at about 280 horse racing meetings rose to more than 1.3 million people, generating more than €23 million in gate receipts. Off-course betting in 2003 totalled €1.9 billion and total on-course betting was €237 million. The gross output of the breeding sector is estimated to be worth €330 million per annum. Bloodstock production now accounts for approximately 10% of all livestock production in Ireland and 4.4% of total agricultural output. Ireland is now the third largest producer of thoroughbreds in the world and accounts for more than 42% of all foals born within the EU. These statistics serve to underline the international importance of the Irish bloodstock and horse racing industries. While it is estimated that the gross cost of the tax incentives for the thoroughbred breeding sector is around €3 million per annum, conservative estimates put the combined tax contribution of the stallion and broodmare sector to the Irish economy at €37.5 million.

The success of Bord na gCon in repositioning greyhound racing as an attractive night time recreational experience can be attributed to a significant extent to the standard of the facilities available at new or refurbished greyhound stadia in Dundalk, Galway, Lifford, Cork, Newbridge and Waterford. In 2003, attendance figures once again achieved double-digit growth, with more than 1.125 million people attending greyhound racing in Ireland, generating on-course betting turnover of €118 million. This is an increase in attendance of 25% since the turn of the millennium and this growth is expected to continue with future plans to build a new stadium at Limerick and complete stadium refurbishment works at Clonmel, Enniscorthy, Kilkenny and Thurles. The industry currently provides employment of 600 direct full-time jobs and 10,000 indirect and part-time jobs, and an estimated 10,000 bed-nights in Irish hotels and guesthouses are directly generated by greyhound racing activity.

Given their successful track record, both horse and greyhound racing deserve a continued period of support to enable them to reach their full potential. The fund has reached its limit under the existing provisions. However, there is a provision in the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001 to allow an increase of the aggregate total of the fund. This may be done by regulations made by the Minister for Art, Sport and Tourism with the consent of the Minister for Finance, together with a resolution approving such draft regulations passed by both Houses of the [881]Oireachtas. The draft regulations now before the House, which have the consent and support of the Minister for Finance, provide for an increase in the aggregate limit of the fund from €254 million to €550 million. This would allow for continuation of the fund for a further four-year period to 2008. During the next three years, a shortfall in the excise-generated funds will require a decreasing level of subvention up to the end of 2007, at which point predicted rises in the volume of off-course betting will see the fund revert to being fully financed from betting.

I ask Members of the House to join me in supporting this motion to ensure the continuation of this system of funding, which gives both the horse and greyhound racing sectors a secure financial framework for the next four years to enable them to bring to conclusion their major development initiatives. It is vital that these sectors continue to receive support in terms of their impact on the 35,000 people employed, both directly and indirectly, and the significant levels of tourism generated. However, just as important are the dozens of high quality racing facilities all over Ireland providing hundreds of thousands of ordinary people with an enjoyable day out at the races and a fun night at the dogs.

Mr. Deenihan:  I supported this motion when it was presented to the Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and I support it again today. The horse and greyhound racing fund was established under the Horse and Greyhound Act 2001 and by the end of 2004 Horse Racing Ireland will have received approximately €206 million from it and Bord na gCon, €51.6 million, leaving an Exchequer funding requirement, I understand, of about €45 million. I believe this is good value for money, judging from the results of the Indecon report and income figures from Bord na gCon over that period.

I am glad the Minister has stated that the fund will be self-financing and cost-neutral, requiring no Exchequer expenditure by 2008. Judging by the current increase in off-course betting, at about 20% per annum, a rate of 15% a year dropping down to 5% would guarantee the scheme is cost-neutral by 2008. I hope the use of taxpayers’ money to boost this fund at that time would not then arise, if the trend continues. People should realise that the off-course betting market employs approximately 3,500 workers. This would not occur without horse and greyhound racing, and the jobs would not be there. There is the question of the redirection of taxes to support the greyhound and horse racing industries. This is commonplace throughout the world and is not peculiar to Ireland. We have thriving horse and greyhound industries because of the few incentives we have.

A report in the Sunday Independent of 17 October 2004 stated that last January the British horse racing board introduced incentives which give an extra 25% prize money to British horse [882]breeders. British-bred fillies and mares running and winning under national hunt rules get 50% more than Irish runners in the same race. That surely is a major incentive. In France transport costs to races are refunded to native horse owners while French-bred winners get up to 75% extra prize money. Both Italy and France run closed races for native-bred horses, which critics suggest amounts to de facto protectionism. I notice in the Indecon report that in Kentucky, for example, which is a leading breeding location, the state legislature is considering the introduction of a sales tax exemption. When one looks at countries such as Australia and New Zealand as well as other states in America, the current trend is to give incentives to the horse racing and greyhound industry, especially to encourage breeding. Ireland is not unique in this regard.

As regards the greyhound sector of the industry, with which I am most familiar, this generates approximately €275 million annually and provides in excess of 2,000 full-time equivalent jobs. These are figures recently provided by Bord na gCon. The PAYE and PRSI generated is anticipated to exceed €8 million annually, with significant Exchequer revenues from VAT on fees and professional services as well as the costs of development expenditure by owners and breeders and the reinvestment in facilities to capitalise on this buoyant industry.

The sale of greyhounds generates approximately €40 million and this provides an important lifeline to supplement on-farm incomes, thereby preserving many farms. As we know income from mainstream farming is dropping. A number of farmers are supplementing this income by breeding and selling greyhounds. In many cases, they breed and sell horses as well. As the Minister pointed out, there has been major development in the provision of tracks across the country. I am aware of the advantages Tralee track has for the tourism industry in Kerry as well as for the greyhound fraternity and the fact that it has become a major social centre, with young and old enjoying weekend racing and whole families attending. This is being replicated across the country. People do not fully understand the social impact of greyhound racing because it is an evening sport. This is true of horse racing also, but particularly greyhound racing.

There are fine stadiums in Shelbourne Road and Harolds Cross in Dublin and throughout the country, as the Minister pointed out. The extension of the fund will enable Limerick to be built, for which a figure of €10 million has been earmarked. A figure of €4 million has been earmarked for Enniscorthy, €5 million for Kilkenny, €3 million for Clonmel and €2 million for Thurles. These are all important facilities which will give employment to people from the locality and will benefit people from all walks of life. In addition, there is a major employment factor for part-time workers and those currently without jobs. Therefore, it is not just the preserve of one [883]sector of the community. Everybody benefits from it.

Without such investment over the past ten years, the industry would not have grown to the extent it has. The in-depth report by Indecon on the Irish racing industry shows that more than 13,000 people are employed in the horse racing sector. That is a considerable number and it should be recognised.

I hope advances will be made in getting the Northern Ireland Assembly functional again. I ask the Minister to promote the idea of having one greyhound board for the whole country. That is very important. There are just two tracks in the North, in Derry and Ballyskeagh, both of which are under funded. We are operating different regulations and control systems and it is important the Minister would promote the idea of having one greyhound board for the whole country. I will support him in doing that. I appeal to him to do that in case I do not get an opportunity to do so for some time.

Mr. Kehoe:  I thank Deputy Deenihan for allowing me to share his time. I welcome the Minister to the House.

I stress the importance of the horse and greyhound racing industries and the money they generate, both on and off the track. In recent years Ireland has led the way in the horse racing industry. One only has to think of the many famous Irish horses that have either been sold abroad or raced throughout the world. It is important that we give the appropriate recognition to both industries.

There is a huge greyhound industry in County Wexford, and I am aware the Minister has visited the Enniscorthy greyhound track. To speak briefly on local politics, in 2001, the Enniscorthy greyhound track was approved for a grant from Bord na gCon of €3 million for major refurbishment works, which the Minister referred to in his contribution. I welcome that measure but with the increase in inflation over recent years it will now cost in the region of €5 million or more to do this work. When granting future funds I ask the Minister to consider Enniscorthy to ensure the proper refurbishment work is carried out in one project and not over a long period. The Minister visited Enniscorthy greyhound track and saw the fine work done there. In that regard, I compliment the management, and Mary Nolan, of Enniscorthy greyhound track on the great work they do.

Mr. Wall:  I supported this legislation on Committee Stage and the measure the Minister has brought before the House today. Listening to Leaders’ Questions and the Order of Business one could be concerned about funding for other sectors of society but we are speaking today about the greyhound and racehorse industries.

Coming from Kildare, where the racehorse and greyhound tracks are a major employment factor, [884]one can see the benefit to the Exchequer from a tourism point of view, particularly in the case of horse racing. We have the Punchestown and derby festivals as well as the classics on the Curragh during the year. The major benefit of these events to Kildare is obvious, as is the spin-off benefit to hotels, bed and breakfast premises, taxi and other services that are part of such occasions.

There is concern in the Labour Party that Exchequer money, apart from that ring-fenced in respect of off-course betting, is being used in this regard. I understand the position people take on that but the other side of the coin is that, within the time frame the Minister is putting in place in this legislation, the greyhound and horse racing industries will be self-sufficient within that three to four year period. We should draw that conclusion from the legislation. I ask the Minister to give a guarantee to the House that this funding will be ring-fenced and if a situation arises whereby any funding other than that generated from off-course betting is needed, he will seek a further direction from this House. In that way, the concerns of many people about the availability of hospital beds, waiting lists and so on, which have been expressed not only in this House but across the country through concerned groups, will be addressed because the items covered by this legislation were properly debated in the Dáil and the Seanad.

In examining the progression of the greyhound and racehorse industries in recent years one can reflect on the improvements in the facilities, entertainment value and location for the ordinary supporter of those industries. It is fair to believe, therefore, that if facilities have improved for the ordinary supporter they have also improved for employees in the racing industry. It is imperative that continues and that the canteen and rest room facilities etc. for stable boys and others involved in the greyhound industry are improved in line with the overall improvements and developments in places like Galway, the Curragh, Naas and so on.

Everyone should benefit from this legislation. We will see an increase in off-course betting because of the improvement in the standards of races as a result of the funding we are able to put in place, and we will attract overseas interest in our home-bred horses and greyhounds. In that way the Exchequer will benefit greatly because of increased tourist numbers. The figures in respect of Punchestown have improved on a yearly basis to such an extent that it is now approaching the position where it will challenge Cheltenham as the prime national hunt facility in the world. If we do that, more funding will be generated for other areas such as hospital beds, medical cards and so on. I ask the Minister to ensure that in ring-fencing this funding we do not move to direct Exchequer funding, and that such a measure would be debated in this House.

Deputy Deenihan spoke about the major improvements in the greyhound industry. I saw [885]the effects of those improvements throughout the country. I visited the greyhound tracks in Galway, Tralee, Newbridge and Shelbourne Park — I attended the track in Harold’s Cross the other night — and one can see the major benefits to the ordinary person who can enjoy himself for a small fee. People can enjoy running a dog or supporting a friend who has a runner. I was amazed to see many young people in Shelbourne Park the other night, many of whom had formed groups to purchase a dog and in that way enjoyed having runners at these races.

I understand the view of some people that horse racing is an elite sport enjoyed by those in the upper echelons of society, who have put Ireland on the international scene, but there is more to it than that. I live in Kildare where there is a major emphasis on horse racing and the greyhound industry and I see how the county has changed from being agriculture based to horse racing based. Because of improvements in machinery we do not have the same level of employment in farming as we did in the past. That development has transferred to the greyhound and horse racing industries and that is reflected in the employment figures in Kildare, which have decreased dramatically in recent years.

This step forward will result in a major improvement in facilities and Exchequer returns. It will also boost tourism figures because we will have the facilities, race meetings and standard of horse and greyhound to attract overseas investment and visitors. Due to the implications of this and the views within my party I will not support the motion but will abstain from voting. As I said at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, while I support the Government on this motion I will not vote for it but will abstain. I fully support what the Minister said and the mechanisms used here to advance the greyhound and horse racing industries.

Mr. Boyle:  I wish to share time with Deputies Ferris and Joe Higgins.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Boyle:  The Opposition call for debate on this issue today was not based on the premise that the State should not support the horse racing or greyhound racing industries. It does not deny that these industries have an economic benefit to the State, or that greyhound and horse racing give a great deal of aesthetic and recreational pleasure to the citizens. Instead, the Opposition wishes to question the Government’s sense of priorities, given that the scale of the fund is so large and the annual increases proposed up to 2008 are larger than the Government’s savage 16 cuts in social welfare last year. When that sense of priority exists within a government it must be questioned.

Politically, this decision was a parting gift from departing members of the Cabinet, the then Mini[886]sters for Finance, and for Agriculture and Food. It is indicative of the culture of this Government in particular whose support for the horse racing industry led to the fiasco of the Punchestown event centre. It is a culture in which decisions are made for the benefit of certain people without following proper procedures, and taxpayers’ money is spent in a wasteful and even fraudulent way. Those who benefit from these policies gain not only by direct provision but by the absence of fair taxation policies, for example, for horsebreeders and those involved in the horse racing industry who, while benefiting most, are among the biggest tax exiles.

We should oppose measures such as this when they are on such a scale and are so inherently unfair. The lack of Government action on taxation for stallion fees is a scandal. The Government has put in place a measure such that no tax will be deducted from income earned but an assessment will be made by October 2005. Despite the fair distribution of taxation from the horse racing industry, those who benefit do so twice by receiving direct aid from the taxpayers and having no obligation to contribute to the taxpayers’ fund.

The Green Party is concerned that because the Irish Coursing Club plays such a prominent role in registering greyhounds the organisation may again receive funding. We oppose any such move.

Mr. Ferris:  We support the provision of public funding for sport. Many race courses and dog tracks require this support, the absence of which would have a detrimental effect on their viability, as well as on the employment and social benefits accruing from them. Funding over the last four years has improved race courses and greyhound tracks. I can vouch for this from my knowledge of Tralee greyhound park and race course. Were it not for generous support, particularly for the race course, the facility might have closed, which would also have ended the related social activities such as the festival, which the race course supports.

Ring-fencing of funds taken from betting tax is a good idea and might be a way to increase support for other sports too. I hope the Minister will take that on board. It must be ensured that these sports receive local support so that they will thrive, not just at the major venues and prestige events but also at the smaller events of which the wider public might not have heard. The investment has benefited places such as Tralee and Listowel, which has wide implications for the locality in terms of employment, revenue and tourism. The contribution of those events to the local communities, particularly the benefits the Listowel races bring to the town, and north Kerry in general, are significant. The contribution of the small farming community to greyhound racing and the income generated as a result ensures that members of that community actively involved in the sport improve their income and should be encouraged and supported.

[887]We do not accept the argument that such funding is somehow taking away moneys that might be used in other areas such as health and education. To say that these sports are not entitled to State support is to take a very narrow view.

Mr. J. Higgins:  I do not support the motion in its present form because the Government has not put a proper and detailed case for committing this level of taxpayers’ money in justifiable way. We need transparency with regard to the horse racing and the greyhound industries. I do not have time to discuss this in great detail but when a delegation from Bord na gCon came before the Committee of Public Accounts I asked very severe questions and was not entirely happy with all the answers. There remains a serious question about the regulation of that industry and whether the level of investment, which constitutes a large percentage of the total income, is justified.

Thousands of workers are employed in areas connected with horse and greyhound racing. Many unfortunately earn exploitation wages or are temporary workers and get a raw deal. It is undeniable that the privileged elites who deal with horse racing in particular, who own prize stallions and thoroughbred horses, have for decades been pampered and petted, particularly by Fianna Fáil-dominated Governments. As a representative of working class people I am scandalised that multi-millionaire stallion owners have tax-free profits from those activities while the stable lads and girls who work for them are taxed on the minimum wage. The Minister did not suggest today that this situation might end while he commits a further €300 million of taxes, including those from the stable lads and girls, to support the millionaires in the industry.

What distinguishes the horse racing industry is arbitrary in that leading Fianna Fáil politicians going back to Mr. Charles Haughey followed racing, were involved in breeding and selling thoroughbred horses, and hob-nobbed with the high rollers, including holders of Ansbacher accounts and others, who rolled over to Cheltenham in the early 1980s and 1990s to spend the money they should have paid in taxes. It, therefore, gave huge privileges to the industry. It is as arbitrary as that. Perhaps we are fortunate that their passion was not rearing budgies or parrots as every millionaire’s mansion might have a State funded, tax free aviary attached to it. It might provide a better quality parrot for the Government back benches but that would be the only advantage. This type of privilege, over which the Government continues to stand, has to be challenged.

Every penny in taxation on the industry is to be put back to support and subsidise the top echelons, in particular. Workers in Aer Lingus who have paid more in taxes at certain points in the history of the airline than all the farmers in the State would be very happy to see a level of investment similar to this. Instead, an attempt is being [888]made to kick 1,350 of them down the road by the Government at a time when they are presenting it with a €90 million surplus. Will we see the necessary investment by the Government to subvent these important jobs and communities as willingly as in the case of other sectors?

Mr. Wright:  I would like to share time with the Minister. I would like him to have much more time to discuss this issue, but the transparency that Deputy Higgins wants concerns how the sum of €206 million was spent by the HRI as well as how the sum of €51 million was spent by Bord na gGon on the fantastic facilities that have been referred to by every other Member and at the committee a few weeks ago. What has been spent achieved absolute value for money. It is right that we should discuss this.

The Deputy referred to the issue of wages. He should look into the fact that recently the industries were able to come together and produce one of the best agreements possible because of the prize fund now in place due to Government support both for the greyhound and horseracing industry. It is to the credit of both the main bodies which are in charge of this funding that they have produced such facilities that are the envy of the world. The record attendances at greyhound race meetings are a recognition of young people marching with their feet in support of the industry and the facilities provided. It is fantastic that two of our most important indigenous industries can keep the very best stock because of the prize fund available. What better way to market Ireland than by using the horse and the greyhound? The Minister has linked the idea of 35,000 people working in marketing and tourism. He is absolutely right to allocate this funding.

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  I thank everyone for making a contribution to this thoughtful debate. Responsibility for Horse Racing Ireland was transferred to the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism when the Government was elected. It is true that the outgoing Minister for Agriculture and Food did make an enormous contribution to the development of the greyhound and horseracing sectors, but Deputy Boyle is incorrect to state this was some kind of parting gift. I have no doubt that he would strongly support this measure as he supported the Act in 2001. The regulations will be signed by me as the responsible Minister and the Minister for Finance. There is little question that the industry has meant much to the economy. It has generated over €840 million in gross income in the last year and supports and maintains 35,000 jobs, both full-time and part-time.

I recognise that there will be those who will say we should have different priorities. However, it is also true to say we have to ensure we support sport and industry. These are not just sports, they are industries. In that context, the support the Government is giving to them is not just for the [889]elite or any one segment of society. It is given to the thousands of ordinary men and women who depend for their livelihoods on them. It is also given to provide proper facilities for the more than one million who attend these sports every year.

Based on current estimates, the total amount in the fund for the period 2005-08 will be €290 million, of which 85% will be funded directly by way of duty on off-course betting. No one else will be asked to contribute. In other jurisdictions off-course excise duties have been completely eliminated. We have not done so because we want to invest in the industries. I fail to see why anyone could object to this money being spent on them.

It is true that we have seen massive developments in horse and greyhound racing facilities in the past four years. We ensured the industries grew. In renewing the fund we are ensuring they will continue to grow. Were we to take a different course, they would stagnate and the numbers coming to see horse and greyhound racing would fall, as would the number of owners and breeders. Clearly, the number of greyhounds and horses would also drop.

Stud fees and the taxes to be paid on them are entirely different matters which are in no way related to this debate.

Mr. J. Higgins:  Why not?

Mr. O’Donoghue:  The debate on the taxation on stud fees is appropriate to the budget, not to this fund which has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with it. Anybody who thinks otherwise knows nothing about the fund.

Mr. J. Higgins:  It could be funded by stallion fees if the Minister taxed them.

Mr. O’Donoghue:  It is also true to say we have an international reputation for horse-breeding of which we could not have dreamed even ten years ago. We are now recognised as one of the top three breeding nations in the world. Irish horses have excelled at various events across the globe to the extent that the Irish horse is now looked upon as one of the best anywhere in the world. The truth is, however, that as this is an island nation, it is becoming more difficult to attract good mares to the country. If there are incentives, one succeeds in building the industry. There are incentives for stallions, but the impression should not be given in this House, nor should anyone seek to create it, that this fund creates a tax-free status for anybody. That is incorrect, untrue, false and misleading. The facts are that the fund is about placing off-course excise duties in the horse and greyhound racing fund and supplementing it where necessary. However, all of the indicators are that 85% of the fund over the next four years will come from off-course excise betting duties.

[890]Mr. N. O’Keeffe:  What about small greyhound tracks?

Mr. O’Donoghue:  We will develop them.

Question put and declared carried.

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

Mr. Sargent:  Tááthas orm deis eile a fháil chun labhairt ar an Water Services Bill 2003. I mentioned earlier that the European Commission has to take much of the credit for the introduction of this legislation and a great deal of other legislation. The drinking water regulations contained in SI 439 of 2000 came into force in January 2004. It behoves the Government to uphold the spirit of such directives and not just their letter.

The lessons of the Waste Management Act 1996 need to be learned. Many of the powers given to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in the 1996 Act remain unused. I do not need to remind the Minister, who comes from County Wicklow, that many of this country’s waste problems are getting worse. The law is being abused and a considerable amount of criminal activity is taking place. The lessons of the Waste Management Act need to be considered as we consider the Water Services Bill. The degree to which the Bill goes into detail about water reminds me of the degree to which the 1996 Act went into detail about waste. The Bill provides for action plans, licensing and the extent of the provision of clean water needed in this country. It remains to be seen if the Bill will follow the same path as the 1996 Act, but it will be interesting to see if we have learnt the lessons of previous legislation.

I suspect that the EU Commission is far from convinced that Ireland has grasped this nettle. It may not believe that we have turned the corner or will behave in an exemplary manner in our future provision of water services. The Commissioner in charge of environmental issues, Ms Margot Wallström, said at a meeting of the EU petitions committee on 9 October last that she is very unhappy about the lack of implementation of EU water supply recommendations in Kilkenny. The local authority has made many attempts to prevent the matter being raised, but it has been finally brought to the attention of the Commission.

I applaud those involved, such as Councillors Mary White and Malcolm Noonan, for pursuing the matter at the petitions committee with the assistance of my former colleague, Ms Nuala Ahern, when she was an MEP. Their work has ensured that the quality of the water enjoyed by the people of Kilkenny has been addressed. Although all the cases have been accepted by the local authority, we await decisive action on the [891]matter. Such a degree of delay does not show Ireland in a great light at the Commission. I urge the Government and the local authority to hasten progress in that regard, thereby ensuring that the Commission has one less reason to complain about Ireland’s water quality record.

Much of the media’s attention on water quality problems has focused on this country’s 5,500 group water schemes. A far more honest picture of Irish water services is revealed when one considers that the water supplied by many group water schemes is not disinfected. The presence of faecal coliforms can be quite sickening for those who have to drink the water in question. While faecal coliforms are not the only problem, they tend to be used as a key measurement of water quality, particularly in group water schemes.

There are many conflicting and vested interests in this country. I hope water quality will not be compromised, particularly in group water schemes, but it seems that a compromise is reached all too often. Large doses of chlorine or other disinfectants are often used in return for such compromise. It is hoped that such substances will mitigate the damage to some extent, but they ultimately leave a false impression that the water supply is adequate. I do not believe that the highly disinfected water supply which often results is good for public health. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Cowley, could probably give me more information in that regard. The amount of chlorine being used in many water schemes cannot be good for one’s health. I have never read a recommendation to drink the water in a swimming pool, but the water supplied by group water schemes is often similar to that found in a swimming pool because it contains a similar amount of chlorine.

I have visited various areas throughout the country in which water quality is an issue. I spoke about Lough Corrib and An Cheathrú Rua i gContae na Gaillimhe during my previous contribution on this legislation. Problems are found in many other places, such as parts of counties Clare and Mayo. Such issues arise along the west coast, in particular, because the water table is quite near the surface. There may have been compromises about the way in which water has been treated in the area.

I mentioned that the drinking water regulations contained in SI 439 of 2000 came into force in January 2004. Whatever about the carrot, the regulations may represent the stick which will be used to ensure that Ireland improves its water quality record. I have read comments made by representatives of the Office of Environmental Enforcement, which is planning to audit the water services provided by all local authorities. They have said they can pursue prosecutions in respect of transgressions made by those operating group water schemes, but they cannot prosecute local authorities. I hope that anomaly will be adequately addressed in this legislation. The local [892]authorities ultimately provide the vast majority of the water used in this country.

A problem in the local authority water supply in north Dublin will affect many people. Many local authorities have to take calculated risks with the water supply. A substantial proportion of the water used in the Fingal area is sourced at Ring Commons, which is also known as Bog Of The Ring. The area’s water supply will become more vital in the years to come because the population of the district is growing. The site which has been selected for a vast landfill is just a short distance from the water source. When one takes into account buffer zones, etc., the dump will occupy an area of over 300 acres. It has been suggested that there will not be any problems because the dump will be lined. I have concerns because two significant water courses pass through the area and a considerable aquifer is also found in the locality. Nobody has been able to guarantee me that the material used to line landfills does not leak, although claims have been made in that regard. We have been told that the lining can be 70% or 80% guaranteed, but that is not much good. Such percentages are used when one speaks of the safety of condoms. One does not need to be very intelligent to realise that it is hardly a guarantee.

  6 o’clock

There is a need to be up front about this. A compromise is being reached regarding water quality when dump sites are selected on the basis that the landfill site will somehow prevent leachate getting into aquifers. That sounds like absolute bravado, but we will ultimately pay dearly for that position. One cannot flush out aquifers. Fundamentally, that is what is being proposed.

When local authorities are taking such major decisions, I ask that they take into account the need to limit demand through demand-side reduction. That means installing dual-flush or low-flush WCs and rain water capture tanks for WC flushing or garden use, low-flow showers, high-efficiency appliances, self-closing faucets, digital wireless water meters on commercial premises and so on which have all been well tried in such places as New York where they took the logical economic decision that it would be cheaper to have demand-side reduction than increased provision. I hope local authorities will be forced to take decisions that will prioritise conservation as well as supply.

Mr. Ó Fearghail:  I welcome this opportunity to talk about the Water Services Bill 2003, but first I congratulate Deputy Roche on his appointment as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I have known him for approximately 20 years and know that he has a substantial commitment to and knowledge of local government. I have a feeling he will distinguish himself in this role, as he did recently in the field of European affairs.

This Bill places Victorian legislation within a new and modern legal framework. Up until now, [893]19th century legislation governed 21st century infrastructure. Clearly, the Bill’s purpose is to consolidate and update the existing diverse body of water services legislation in a single modern enactment. I am confident that it will achieve its principle aim, namely, to modernise and manage water supply and distribution systems. This legislation complements reform of the planning code and the local government administrative code which has been ongoing. I congratulate the Minister and his predecessor on their endeavours in this regard.

As I see it, the Bill has three main aims, the first being to consolidate water services law into a single code, giving the Minister direct supervisory powers regarding the delivery of water services. The Bill also introduces a licensing system to regulate the operation of larger group water schemes. Lastly, it places duties of care on users of water services regarding conservation.

The Bill gives the Minister increased powers of inspection and monitoring, something that will foster a more strategic and targeted approach to water services management. The new licensing system will, in due course, apply to the larger group water schemes, estimated at approximately 1,500, catering for 50 persons or more. I share the Minister’s hopes that this will bring a new level of professionalism to the sector, in addition to adhering to drinking quality standards as set by the European Union and referred to by Deputy Sargent. Licensing will also lead to an improvement in water quality for rural dwellers and foster the continuing partnership that has been the foundation of recent improvements to water services provision in rural areas.

To that end, I applaud the recent allocation of €1.5 million under the water services investment programme to Castledermot in my constituency of Kildare South. Those funds are but part of a larger €7.4 million investment in the Castledermot sewerage scheme which includes the construction of a secondary treatment plant. The scheme is just one of over 21 water and sewerage schemes in County Kildare with a combined value of over €216 million to be included by the Minister in his Department’s recently launched water services investment programme for the period 2004 to 2006.

The Bill establishes new water services authorities which will be based on the county or city council model. They will be responsible for providing water within their own jurisdiction, in addition to supervising water supplies when not supplied directly by the water services authority. This will be done under a licensing process. I warmly welcome the authority’s power to directly intervene and insist on the development or delivery of a service when that service encounters operational difficulties. This cannot happen at present. If the users of a scheme encounter problems, as sometimes happens — usually through no fault of the scheme’s management — the new authority can take over the running of the scheme temporarily until the problem is rectified. The [894]end result is that the users of the scheme, the members of the public, will be assured of ongoing quality drinking water availability.

Under the Bill’s provisions, the new authorities are obliged to develop a strategic six year plan which must be approved by the Minister. This should present no major difficulties for local authority officials who are accustomed to producing five yearly assessments of need for the Department, setting out their areas’ water and wastewater requirements. Deputy Cooper-Flynn raised the point about elected members’ input into such a plan. I agree with her on that point and suggest to the Minister that the Bill might be improved by inserting a provision that would require the elected members to have an input into the making of the six year strategic plan.

The Bill is consumer-friendly in its focus. Under the legislation, an authority can interrupt the supply of water or wastewater where there is a risk to human health or the environment. There are provisions to allow water services authorities to take over or repair service pipes connecting premises with sewers and water mains, and new obligations on service providers to make alternative supplies available where domestic drinking water supplies are interrupted for more than 24 hours. The Bill will also enable the Minister to make regulations to deal with consumer complaints in due course.

The Bill deals with the management of water from its arrival in a pipe to its eventual discharge as treated wastewater. It does not deal with the production of water — its preparation and treatment before it enters the pipes. While I recognise that it has received some adverse publicity and criticism for not dealing with such issues as water quality and water pollution management, they have been addressed by several new initiatives, including a comprehensive water quality monitoring programme which has been introduced for the 1,500 group water schemes falling within the remit of the drinking water regulations. Samples are currently being collected at consumers’ taps on a quarterly basis and I understand the laboratory results will be available from the county councils.

There has been some debate and concern in the House that the Bill will herald the introduction of domestic water charges, to which this Bill will not lead. I welcomed the words of the former Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, when he said the Bill was not a Trojan horse for domestic charges, that such charges were specifically prohibited under the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act 1997 and that, furthermore, privatisation of water services would require significant additional legislation to give the necessary powers to an independent regulator and was not on the agenda of this Bill. Neither public private partnerships nor related “design, build and operate” arrangements are precursors to the privatisation of water services. Such a partnership involves only the contracting in of private sector [895]expertise to perform a function on behalf of a contracting authority. Assets remain fully in the ownership of the relevant authority or group services scheme as the case may be. That is the best and only way forward for the development and renewal of water services infrastructure.

The Bill will establish a six year strategic planning and review cycle regarding water services provision. Rural water plans have been drawn up for that purpose and will be incorporated in due course into the new countrywide strategic planning process. It is imperative that we gain maximum value from the €4.4 billion investment in water services infrastructural projects in the next few years under the national development plan. Expenditure must be co-ordinated with national development planning and prioritised in those areas where it is most needed. As I mentioned, the Government will have invested €4.4 billion in the period 2000 to 2006. This major investment in the provision of proper water services is a recognition on the part of the Government of the issue’s importance. For that reason, the Bill is particularly timely.

The Bill establishes a modern, legislative code governing functions, standards, obligations and practice in respect of planning, management and delivery of water supplies and the collection and treatment of waste water. It is about ensuring good quality water for these schemes, a sector generally unregulated up to now, and not about sneaking water services charges through the back door, as has been suggested in some quarters. The national federation of group water schemes which represents the sector fully supports the proposals. I welcome the Bill which does not alter the present situation whereby commercial consumers pay for water supply while domestic consumers do not.

I suggested that elected members of councils should have a specific input to the strategic planning process. No less than seven new water authorities will have an interest in abstracting water from the river Liffey, for example. Does the Minister see a need for a regional approach to strategic planning under the Bill? Many speakers have referred to rural water supplies. It seems odd that while emphasising that potable water is a finite and valuable resource, we continue to allow it to be used in agriculture and other rural enterprises when it might be more appropriate to encourage the use of alternative untreated ground supplies. The Minister might comment on the possibility of extending the new well grant to those involved in that business. I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Coveney:  I congratulate the Minister on his new position. He has moved from responsibilities in Europe to home matters. I have gone in the other direction but I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this legislation. I wish the Minister well with the job ahead.

[896]Having spent four years as a member of Cork County Council I know a reasonable amount about the delivery of water services and some of the complications that can arise. We regularly need debates such as this to consider new ways of thinking about the provision of water.

This Bill sets down a new and updated legislative code dealing with the functions, standards, obligations and practice regarding the planning, management and delivery of water supply, waste water collection and treatment services. On Second Stage we have an opportunity to debate some of the issues surrounding the provision of piped water to homes and businesses, and related issues.

I recognise that the systems for the development of country, city and local area plans have improved somewhat in recent years. Levels of transparency, public consultation in particular and a more positive interaction between public representatives and officials have improved the system. However, the emphasis of area plans still revolves almost entirely around zoning issues to the detriment of other important areas such as the provision and management of water supply. The provision of piped water should play a major part in the practicalities surrounding the decision to zone or re-zone land for a particular purpose. The management of waste water or water run-off is critical and should play more of a part in zoning decisions.

In recent years Ireland has become a milder and arguably wetter place in which to live. Increased rainfall linked with continued extensive building of hectares of new housing estates and concrete roads is resulting in an increased risk of flooding, particularly in low-lying areas. At present we are not adequately anticipating future flooding problems to the extent required if we are to avoid the sort of flooding that has been exacerbated by inadequate drainage or run-off piping capacity. Unfortunately we have had some examples of that in Dublin and Cork. I am not talking of rivers overflowing but of man-made rivers flowing down hillsides into housing estates and causing huge problems. Flooding reports should be part of the planning system for applications with a footprint of more than a certain size, to be decided by the Minister, in areas where significant run-off water may occur, particularly on hillsides.

The next planning issue which needs to be considered is the one which requires developers of land to facilitate future potential development adjacent to their own land. There are many examples of rural villages across the country where housing schemes are being built with sewerage and water provision being planned for, but only for the houses being constructed. A more strategic approach is required by the local authority, not only to link up existing houses in a village which may be expanding, but also to ensure that, for example, water from a well supplied by a developer also takes into account future development within that village. It is rid[897]iculous that one can have 20 or 30 houses in a village, all with their own well and septic tanks, while a housing estate of perhaps 50 or 60 houses is being built beside them without an effort being made to link the houses into the new development.

In some cases local authorities take a very progressive approach to such issues. I would like to see a common standard and mind-set taken in this area by planners, engineers and local authorities. In every county development plan in the country, small towns and villages are being developed as a nucleus for communities which in turn become small towns rather than large villages.

Regarding management of water supply, quality must be the key at all times. We must ensure that the monitoring practices and the standard of both treatment and piping remain high. The debate on the pros and cons of putting fluoride in drinking water rages on. This Bill does not deal specifically with this issue but this Second Stage debate allows me to express some concerns to the new Minister. I do not pretend to be a medical expert but I question the need for mass medication in the fluoride area. We know that medically, fluoride affects different people in different ways. Any medication which has different effects on different people should not be forced on an entire population in a compulsory manner. I am aware of the 2002 fluoridation forum report. However, it has been heavily criticised for concentrating almost exclusively on dental issues and ignoring other potential health complications. With fluoride widely available in toothpaste, mouthwash and other medications, is it still necessary to keep a 30-year-old programme in place mandating the provision of fluoride in all public water supplies in the country?

The Minister needs to reconsider this issue. In every consumer area the trend is about providing choice and information surrounding a product. That is so if we ignore price issues, which for the moment we can do with water. If people buy bottled water, for example, there are strict regulations on labelling, on nutrients and other additives that may have been put into the water. We are currently dealing with that issue in a committee in Europe, with regard to the common marketplace. Yet our public supply of drinking water offers people no choice on whether there are additives and how much of those additives are in place in the water. It also fails to offer real information and, therefore, people do not know what they are drinking.

Are we to continue to insist on a fluoridation policy? Is the policy of using fluoride purely about healthy teeth? If so, are there not other alternatives available? It is valid to ask whether it is necessary to swallow fluoride in order to protect teeth. I do not believe it is necessary to do so. Fluoride is a toxic substance which is considered a poison in the United States. I do not want to over-emphasise this point because I am open to the arguments from those on the other side. However, it is apparent that the arguments [898]against the compulsory addition of fluoride to all water supplies are beginning to stack up. When one considers the position in the rest of Europe, one comes to the conclusion that Ireland is totally out of step and the only country — I stand open to correction but do not believe this will happen — to mandate the addition of fluoride to all public drinking water provided by local authorities.

The other major issue that arises in respect of fluoridation relates to efficiency. I refer here to the utter waste of treated water. An inordinate amount of household water is used for gardening, cleaning cars and filling paddling pools and we are adding fluoride and paying for the privilege with taxpayer’s money for this purpose. That is extraordinary. People need to be offered a choice. It is possible, with modern conveniences, for households to apply additives to water if parents, for example, make the decision to do so. I accept that this would not be without complications but the new Minister should have an open mind on the matter.

Other issues related to the monitoring of quality were raised by previous speakers and that of chlorine in water needs to be examined. We need to significantly improve the level of monitoring of water not provided by local authorities. Every farm has its own well and in most instances nobody, including farmers, know what quality of water they and their families are drinking. The Minister must put in place an initiative to ensure there is random testing of water quality. It is unrealistic to expect the water in every well should be examined on a regular basis to monitor its quality. However, we should take some action in this regard because families in rural areas may be poisoning themselves and may not even know it. I say this to make a point. The reality is, however, that we are fortunate in that the vast quantity of water is of excellent quality.

I wish to comment on delivery which overlaps with management. We must insist on obtaining better value for money on the investment we are making in the provision of drinking water. In that context, the first thing we must do is consider the state of piping systems in order to minimise the amount of water being wasted through leaks. I recall this matter being debated by Cork County Council and the estimate provided regarding the amount of water leaking from existing pipes was staggering. When one considers that this is treated water, fit for consumption and being paid for by taxpayers, it is totally unacceptable that it is being allowed to leak into the ground.

The Minister should require every local authority to produce a water report giving an indication of the standard of underground pipes that remain in place. He will discover that there are major differences in the quality of piping used in the various local authority areas. He will also discover that the investment in piping systems also differs because local authorities have pursued different priorities, etc. Requiring such reports would involve additional bureaucracy but it [899]would be a positive exercise and represent money well spent.

My final point relates to how we can approach the issue of water wastage by the public. This is not really an issue in other parts of Europe where people pay for their water as they use it. However, we have made a decision to provide water for households free of charge. There is no water wastage on the part of businesses in Ireland to any great extent. Most businesses are making significant efforts, for purely financial reasons, to reduce their water wastage because they are obliged to pay for the water they use. That is not the case with households.

If we are continue to provide water for households free of charge, we must discover ways to ensure people do not take for granted the provision of water which is a costly business for the State. They must respect the fact that although water may fall from the sky free of charge, the provision of water into households comes at a cost. We must build in the mindset of the public respect for the fact that water cannot be used, freely and endlessly, without there being some repercussions. Perhaps the Minister could ask an expert group to give consideration to this matter and make recommendations in terms of improving the water efficiency of households, from both a PR and technical point of view. If we were to put in place a grant aid system to make households more water-friendly, it would be money well spent. We would actually save money, in the medium term not to mention the long term, by doing so.

The other alternative which is not politically palatable is to begin charging for the amount of water people use. Even if we were to give them a free quota of water to use each year and charge them for water used in excess of this, it would not be politically palatable. We need to be realistic. We must, therefore, take a strong and proactive approach towards informing people about the cost of providing water for their households. They do not have a clue as regards how expensive is that process. As a result, they leave their hoses on in the summer in order to promote the growth of their grass, leave taps running and fill two or three baths in one night for their children when they could simply fill one. We need to consider ways to change this mindset. It will be a slow process but I hope the Minister will initiate it.

Mr. Crowe:  I wish to share time with Deputy Connolly.

Acting Chairman (Dr. Cowley):  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Crowe:  I also extend my congratulations to the new Minister. I have no doubt that he will bring new energy and a new approach to his portfolio.

I wish to raise a number of issues of serious concern which arise in respect of the Water Ser[900]vices Bill which gives rise to legitimate fears that the Government is intent on introducing water charges. The provision in the Bill in respect of the installation of domestic water meters is possibly the first shot in a battle to impose another inequitable stealth tax. Having been involved in the campaign against the introduction of water charges throughout Dublin in the 1990s, any attempt to introduce such charges will be met with large scale opposition. The Minister may well issue denials that this is not his intention. However, that will do little to reassure a public which has grown increasingly sceptical of the Government’s broken promises.

Part V has — correctly — raised eyebrows as it provides powers of access for installation, reading and maintenance of meters. The Minister must explain the reason meters are necessary if it is not his intention to introduce water charges. The Bill also makes provision for the charging of rent in respect of such a meter, which raises questions regarding the Minister’s claims that water charges will not be introduced. Why does the Bill include an explicit reference to the “principle of recovery of costs of water services as provided for in Article 9 of the EU Water Framework Directive”?

I am also concerned that section 56(12) allows a water service authority to restrict or cut off a water supply without accruing liability. This, too, may be connected with plans for the introduction of water charges.

Sinn Féin oppose water charges which are a regressive stealth tax. Given that we oppose direct charges for domestic waste, we cannot support proposals for metering domestic water supplies. Every household has a right to an adequate supply of safe, clean water as a basic entitlement and this principle should be enshrined in the legislation. Access to safe, clean water should not be based on a person’s ability to pay. Water is an essential service which must remain under State control and be paid for through the general taxation system.

Sinn Féin is fundamentally opposed to the privatisation of water services. The disastrous record of such privatisation in other jurisdictions should deter even this Government from embarking on such a course. Many provisions in the Bill suggest the Government is attempting to lay the groundwork for the future privatisation of water services. For example, the legislation makes provision for any functions it confers on water services authorities to be performed by the Minister or other prescribed person. I contend that, under the terms of the Bill, the Minister has the power to prescribe powers to privatised water service companies.

Water conservation can be used as an excuse by those who favour the introduction of domestic water charges. Is the real intention to use this excuse to create another revenue raising mechanism? If conservation were the intention, we would see much more action directed at addressing the problem of leakage and enabling householders to [901]conserve water through changes in toilet cisterns, showers and the water efficiency of washing machines, dishwashers, etc. In this regard, I welcome reports that the Minister plans to introduce measures to ensure all new homes are fitted with a dual flush toilet system. Nevertheless, much more can be done.

Another problem which must be tackled as a matter of urgency is persistent leakage which is responsible for the loss of between 30% and 45% of all water. It is an imperative that a properly funded, comprehensive leakage control strategy be put in place. Large quantities of water are being treated only to leak into the ground because of antiquated piping. Treating water for public consumption is expensive and losing clean, treated water through leakage is a waste of a valuable natural resource. Addressing leakages is an area of saving that must be given priority and the introduction of an investment strategy to replace these leaking pipes is vital.

Sinn Féin has many concerns regarding the Bill and the dubious agenda we believe may underlie many of its provisions. We intend to raise these concerns in greater detail on Committee Stage.

Mr. Connolly:  I congratulate the Minister and add to the garland of good wishes he has received to date. I wish him well on his appointment. I have no doubt it was his performance at European Union level during our Presidency which caught the Taoiseach’s attention.

This Bill, a 100 page volume, is welcome as it updates legislation on the delivery of water supply. Ensuring optimum water quality is a priority arising from our EU obligations. Many water service systems remain in disrepair and contribute to the low standard of water quality. My concerns regarding the one-off housing policy in rural areas, with its knock-on effect on water supply, remain. A uniform approach nationwide would be a recipe for removing the constant litany of section 4 motions in county councils. Emphasis should be placed on small, rural residential communities in which services could be provided by the local authority.

Fluoridation of water supplies was introduced in the 1960s as a definitive way to ensure clean, uncontaminated water nationwide. Regrettably, fluoride was added to water as a form of mass medication to ensure children’s teeth benefited from an adequate supply of fluoride. Fluoride was often found not to have the major beneficial effect claimed, however. If we were to attempt to mass medicate by adding antibiotics to the water supply, it would cause uproar. Given that other countries have abandoned the idea of adding fluoride to water supplies, we should reconsider our approach. Although other chemicals are added to the water supply, this is done for presentation, colour, taste and other beneficial reasons.

Since the 1960s, many doubts have been raised about the fluoridation process and questions are being asked as to whether the cure is worse than the disease. Many questions have been raised as [902]to whether the amount of fluoride added to water is excessive. In the United Kingdom the use of chemicals specified for water fluoridation is illegal under the Poisons Act 1972. One chemical, in particular, fluorosilicic acid, is a waste product from the fertiliser industry. When added to drinking water this chemical, which is more toxic than lead and slightly less toxic than arsenic, gives a fluoride concentration of 40 milligrams per litre, which is, as indicated by various clinical trials, approximately 100 times the respective EU limits for lead and arsenic.

The Department of Health and Children spends €44 million per annum on 360 fluoridation plants. This means that scarce public resources are being washed down the kitchen sink when they could go a long way to restoring some semblance of order and normality to our hospital services, about which the House heard a great deal earlier. Perhaps €44 million would not go far in the health sector but it would be of considerable assistance in my constituency.

Professionals in the areas of health, academia, science and consumer affairs on the forum on fluoridation pointed to the glaring example of wasteful expenditure on fluoridation. The forum posed the question as to why the Health (Fluoridation of Water Supplies) Act 1960 specified both a lower and upper limit of fluoride to be added to drinking water. Its research showed that there were no significant beneficial effects at a fluoride concentration level below 0.8 milligrammes per litre. Nevertheless, the forum contradicted itself in its first recommendation which states: “In the light of the best available scientific evidence, the Fluoridation of Water Supplies Regulations, 1965 should be amended to redefine the optimal level of fluoride in drinking water from the present level (0.8 to 1.0 ppm) to between 0.6 and 0.8 ppm, with a target value of 0.7 ppm.” As I noted, the forum also indicated, however, that there were no significant beneficial effects at a fluoride concentration below 0.8 milligrammes per litre. If this is the case, why put fluoride in water in the first instance? The forum, in other words, recommended a revised level of fluoridation which it previously recognised as having no significant effect.

According to the forum, which was established by a former Minister for Health, this amounts to a waste of money of the order of €44 million. I arrived at this figure using figures from the United Kingdom where fluoridation plants are being closed down. Each closure represents a saving of £46,000 per annum, which equates to approximately €70,000 per plant per annum here. In Ireland there are 360 such plants. The mathematics are simple. It works out at €13 million. Then add the capital cost to the economy of this no beneficial effects scheme.

The forum’s report also recommends that old plants be brought up to standard since they do not currently comply with regulations on accuracy of dosing. Often it is difficult to regulate the dosage people are putting into the water; some[903]times it is not as scientific as we would like it to be. Let us assume that 20% of our plants do not comply. In the upgrading of a plant in Berwick, Northumberland, in the United Kingdom, capital costs were €430,000. Simple mathematics demonstrate that the bill to upgrade this no beneficial effects tampering with drinking water will be approximately €31 million. After factoring in the massive costs incurred in the various studies and monitoring called for by the forum, the sanity of all this must be questioned.

The forum concluded that people were getting too much fluoride. The dose needs to be reduced by one third and children should be educated to use less toothpaste on their toothbrushes. The population is being forced to ingest an unknown quantity of a sub-optimal dose of a toxic waste product, the beneficial effects of which are unknown and unproven. Children are being told to use less fluoridated toothpaste when, in fact, they should be told to stop drinking fluoridated water.

The health and safety considerations for staff working at fluoridation plants in the United Kingdom were also called into question. Some plants were closed and the treatments suspended because of concerns for the safety of staff working in them. In the case of the plants closed, the €46,000 running costs were diverted into health promotion initiatives in the immediate area. Something similar should be done here if we ever decide to close plants. On a national scale, such a saving would transform the crisis ridden health service as the Minister would have an extra €44 million to spend.

It was emphatically stressed by the former Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government that there was no intention to impose water charges. Some of the reassurances have a hollow ring and are reminiscent of what happened with waste charges in previous times. Some local authorities have privatised their waste collection services but it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the provision of water services could also be assigned to public companies, as happened in the United Kingdom.

The metering of premises is also dealt with in the Bill. Just as the PAYE sector bears the brunt of income taxation, people whose premises are metered are most vulnerable to price increases. EU directives have mandated the metering system and should ensure a fairer system is applied to everyone, with farmers paying only for the water they use. Other EU directives on the quality of drinking water and wastewater treatment have been largely responsible for reshaping public attitudes to these and associated environmental issues.

Water services have been and should always remain a priority with successive Governments. Considerable investment in water schemes in Ireland has been made through the EU Cohesion Fund and the landscape has been transformed in terms of the provision of quality water supplies and the raising of wastewater standards. While I [904]have raised fluoridation and other issues, it should be acknowledged that the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, has opened a number of DBO systems in Cavan and Monaghan, projects of which we are proud. There have been moves such as the grouping of systems in the right direction which should be welcomed. There have also been positive developments.

A six year strategic plan for the upgrading, operation and management of water services infrastructure is an eminently sensible arrangement and should ensure value for money. There were problems with water quality in some group water schemes in the past year. The voluntary group schemes have made and continue to make a vital contribution to the country’s water services by providing approximately 10% of the water supply. I trust the new licensing system will be a force for good in the continuing development of the group water sector.

With regard to the thorny issue of pollutants entering waterways, the provision of sufficient wastewater treatment plants is an urgent requirement to prevent raw sewage causing pollution. Human health is a major priority and it is vital that consumers receive the earliest possible warnings, preferably through local radio and the print media. Sources of contamination or pollution should be identified as early as possible in the interests of public health and the public should be notified and have its fears allayed.

The requirement for a map of works is also welcome. However, what happens if there is no map of works? Will it be possible to map out the water supply system from county to county, identifying the locations of the various mains pipes? The vast majority of engineers who worked on these schemes are long dead and this requirement could prove a veritable nightmare for the various local authorities. Account must also be taken of the water leaking from the system. In many instances, infrastructure was installed in the 1930s and 1940s and cannot be matched by the pipes manufactured now. There is probably no indicator of the volume of water being lost in the system. Some have estimated it to be as high as 40%.

The Bill’s inspection provisions will help to ensure improved standards of water management. Perhaps consideration should be given to a replacement of the countrywide network of pipes, although there is probably no estimate available of the possible cost.

I welcome the Bill and trust it will make a major contribution to the continued improvement of our water services.

Mr. O’Dowd:  Both the Minister and I are in new jobs. I will ensure the legislation that comes before the House is properly challenged and frankly and fairly debated. We will listen to all the arguments before we make up our minds on the issues involved.

Everybody can agree on some things. One is that water is the most important thing in our lives because without it we can only live for a short [905]period. The quality of life, the quality of Ireland’s water and the quality of our environment are predicated on how we deal with our environment and water resources. This Bill contains many good provisions but also many provisions that concern me. Unless we use the good things in the Bill to manage and conserve our water supply, use it wisely and well and plan for the future, there will be no long-term future for the country. I welcome the good things in the Bill.

I welcome the good investment programme run by the Department. A phenomenal amount of money is being spent in this area. When one looks at the individual schemes in the counties, towns and cities, one sees the huge investment. That is welcome. It is good, positive and constructive. That is a fact. However, there are issues with planning, water supply and sewerage that I must discuss. One is the national spatial strategy, on which I sought a debate today as we have never had one. The strategy is critical for the future of the country because through it we are planning the development of our cities and towns. Specific areas have been identified for growth. It is that issue and the planning issues involved in developing our towns which I wish to address. This involves the limits placed on us by the water supply and whether it can be brought to those areas and, second, our wastewater treatment facilities and whether they have the capacity or the effectiveness to deal with the development proposed, not only in the strategy but also by local authorities when they draw up their development plans for which the guidelines need to be looked at again.

I have read what was said in the debates on this Bill both in the Seanad and this Chamber. I will use my county to give examples of what is good and bad practice. When we were drawing up the development plan for County Louth, we looked specifically at rezoning. We looked at land throughout the county and particularly around the village of Dunleer, a matter of great controversy for many.

The county council rezoned vast tracts of land in addition to the land recommended for the curtailage of the development plan for the village of Dunleer. The people of Dunleer and the future of County Louth were significantly and adversely affected by the amount of land rezoned. The sewage capacity of the village, which is approximately 4,000 people equivalents, has already been reached in the current the development plan. There is no capacity to deal with the flood water which will run off from the houses and industries, if they are built. Given that situation, farmers have told me that flood water run-off is causing significant problems on their farms. The decision was wrong for County Louth and Dunleer.

Political pressure is shaping development plans while issues of water supply and sewerage do not seem to enter the arguments. A further point is that the capacity of Dunleer to grow has been stymied because it cannot grow more than has been planned for. There will be no place for those [906]from the area who want to live there unless a new sewage treatment plant is built at a cost of millions of euro. The wise men in County Louth decided that Dunleer, which has a population of approximately 2,000, will grow to 4,500 over the next five to seven years. The town of Ardee will be smaller than the new town of Dunleer, which is crazy. Worst of all, the capacity of the local river, the White River, which supplies water for Dunleer, is low, especially in summer. There is concern, given that waste water from the sewage treatment plant will enter the river, that the future water supply of all of mid-Louth could, in theory, be contaminated.

This sort of water issue must be addressed in conjunction with the positive measures contained in the Bill. We need to connect the spatial strategy and planning, even at micro or village level, with what is being discussed. Unless this is done, we will continue to experience problems and mistakes. There will be a demand for a new sewage capacity and for significant investment in a particular town, while other towns with less capacity could meet demand but will not get the growth. I hope the Minister will address this important issue.

Much has been said on the fluoridation of water. An eminent health board official, who happened to be a professional dentist before he entered the wonderful world of public administration, told me that fluoridation made a significant difference. He told me the cohort of children growing to adulthood with more than half of their teeth lost disappeared in a very short period. Whatever the faults in the arguments, there is one positive issue, namely, that fluoridation protects young children and ensures they retain their teeth into adult life. This is important and has made a significant difference to the well being and health of the young, which must be stressed.

I agree with much of what Deputy Coveney said on conservation of supply. Ordinary households do not have a proper policy for conservation of supply. Many speakers have referred to the dual flush system for toilets, which makes sense. The Minister will remember the barrel for rain water outside village and town houses. Women, unfortunately, had to do the washing with that water but the rain water barrel is long gone from Irish life despite it being a valuable source of what is called grey water. I hope the Minister will address this issue. It goes back to Deputy Coveney’s point about conserving the good things we have. Let us conserve the rain water coming down from heaven and let us use it to improve our society.

Members of the Green Party, in particular, raised questions about the type of washing powder we use. Members will know that many additives in washing powder are not good for the environment and this must be addressed.

On Friday last, when I accessed part of the Minister’s website, I noted he had issued a statement on the nitrates directive, on which I under[907]stand Mr. Denis Brosnan has produced an important and useful report.

Mr. Roche:  I compliment the Deputy on getting to the website.

Mr. O’Dowd:  I was lucky to gain access to it. It is a very poor website and needs to be radically upgraded.

Mr. Roche:  It is a very good website.

Mr. O’Dowd:  It is very poor. If the Minister uses it, he will find it impossible to get into the news media section.

Mr. Roche:  Is the Deputy referring to the departmental website? I thought he was talking about a private website.

Mr. O’Dowd:  The Minister is the Minister and the buck stops with him. When I am in his Department, the buck will stop with me. I suggest he does something about the website. However, to be constructive, I welcome the report, on which Deputy Hayes will contribute later in the debate. The question of water supply and its affect on agriculture are important issues raised in the report.

I recently had a conversation about the Bill in a relaxed atmosphere with local government officials. It was their opinion that water charges would be reintroduced, whether in this Bill or another Bill. They laughed when I referred to the repeated denials of the Minister and his predecessor in regard to the Bill.

I understand the Bill reserves to the county manager alone specific reserve functions in the making of a scheme. This is important because there are two parties to local government, namely, the officials, led by the manager, and, on the other side, the public representatives. The Bill excludes public representatives from making this decision, which would be a reserve function of the county manager. This would be a retrograde step and is the focus of concern. From our experience of public life and local government, Members know that difficult decisions must sometimes be made. However, with regard to the reserve functions of the manager, councillors can argue for or against but the manager has the power.

  7 o’clock

There is only one way to grow local democracy and a fair, open, honest and transparent system, and this is by giving power to councillors to deal with these issues. The Minister is creating a new power which he is not giving to councillors. This is fundamentally undemocratic and lends credence to the belief on all sides of the House, and outside it, that the Minister is trying to bring back water charges, which will be absolutely resisted around the country.

Mr. Roche:  The Deputy is pushing an open door.

[908]Mr. O’Dowd:  The Minister should leave it open. He should give councillors the power and do away with the reserve function for managers.

While the Minister is in office, there will be a vibrant team opposite him in the House. We want democracy not dictatorship in local government. We want councillors to have the power to make decisions. If they get it wrong, as many will, they will be kicked out. However, a manager cannot be kicked out and a reserve function cannot be changed. The Minister does not have that power.

Debate adjourned.

Ms Enright:  I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

—recognising the frustration of parents of those children whose needs are not being met because long-promised resources are not in place;

—questioning the fairness and appropriateness of a system which removes individual assessment, critical for the identification of individual needs, and which off-loads responsibilities from the Minister to the school principal in making key decisions as to which child receives assistance; and

—aware that timely and appropriate assistance to children will help them reach their full educational potential and concerned that neglect of specific educational needs of some children will hamper their development;

calls on the Government to:

—allocate sufficient resources for the provision of special needs assistants and resource teaching hours, when and where they are needed, so that children are given the help they require;

—implement the provisions of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act immediately, so that parents, psychologists and other key support personnel can be involved in drawing up the appropriate education plans to meet the specific educational needs of children; and

—immediately sanction the resources needed to clear the backlog in assessing applications for special educational resources, state clearly how long it will take to clear this backlog and reallocate internal departmental resources to the special needs section so that they can [909]deal properly with applications and queries from schools and parents.

Let me begin with the simple statement that all children are not the same, but they are all equal. The first part of this statement, that all children are not the same, is a simple fact which would be impossible to refute. Like adults, children have different personalities, different strengths and weaknesses, and different capabilities. We should celebrate and encourage the differences between people and the rich diversity this brings to everyday life.

The second part of this statement, that all children are equal, should be a fact but it is still only an aspiration. The Government has shown, time and again, that it will not make this aspiration a reality in any meaningful way. In classrooms throughout Ireland some children are given the assistance they need to learn and develop while for other children the position is very different. They are left to struggle with the learning process, without the resource teaching hours or special needs assistants they need. Their individual difficulties are not prioritised, their needs are not met and their plight is ignored. That is a gross inequality in the education system and puts to shame many of the high-minded notions of the Government that the State cherishes all children equally. It does not, and it is failing in its responsibilities every day.

There is a basic principle that must be accepted and it is that every child has an educational potential. It is this potential that is being squandered by the Government when it fails to provide the educational assistance children need to grow, learn and develop. This principle was recognised in the report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities, which stated clearly that every child is educable. The commission reaffirmed the right of every child to a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. It clearly recognised the responsibility of the State to provide sufficient resources to ensure that pre-school children and children of school-going age have an education appropriate to their needs in the best possible environment.

This is a responsibility the Government is failing to meet. Recently the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin described the provisions being made for children with special needs as “inadequate to the point of becoming a national disgrace”. In an address last week he stated that Ireland could not claim to be either a caring or an economically successful society unless we were prepared to address very seriously the provision of proper support for children with special needs. I agree with this statement and ask whether the Minister agrees.

As a wealthy State we have in our power to significantly improve supports for children with special educational requirements. Whether it be through the provision of additional resource teaching hours, special needs assistants, specific teaching aids or specialised computer equipment, children with special educational needs should [910]have their needs met. The potential benefits to these children from this type of increased support, both now and in later life, are too great to allow the current situation to continue.

Fine Gael research shows that children who need to see an educational psychologist must wait on average six and a half months before getting an appointment. In more than a quarter of cases they must wait more than nine months. During a survey of schools that I carried out earlier this year the principal of a school for children with special needs told me that some of her pupils had not been assessed for eight to ten years. This is without doubt a national disgrace and cannot be allowed to continue.

Determining the individual needs of a child will very often require an individual psychological assessment and extensive consultation. This is recognised by the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act. This legislation, only enacted during the summer, specifically notes that children with special needs will require an education plan, drawn up after broad consultation with parents and educational professionals.

Section 4 of the Act makes a commitment that an assessment of a child should include “an evaluation and statement of the nature and extent of the child’s disability” and should also include “matters that affect the child overall as an individual”. Section 3 of the Act relates to the preparation of education plans to meet the needs of children, and does so in a consultative way that includes the children’s parents, teachers and so on. However, against the backdrop of this recently passed legislation the Government has decided to apply a new system to the allocation of special needs resources. This weighted system judges schools according to their size, the sex of their pupils and their status. The resources appear to be allocated in a way that considers everything except the specific needs of the child.

Today a school in County Meath contacted me. There are 18 children in the school who are described as “high incidence disability”. They have been assessed and require special education teaching. Under the new system, the school gets a total of 11.5 hours per week to divide between them, giving 38 minutes per child. It has been told it must recluster and those 18 children are now entitled to only 22 minutes of special education teaching per week each. We must be realistic. It is useless, pointless and pathetic to give a child 22 minutes of special education teaching per week. They might as well not have it.

What is the point in accessing psychologists’ reports if they are undermined and ignored whenever it is effective, perhaps economically, for the Department to do so? I am not sure what criteria are used. What does one say to the parents of Gavin, a dyslexic child, nearing the end of his primary education? His psychologist recommends two and a half hours resource teaching per week and intensive training, but all he gets is ten measly minutes per week, which includes time spent moving his classroom to the prefabricated [911]building and returning to his classroom. That is all he gets per week, and Gavin is but one example of many such cases.

I telephoned the Department of Education and Science in August — I accept there was another Minister there at the time — and was told that it was dealing with junior infants at the moment and that everyone else would be sorted out in September. Neither group has yet been sorted out. Last Friday I mentioned this to the parents of a boy who finished junior infants last June. They suggested that if they kept him in junior infants this year he might have a chance of getting help this year. He has profound speech and language problems as well as behavioural and social problems. He got half of the recommended resource hours and no special needs assistant despite the fact that one was recommended. His parents say he is not improving and he is beginning to notice the difference, which is setting him back further. He is on a waiting list for a place in a school with a special language class.

I could stay here all night, as could many of my colleagues or the Minister’s colleagues on the noticeably empty benches opposite, giving examples of children and parents who are effectively victims of this system. The reason Fine Gael is calling for the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act to be prioritised immediately is so that consultation and consideration can be brought back to the heart of the decision making processes that impact upon the education of children. Specific needs require specific supports. Parents deserve to be consulted, as do teachers and school principals. Children should be assessed and the total package designed for the education of children with special educational requirements should be holistic, broad, fair and achievable. All resources that are allocated to children with special needs are welcome, but I have deep concerns about allocating resources in a blanket manner, with little attention to specific and individual requirements.

Failing to recognise and provide for the specific needs of children is in direct contravention of the legislation that governs the actions of every Minister with responsibility for education. In addition to the responsibilities under the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act, the Education Act 1998 states very clearly that it is the responsibility of the Minister to “ensure ... that there is made available to every person in the State, including a person with a disability or a special education need, support services and a level and quality of education appropriate to meeting the needs and abilities of that person.”

Not only is the Minister failing in that responsibility, she is further failing to keep parents and teachers informed about the process through which her Department awards additional resources. In recent weeks, letters have been sent from the Department of Education and Science instructing school principals not to telephone the Department with questions regarding special edu[912]cational needs but to put such queries in writing instead. This policy is simply creating an additional layer of bureaucracy and adding further delays to the already long drawn-out process of allocating urgently required special needs resources.

Many parents and principals throughout the country have contacted me and my colleagues to express their anger and sheer frustration at the difficulty they have in contacting the Department of Education and Science to find out if special needs assistants are to be allocated to their schools. To compound matters, I recently requested information on behalf of several children with special needs, but the only response I received was a number of near-identical standardised letters. Regardless of the question I asked I received the same one-paragraph response. With the exception of a reference to the individual child the letters were identical. It is a sad and sorry day when that is all we can show parents who consult us about their children. These responses provide nothing more than general information. They do not answer specific queries relating to a child’s application for assistance. They cause even more anxiety among an already frustrated group of parents who have been let down by the Government. In sending out these standardised responses, the Government is choosing to hide behind the new weighted system for the allocation of resources for special needs. Giving this general information and placing the responsibility on the school principal to decide which child should get assistance is utterly unhelpful.

Asking schools not to call with queries about the resources their pupils need and sending out useless responses to parents who have valid and important queries about the needs of their children shows that the Government is closing down communication on special needs. It is of paramount importance that parents are kept informed about key aspects of their children’s education. This includes applications made for resource teaching hours and special needs assistants. These provisions, in which many Members put much faith, were enshrined in the Act. The Minister must allocate more internal resources to ensure that those overworked officials in the busy Department section dealing with these applications can give information to principals, schools and parents in a speedy and more efficient manner. I do not wish to be unduly critical of those officials as they are doing their best. However, they work under stressful conditions, dealing with a large array of applications. Insufficient staff numbers only compound the problem.

There is an anomaly with regard to the capitation levels that are given to children with special educational needs. When a child is enrolled in a school for children with special needs or in a special class in an ordinary national school, the school receives a higher annual capitation assistance rate than a child attending ordinary level classes. For example, a special national school [913]will receive €376.64 per annum for a child under 12 years with a mild general learning disability. If the child transfers to an ordinary national school, which the parents and teachers may desire, the school will receive only €118.22 per child per annum even though the child will have more requirements in such an environment. It can be argued that he or she will have extra resources such as a special needs assistant. However, very often he or she will be in a larger class. Cutting the capitation grant in such cases is wrong and does not reflect the needs of the child.

Mr. F. McGrath:  Hear, hear.

Ms Enright:  I support the recent trend of integrating as many children as possible into the one school. However, I also recognise that some children are better served educationally, developmentally and socially in schools that cater exclusively for their needs. If a child with a special educational need attends a mainstream class, the capitation the school receives is the same as for other pupils. I ask the Minister to address this anomaly as a matter of urgency. Another anomaly exists for those children in junior infants class last year. Now these children have entered full-day classes and I cannot understand why the special needs assistant stays with them only until lunch time. Their needs do not change when the bell strikes lunch break.

Meeting the needs of children with special educational requirements has a cross-departmental aspect. For children with autism, in addition to the provision of consistent and regular resource teaching hours, the appointment of trained special needs assistants for individual children and access to a psychologist for regular assessment, frequent access to a speech and language therapist and occupational therapist is advised in almost all cases. A holistic approach to needs must be adopted. Each individual need must be viewed as a single building block: when all the needs are met, the education of the child can build and grow. Leaving some of these needs unmet will undermine the total educational attainment of the child, potentially for his or her lifetime. Resources are a key issue; without them, the best legislative framework for the provision of support to children with special needs will not be enough.

I recognise that the Minister has been in the job a short time. However, she must understand these children and their parents cannot wait. This motion reflects their needs and there is a number of simple actions that the Minister for Education and Science must take without delay. The telephone helplines must be kept open. Parents and teachers must have access to the Department to find out the position of applications for assistance made. More staff must be allocated. If the staff are not available to process the applications for assistance, then the applications will just gather dust in the Department. This is not acceptable for the children involved. Proper information must [914]be given. The Department must stop sending out standardised responses to every query about the provision for special needs children. This simply adds to parents’ frustration who feel they are getting nowhere with successive Ministers for Education and Science. The parents and teachers must be told at what stage applications for resources are in an upfront and honest way. Reasonable timescales for the consideration of applications must be given rather than allowing them fester for more than 18 months, as is the case now. The Minister must take advice and listen to what educational psychologists are saying. There are numerous cases where psychologists have recommended specific educational assistance for a child, only to find that the Minister for Education and Science or her Department has other ideas. Failure to listen to qualified advice is a failure to meet the specific needs of children.

The Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 must be prioritised with the recommendations on the development of education plans and parental involvement put in place. A principal informed me that a special needs organiser called to his school last week. When the principal asked the organiser of a specific case, he replied that he did not know his brief or what he had to do. This is unacceptable.

Ms O’Sullivan:  I am glad the new Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, is present for the debate on this important joint motion on behalf of Fine Gael, Labour and the Green Party. However, the motion is an indication of the need for a change of Government. Despite the wealthy economy, the money flowing into the Exchequer and the awareness of the problem of special needs, the issue has not been properly addressed. All taxpayers want to see their money spent on prioritising this issue. However, the most vulnerable are being left behind. The Government has neither the capacity nor the political will to address this issue. It is an indication of the Government’s failure when, with all the money available, the needs of the weakest children who need support from the start cannot be met.

Studies prove that early intervention is crucial for these children. However, this is not happening. Last year when the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act was debated in the Houses, over 4,000 children, already professionally assessed as having a need for intervention, lost that vital year. They were left sitting on a waiting list for a decision in the Department of Education and Science. While the then Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Noel Dempsey, introduced legislation to focus on each child’s individual needs with individual assessments and educational plans, he planned to change to the weighted system. The final draft of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act did not match the expectations of a rights-based Bill. Although it pro[915]vided for individual plans and assessment of needs, it was dependent on the availability of resources. Meanwhile, the Department has moved to a weighted system, based on the number and gender of children in a school. In effect Government policy in this area is in total confusion.

In the meantime, those children with the greatest need are the meat in the sandwich while not having their needs addressed. This motion highlights what needs to be done to address those children’s needs. It does not deal with individual children but claims one size fits all. A system where school size determines the number of resource teachers and special needs assistants it will receive will not work. I appeal to the Minister for Education and Science to ensure there is scope for the individual needs of each child to be addressed. I support Deputy Enright’s call for the need for the Department to respond to parents and schools when they raise issues.

Yesterday, I heard of a child who had just transferred to second level who was in need of one-to-one support but it was not forthcoming. That child is now out of school. The child’s mother went into school with the child for the first two weeks so that her child could attend school. In the end the school decided that was not appropriate but it has still not been able to get the support the child needs. Professional educational psychologists have assessed this child.

One of the big problems that arise in this area is when children transfer, whether that be from primary to second level or from one primary school to another. We need to have adequate resources in the system for these children. It is not good enough to have them waiting. They cannot cope in school if they are not getting the resources they need. In many cases they simply cannot adapt to the system.

I have received many letters on this matter and I will read extracts from them.

“Since [the child’s name] was approximately three years old it has been apparent that he has developed mental delays. For the last six years we have fought for everything that he has received. Now the time has come, and actually passed, that he needs resource hours. His need for help is becoming greater but yet the supply of help is not forthcoming.”

Another letter stated:

“Our son has had a special needs assistant to cover all the hours he was attending school for the last two years. As he was due to begin first class this September, which requires him to spend an extra hour at school, the school principal applied to the Department of Education to have his SNA hours increased to cover this extra hour, however, instead of an increase his SNA hours have been reduced to 12.5. This, we feel, will have a devastating effect on our son’s education.”

[916]Another letter stated: “I believe the Department of Education is in breach of its statutory obligation to meet my son’s entitlement and worse, does not appear to give a damn.” In reading that out I stress that we are not criticising the people working in that section of the Department. They are absolutely swamped with work. They need extra resources which is one of the issues referred to in the motion.

I have other letters from school principals, one of which states:

“What really has got to me and to teachers is that we were advised to have consultations and meetings with parents re referral for assessments. Then parents and teachers met the psychologist and we had assessments, recommendations, and follow-up meetings. In most of our cases it was all for nothing. After resource hours were recommended and other strategies the Department changed the rules. Parents and pupils were and are disenchanted, maybe disenfranchised would be better and after all the meetings with teachers who often initiate but are always part of the process their children got nothing. It certainly makes the school-home relationship more difficult. Further, particular children with behavioural and/or emotional problems who were brought through this process became more difficult to teach and deal with.”

Another letter from a teacher stated:

“As you may be aware, the situation with resource and special needs assistant hours in schools at the present moment is becoming a shambles. I have been in contact with the special needs section in the Department of Education on several occasions and, through no fault of theirs, they could not give me a definite answer as regards support for these children.”

Another teacher’s letter stated:

“With the proposed reduction of special education teachers from three to 1.8 in September 2005, the number of children receiving learning support and resource teaching under the new special education teaching will be reduced from 81 to 49. Some of these 32 children who will have to be dropped have already been sanctioned by a Department of Education and Science letter for resource teaching.”

This is one of the real concerns of principals. In cases where children have already been assessed and special needs assistance sanctioned by the Department but the number of resource teaching hours given to the school under the weighted system is reduced, principals do not know what they should do. They are put in the position of having to decide which children will have their hours reduced and which children will not. Again, to go back to the main point, legislation that is already enacted goes in the other direction by stating that the needs of each child must be addressed, that [917]each child must have a plan and the resources to implement it. However, the system now being put in place does not provide for that. The Minister needs to clarify her thinking on this.

It has been suggested that schools in rural areas may be grouped but that has not been clarified as yet. Deputy Enright raised the issue of the role of special needs organisers. I recently spoke to a newly appointed special needs organiser who explained to me that they have no idea what they are supposed to do, yet there is a great deal of work to be done.

The motion states that the legislation needs to be implemented as soon as possible. The Minister should do this because it will put things in place whereby the focus will be on the child, special needs organisers will be able to do their job, principals will not be expected to do an impossible job and parents and children will see their needs being addressed.

Issues also arise regarding resources and the number of resource teachers. Extra posts were announced in the summer and they were very welcome. The INTO and others involved in the issue pointed out that those numbers will not be enough even to address the weighted system, not to mind schools that may have well above the number of children in need of support that they are supposed to have under the weighted system. It is essential that we provide that kind of support.

We also need to appoint more of the ancillary people who diagnose these children and provide the support they need such as educational psychologists and speech therapists. In particular, speech therapy at an early age is of crucial importance to many young children who would not otherwise be able to participate fully in the school system. I am sure other Members of the House are aware of many cases where children are known to have a speech therapy need but are not getting the appropriate support at the right time.

It is preferable if we can give the support needed when children are young, as soon as possible after they are diagnosed. Children should have the required support in their local primary school, whether it be a one-to-one special needs assistant or some hours of resource teaching, speech therapy or whatever else. If children get the attention they need at an early stage and this is followed through the school system, they do not lose what they have learned if they change school or when they transfer from primary to second level. This would allow such children to reach their full potential. That is what we are supposed to do for all children under the Constitution so we cannot allow the current situation to continue.

In the past year the situation for children has got worse. They have been waiting in confusion. First, there was a review of resource teachers. Second, there was a review of special needs assistants. Neither parents or teachers know where they stand and, most importantly, the children [918]themselves are confused. People expect their children will get the back-up they need at their local schools but when they go, the back-up is not there. In many cases this can lead to behavioural problems for children or they fall behind and cannot catch up. This is one of the most important things a government or society can do, to provide for the children who need that special support at the early stages in the school system.

I put it to the Minister to look for the resources in the forthcoming budget for implementation of the recommendations in the motion. If that happens we would truly do a great service to the children in the system and for society in the future, because if we intervene at an early stage we can be sure these children will be able to get the best possible deal from the education system. They are not children of a lesser God, they are as entitled as anybody else to get the full benefit of the education system.

I thank Fine Gael for giving its time for this motion and I urge the Minister for Education and Science to take on board the points we make and provide for children with special needs.

Mr. Boyle:  I too, thank Fine Gael for making its Private Members’ time available for this important and opportune motion. The Green Party is very happy to work in concert with both Fine Gael and Labour in pointing out the inconsistencies of Government policy in this area. One of the frustrations of being an elected Member of the Dáil is to find dozens of people making representations about a commitment that has been entered into, sometimes withdrawn and often still to be met. I am speaking on behalf of many parents of children with special needs who still live with the uncertainty as to whether the educational needs of their children will be properly met in the years to come. The Minister will have to account for this situation.

We are now many weeks into the new school year and the fact that hundreds of parents across the country find that their demands and expectations have not been met is not just a flaw but something the Government should feel great shame about. At its most benign, perhaps it may be said that the Government has created this expectation through recognising many years ago that there was a role for special needs assistants in education and using the community employment scheme to allow such people access to the education system. That in itself sent out many mixed messages, especially when the Government started to mess around with the community employment scheme in terms of numbers and as regards the turnover of people who were allowed to be used in such a manner.

The Government did not and is still not moving fast enough to ensure that special needs assistants are not only mainstreamed but given both the initial training and ongoing support in the important role they play in the education system. Special needs covers a wide variety of areas. It covers not just children with physical disabilities, [919]but those with sensory deprivation and many young people with a condition of autism or its variants. We are talking about socialisation skills and the need to have someone available on a one to one basis or close to this. If the Government is serious about the policy of including all children in mainstream education, then the programme has to be backed up by appropriate resources and a consistent policy.

As with previous speakers, the frustration of trying to contact the Department when making representation on behalf of such parents has, from my point of view, been much more than that. To be fair, when the civil servants concerned could be accessed, they were co-operative and polite. Often, however, the civil servants who were contacted were not the people making the decisions. They were the ones processing the applications. Within the process itself, decisions are made by officials in the Department which affect the rest of the life of the child concerned purely on the basis of a paper application, with no physical examination of the child. Very often a balance sheet approach is demonstrated as to how the resources should be provided for the child, the school and on a national basis. Even when supporting reports are given to Department officials by health care professions that state clearly that individual children are more than deserving of special needs assistance, there is reluctance and delay. The Minister must explain why this inconsistency exists. My experience, this year in particular, of the balance sheet approach to the provision of resources, relates to many young people with autism and especially those with Asperger’s syndrome.

If in any one school it was found that more than one child was affected, the Department officials actively discussed the possibility of whether a special needs assistance could be shared. This approach is widespread throughout the country, not only in terms of autism, but as regards children with sensory and physical disabilities. When it is asserted that one person may relate to two or more young people within the school system, that is where the Government’s logic falls apart. What happens where two or more children have physical needs at the same time? The task cannot be properly undertaken and the young people, the special needs assistant and the school are put at a disadvantage.

Previous speakers spoke about what I term school shopping. This has nothing to do with where the nearest school is or even where the best facilities exist for the child concerned. This is particularly true of the transition from primary to secondary education. Parents have to telephone several schools to find out whether every item on a long checklist may be met, in particular continued access to a special needs assistant. The problem of approaching particular schools often is compromised by the fact the Department may consider some institutions over quota as regards other aspects of their activities. To add another [920]member of staff to the school may be seen as unnecessary, regardless of the needs of the individual child. Again, this is another area of inconsistency that the Minister needs to address.

The Government’s policy, in so far as it exists in terms of ensuring that every child can access mainstream education, is confused. This is not only true in terms of access to special needs assistants but also where special schools exist to assist the process of entry to mainstream education in helping the socialisation of children. In terms of autism there is a small number of CABA, certified associate behaviour analysts, schools around the country, which even to this day operate on a pilot basis. The Department is still uncertain as to what the long-term need will be in terms of resources for such an innovative and successful approach to special education.

At the other end of the scale are young people in need of special assistance in terms of taking examinations. I received correspondence today from the education board which provides statistics showing that since 2000 the number of people given special allowances in the taking of exams has been reduced each year. How is that possible if the Government is putting more resources into the assessment of young people and with the population in general on the increase? All these signals are being sent out to the parents of children with special needs.

The Minister’s first real policy statement has caused a great deal of offence to parents of children with special needs, in her scoffing and sneering at the need of people to use the court system to vindicate the rights of their children to access education. For every case the Minister and her Department might win in this regard there are dozens being lost. The Minister would be wise not to start her term in office with such a sneering attitude and to remember the O’Donoghue and Sinnott cases. Every advance in terms of the education of young people with special needs has come about more through the courts system than through this Chamber or any policy initiative of Government. That is a sad state of affairs.

I hope in her response the Minister can at least accept much of what is in this joint motion. It makes eminent sense. It requires far less resources than this House approved earlier in the day in terms of the horse and greyhound racing industries. When we get a proper sense of priorities and finally begin to put in place the constitutional implication that all children in this country are equal, perhaps we will begin to see the need for fewer motions such as this. This might even provide an opportunity for more Members on this side of the House to compliment the Government for putting in place policies that are badly needed.

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I move amendment No. 1:

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

[921]

“commends the Government for the significant additional resources made available for the education of pupils with special educational needs; and welcomes the legislative and administrative measures being taken by the Government to improve the framework within which services are delivered to pupils with special educational needs, their parents and schools.”

As this is my first major contribution to the House as Minister for Education and Science, I want to say that I look forward to working with the Opposition spokespersons whom I know have made a very valuable contribution to consideration in the House of legislation in the education area over the past few years.

I am glad the subject matter of this first presentation is the important one of special education, which is an issue of extreme sensitivity and, fortunately, one on which we have made tremendous progress in the past six years after many years of neglect. This is a good opportunity for me not only to put on the record of the House what has happened but also my commitment to advancing the provision of educational services to people with special educational needs during my tenure as Minister for Education and Science.

Listening to the Deputies, I know we can have a very constructive debate because l believe we share a common cause on this issue. We want to ensure the services are better for all the people who need them. Every child deserves the opportunity to reach his or her potential and it is my aim, as Minister for Education and Science, to create the environment where that can be achieved.

In the case of a child with special needs, a particular targeted response is needed to enable that child develop his or her abilities, enhance his or her educational level and prepare him or her for participation in society. Though I may be happy to record achievement, I am not complacent. I know that while we have achieved much we are not at the level we want to be, and I look forward to the challenge of making further improvements in the provision of educational services for people with special needs.

The record of the State over decades in providing for children with special needs has been poor. That is why I am glad advances have been made in the past six years. I acknowledge in particular the immense efforts the parents of those children have made for them. They not only had to battle to seek services but in many cases provided those service at a cost to themselves and their families. It is because of that, unlike what Deputy Boyle said, I chose last week not to pursue the parents for costs in a case the Department of Education and Science won. I did not want to put those parents through any further pressure than they had been through already. That was based on a respect and a recognition that parents often had to go to the courts. The Deputy will be well aware, therefore, that comments of mine were [922]not in any way directed at the parents of children with special needs.

Without doubt we are now playing catch-up. In any area of historical underprovision it takes time to improve services to an appropriate level. Nevertheless, we must accelerate our efforts so as to ensure that people with special educational needs and their parents are provided with appropriate services in a timely, efficient and customer-friendly manner. I accept what has been said by Deputies in regard to that. We are not there yet, and I will not pretend we are. While I will record achievement, I will also acknowledge that services provided for the education of people with special educational needs, including services provided by my Department, are not as developed as we would like. Though this might be the case, action is in train to make the necessary improvements.

Speakers referred to resources. I remind the House of the progress made in the allocation of resources and the increase in staff in this area in the past six years. There are now more than 2,600 resource teachers, up from 104 in 1998; there are 1,500 learning support teachers; there are more than 1,000 teachers in special schools; and there are more than 600 teachers in special classes. An interesting statistic is that there are 5,000 special needs assistants in our schools. There were 300 such special needs assistants only six years ago. More than €30 million is being spent on school transport for special needs students and more than €3 million goes on specialised equipment and materials, which is up from €800,000 in 1998.

The scale of resource allocation I have outlined has facilitated the provision of education for children with special needs in mainly mainstream national schools. However, education for children with special educational needs is provided in a variety of settings. In addition to supported provision in mainstream classes, placement may also be made in special classes and units and in special schools. Pending such a placement, arrangements have been made for tuition to be delivered in the child’s home.

Where appropriate for the individual child, integrated provision with necessary supports is the desired choice of most parents. For children for whom mainstream provision is not appropriate, placement may be made in one of the 108 special schools and the 654 special classes and units located throughout the country.

To appreciate the scale of improvement in the provision of resources to primary schools for special needs, it is worth reflecting on the fact that, at approximately 10,700, the number of adults providing services for children with special educational needs in primary schools today is more than half the 21,100 teachers in the system in 1998. The debate, therefore, cannot question the Government’s commitment to providing resources for special educational needs, but I accept there are individual cases where schools are awaiting decisions on applications for additional resources, and I have taken measures [923]to ensure that process is speeded up. Indeed, this whole process will shortly undergo major transformation as the National Council for Special Education commences operation on the ground throughout the country.

In 1998 the Government took a decision which has transformed the level of provision for pupils with special educational needs. That decision meant that pupils with special educational needs would be entitled to an automatic response to meet those needs. In other words, the allocation of resources to meet those needs no longer depended, as it did in the past, on the limited resources that were available to meet those needs. Instead, the response was based on the nature of the disability involved and once the required supporting professional assessments were made available the resources were automatically allocated. It was this decision that gave rise to the enormous expansion in resourcing levels to which I have referred.

While the Government decision of October 1998 authorised the allocation of significant resources, it posed significant challenges to the administration in processing the significant level of applications which were made in response to the Government commitment. I pay tribute to the staff of my Department’s special education section, the inspectorate and the national educational psychological service for the efforts they have made to service the demands which were exacerbated by the lack of investment in the past. It has to be acknowledged, however, that despite their efforts, service delivery in this area has not always been adequate to provide the level of service that pupils with special educational needs, their parents, their schools and teachers require and deserve. The Department recognised that it was neither properly resourced nor structured to deliver these services.

Arising from the report of an internal planning group, which was endorsed by the Cromien report on the Department of Education and Science and its operations, the Government decided to establish the National Council for Special Education to co-ordinate the provision of service to children with special educational needs. The council was appointed by my predecessor, Deputy Noel Dempsey, last December and it has recruited 70 special educational needs organisers. These people will be a focal point of contact for schools and parents. They will process individual applications for resources for special educational needs. These special educational needs organisers, SENOs as they are now being called, will commence work on the ground over the next month or so. I am confident this new resource will provide a step change in the delivery of special education services.

Arising out of its ongoing review of the resource allocation process, it was clear that the automatic response was operating in a manner that was far from automatic. The reality was that every single application had to be accompanied [924]by a psychological or clinical assessment and had to be processed individually. The requirements of the process diverted school principals and psychologists from other work and delayed the processing of applications. The process was both cumbersome and time-consuming.

In light of the reality that pupils in the high incidence disability categories of mild and borderline mild general learning disability and dyslexia are distributed throughout the education system, my Department, in consultation with educational interests, has developed a weighted model of teacher allocation for these disability categories. The weighted allocation, which also includes an allocation for pupils requiring learning support, is designed to put in place in primary schools a permanent resource to cater for the pupils in these categories.

The allocations are based on pupil numbers and take account of the differing needs of the most disadvantaged schools and the evidence that boys have greater difficulties than girls in this regard. Some people have questioned this but looking back at the numbers of applications made for extra resources, the number of applications for boys far outweighed those for girls.

Mr. Stanton:  That is because they are more active.

Ms Hanafin:  As had operated in the case of the learning support service, small schools are being clustered for the purpose of the weighted allocations. The Department’s inspectorate is finalising the clustering arrangements. The weighted model involves the allocation of additional teaching posts as well as redeployment of resources between schools. This redeployment will be facilitated through the transaction of the primary teacher panels.

There is hope that the new weighted model will improve the level of service provided for pupils with special educational needs. The new system will reduce the need for individual applications and supporting psychological assessments, and will put resources in place on a more systematic basis, thereby giving schools more certainty about their resource levels. This will allow for better planning in schools, greater flexibility in identifying and intervening earlier with regard to pupils’ special needs, as well as making the posts more attractive to qualified teachers.

The previous allocation system placed significant demands on principals, teachers and psychologists. It was also time-consuming, thereby delaying the allocation of resources for special needs. Action had to be taken to reform the system and the model now being introduced will, over time, significantly improve the capacity of the system to cater for children with special needs in a speedier, more effective way. The revised system will reduce the administrative burden on schools and allow them to concentrate on the delivery of services to pupils with special needs. It will also allow psychologists to devote more time to advis[925]ing teachers on planning for individual children and for whole school provision.

The weighted allocation will be made up 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. In the lower incidence disability categories resources will continue to be allocated on the basis of individual applications, a point the Deputies did not make clear in their contributions this evening. It is important that where there is a particular and special need in the low incidence category these children are considered individually. The resource will be allocated to them according to their individual needs.

These pupils are not evenly distributed among schools and a weighted model would not be appropriate. However, the impending involvement of the National Council for Special Education and the organisers will greatly enhance the speed of response to such applications. Furthermore, the fact that individual psychological assessments will not be needed for pupils being catered for under the weighted model will enable psychological services to provide a better service to those in the lower incidence categories as well as greater levels of systemic support to schools.

The Opposition motion referred to the responsibilities of school principals in this area. The weighted model will allocate an appropriate level of resources to schools. The deployment of those resources is, as it should be, a matter for the schools and in particular for school principals in consultation with their staff. The needs of children change over time as they develop and as programmes devised by their teachers take effect. It is best to take decisions in this area at school level rather than at a remote distance in the Department of Education and Science. My Department has supported and will continue to support schools and principals through the provision of advice and not least through the support of the national educational psychological service.

Applications for special needs assistants will continue to be made on an individual level in accordance with the criteria already set out by the Department. The criteria set out refer to a significant medical need for such an assistant, a significant impairment of physical or sensory function, or where the child’s behaviour is such that he or she is a danger to himself or herself or to another. There was a significant care element included in those criteria. Processing of these applications will shortly transfer to the National Council for Special Education, which will improve the speed of response. Parents and teachers would look for[926]ward to a situation in which a child would not be totally dependent on the special needs assistant in his or her class but would be able to gain the independence as he or she goes through the education system which would enable him or her to participate fully in society.

I have taken immediate measures to have outstanding applications for special education resources responded to straight away. The objective in establishing the National Council for Special Education is to have clarity of entitlement, an accessible service at local level and speedy delivery. The general functions of the council are to carry out research and provide expert advice to the Minister on the educational needs of children with disabilities. It will provide a range of services at local and national level in order to identify and address the educational needs of children with disabilities. It will also co-ordinate the provision of education and related support services with health boards, schools and other relevant bodies.

The people with whom we deal in the special education area frequently raise the issue of the lack of co-ordination between the health services, parents feeling excluded from such decisions and the role of the teacher locally. Placing organisers in the locality will enable them to work with the parents and the schools, particularly to co-ordinate the services on a local level. That will ensure that when a child has been identified as having a special need, the services can be put in place immediately.

A total of 98 posts have been approved for the existing council; 18 of them for administrative and research purposes, 11 of which, including that of chief executive officer, were filled during 2003 in order to make practical preparatory arrangements for the council. A further five appointments have been made this year to date and two posts remain to be filled. The more important posts are those of the special education needs organisers, 70 of whom have been appointed, with a further ten to come. They will be responsible for ensuring that all special educational needs in their areas are addressed in an effective manner. The council will deploy the SENOs throughout the State to ensure national coverage. They will be charged with facilitating access to, and co-ordinating education services for children with special needs in their areas.

They will do this by liaising between local providers of educational services, and of necessary ancillary services, the council, the Department and parents. In many cases provision will be based on individual education plans for the children involved. This is precisely what the Deputies in the House have called for tonight and it is needed for these children. The 70 SENOs commenced employment with the council on 1 September 2004. They were recruited in an open, competitive process and all have previous experience of direct service provision to people with disabilities and have wide-ranging experience from which the whole system can benefit. We [927]hope to fill the remaining ten posts by the end of this year. The SENOs who have been appointed are being assigned responsibility for specific primary, post-primary and special schools in their areas. They are engaged in an induction training programme and information gathering visits to their assigned schools. This should address the comment made by one to Deputy Enright. Following the induction training and the information gathering they will be able to engage in their functions as soon as they officially start work. The council and the Department of Education and Science are discussing the structured transfer of functions.

There is provision to establish a council with similar functions but with a wider remit under the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004. As soon as a commencement order is made in respect of the Act the existing council will be dissolved and replaced by a council established under the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004. I intend to consult the council at an early date in advance of making the initial commencement order. In addition to the changes made in the delivery of resources to date the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 provides a map to the future development of special educational needs services. The Act reflects the Government’s commitment to putting in place a strategy to address the needs of people with disabilities. It will begin in steps over the next few years, in accordance with an implementation plan to be drafted by the National Council for Special Education.

The Act will create enforceable rights to an educational assessment for all children with special educational needs, the development of an individual educational plan and the delivery of education services on foot of the plan. It will also ensure that the resources necessary to vindicate those rights will be available to schools, health boards and the council. Resources are of major importance to the provision of the service. There will be duties on the Ministers for Finance, Health and Children, and Education and Science to ensure that adequate resources are provided for the delivery of services. In particular the Minister for Finance is obliged under the Constitution to have due regard to the State’s duty to provide for an education appropriate to the needs of every child and the necessity to provide equity of treatment for all children.

  8 o’clock

The council will co-ordinate special education provision, provide special needs organisers to promote good practice in special education and guarantee that children with special needs receive an appropriate education. The 70 special educational needs organisers will assist parents and schools in making education readily accessible to children with disabilities. That education will, as far as practicable, take place in an integrated setting.

[928]One of the principles underpinning the Act is that parents have a right to be consulted and fully informed at every stage of the process. If they feel their views are not being full recognised, or where they feel the plan is not being implemented effectively, they have a right to appeal decisions concerning their children and these matters to an independent review board. The board has the power to compel bodies, including health boards, to take specific actions to address matters before it.

Ms Enright:  May I ask a question?

Ms Hanafin:  Not in the middle of my contribution. I forgot to mention at the beginning that I wanted to share time with the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Carey):  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. F. McGrath:  He may not want to share it.

Ms Hanafin:  Was that the question? Nothing in the Act will restrict the right of recourse to the courts, rather it will simplify the process of enforcing the right to an appropriate education through the appeals board and the introduction of a mediation process prior to full-scale litigation if the parents remain dissatisfied with the appeal board’s findings. The rights of the parents are protected the whole way to ensure that they are satisfied with the provisions of the findings on the needs of the child and the services to be provided for that child.

The Comhairle (Amendment) Bill 2004 will provide an advocacy service for parents so that in addition to the support to be provided by the special needs organisers there will be another source of advice and support for parents. Taken together the provisions of the Acts amount to a comprehensive framework to address the gaps in the system, a framework which deals with the issue not in aspirational terms but gives parents the means to enforce their rights easily and quickly.

The record of the Government in the area of special education is one of action. We have greatly expanded the level of resourcing for pupils with special needs. We are putting new structures in place through the establishment of the National Council for Special Education, which will improve and speed up the delivery of services to pupils with special needs, their parents and schools.

As I said at the outset, for many years there was a deficit of recognition for these children or their needs. It is because of that at least we can point to so much development and resources in the past six years, as well as further improvements that I hope to put in place to meet the needs of the children more efficiently. I hope to deal with the outstanding applications very quickly. We have also provided a comprehensive [929]legislative framework to govern the delivery of these services. I look forward during my tenure as Minister for Education and Science to making further improvements in services for pupils with special educational needs.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. B. Lenihan):  I commend the Minister on her comprehensive reply to the motion tabled by the Opposition on this matter. The crucial point in her contribution is that a decision was taken by the Government preceding this one in 1998, of the same political complexion, by the then Minister of Education and Science, Deputy Martin, to recognise this need. The bare statistics show that there are now 2,600 resource teachers, up from 104 in 1998. That is a quantum increase in this area. We can look at the figures on special needs assistants, which are up from 300 in 1998 to 5,000 today. Any organisation faced with levels of increase and staffing complements of this order will naturally have difficulty in administering and managing the system. That is why special needs organisers have been appointed. I noticed the Minister referred to them as SENOs, but I always referred to them as SNOs. They have long been promised and are now coming on stream. They will do valuable work in bringing together the school principal and parents, identifying the need of the child and devising a programme tailored to that child’s requirements.

The Opposition understandably referred to the frustration of parents. As Deputies, we all know the frustration of parents in bringing these services together. There has been a huge increase in the level of service and the amount invested in it. We have to bring it all together, and that is what is happening here. The Opposition questioned the appropriateness and fairness of a system which removes individual assessment critical for the identification of individual needs and which off-loads responsibilities to the school principal in making key decisions as to which child receives assistance. I take issue with that. When there is such a large number of personnel involved and such an acute investment taking place, there has to be a system in place. It is not a matter of off-loading responsibility from the Minister. The Minister has the responsibility to secure the necessary resources for this sector and I have no doubt that she is battling for it at the Government table. Having done that, the Minister and her officers have to put a system in place.

The principals, who have done a fantastic job in the primary school system, have to get down to the difficult business of working this out on the ground, and I believe they will do an excellent job. It is not a question of off-loading responsibility. As the Minister is well aware after a few days in this Department, it is impossible to off-load responsibility, especially when we have such a vigilant Opposition watching every move and monitoring us at every stage.

[930]Mr. F. McGrath:  The Minister is going well.

Mr. B. Lenihan:  There is no question of the Minister not being fully aware of her responsibility in this matter. However, she requires the co-operation of principals to implement and effect the system. Let us face facts. Some of our difficulties in this area were caused by decisions and applications that were made at local level in the past. The Minister has to put a system in place and bring all aspects together. That is what any Minister would do. I have no doubt that if the Minister did not do that, the Opposition’s new gun on the Committee of Public Accounts would be very quick to deploy his weaponry against the Minister. The Minister would be in default in not having a proper, public transparent system in operation for the allocation of these important resources.

Mr. Costello:  I congratulate the Minister on her appointment. I am aware of her experience in the area of teaching and I am sure she will bring those skills and that professionalism to her new job. I wish her well.

Listening to her contribution tonight was a bit like listening to the Taoiseach this afternoon. He stated that he knew all about the problems in the health service in the past 30 years and about the present problems, and that he would deal with the problems in the future. At the same time, vast amounts of money were being put into the health service and, as we now know, that service is in crisis.

Unfortunately, the situation on special needs education is not dissimilar. The most significant statement in the Minister’s contribution is what will happen in the context of the special needs Act 2004. The Minister said the Act will give all children with special educational needs the enforceable right to an educational assessment. She referred to duties and the advent, at last, of an holistic and integrated approach on the part of the Ministers for Finance, Health and Children and Education and Science. She said the approach will ensure that adequate resources will be provided for the delivery of services. The Minister has not indicated when the full force of the Act will be implemented, however. It is important that we should know when the wonderful new dispensation will be introduced.

The Minister has stated that many resources have been allocated to this area in the past. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, has recounted the resources. It can also be said that many resources have been invested in the health service, but it is still in a crisis because the resources have not been used effectively. Deputies will have noticed that the Minister of State’s list did not contain a reference to classroom assistants. The abolition of community employment schemes has meant that the number of people from the community offering assistance in classrooms, particularly in disadvantaged areas, has decreased significantly. Perhaps the Govern[931]ment could reinstate the assistants as part of its contribution in this area.

Mr. B. Lenihan:  Many of them are now in the workforce.

Mr. Costello:  I can give the Minister of State a list as long as my arm of people in his constituency and almost all other constituencies who would be willing to work as classroom assistants. If the Minister of State’s problem is that he cannot fill such positions, he can send me the prospectus and I will do it for him.

Ireland presents itself at airports and other points of entry as the home of bright and educated young people. We pride ourselves on producing such people. It is true, in many ways, that we cherish approximately 80% of our children, but I estimate that 20% of children fall through the system in one way or another. They suffer from many problems, including disadvantage, learning difficulties, problems of assessment, a lack of resources and a shortage of special needs assistants. The proportion of children who need intervention because of such schooling problems is not decreasing. The mechanisms, resources and structures necessary to deal with such difficulties are not in place. The Minister’s list of statistics relating to professional personnel, for example, reads well on paper, but the system as a whole is not being held together.

The Breaking the Cycle programme has been the only bright light in the education system in the past ten years. The programme did not offer a professional intervention to those with special needs, for example, but instead provided a preferential pupil-teacher ratio in the areas of greatest disadvantage. A difference was made because individual attention was given to children for the first time. Individual attention is often the answer to the problems of those with special educational needs. Slower pupils can be helped to make quicker progress, troublesome students can be given attention and those who find it difficult to operate in mainstream education can be given assistance. Such possibilities have been lost because they have not been followed up. Resources and support have been offered in such areas, including CE schemes, but they can be easily lost.

I am not aware of any school in my constituency which does not have difficulties in getting assessments, teaching assistants and psychologists. Many schools have to turn to the private sector to organise psychological assessments because few psychologists are employed by the Department of Education and Science. Has the Minister assessed the extent of the need? Has she made provisions to meet that need within the Department? The principals of many schools are trying to get money from various sectors to buy into private assessment because it cannot be provided by the Department. I did not see any reference to such problems in the Minister’s speech. [932]She spoke about the weighted model and forgoing the need for individual assessment. I cannot see how that will work because one cannot have collective assessment. Each individual pupil has individual needs. I will wait to see what will happen.

A neglected child will become a problem child. All Members are aware that many children end up before the courts. There have been some terrible fatalities in recent times. Newspapers have reported that the youngsters in question had many special needs. Although I have not read their life stories, I presume their problems were not addressed. Youngsters can become dysfunctional very quickly in such circumstances, as we know, leading to crime in many cases. The average reading age of those in St. Patrick’s Institution, which caters for youngsters between the ages of 17 and 21, is 12. It is clear that many people are falling through the system. The educational system has fallen short of addressing the needs of those who are borderline in so many areas. It is one of the problems faced by society at present. Many people are experiencing anxiety, fear and insecurity as a result. People are demanding harsher measures to deal with youngsters whose needs, especially their educational and social needs, were not met at an earlier age.

I would like to refer to the Phoenix Centre, a learning project established in my constituency seven years ago as a joint venture of the Department of Education and Science’s special education unit and the local drugs task force. The centre catered for ten children who could not operate in mainstream schools, who were at risk of becoming involved in drugs, alcohol and petty crime and who had other special needs. When a problem emerged this summer involving its director, it was decided to close the school down because the problem could not be managed in any other way. The ten children in question, who were doing very well, have lost two months’ education because the centre has not been reopened. I know the children and their teachers. I am aware that at least another ten youngsters have been identified as having the potential to benefit from such an outreach school, which addresses the special needs of youngsters who do not fall into mainstream categories. I ask the Minister to examine this specific case. The youngsters in question, who are not in the primary sector because they are between 13 and 17 years of age, have fallen through the net.

A great deal of work remains to be done. There is no evidence of an holistic approach. I am glad there has been a move towards giving greater resources to individual schools so they can address the needs of their pupils. It is appropriate that parents should be entitled to enforce their children’s right to have their special needs requirements met. I hope the new measures will work, but I have not seen any sign of their success to date. The Minister has to do a great deal of work in the next two or two and a half years before there is a change of Government.

[933]Dr. Twomey:  I congratulate the Minister on her appointment. I hope she will have an interesting two years as Minister for Education and Science before the next general election. She may feel that Opposition Deputies are somewhat ungrateful for the hard work that has been done in this regard over the past 16 years. There is a feeling that most of the work has been done in the past couple of years.

Ms Hanafin:  Six years.

Dr. Twomey:  The Minister has been talking about 1988 since we came in here.

Ms Hanafin:  No, 1998.

Dr. Twomey:  Perhaps I have misunderstood the Minister — I thought she was referring to 1988. The point we are making on this side of the House is that not much has been done quickly.

Research has shown that early intervention can make a huge difference to the lives of children with special educational needs. The final outcome of intervention can vary with the level of intellectual disability. Sometimes I feel that the small gain from the intellectual input given to the children is somehow being held against them. We put in a great deal of resources and sometimes we feel that we might not get that much out of it from an educational point of view. That is wrong.

Having dealt with those children, especially as patients, I have seen the great difference it can make not only to their lives, but to those of their parents when any input at all is provided or any investment is made. Sometimes, when they do not have any speech, it gets very frustrating for them. They find it very hard to cope with their own normal, day-to-day routine, with their siblings and with their parents. It can also be extremely frustrating for their parents if they have a young child who finds it extremely difficult to communicate with them. Therefore, although we may look back on the time and resources spent on a child and question its worth, it is always a good thing. It makes a dramatic difference to their quality of life. I speak of children of extremely limited intellectual ability. It is not so much an education but giving them a chance to communicate with other family members and improving their quality of life. It is a very important social issue and it is a shame we have waited so long to see this level of effort being put into such children, who have no one to stand up for them. For many years, their parents have been banging their heads against the wall trying to get even the very limited resources available.

The Minister mentioned much about what is happening with investment and so on, but the practical reality for many years was that such children were grossly neglected and had very little done for them. That made their parents very angry and it may have made the public feel that we were a little callous and uncaring in this House because we left if for so long before mak[934]ing that investment in those who most needed it in the intellectual disability sector. The proper provision of resources can alter other children’s lives completely. They are still intellectually below the average of those in this House, but they can also benefit greatly from any help given to them. I speak of such matters as dyslexia, which covers a wide range of effects on sufferers. Some find any sort of word recognition extremely difficult, while it might not affect the lives of others at all. There are probably at least seven or eight of us in this House who have some form of dyslexia but have got away with it in our lives since most people simply think that our spelling is poor, or diabolical. However, it does not seem to stop us from getting on in life.

Some people can be held back even by something such as dyslexia and that is why we must identify those children very early and not assume that a social or family cause or some other form of social dysfunction is responsible for their educational attainment being low. We must pick those children up very quickly and that is why this legislation and early assessment are so important. When such children are identified, they must immediately be given the resources they need to help them get on in life. No matter what we have done so far, we have not really got into this problem in a satisfactory manner for the sake of such children.

Another sub-category of children are those with attention deficit disorder. Once again, some of them are intellectually below average. They need a great deal of resources and help since they are also very disruptive and find it very hard to concentrate or even sit still in class. In some cases, they have also been pushed to one side and forgotten about over the years. Medication has improved dramatically in recent years and it can help mainstream such children. Great resources are needed and the investment is well worth it if such children can get on, move into their teenage years, get a secondary education and make their lives worthwhile instead of being discarded. As Deputy Costello pointed out, in some cases they do nothing other than fill our prisons in later years.

In some respects it is a little disappointing that we have waited so long for this Bill. The country has been doing very well for several years. Everyone on the other side of the House is at pains to tell us how the economy has been booming since 1997. I am glad they got that one right, but we have waited until now to start doing something. A great deal of potential has been lost in a generation of children over the past ten years. We could have done something about them had we been a little more understanding.

I give credit regarding resource assistants in schools. I saw that change before my involvement in politics. The Government gave help to parents to try to mainstream such children. For years they were denied any form of education or pushed off to its fringes. The first thing the Government did properly was provide resource assistants. [935]However, there is no point doing so and sitting children down in classrooms if one does not have special needs teachers there too to give them an education. When one sees what is happening with children getting 12 or 22 minutes or an hour each week, one misses the point if one fails to see that it constitutes not teaching but going through the motions. If we have corrected one aspect in giving them resource assistants to keep them occupied in the classroom, why can we not also give them the teachers to provide them with a proper education?

The way in which this Bill — I believe it is not even in the legislation — has given principals responsibility could be negative. It is a little like asking a doctor to decide which patients should live and which should die. One is forcing the principal to face King Solomon on this issue; he or she must decide which children get what within the school. That is too big an issue and I am sure the Minister is well aware from her previous background that it is also a very emotional question for the parents involved. We may actually be doing damage to the role of a school principal by asking him or her to make such decisions about who gets what. The role of a school principal is very much about nurturing education, having a good relationship with parents and having no sense of confrontation in the school on issues of education. Disciplinary issues are a different matter.

In this instance, we are pushing an unsuitable role on a school principal and the Department should revisit the issue. Someone else should make the decision. It would not happen anywhere else that we would ask someone with such a sensitive role regarding children, and especially the children in question, to take on an even more sensitive one. I am surprised the proposal got through the Department of Education and Science and that principals are being put in such a position. I would have expected that not to occur and that the Department would have recognised the important separation of roles required.

From a medical point of view, assessment is also very important since it can sometimes expose a medical condition with other implications for the child. Sometimes the child’s medical condition may indicate what can be done for him or her. That could help in the assessment process. Again, it is best that it comes early so that we know exactly what the child can attain in the future. If the child looks like he or she will not attain much, at least the parents should know early what he or she can achieve and not feel that the denial of early intervention made their child the way he or she is. That is why we should place such great emphasis on intervention as soon as possible. Sometimes, medical intervention may be needed for some other reason, which is more evidence of the importance of early intervention.

Social issues have been touched on by other speakers. They have a very important role, although perhaps they are connected with [936]another section of the Department. Social deprivation and the level of educational attainment by other members of a household have a great effect on what a child can achieve. Sometimes we find that such social aspects are allowed to impinge on a parent pushing for an assessment for his or her child, perhaps seeing that he or she has a disability. It is another role and something that should be left to a separate person. Perhaps that person should take over the role of the principal in dividing resources, something I disagree with completely. On a positive note, I have seen where it can work very well. In a local national school, they have a special needs classroom, assistants and a teacher.

Dr. Twomey:  I congratulate the Tánaiste on her new position as Minister for Health and Children. She has taken on a very responsible job and I wish her the best in it as the area is a very difficult one. In her role as Minister for Health and Children and in mine as Fine Gael spokesperson on health, patient care is our primary concern.

Ireland has a significant pharmaceutical industry and the issue I now bring up is no reflection on it because most of the businesses involved operate to highly ethical standards. Three weeks ago an anti-arthritic drug was rapidly withdrawn from the market due to the highly adverse side effects picked up in the trials which follow the launch of such drugs. The matter was treated very quickly and professionally, which is how we like to see things done because we all know that adverse reactions can show up at a later date, while not necessarily showing up during extensive clinical trials.

However, allegations made in a recent “Panorama” programme about another drug must be raised in this House because of the serious implications not only for psychiatry but for all medicine and especially the medication and drug industry. I do not know if the Minister is aware of this but if so I would like to know if she has made inquiries about the “Panorama” programme, if she knows what was said on it and if she has had inquiries from Glaxo SmithKline regarding the issues raised.

I am not making specific allegations against the drug company involved. Given that such a wealth of clinical data is made available on every drug, the information can sometimes be overlooked and missed, rather than deliberately being presented in a misleading manner. However, concerns were raised on “Panorama” about some of the data on this anti-depressant drug and since the drug is available in this country and is widely used, we should investigate the matter. I will read some remarks made on the programme by the [937]President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the UK:

I personally felt cheated, and heaven only knows what the children, adolescents, their parents and their GPs on the other end of that felt — very much the same. I also felt very confused because I know that there are some of my patients in the past for whom the SSRIs have been important in their recovery as well as all the other things that I might be doing with them, and yet suddenly the balance between risk and benefit was quite clearly tilted in a different way.

He was talking about the clinical trials data which were shown up in the course of the programme, suggesting the company was deliberately misleading the regulatory bodies in the UK as to the effectiveness of the drug. It was stated on the programme that the drug, which would increase the adverse reactions for children, in other words increase the risk of suicide, had no beneficial effects compared to placebos and other treatments for those children. Further clinical trials showed that the drug raised the risk of suicide through all age groups. That may be an effect of all selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, SSRIs, but the company involved with this drug seems to have moved to cover up its status. An indication that this was so was given in the following note quoted on the programme:

Confidential — for internal use only, October 1998. It would be commercially unacceptable to include a statement that efficacy has not been demonstrated, as this would undermine the profile of the drug in question.

As legislators and Members of the Oireachtas, we must take seriously such practices that may be occurring with regard to pharmaceutical products, which I am using for my patients and which are being prescribed for other patients in Ireland. Will the Tánaiste inquire into the matter? Many thousands of drugs are prescribed in this country every year and we are lucky to have a very low adverse incidence with mandated drugs. There may be some hype involved regarding the drug in question but the issue is important enough to be dealt with at official level.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  I thank Deputy Twomey for raising this issue and I welcome the opportunity to reply. I am well aware of this problem, which has been in the public arena since before the screening of the “Panorama” programme. Unfortunately I did not see that programme but I have discussed it with several members of the expert group which I set up about a year ago to examine the mental health area. That group will examine the issue, on which it has very strong views, and will return to me next year.

The Irish Medicines Board is the statutory body responsible for the regulation of medicinal products in Ireland. It is responsible for monitor[938]ing the safety of all medicinal products licensed for use in Ireland and for evaluating all new scientific data that emerge. In consultation with its European colleagues, the IMB has continuously monitored the safety of the class of medicines known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors since they were first licensed for the Irish market several years ago.

The board has taken regulatory action on these products when deemed necessary. Most recently the board took part in a European-wide review of medicinal products containing paroxetine, one of the group of SSRIs used to treat mild to moderate depression and which includes Seroxat. This review was undertaken on the basis of safety concerns relating to these products. The board actively participated in the review, which involved a complete benefit-risk reassessment. The review concluded that the benefit-risk profile of products containing paroxetine remains positive. A number of recommendations were made for inclusion in the products licence documents, the purpose of which was to harmonise the information on these products throughout member states. This documentation includes special warnings and precautions for use, particularly on the need for close monitoring of patients using medicinal products containing paroxetine.

I am informed that the majority of these recommendations are reflected in the licence documentation currently approved in Ireland. These include a warning to reflect that paroxetine should not be used in children and adolescents. In the EU paroxetine is not authorised for use in this population. Data from clinical trials raised concerns regarding suicidal behaviour and hostility. In addition, data from clinical trials have not adequately demonstrated efficacy in these age groups. Although paroxetine is not authorised for use in children and adolescents, doctors can prescribe this product for an individual patient if they feel it may be of benefit. However, they are advised to exercise caution. Alternative treatments for childhood depression such as cognitive behavioural therapy may be prescribed by child psychiatrists.

Prescribers are warned to recommend close monitoring of patients at high risk of suicidal behaviour. These include patients with a known history of suicidal behaviour or suicidal thoughts prior to starting treatment and possibly young adults. There is also a recommendation that prescribers and patients should be warned regarding the occurrence of withdrawal reactions on stopping treatment. Generally, these are mild to moderate and self-limiting. However, in some patients they may be severe and-or prolonged.

Following a review of the existing data on paroxetine by medical experts from the member states, these recommendations were issued. Ireland — via the IMB and its national experts — participated in this review and I am advised these recommendations are considered appropriate on the basis of the data assessed. The committee for human medicinal products, a scientific [939]committee of the EMEA, will take further action on paroxetine if new data emerge which indicate that this is necessary. This committee is currently considering a review of all the other SSRIs and related anti-depressants and I understand a review of these issues is also ongoing in America.

The Deputy will appreciate that the full safety profile of a medicine only becomes apparent after long-term and widespread use. As regards medicines used in the treatment of psychiatric disorders, it may be particularly difficult to distinguish between the underlying condition and the possible effects of new treatment. These issues are under continuous review by the Irish Medicines Board and its European counterparts. The Deputy may rest assured that my Department, which is continually monitoring the situation, will take any further regulatory action deemed appropriate.

Ms McManus:  This is the first time in my recollection that relatives of very sick people lying on trolleys have taken to the streets and have stood outside the gates of Dáil Éireann. They have come from the Mater Hospital, from Tallaght and from James Connolly Memorial Hospital in Blanchardstown. Nurses and nurse managers, who have been driven to these extraordinary lengths, have joined them.

Let us consider the Mater Hospital as just one example, where between 20 and 35 people are stuck on trolleys at any one time. The accident and emergency department is short four nurses and needs more medical staff. There are 60 nurse vacancies in the hospital. More than 70 beds are inappropriately occupied and 100 additional beds are desperately needed. This hospital is in the Taoiseach’s constituency. He was even employed there at one point. However, his response in the House earlier reveals an extraordinary disregard for the harsh reality facing patients waiting on trolleys and chairs and unable to obtain the treatment they need.

There are patients who never reach a hospital bed and who spend their entire stay in hospital on a trolley. Lying on a trolley in an accident and emergency department means discomfort, sleeplessness, and total lack of dignity and of privacy. Has the Minister for Health and Children considered the health and safety issues in accident and emergency departments where the pressures are so great that, in some cases, even the toilet facilities are grossly inadequate? The previous Minister for Health and Children failed to address the problem. In fact, it is now worse than ever and we have not yet even faced the onset of winter.

Is the Minister not afraid of the impact a flu epidemic could have on an already pressurised service? In this city there were 164 patients waiting on trolleys in our accident and emergency departments today. However, hospital wards are closed, new facilities remain unopened and more [940]than 300 beds are inappropriately occupied. Countrywide today, there were 222 patients on trolleys in accident and emergency departments. The response of the Taoiseach earlier was bereft of a single solution. Instead he returned to the mantra of investment in the health service that he has depended on since he came to office.

The response, or lack thereof, of the Minister for Health and Children has been even more disconcerting. It seems that she has even refused to do interviews in recent days in respect of the escalating crisis in accident and emergency services and to inform us with regard to how she intends to respond and deal with the situation. I welcome the fact that she is present to reply to this matter.

In July 2002 the then Minister for Health and Children announced 850 community nursing beds to help alleviate the crisis. As of today, not one of these beds has been provided. So much for the much vaunted public private partnership process. It has not worked, nor has it delivered. We need to hear what will be the alternative. According to hospital consultants, there are 3,500 fewer hospital beds than there were in 1990. In my estimation, a pitiful 700 beds have come on stream in recent years. This is nowhere near sufficient to meet demand.

Will the Minister of Health and Children introduce a Supplementary Estimate at this stage and will she take initiatives in the following areas? Will she use spare private nursing home capacity, open up the new facilities immediately, provide a significant number of additional beds, deal with the nursing shortage, particularly in ICU and accident and emergency departments and lift the cap on medical training places for doctors? On a day on which 222 Irish citizens are lying in discomfort and pain on trolleys in hospital corridors, it is not good enough for the Government to run away from this problem any longer.

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Deputy McManus acknowledged that I am present in the Chamber. She might also have been gracious enough to acknowledge that I was here on time. When a Deputy is delayed, it is customary to acknowledge the fact that the relevant Minister was present on time.

The difficulties being experienced in accident and emergency facilities throughout the country are not acceptable to me, to the Government or to the average person who cannot understand how, at a time when we have trebled spending on health care to €10.5 billion, these things can happen. Many patients are experiencing long delays and difficulties, notwithstanding the enormous efforts made by the dedicated and caring staff who look after them.

The problems of the accident and emergency services are not unique to them. They also affect the health service as a whole. When seeking solutions, we must consider those that are sensible, sustainable and which fit into the overall strategy of reform. Everyone in the House acknowledges — as those who have reviewed the health services [941]have already acknowledged — that there are no quick fix solutions or magic wands that can be waved. If it were easy, it would have been done a long time ago.

I intend to bring forward a package of measures to improve the experience of all patients who enter our hospitals via accident and emergency departments. As Members are aware, 78% of patients who enter accident and emergency departments in the six hospitals in the Dublin area do not require to be admitted. The 22% of patients who require admission are experiencing particular difficulties. When I met the chief executive officers of the six Dublin hospitals, I asked them to provide patient data. I received that data this evening from the Mater Hospital. If we are to make sensible decisions, we must do so on the basis of the best possible information. We do not need to know who the individuals are but we need to know their circumstances.

Among the issues we will have to address in the context of the package I will bring forward will be those relating to step-down facilities. As Deputy McManus has acknowledged, some of the patients in our hospitals at present do not require an acute hospital bed, provision of which can cost up to €5,000 per week. Other patients require different medical facilities. In some cases, they may require access to rehabilitation facilities. Cancer patients may require hospice related facilities. I need to have that data if we are to come forward with an appropriate package of measures to address the difficulties being experienced.

I will, however, give this commitment. There will be no grandstanding on my part. I will not build up any false expectations and I will not play politics with seriously ill people. However, I will work as hard as I possibly can with the resources available to me to bring forward radical, sensible and sustainable solutions that will form part of the package not only of the accident and emergency reforms I want to bring forward but the overall reforms I wish to introduce in respect of the health services.

From 1 January, the Health Services Executive will assume operational responsibility for the work currently done by the health boards. I intend to take the legislation through the Oireachtas before Christmas to ensure this becomes a reality. I am delighted to inform the House that the chief executive officer designate of the Health Services Executive has agreed to bring forward the start-up date of his contract from 1 April to the end of January. This will mean he will be in place to ensure that the new systems of administration, accountability and responsibility will work more efficiently and effectively for all patients.

Dr. Cowley:  Thank you for the opportunity to raise this matter on the Adjournment.

[942]Six Mayo patients requiring dialysis are currently obliged to pass by a state-of-the-art dialysis unit at Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar, County Mayo — the third largest county in Ireland — and travel to a unit a considerable distance away in Galway. This involves a round trip of 1,000 miles per week in some cases for people who are very ill or elderly.

Only 30% of the people in question would be suitable for a renal transplant. One man awaiting dialysis is vomiting day and night from a build-up of urine in his blood because his kidneys no longer function. Despite living in Castlebar where the renal unit is located, he must travel to Galway to receive the treatment he needs. He is not fit to endure the ordeal of making a 330 mile round trip at least once a week. He has suffered a stroke, has double vision and requires an ambulance to transport him to Galway. Although he has a medical card and despite representations made by his family, it is still not certain an ambulance will be guaranteed three times a week. He has no choice other than to travel to Galway because he will die without dialysis. He is nauseous and experiences vomiting and must use the machine in Galway as it will perform the function his kidneys cannot. It is a scandal that this man cannot have this treatment in the unit in Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar which has capacity for 26 patients and is currently treating 28 patients.

Many years ago, I and others campaigned for a renal unit at Mayo General Hospital. My contribution to the campaign was to provide information to the media and supply car stickers with the message “Mayo dialysis unit now”. It is a scandal that disabled people and five other individuals, including a man from the fringe of County Mayo, cannot use the unit. Some parts of the county are almost as far from Galway as this House. I ask the Acting Chairman to imagine if he or a relative had to make a round trip to Galway three times per week to spend four hours attached to a machine. This is almost the distance from Galway to the furthest point in County Mayo. One would not expect anybody to make such a journey, yet ill people who should be resting at home are expected to do so. When such a unit is available in one’s own town, one should expect to get access to it.

This problem could be solved overnight if the health board were not prohibited from hiring the four staff necessary to provide an extra shift. The renal dialysis unit in Castlebar General Hospital operates two shifts as opposed to the three shifts operated in Galway. A third shift cannot be provided because four nurses are needed and cannot be recruited because of a recruitment embargo. The people affected are going through hell on earth when the problem could be solved overnight with the recruitment of four nurses. If the Tánaiste were to allow them to be recruited, it would be a superb gesture. It would mean a great [943]deal to those concerned and provide encouragement to the consultants, nurses and other staff in the unit.

A sum of €150,000 available for a water treatment unit would increase the capacity of the renal unit. However, because it is needed for capital development, it cannot be used for this purpose. Even if it was possible to use it for the renal unit, it should not be used for this purpose because the development of a water treatment unit is also necessary. Expansion of the renal unit at Mayo General Hospital will be necessary in future. Ideally, nine staff — five nurses and four health care assistants — would be available.

The ratio of people who receive dialysis here is 600 to 800 per 1 million inhabitants. In the United States and Japan the figure is 1,000 per million inhabitants, while in County Mayo 256 persons per million inhabitants receive dialysis. When compared with the United States, Japan and the national figure, County Mayo is suffering badly. I ask the Tánaiste to help us by expanding the service.

We should consider the cost of taxis and ambulances. I am sorry for those working in the ambulance service in County Mayo. How can they supply a proper emergency service when they are expected to provide an ambulance three times per week to transport dialysis patients? Why should they have to provide this service because the local unit has insufficient capacity? It would be easy to provide additional capacity.

I have received also representations on this issue from emigrants who cannot return home because no dialysis service is available. The number of patients in Mayo General Hospital has doubled while the number of staff has remained the same. I ask the Tánaiste to examine the matter.

Ms Harney:  I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. Renal services are one of the main priority areas for development. Additional revenue funding of more than €20 million has been provided since 2000 to develop renal services in response to increased demand at national level. This includes an additional €5 million provided in the current year, of which €400,000 was allocated to the Western Health Board. This investment has supported the development of renal services on a regional basis. More patients than ever before are now accessing renal dialysis units.

As regards renal dialysis at Mayo General Hospital, I understand from the Western Health Board that in 1997 the unit was treating 12 patients and is currently treating 26 patients. Staffing levels in the unit have increased and arrangements are being made to increase capacity of the dialysis stations in the unit from nine to 13. Since 2000 in excess of €1.2 million has been provided to the Western Health Board as part of [944]the structured programme of investment in the development of renal services for the region. Two consultant nephrologists currently provide services in the region.

While the hospital has attempted to meet the increasing demand for dialysis and is currently treating 26 patients, a number of patients from County Mayo receive dialysis treatment in Galway. The hospital has informed me that it is exploring all possibilities of meeting the existing demand within current financial and human resources constraints. I assure the Deputy that in my time as Minister for Health and Children I will continue to develop services at hospitals such as Mayo General Hospital.

Dr. Cowley:  Why can four nurses not be hired? With the recruitment embargo in place, the hospital can do nothing.

Acting Chairman:  There is no provision in Standing Orders for Deputies to respond to a Minister’s reply.

Mr. Cregan:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for affording us the opportunity of raising this issue. I will share time with Deputies Collins and Neville who are equally concerned about this issue. I congratulate the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith, on his appointment and wish him well during his tenure of office.

I am glad to have an opportunity to raise this issue because I am gravely concerned about the situation in west Limerick where poultry growers are locked in dispute with Castlemahon Foods. I am not asking the Minister of State to take sides but to use every option available to him to intervene and encourage both sides to negotiate. I have never come across a dispute which has not been solved by negotiation and this one is no different.

I am concerned for the growers and their families who are living without an income as we approach Christmas. I am also concerned that if the raw material for processing dries up in the coming weeks, employees of Castlemahon Foods normally involved in processing will also find themselves outside the gate locked in dispute with their employers. I appeal to the Minister of State to endeavour at every opportunity to ensure that meaningful negotiations take place to resolve the dispute at the earliest possible date. While I recognise it involves a private company and do not wish to set a precedent, I ask the Minister of State to make every effort to encourage negotiation.

Mr. Collins:  I, too, congratulate the Minister of State on his appointment. A serious problem has arisen as regards poultry growers and processors [945]in Castlemahon, County Limerick. The Department or the Minister personally must intervene because the company in question, Castlemahon Foods, is at a standstill. The growers who supply the company receive 28 cent per bird, whereas growers in other areas receive 38 cent. The growers’ business is not viable and they are unable to pay their mortgages, insurance and so forth.

I understand matters were proceeding reasonably well until the growers formed a co-operative as a non-trading company. Since then they have not been able to negotiate because the company, as a private entity, will not agree to do so, which is where the problem lies. However, we only know one side of the story; we do not know the company’s side. If something does not happen in the near future, there will be a major problem for the 400 employees at the factory. At present, there are 28 or 29 growers and they have approximately 1 million birds between them. If the other half pull out, there will be a serious problem in the factory.

I urge the Minister to do his best to intervene. Perhaps he could appoint somebody as an acting chairman to bring both sides together. If this escalates, there will be serious consequences.

  9 o’clock

Mr. Neville:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate with my colleagues. This problem could escalate into a serious situation and I entreat the Minister to involve himself in any way he can. Without telling the Minister what to do, there is a need for intervention at ministerial level to break the logjam.

It is a serious situation for the growers in the area. This was a good farming area but with changes in farming and due to circumstances in the area, farming has deteriorated to an extent. These people depend for their livelihood on the rearing and finishing of chickens. Historically, this has been a good business for farmers in the area. Any hint of it being endangered would have serious consequences for the farmers concerned and for west Limerick.

There are uneconomic margins for growing chickens at present, as my colleagues mentioned. The producers are only getting 30 cent per bird and need 40 cent per bird to make the work viable. They do not have the option of going elsewhere because there is no competition. The growers have jointly invested millions of euro in chicken production facilities in the hinterland of Castlemahon and it has provided a viable living for them. To interfere with or endanger production now would have serious consequences. I entreat the Minister to use his good offices to intervene in the dispute.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. B. Smith):  I thank the Deputies for their good wishes on my appointment as Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food and I am glad to have the [946]opportunity to respond to this debate. The poultry and egg sector is an extremely important part of the overall agri-food industry. The sector has a farm gate value of €150 million and provides valuable employment throughout the country, supplying quality products to the domestic and export market.

Last year, 66 million chickens and 10 million birds of other species were slaughtered, maintaining a high level continuity of production in the face of increased competition from imported products. Despite increased import penetration, the poultry sector is a net exporter, out performing imports by 22,000 tonnes last year and contributing €244 million to our balance of payments. Increasingly, the industry here, in common with other sectors, must continuously face up to the pressures of severe price competition from lower cost producers from abroad. This is a fact of international trade. Its implications are felt across the chain, where costs of production are constantly scrutinised and kept under control. Part of this is due to higher costs of feed, compliance costs associated with welfare and environmental legislation, inefficiencies at slaughter level and downward pressure from the retail sector.

While the retail sector is dominated by Irish produced poultry, all other aspects of the business at catering and wholesale levels are largely supplied by imported product. There is strong competition across the EU and in third countries at this level of trade and Irish processors have performed extremely well in maintaining their strong share of the domestic retail market while these competitive pressures grow.

I understand that the dispute between Castlemahon Food Products and some of its poultry suppliers concerns the price being paid by the company to the growers of the birds. The practice in the poultry industry is that the processor supplies the day old chicks and feed to the producer and also covers the catching and loading costs. The producer provides the labour and carries such costs as electricity, capital repayments and litter disposal. A price per bird is paid to the producer and this can vary from processor to processor.

In the Castlemahon case the producers involved in the protest are claiming that the price being paid by the company is insufficient to cover their costs and are seeking an increase. A large number of Castlemahon suppliers are not party to the dispute. The protesting producers are refusing to place day old chicks so it will be some weeks yet before the shortfall will be felt at plant level.

Castlemahon is a major poultry processor, employing 300 people. It is vital to the west Limerick economy and, indeed, to the rural economy. While the issues between Castlemahon management and its producers are matters that relate to the commercial operations of the company, it is in the interests of all concerned in the sector to ensure that there is no resultant disruption in the level of poultry supplies in the country. [947]This will simply fall into the hands of importers and risk a more permanent loss of market share.

It is vital to an industry such as this that the integrated nature of the producer-processor relationship is recognised as of fundamental importance to the future success of the industry. In this respect, it is important that margins must be available for all parts of the industry, both at production and processing levels, and that quality of product be encouraged and rewarded. I urge both sides to consider again how they might find a compromise that will continue to bring economic benefits to the poultry chain and in so doing [948]demonstrate the industry’s capacity to respond effectively to the wider competitive challenges in the market.

This is a major issue for the people of west Limerick, as is evident from the fact that the three Deputies for the constituency tabled it for debate. I have listened carefully to the points and suggestions they made and, in the morning, I will consult with senior officials in the Department to see if there is any way we can help to facilitate progress in resolving the issue. I accept that it must be resolved at the earliest date.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 20 October 2004.

The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies received from the Departments [unrevised].

Questions Nos. 1 to 14, inclusive, answered orally.

Questions Nos. 15 to 155, inclusive, resubmitted.

Questions Nos. 156 to 163, inclusive, answered orally.

  164.  Mr. Naughten     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    his views on the political situation in Burundi; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25226/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  Despite difficulties, there has overall been significant political progress in Burundi since the signing of the Arusha peace accord in August 2000. That accord provided for a three year transition period to end on 31 October 2004 by which time national elections were due to be held. However, this three-year transition period is likely to be extended due to disagreements on the new draft constitution and the power sharing arrangements which were to be operative in the post-transition period.

The position is that an agreement on power sharing for the post-transition period was concluded in Pretoria on 6 August 2004 and endorsed by a regional summit. While it is accepted by 20 of Burundi’s political parties, the remaining ten, predominantly Tutsi, parties reject it. These Tutsi parties also object to certain provisions of the draft constitution. They and the Tutsi vice-president began a boycott of Government meetings on 3 September.

In the event, the draft constitution was approved by the national assembly on 18 September, but 60 Tutsi members of the assembly boycotted the proceedings. A referendum to approve the constitution is planned for November, which will be observed by the EU.

Preparations for the holding of elections are also proceeding assisted by the UN mission in Burundi, ONUB. Local and legislative elections are now planned for March 2005 followed by presidential elections in April 2005. The European Union is committed to supporting the electoral process in Burundi, including through the provision of financial assistance and is expected to send an observation mission.

Only one, mainly Hutu, armed group, the FNL, remains outside the peace process. Its position has become increasingly marginalised following a massacre at Gatumba refugee camp on 13 August 2004 when 160 Congolese Banyamulenge — Tutsi — refugees were murdered. An investigation into [950]the massacre, which was claimed by the FNL, is being conducted by the United Nations. Tensions between Burundi and the DRC rose following the massacre and border crossings on both sides were closed temporarily.

Following the massacre, countries in the region declared the FNL a terrorist organisation and requested the UN and African Union to take appropriate action against it. Burundi has in addition issued international arrest warrants for the FNL leaders. The FNL continues to mount military operations in the Bujumbura Rurale area which result in widespread casualties and destruction of property. The EU has consistently called for a comprehensive ceasefire and has urged the FNL to abandon its military campaign and commit fully to the peace process.

Ireland, as EU Presidency, remained very closely engaged with the Burundian peace process. In April 2004, my predecessor met the President and the Foreign Minister during a visit to Burundi, and again met the President in September at the United Nations. During these meetings, the Minister reiterated Ireland’s and the EU’s full support for the current peace efforts and willingness to extend whatever assistance we can to further this process. He also urged progress in implementing all the provisions of the Arusha peace accord, including those relating to tackling impunity and safeguarding human rights. He urged Burundi to ratify the statute of the International Criminal Court, since this would offer an assurance of justice to all those who have suffered human rights abuses during the latter years of the conflict. The President responded that his Government is considering ratification.

It is critically important that over the coming months, all sides in Burundi refrain from any actions that might create tension or lead to violence, proceed swiftly with the process of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration and bring about a rapid end to hostilities.

  165.  Mr. Kenny     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    his views on the undertaking given in 2000 to allocate 0.7% of GNP to overseas aid by 2007; when this target will be reached; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25229/04]

  203.  Mr. Durkan     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the extent to which he expects to increase overseas development aid in the coming year with particular reference to the drawing up of the Estimates for 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25276/04]

  230.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if his attention has been drawn to recent comments, that the 0.7% target of GNP for ODA will not be reached as planned by 2007 despite the commitments to achieving this target in speeches made to various international gatherings since the UN Millennium Summit, New York, 2004; the reasons for this U-turn; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25300/04]

  362.  Mr. Durkan     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if it is intended to increase overseas development aid in line with commitments given previously; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25524/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. C. Lenihan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 165, 203, 230 and 362 together.

I refer the Deputies to my answers to Questions Nos. 156, 157 and 158.

  166.  Ms Lynch    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the outcome of the meeting convened on 6 August 2004 with key Irish and international humanitarian agencies working in Darfur, Sudan; the challenges that remain in delivering aid to the region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25303/04]

  173.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    his views on the widening of the mandate of African Union peacekeeping forces in Darfur to allow them to ensure the safety of civilians as a priority and the delivery of badly needed aid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25356/04]

  194.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if the Government has made recent initiatives in terms of the ongoing crisis in Sudan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25354/04]

  198.  Mr. P. Breen     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the efforts being made to stem violence in Sudan; the level of Irish aid being allocated to humanitarian relief in the Sudan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25209/04]

  214.  Ms Burton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the initiatives which the Government, at Irish or European Union level, has had to deal with the crisis in Darfur. [25286/04]

  235.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will make a statement on the visit of the Minister of State to Darfur, Sudan, in July 2004; the organisations the Irish delegation met during the visit, and the efforts that the Government has made since to highlight the situation in Darfur internationally. [25304/04]

  365.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the progress that has been made in dealing with the ongoing strife and starvation in the Darfur region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25527/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 166, 173, 194, 198, 214, 235 and 365 together.

The crisis in Darfur is at the top of the agenda for Ireland, the European Union and, as we heard from Secretary General, Kofi Annan, last week, the United Nations. The immediate priority is to address the vulnerability of those at greatest risk. [952]They need security and humanitarian assistance. One without the other is not enough.

Considerable progress has been made in addressing the need for humanitarian aid, but more needs to be done. There are still areas where food supplies are not getting through. Reports of malnourishment persist. The loss of the planting season means that the reliance on external assistance will not improve for the next 12 months. The UN world food programme has provided food to about 1.3 million people in September. These are enormous needs, especially in the rainy season and in an insecure environment.

The international community has responded generously. Irish NGOs, supported by the Government and the private donations of the Irish people, have played a noteworthy part in this effort. For its part, the Government has provided almost €10 million in funding to Sudan in 2004. Sudan is the largest recipient of Ireland’s emergency and recovery aid programmes. Some €6 million has been provided in emergency life saving assistance to meet the immediate needs of some of the most vulnerable populations in Darfur. However, as Kofi Annan has reminded us, more is required. Ireland will not be found wanting in the face of this appeal.

On the security front, conditions have improved, but not by nearly enough. Communities continue to live in fear of attack, particularly women and girls who are preyed upon by armed militias. Unfortunately, the current insecurity in Darfur derives from a military conflict between the Sudanese Government and local rebel groups. While separate from the larger conflict which has crippled Sudan for decades, the Darfur conflict also runs along the fault line between Arab and Islamic Africa and sub-Saharan Christian or animist Africa. An end to the present crisis requires not only an immediate humanitarian and security response, but a settlement of the political conflict in Darfur. Without peace there can be no long-term security.

The United Nations has given the African Union the lead role in terms of military intervention by the international community. The African Union, an organisation which embodies the determination of Africans to meet the challenges facing their continent, has sought this lead role. It looks to the international community for support, but it is determined to lead. It has rejected any foreign intervention by any country in what it regards as a purely African issue.

The African Union is active through both its ceasefire monitoring mission and its mediation of the peace talks between the government and the rebels in Abuja. Ireland and the EU welcome the AU’s plans to strengthen its mandate and substantially expand the size of its mission in Darfur to about 4,500 troops by the end of next month. The EU has already provided substantial support to the existing mission, including an allocation of €12 million from the African peace facility established under the Irish Presidency. The EU is also contributing a number of observers to the mis[953]sion, including an officer from the Irish Defence Forces. The EU has recently reaffirmed its commitment to assist the AU with the planning and implementation of this expanded mission and is examining ways in which to do so.

It is hoped that this expanded mission can help to improve the security situation on the ground and to create suitable conditions for the safe and voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons. However, the area covered is so vast that no such mission can hope to provide blanket security. The Sudanese Government must continue to bear primary responsibility for security and the protection of its own citizens. The international community must therefore continue to maintain pressure on the Sudanese Government to meet its obligations and support all efforts to put an end to the conflict between the Government and local rebel groups.

For its part, the Irish Government has been active both in the European Union and at the United Nations in seeking to address the situation in Darfur. As regards the UN, we have been vocal in pressing for action by the Security Council. We welcome the adoption of Resolution 1564 and the fact that sanctions have been signalled as an option if the Sudanese Government fails to meet its obligations under that resolution.

The Government particularly welcomes the Secretary General’s decision, taken at the request of the Security Council, to establish an international commission of inquiry to investigate violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Darfur and determine whether acts of genocide have occurred. Ireland is ready to co-operate fully with the commission and hopes that it will complete its work as soon as possible.

Darfur was discussed at last week’s meetings in Dublin with Secretary General Annan, who, in particular, highlighted the need for the wider international community to assist the efforts of the AU. Last month, my predecessor made a forceful intervention on Darfur in his address to the General Assembly. He appealed to the international community to support the humanitarian effort. He criticised the Sudanese Government for its failure to protect its citizens and demanded that it disarm the Janjaweed. He also expressed frustration at the failure of some members of the Security Council to support Resolution 1564 and urged that the Security Council unite behind the implementation of that resolution. While in New York, the Minister met the Sudanese Foreign Minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail, and urged him to ensure that the Sudanese Government meet the obligations imposed upon it by the Security Council.

In the EU, Ireland has been active on Darfur, both during our Presidency and since. The External Relations Council reviews the situation at every meeting and continues to speak out strongly. At its meeting on 11 October 2004, the Council warned that if no tangible progress is achieved, the EU will take appropriate measures, including sanctions, against the government of [954]Sudan and all other appropriate parties, in accordance with Security Council Resolutions 1556 and 1564. On 13 October, an EU ministerial Troika mission visited Sudan to stress to the Government the need for further concrete progress in protecting civilians, neutralising and disarming the Janjaweed, fostering progress in the peace talks and bringing to justice perpetrators of human rights violations and crimes against civilians.

The former Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, visited Sudan, including Darfur, in July. He used the visit to view the situation at first hand. He met and spoke to humanitarian workers from NGOs and UN agencies, including the many Irish working for NGOs such as GOAL, Concern and Trócaire and the UN agencies, to whom I pay tribute. The Minister of State also met members of the African Union’s ceasefire monitoring mission and the Sudanese authorities, including Foreign Minister Osman. Among the points he stressed to the latter were the need for free and unrestricted access for humanitarian workers, the removal of other bureaucratic barriers to effective emergency action and the disarming of the Janjaweed militia.

On 6 August, as part of our ongoing dialogue with the NGO community on the Darfur crisis, the former Minister of State met Irish NGOs operating in Darfur. This meeting provided a valuable opportunity to brief our NGO partners on the Government’s actions and allowed the NGOs to highlight the ongoing challenges they face and to update the Government on developments on the ground. We remain in ongoing contact with NGOs partners on developments in Darfur.

Ireland’s ambassador to Sudan, who is resident in Egypt, visited Darfur last month. He met representatives of the Sudanese authorities, EU partners and Irish NGOs. He also received updates from representatives of the UN, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Another team from my Department will visit Darfur towards the end of November. It will carry out a fresh appraisal of needs in order to ascertain the best way to complement and add value to the ongoing humanitarian effort. Based on this assessment and contacts with NGO partners, I will be able to determine the best way to deliver additional assistance.

Resolution of the Darfur crisis will remain an absolute priority for the Government. Sudan has suffered terribly from war. There are great hopes that the wider peace process between the north and south may come to a successful conclusion. Preparations are under way for a major programme of recovery and reconstruction if the peace process is completed. However, the Darfur conflict must also be brought to an end. Deputies should rest assured that the Government will be to the fore in efforts to assist not just Dafur, but Sudan as a whole, both now and into the future.

  167.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the political situation in Chechnya; the level of support being given by the Government in the aftermath of the Beslan school siege; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25235/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I reiterate the Government’s condemnation of the horrific events in Beslan last month. The hostage-takers clearly had no regard for human life and their callous actions served no purpose other than to bring death, fear and harrowing grief to the people of Beslan and Russia.

The Government responded promptly by providing support for humanitarian efforts in Beslan. On 6 September, the Government announced funding of €100,000 in response to the International Federation of the Red Cross appeal to assist families affected by the tragedy. On 14 September, following a meeting between the former Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, and the Secretary General of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Government announced further funding of €100,000 for the IFRC effort. Ireland’s support includes trauma counselling assistance for the victims of the siege.

I would also like to recognise the extraordinary response of the ordinary Irish people, including many children, who signed the book of condolence at the Russian Embassy and who, together with many others, contributed generously to supporting the victims of this atrocity.

With respect to the situation in Chechnya, the Russian authorities have made a concerted effort over the past 18 months to build the basis of a new political system there. This policy has included the adoption by referendum of a new Chechen constitution in March 2003 and a presidential election in the republic in October 2003. An extraordinary presidential election was held on 29 August following the assassination of President Kadyrov in a bomb attack in May this year. Following the election of Mr. Alu Alkhanov as President of Chechnya, the European Union expressed the hope that the new president and Russian authorities would make efforts to start a process leading to a genuine political settlement, based on dialogue, reconciliation, respect for human rights and a restoration of the rule of law.

Regrettably, it is clear that the security situation in Chechnya remains very serious and that the civilian population continue to suffer enormously as a result of the conflict. We continue to receive credible reports of human rights abuses against Chechen civilians by both rebels and Russian security forces. These incidents can only hinder prospects for long-term peace and reconciliation.

Ireland and the European Union recognise the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. We condemn the actions of the terrorist groups. We acknowledge the right and responsibility of the [956]Russian Government to oppose terrorism and crime and to protect its citizens. However, the EU has consistently stated that the fight against terrorism, in the Russian Federation as elsewhere, must be conducted in accordance with internationally accepted human rights standards.

I assure the Deputy that I will continue our work for the promotion of human rights in Russia and to encourage a peaceful solution in Chechnya in the overall context of developing positive Irish and EU relations with Russia.

  168.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will report on the situation in Kosovo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25214/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  Elections for a new Kosovo assembly will be held on 23 October. Preparations for the elections have been difficult due to the reluctance of Kosovo Serb parties to participate on the grounds that their security has not been fully assured. The most recent meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council welcomed the statement by President Boris Tadic of Serbia encouraging Kosovo Serbs to participate in the elections, and the subsequent registration by a number of Kosovo Serb parties. It is important that the elections are conducted in a free and fair manner and with the widest possible participation by all communities. The conduct of the elections will be monitored by a Council of Europe observation mission which will include four Irish observers.

Kosovo remains under UN administration, in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1244, which was adopted following the end of the conflict in 1999. The EU fully supports the UN mission in Kosovo, which is working with the provisional institutions of self-government to implement European standards in the rule of law, human rights and protection of minorities in advance of any consideration of the final status of Kosovo. The EU has stressed the importance of the early formation of a functioning government following the election of the new assembly which will continue to work towards the review of progress on the implementation of standards which will be carried out in mid-2005. If this review is positive, it will be followed by a process of negotiation to agree the status issue. These negotiations will inevitably be complex and difficult with implications for the whole western Balkans region. Whatever their agreed outcome, it is clear that the future of Kosovo rests within the region as it moves closer to eventual integration with the EU. The European Union will, therefore, be called on to play the lead role in working with the authorities in Kosovo in the long term.

The EU remains fully committed to a multi-ethnic, democratic Kosovo in which the rights of all communities are fully protected. The ethnically motivated violence in March this year was undoubtedly a major setback. Significant progress has been made, however, towards re-establishing [957]a political process for Kosovo, which must involve the representatives of all communities, and continued dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. The security situation has stabilised, although it remains tense. There are 213 Irish troops serving with KFOR, the UN mandated peacekeeping force in Kosovo. I express the appreciation of the Government for the role being played by members of the Defence Forces in ensuring security and stability in Kosovo.

During Ireland’s EU Presidency, the European Council and the General Affairs and External Relations Council paid close attention to developments in Kosovo. The situation will remain high on the agenda of the Council in the months to come. The EU will continue to work closely with the UN mission in Kosovo, and especially with the special representative of the UN Secretary General, Mr. Soren Jessen-Petersen, in preparation for the crucial review of the implementation of standards next year. The EU will also remain in close contact with the US and the wider international community to ensure that the eventual process to address the issue of the final status of Kosovo will also contribute to the stability of the western Balkans region as a whole.

  169.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he has had discussions with the US and Israeli ambassadors arising from risk assessments carried out by Army specialists before Ireland’s EU Presidency on their Dublin embassies which showed that they are the most vulnerable to terrorist attack in Europe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25321/04]

  222.  Mr. O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if, in view of the recent attack on an embassy in France, any reassessment of the threats to embassies on Irish soil has been undertaken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25227/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 169 and 222 together.

Matters pertaining to the security of embassies in Ireland are the responsibility of the security authorities in this State. The primary responsibility for such security rests with the Garda Síochána. While it is not the practice to comment on specific details of security arrangements relating to the protection of individual embassies, I can confirm that these arrangements are kept under continuing review.

  170.  Mr. Stanton     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the way in which the Government assists disadvantaged members of the Irish community in Britain; his further plans in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25313/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The DION fund for Irish emigrant welfare in Britain is allocated by the Minister for Foreign Affairs on the basis of recommendations from the DION committee. The committee, which was established in 1984, replaced earlier consultative arrangements on emigrant welfare services for vulnerable Irish people in Britain.

The DION committee’s role is to advise and report on welfare services for emigrants, to make recommendations on the provision of financial assistance towards the employment of professional workers dealing with the welfare problems of Irish people in Britain, and to consider and make recommendations on specific questions at my request.

Since the DION fund was established in 1984, more than €21 million has been distributed under it. Recipients of DION grants are organisations that provide frontline advice, counselling and support services to Irish people in need in Britain. Priority targets for funding are services that support the elderly, the homeless and people affected by illness or substance misuse problems, as well as the Traveller community. The fund also addresses problems relating to access to housing, training or employment.

The DION fund has more than quadrupled in the past five years. This year’s initial allocation to the fund was €3.57 million. However, an additional €1 million has recently been secured and most of this amount will be directed to organisations in Britain. Some 57 different organisations working with Irish people in need have already received funding this year.

A new dedicated unit, the Irish abroad unit, was recently established in my Department to co-ordinate the provision of services to emigrants. I am confident that this initiative will inject a new momentum into this important area of policy. Officials of the unit and of the embassy in London are working in close consultation with the wide range of people engaged in the delivery of services to Irish people in Britain so that Government funding is targeted effectively and best meets the needs of our vulnerable community.

  171.  Mr. Coveney    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will give details of his overseas travel arrangements for the remainder of 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25213/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The following is a list of my confirmed overseas engagements for the remainder of the year. On 29 October, I will be in Rome to sign the European constitution. There will be three meetings of the General Affairs and External Relations Council between now and the end of the year. These will take place in Brussels on 2 and 3 November, 22 and 23 November and 13 and 14 December. I will also attend the European Council meetings in [959]Brussels on 4 and 5 November and 17 December. On 29 and 30 November, I will be in The Hague for a Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, EUROMED, mid-term ministerial meeting. I will also be attending a Euro Atlantic Partnership Council, EAPC, ministerial meeting in Brussels on 9 and 10 December.

  172.  Mr. Gogarty     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the agenda of his predecessor’s meeting with the US Secretary of State, Mr. Colin Powell, in New York in September 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25352/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  As Minister for Foreign Affairs, my predecessor, Deputy Cowen, together with the Foreign Ministers of all EU member states, met US Secretary of State Powell in the margins of the United Nations General Assembly on 22 September last. It is a feature of Ministers’ week at the General Assembly that EU Foreign Ministers meet the US Secretary of State. The meeting represents an important opportunity for the EU and the US to discuss current international issues of mutual concern. As Presidency of the EU, the Dutch Foreign Minister led discussions on the EU side.

In particular, the two sides discussed the ongoing crisis in Sudan, including continued EU and US efforts to contribute to improving the security situation there, the situation in the Middle East, in Iraq, and in Iran.

Question No. 173 answered with Question No. 166.

  174.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will report on his recent meeting with the UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25355/04]

  179.  Ms O. Mitchell     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will report on his recent meeting with Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, of the United Nations; the issues discussed with the Secretary General; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25217/04]

  368.  Mr. Allen     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will report on recent discussions held with the Secretary General of the United Nations, in particular on proposals made relating to greater humanitarian, crisis management or other co-operation between the UN and the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25494/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 174, 179 and 368 together.

Secretary General Annan’s official visit last week took place at the invitation of the Government. It was his first visit to Ireland since 1999 and provided an excellent opportunity for an [960]exchange of views on a range of issues at a critical time for the United Nations.

Many Deputies will have been present in Dublin Castle to hear the Secretary General’s address to the National Forum on Europe last Thursday 14 October, which was chiefly on the theme of EU-UN co-operation in crisis management. In his intervention, the Secretary General outlined with force and clarity the importance to the United Nations of strengthened EU capacities, in particular the specialised skills its member states possessed in the military area that other troop contributors may not be able to provide, including its ability to deploy more rapidly in crisis situations.

On Friday, the Secretary General held talks on peacekeeping issues with my colleague, the Minister for Defence, and reviewed troops and met Defence Forces veterans of UN peacekeeping operations. That evening, the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, and I met the Secretary General, Kofi Annan, at the Department of Foreign Affairs. Discussions were very wide ranging and took place in a warm and cordial manner, befitting the close and co-operative relationship that has long existed between Ireland and the Secretariat of the United Nations on matters such as peacekeeping, disarmament, economic and social development and human rights.

The Secretary General was highly appreciative of the particular impetus Ireland has given to European Union co-operation with the United Nations, including in the important area of crisis management and in activity by the European Union to support the multilateral system. I assured the Secretary General that he could rely on Ireland’s strong support for his efforts to reform the United Nations and to promote agreement among UN member states on a more effective system of collective security.

We exchanged views on the major review that will take place in 2005 of the implementation of the millennium summit declaration and on the follow up to the report of the Secretary General’s high level panel on threats, challenges and change. We discussed the actions that need to be taken to ensure a successful review and to create the political will to establish a platform for a renewed effort to ensure the achievement of the millennium development goals by the target date of 2015.

I assured the Secretary General that the Government fully understood the need for hard decisions to ensure the continued and strengthened capacity of the multilateral system to address common threats and challenges. We agreed that UN member states need to address difficult questions of institutional reform in the UN system, including reform of the Security Council, with a view to enhancing its legitimacy, and thus its effectiveness, by becoming more representative of today’s world.

I reviewed with the Secretary General what Ireland has done, and what it wants to see done to stem HIV-AIDS. We discussed preparations [961]for the June 2005 meeting that will assess progress on the declaration of commitment on HIV-AIDS agreed at the UN special session on HIV-AIDS in 2001. The Secretary General paid tribute to Ireland’s activity on HIV-AIDS, including the outcome of the Dublin conference earlier this year on HIV-AIDS in eastern Europe and central Asia.

I also discussed with the Secretary General a number of pressing current issues of international peace and security. These included the grave humanitarian and security situation in the Darfur region of the Sudan, preparations for the forthcoming elections in Iraq in the context of the dangerous security situation there, the outstanding UN achievement in assisting the government of Afghanistan with the successful recent national elections as well as prospects for the country in their aftermath; the continued refusal of the authorities in Burma to release Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and to receive the Secretary General’s special envoy, the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict including recent Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip, progress, or the lack of it, in the implementation of peace processes in the Great Lakes area of Africa, in the Horn of Africa, and in Western Sahara and the situation in West Papua.

Deputies will understand that I am not in a position to go into detail on our exchanges on these issues. However, the insights that the Secretary General and his team were in a position to offer on these issues were, as always, very instructive and of great value to me and to the Government in formulating policies on a wide range of issues. Secretary General Annan leaves Ireland carrying the Government’s best wishes for success in the difficult task of revitalising and strengthening the multilateral system.

  175.  Mr. Rabbitte     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    his views on the benefits flowing from the Government’s recent change in its attitude towards the military junta in Burma; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25326/04]

  180.  Mr. Gilmore     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    his views on the practical benefits that have flown from the Government’s change of position in relation to dialogue with the military regime that has been holding the democratically elected choice of the people in Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25292/04]

  190.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if the Dutch Government has maintained links with Burma, extended by Ireland during its Presidency of the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25236/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 175, 180 and 190 together.

[962]The Government has pursued a strong and consistent line in support of democracy in Burma. Both Ireland, and our EU partners, remain strongly critical of the continued detention under house arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the absence of political progress, serious and persistent human rights abuses and the lack of fundamental freedoms in Burma.

The issue of Burma is raised in all our bilateral political contacts with relevant third countries, particularly Burma’s Asian neighbours. Most recently, the Taoiseach raised the issue of Burma both at the fifth ASEM summit, which took place from 7 to 9 October in Hanoi, and during his visits to Malaysia and Singapore which followed. He also reviewed the current situation with the UN Secretary General’s special representative for Burma, Mr. Razali, during his visit to Kuala Lumpur on 11 October 2004. During our EU Presidency, the Government ensured that the issue of Burma was regularly discussed in consultations with third countries. This practice has been carried forward by the Netherlands Presidency, which has demonstrated a similar commitment to fostering democracy in Burma. Burma figured high on the agenda at the ASEM Foreign Ministers’ meeting which my predecessor hosted in Kildare in April 2004 as well as at the preceding informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers held at Tullamore.

There was considerable hope at that time that the Burmese regime was about to release Aung San Suu Kyi and allow her party to participate in the national convention. Indeed, the Burmese Foreign Minister at the time, since dismissed, announced publicly that Aung San Suu Kyi was about to be released. This optimism was reflected in the decision by EU Ministers in Tullamore to indicate that if Aung San Suu Kyi were released, the NLD invited to participate in the national convention and the convention permitted to operate free from harassment, the EU would be ready to re-examine its engagement with Burma.

Regrettably, the expected positive developments have not been forthcoming. Lack of support from our Asian partners meant that the EU was not able to prevent Burma’s participation in the newly enlarged Asia-Europe meeting, ASEM, short of provoking the collapse of ASEM. Nevertheless, the EU used the recent ASEM summit to make clear its opposition to the actions of the Burmese regime. The Taoiseach, in his intervention, questioned why Aung San Suu Kyi has not been released, and why there has not been greater progress towards democracy in Burma. Immediately following the summit, on 10 October, the Union took the decision to reinforce sanctions against the Burmese regime.

The Government has also acted in regard to the establishment of diplomatic relations. The decision to establish diplomatic relations on a non-resident basis, which was announced on 13 February this year, was taken in the context of increased engagement leading to the anticipated progress to which I have referred. Given the lack [963]of progress, in particular the refusal of the regime to release Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, the exchange of ambassadors has been put on hold. The Government has, in effect, pressed the pause button. I hope that the situation will move forward in the future and that it will be possible to resume progress on the exchange of ambassadors.

The Government’s continuing goal, and that of the EU, remains the release and restoration of liberty to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the return of democracy to Burma, an end to human rights violations, and the realisation of peace and prosperity for the long suffering people of Burma.

  176.  Mr. Costello    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the details of contacts he has had with the International Committee of the Red Cross on the operation of the Geneva Convention with regard to the prisoners being held in Iraq, or who have been removed from Iraq; the number of prisoners and if they are being held in accordance with the principles of international law; if he proposes to raise these matters with the appropriate authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25288/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The International Committee of the Red Cross plays a crucial role in protecting the interests of prisoners held as a result of conflict. The Red Cross has access to the US detention facilities in Iraq where it is understood between 4,600 and 5,100 persons are being held. A further 50 persons are held by UK forces. In addition to highlighting shortcomings in detention facilities, the Red Cross has also acknowledged remedial actions taken by the US authorities. The Government has not received any representations from the ICRC in relation to the operation of the Geneva Conventions in Iraq, but officials of my Department remain in frequent contact with the Red Cross on a wide range of humanitarian issues, including that of prisoners in Iraq.

From the beginning of the conflict in Iraq, the Government has called on all parties to respect their obligations both in regard to the status of civilians and in regard to prisoners of war. The Government’s position is in keeping with UN Security Council Resolution 1483 of 22 May 2003, which calls upon all concerned to comply fully with their obligations under international law including, in particular, the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and The Hague Regulations of 1907. The treatment of prisoners of war is specifically covered by the third Geneva Convention.

When evidence of mistreatment by multi-national forces of some prisoners in Iraq came to light earlier this year, the Government publicly and strongly condemned these abuses, and made our concerns known directly to the countries involved.

  177.  Ms Burton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the new arrangements that have been entered into between the European Union and Ireland on the exchange of information on passengers travelling to the United States or coming from the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25285/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I assume the Deputy is referring to the agreement between the European Union and the United States on passenger name records. The agreement applies to all member states. There are no separate bilateral arrangements between Ireland and the United States on the issue.

The agreement between the European Union and the United States on the processing and transfer of passenger name records data by air carriers to the United States Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, was signed in Washington DC on 28 May 2004 and entered into effect on the same day.

The agreement was negotiated on behalf of the European Union by the Commission, with the agreement of the member states. The agreement negotiated establishes the number and type of data which can be transferred; the length of time for which data can be retained, and the purposes for which data can be used — combating terrorism and international crime. It also provides that EU data protection authorities can represent EU citizens in seeking redress. The agreement is intended to be an interim measure until the EU has an agreed policy of its own on passenger name records.

The European Parliament subsequently decided to refer the agreement to the European Court of Justice seeking its annulment. It is the prerogative of the Parliament to refer such a matter to the European Court of Justice.

The effect of the present agreement is to facilitate air travel, while avoiding any clash of EU and US legislation and providing legal certainty for passengers and airline carriers. The agreement is designed to ensure adequate protection and the right to privacy in relation to data held. The agreement establishes more clearly the situation affecting air passengers than previously. It sets out what data can be transferred, the length of time it can be held and places limits upon the purposes for which it can be used. It also provides an avenue of redress for EU citizens in case of need. None of this had existed previously. In approving the agreement, the Council of Ministers of the European Union considered that it provided a fair balance between the need for security and privacy.

  178.  Mr. Stagg     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the functions of the dedicated unit within his Department working to implement the recommendations of the task force on policy regarding [965]Irish emigrants; the number of staff working in the unit; the work they are undertaking; the budget afforded the unit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25320/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  My predecessor announced in London in July the establishment of a dedicated unit within the Department of Foreign Affairs to deal with issues concerning Irish people overseas. He announced at the same time he was making available a further €1 million for services for emigrants, bringing the total for this year to €5 million.

The issues of concern identified in the report of the task force on policy regarding emigrants can best be addressed by a collective effort involving governmental and non-governmental agencies. A core function of the dedicated unit, the Irish abroad unit, is to give a fresh impetus and focus to this collective effort. The unit is charged with co-ordinating the provision of assistance to our emigrants and to advance effective and coherent strategies in this important area of national policy.

At present, there are three officials assigned to the Irish abroad unit which is headed by a senior Irish diplomat. Since it became operational, members of the unit have had valuable meetings with a range of voluntary agencies which provide front-line support to our emigrants in both the United States and Britain, as well as more general contact with Irish communities abroad. They are also engaged in a round of contacts with the Departments and agencies throughout Ireland that have an involvement in emigrant services. The costs arising from the functioning of this unit are met from my Department’s administrative budget.

I am convinced that the new dedicated unit, with its exclusive focus on emigrant affairs, will serve to ensure that our emigrants have an effective channel of communication to the Government, and that our response to their needs becomes quickly and progressively more focused and effective.

Question No. 179 answered with Question
No. 174.

Question No. 180 answered with Question
No. 175.

Question No. 181 answered with Question
No. 163.

  182.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if the Government is to give support to a campaign of Oxfam and Amnesty International to control arms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25219/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I am aware of a process led by a number of non-governmental organisations, including Amnesty International and Oxfam, aimed at the develop[966]ment of an international arms trade treaty which is intended to be a legally binding agreement with core principles and mechanisms relating to international transfers of arms. A welcome aspect of the proposed treaty is that it has the objective of setting out states’ existing international legal obligations in the area of international transfers of arms. In addition, once ratified, the draft framework treaty would enable the international community to move forward incrementally by means of subsequent more specific instruments. While work on the drafting of the text is still ongoing, it is a promising initiative and I commend the NGOs concerned for their efforts.

An official of my Department participated in a conference held last November at Cambridge University in England, the purpose of which was to examine the text of the draft treaty. I understand that the text of the proposed treaty is currently being re-examined from a legal perspective by those NGOs involved in the arms control campaign who met last February in Costa Rica and that as a consequence of those discussions revisions to the text are to be made.

An official from my Department also attended an international workshop on Enhancing the International Export Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons — the Case for an International Arms Trade Treaty, which took place in Helsinki last June. There was broad representation at the workshop both from governments and from NGOs. Ireland will continue to be associated with the process and will closely monitor developments.

  183.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the security and political situation in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25207/04]

  359.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will report on the situation in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25519/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 183 and 359 together.

The presidential election in Afghanistan, the first election to be held since the 1960s, took place on 9 October 2004. This election constitutes the penultimate step in the implementation of the Bonn agreement of December 2001, on arrangements for the re-establishment of permanent government institutions in Afghanistan. The holding of parliamentary elections, scheduled for April 2005, will complete this process. Counting of the votes will take place over the next few weeks, following which the result of the presidential election will be announced. A panel of independent election experts has also been established by the UN to investigate a number of reported irregularities in the election process and it is expected to complete its work shortly.

[967]The fact that millions of Afghan nationals turned out to vote, many of them braving severe weather conditions and difficult terrain, was particularly encouraging, and bodes well for the future stability of Afghanistan. The election day passed without a major security incident, which is a tribute to both the Afghan police and armed forces, as well as to the international security forces in Afghanistan. Notwithstanding this, however, the security situation in Afghanistan remains a source of concern. This concern is fuelled by the recent deplorable murders of foreign nationals involved in humanitarian and reconstruction work, a number of attacks on personnel involved in preparations for elections, as well as on some of the candidates, and continued factional fighting in the north west of the country. It is important that the international community remains focused on how best to support Afghanistan in the period ahead.

The decision of the UN Security Council on 17 September 2004 to extend the mandate of the NATO-led international security assistance force in Afghanistan, ISAF, for a further 12 month period beyond 13 October 2004 is an important development in this regard. The agreement by NATO, at its summit in Istanbul in June 2004, to provide an additional 3,500 NATO troops to supplement ISAF, together with the deployment of a number of new provincial reconstruction teams, PRTs, in recent months, are also positive developments.

In order to ensure a secure environment in Afghanistan, it is important that all irregular forces are disarmed and demobilised, or integrated into the national army. I welcome the steps already taken towards this end, but much more needs to be done so that the future Afghan government has unified armed forces at its disposal. To this end, I strongly urge all concerned to make a full commitment to the vigorous implementation and intensification of the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process.

As for supporting Afghanistan’s overall reconstruction, the EU committed some €2.3 billion at the 2002 Tokyo conference to cover the five year period 2002-06. At the Berlin conference in spring 2004, the EU updated its reconstruction pledge committing $2.2 billion for the period 2004-06. In 2003, the European Commission delivered over €300 million in assistance to Afghanistan. For 2004, commitments have already been made for a total of €136.5 million. Since January 2002, Ireland has committed €17 million to reconstruction and recovery programmes in Afghanistan. This funding is being channelled through the Afghanistan reconstruction trust fund, ARTF, UN agencies, international organisations and trusted NGO partners. Ireland also provided €800,000 to support the conduct of the presidential election, through the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP. Ireland’s contribution to Afghanistan [968]remains one of the highest, on a per capita basis, of any EU member state.

The House will be aware of the grave problems that flow from the resurgence of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. Ireland, together with our EU partners, fully supports the Afghan transitional authority’s uncompromising stance on the illicit cultivation of and trafficking in drugs. Afghanistan will continue to face many serious challenges in the period ahead and will therefore continue to need extensive support from the international community. Ireland and our partners in the European Union are determined to play our part in this process.

  184.  Mr. Timmins     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will provide an up-to-date account of the political situation in East Timor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25237/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The government and people of Timor Leste have continued to make good progress in building up their country, with continuing support from the international community, including from Ireland and the EU as a whole. The development of their economy and the consolidation of their democratic institutions is ongoing.

On 23 August 2004 the United Nations Secretary General provided a report on Timor Leste to the Security Council. The Secretary General observed that remarkable achievements had been registered by the new state, most notably the fact that Timor Leste has been peaceful and largely stable since taking over responsibility for security from the UN mission there. The registration of voters for the forthcoming local elections has also been encouraging. Previous reports of the UN Secretary General also commented on advances in the areas of governance, enactment of legislation, rehabilitation of infrastructure, responsible development planning and budgetary discipline, the country’s regional integration, and, most importantly, the commitment to democratic norms and personal freedoms.

On 21 May 2002, the United Nations Security Council established a UN mission of support in East Timor, UNMISET. In Resolution 1543 of 14 May 2004, the Security Council backed the recommendations of the Secretary General to extend UNMISET for a consolidation phase, in the expectation that its mandate would be completed by 2005. On 19 May 2004, UNMISET handed over all official responsibility for policing and external security to the government of Timor Leste.

Resolution 1543 highlights the need to ensure against impunity for those who have committed criminal acts. It stresses, in particular, the need for the serious crimes unit, set up under UNMISET, to investigate serious crimes committed in the period leading up to Timor Leste’s independence, to complete all investigations by November 2004 and to conclude trials and other activities no later than 20 May 2005. The resol[969]ution calls for continued and co-ordinated UN and donor support to Timor Leste. Also, it calls on the UN Secretary General to report to the Security Council every three months on the situation in Timor Leste.

Despite continued progress, and the achievements of the past three years, Timor Leste continues to face a number of major challenges. These include the building up of support for core administrative capacities, strengthening the justice system and creating a favourable climate for sustainable social and economic development. Timor Leste remains one of the poorest nations in the world, and there remains a critical need for the continued support of the international community.

Good progress has been made on negotiating the maritime boundary between Timor Leste and Australia. Negotiations on this issue are expected to be completed by the end of 2004. There has also been progress in the demarcation of the land boundary with Indonesia.

Ireland has demonstrated its continuing commitment to the political and socio-economic development of Timor Leste through according it programme country status for development co-operation purposes in March 2003. The country strategy paper for Timor Leste sets out the strategy for Ireland’s official programme of development assistance to Timor Leste for 2004-06, to which the Government has allocated funding of more than €11 million over the period. The focus of the programme, which has a 2004 budget of €3.7 million, is on capacity building for the public sector and support for Timor Leste’s national development plan for reducing poverty through the delivery of essential services and the strengthening of governance and human rights. Ireland will continue to play its part in the provision of ongoing international support for Timor Leste, and will continue to follow developments there very closely.

  185.  Mr. Hayes    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the level of contact between the Government and the authorities in Saudi Arabia regarding the murder of an Irish national (details supplied); the advice being given by his Department to Irish nationals living in Saudi Arabia or intending to travel there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25233/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  It was with great regret that my Department learned that an Irish national was tragically killed in Saudi Arabia in August 2004. I am sure I speak for all Members of the House in extending our deepest sympathy to the family. Following his death, our embassy in Riyadh extended all possible consular assistance to his family and the embassy has had numerous contacts with the Saudi Arabian authorities in relation to the case. We have emphasised to them the importance of protecting the lives of expatriates in Saudi Arabia [970]and have called for the killers of this person to be brought to justice.

In light of the continuing threat from terrorism, my Department has been advising Irish citizens for some time to avoid non-essential travel to Saudi Arabia. We are also advising citizens to maintain the highest levels of personal security and to limit travel within Saudi Arabia to essential journeys only. This advice is available on my Department’s website www.dfa.ie.

In addition, our embassy in Riyadh has established a system of wardens to maintain contact with the Irish community. Through these wardens, the embassy provides regular bulletins to the community on the security situation in Saudi Arabia and updated advice on the most appropriate protection measures. There is also close co-operation and exchange of information between EU embassies in Riyadh in relation to security threats in Saudi Arabia.

My Department, through the Irish embassy in Riyadh, will remain in contact with the Saudi Arabian authorities in relation to the security of Irish citizens generally in Saudi Arabia and will continue to monitor the investigation of this case.

  186.  Mr. Costello    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the Government’s views on the statement by the UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, that the war in Iraq was illegal; if the consequences of such for its provision of facilities at Shannon for military aircraft participating in an illegal war had been considered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25287/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  Secretary General Annan’s statement was an important contribution to the debate on whether there was an adequate legal base to authorise the coalition invasion of Iraq. The Taoiseach, in his statement to the Dáil on 20 March 2003, acknowledged that there was no clear legal consensus on whether there was a mandate for the use of force against Iraq. He acknowledged that the arguments put forward by the coalition asserting the existence of a mandate were supported by a number of countries which were not participating in the military action. However, he made clear that Ireland could not participate in the military campaign without an explicit, further Security Council mandate.

The Government’s decision to continue to make landing and overflight facilities available to the United States was made on the basis that provision of such facilities was a long-standing practice which had been ongoing for over 50 years, a period which saw various conflicts involving the US, some of which did not have UN sanction. The Government also noted that the US is a country to which we are closely bound by personal, historical and economic ties. At the end of the debate in question the Dáil voted to approve the Government’s position on the matter.

[971]US forces currently serving in Iraq are part of the multi-national force operating at the request of the interim Iraqi government. The presence of the multi-national force in Iraq was authorised by the UN Security Council in resolution 1511 of 16 October 2003. This authorisation has been reaffirmed in resolution 1546 of 8 June 2004. The legality of the presence of US forces in Iraq is, therefore, not in question.

  187.  Mr. Cuffe     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    his plans to address the inherent weaknesses in the EU code of conduct on arms exports; and the way in which Ireland will support the review and reform of the code to make it effective. [25361/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  A exports of arms from EU countries must conform to the EU code of conduct on arms exports, which establishes criteria to control such exports. Ireland was actively involved in the establishment of this politically binding code, which was adopted by the EU General Affairs Council in June 1998. The code lists the factors to be taken into account when deciding whether to allow an export of military goods, including respect for human rights, the internal situation in the country of final destination and the preservation of regional peace, security and stability.

The review of the code of conduct on arms exports was initiated during Ireland’s Presidency of the EU and is taking account of developments since the code entered into force in 1998. In this respect, proposals to strengthen and update the code are currently under consideration, including a proposal to reinforce the status of the code by transforming it into an EU common position, which would be legally binding. Ireland is in favour of such a move. We believe the first review of the code of conduct is a very necessary and important undertaking for the EU and we have been supportive of a number of proposals under discussion to strengthen the code.

We have also had several contacts with civil society on this issue. Representatives from several EU member states, including Ireland, met a number of non-governmental organisations last May to discuss and to exchange views on the ongoing review of the code. Ireland also subsequently circulated to all our EU partners, for their consideration, written suggestions made by NGOs for possible improvements to the code.

The Netherlands has made the review of the code of conduct one of its priorities for its Presidency of the EU and, in association with NGO representatives, hosted an international conference in The Hague at the end of last month to further consider the matter. An official from my Department attended this meeting and I understand that there was a very productive discussion concerning those areas of the code which would merit revision.

[972]The examination of the code of conduct by officials from the member states is continuing in the COARM working group which had its most recent meeting in Brussels last Friday. Ireland will continue to participate actively in discussions on this matter at working group level within the EU and will seek an early agreement on the strengthening of the code.

  188.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if the issue of Irish citizens living illegally in America was raised with President Bush during his recent visit; [20501/04]

  213.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will report on recent contact he has had with the US State Department regarding immigration reform, especially in relation to the approximately 50,000 undocumented Irish in the US; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24981/04]

  227.  Mr. Deenihan     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if the issue of the 50,000 or so undocumented Irish immigrants in the US was raised with President Bush during his recent visit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20189/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 188, 213 and 227 together.

The Government’s concern regarding the situation of the undocumented Irish in the United States is raised regularly in our bilateral contacts with the US authorities, including when the Taoiseach and my predecessor met President Bush at the EU-US summit in Dromoland in June 2004. In this regard, we welcome the various proposals in this area which have been made by President Bush and by certain members of Congress. These initiatives reflect a recognition of the importance of addressing the situation of the undocumented in the US in a constructive and sympathetic way. These proposals will, of course, have to be considered by the US Congress and, realistically, there is very unlikely to be any movement until after the presidential inauguration in the new year.

In addition to the political level discussions, our embassy in Washington DC regularly raises this issue with the US authorities, in particular with the Department of Homeland Security which has responsibility for immigration services. The embassy and our network of consulates also work closely with voluntary Irish organisations in the US which provide assistance and support to vulnerable Irish people. These organisations receive significant financial support from the Government and I would again like to pay a warm tribute to their valuable work. We will continue actively to seek support for measures that would help alleviate the situation of undocumented Irish people in the United States.

  189.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the Government’s position concerning the proposal that the EU strengthen its ties with Israel under the recently adopted European neighbourhood policy. [25316/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The European neighbourhood policy is designed to strengthen relations between the European Union and those neighbouring countries that do not currently have the prospect of EU membership. In return for concrete progress and the effective implementation of political, economic and institutional reforms reflecting shared values, the initiative offers these countries the prospect of closer economic integration with the EU. Under the policy, it is hoped that action plans with Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, the Palestinian Authority, Israel, Ukraine and Moldova will be ready for adoption by the General Affairs and External Relations Council in November. All action plans with the exception of that for Israel are well advanced. In the case of Israel negotiations are continuing.

We believe that strengthening co-operation in all areas, including the political and economic areas, will be both in our own interests and in the interests of the new neighbours themselves. It is our belief that the political dialogue in these action plans will be of central importance to meeting the EU’s concerns about developments in the region. These action plans will, of course, be prepared through consultation and agreement with the parties, and the finalisation of any plan will depend on the acceptance by both parties of the need to engage constructively on political issues of concern.

Question No. 190 answered with Question
No. 175.

  191.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the position on the achievement of the world millennium goals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25283/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. C. Lenihan):  The declaration which was adopted at the UN millennium summit in 2000 included eight millennium development goals, MDGs. The goals set specific time-bound measurable targets to be achieved by 2015 in areas such as the reduction in the number of people living in extreme poverty, universal primary education, maternal and child mortality and HIV-AIDS.

The Secretary General will conduct the first major review of progress in the implementation of the MDGs in 2005. Already it is evident that greater effort will be required on the part of the international community if the MDGs are to be achieved by the target date. In a recent report, the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated:

[974]

Despite greater endorsement of the Millennium Development Goals and some encouraging regional and subregional trends, as a whole the world is not optimizing its performance. Some regions and countries are making little progress towards any of the Goals. Many sub-Saharan African countries will need special support to accelerate progress sufficiently to catch up.

From the outset, Ireland has been fully committed to the achievement of all of the MDGs. We have adopted achievement of the MDGs as the overarching framework for our development co-operation. Our overseas aid programme is already focused on those sectors that are most critical to the success of the MDGs such as education, health, HIV-AIDS, water and sanitation. Gender and environmental sustainability are also highlighted as important cross-cutting issues throughout the programme.

As the world’s largest aid donor, the EU has a major role to play in the achievement of the MDGs. During our recent Presidency of the EU, we were a strong advocate of early action to ensure a strong and visible EU contribution to next year’s major review. Our EU partners agreed to our suggestion for a stock-taking exercise to be co-ordinated by the Commission with a view to providing a consolidated EU contribution to next year’s review.

All member states, including Ireland, are currently engaged in carrying out that exercise. My Department is co-ordinating Ireland’s submission which is to be completed shortly. This submission will focus, in particular, on MDG eight which provides for a global partnership for development and embraces such issues as increased ODA, greater policy coherence for development, trade and debt. In his address to the National Forum on Europe, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, reasserted Ireland’s commitment to meeting the UN’s 0.7% of GNP overseas development aid target.

I sincerely hope that national and international preparations for next year’s major progress review of the millennium development goals will make the international community face up to the fact that, while there has been some progress, much more needs to be done to achieve the MDGs by 2015.

  192.  Mr. Crawford     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will provide an up-to-date account of the security situation in Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25208/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The security situation in Iraq continues to be a matter of serious concern both to Ireland and to the international community at large. Violent incidents continue to increase and I am concerned that the situation may continue to worsen in the run up to the Iraqi elections scheduled for January. In addition to the brutal murder of Mr. [975]Ken Bigley, and persons of many other nationalities, it is the Iraqi people who are suffering most from the continued instability both directly and through the frustration of reconstruction work.

The interim Iraqi government is pursuing a three track strategy to try to end the violence. First, to encourage disaffected groups in the community to enter the political process. Second, to push forward reconstruction efforts so as to relieve the hardships affecting the Iraqi population, especially the poorer elements. Third, to advance as quickly as possible the recruitment and training of Iraqi security forces, not just to contribute to security efforts but also to advance the transfer of responsibility for security from the multi-national force to Iraq’s own forces.

The challenge facing the Iraqi government in these areas is great but I believe it is following the correct approach to meet it. It is clear that the elections scheduled for January will be a crucial stage in giving the Iraqi government the authority it needs to restore stability throughout the country.

Ireland and the European Union will continue to give every support we can to the Iraqi government in these efforts, especially in the areas of reconstruction and preparation for the elections. We will also continue to support the involvement of the United Nations in these efforts, which I believe to be crucial to their success.

  193.  Mr. Gormley     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    his views on the solidarity and mutual defence clauses in the proposed EU constitution; their impact on Ireland’s neutrality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25357/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The solidarity clause and so-called mutual defence clause are separate issues in the European constitution. As regards the solidarity clause, Article I-43, it is for each member state to determine how to respond to a request from another member state in case of terrorist attack or natural or man-made disaster. No member state is bound to take any particular course of action. The European constitution also contains a declaration on the solidarity clause, which clearly states that none of the provisions of the solidarity clause are intended to affect the right of another member state to choose the most appropriate means to comply with its own solidarity obligation towards another member state. Any decisions having military implications under the solidarity clause would be taken by unanimity. The Government has welcomed and supported this provision which is fully consistent with our traditional policy of military neutrality.

In regard to the so-called mutual defence clause, Article I-41.7 of the treaty, the constitution states that if a member state is a victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other [976]member states will have an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter. Importantly for Ireland, the article goes on to make clear that this obligation shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain member states. As the Taoiseach and my predecessor have consistently made clear, in the event of another member state coming under attack, we would continue, as we do now, to determine our own response, consistent with our own constitutional and legal arrangements. Ireland is not bound by any mutual defence commitment and the entry into force of the European constitution will not change this. Our traditional policy of military neutrality is not altered or compromised by this article in the constitutional treaty.

Question No. 194 answered with Question
No. 166.

  195.  Mr. Durkan     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the extent to which he has had discussions with his colleagues on the issue of European development in the social, political and economic sense; his views on further enlargement of the Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25277/04]

  225.  Mr. Noonan    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he has held discussions with his European Union counterparts on any matter since his appointment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25224/04]

  352.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will report on the October 2004 meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25366/04]

  361.  Mr. Durkan     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the extent to which he intends to influence discussions on the possible admission of further countries to the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25523/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 195, 225, 352 and 361 together.

Since my recent appointment as Minister for Foreign Affairs, I had the opportunity to meet my EU ministerial colleagues at the meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council which took place in Luxembourg on 11 October. I look forward to many future opportunities for discussions with my colleagues both bilaterally and in the Council on the range of issues on the EU agenda. I also received a telephone call from the British Foreign Secretary in which we discussed amendments which have recently been proposed to the working time directive.

[977]In the General Affairs part of the recent Council meeting, we discussed the Presidency’s draft annotated agenda for the European Council of 4 and 5 November — terrorism, enlargement and the financial framework for 2007 to 2013. One of the items on the annotated agenda for the November European Council, which is due to be discussed in more detail at the next meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 2 November, is the Lisbon Agenda which embraces many economic and social aspects of the development of the EU.

Under the external relations agenda, the Council addressed a wide range of issues and adopted conclusions in relation to Libya, the Middle East, Sudan, the Great Lakes, the western Balkans, Indonesia, Ukraine, and both the EU-China and EU-Iran human rights dialogues.

Before attending the Council, I was very happy to meet the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs for a detailed exchange of views on the agenda items and my Department subsequently sent to the committee a copy of the Council’s conclusions. These are also available on the following Internet address: www.consilium.eu.int.

The question of the future enlargement of the Union is one which will feature prominently on the EU’s agenda for the foreseeable future. The Government has participated actively and positively in negotiations on the enlargement process, notably during our Presidency in the first half of the year, and will continue to do so.

On 6 October, the European Commission published its regular reports on progress towards accession of Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey, as well as an overall strategy paper on progress in the enlargement process which includes recommendations on Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Turkey. As part of its regular report on Turkey, the Commission also published a paper which looks at the issues raised by that country’s possible membership of the EU.

The European Union’s objective, as stated in the European Council conclusions of 17 to 18 June 2004, is that both Romania and Bulgaria should conclude negotiations in 2004, sign the accession treaty in 2005 and accede in January 2007, if they are ready. The Commission makes clear in its reports of 6 October that both countries have made good progress this year in their preparations for EU accession. Negotiations will be concluded on the same basis and principles applied to the ten new member states which acceded on 1 May 2004.

The Helsinki European Council in December 1999 decided that Turkey is a candidate country destined to join the European Union on the basis of the same criteria applied to other candidate states. The December 2004 European Council will decide, on the basis of the report and recommendation published by the Commission on 6 October, whether Turkey has fulfilled the Copenhagen political criteria. If that decision is positive, [978]the EU is committed to opening accession negotiations with Turkey without delay.

The Feira European Council in June 2000 agreed that the countries of the western Balkans are potential candidates for EU membership. The EU-western Balkans summit in Thessaloniki in June 2003 confirmed that the shared objective of the EU and the countries of the region is their eventual integration into EU structures. It is agreed that the countries of the western Balkans will make progress individually, based on progress in negotiating and implementing stabilisation and association agreements with the EU, which involve wide ranging institutional reforms, and on the development of increased regional co-operation.

Croatia formally applied for membership of the EU in February 2003. The European Council in June 2004 decided that Croatia is a candidate country and that accession negotiations will begin in early 2005. The Commission, in its strategy paper issued on 6 October, sets out suggested principles for the negotiating framework for Croatia which must be finalised before negotiations can begin.

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia submitted its application for membership in a ceremony in Dublin on 22 March this year. The Council on 17 May requested the Commission to prepare its opinion on the application for submission to the Council. This process is expected to take about one year to complete.

  196.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    his views on the referendum to be held to ratify the constitutional treaty for the European Union; when this referendum will be held; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25211/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  Following signature of the treaty establishing a constitution for Europe, which is to take place in Rome on 29 October, it will then be for all member states of the European Union to ratify the European constitution in accordance with their own constitutional requirements. The European constitution sets a target date of 1 November 2006 for the completion of this process and for its entry into force. The Taoiseach has made clear, most recently in this House on 6 October, that there will be a referendum in Ireland. The Government will give detailed thought to the timing in due course.

The Government will do all it can to foster the fullest possible national debate on the European constitution, building on the excellent work done by the National Forum on Europe and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs during the European convention and the subsequent intergovernmental conference. As an initial contribution, my Department will next week be publishing an explanatory guide to the European constitution, together with a short [979]pamphlet for wider distribution. I am also conscious of the important role political parties, the social partners and other concerned groups and individuals have in stimulating debate.

I am confident that the public will recognise that the European constitution is an important and positive step forward in the development of the European Union. It is a balanced document, clarifying how the Union operates and equipping it to face new challenges, without substantially changing its basic character or its relationship with its member states.

  197.  Mr. Quinn     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    his views on a recent article which suggests that an aircraft (details supplied) involved in abduction of persons from such countries as Sweden and their transportation to Guantanamo Bay landed in Shannon and used facilities here; if such information was supplied to the Government on this aircraft; the steps the Government has taken; his views on whether providing facilities for such activity is a breach of international law; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25282/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The Government has no information to indicate that prisoners are being transported through Irish airports to and from Guantanamo or elsewhere. Furthermore, the US authorities have confirmed to our embassy in Washington that they have not been using Irish airports for this purpose and that they would not seek to use Irish airports for this purpose in the future without seeking the authorisation of the Irish authorities.

The aircraft cited in the report mentioned by the Deputy is a civilian registered aircraft. The regulation of the activities of civilian aircraft is primarily a matter for the Minister for Transport who has made inquiries into the matter and outlined his findings to this House in a written reply to Parliamentary Question No. 218 on 7 October 2004.

I am aware of various press reports claiming that the aircraft was used in December 2001 by US authorities for the transportation of al-Qaeda suspects from Sweden to Egypt. I understand, however, that the articles do not allege that any stops were made in Shannon on that particular occasion or offer any proof that prisoners have been transmitted through Shannon by the US authorities.

Question No. 198 answered with Question
No. 166.

  199.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the way in which Ireland is promoting human rights internationally; the areas of greatest concern; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25314/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The protection and promotion of human rights is, and has always been, a priority of successive Governments and central to our foreign policy. Support for civil society, human rights and democratisation is an important element of Ireland’s international development co-operation programmes.

Together with our EU partners, the Government monitors the human rights situations in many countries, on the basis of information obtained from a variety of sources including non-governmental organisations. Where the situation warrants, we make known our concerns about human rights violations to the governments in question, either directly or through action at the UN General Assembly and the UN Commission on Human Rights. At these bodies, the EU regularly makes statements on the human rights situation in various countries. Ireland is fully associated with these statements. The EU also introduces or supports resolutions dealing with specific countries.

Human rights were a central part of Ireland’s recent EU Presidency. One of the most significant achievements of the Presidency was the adoption by Ministers in mid-June, and approval by the European Council, of EU guidelines on support for human rights defenders.

At the 60th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, which was held in Geneva earlier this year, Ireland in its capacity as EU Presidency successfully presented a significant number of country specific initiatives, including resolutions on the human rights situations in Burma-Myanmar, North Korea, and on the question of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories. Ireland also, on behalf of the EU, proposed initiatives on Turkmenistan and Belarus jointly with the United States. In addition, the EU initiated chair’s statements on Colombia and Timor Leste, and was active on the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Russian Federation — Chechnya, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

At the current session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Ireland will join in EU initiatives on the human rights situations in a number of countries, including Burma-Myanmar, Turkmenistan, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as on the subject of religious intolerance.

Active participation in multilateral organisations such as the EU, UN and the Council of Europe provides an occasion where Ireland can voice its concerns regarding human rights abuses. Through these organisations, international pressure can be brought to bear on those responsible for violation of human rights.

The EU has also adopted common positions on certain countries, an integral part of which attaches priority to promoting human rights, democracy, good governance and the rule of law. In addition, the EU conducts human rights dialogues with a number of countries. The progress of these dialogues is the subject of regular review [981]and evaluation — the dialogues with China and Iran were the subject of Council conclusions at the most recent meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council on Monday, 11 October. The Government will continue to use these mechanisms as a means of highlighting violations of human rights and furthering their protection.

  200.  Mr. McCormack     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will advise on the political situation in Uganda and the Congo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25220/04]

  357.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will report on the situation in the Congo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25517/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 200 and 357 together.

Uganda’s track record in poverty reduction and economic management over the past 18 years stands up favourably to comparison with much of Africa. The country has seen the development of key institutions of governance and earned a good reputation in some areas such as press freedom. The announced intention to move to a multi-party system offers the possibility of greater democratic change in future. However, there are concerns about some current trends in governance. On the economic front, macroeconomic stability is being maintained, although recent trends have indicated a fall in the levels of growth and some inequities in the distribution of its benefits.

Continuing insecurity in the northern region of Uganda has caused widespread disruption and loss of life. The 17 year old civil conflict, caused by the brutal campaign of the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, involving atrocities against the civilian population and large-scale abduction of children, intensified in 2003, resulting in a humanitarian crisis with approximately 1.5 million people displaced. The ongoing tragedy represents a major challenge to the Ugandan government, but there are recent indications that the conflict may be entering its final phase. While the Government is pursuing a military campaign against the LRA, it has also indicated willingness to seek a negotiated settlement and has introduced a successful amnesty process. The humanitarian situation remains fragile.

In mid-September 2004, members of the donor community in Kampala, led by the Irish embassy, visited northern Uganda to send a message of solidarity to the people on behalf of the international community and to stress the international community’s support for the amnesty process and for dialogue and reconciliation as a way to bring finality to the conflict. The Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs also visited northern Uganda in late September 2004.

[982]On the domestic political front, Uganda has commenced a process of transition from its current no party but one movement democratic system to a multi-party system. On 22 September 2004, a White Paper was published on proposals for constitutional change which endorsed the move to multi-party democracy and the necessary changes in legislation required to enable political parties to operate. A referendum will be required to change the constitution and this is expected to take place during 2005. It is hoped that this process will culminate in multi-party presidential and parliamentary elections in 2006. While the move to multi-party democracy is welcome, proposals emerging from some quarters for a change in the Ugandan constitution which would facilitate a third term by President Museveni are viewed with concern by donors.

The position of donors, including Ireland, is to continue close engagement with the Ugandan authorities with a view to ensuring that the process of constitutional change and the subsequent elections are transparent and free. It will also be important to ensure that the political space is opened up in sufficient time for an opposition to organise and contest the elections in 2006.

Respect for human rights is enshrined in the Ugandan constitution and Uganda has good policies and strong institutions in support of human rights, in particular an active and respected human rights commission. It also has a free press which plays a constructive role in highlighting abuses. An important step to promote press freedom was a ruling by the supreme court in February 2004 that journalists could no longer be charged with publication of false news. At the same time, donors are concerned about incidents of torture and illegal detention by security forces in 2003 and have kept the Government under pressure in this respect. In July 2004 the security agencies agreed to work together with the Uganda human rights commission and the director of public prosecutions to fight torture. This is a positive development, although concrete results will have to be awaited.

In response to donor pressure, Uganda established the Porter judicial commission of inquiry into allegations of illegal exploitation of natural resources and other forms of wealth in the DRC. The Government has underlined its commitment to following up on the commission’s findings and bringing to account those implicated in such activities. While there is still unresolved business, action has been taken against key people whom the commission found to be involved, including the army chief of staff, General Kazini, who was dismissed from his post, and the president’s brother, Salim Saleh, who was removed from parliament. In mid-September 2004, a number of donors, including Ireland, met President Museveni to stress the need for the government to reconfirm its political will to fight corruption and act accordingly.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC, the peace process remains largely on track, [983]although recent events, particularly the assault and capture of the town of Bukavu in eastern DRC by rebel forces last June, have underlined the fragility of the transition process established under the Sun City peace accords of 2002. There is a clear need for accelerated progress in implementing the transition if the target of elections in 2005 is to be met and lasting peace and security are to be achieved in the country and, indeed, in the wider Great Lakes region.

Some recent positive developments have occurred, including agreement on establishment of a border joint verification mechanism between the DRC and Rwanda, which will deploy permanent joint verification teams to two border towns; a second agreement concluded en marge of the UNGA ministerial week under US auspices between the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda and providing for establishment of a tripartite mechanism between the three countries; and final settlement of a long running disagreement over the core membership of the international conference on the Great Lakes which is currently scheduled to take place in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, at the end of November.

UN Secretary General Annan presented proposals for a substantial reinforcement of the MONUC mission in the DRC to the UN Security Council in August. The proposals provide for an effective doubling of MONUC’s strength from just under 12,000 at present to over 24,000 personnel and also adjustments to MONUC’s mandate to allow it to focus more on essential tasks such as support to the transition process and improving the security situation in eastern DRC.

The UN Security Council adopted resolution 1565 on 1 October 2004 which extends MONUC’s mandate until 31 March 2005 and provides for an increase of 5,900 in MONUC’s strength, with the additional resources being used to provide an extra battalion in the troubled Kivus region and also a rapid reaction capability. The EU has made clear its willingness to assist the UN in reinforcement of MONUC.

Support for the peace process in the DRC was a major priority of the Irish Presidency and the EU is actively contributing to strengthening the transitional institutions and helping them to extend their authority throughout the territory of the DRC. Apart from financial support for the process of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration, the EU is also providing support, in a two phase project, towards the establishment of an integrated police unit in Kinshasa, with the emphasis in the initial phase on training and rehabilitation of the training infrastructure. Ireland has contributed €75,000 towards the costs of establishment of this unit.

Recent events in the DRC have also underlined the importance of the regional dimension to building peace in the DRC and the Great Lakes region. The European Union fully supports, and has been actively engaged, through the EU special representative for the Great Lakes region, [984]in the preparations for the proposed international conference on the Great Lakes region which is currently scheduled to begin in November 2004. The conference will focus on peace, security, democracy and development in the Great Lakes region and will be held under the auspices of the African Union and the UN. Ireland has provided €200,000 in support of this conference.

  201.  Mr. Eamon Ryan     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will report on his predecessor’s attendance at the UN conference on poverty in September 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25353/04]

  215.  Mr. Rabbitte     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if the Government was represented at the recent United Nations special conference on poverty; the details of commitments made by Ireland; the timescale for their achievement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25327/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. C. Lenihan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 201 and 215 together.

The event to which the Deputies refer was the high level meeting of world leaders for action against hunger and poverty organised at the initiative of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil. Ireland was represented at the meeting by the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen.

The meeting took place at UN headquarters in New York on 20 September 2004. Its purpose was to discuss the findings of a technical group set up by President Lula to explore innovative sources of development financing. The outcome of the meeting was a political declaration aimed at advancing consideration of the issues raised in the report of the technical group and galvanising political support for the implementation of viable financing mechanisms. The issues addressed in the report included mandatory mechanisms such as taxation of financial transactions and the arms trade, the UK proposal for the international financial facility and special drawing rights under the IMF for financing for development. The document represented an attempt to reach consensus on possible avenues for achieving the millennium development goals by 2015.

No specific commitments were sought other than support for the political declaration. The EU Presidency delivered a statement on behalf of the 25 member states, in which the collective support of the EU was recorded.

  202.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he has held discussions with the Department of Defence with regard to European proposals in the area of common security and defence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25228/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I very much look forward to discussing various issues of concern to both our Departments with the Minister of Defence, including issues relating to European security and defence policy. I am very conscious of the importance of close co-operation and co-ordination between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Defence. Officials from my Department and from the Department of Defence are in ongoing contact on a wide range of issues, including in the area of ESDP.

Question No. 203 answered with Question
No. 165.

  204.  Mr. Perry     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the political situation in Venezuela; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25232/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The political situation in Venezuela in recent months has been focused on the outcome of the presidential recall referendum held on 15 August 2004. President Hugo Chavez won this referendum with 59% of the vote and the result has been endorsed by the main international observers, the Organisation of American States and the Carter Center, whose observer mission was headed by the former US President, Jimmy Carter. The United States has also recognised that the referendum result is valid.

The European Union did not deploy an observer mission for the recall referendum due to a lack of agreement with the Venezuelan electoral authorities on methodology. However, it supported the role of the OAS and the Carter Center and in a statement on the outcome of the referendum, the Netherlands Presidency congratulated Venezuela on the historically large turnout and hoped that political stability would soon return to that country, with all parties contributing to this end.

While the referendum result has thus been widely acknowledged internationally, opposition parties in Venezuela have continued to claim that the results were tainted by electoral malpractices. In the run-up to the referendum those opposed to President Chavez had organised under the umbrella group, Coordinadora Democrática, democratic co-ordinator. However, there have been reports since the referendum of divisions within the opposition, with some smaller parties announcing that they intend to boycott state and municipal elections now scheduled to take place on 31 October 2004.

The European Union, while welcoming the conduct and outcome of the recall referendum, remains concerned about aspects of a number of policies being pursued by the Venezuelan Government, particularly on the independence of the judiciary and the media. Ireland shares the hope of our EU partners that the referendum [986]outcome can lead to a process of national reconciliation. We will continue to monitor the political situation in Venezuela and seek to engage constructively with the administration of President Chavez.

  205.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the state of negotiations with Turkey regarding its application for EU membership; if his attention has been drawn to recent comments from the French Foreign Minister that a referendum may be required in France to facilitate Turkey’s entry into the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25324/04]

  210.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the efforts being made by Turkey to meet the Copenhagen criteria for accession to the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25210/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 205 and 210 together.

The Helsinki European Council in December 1999 decided that Turkey is a candidate country destined to join the European Union on the basis of the same criteria applied to other candidate states. The Copenhagen European Council in December 2002 made the clear commitment that if the European Council meeting in December 2004 decides that Turkey has fulfilled the Copenhagen political criteria, the EU will open accession negotiations without delay. This commitment was reaffirmed by the most recent European Council, under the Irish Presidency, on 18 June. The political criteria require a candidate country to have achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.

The June European Council welcomed the significant progress made to date by Turkey in the reform process, including the important and wide ranging constitutional amendments adopted in May. It also welcomed the continued and sustained efforts of the Turkish government to meet the Copenhagen political criteria and emphasised the importance of concluding the remaining legislative work and accelerating efforts to ensure decisive progress in the full and timely implementation of reforms at all levels of administration and throughout the country. There have been important legislative developments since June, including the adoption by the Turkish Parliament on 26 September of a comprehensive new penal code.

On 6 October, the European Commission presented its 2004 regular report on Turkey’s progress towards accession together with its recommendation, for consideration by the December European Council. The Commission also presented an initial study on issues arising from Turkey’s membership perspective. The Government has welcomed the very comprehensive [987]report and recommendation from the Commission, which deserve close study by all member states as we prepare for the important decision to be taken by the December European Council.

The Commission notes that Turkey has made substantial progress in its political reform process, particularly in the past two years. It draws attention to a number of reforms which have been legislated for, but which have not yet entered into force. The Commission concludes that in view of the overall progress of reforms, and provided that Turkey brings into force certain key outstanding legislation, it considers that Turkey sufficiently fulfils the political criteria and recommends that accession negotiations be opened. The issue of the timing of the opening of negotiations would be a matter for decision by the European Council.

In its recommendation, the Commission notes that the irreversibility of the reform process in Turkey and, in particular, its implementation with regard to fundamental freedoms, will need to be confirmed over a longer period of time. It suggests a detailed strategy for the pursuit of negotiations, which would reinforce and support the reform process. The Commission makes it clear that accession negotiations with Turkey would, by their very nature, be part of an open ended process whose outcome cannot be guaranteed beforehand.

The Government has welcomed the remarkable progress which Turkey has made in recent years in the adoption of wide ranging constitutional and administrative reforms. The Turkish Government has welcomed the Commission’s report and recommendation. I expect that it will maintain its efforts over the coming weeks in order to ensure that the conditions are in place for a positive decision by the European Council in December, leading to the opening of accession negotiations.

The question of Turkey’s accession has been the subject of political debate in all member states, including France. I have noted the statement by Foreign Minister Barnier on 27 September that, in his personal opinion, a decision should be taken by referendum in France. President Chirac stated on 1 October that a referendum would only be held when accession negotiations had been completed, which he expected to take up to 15 years. As with previous enlargements, if Turkey were to conclude accession negotiations, the terms and conditions under which it would join the Union would be set out in an accession treaty, which would require ratification by Turkey and by each of the member states, in accordance with their national procedures.

  206.  Mr. M. Higgins    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the position in relation to the wish of the people of West Papua to have the undemocratic decision presided over by the UN [988]rescinded, and their aspiration to independence respected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25296/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I acknowledge the concern which exists about the manner in which the act of free choice was conducted in West Papua. However, as has been stated on many occasions in the House, the review of the act of free choice would require the support of UN member states. Inquiries made by our Permanent Representative to the UN confirm that, at present, there is no significant support for such an initiative. This was confirmed to me by the UN Secretary General when I raised the matter with him during his recent visit to Ireland.

There is, moreover, a possibility that pursuing the issue of the act of free choice would prejudice ongoing efforts to develop and strengthen dialogue with the government in Jakarta, and would not contribute to the amelioration of the current situation of the Papuan people. The view of the Government is that the most productive approach to dealing with the situation of the people of Papua is through contact with the government of Indonesia.

The Government will continue to avail of every opportunity to encourage the government of Indonesia to strengthen its efforts to address the legitimate aspirations of the people of Papua. In this regard, I welcome the commitment expressed by president-elect Yudhoyono of Indonesia to implement the special autonomy law for Papua. This law dates from November 2001 but has not yet been implemented. It provides for a greater degree of autonomy for Papua than for Indonesia’s other provinces.

My predecessor met the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Mr. Noor Hassan Wirajuda, in the margins of the UN General Assembly on 23 September 2004. The former Minister, Deputy Cowen, used the occasion to express Ireland’s continuing concerns about the situation in Papua. These concerns had previously been raised with Minister Wirajuda in April 2004, during an EU Troika meeting, and again in January 2003, on the occasion of the EU-ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ meeting. Minister Wirajuda took note of our concerns, and expressed his belief that the special autonomy law will satisfy the aspirations of the overwhelming majority of the people in Papua. He said autonomy remains the settled policy of the government of Indonesia and that the strengthened democracy in Indonesia, following successful presidential and legislative elections, would increase autonomy. My predecessor made it clear that we would be carefully monitoring the situation in this regard.

The EU External Relations Council of 11 October 2004 adopted conclusions on Indonesia, which reiterated the EU’s respect for the territorial integrity of the Republic of Indonesia and welcomed president-elect Yudhoyono’s intention to implement special autonomy for Papua. Officials of my Department regularly discuss the [989]situation in Papua with their counterparts from Indonesia, representatives of various Papuan NGOs, as well as from third countries, such as Australia and the United States.

Ireland, together with our EU partners, will continue to support the development of a strengthened partnership and effective dialogue between the EU and Indonesia. As I have said, the Government sees this as the most effective framework at this time for addressing our concerns about the situation in Papua.

  207.  Mr. Cuffe    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    his views on the expansion of the so-called Petersberg Tasks (details supplied) in the EU constitution into the fight against terrorism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25360/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  Article III — 309 of the European constitution updates and expands the Petersberg Tasks, which currently cover humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping and peacemaking, to include joint disarmament operations, military advice and assistance tasks and post-conflict stabilisation. The constitution makes clear that all these tasks may contribute to combating terrorism, including by supporting third countries in their efforts to tackle terrorism in their territories. This is in keeping with the obligations placed on all member states of the United Nations, under UN Security Council Resolution 1373.

The Government supported the expansion of the Petersberg Tasks during negotiations on the constitution and very much welcomes the Union’s capacity to make a meaningful contribution to global peace and security through these tasks. The threat of terrorism is a serious one both for Europe and for our partners outside the EU. We need to ensure that the Union does its utmost to assist in countering this threat.

Indeed, the Union’s objectives in this regard have been clearly set out in the European Council declaration on combating terrorism of March 2004 which was co-ordinated under the Irish Presidency. The declaration represents the Union’s most comprehensive strategy statement to date and includes measures relating to the sharing of intelligence, the financing of terrorism, protecting populations and transport infrastructure, assistance to victims and international co-operation.

The declaration was formulated in the wake of the horrific bombings in Madrid on 11 March. In specific response to these, the European Council also agreed to the immediate implementation of the terms of the solidarity clause subsequently enshrined in the European constitution. This was an important political message that acts of terrorism represent an attack on the values on which the Union is founded and will be dealt with in a spirit of solidarity by the member states of the Union.

  208.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will provide a full update on the situation in Northern Ireland; his views on the meetings held at Leeds Castle; the steps to be taken to bring about the resumption of the Northern Assembly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25230/04]

  223.  Ms Lynch     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the progress made to date in resolving the outstanding issues from the Leeds Castle talks; the nature of the outstanding issues to be resolved; if these issues are capable of being resolved within the binding terms of the existing Agreement; if not, the nature and extent of amendments they may require; if, in the event of parties failing to agree, the British and Irish Governments will endeavour to present an alternative plan that seeks to implement as much of the Good Friday Agreement as possible; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25302/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 208 and 223 together.

At Leeds Castle, the Taoiseach and the Government team worked hard to achieve resolutions to the four outstanding issues identified by the two Governments, namely, an end to paramilitary activity; decommissioning; stability of the political institutions; and policing, including the devolution of policing and justice powers.

At the conclusion of the talks, the two Governments stated their belief that the issues of paramilitary activity and decommissioning could now be resolved. However, consensus was not achieved on possible changes to the operation of the institutions in strands one, two and three of the Agreement. The review of the operation of the Good Friday Agreement was provided for in the Agreement itself. The Government has consistently acknowledged that there may be scope for pragmatic and sensible changes to the workings of the Agreement in the light of practical experience. It has, from the outset, also made clear its openness to considering such changes, once they are consistent with the fundamental provisions of the Agreement.

Since the conclusion of the Leeds Castle talks, the Government has encouraged and facilitated dialogue with and between the parties in order to reach agreement on the outstanding issues. The former Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Kitt, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy, met all the parties in Belfast on 21 and 22 September.

The Taoiseach and I met a DUP delegation, led by Dr. Ian Paisley, on 30 September in Dublin. Since my appointment I have also met the SDLP, Sinn Féin, and the Alliance Party, as well as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I hope to meet a delegation from the UUP in the coming days.

Both Governments are determined to move ahead now and have emphasised the urgent need [991]to achieve an accommodation between all sides which does not trespass against the fundamental power sharing nature of the Agreement. We remain focused on securing a comprehensive agreement that definitively resolves the question of paramilitarism and allows for the early restoration of the devolved institutions on a stable and inclusive basis.

  209.  Mr. Boyle    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will outline the new structured co-operation provisions in the proposed EU constitution (details supplied); the decision making and funding aspects of this co-operation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25359/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  In the European constitution, member states express their determination to ensure that the Union is capable of fully assuming its responsibilities as part of the international community. They also recognise that the United Nations may request the Union’s assistance for the urgent implementation of its missions. In order to undertake peacekeeping and conflict prevention missions in the framework of the European security and defence policy, the so-called Petersberg Tasks, the Union must be able to use the capabilities, or resources, of member states.

The European constitution puts in place a new arrangement known as permanent structured co-operation to enable those member states wishing to do so to commit to being able to undertake the most demanding crisis management missions. Structured co-operation is open to all member states, on the condition that they undertake to enhance their defence capacities through the development of national contributions and subject to participation in a number of areas specified in Article III — 312.

Member states can signal their decision to take part in structured co-operation once the constitution comes into force. Alternatively, member states who decide not to participate immediately can decide to do so at a later date, providing they meet the criteria outlined.

Decision-making procedures in relation to structured co-operation are set out in Article III — 312 of the European constitution. These provide that decisions will be taken by unanimity among the states participating in permanent structured co-operation. The detailed arrangements for the implementation of structured co-operation, including financial aspects, have yet to be elaborated. The Government will consider further its approach to possible Irish participation in structured co-operation in due course. Such consideration will include an assessment of the national implications from a financial perspective.

Question No. 210 answered with Question
No. 205.

  211.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    his views on the EU decision to lift the arms embargo against China; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25301/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The European Council on 12 December 2003 invited the General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC, to re-examine the question of the embargo on the sale of arms to China.

Initial discussion at the GAERC took place on 26 January 2004, when it was agreed to invite the permanent representatives’ committee, COREPER, and the political and security committee, PSC, to look into the matter. The issue was further reviewed at the GAERC in April and again last week, where it was decided that the preparatory work should continue, in order that all technical issues surrounding it could be fully examined. Any decision on the lifting of the arms embargo will require consensus among EU partners.

There is broad agreement within the Council that the arms embargo, which was imposed in reaction to the events of June 1989 in Tiananmen Square, does not reflect the quality of the rapidly deepening relationship between the EU and China 15 years on. However, there is as yet no agreement to lift the embargo.

One reason for this is that discussions are still ongoing on a review of the EU’s code of conduct, which sets out criteria governing all arms exports from the EU. Also, there is an awareness of public concerns regarding the commitment of the Chinese authorities to the protection of human rights. There is no doubt that there has been a significant improvement in the human rights situation in China since 1989. This is reflected in the regular EU-China human rights dialogue and the joint seminar which took place in Beijing in June on China’s ratification of the Convention on Civil and Political Rights. Nevertheless, legitimate concerns persist in Europe and there is ample scope for the Chinese authorities to further demonstrate their stated commitments in relation to improving respect for human rights.

The Government will continue to examine this question with our EU partners, considering our overall relationship with China, our ongoing commitment to human rights and the broader regional and international context. This approach has been conveyed to the Chinese authorities, most recently by the Taoiseach during his discussions with Premier Wen when they met in the margins of the ASEM summit in Hanoi on 9 October 2004.

  212.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if the Government will consider proposing the suspension by the EU of its association agreement with Israel, based on the [993]human rights clause (details supplied). [25315/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  Suspension of the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement with Israel is not on the agenda. Consensus within the European Union would be required for such a step. This would not be forthcoming.

The argument has also been made that that such action could have undesirable consequences such as undercutting the role of the EU in the peace process and creating difficulties in implementing our programmes of assistance to the Palestinian Authority.

Furthermore, meetings of the Association Council with Israel provide the opportunity for the EU to highlight its concerns to the Israeli authorities on the human rights implications of its security policies. Article 2 of the EU-Israel Association Agreement reinforces obligations which already fall to the signatories with respect to human rights.

Question No. 213 answered with Question
No. 188.

Question No. 214 answered with Question
No. 166.

Question No. 215 answered with Question
No. 201.

  216.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if his attention has been drawn to a Garda investigation into complaints that luxury cars used to transport VIPs during Ireland’s Presidency of the European Union may not have been licensed as commercial vehicles; if this investigation is now complete; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25318/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  A complaint was received by the carriage office of the Garda Síochána concerning the use of certain vehicles during the course of the Irish Presidency. I understand that the investigation is ongoing and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the matter until the investigation has been completed, and the complainant notified of the outcome.

  217.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will elaborate on views expressed at a recent seminar in Rome concerning Government policy on poor country debt relief; the efforts he is making to change those aspects of the World Bank-IMF heavily indebted poor countries initiative identified by the Government as problematic; the level of support among other countries for the views he expressed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25317/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. C. Lenihan):  My predecessor, Deputy Kitt, as Minister of State with responsibility for development co-operation and human rights, attended a seminar in Rome entitled, Poverty and Globalisation: Financing for Development, including the millennium development goals, on Friday, 9 July 2004. The seminar was organised by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and attracted, among others, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, senior representatives of the French, US, Italian and a number of African Governments. Representatives of civil society and development NGOs were also present.

The former Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, based his intervention at the seminar on the policy document on developing country debt developed by the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Finance and launched in July 2002. The document commits us to work for 100% debt cancellation for the poorest countries and highlights a number of problems with the operation of the World Bank’s heavily indebted poor country, HIPC, initiative.

Among the problems with HIPC, which the former Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, cited at the seminar were: the need to pay more attention to human development criteria and less to hard economic indicators such as exports; the need to take greater account of the impact of HIV-AIDS on the poorest, disproportionately HIPC, countries of sub-Saharan Africa; and the inadequacy of the HIPC criteria in estimating a country’s ability to sustain debt. He also emphasised our belief that any enhancement of HIPC must be financed by financial resources in addition to those already earmarked for overseas development aid.

The former Minister of State addressed the related issues of the need for increases in ODA flows to developing countries and the search for innovative sources of development financing. He again emphasised that all funds accruing from innovative sources should be in addition to the commitment to increased levels of ODA.

Prior to the Holy See seminar, Ireland’s Presidency of the European Union offered us a number of opportunities to focus attention on the issue of poor country debt relief, debt sustainability and debt cancellation. The Taoiseach reaffirmed our commitment when he addressed the European Parliament in January 2004. The Minister for Foreign Affairs ensured that the discussion on development issues at the April meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council gave a new impetus to the EU’s already significant commitment to HIPC and to debt relief generally. When the EU Ministers for development met in Dublin in June, debt was among the central issues discussed, with trade and HIV-AIDS, and given added emphasis by the presence of Bono, internationally recognised for his campaign for Africa, as guest of honour. At the EU-Africa ministerial meeting in Dublin in [995]April, Ministers welcomed the joint report prepared by debt experts from the African and European sides on the nature, scale and impact of Africa’s debt burden. As President of the European Council, the Taoiseach took part in the G8 summit meeting, where he emphasised Ireland’s view that the situation of the heavily indebted poor countries is one of the most pressing challenges to world economic and social development.

Recently, officials of my Department participated as members of the Irish delegation to the annual meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, where the debt issue was a central focus of discussion. While there, the officials met representatives of other donor countries and of the HIPC countries, as well as senior staff members of the financial institutions, including the head of the World Bank’s HIPC unit.

Support for the cancellation of poor country debt, as advocated by Ireland since 2002, is growing both within the G8 countries and the wider international community. At the meeting in Washington, both UK and US proposals on poor country debt, that include debt cancellation, were discussed. While there was no agreement on how to progress these specific proposals at this time, I think their advocacy by these countries and the debate they generated around the issue of debt cancellation represent a considerable shift in the thinking of wealthier countries on the debt issue. The G8 countries have a crucial leadership role to play in the resolution of the debt problem of the poorest countries, including the pursuit of debt sustainability in the long term. Ireland will continue to attach the highest priority to this issue and will avail of every opportunity to reiterate our strong commitment to the pursuit of a lasting solution to the problem of developing country debt.

  218.  Mr. Boyle     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the measures he has taken to ensure that UN Resolution 1325 on women in conflict has been given effect in the official Irish humanitarian aid programme; and the plans that have been implemented to ensure that emergency and crisis responses of Development Co-operation Ireland and its partner agencies are appropriately gender sensitive. [25358/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. C. Lenihan):  UN Resolution 1325, adopted by the Security Council in October 2000, highlights the particular vulnerability of women in situations of armed conflict. The contents of Resolution 1325 have been taken on board by my Department, especially in its humanitarian policy on emergency response. The ongoing and widespread exploitation and gender based violence perpetrated against women and girls in situations of conflict is a matter of grave concern. Development Co-operation Ireland is currently working with Amnesty International and other NGOs in [996]Ireland to support strategic initiatives aimed at ensuring that violence against women in conflict is given priority both in policy and programming.

Ireland has a strong commitment to gender equality in its overseas development programme generally. Gender is a cross-cutting priority in the policies and strategies guiding the development programme. Last month, a gender equality policy was launched by Development Co-operation Ireland, the Government’s official programme of development assistance. This policy emphasises three areas for the advancement of gender equality: full achievement of human rights; equal access to resources and services; and equal participation in political and economic decision-making. Each of these areas is applicable to situations of conflict.

I am also committed to ensuring that our development partners are signatories to best practice policies and codes so as to mainstream gender in the provision of water, sanitation, food aid, shelter and health. Ireland endorses the code of conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement and NGOs in disaster relief, which outlines the principles that govern humanitarian action and asserts the rights of populations to protection and assistance. Ireland works closely with a broad range of civil society organisations, including NGOs, in developing a full understanding of the gender specific needs of both men and women in crisis and conflict situations.

  219.  Mr. English     asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the efforts being made by the Government, through the European Union, to progress the Middle East peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25222/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The Government’s position on the Israel-Palestine conflict has been one of consistent support for a peaceful solution. Together with our EU partners, we are working for a negotiated end to the conflict leading to two states, Israel and Palestine, living at peace within secure and recognised borders.

The General Affairs and External Relations Council considered this issue once again on 11 October in Luxembourg, and in its conclusions reaffirmed the EU’s long standing positions on the quartet roadmap and Israel’s proposed unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. While an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and part of the northern West Bank could represent a significant step towards the implementation of the roadmap, the Council underlined that the withdrawal must not be an attempt to replace the roadmap and the two state solution it encompasses. It also recalled that settlement activity is contrary to the roadmap.

The Council reaffirmed the position taken by the European Council in March and endorsed in the Tullamore declaration on the conditions [997]which must be met by any Israeli withdrawal plan. The following five elements are essential to make a Gaza withdrawal acceptable to the international community: it must take place in the context of the roadmap; it must be a step towards a two state solution; it must not involve a transfer of settlement activity to the West Bank; there must be an organised and negotiated handover of responsibility to the Palestinian Authority; and Israel must facilitate the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Gaza.

  220.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if, in view of the case of a person (details supplied), he has requested a review of checks on staff working in his Department in view of the fact that this person had two previous convictions for theft for which they had served a prison sentence in 1995; the changes in security checks that he has authorised in view of this case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25319/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  In June 2004, an individual who had been working on contract in the Department of Foreign Affairs received a four year suspended sentence for the theft of eight laptop computers from the Department. The individual had been contracted from a specialist information technology company to work as part of a team of contractors, to provide IT help desk support for the Department in the lead up to and for the duration of Ireland’s Presidency of the European Union.

Failure to complete security checks for this individual, as opposed to a flaw with the security check procedures, occurred on this occasion. All IT staff contracted for the Presidency, including this individual, were the subject of standard security clearance procedures equivalent to those related to the recruitment of full-time staff members in the Department. Unfortunately, due to increasing demands on the IT help desk service and in view of an existing positive working relationship with the individual’s employer, the person concerned commenced work in the Department in advance of completion of the normal security checks. The theft of equipment and subsequent arrest of the individual concerned occurred in advance of completion of these checks.

Following a review of procedures and practices resulting from this incident, arrangements for conducting security checks have now been tightened. I assure the Deputy that no one now commences work in the Department in advance of completion of the security clearance procedures.

  221.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the extent to which the EU-US relationship has been renewed arising from the recent EU-US summit here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24982/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The trans-Atlantic relationship has been crucial to the stability and prosperity of both Europe and the US over the past 50 years. We share the same belief in democracy, the rule of law, fundamental rights and open trade between nations. These are values that have forged an enduring partnership, which continues to be a stabilising and positive force in the world.

During Ireland’s recent Presidency of the EU, we emphasised the importance of renewing the trans-Atlantic relationship after the divisions experienced last year over Iraq. This approach culminated in the successful EU-US summit in Dromoland Castle in June this year which demonstrated the continuing strength and depth of the transatlantic partnership. The EU and the US adopted seven important joint declarations addressing many of the key challenges that face the world today including on Iraq, as well as on counter-terrorism, non-proliferation, the fight against HIV/AIDS, Sudan, and partnership with countries in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. This outcome has contributed significantly to a renewed trans-Atlantic consensus on the approach to adopt on a number of global issues. The US ambassador to Ireland, Mr. James Kenny, commented recently that the State Department rated the summit as probably the best in the last 15 years.

Obviously, an important feature of an open and mature friendship is the ability to discuss matters of difference. This is an important element of the EU-US relationship. It will be evident from the press conference given by the Taoiseach and President Bush at Dromoland following the summit that differences were raised during their meeting.

A strong partnership between the EU and the US is vital if we are to find durable solutions to the many global challenges facing us, despite the differences between the US and European approaches on some issues. Both bilaterally and within the EU, we will continue to engage with the US to build a more productive transatlantic relationship. In that context, I reiterate the Government’s welcome of the appointment of former Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton, as ambassador and head of the European Commission’s delegation to the United States. I am confident he will make an important contribution to relations between the EU and the US in the future.

Question No. 222 answered with Question
No. 169.

Question No. 223 answered with Question
No. 208.

  224.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will make a statement on the Irish ministerial address to the UN General Assembly in September 2004; his views on [999]whether the UN is on target to produce its report on UN reform expected in December 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25322/04]

  353.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    his views on the speech made by his predecessor at the UN General Assembly in September 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25367/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 224 and 353 together.

My predecessor, Deputy Cowen, delivered Ireland’s national statement in the general debate at the start of the 59th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations on 23 September 2004. The statement reflected the Government’s view that the session just commenced will be one of the most important in the history of the United Nations. After the serious divisions that arose in 2003, and confronted by continued war, terror, ethnic violence and abuse of human rights, the organisation is now engaged in a period of serious reflection. A strong momentum for reform of the United Nations now exists, generated in no small part by its Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, whom we were pleased to welcome to Ireland last week. In addition, preparations are in train for a review of the commitments undertaken at the millennium summit, and of progress to date in the implementation of the millennium development goals.

During this session, therefore, the groundwork must be laid for a new compact by which the member states will invest the United Nations with the strength and capacity it needs to meet the threats and challenges of today, and rededicate themselves to the task of achieving by the target date of 2015 the goals established at the millennium. These goals, as the Secretary-General reminded us last week, include such important aims as halving extreme poverty, halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and ensuring universal primary education.

Our national statement to the General Assembly called for bold decisions, that would restore the determination and idealism of the founding fathers of the United Nations, and provide a more effective system of collective security. Such a system required the unique legitimacy offered by the United Nations and its charter.

A high-level panel on threats, challenges and change was established by the Secretary-General last year. The panel’s mandate is to examine and analyse current and future threats and challenges to international peace and security, to identify the contribution that collective action can make in addressing these challenges, and recommend necessary changes, including a review of the principal organs of the United Nations. The panel is on course to deliver its report to the Secretary-General by 1 December. Secretary-General Annan, when he receives the report of the high-[1000]level panel, will embark on a series of consultations to establish a basis for consensus. I assured him when I met him last Friday that he would have Ireland’s support and help in this complex task.

Our national statement to the General Assembly drew attention to the EU contribution to the panel’s work, co-ordinated by Ireland during its recent Presidency. EU partners agreed that security and development are intimately connected and that there should be no hierarchy of threats. The EU contribution pointed to the need for enhanced early warning systems that identified states or societies at risk of instability and for sustained engagement with such states to ensure that they do not descend or relapse into conflict, as well as new structures to ensure such engagement by the UN system and the international community in general. It called for enhanced involvement by the Security Council in addressing the threats posed by terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and pointed to the need to establish a basis for a common assessment of threat and to agree on criteria for intervention. It also pointed to the increasing contribution that regional organisations, including the European Union itself, can make to the maintenance of international peace and security under the overall authority of the Security Council.

There is no consensus among European Union partners on the specific means by which the Security Council itself might be reformed. The Minister, Deputy Cowen, however, told the General Assembly that Ireland favoured a regionally-balanced increase in the membership, in both categories, permanent and non-permanent, which would mean more legitimacy and, therefore, more effectiveness for the Security Council. He also pointed out that an effective Security Council required more than a change in structures, it also required a change in attitudes. Those who aspired to world leadership bore a particular responsibility to act in the global interest.

Ireland’s national statement this year could not but condemn the dreadful terrorist attacks that had recently taken place, particularly at Beslan in southern Russia, where hundreds of innocents — men, women and especially children — were ruthlessly slaughtered. It also recalled that terrorism can rarely be defeated exclusively military or security means alone and that it was necessary to address root causes and maintain due regard for international law and human rights norms.

The statement dealt with non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear non-proliferation. We signalled our intention to work with our New Agenda Coalition partners to strengthen the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons at its forthcoming review, noting the mutually reinforcing nature of disarmament and non-proliferation. The importance of dealing with the threat posed by conventional weapons and land mines was also stressed.

The Minister, Deputy Cowen, offered the General Assembly the Government’s perspectives on [1001]a range of regional issues. He urged the authorities in the Sudan to fulfil the obligations imposed by the Security Council, to co-operate closely with the monitoring mission of the African Union, to bring the Janjaweed militias under control and disarm them, to bring to justice those responsible for serious violations of human rights and bring about secure conditions so that people can return voluntarily to their homes. He called on all parties, including the rebel groups, to show flexibility and good will so that the underlying problems of Darfur can be resolved peacefully.

The Minister welcomed the passage of Security Council Resolution 1546 on Iraq, which represented a coming together of the international community on the importance of reconstruction, saying that it was vital that the interim Iraqi government be able to establish a full democratic mandate. He called for an end to the lethal violence that was disrupting the normal development of the country. Ireland has always seen the United Nations as central to reconstruction and, with its EU partners, will seek to ensure that the UN mission is provided with the necessary security to carry out its tasks.

The national statement described the violence that the people of Israel and Palestine suffer as futile and tragic. It called on Israel to halt the expansion of settlements and criticised the line taken by the security fence, which creates severe hardship for Palestinian communities and will perpetuate facts on the ground that will make a resolution of the conflict, which is fundamentally a struggle over land, more difficult. It also called on the Palestinian Authority to assume its responsibilities under the roadmap and to exercise effective and responsible leadership. The statement recalled the Tullamore Declaration, in which EU Ministers acknowledged the impetus that could be given to the peace process by Prime Minister Sharon’s plan to withdraw from Gaza, as long as it took place in the context of the implementation of the roadmap for peace.

The Minister, Deputy Cowen, also availed of the opportunity to brief the General Assembly on ongoing work to consolidate peace and stability in Northern Ireland, saying that the complete implementation of the Good Friday Agreement was the best way forward. While it had not been possible to achieve agreement among the parties on the operation of the political institutions of the Agreement at Leeds Castle, he noted that Dr. Ian Paisley had made the point immediately after the talks that “a golden opportunity has been available to realise a stable and entirely peaceful future”.

In conclusion, the Minister exhorted the members of the General Assembly to make 2005 the year in which the United Nations was reborn, strong, effective and respected, as its founding fathers intended it to be.

Question No. 225 answered with Question
No. 195.

  226.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the level of aid given to Uganda for 2004; if he will estimate the amount to be given in 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25221/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. C. Lenihan):  A budget of €30.65 million has been allocated for Ireland’s official programme of development assistance to Uganda in 2004. That allocation is in line with the budgetary provisions of my Department’s country strategy paper for Uganda, which sets out the strategy for Ireland’s programme of development assistance to Uganda for the period 2004-06. The goal of the programme is to support Uganda’s efforts to achieve pro-poor and sustainable economic growth, equitable social development and democratic governance, as articulated in Uganda’s poverty eradication action plan. The emphasis of the programme is on support for four key sectors: education, agriculture, justice, law and order and health, including HIV/AIDS interventions. The country strategy paper provides for an allocation of €32 million in 2005. Aid is also being given in support of the development activities of civil society bodies in Uganda and in the form of humanitarian assistance.

A further €2.9 million has been allocated in 2004 towards development projects in Uganda under my Department’s multi-annual programme scheme, block grant, and non-governmental organisation, NGO, co-financing schemes. This funding is channelled through Irish NGOs and missionaries and goes towards basic education, water and sanitation, primary health care and rural development projects. Funding is also provided for NGO and missionary personnel working in the health, education, administration and technical sectors.

The humanitarian situation in northern Uganda continues to be a source of grave concern. More than 1.4 million displaced people are still seeking shelter in over-congested camps and continue to depend on food assistance for survival. While there have been no major attacks on civilians in the past two months, small-scale ambushes, attacks, looting and abductions continue, constraining the internally displaced from pursuing livelihoods. Access to displaced populations for humanitarian assistance remains a problem.

The World Food Programme, WFP, reports significant shortfalls in the food reserves for northern Uganda. Ireland has provided a total so far of €623,000 in emergency humanitarian assistance to Uganda in 2004, including €500,000 to WFP for food assistance to the internally displaced. My officials will keep this situation under close review and will respond to any changes in the situation.

Question No. 227 answered with Question
No. 188.

  228.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will provide an up-to-date report on the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Libya; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25225/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  On 19 December 2003, Libya announced its intention to eliminate all “materials, equipment and programmes which lead to the production of internationally proscribed weapons”. In the months since, the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, has been working closely with the Libyan authorities to gain a complete picture of its nuclear programme.

On 10 March 2004, the board of governors of the IAEA adopted a resolution welcoming Libya’s voluntary decision and requesting it to provide continuing co-operation and full disclosure. The board also agreed to report past non-compliance to the Security Council for information purposes.

The director general of the agency, Dr. Mohammed El Baradei, delivered his latest report on Libya’s nuclear programme at a meeting of the IAEA board of governors in Vienna last month. The agency’s assessment was that Libya’s declarations on its uranium conversion programme, enrichment programme and other past nuclear-related activities appear to be consistent with the information available to and verified by the agency. The report confirmed that Libya has shown good co-operation with the agency by providing information and prompt access to locations requested. It was noted, however, that there are still some areas related to the acquisition of uranium hexafluoride, uranium conversion technology and enrichment technology that need further investigation. The director general has indicated he will continue to report developments to the board as part of the periodic reporting of the agency’s verification activities.

It is important that Libya facilitate the IAEA’s continued investigations by providing all necessary information, particularly with respect to the illicit trafficking in nuclear materials and the origins of such materials. Full and close co-operation by all third countries with the agency is also needed in order to clarify the outstanding questions.

Ireland fully supports the work of the IAEA in verifying the dismantlement of the Libyan programme. We welcome Libya’s signature and decision to implement an additional protocol and its ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Ireland has also welcomed Libya’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention and subsequent declaration of its chemical weapons agents. As with the IAEA’s verification activities, we are looking forward to Libya’s continued co-operation with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, OPCW, with [1004]regard to fulfilling its obligations to comply with the requirements of the convention.

  229.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the relief the Government has allocated and sent to Haiti; his proposals to improve and facilitate the operation of the UN agencies and other relief agencies in that country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25284/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. C. Lenihan):  Hurricane Ivan, one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit the Caribbean in recent memory, ravaged the islands of Haiti and Grenada last month. More than 1,500 people lost their lives in Haiti and a further 300,000 have been affected by the subsequent flooding. Severe environmental degradation has exacerbated the effects of the hurricane.

Haiti is one of the world’s poorest countries and has been the recipient of Irish development assistance prior to the current crisis. To date, €1.5 million has been committed in emergency and development funding to Haiti. This figure includes €250,000 which I approved on 4 October for emergency humanitarian programmes, specifically in response to Hurricane Ivan. This assistance is being delivered through NGOs, UN agencies and the Red Cross.

The current situation in Haiti is still very much in the emergency phase. When the position is stabilised, recovery and reconstruction will be a major task. Although the challenge is enormous, Ireland stands ready to assist the Government and people of Haiti in the recovery efforts.

Question No. 230 answered with Question
No. 165.

  231.  Mr. Gogarty    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the measures which have been put in place to co-operate with and support the work of the International Criminal Court on behalf of this State particularly in view of continued perpetration, for example, of crimes against humanity in Sudan. [25351/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  As the Deputy will be aware, Ireland is obligated, as a state party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, ICC, to co-operate with the ICC in its investigation and prosecution of crimes under its jurisdiction. Legislation to allow the State to implement these obligations, the International Criminal Court Bill 2003, has been prepared by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and has recently completed Second Stage before this House.

Ireland and its EU partners have been consistent and strong supporters of the work of the ICC, and have repeatedly stated their commitment to the establishment of a fully functional, independent court. In the Council Common Position on [1005]the ICC of June 2003, the EU and its member states commit themselves to supporting the development of training and assistance for judges, prosecutors, officials and counsel in work related to the court. The EU and its member states have also been active supporters of programmes to strengthen the capacity of the justice systems of third states, thus enhancing the ability of these states to co-operate with the ICC when requested by it to do so.

With regard to the Deputy’s comments on the situation in Sudan, it should be pointed out that under article 13 of the Rome statute, the court can normally exercise jurisdiction only in cases of acts committed on the territory of a state party or by a national of a state party. Sudan signed the Rome statute in September 2000, but has not yet ratified it. However, article 13(b) of the Rome statute would allow the ICC to exercise jurisdiction over the situation in Sudan if the UN Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, chooses to refer the situation to the prosecutor of the ICC.

  232.  Mr. Murphy    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the timescale for the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25212/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The European Union’s objective, as stated in the European Council Conclusions of 17-18 June, is that both Bulgaria and Romania should conclude negotiations in 2004, sign the accession treaty in 2005 and accede in January 2007, if they are ready. Negotiations will be concluded on the same basis and principles which applied to the ten new member states which acceded on 1 May 2004.

On 6 October 2004, the European Commission published its annual reports on progress towards the EU accession of Bulgaria and Romania, as well as an overall strategy paper on progress in the enlargement process. The Commission makes clear in these reports that both Bulgaria and Romania have made good progress this year in their preparations for EU accession.

  233.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the position on the conflict between the Sahara Arab Democratic Republic and Morocco; the position in relation to the UN referendum in the area known as the former Spanish Sahara; the position on the prisoners of both sides; if he will confirm the Government’s recognition of the Sahara Arab Democratic Republic; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25325/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  Ireland is a long-standing supporter of the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination. The [1006]Government played a prominent role in seeking a solution to the Western Sahara dispute during its term on the Security Council.

The conflict in the Western Sahara ended with the brokering by the UN in 1991 of a ceasefire which has been maintained under the monitoring of the United Nations Mission for Referendum in Western Sahara, MINURSO, although the conflict gave rise to numerous humanitarian issues which remain unresolved. MINURSO’s efforts to carry out the referendum in the Western Sahara have been frustrated to date by the inability of the parties to agree on the list of qualified voters.

On 31 July 2003 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1495 which, in addition to extending the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, also recommended the acceptance by all sides of the Baker II plan. This plan was drawn up by Mr. James A. Baker during his term as personal envoy of the UN Secretary General and formally presented by the Secretary General to the Security Council for its endorsement on 23 May 2003. The Baker II plan proposes a transitional period of four to five years during which Western Sahara would be self-governing under Moroccan sovereignty. A Western Sahara Authority, WSA, under a chief executive would be responsible for local government, internal security, law enforcement, the economy, welfare and education, while Morocco would be responsible for foreign relations, national security and defence. At the end of five years, a referendum would be held giving residents a choice between independence, integration with Morocco or continued autonomy.

The Government believes these proposals represent the best way forward towards a negotiated settlement of the issue which fully respects the right to self-determination of the Saharaoui people. Algeria and the Polisario Front have indicated their willingness to explore these proposals, while Morocco continues to reject them. United Nations efforts to secure agreement between the parties, led by the Secretary General’s special representative, continue with the strong support of the Government.

The Government position on recognition is that there is as yet no Saharan state that meets international established criteria for recognition. Such a step would in any event prejudge the outcome of the UN efforts, which, as I have noted, the Government strongly supports.

In addition to supporting efforts to secure a political settlement, the Government is concerned over the fates of the combatants in the conflict, including those who disappeared during the conflict and Moroccan prisoners-of-war still held by the Polisario. The Government firmly believes there is a compelling humanitarian case that all prisoners be released immediately and without preconditions. During the Irish Presidency of the EU this year, Polisario released 200 of the remaining prisoners of war. The Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, was present to witness the release of the second group of 100 in June. [1007]The Government will continue to press all parties to meet their humanitarian obligations without further delay.

  234.  Mr. McGinley    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the Government plans to open more embassies over the coming years; the places where embassies will be opened; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25215/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  In 2001, the Government decided to open new embassies in a number of EU candidate countries on a phased basis, subject to the availability of the necessary resources. New embassies have since been established in Estonia, Slovenia, Slovakia and Cyprus and also in Brazil. Presidency offices were opened in Bulgaria and Romania in the run up to and during the Irish Presidency of the European Union to ensure the most effective management of our Presidency in these two countries. The opening of additional missions is under active review at present and I expect this review to be completed in the near future.

Question No. 235 answered with Question
No. 166.

  236.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he raised, since his appointment, any matters of concern with his American counterpart, in particular the holding of persons at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25223/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  Since my appointment as Minister for Foreign Affairs, I have not had the opportunity to meet the Secretary of State Mr. Colin Powell. I have, however, spoken to him briefly when he telephoned to congratulate me on my appointment and he also has written to me expressing his desire to work with me to strengthen the excellent bilateral ties between Ireland and the United States. The Secretary of State, in his letter, reiterated the strong support of the United States for the peace process in Northern Ireland. I share the Secretary of State’s wish to strengthen further Irish-US relations not only in our mutual bilateral interest but also to enable us to address the many global challenges common to all of humanity. Our brief exchanges to date have not afforded me the opportunity for discussion of substantive issues or concerns but I look forward to meeting the Secretary of State in the period ahead.

With regard to holding persons at Guantanamo Bay, as the Deputy is aware, the Government’s position is that these detainees should be treated in accordance with the provisions of international human rights and humanitarian law. These concerns were conveyed to the US Embassy in Dublin by my Department and were raised by the [1008]Taoiseach when he met President Bush in Washington on 17 March 2004. In all contacts with the US authorities on this issue we have been assured that they are aware of their obligations under international law.

  237.  Mr. G. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will report on the recent visit of the Democratic Unionist Party to Dublin; the matters discussed with the DUP; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25218/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  On 30 September, together with the Taoiseach, I met a DUP delegation at Government Buildings. The delegation was headed by the leader of the party, Dr. Ian Paisley. This meeting was the first with the DUP leadership to be held in Dublin and it provided a welcome opportunity to discuss further the outstanding issues from the Leeds Castle talks.

As we outlined in the joint statement after those talks, both Governments believe the issues relating to the ending of paramilitary activity and decommissioning can be resolved. However, consensus was not achieved at Leeds Castle regarding possible changes to the operation of the institutions in Strands One, Two and Three. These issues have been the subject of discussions with and between the parties in recent weeks.

The meeting with the DUP at Government Buildings was focused on these outstanding issues. The Taoiseach briefed the DUP delegation on the on-going efforts to bring the necessary clarity and certainty to the question of ending paramilitary activity and capability. In addition, the Government emphasised that any changes to the political institutions must respect the fundamental power-sharing nature of the Good Friday Agreement.

We also stressed to the DUP the importance of seizing the impetus of the Leeds Castle talks and of securing early progress on all of the outstanding issues. The Government is committed to achieving a comprehensive agreement for Northern Ireland that will bring about the early restoration of the political institutions. In order to do so, we will continue to liaise closely with the British Government and the parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly, including the DUP.

  238.  Mr. M. Higgins    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the efforts made by the Government to assist efforts to secure the release of a person (details supplied) in Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25298/04]

  239.  Mr. English    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the steps taken by the Government to assist in the release of a person held hostage in Iraq (details supplied); the advice given by his Department to Irish persons intending to travel [1009]to Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25231/04]

  350.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the precise circumstances in which an Irish passport was granted to a person (details supplied); the steps he had taken to secure the release of this person; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25122/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 238, 239 and 350 together.

The House will share the deep sense of shock and sadness felt by the Government and by all the people of Ireland following the cruel and barbaric murder of Kenneth Bigley. All Members would join with the Government in expressing their most sincere condolences to his mother and his family, whose courage and fortitude we came to know and admire over recent weeks.

It is against this tragic background that I will outline details of the Government’s efforts in the case of Kenneth Bigley. I had hoped to be able to respond to the Deputies’ questions in different circumstances and I am very disappointed that all our efforts and pleadings for mercy and humanity to be shown to Mr. Bigley went unanswered.

When the Government learned that Mr. Bigley’s mother Elizabeth was born in Dublin, my predecessor, Deputy Cowen, immediately spoke with the British Foreign Secretary and informed him of the Irish interest in the case. The next day, the Taoiseach issued an appeal to the Al Jazeera network in which he appealed for Mr. Bigley’s release. The Taoiseach also instructed the Irish Ambassador in London to communicate the sympathy and solidarity of the President, the Government and the Irish people to the Bigley family.

Throughout these weeks, we monitored the case actively. On my appointment as Minister for Foreign Affairs, I immediately reviewed the case with my senior officials to see how Irish influence could best be brought to bear. Following on from this, we had contacts with a number of authorities in the region. This included my discussing the Bigley case with the Jordanian Foreign Minister and with the Secretary General of the Arab League. We remained in close touch with these contacts.

On 5 October, following a request from his family, I instructed that an Irish passport be issued to Kenneth Bigley. I was glad to respond positively to this request, in order to help convince his kidnappers of his Irish citizenship and in the hope that it would contribute to the efforts to secure his release. As the son of an Irish-born citizen, Mr. Bigley was automatically an Irish citizen under law and thus entitled to an Irish passport.

Sadly, our efforts and the efforts of the Bigley family, Members of this House, the Jordanian and other Arab authorities, the British Government and the many other governments and leaders throughout the world were ignored by the terrorists who held Kenneth.

[1010]The Government has from the outset called on all parties in the conflict to respect their obligations under international law both in regard to the status of civilians and in regard to prisoners of war. In line with this, the Government and the Council of the European Union have publicly and strongly condemned any incidents of abuse of prisoners in Iraq by occupying forces which have taken place as contrary to international humanitarian law. Equally, we have repeatedly deplored the taking of hostages and their subsequent execution by the hostage takers. The Government will continue to play its part, together with our partners in the European Union, in efforts to ensure the fullest possible respect for human rights in Iraq.

In answer to Deputy English’s specific question, my Department advises Irish citizens against all travel to Iraq, given that civil unrest is widespread and the risk of violence remains high. This advice is available on the Department’s website www.dfa.ie.

  240.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Taoiseach    if his departmental review of legislation requested by the Attorney General in search of Henry VIII provisions in legislation has been completed; if he will report on the findings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24980/04]

The Taoiseach:  I assume the audit referred to in the Deputy’s question is that referred to in my reply to Question No. 2 of 30 March 2004. To the extent that the audit concerns areas of the Statute Book within my functional remit, it is ongoing at present but has not so far identified instances of legislation of the kind referred to which might require remedial legislative action.

  241.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if the personal assistance being given to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 8 will be extended to more than once a week. [24990/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The provision of health services for people with disabilities is a matter for the health boards-authority in the first instance. Therefore, a copy of the Deputy’s question has been forwarded to the regional chief executive of the Eastern Regional Health Authority with a request that he examine the case and reply directly to the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

  242.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if an application for validation and documents submitted by a person (details supplied) in County Laois in May 2004 will be processed without further delay by the personnel management and development [1011]section of her Department; and if a decision will be expedited. [24991/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Applications for the validation of non-national qualifications are received by my Department as the designated authority under the EU directives governing the mutual recognition of professional qualifications. The appropriate professional body, which acts as adviser to my Department, examines all applications to determine equivalence with Irish qualifications. A complete application for validation from the person referred to by the Deputy was received in my Department on 18 August 2004. The documents were checked, processed and forwarded to the professional body at that time. The professional body’s assessment will be completed as soon as possible when the final decision will be communicated to the applicant by my Department.

  243.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason persons (details supplied) in County Clare were refused the special housing aid for the elderly scheme. [25006/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The housing aid scheme for the elderly in the Clare area is operated by the Mid-Western Health Board on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him as a matter of urgency.

  244.  Mr. P. Breen     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when a shower will be installed under the housing aid for the elderly scheme for a person (details supplied) in County Clare. [25007/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The housing aid scheme for the elderly in the Clare area is operated by the Mid-Western Health Board on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him as a matter of urgency.

  245.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when repairs will be carried out to a roof under the housing aid for the elderly scheme for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25008/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The housing aid scheme for the elderly in the Clare area is operated by the Mid-Western Health Board on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local [1012]Government. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him as a matter of urgency.

  246.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when window replacements will be made under the housing aid for the elderly scheme for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25009/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The housing aid scheme for the elderly in the Clare area is operated by the Mid-Western Health Board on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him as a matter of urgency.

  247.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when repairs to a chimney and the installation of heating will be carried out under the housing aid for the elderly scheme for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25010/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The housing aid scheme for the elderly in the Clare area is operated by the Mid-Western Health Board on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him as a matter of urgency.

  248.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when window replacements will be made under the housing aid for the elderly scheme for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25026/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The housing aid scheme for the elderly in the Clare area is operated by the Mid-Western Health Board on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him as a matter of urgency.

  249.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when repairs will be made under the housing aid for the elderly scheme for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25027/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The housing aid scheme for the elderly in the Clare area is operated by the Mid-Western Health Board on behalf of the Depart[1013]ment of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him as a matter of urgency.

  250.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when repairs to a roof will be carried out under the housing aid for the elderly scheme for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25028/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The housing aid scheme for the elderly in the Clare area is operated by the Mid-Western Health Board on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him as a matter of urgency.

  251.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when replacement windows and one door will be made under the housing aid for the elderly scheme for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25029/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The housing aid scheme for the elderly in the Clare area is operated by the Mid-Western Health Board on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him as a matter of urgency.

  252.  Mr. F. McGrath     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding the funding for a group (details supplied) in Dublin 9; and if it will be given the maximum support and assistance in 2004 and 2005. [25037/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  Responsibility for the provision of the services referred to by the Deputy rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the regional chief executive to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply to him directly.

  253.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if the full national cervical cancer screening programme will be implemented without delay; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25039/04]

  309.  Mr. O’Shea     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her proposals to extend cervical screening nationwide; the times[1014]cale involved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25491/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 253 and 309 together.

A pilot cervical screening programme commenced in October 2000 and is available to eligible women resident in Limerick, Clare and north Tipperary. Under the programme, cervical screening is being offered free of charge to 74,000 women in the 25 to 60 age group at five year intervals.

The Health Board Executive commissioned an international expert in cervical screening to examine the feasibility and implications of a national roll out of a cervical screening programme. The examination included an evaluation of the pilot programme, quality assurance, laboratory capacity and organisation and the establishment of national governance arrangements. The expert’s report was submitted on the 12 October 2004 and is now being considered by my Department.

  254.  Mr. F. McGrath     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if bubble baths, shampoos and shower gels often contain sodium lauryl sulphate and sodium laureth sulphate; if these products can have a degenerative effect on the cell membrane; and if she has plans to tackle these health issues. [25040/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Cosmetic products are subject to control under the European Communities (Cosmetic Products) Regulations 1997 (SI No. 87 of 1997). Under these regulations, persons placing cosmetic products on the market are required to ensure that they are not liable to cause damage to human health under normal and reasonably foreseeable conditions of use. Substances in use in cosmetic products continue to be subject to review by the European Commission in consultation with the Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non Food Products. The substances referred to by the Deputy have been in safe use in cosmetic products over many years as surfactants, emulsifying, foaming and cleansing agents and their use has not given rise to concern.

  255.  Dr. Cowley    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason the position of a general practitioner in Straide, Foxford, County Mayo, is still unfilled; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25052/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Responsibility for the provision of services to medical card holders, including the recruitment and selection of candidates to fill vacant general practitioner positions, is a matter for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board or authority. My Department has, there[1015]fore, asked the chief executive officer of the Western Health Board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

  256.  Mr. Gogarty    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if there are plans to include irritable bowel syndrome as an illness under the Long Term and Disability Scheme Health Act 1970, in view of the increasing number of children and teenagers who have been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. [25058/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Under the 1970 Health Act, a health board may arrange for the supply, without charge, of drugs, medicines and medical and surgical appliances to people with a specified condition, for the treatment of that condition under the long-term illness scheme. The conditions are: mental handicap, mental illness, for people under 16 only, phenylketonuria, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus, haemophilia, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophies, parkinsonism, conditions arising from thalidomide and acute leukaemia. There are currently no plans to amend the list of eligible conditions.

Other schemes provide assistance towards the cost of approved drugs and medicines for people with significant ongoing medical expenses. People who cannot, without undue hardship, arrange for the provision of medical services for themselves and their dependants may be entitled to a medical card. Eligibility for a medical card is solely a matter for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board. In determining eligibility, the CEO has regard to the applicant’s financial circumstances. Health boards use income guidelines to assist in determining eligibility. However, where a person’s income exceeds the guidelines, a medical card may be awarded if the CEO considers that the person’s medical needs or other circumstances would justify this. Medical cards may also be issued to individual family members on this basis. Non-medical card holders, and people with conditions not covered under the LTI, can use the drugs payment scheme. Under this scheme, no individual or family unit pays more than €78 per calendar month towards the cost of approved prescribed medicines.

  257.  Mr. Hogan     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when a decision will be made on a medical card appeal for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25080/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Responsibility for the provision of a medical card is, by legislation, a matter for the chief executive officer of the relevant health [1016]board-authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive officer of the South Eastern Health Board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

  258.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when a decision will be made on a medical card appeal for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25081/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Responsibility for the provision of a medical card is, by legislation, a matter for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board-authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive officer of the South Eastern Health Board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

  259.  Mr. Hogan     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when a decision will be made on a medical card appeal for persons (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25082/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Responsibility for the provision of a medical card is, by legislation, a matter for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board-authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive officer of the South Eastern Health Board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

  260.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the recent ESRI report which stated that the health of middle-income persons is suffering due to the fact that they are delaying costly general practitioner visits; the steps she intends to take to ensure that those above the medical card threshold can afford to visit their general practitioner; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25083/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The consultation fees charged by general practitioners to their private patients are a matter of private contract between the doctor as the service provider and the patient as the service user. The Department of Health and Children has no role in this relationship.

As regards the issue raised in the ESRI report in relation to the current income guidelines for medical cards, it is the case that the Government is fully committed to the extension of medical card coverage as set out in the health strategy. This will focus on people on low incomes and will give priority to families with children, particularly those with a disability. The timing of the introduction of the extension will be decided having regard to the prevailing budgetary position.

  261.  Mr. P. McGrath     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when the development control plan for phase 2B of the Midland Regional Hospital at Mullingar was lodged in her Department; if she will make this plan available for review; and the indicative time frame for the implementation of this plan. [25084/04]

  262.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the stages through which the proposed phase 2B of the Midland Regional Hospital at Mullingar must proceed on its progress to the finalisation of this project. [25085/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 261 and 262 together.

Having examined the board’s stage 2 submission, development control plan, for phase 2B of the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar, my Department approved proceeding to stage 3 planning for the project. The stages through which the project must now proceed, to its completion, are stages 3 to 8 inclusive which are as follows: stage 3 — sketch design; stages 4 and 5 — detail design including tender documentation; stage 6 — invitation of tenders-contract award; stage 7 — construction works; and stage 8 — equipping and commissioning. The development control plan was lodged with my Department in early 2004. As the Midland Health Board is the client for the project, a request to view the plan should be addressed to the board. The Department’s letter of approval to proceed to stage 3 planning requested the preparation, by the board, of a management plan for all remaining planning stages to tender stage. This management plan, when available, will allow the preparation of a time frame for completion of the project.

  263.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the assistance that can be offered to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25090/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  Responsibility for the provision of care and treatment of the named individual rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has therefore asked the regional chief executive to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply to him directly.

  264.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the plans she has to review the block grant method of annual payment to providers of services to children and adults with disabilities through the health boards; if she is considering making changes to this method of funding such as allocating the funds directly to [1018]the individual service user rather than to the service provider; if the multi-annual funding arrangements for services to persons with disabilities will be granted to service providers under a new or the current arrangement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25100/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  Under the recently published Disability Bill 2004, my Department has published an outline sectoral plan in respect of the specific health and personal social services provided for people with disabilities. This is an interim plan designed to encompass a programme of work which is to be undertaken over the next 12 to 18 months. The main aspects of this programme are related to the provisions contained in the Disability Bill 2004, together with a strategic review of the services as a whole.

It is expected that this review will examine the significant level of service provision which is already in place, focusing on specific issues which are of concern to people with disabilities and their families and carers, together with statutory and voluntary bodies in this area, with an opportunity to input into the planning and delivery of services over the coming years.

While the strategic review of services may result in a degree of re-prioritisation of existing resources, it is quite clear, given the identified needs of the various groups within this sector, that an ongoing programme of significant additional investment in these services is required. Recognising this, the Taoiseach has given a commitment to a multi-annual capital and current investment programme in the forthcoming Estimates and budget. Decisions on the investment programme for disability-specific services will be announced as part of that process.

The issues raised by the Deputy will be considered within the context of the programme of work to be undertaken in respect of the outline sectoral plan and the strategic review.

  265.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when she intends to introduce the national standards for disability services, the final draft of which was passed by the board of the National Disability Authority in September 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25101/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The draft national standards for disability services were received in my Department on last Wednesday and are receiving consideration.

  266.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    further to Parliamentary Question No. 387 of 5 October 2004, if, in view of the correspondence (details supplied) which extends from 25 June 2002 to 14 June 2004 from [1019]her Department to the person in question, she will have the matter re-examined; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25102/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I regret that, due to an administrative error in my Department, part of my reply to Question No. 387 on 5 October last was incorrect. There has, in fact, been a number of communications between my Department and the persons referred to by the Deputy. However, as I indicated in the previous reply, the clinic in question is privately operated and I have no function in the matter.

  267.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the action she has taken or intends to take arising from the legislation passed in 2003 relating to risk equalisation in the health insurance market; if her Department has had discussions with the Health Insurance Authority regarding the issue; if that body has indicated the action which should be taken in the future; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25116/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Provision for risk equalisation is a feature of the health insurance market following the introduction of the risk equalisation scheme 2003.

Under the Health Insurance Acts and the provisions of the scheme, the Health Insurance Authority has a central and independent role to play in whether or not risk equalisation transfers between insurers are warranted. Participating insurers submit data returns to the authority on a six monthly basis, and the authority analyses these returns to assess the level of risk differential between the insurers.

The risk equalisation scheme provides that: (i) risk equalisation transfers cannot be commenced where the difference in the risk profiles of the insurers is less than 2% of the market equalisation percentage; (ii) risk equalisation transfers can only be commenced with a positive recommendation from the authority where the percentage is between 2% and 10%; and (iii) the Minister is obliged to consult with the authority on a decision to commence risk equalisation where the percentage is greater that 10%.

Furthermore, the scheme provides that, in formulating its recommendation, the authority is to have regard to the best overall interests of health insurance consumers, which concerns both the need to maintain the application of community rating across the market for health insurance and to facilitate competition between insurance undertakings. The authority’s first report did not recommend the commencement of transfers, the then market equalisation percentage being 3.7%.

Under the legislative provisions in place, a second report is to be submitted by the authority to me before the end of this month, in relation to [1020]its analysis of returns for the period 1 January 2004 to 30 June 2004. Given that the time frame as regards the submission of the authority’s report to me is predicated on the level of risk profile differences I can say that the latest report will show a difference of less than 10%. In such circumstances, unless the percentage difference is less than 2%, determination of whether risk equalisation is warranted is a matter, in the first instance, for the authority. The action to be taken by me, if any, would be dependent upon the authority’s recommendation.

The question of my Department having discussions with the authority on its recommendation does not arise, given the independent statutory role of the authority.

  268.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if financial assistance or a travel pass will be given to a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny to enable her to travel to Dublin for cancer treatment for her baby. [25125/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The provision of health services for people living in County Kilkenny is a matter for the South Eastern Health Board. My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the board to examine the matter and to reply directly to the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

  269.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the estimated cost of the extension of the general medical services scheme to all persons under 18. [25134/04]

  270.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the estimated average annual cost to the Exchequer of each medical card issued. [25135/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I propose to take questions Nos. 269 and 270 together.

On the basis of the figures contained in the 2003 annual report of the GMS payments board the current cost of extending medical card coverage to include all those aged up to 18 years is in the region of €116 million. This figure relates to fees paid to general practitioners, the costs of drugs and medicines and fees paid to pharmacists. There would also be other associated costs with a medical card such as the dental and ophthalmic schemes. However, this does not take account of any costs, which might result from industrial relations negotiations and any fee increases for the service providers involved.

The 2003 annual report of the GMS payments board indicates that the overall average annual cost of a medical card in respect of general practitioner and pharmacist services provided was €809.48 per person in 2003.

  271.  Ms Fox     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if funding will remain in place to help with cochlear implant operations for the many persons who opt for this procedure; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25141/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The national cochlear implant programme, based at Beaumont Hospital, is funded through the Eastern Regional Health Authority, which is charged with responsibility for commissioning health and personal social services on behalf of the population of the region, and also on behalf of those outside the region who are referred for specialist treatment. My Department has, therefore, asked the regional chief executive of the authority to investigate the issue raised and to reply to the Deputy directly.

  272.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her views on whether a lack of funding contributes to the delay in the opening of the new meningitis facilities at Exchange Hall in Tallaght; and if discussions or proposals have been initialised to resolve these difficulties. [25147/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Responsibility for the provision of health services to persons residing in Counties Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the regional chief executive of the authority to examine this issue and to reply to the Deputy directly.

  273.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if a person (details supplied) will have their application for a grant expedited particularly in relation to the delay. [25155/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The provision of health related services, including occupational therapy for people with physical and-or sensory disabilities is a matter for the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the health boards in the first instance. Accordingly, the Deputy’s question has been referred to the chief executive officer of the Eastern Regional Health Authority with a request that he examine the matter and reply directly to the Deputy, as a matter of urgency.

  274.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    further to Question No. 188 of 9 October 2004 in relation to funding MASC in Galway, if there are plans for further funding in 2004-05; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25156/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  My Department does not directly fund health and personal social services to victims [1022]of abuse. Moneys are made available each year to the various health boards for the provision of such services.

  275.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the progress that has been made in the development of radiation oncology centres in Dublin, Cork and Galway. [25170/04]

  277.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if radiation oncology centres will be provided in regions other than those earmarked for Dublin, Cork and Galway, in order that patients do not have to travel 100 miles or further for ongoing treatment; and if she will treat this as an immediate priority. [25172/04]

  310.  Mr. O’Shea     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her proposals to have the alternative report for radiotherapy submitted by the Cancer Care Alliance (details supplied) considered by Government; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25492/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 275, 277 and 310 together.

The Government is committed to making the full range of cancer services available and accessible to cancer patients throughout Ireland. To this end, we will provide considerable investment in radiation oncology facilities in the coming years. The central aim is to ensure access by cancer patients throughout the country to high quality radiation oncology in line with best international standards.

The Government’s policy on radiation oncology are based on the report, The Development of Radiation Oncology Serves in Ireland. The report was prepared by a multi-disciplinary group of experts in radiation oncology, medical oncology, public health and palliative care, including professional and voluntary bodies such as the Irish College of General Practitioners, the Irish Cancer Society and Aid Cancer Treatment. The report has had significant international endorsement from such bodies as the US National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society.

Significant progress is being made in implementing the report’s recommendations. Approval has issued for the purchase of two additional linear accelerators for the supra-regional centre at Cork University Hospital, CUH, and the necessary capital investment amounting to more than €4 million. Approval has also issued for the appointment of 29 staff for this unit, including two additional consultant radiation oncologists at CUH with sessional commitments to the South Eastern and the Mid-Western Health Boards. Following a three-month commissioning period, the first unit will be ready to treat patients in early 2005. In relation to phase two of the [1023]development, the design brief for the expansion to eight linear accelerators was recently submitted by the Southern Health Board to my Department and is currently being examined.

The supra-regional centre at University College Hospital Galway is constructed and the equipment is currently being commissioned. Approval has now issued for the appointment of 102 staff for this unit, including an additional consultant medical oncologist and three consultant radiation oncologists, two of whom have significant sessional commitments to the North Western and the Mid-Western Health Boards. The Western Health Board has been requested to prepare a development control plan to facilitate the expansion from three to six linear accelerators in the medium term. A project team is developing a design brief for this expansion and it is anticipated that it will be submitted to the Department in the near future.

In relation to the Dublin area, six hospitals have now submitted proposals for the development of radiation oncology services. I will be advised by the chief medical officer of my Department on the location of radiation oncology services in the eastern region and by other experts in the area. The chief medical officer will be assisted by a panel of international experts in this regard.

As recommended in the report, the national radiation oncology co-ordinating group has been established. The group comprises clinical, technical, managerial, academic and nursing expertise from different geographic regions. The group’s remit encompasses recommending measures to facilitate improved access to existing and planned services, including transport and accommodation. The group will also advise on quality assurance protocols and guidelines for the referral of public patients to private facilities.

Funding of up to €1 million is being made available to develop a national Telesynergy® network for oncology services. The aim of the network is to improve service delivery and efficiency, to better use consultant’s time, reduce consultant and patient travel, and support earlier and better diagnosis. Telemedicine is a key enabling technology to improve the networking of radiation oncology centres with outreach hospitals thus supporting expert case review, multi-disciplinary meetings, education and research.

  276.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her plans for the further development of cancer services in the North Eastern Health Board region. [25171/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Since 1997 there has been a cumulative additional investment of approximately €28 million in the development of appropriate treatment and care services in the North Eastern Health Board region, for people with cancer. This investment has enabled the funding of ten [1024]additional consultant posts together with support staff in key areas such as medical oncology, haematology, breast surgery and palliative care. The funding has also enabled the appointment of 20 cancer care nurse specialists across the region.

Proposals from the North Eastern Health Board for further developments in cancer services are being considered by my Department in the context of the Estimates for 2005.

Question No. 277 answered with Question
No. 275.

  278.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will authorise development of a satellite radiotherapy unit for the south east region. [25173/04]

  296.  Mr. Deasy     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her position with regard to the provision of a radiotherapy unit at Waterford Regional Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25337/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 278 and 296 together.

The Government is committed to making the full range of cancer services available and accessible to cancer patients throughout Ireland. To this end, we will provide considerable investment in radiation oncology facilities in the coming years.

In its decision last year on radiotherapy services, the Government remained open to the provision of a “satellite” radiation oncology unit in Waterford. We are determined to deliver enhanced services for the whole population as soon as possible. There is unanimity about the urgent need for significantly enhanced services in the major population centres of Dublin, Cork and Galway. I will keep the question of networked satellite locations under active review.

The immediate developments in Cork and Galway will result in the provision of an additional five linear accelerators. Five additional consultant radiation oncologists are being recruited for this service. These developments will significantly improve access to radiotherapy for patients in the south east and throughout the country.

As recommended in the report, The Development of Radiation Oncology Services in Ireland, the national radiation oncology co-ordinating group, NROCG, has been established. The group comprises clinical, technical, managerial, academic and nursing expertise from different geographic regions. The group’s remit encompasses recommending measures to facilitate improved access to existing and planned services, including transport and accommodation. The group is expected to develop proposals in these important areas. The group will also advise on quality assurance protocols and guidelines for the referral of public patients to private facilities.

The NROCG is currently developing a national Telesynergy® network for radiation oncology [1025]services. The South Eastern Health Board has advised the Department that a Telesynergy® system should be installed in Waterford Regional Hospital. Arrangements are now being made to install this technology at the hospital which will enable the hospital to develop improved linkages with Cork University Hospital and St. Luke’s Hospital, Dublin and reduce patient and consultant travel time.

  279.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will immediately allocate resources for designated transport for patients travelling for radiotherapy treatment. [25174/04]

  307.  Mr. O’Shea     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when she is to receive the recommendations of the National Radiation Oncology Co-ordination Group in regard to the provision of designated transport for cancer patients receiving radiotherapy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25489/04]

  308.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when the National Radiation Oncology Co-ordinating Group will report to her with recommendations to facilitate improved access to radiotherapy in regard to designated transport and accommodation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25490/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 279, 307, and 308 together.

The Government’s objective is to provide a model of cancer care which ensures that patients with cancer receive the most appropriate and best quality of care regardless of their place of residence. In order to achieve this objective, an integrated and co-ordinated approach to the allocation of resources for designated transport and accomodation for patients receiving radiotherapy treatment is required.

As recommended in the report, The Development of Radiation Oncology Services in Ireland, the national radiation oncology co-ordinating group has been established. The group comprises clinical, technical, managerial, academic and nursing expertise from different geographic regions. The group’s remit encompasses recommending measures to facilitate improved access to existing and planned services, including transport and accommodation. The group has consulted with the Eastern Regional Health Authority and all health boards in relation to the current transport arrangements for radiation oncology patients. The group is expected to develop proposals in this area at its next meeting, which is due to take place in November.

  280.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and [1026]Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the fact that cleaning materials containing bleach and other such substances are not only damaging for the environment but also have a detrimental effect on our health; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25176/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Regulations for the classification, packaging and labelling of cleaning materials, such as those referred to by the Deputy, are a matter for my colleague the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

The Health and Safety Authority, HSA, which comes under the aegis of that Department, has advised that the potential health effects of cleaning agents containing bleach are: corrosive, if concentration is greater than or equal to 10%; irritation to the skin and eyes, if the product comes in contact with unprotected skin and eyes; and toxic, the product has the potential to release toxic gas if it comes in contact with acid.

I am advised that most cleaning agents containing bleach, available to the general public, have a concentration of less than 10%.

The HSA has advised that under the European Communities (Classification, Packaging and Labelling of Dangerous Preparations) Regulations 2004 such cleaning materials must carry an appropriate danger symbol, risk phrases and safety phrases. The danger symbol alerts the user of the danger presented, the risk phrases specify the potential effect, and the safety phrases inform the user of the precautions to be taken when using the product.

Persons using such cleaning materials should do so in accordance with the labelling and instructions so as to avoid any significant risk to human health.

  281.  Mr. Allen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the situation regarding the provision of a new health care centre at Glanmire, County Cork; and when funds will be made available for the construction of the centre. [25180/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  In the first instance, the provision of health centres to meet the needs of local communities and the maintenance and upgrading of such centres within its functional area is a matter for the relevant health board or the Eastern Regional Health Authority. In the case of Glanmire, County Cork, this responsibility rests with the Southern Health Board, SHB.

My Department approved a capital grant of £200,000, almost €254,000, in June 2000 for the purchase of a site for this development. I have been advised by the SHB that the purchase of this site has almost been completed.

My Department will be in a position to consider the question of funding for the design and construction of the proposed development when [1027]the SHB has completed the purchase of the site and forward a detailed submission on this project.

  282.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of patients awaiting orthodontic treatment in County Westmeath; the numbers waiting in categories A and B; the average waiting time for treatment; the staffing situation in the county in orthodontics; the plans to correct staff shortages; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25183/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The provision of orthodontic services in County Westmeath is the statutory responsibility of the Midland Health Board in the first instance. Orthodontic information by county is not routinely collected by my Department. Therefore, the chief executive officer of the Midland Health Board has been requested to provide the information requested directly to the Deputy.

  283.  Mr. O’Shea     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the proposals she has to extend services at Waterford Regional Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25193/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Responsibility for the provision of services at Waterford Regional Hospital is, in the first instance, a matter for the South Eastern Health Board. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive officer of the South Eastern Health Board to reply to the Deputy directly on the issue raised.

  284.  Mr. J. Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if an investigation will be carried out into the admission, treatment and death of a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25205/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The provision of hospital services at the Mater Hospital, Dublin, is a matter for the Eastern Regional Health Authority. I understand that the hospital outlined the position to the Deputy in its letter of 20 August 2004. The hospital has advised that should the family have any matters they wish to clarify or query they should not hesitate to contact the hospital directly.

  285.  Mr. Wall     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the position of dental and orthodontic care for persons with intellectual disabilities in residential care, in view of the serious concerns expressed in the submission (details supplied) by a family of a person with intellectual disabilities. [25240/04]

  286.  Mr. Wall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the position of persons with intellectual disabilities in residential care who need dental or orthodontic treatment; the position of dental training for such persons if there are dental hygienists involved or engaged by the board in regard to such situations, in view of the concerns of the submissions (details attached); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25241/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 285 and 286 together.

As the Deputy is aware, the provision of dental treatment to patients with special needs is the statutory responsibility of the health boards in the first instance. The question of recruitment of staff, whether medical or dental, and decisions on ensuring a sufficient availability of appropriately trained staff is also a matter for the health boards.

The Deputy may also be aware that the level of dental caries has declined in all socio-economic groups in Ireland. However, it is recognised that children from socially disadvantaged groups and those with disabilities suffer disproportionately from the effects of oral disease. Important steps have already been taken to focus greater attention on developing dental services for people with special needs.

There is significant research under way examining the oral health needs of persons with disabilities. This research is part of the national survey of adult and children’s dental health being carried out by health boards, University College Cork and the Department of Health and Children. The outcome of this research will be used in the formulation of a new strategy for the dental services. Ultimately, it will have a major impact on the evolution of dental services in the future.

In 1994, the dental health action plan was agreed which allowed for the reorientation of the dental services towards the provision of structured care for special needs patients. In this regard, health boards have restructured their dental services to give greater recognition to those involved in delivering dental services to persons with special needs.

A grade of senior dental surgeon in special needs duties has been created. The remit of the senior dental surgeon in special needs includes the identification of specific target groups in the community who may have difficulty in gaining access to or accepting oral health care or who may be at greater risk from dental disease or oral dysfunction than the majority of the population. Such target groups include the medically compromised and those with physical and intellectual disabilities. In addition, the senior dental surgeon in special needs is responsible for the prioritisation of the oral health needs of these groups and the supervising of the ongoing training needs of dental staff working with people with special needs.

My Department recognises the importance that leadership in the area of special needs dentistry can bring to the future direction and development [1029]of this area. I am pleased to advise the Deputy that the Department has funded the appointment of a professor of special care dentistry at the Dublin Dental School and Trinity College Dublin. A professor for this post has been appointed and is playing a very important role in developing education, training and research in the arena of special care dentistry.

A number of boards refer patients who are medically compromised and who need complex care to specialist dental units in Cork University Hospital and Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin. In this way, the health boards ensure the welfare and safety of these patients. The Dublin Dental School and Hospital act as a national resource for health board and general practice dentists for the referral of patients who require specialist treatments that dentists cannot provide. The school and hospital have service agreements with a range of agencies to provide specialist care services and these play an important role in specialist-consultant training programmes, as well as delivering specialist care for patients. At the Cork Dental School and Hospital, senior staff including specialists in paediatric dentistry provide an important consultant service within their area of specialisation.

The health strategy 2003 envisages a health system that is accessible and fair and that empowers the community to achieve its full oral health potential. Embracing this vision means participating in a system that is equitable, people-centred and responsive to the needs of the individual. These equity and people-centred visions foster a culture of removing barriers to health care for people with disabilities. The strategy declared that “A special needs based approach will be taken to developing dental services over the next five to seven years”. Consequently, greater attention will be focused on developing dental services for people with special needs at national and regional level over the next four to six years. Ultimately, building on steps already taken in this important area will be a priority.

  287.  Mr. Neville    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when a pre-waiting list appointment will be made to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick for the Mid-Western Orthopaedic Hospital, Croom. [25265/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The provision of hospital services for people living in County Limerick is a matter for the Mid-Western Health Board. My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the position in relation to this case and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  288.  Mr. Neville    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when a medical card will be made available to a person (details [1030]supplied) in County Laois from the Midland Health Board. [25266/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Responsibility for the provision of a medical card is, by legislation, a matter for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board-authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive officer of the Midland Health Board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

  289.  Mr. Neville    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when an ear, nose and throat consultation will be available for a person (details supplied) at the Mid West Regional Hospital, Dooradoyle, Limerick. [25267/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The provision of hospital services for people living in County Limerick is a matter for the Mid-Western Health Board. My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the position in relation to this case and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  290.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the total receipts from the health levy in each year since 1997, including her estimate for 2004 based on the returns for the year to date. [25281/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The amount received by my Department in respect of health contributions for each year since 1997 is set out in the following table.

Year € million
1997 290.623
1998 360.620
1999 539.051
2000 679.592
2001 723.395
2002 751.273
2003 855.938
2004 to date 635.479.

The 2004 estimated receipt from health contributions, as published in the 2004 revised Estimates volume, is €897.005 million. Health contributions are paid to my Department by the Department of Social and Family Affairs in respect of employees and by the Revenue Commissioners in respect of the self-employed. A total of €261.526 million, or 29% of the original Estimate, is required from these sources by year end to meet the original estimated figure. A projection to year end, based on receipts to date, would indicate a possible surplus on the original published Estimate, should the trends to date continue.

  291.  Mr. Healy    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when she intends to approve the proposal by the South Eastern Health Board to open a 20 bed general practitioners assessment unit to be located in the main building at Our Lady’s Hospital, Cashel; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25289/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The provision of health services in Cashel is the responsibility of the South Eastern Health Board in the first instance. Officials of my Department have had discussions with the board with regard to the issue raised by the Deputy. Further consideration will be given to the matter in the context of the Estimates process for 2005.

  292.  Mr. Healy    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when she intends to approve funding for the opening of the completed health care units (details supplied) at Our Lady’s Hospital, Cashel, including funds for equipping and staffing; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25290/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  Officials of my Department have had discussions with the South Eastern Health Board on the issue raised by the Deputy. Further consideration will be given to the matter in the context of the Estimates process for 2005.

  293.  Mr. Healy    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of home help and home case attendant hours provided by the South Eastern Health Board in the south Tipperary community care area in each of the years 2001, 2002 and 2003. [25291/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  As the Deputy is aware, the provision of health services in the south Tipperary community care area is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the South Eastern Health Board. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him as a matter of urgency.

  294.  Mr. Ring    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if a person who is the holder of a medical card, during an emergency at night is visited by a member of the Westdoc team, if the person has to pay the doctor; the position in relation to emergency call out charges to medical card holders by Westdoc ; if money has to be paid for the visit; the way in which a person can get a refund of his or her money. [25332/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  A medical card holder is entitled to consultations and a range of agreed services free of charge from his or her designated general practitioner. This is the situation whether the services are provided in the surgery during normal surgery hours, in the patient’s home or elsewhere provided by that general practitioner or a locum or deputy acting in his or her place at any time. Clinical decisions as to whether a domiciliary visit is warranted are a matter for the doctor involved and the symptoms of the presenting patient.

If the Deputy is aware of a particular case where a medical card holder has been asked for payment, I would be happy to have the matter investigated with the Western Health Board, upon receipt of the relevant details.

  295.  Mr. Ring    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called for a hip operation. [25333/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The provision of hospital services for people living in County Mayo is a matter for the Western Health Board. My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the position with regard to this case and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 296 answered with Question
No. 278.

  297.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the plans she has to raise the medical card income limits; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25339/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Government is fully committed to the extension of medical card coverage, as set out in the health strategy. This will focus on people on low incomes. The timing of the introduction of the extension will be decided having regard to the prevailing budgetary position.

Income guidelines are drawn up each year by the health board or authority chief executive officers to assist in the determination of a person’s eligibility for a medical card and these are revised annually in line with the consumer price index, CPI. The last such increase was notified in January 2004. Health board chief executive officers have discretion with regard to the issuing of medical cards and a range of income sources are excluded by the boards when assessing medical card eligibility. Despite someone having an income that exceeds the guidelines, a medical card may still be awarded if the chief executive officer considers that a person’s medical needs or other circumstances would justify this. It is open to all persons to apply to the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board for health [1033]services if they are unable to provide these services for themselves or their dependants without hardship.

The health strategy includes an entire series of initiatives to clarify and expand the existing arrangements for eligibility for health services, including recommendations arising from the review of the medical card scheme carried out by the health board chief executive officers under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. There are recommendations to streamline applications and improve the standardisation of the medical card applications process to ensure better fairness and transparency, to provide clearer information to people about how and where to apply for medical cards, and to proactively seek out those who should have medical cards to ensure they have access to the services that are available.

In addition, my Department is committed to the preparation of new legislation to update and codify the whole legal framework for eligibility and entitlements in regard to health services.

  298.  Mr. Cuffe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if a block grant might be made available to a school (details supplied) in County Dublin which caters for the needs of those with terminal dementia. [25391/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  As the Deputy is aware, the provision of health services in south County Dublin is, in the first instance, a matter for the East Coast Area Health Board under the aegis of the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has been informed by the East Coast Area Health Board that St. Joseph’s Centre is owned and operated by the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God and that services including extended care, respite care and day care for older people, especially those with dementia related conditions or illnesses, are provided at the centre. The question of funding for services at St. Joseph’s Centre is a matter for the area board having regard to meeting increased demands for services within the board’s revenue allocation as notified in the letter of determination. This is in keeping with the provisions of the Health (Amendment)
(No. 3) Act 1996.

  299.  Mr. Allen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason for the long delay in sanctioning the go ahead for a day care centre (details supplied) in County Cork; and when she will be in a position to sanction the commencement of the project which has been waiting for more than 15 years. [25392/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  As the Deputy is aware, responsibility for the provision of health services in County Cork rests with the Southern Health Board in the first instance. The board has advised [1034]my Department that it purchased a site from Cork City Council for the construction of a new day care centre for older people and a family resource centre. My Department has received stage two documentation from the board with regard to these projects. My Department, by letter dated 12 October 2004, has given approval to the board to proceed to stage three of the planning process and to lodge a full planning application for planning permission to Cork County Council.

The board has identified the need for a new day care centre for older people as one of its priorities for capital funding and it has confirmed that this project needs to proceed in tandem with the provision of a family resource centre on the site. My Department will continue to liaise with the board with regard to these projects in line with the board’s priorities for capital investment and having regard to resources available to my Department under the capital investment framework 2004-08.

  300.  Ms McManus    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the situation regarding Letterkenny General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25398/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Responsibility for the provision of services at Letterkenny General Hospital rests with the North Western Health Board. In July 2003, approval was given to the board to proceed with the planning of an extension to the accident and emergency department at the hospital. The board appointed a design team to carry out an option appraisal and feasibility study to determine the preferred location for the facility on the hospital site. The study, which examined eight options, was recently completed and submitted to my Department seeking approval for the preferred location. The proposal is being examined with a view to granting approval to the appointment of a design team to the project.

  301.  Mr. Haughey    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she has considered the reason certain drugs and medicines are much cheaper to buy in other EU countries such as Spain; if action can be taken to address this situation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25408/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Through their national reimbursement schemes, EU member states are the main purchasers of medicines in their domestic markets. They naturally seek to control drug prices but the extent of this control varies widely. Countries with higher prices, such as the UK and Germany, rely more on market forces to set prices. Spain, on the other hand, closely regulates [1035]and controls prices. Ireland’s pricing policy is somewhere in the middle of the European league as, with its relatively small market, it must seek to balance value for money in State drug spending with reliability and continuity of supply for essential products.

Price comparison in different markets is difficult. Patent protection is well established in Ireland, as elsewhere, and allows originator companies exclusive rights to the market for ten years for new medicines. In Spain, until 1992 there was no intellectual property protection for medicines and no patent protection for new products. This has kept prices down but may change with patent and intellectual property exclusivity, although the long lead-in time for product development and patenting will inevitably delay this. In addition, some products that are prescription-only in Ireland are available without prescription in Spain. While the removal of prescription status for certain products may produce lower prices in Ireland, these products would no longer be reimbursed by the State.

My Department is currently examining a range of policy options with regard to pharmaceutical expenditure, including increased use of generic medicines, pricing and reimbursement structures for the community drug schemes, and pharm-
acoeconomic assessment of reimbursable medicines.

  302.  Mr. S. Ryan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will report on the needs of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if this person’s requirements will be met as a matter of urgency. [25409/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The provision of health related services for people with physical and-or sensory disabilities is a matter for the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the health boards in the first instance. Accordingly, the Deputy’s question has been referred to the chief executive officer of the Eastern Regional Health Authority with a request that he examine the matter and reply directly to the Deputy, as a matter of urgency.

  303.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the steps she proposes to take in order to reduce the waiting time it takes for a public patient to see a consultant (details supplied). [25460/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  In accordance with health strategy objectives, the Government’s immediate focus is on the reduction of waiting lists and waiting times for inpatient and day case treatments in acute hospitals. This is being particularly facilitated by the national treatment purchase fund, NTPF. The [1036]NTPF has reported that waiting times have fallen significantly, with 37% of patients now waiting between three and six months and 43% waiting between six and 12 months for surgery. Some 80% of patients now wait less than one year for surgical treatment. This represents a major reduction in the length of time patients have to wait. The NTPF has been successful in arranging treatments for approximately 19,000 patients up to the end of September 2004. It is now the case that, in most instances, anyone waiting more than three months will be facilitated by the fund.

Responsibility for the management and monitoring of patients waiting for outpatient appointments rests with the individual hospitals and health boards concerned. It is a matter for each hospital to prioritise its services based on patient need and use its available resources to best effect to ensure that patient services are delivered efficiently and effectively.

  304.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the steps which have been taken to deal with a possible influenza outbreak; if flu vaccine is available and the persons who can avail of it; if the flu vaccine is effective against all forms of influenza; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25461/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Influenza is an acute viral respiratory illness. It is characterised by the sudden onset of symptoms, which include a temperature of 38° Celsius or more with a dry cough, headache, sore muscles and sore throat. The cough is often severe and protracted, but otherwise the disease is self-limiting. While those who are in good health usually recover from influenza in two to seven days, there are others for whom the disease is much more severe. In those with underlying diseases, especially the elderly, complications are common and hospitalisation rates are high.

Many respiratory diseases occur every winter but influenza is one of the most severe. There are three types of influenza virus, A, B and C. Influenza A and influenza B cause the majority of infections, with influenza A generally causing the most severe form of the disease. The third type, influenza C, is rarely reported as a cause of human illness.

Constant genetic changes in influenza viruses mean that the vaccines’ virus composition must be adjusted annually to include the most recent circulating influenza A(H3N2), A(H1N1) and influenza B viruses. The WHO’s global influenza surveillance network writes the annual vaccine recipe. The network, a partnership of 112 national influenza centres in 83 countries, is responsible for monitoring the influenza viruses circulating in humans and rapidly identifying new strains. Based on information collected by the network, the WHO recommends annually a vaccine that targets the three most virulent strains in circulation.

[1037]

On 13 February 2004, the WHO published its recommendation on the composition of influenza vaccines for use in the 2004-05 northern hemisphere influenza season. The recommendation was as follows:

A/New Caledonia/20/99(H1N1)-like virus

A/Fujian/411/ 2002(H3N2)-like virus*

B/Shanghai/361/2002-like virus**

*The currently used vaccine virus is A/Wyoming/3/2003. A/Kumamoto/102/2002 is also available as a vaccine virus.

**Candidate vaccine viruses include B/Shanghai/
361/2002 and B/Jilin/20/2003, which is a B/Shanghai/361/ 2002-like virus.

The National Disease Surveillance Centre, NDSC, in partnership with the Irish College of General Practitioners, ICGP, and the Virus Reference Laboratory, VRL, have established a network of computerised general sentinel practices which report on a weekly basis the number of patients seen with influenza-like illness. As there is little difference in the presenting symptoms of a number of respiratory pathogens, virological confirmation is required to identify that influenza is the causative agent. The VRL can detect and identify if influenza A and-or B viruses are circulating. Following collection of the data, a weekly influenza report is compiled by the NDSC. Reports of influenza activity in Europe and worldwide are also provided as part of the overall monitoring of influenza activity. The report is produced every Thursday throughout the influenza season, which runs from October to May.

The first report for this season was published on 7 October and stated that influenza activity was at a low level in Ireland. The second report published on 14 October noted that influenza activity remained at low levels. One case of influenza A virus was reported in the first week, the only case of influenza reported so far this winter.

The impact of the influenza vaccine in reducing mortality from influenza in older people is well documented. Protection lasts about one year and, therefore, it is important that individuals who are at risk of contracting influenza are vaccinated annually against the current strains. Notwithstanding a problem with one supplier that affected supplies worldwide, ample supplies of flu vaccine have been secured for Ireland. Some 200,000 doses of flu vaccine were distributed around the country in early September, a further 192,680 doses were distributed during the first week in October and another 200,000 doses will be delivered later this month. This compares favourably with last year when approximately 470,000 doses of vaccine had been distributed by the middle of November.

The vaccine is available free of charge from general practitioners to medical card holders who are deemed to be at risk of serious illness as a result of contracting the disease. Persons in the at risk group who do not have a medical card can [1038]obtain the vaccine free of charge. However, the fee for administering the vaccine in such cases is a matter between the general practitioner and the patient. The at risk group includes persons aged 65 years or older, those with specific chronic illness such as chronic heart, lung or kidney disease, and those with a suppressed immune system. For persons in the at risk group, complications arising from influenza such as pneumonia are common and can be fatal, particularly in the elderly.

My Department asked health boards on 23 September last to advise general practitioners to concentrate their efforts on ensuring that patients at greatest risk receive priority vaccination. A national and local media campaign is planned by the Health Boards Executive to take place at the beginning of November in order to remind those who are in the at risk group and who have not yet received the vaccine to do so immediately.

  305.  Mr. Ring    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be provided with dialysis in Mayo General Hospital. [25462/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The provision of hospital services for people living in County Mayo is a matter for the Western Health Board. My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the position with regard to this case and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  306.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the proposals she has to restore medical cards to the 4,723 persons in County Waterford who lost their medical card between January 1997 and September 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25488/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The determination of eligibility of applications for medical card is a matter covered by legislation for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board. Assessment of eligibility is based upon the applicant’s income and his or her medical need. In cases of refusal, applicants have the right of appeal and are normally advised of this by their local health board.

Generally, the reduction in recent years in the number of medical cards may be attributed to the increase in the number of people in employment and the improved economic situation nationally. Another factor which affects this area is the review by health boards of medical card databases. Since 2003, this has led to 80,000 inappropriate database entries being removed from these databases. Reasons for deletions included duplicate entries, change of address, cases where the [1039]medical card holder is deceased and ineligibility due to changed circumstances.

The Government is fully committed to the extension of medical card coverage as set out in the programme for Government. This will focus on people on low incomes and will give priority to families with children, particularly those with a disability. The timing of the introduction of the extension will be decided having regard to the prevailing budgetary position.

Questions Nos. 307 and 308 answered with Question No. 279.

Question No. 309 answered with Question
No. 253.

Question No. 310 answered with Question
No. 275.

  311.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the position concerning the proposed new community hospital for Tuam, County Galway; her views on whether a community hospital in Tuam is seen by her Department as being of great strategic value in the delivery of a better hospital and medical service to the people of Tuam and the outlying areas; her further views on the construction of the community hospital in Tuam; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25551/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  As the Deputy is aware, responsibility for the provision of health services in County Galway rests with the Western Health Board in the first instance. The board has identified the need for a new community hospital in Tuam as one of its priorities for capital funding. My Department will continue to liaise with the board with regard to this project in line with the board’s priorities for capital investment and having regard to resources available to my Department under the capital investment framework 2004-08.

  312.  Ms McManus    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the resignation of two high profile nurses from the renal team at Our Lady’s Hospital, both citing frustration with the lack of support from hospital management; if the hospital will have recruited a replacement nurse before the renal CNS has reached the end of his or her notice period; the reason the new renal ward has not yet opened; her views on whether it is appropriate that a renal patient should have to share a room with three other patients when dialysis should be carried out under aseptic conditions; her further views on whether it is acceptable that a parent must ask visitors with a patient in the cot next to the parent’s child to move to enable the parent to set up their child’s dialysis [1040]and then queue to use the only sink in the ward; if, in the planning for the Nazareth ward’s long-term closure, a risk assessment was carried out for this interim set up; if there is an up to date safety statement taking into account the new use of this space; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25556/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Services at Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin, are provided under an arrangement with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the regional chief executive of the authority to examine the issues raised and to reply to the Deputy directly.

  313.  Ms O. Mitchell    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the action she is proposing in order to compensate women damaged by a person (details supplied), the vast majority of whose cases are now statute barred. [25674/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I am aware that one of the claims referred to by the Deputy was found to be statute barred by the Supreme Court. However, I have been given no information on the implications of the Supreme Court decision in this case, or any other cases. In the absence of this information, I am not in a position to make any further statement on the matter at this stage.

  314.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will include the CORI justice commission policy recommendations (details supplied) in all policy areas within her Department. [25736/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I am aware of the policy recommendations to which the Deputy refers, which cover a range of health issues. The Deputy is aware that the national anti-poverty strategy, NAPS, targets to reduce health inequalities were included in the Government’s review of the NAPS — Building an Inclusive Society — and have subsequently been subsumed into the national action plan against poverty and social exclusion 2003-05. This latter plan is now an EU requirement under the Lisbon Agenda. The targets to reduce health inequalities have been taken on board in the national health strategy, Quality and Fairness — A Health System for You. They cover both health status issues, such as reducing differences between socio-economic groups in premature mortality, as well as health care issues such as improved respite care for people with disabilities. A range of initiatives are under way to implement the targets and my Department has forwarded a report on these to the Office for Social Inclusion for inclusion in its annual report. [1041]I understand this report will be published in November by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs who has lead responsibility for the NAPS.

The latest information on medical card coverage is that for September 2004. There were 768,895 cards, covering 1,151,106 persons, or 29.39% of the population, in existence at that time. It should be noted that the upward trend in the population may marginally affect the 2004 percentage over time. The Government is fully committed to the extension of medical card coverage, as set out in the health strategy. This will focus on people on low incomes and will give priority to families with children, particularly those with a disability. The timing of the introduction of the extension will be decided having regard to the prevailing budgetary position. In addition, the Department of Health and Children is committed to the preparation of new legislation to update and codify the entire legal framework for eligibility and entitlements in regard to health services.

The policy of my Department with regard to the care of older people is to maintain them in dignity and independence in their own homes for as long as possible, in accordance with their wishes. Numerous research studies have shown that the vast majority of older people have a preference to remain living in their own homes for as long as possible rather than moving into long stay residential care. My Department has been encouraging the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the health boards to develop personal care packages for older people as an alternative to long stay residential care. Personal care packages are specifically designed for the individual concerned and could possibly include the provision of a home help service, home subvention payments, arrangements for attendance at a day centre or day hospital and other services such as twilight nursing. Personal care packages allow older persons the option of remaining living in their own homes rather than going into long stay residential care. In addition, the authority and the health boards provide respite care for older people, a service which is seen as an integral part of the community support services which are being developed to support older people living in the community.

In line with a Government decision, an expenditure review of the nursing home subvention scheme was undertaken by the Department of Health and Children in association with the Department of Finance. The review was carried out by Professor Eamon O’Shea and the objectives of the review were, inter alia, to examine the objectives of the nursing home subvention scheme and the extent to which they remained valid, to assess the service delivered and to establish what scope, if any, existed for achieving the programme objectives by other more efficient and effective means. Professor O’Shea’s report, Review of the Nursing Home Subvention Scheme, was launched in June 2003 simul[1042]taneously with the Mercer report, Study on the Future Financing of Long-Term Care in Ireland, which was commissioned by the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

My Department has established a working group comprising all stakeholders to review the operation and administration of the nursing home subvention scheme following on from the publication of the O’Shea report. The purpose of the review is to develop a scheme which will be transparent, offer a high standard of care for clients, provide equity within the system to include standardised dependency and means testing, be less discretionary, provide both a home and nursing home subvention depending on need, be consistent in implementation throughout the country and draw on experience of the operation of the old scheme. The working group has received both oral and written submissions from a number of interested parties. Issues such as how the scheme is administered are being examined as part of the review.

The expert group on mental health policy was established by the Minister of State, Deputy Tim O’Malley, in August 2003, to prepare a national policy framework for the further modernisation of the mental health services, updating the 1984 policy document, Planning for the Future. The future direction and delivery of all aspects of our mental health services, including those referred to by the Deputy, will be considered in the context of the work of the group. It is expected that the expert group will report in 2005.

The Child Care Act 1991 has been fully implemented since the end of 1996. Section 11 of the Children Act 2001, establishing the special residential services board on a statutory basis, was commenced in November 2003. Sections 2 and 3 of the Children Act 2001, concerning family welfare conferencing, special care and the regulation of private fostering, were commenced towards the end of September 2004. Approximately €230 million has been invested in the development of child welfare, protection and family support services since 1991. Further development of child care and in particular family support and early intervention services will be considered in the light of any additional resources available in 2005.

With regard to respite care, there was an increase of 255% in the number of people with disabilities, an additional 445 people, who received service based respite care between 2001 and 2002, the latest year for which figures are available.

The health promotion unit in my Department is leading a wide range of strategic initiatives in areas such as smoking and alcohol — lifestyle issues which are related to many non-communicable diseases, for example, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Work on smoking cessation in recent years has resulted in a 1% drop in the prevalence of adult smoking per year. Advertisements on public awareness of passive smoking, on [1043]foot of the workplace smoking ban, started during 2004. These advertisements direct smokers to the national smokers quitline where they receive support in their efforts to quit smoking. The strategic task force on alcohol, STFA, has published two reports, the second of which is being brought to Government. The two reports contain approximately 100 recommendations involving many different sectors, target groups and environments. The health promotion unit will build on these and other strategic initiatives in the coming year.

The four key principles underpinning the Government’s national health strategy — Quality and Fairness, a Health System for You — are equity and fairness, a people-centred service, quality of care and clear accountability. The health service reform programme is the framework for the modernisation of the health service and the achievement of the goals and objectives of the health strategy. The annual report of the Department of Health and Children sets out progress over 2003 in respect of each of the 121 action points contained in the health strategy action plan. To date, work has commenced on 88% of the 121 actions set out in the strategy.

The Minister for Health and Children convenes a national consultative forum on an annual basis to comment on progress in the implementation of the health strategy, emerging trends and future priorities, including the health reform programme. It is intended to convene a meeting of this forum next month.

  315.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Finance    the way in which the decision made in the Finance Act 2004 to reduce benefit-in-kind to workers will be implemented; if this decision will be phased; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25014/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I assume the Deputy is referring to the recent changes applying PAYE to benefits-in-kind, BIK, introduced with effect from 1 January 2004 and for which legislative provision was made in the Finance Acts 2003 and 2004 and the Social Welfare Acts 2003 and 2004. The intention of the new system is to ensure that generally all remuneration, in whatever form, is treated in the same way for income tax, PRSI and health levy purposes. Treating benefits in the same way and subjecting them to the same rules as normal wages and salaries under PAYE has introduced a greater degree of equity into the system.

I understand the Deputy has a specific interest in the tax treatment of health care benefits paid for by employers on behalf of employees and, in particular, the cost of medical check-ups and health insurance costs. There has been no change in the tax treatment of either of these benefits in that both would always have been taxable. However, under the new arrangements, PRSI and health levy also apply. Tax relief can be claimed [1044]on the cost of health insurance premiums. With regard to medical check-ups, the position is that the provision of medical check-ups which employees are required to undergo by their employer is not regarded as a taxable benefit. However, routine medical check-ups, paid for but not required by the employer, are treated as giving rise to a taxable benefit.

  316.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Finance    the position with regard to a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow who is still waiting for a tax refund for 2003 and 2004; if this can be issued as a matter of urgency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25055/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the refund is being withheld as the taxpayer has not complied with preliminary tax requirements, that is, preliminary income tax 2003 which was due on 31 October 2003 is outstanding.

  317.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Finance    the recommendations of the ten made by the interdepartmental review group on the disabled drivers and disabled passengers tax concessions scheme that have been accepted by his Department; those which have been implemented to date; the timeframe for implementation of the remaining recommendations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25096/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The report of the interdepartmental review group sets out in detail the genesis and development of the disabled drivers and disabled passengers tax concessions scheme including the current benefits, the Exchequer costs, the various requests to broaden the eligibility criteria and various recommendations for changes to the scheme.

Following on from two of the report’s recommendations concerning the appeals process, amendments to the regulations governing the scheme were drafted to improve the operation of the medical appeals board. These were signed by the Minister for Finance on 23 July 2004. The amendments provide for changes to the existing regulations by expanding the panel of medical practitioners serving on the medical board of appeal from three to five. They also amend the appeals process by introducing a six-month waiting period between an appeal and a subsequent application and by introducing the requirement for a second or subsequent application to be certified by a registered medical practitioner to the effect that there has been material disimprovement in the medical condition of the appellant since the previous application.

The Government has agreed that the Minister for Finance will consider other recommendations in the report on an ongoing basis in the overall budgetary context having regard to the existing and prospective cost of the scheme.

  318.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Finance,    further to Question No. 216 of 12 February 2002, if he will list the items stolen or removed without authorisation; if any of them have since been recovered; the steps that were taken to bring about their recovery; and if he will list any additional items stolen since then from State or semi-State property. [25097/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  The information the Deputy requires will take some time to prepare. I will communicate the information requested by the Deputy as soon as it is to hand.

  319.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of companies paying corporation tax in each year since 1997 and the forecast [1046]for 2004; and the corporation tax paid and the distribution of companies and revenue between foreign-owned and domestic companies and between companies traditionally eligible for the 10% rate and the standard rate for tax paying companies. [25133/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The number of companies which indicated on their tax return forms that they were liable to pay corporation tax for each of the years from 1997 to 2002 is set out below. I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that statistics on the amount of corporation tax paid by foreign-owned companies are not separately available. However, data can be derived from corporation tax returns on the percentage of corporation tax liability attributable to companies taxed wholly or partly at the reduced rate of 10%. This information, which is available for accounting periods ending between 1 April 1997 and 31 December 2002, the latest available, is as set out below.

Year Ending All Liable Companies Number of Companies with 10% relief Tax Liability of Companies with 10% relief Other Liable Companies Tax Liability of other Liable Companies
€m €m
31 March 1998 28,980 5,680 1,431 23,300 1,079
31 March 1999 31,900 5,800 1,818 26,100 1,428
31 March 2000 33,720 5,790 2,185 27,930 1,648
31 March 2001 38,730 5,620 2,716 33,110 1,737
31 December 2001 41,620 5,220 2,521 36,400 1,611
31 December 2002 46,300 5,290 2,545* 41,010 1,627*

[1045]The figures shown as the corporation tax liability of companies qualifying for the 10% relief reflect the total tax liability of these companies on all their profits, including those profits taxed at other rates. It is not possible to isolate the tax attributable solely to the effective 10% rate in such cases because certain reliefs relating to income liable for tax at both the standard and reduced rates are set off against the overall tax liability after the relief at 10% has been computed. The budget forecast for corporation tax receipts for the year 2004 is €5.384 billion.

  320.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Minister for Finance    the jobs which are available or will become available with the OPW in County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25139/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  One position of general operative will be filled shortly at the JFK Arboretum near New Ross. A proposal to fill three positions based at the OPW’s south-eastern drainage office in Castlebridge is under consideration. Guides or information officers for built heritage sites such as Ballyhack Castle, Ferns Castle, JFK Arboretum and Tintern Abbey are recruited annually for the relevant visitor season.

  321.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Finance    if there are proposals to reduce the amount of traffic going through the Phoenix Park, reduce traffic speeds in an area of the park or change the flow of traffic to try and create areas which are free of traffic. [25159/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  The principle governing the management of the Phoenix Park is its conservation and presentation as a national historic park. The issue of traffic is a major problem with more than 30,000 cars using the park each day. While recognising that the elimination of all through traffic is not a realisable objective in the short to medium term, measures have been or are about to be put in place to manage traffic in the park.

The safety of all park users has been paramount in the preparation of a plan for the renovation of Chesterfield Avenue. This has been developed in consultation with the Dublin Transportation Office and will involve a variety of traffic calming measures having regard to the special character of the park. The proposed scheme will encompass the construction of a roundabout at Mountjoy Cross and the introduction of traffic calming and a pedestrian priority area in the vicinity of Dublin Zoo. As an interim [1047]measure, extensive works have been undertaken this year to improve the surface of Chesterfield Avenue and some minor roads while further works of this nature are expected to commence shortly.

A number of minor roads, including the Khyber Road, Odd Lamp Road, Furze Road, Spa Road and Furry Glen Road, have been closed to through traffic in recent years. Furthermore, policy has been in place to facilitate recreational cyclists in the park and dedicated cycle paths have been provided in recent years to encourage this. Plans have been drawn up to introduce a one-way system between the Ashtown and Cabra gates and the Garda Síochána is being consulted about this proposal.

The responsibility for enforcing the speed limit lies with the Garda Síochána and officials of the Office of Public Works consult closely with gardaí with a view to controlling traffic speeds at certain locations. Arrangements are being made to install 11 speed ramps on the Back Road or North Road in the vicinity of the Phoenix Park School, the rear entrance to Áras an Uachtaráin and near Cabra Gate.

  322.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Minister for Finance    the proposals he has to grant tax free allowances to unmarried partners who are in stable relationships, as are presently enjoyed by married couples; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25188/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  Married couples living together may opt for joint assessment where they may transfer unused credits and bands between spouses, subject to certain restrictions. The restrictions relate to the employee credit which is allocated on an individual basis and is non-transferable and to transferability of the standard rate band for a married couple which is limited to €37,000. The majority of married couples opt for joint assessment because the transferability between them means it can be more advantageous to them than treatment as two single persons. Within joint assessment, a married couple may opt for separate assessment. Under this option they will be treated as single persons but their combined tax bill will be the same as under joint assessment. Couples may also elect for assessment as single persons where each spouse is taxed on his or her own income, each receives the credits and the standard band due to a single person and there is no transferability of unused credits and bands. As regards other taxes, a spouse may receive gifts and inheritances from the other spouse without paying capital acquisitions tax, CAT. There are also certain exemptions for married couples in the capital gains tax and stamp duty codes.

Generally speaking, the tax system treats members of co-habiting couples as separate and unconnected individuals. Each partner is a separ[1048]ate entity for tax purposes and credits, bands and reliefs cannot be transferred from one partner to the other. The home carer’s credit may not be claimed by cohabiting couples as the credit is restricted to married persons who are jointly assessed for tax. It should be noted that a man and woman living together as man and wife are specifically excluded by the tax code from entitlement to the one-parent family tax credit.

For CAT purposes, the members of co-habiting couples are treated as unrelated. However, within a couple, an individual may be able to avail of dwelling house relief. Essentially, CAT no longer applies on the transfer of the home on or after 1 December 1999 provided it is the principal private residence of the disponer and-or the recipient and the recipient has been living in the home for the three years prior to the transfer. The recipient must not have an interest in any other residential property. It is also a condition of the relief that the recipient must own and reside in the house for six years after the transfer. However, this condition does not apply to recipients over 55 years of age and provision is made also for those circumstances where the recipient is unable to comply with the residence requirement for reasons outside his or her control, for example, due to hospitalisation or work obligations.

The working group examining the treatment of married, co-habiting and one-parent families under the tax and social welfare codes, which reported in August 1999, was sympathetic in principle to changes in the tax legislation to address the issues raised relating to co-habiting couples and reported that the options that it set out should be considered further. However, it acknowledged with regard to the tax treatment of co-habiting couples that a key issue is whether tax law should proceed ahead of changes in the general law. Earlier this year, in response to a parliamentary question, my predecessor indicated to the Deputy that such a course, where changes in the tax code would set a headline in advance of developments in other relevant areas of public policy, for example, in the area of legal recognition of relationships other than married relationships, would be problematic and unwise. I agree with that position.

However, I draw the Deputy’s attention to the consultation paper on the rights and duties of co-habitees which was published in April this year by the Law Reform Commission. That paper indicated that in the light of the current policy with regard to individualisation of the tax bands, the commission was not recommending any change to the income tax treatment of co-habiting couples. It has been the practice of successive Ministers for Finance not to comment in the run up to the annual budget and Finance Bill on what may or may not be included in that process and I do not intend to depart from that practice.

  323.  Dr. Upton    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will provide more generous exemption limits [1049]for pensioners in considering their liability for capital gains tax from share option pay outs such as that of First Active plc; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25239/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I assume the Deputy is referring to the recent once-off gains arising to shareholders from the disposal of their shares in First Active plc which gives rise to a potential capital gains tax, CGT, liability. The CGT liability of an individual is computed by reference to the chargeable gain on the disposal which is essentially the excess of the sale proceeds, net of incidental costs of sale, over the allowable costs of acquisition, if any, of the shares being sold. The legislation also provides that the total amount of chargeable gains arising in a tax year is arrived at after deducting any allowable losses accruing to that individual in that year together with any unused allowable losses from disposals in any previous year. If there were no other chargeable gains in the year, this gain is then reduced by the annual personal exemption of €1,270. The net chargeable gain is then taxable at a rate of only 20%.

The rate was halved from 40% to 20% in the 1998 budget. Reliefs and exemptions made sense when CGT rates were 40% and above. The current situation is in accordance with the overall taxation policy of widening the tax base to keep direct tax rates low. As Deputies are aware, it is not the practice to comment in the lead up to the annual budget and Finance Bill on the intention or otherwise to make changes in taxation.

  324.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Finance    when a tax reconciliation statement will be made available to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [25273/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that a tax reconciliation statement issued to the individual concerned on 23 April 2004. Arrangements have been made to provide a copy of the statement to the taxpayer.

  325.  Mr. Healy    asked the Minister for Finance    the position regarding the Clonmel flood alleviation scheme with particular reference to the announcement that the first phase of the scheme would be completed in 2004 and that the public consultation process would be completed in the autumn of 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25306/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  The Deputy is aware that following severe flooding in the late 1990s in Clonmel, a flood alleviation scheme was developed by the OPW which was publicly exhibited, as required under the Arterial Drainage Acts, in December 2001 and January 2002. Concerns were raised by Waterford and South Tipperary county councils [1050]that there might be contaminated material in the river bed which was due to be dredged as part of the alleviation measures and which would therefore have major environmental implications.

As a result of these concerns, the proposed scheme was re-examined and a revised scheme was proposed earlier this year, which included the use of demountable defences which have developed greatly in the past few years. This revised scheme has the advantages of requiring no dredging of the river, along with bringing the level of protection against flooding to a one in 100 year protection.

In April this year I attended a meeting with the elected members of the borough council where I outlined the revised scheme and the way in which it was to be implemented. I explained it was hoped to implement the scheme in a phased manner over a period of four to six years depending on available funding. The first phase included the development of a flood warning system and the clearing of debris from streams and culverts in the town. The next step in the process would be the formal public exhibition of the scheme, which it is hoped to have in the spring of 2005.

The development of the flood warning system has already begun and is being carried out by the engineering services of the OPW. It is hoped that the installation of flood warning equipment will commence in the next two months, with a report due in January 2005 containing the recommended system. At this stage it is felt that the clearing of various streams and culverts might be best carried out when the major construction work commences. Subject to a successful public exhibition next spring, the scheme will be brought to detailed design and, subject to confirmation by the Minister for Finance, construction work on walls and embankments will commence as early as possible after that.

  326.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Finance    when the Office of the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commission will be recruiting again for the Garda Síochána. [25307/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  It is expected, arising from the Government’s recent decision to increase the strength of the Garda Síochána to 14,000, that a new Garda recruitment competition will be advertised in the coming weeks. It is anticipated that the Garda Síochána will be able to take the next intake of trainees to the Garda College from the current panel.

The Deputy may wish to note that following the enactment of the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004 and the establishment of the Public Appointments Service, PAS, on 19 October 2004, the recruitment will be carried out by the PAS.

  327.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Fin[1051]ance    if he will take steps by the appropriate fiscal measures to encourage the development of an indigenous bio-fuel sector here in view of the extensive interest among farmers in growing energy. [25308/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The Deputy may be aware that section 98(a) of the Finance Act 1999, as inserted by section 50 of the Finance Act 2004, provides for the introduction of a scheme for excise tax relief for bio-fuels. The purpose of the scheme is to allow qualified and conditional relief from excise of bio-fuel used in approved pilot projects for either the production of bio-fuel or the testing of the technical viability of bio-fuel for use as a motor fuel.

The details of the scheme are being finalised in conjunction with the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The European Commission has confirmed that the scheme would represent a State aid and consequently its approval is required. The EU Energy Tax Directive of 2003 envisages such tax relief and the Commission has approved schemes for excise relief of bio-fuel in other EU member states. Formal application for Commission approval will be made shortly and, assuming approval is granted, the necessary commencement order will then be signed.

  328.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will consider the removal of capital gains tax and stamp duty for farmers when the proceeds from the disposal of land are utilised in the acquisition of other farm land to consolidate the farm holding. [25340/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  Capital gains tax, CGT, is a tax on a capital gain arising on the disposal of assets. A 20% rate of CGT applies on the gains arising on the disposal of assets, including farm land. It was announced in the 2003 budget that no roll-over relief would be allowed for any purpose on gains arising from disposals on or after 4 December 2002. This relief was introduced when CGT rates were much higher than current levels. In effect, it was a deferral of tax to be paid where the proceeds of disposal were re-invested into replacement assets. The taxation of these gains would take place following the eventual disposal of the new assets without their replacement.

The abolition of this relief was in accordance with the overall taxation policy of widening the tax base to keep direct tax rates low. Such reliefs and allowances made sense when CGT rates were 40% and more. As the Deputy may be aware, the rate was halved from 40% to 20% in the 1998 budget. Taxing capital gains when they are realised is the most logical time to do so, and this change brought CGT into line with other areas.

With regard to stamp duty, any such concession mentioned by the Deputy would lead to calls from other sectors for relief for their particular situations, with an adverse effect on the stamp duty yield. The Deputy may be aware that the [1052]stamp duty code already contains full stamp duty relief for transfers of land to young trained farmers where land is transferred to them by way of gift or sale, provided they have attained relevant educational qualifications. The availability of this relief was extended in the 2003 budget for a further three years to 31 December 2005. The Finance Act 2004 provided for an updated list of educational qualifications and contained changes which resulted in the raising of the standards of certain of those qualifications which must be attained to qualify for the relief.

As Deputies are aware, it is not the practice to comment in the lead up to the annual budget and Finance Bill on the intention or otherwise to make changes in taxation.

  329.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will consider increasing the flat VAT refund to non-VAT registered farmers from its present level of 4.4%; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25341/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The flat rate refund for unregistered farmers is examined every year in the lead-up to the budget. It is not customary to comment on any possible changes to the existing rate which may arise in the context of the forthcoming budget.

The flat rate VAT refund is a simple administrative system designed to compensate farmers who are not registered for the VAT they incur as part of their farming activities. The calculation of the flat rate is governed by EU VAT law and is based on the relevant macroeconomic information drawn from statistics on agricultural production, agricultural inputs and the deductible VAT content of such inputs. The flat rate is arrived at by calculating the VAT payable by unregistered farmers on agricultural inputs as a percentage of the value of agricultural sales by these farmers.

A commitment was given under Sustaining Progress to elaborate on the data and methodology used in the calculation of the flat rate VAT refund and a working group chaired by my Department and including representation from the Revenue Commissioners, the Central Statistics Office and the farming organisations has met on a number of occasions to discuss the matter and further meetings are planned.

  330.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Minister for Finance    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that appeals under the disabled drivers and disabled passengers tax concessions scheme 1994 are taking as long as three years; his plans to improve this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25342/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  My Department has no direct involvement in the operation of the disabled drivers medical board of appeal. However, I am informed that there is a backlog of appeals to be dealt with by the board, involving a waiting time of over two years for appellants to be seen. I am advised that the backlog of appeals, [1053]approximately 600, is caused by a number of factors, in particular, the general increase in applications for a primary medical certificate, and the significant number of persons who are aware that they do not meet the medical criteria specified in the regulations but nevertheless insist on exercising their right of appeal.

An interdepartmental review group was established to examine the operation of the scheme and the group’s report was published in early July. Following from the report’s recommendations concerning the appeals process, amendments to the regulations governing the disabled drivers and disabled passengers tax concessions scheme were drafted to improve the operation of the medical appeals board. These were signed by the Minister for Finance on 23 July 2004. The amendments provide for changes to the existing regulations by expanding the panel of medical practitioners serving on the medical board of appeal from three to five. They also amend the appeals process by introducing a six-month waiting period between an appeal and a subsequent application, and introducing the requirement for a second or subsequent application to be certified by a registered medical practitioner to the effect that there has been material disimprovement in the medical condition of the appellant since the previous application.

With regard to the first change, I hope, very shortly, on the recommendation of the Minister for Health and Children, to appoint two more doctors to the board. A panel of five doctors should allow for the board to meet more regularly and hence reduce the backlog. As regards the second change, it should be noted that a further factor in the backlog of appeals is that a number of those who are seen by the board and are dissatisfied with its decision are re-appealing immediately and this is causing a build up of appeals. The change addresses this issue and should free up the appeals board to deal with existing appeals in the system and subsequent appeals where a change in an individual’s circumstance requires a reassessment.

  331.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Minister for Finance    further to the report of the interdepartmental review group on the disabled drivers and disabled passengers tax concessions scheme, the plans he has to improve access to the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25343/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The interdepartmental review group established to review the disabled drivers and disabled passengers tax concessions scheme examined all aspects of the scheme including the qualifying medical criteria upon which access to the scheme is based. The Government has agreed that the Minister for Finance will consider the report on an ongoing basis in the overall budgetary context having regard to the existing and prospective cost of the scheme.

  332.  Ms Burton    asked the Minister for Finance    the rate of income tax paid by persons earning in excess of €100,000 per annum and upwards in [1054]bands of €20,000 per annum; if he will distinguish between single persons and couples, between PAYE taxpayers and those who are self-employed; and if there were such taxpayers paying 0% and taxpayers paying tax at 20% and below. [25375/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the most recent basic data on incomes from which information of the type requested by the Deputy could be derived are in respect of the “short” income tax year of 2001. This was a short transitional tax “year” running from 6 April to 31 December 2001 which preceded the first full calendar tax year, 1 January 2002 to 31 December 2002. The information requested is set out in the following tables. However, because of the Revenue Commissioners’ obligation to observe confidentiality with regard to the taxation affairs of individual taxpayers and small groups of taxpayers, the breakdown by income bands requested by the Deputy is not provided in relation to incomes exceeding €1 million due to the small numbers of income earners with incomes in excess of that level.

It should be noted that as PAYE taxpayers were charged tax on their earnings in the period from 6 April to 31 December 2001 and self-employed taxpayers were assessed for tax for the short “year” on 74% of the profits earned in a 12-month accounting period, the income figures will not be directly comparable with those of earlier or later years.

A married couple who have elected or have been deemed to have elected for joint assessment are counted as one tax unit. Married couples and individuals with income chargeable to tax under both schedule E and schedule D have been classified in the tables below by reference to the schedule under which the larger amount of income is taxable.

The designation of a tax rate to an income earner in the tables is based on identifying the top tax rate applying to the taxable income of each earner. To arrive at the figure for taxable income, the gross income is reduced by various relevant deductions and allowances such as capital allowances, losses, allowable expenses and retirement annuities. In some cases, these will reduce the taxable income to nil. Where there is a positive taxable income, it is a feature of the tax credit system that the association between taxable income and the marginal tax rate is made prior to deduction of the personal and other tax credits in arriving at the net tax liability.

Analysis of the data in the tables indicates that of those in the PAYE sector who earned €100,000 or more in the short tax “year”, 2001, 0.4% had a nil net income tax liability, 0.4% had a net liability for tax at the standard or marginal relief rates and 99.2% had a liability for tax at the higher rate. Of the self-employed who earned €100,000 or more in the short tax “year” 2001, 2.1% had a nil net income tax liability, 1.2% had a net liability for tax at the standard or marginal relief rates and 96.7% had a liability for tax at the higher rate.

INCOME TAX “short year” 2001

Numbers of mainly PAYE income earners with incomes exceeding €100,000 (including proprietary directors on the PAYE record)

Range of Gross Income No net liability for income tax Liable for tax at the standard rate (20%) or marginal relief Liable for tax at the higher rate (42%) Overall Total
Single* Married Total Single* Married Total Single* Married Total
100,000 120,000 3 12 15 4 6 10 518 3,415 3,933 3,958
120,000 140,000 1 2 3 0 6 6 262 1,914 2,176 2,185
140,000 160,000 0 1 1 1 6 7 142 1,093 1,235 1,243
160,000 180,000 1 4 5 0 4 4 98 717 815 824
180,000 200,000 0 4 4 0 2 2 78 514 592 598
200,000 220,000 0 1 1 0 4 4 52 358 410 415
220,000 240,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 27 278 305 305
240,000 260,000 0 1 1 0 1 1 30 188 218 220
260,000 280,000 0 1 1 0 1 1 25 142 167 169
280,000 300,000 1 1 2 0 1 1 14 111 125 128
300,000 320,000 0 1 1 0 1 1 10 92 102 104
320,000 340,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 11 72 83 83
340,000 360,000 0 0 0 1 0 1 7 50 57 58
360,000 380,000 0 0 0 0 1 1 7 55 62 63
380,000 400,000 0 1 1 0 0 0 5 44 49 50
400,000 420,000 0 1 1 0 0 0 8 32 40 41
420,000 440,000 1 0 1 0 0 0 6 27 33 34
440,000 460,000 0 1 1 0 0 0 2 29 31 32
460,000 480,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 6 14 20 20
480,000 500,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 23 25 25
500,000 520,000 0 0 0 0 1 1 2 15 17 18
520,000 540,000 0 1 1 0 0 0 1 15 16 17
540,000 560,000 1 1 2 0 0 0 2 11 13 15
560,000 580,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 6 13 19 19
580,000 600,000 0 1 1 0 0 0 3 13 16 17
600,000 620,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 8 8 8
620,000 640,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 7 7 7
640,000 660,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 8 8 8
660,000 680,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 7 8 8
680,000 700,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 5 6 6
700,000 720,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 3 3
720,000 740,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 9 10 10
740,000 760,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 4 4
760,000 780,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 4 5 5
780,000 800,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 7 8 8
800,000 820,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 10 11 11
820,000 840,000 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 3 3 4
840,000 860,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 1
860,000 880,000 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 3 3 4
880,000 900,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 1
900,000 920,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 3 3
920,000 940,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 6 6 6
940,000 960,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 3 3
960,000 980,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 7 8 8
980,000 1,000,000 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 3 3 4
Over 1,000,000 0 2 2 0 0 0 16 57 73 75
9 38 47 6 34 40 1,347 9,394 10,741 10,828

INCOME TAX “short year” 2001

Numbers of mainly self-employed income earners with incomes exceeding €100,000

Range of Gross Income No net liability for income tax Liable for tax at the standard rate (20%) or marginal relief Liable for tax at the higher rate (42%) Overall Total
Single* Married Total Single* Married Total Single* Married Total
100,000 120,000 12 26 38 3 26 29 348 1,707 2,055 2,122
120,000 140,000 9 22 31 3 17 20 235 1,141 1,376 1,427
140,000 160,000 6 13 19 2 15 17 168 877 1045 1,081
160,000 180,000 3 10 13 1 12 13 110 590 700 726
180,000 200,000 2 11 13 1 3 4 81 501 582 599
200,000 220,000 0 5 5 2 2 4 71 378 449 458
220,000 240,000 2 5 7 1 4 5 41 318 359 371
240,000 260,000 3 5 8 0 2 2 36 245 281 291
260,000 280,000 0 4 4 0 1 1 28 227 255 260
280,000 300,000 1 5 6 0 0 0 31 183 214 220
300,000 320,000 0 6 6 1 2 3 28 157 185 194
320,000 340,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 15 134 149 149
340,000 360,000 1 3 4 1 1 2 16 107 123 129
360,000 380,000 0 1 1 0 1 1 21 108 129 131
380,000 400,000 0 2 2 0 0 0 24 103 127 129
400,000 420,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 11 72 83 83
420,000 440,000 0 2 2 0 0 0 15 79 94 96
440,000 460,000 1 1 2 0 0 0 9 74 83 85
460,000 480,000 0 1 1 0 1 1 5 48 53 55
480,000 500,000 0 1 1 0 1 1 5 37 42 44
500,000 520,000 0 2 2 0 1 1 4 45 49 52
520,000 540,000 0 1 1 0 0 0 8 39 47 48
540,000 560,000 0 4 4 0 0 0 5 25 30 34
560,000 580,000 0 1 1 0 0 0 4 27 31 32
580,000 600,000 2 2 4 0 1 1 2 25 27 32
600,000 620,000 0 1 1 0 0 0 5 29 34 35
620,000 640,000 0 1 1 0 2 2 4 19 23 26
640,000 660,000 0 2 2 0 0 0 3 20 23 25
660,000 680,000 1 0 1 0 0 0 2 8 10 11
680,000 700,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 6 22 28 28
700,000 720,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 11 15 15
720,000 740,000 0 1 1 0 0 0 2 11 13 14
740,000 760,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 4 7 7
760,000 780,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 12 13 13
780,000 800,000 0 1 1 0 0 0 1 5 6 7
800,000 820,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 8 8 8
820,000 840,000 0 1 1 0 0 0 1 9 10 11
840,000 860,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 10 10 10
860,000 880,000 0 1 1 0 1 1 2 12 14 16
880,000 900,000 0 0 0 0 1 1 1 7 8 9
900,000 920,000 0 2 2 0 0 0 2 4 6 8
920,000 940,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 6 7 7
940,000 960,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 4 4
960,000 980,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 2 2
980,000 1,000,000 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 8 8 8
Over 1,000,000 2 7 9 0 0 0 18 101 119 128
45 150 195 15 94 109 1,378 7,558 8,936 9,240

  333.  Mr. G. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Fin[1058]ance    if he will take steps to remove a VAT and stamp duty liability, requesting a total of approximately 22% additional cost on a new premises [1059]being purchased by persons (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25407/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  If the voluntary organisation referred to by the Deputy is purchasing a newly built premises, VAT applies at the reduced rate of 13.5% both on its construction and on the site, where these are connected contracts.

Voluntary groups and charities are exempt under the EU sixth VAT directive with which Irish VAT law must comply. This means they do not charge VAT on their services and cannot recover VAT incurred on goods and services that they purchase. Essentially, only VAT-registered businesses which charge VAT are able to recover VAT. Voluntary organisations are final consumers and like other final consumers they pay VAT as a tax on their purchases. There is no provision in the directive under which Ireland would be permitted to exempt from VAT the sale of property to a particular person or class of persons.

The stamp duty arising in this case is the stamp duty on non-residential property. This duty yielded €547 million in 2003 in total. There are very few reliefs in the case of non-residential property and there are no plans to introduce any new relief for any other categories.

  334.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will include CORI justice commission policy recommendations (details supplied) in all policy areas within his Department. [25739/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  The position is that the policies being pursued by the Government in the area of taxation are as set out in the relevant provisions of the Government programme, An Agreed Programme for Government, and the current national partnership agreement, Sustaining Progress. In this regard, the Conference of Religious in Ireland, CORI, was one of the organisations in the community and voluntary pillar which was a party to the Sustaining Progress agreement.

I met yesterday with representatives of the community and voluntary pillar, including CORI, in the context of pre-budget submissions. I am aware of their suggestions and concerns and I will bear them in mind, as with other pre-budget submissions, in my policy deliberations.

  335.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the cumulative increases in domestic and commercial electricity tariffs since the Commission for Energy Regulation was established. [24998/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I do not have a function with regard to the pricing of electricity. The Commission for Energy Regulation was given the statutory responsibility for regulating the ESB’s tariffs to its franchise customers under the European Communities (Internal Market in Electricity) Regulations 2000. I have asked the Commission for Energy Regulation to communicate directly with the Deputy on the information sought.

  336.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the cumulative increase in domestic and commercial gas tariffs since the Commission for Energy Regulation was established. [24999/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I do not have a function with regard to the pricing of gas. The Commission for Energy Regulation was given the statutory responsibility for regulating BGE’s tariffs to its franchise customers under the Gas (Interim) (Regulation) Act 2002. I have asked the Commission for Energy Regulation to communicate directly with the Deputy on the information sought.

  337.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he will report on the tendering competition for the management of the MANS broadband network including the names of the bidders, their proposals and prices and the criteria by which contract was awarded to the successful company. [25000/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The Department received five bids from three bidders. These were Axia Broadband Services Ireland Limited which is jointly owned by IAWS Society and Axia Net Media Corporation and which input one base bid and two variant bids, Data Electronics Group Limited and e-Net. Information on the MSE procurement process, including the evaluation criteria, are posted on the website of the Department and may be viewed at http://www.dcmnr.gov.ie.

All bids were assessed against the evaluation criteria which, as the Deputy will appreciate, involved more than a pricing assessment. An MSE project board was established to oversee the evaluation process and a separate evaluation team was set up to independently evaluate the bids.

e-Net emerged as the preferred bidder and negotiations with e-Net were initiated with a view to the award of the management services entity concession agreement. The contract was concluded on 2 July 2004. The maximum access pric[1061]ing agreed with e-Net will be available very shortly on the company’s website, http:// www.e-net.ie.

  338.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he will investigate the plight of the coast guards at Doolin, County Clare (details supplied). [25047/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The Irish Coastguard of my Department operates a station house building programme for coastal units around the coast. The Office of Public Works, OPW, manages this programme for the coastguard. The coastguard and the OPW are together giving top priority to the project for a search and rescue station house at Doolin, County Clare.

The position regarding the project is that, while financial sanction has been granted in principle for the development, the OPW has not yet been able to acquire a suitable site. It is, however, 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 proceed as quickly as possible.

  339.  Mr. McCormack    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the result of An Post negotiations with the Communications Workers Union with regard to pay increases to An Post staff pensioners, particularly the non-payment of the 3% increase according to the national agreements; the situation regarding the appointment of a pensioner to the board of trustees of the pensions fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25117/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  Authority to implement pension increases was delegated to An Post by this Department on 26 May 1989. Traditionally, An Post has granted increases to serving staff in line with national pay agreements. Increases to pensioners have subsequently been applied in line with increases granted to serving staff. I am also informed that the terms and conditions, including those regarding the matter of increases, as enshrined in the An Post main superannuation scheme 1990, are based on those that prevailed in the former Department of Posts and Telegraphs.

In regard to serving staff, the company is involved in detailed negotiations with its unions under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission, to reach agreement on necessary restructuring in order to return to financial stability. These negotiations have impacted on consideration of increases for An Post pensioners. [1062]However, I understand the An Post board and management are reviewing this situation. In light of this review, I feel it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage.

With regard to the appointment of a pensioner to the board of trustees of the pensions fund, the An Post superannuation schemes’ trust deed sets out that the number of trustees shall be not less than three nor more than seven individuals. The power for appointing new or additional trustees is vested in An Post and I have no function in this. I understand there are seven appointed trustees of the scheme, three representing the members of the schemes, both serving and retired staff, three representing the principal employer and an independent chairman.

  340.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the level of funding required with regard to the 23 km. of broadband services in Sligo to provide this facility in surrounding towns, such as Tubbercurry, Ballymote and Gurteen; the amount which will be allocated, when work will commence and the timescale involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25120/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  Under my Department’s regional broadband programme, a 23 km metropolitan area network will be constructed in Sligo town, in association with Sligo County Council. A number of tenders for the construction phase of the project have been received by the council, and are being assessed. An announcement of the successful contractor is expected shortly. The civil engineering contract is expected to cost between €3 million and €4 million, of which 90% will come from Government and ERDF funding, with the remaining 10% from Sligo County Council.

Under the broadband rollout programme, 26 larger towns and cities are being provided with high-capacity fibre networks, which are managed for the State on an open-access basis, allowing service providers to offer services at very competitive prices. Smaller towns such as Tubbercurry, Ballymote and Gurteen can avail of my Department’s group broadband scheme, which offers up to 55% funding for communities to group together with service providers and obtain broadband connectivity using the technology most suited to their circumstances. More than 50 groups have already applied for group broadband scheme funding and wireless local area networks appear to be the favoured delivery platform in most cases.

Full details of the group broadband scheme may be found on my Department’s website, www.broadband.gov.ie, and full details of the regional broadband programme are on www.dcmnr.gov.ie.

  341.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he intends to allocate some of the additional public purchase contract capacity that has been approved by the European Union for biomass projects such as the one proposed by a company (details supplied); and the way in which the application made by this company under the AER VI scheme stands in the reserve lists of projects which bid above those successful bidders already granted contracts under the scheme. [25142/04]

  342.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the procedures he intends to follow regarding the review of the successful bidders for electricity generation from biomass anaerobic digestion under the AER VI scheme; and the procedures that will be put in place to transfer the public purchase agreement to other unsuccessful bidders if it is clear that the winning contracts will not be built within the timeframe expected. [25143/04]

  346.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the details of the reserve list for onshore wind farm bidders who failed to gain a public supply contract under the recent AER VI programme; when he intends to allocate the additional 140 MW of public service contracts that he is now providing under the programme; and the criteria he will use to allocate those additional contracts. [25483/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 341, 342 and 346 together.

The 1999 Green Paper on sustainable energy established a target to add 500 MW of new renewable energy-based electricity generating plant to the electricity network by 2005. It was envisaged this would be achieved by awarding support contracts under the AER V and VI rounds of the alternative energy requirement, AER, support programme. The 500 MW had EU state aids clearance prior to the commencement of AER VI.

Subsequently, the market was notified of proposals to allocate support for a further 140 MW of AER projects generally and 50 MW and 28 MW specifically for offshore wind energy and biomass-fed combined heat and power, CHP, projects, respectively, subject to state aids clearance. The necessary state aids clearance was received recently and I will announce shortly the allocations, by applicant, of all the remaining unallocated capacity. The formal allocations of the 140 MW capacity, by category, will form part of that announcement. Otherwise the capacity, by category, will be awarded in accordance with the published AER VI reserve lists. These reserve lists are available on my Department’s website, www.dcmnr.ie.

Inclusion on those lists confirms the associated applications were examined and found compliant [1064]with the published conditions precedent when received. Thereafter, the ranking of projects in those lists is indicative of the relative competitiveness of the prices bid in each category, commencing with the lowest prices bid in each category listed first. Where the next most successful applicants bid identical prices in any category and the unallocated support capacity is less than the aggregate proposed, any available support allocation will be done by lottery after notice is given to each applicant. This is also in accordance with the published competition rules.

The successful applicants will have an ongoing obligation to remain compliant with the published terms and conditions and clause 4A in particular. My Department will continue to monitor ongoing compliance. If it comes to notice that any project is in breach of the competition rules, the position, in principle, is that the formal offer of a power purchase agreement will be withdrawn and reallocated to the next most compliant application or applications in accordance with the published competition rules. This is the best method of delivering the inherent environmental benefits at the lowest additional cost to consumers.

  343.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the proposals he has to dredge the harbour at Dungarvan, County Waterford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25191/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  In March 2002, Dungarvan Town Council submitted an application under the marine tourism grant scheme of the national development plan for funding towards a feasibility study for dredging and reclamation works. However, the grant scheme was suspended in December 2002 due to lack of funding and each of the applicants was so notified. No funding was available for the grant scheme in 2003 or in 2004. In light of the findings of the mid-term review of the regional operational programmes completed by the ESRI, which recommended reallocation of funds to other priorities, it is unlikely that the scheme will be reactivated within the term of the national development plan.

  344.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he will take steps strategically as a country to improve fuel security and derive energy from sources which are less harmful in terms of climate change than fossil fuels. [25308/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  In May 2002, my Department established Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI, to promote and assist environmentally and economically sustainable production, supply and use of energy, in support [1065]of Government policy, across all sectors of the economy. Its remit relates mainly to improving energy efficiency, advancing the development and competitive deployment of renewable sources of energy and combined heat and power, and reducing the environmental impact of energy production and use. SEI is charged with implementing significant aspects of the Green Paper on Sustainable Energy and the national climate change strategy. Included in this remit is the task of promoting further research, development and demonstration of renewable energy technologies and alternative fuels.

In December 2003 my Department, in association with SEI, established a bio-energy strategy group, BSG, to consider the policy options and support mechanisms available to stimulate increased use of biomass for energy conversion and electricity generation and to make specific recommendations for action to increase the penetration of biomass energy in Ireland. The group is scheduled to complete a strategy report for consideration by the end of 2004. Membership of the BSG comprises representatives of various Departments as well as State agencies in the agriculture and energy sectors and industry representatives. This report will contain a road map for development of bio-energy with the identification of staged, achievable targets and will link directly into the work of the renewables development group which was set up in May 2004.

An interdepartmental group has also been set up by my Department to develop a bio-fuels strategy for Ireland. The group comprises officials from my Department, Sustainable Energy Ireland, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and the Departments of Transport, Agriculture and Food, and Finance. The group is considering policy options for the development of a bio-fuels sector in Ireland and to increase the penetration of bio-fuels in the transport fuel market.

My Department’s support mechanism, the alternative energy requirement, AER, programme, has operated to date to increase the contribution from renewable energy technologies in electricity production. The underlying principle of the alternative energy requirement competitions as operated to date is that prospective generators are invited to make a formal application to build, own and operate newly installed renewable energy-based electricity generating plants, and to supply electricity from these to the ESB under a power purchase agreement of up to 15 years.

  345.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if his attention has been drawn to the concerns being highlighted by persons (details supplied) in County Donegal with regard to the licensing of mussel dredging in a fashion that threatens the existence of indigenous wild oyster beds in the [1066]River Swilly and consequently the livelihoods of these persons; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that under EU regulations this is totally illegal and that it threatens the existence of one of the few wild oyster beds in Europe; and the action he intends to take to alleviate this national scandal. [25312/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  Following the granting of two aquaculture licences for the bottom cultivation of mussels in Lough Swilly, local oyster fishermen claimed that parts of the licensed areas overlapped with wild oyster beds in the lough. On foot of these complaints, the aquaculture initiative was asked to undertake a survey of the lough. This survey examined the location and size of the oyster beds and sought to ascertain if there was any overlap between these areas and the sites licensed for mussel cultivation. The results of the survey confirmed that there was an element 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 also to have mussels removed from the areas concerned, and any oysters retrieved in the 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 which is in the process of arranging a meeting with the fishermen at local level later this month.

Question No. 346 answered with Question
No. 341.

  347.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he has received reports of cases in which, following separation, one parent may withhold a child’s passport thus preventing the other parent from taking the child on holiday abroad with regard to the fact that children can no longer be included on a parent’s passport; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that it may not be feasible for aggrieved parents to pursue this matter repeatedly though legal channels; if he has proposals to remedy such situations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25098/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  With effect from 1 October last, the passport office ceased the practice of allowing children to be included on their parents’ passports. Henceforth, all children, regardless of age, must obtain an individual passport in their own name for travel abroad. This change was designed to improve the security of international travel for children and brings us into line with international best practice in this regard.

[1067]The passport office has not received any reports that the new regulation will pose difficulties for separated parents and it does not change the fundamental position that a child under 16 years of age born within marriage must have the consent of both parents before they can travel abroad, unless the courts decide otherwise. In cases where parents are separated, and one of them refuses to give their consent to the provision of passport facilities to the child, such passport facilities will not issue unless a court has made an order, under section 11 of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964, dispensing with the consent of the parent who so refuses consent.

If a parent of a child to whom a passport has been issued has concerns that their separated spouse may seek to take the child out of the country against their wishes, it is open to them to apply to the courts for an order requiring that the child’s passport be held by the court and not released to the other parent without the first parent’s agreement. This possibility applies irrespective of whether the child has a passport in his or her own name or is included on the passports of one or both parents.

  348.  Mr. Carey    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the position regarding the trial and imprisonment of a person (details supplied); and the action which will be taken by his Department with a view to securing her release. [25099/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  My Department, through the Irish honorary consul in Quito, has been monitoring developments in the case to which the Deputy refers, and has been active in providing consular assistance to the person in question and her family since we became aware of the case in February 2002. As the Deputy may be aware, the person was convicted on 28 April 2003 of the possession of cocaine and sentenced to eight years in prison. She is being held in the Centre de Detencion Provisional which houses about 420 women and their children.

The honorary consul has ensured that she has had access to adequate legal representation since her arrest and was in attendance at her trial. He subsequently made several prison visits to her. He has also delivered food, money and other essential items to her and has brought various medical problems experienced by her to the attention of prison staff.

On a visit last week to Quito, the Irish ambassador to Argentina also visited her. He found her in good spirits with a positive attitude towards her appeal, which she indicated was scheduled for November. I have asked the Embassy in Buenos Aires to continue to monitor further developments in this case. I assure the Deputy that my Department will continue to provide all possible consular assistance to the individual and her family.

  349.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the efforts he has made to inform the public regarding the changes to children’s passports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25111/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  With effect from 1 October last, the passport office ceased the practice of allowing children to be included on their parents’ passports. Henceforth, all children, regardless of age, must obtain an individual passport in their own name for travel abroad. This change was made on foot of a recommendation from the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which sets international standards for travel documents, and was designed to improve the security of international travel for children. The new regulation brings us into line with international best practice in this regard. A number of countries already require that all visitors, including children, carry a separate passport and the new regulation will ensure that all Irish travellers are in a position to meet this requirement.

The passport office placed notices in the national papers on Sunday, 12 September and Monday, 13 September as well as in other journals and magazines, to inform the public of the change. Notices were also placed in the national papers in Northern Ireland on Monday, 13 September. In addition, information has been placed on the passport office’s website at www.passport.ie and has been disseminated through our diplomatic and consular missions abroad. The new arrangements were also communicated to An Post, which operates the passport express service, to the UK Post Office Limited, which operates an express passport service in Northern Ireland, and to Garda stations, from which passport application forms are available.

Question No. 350 answered with Question
No. 238.

  351.  Mr. Noonan    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    when a decision will be made on an application for a tourist visa by a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25194/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The person to whom the Deputy refers submitted a visa application to the Irish Embassy in Ankara on 25 August 2004. This application was refused.

This decision is now the subject of an appeal to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I understand that the applicant should receive a response from that Department within three weeks.

Question No. 352 answered with Question
No. 195.

[1069]Question No. 353 answered with Question
No. 224.

  354.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he has had an indication from the Colombian authorities regarding the timescale surrounding the appeal process in the case of persons (details supplied); and when a decision is to be expected on the matter. [25467/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  As the Deputy will be aware, following the decision in the case by Judge Acosta on 26 April 2004, the Office of the Prosecutor-General in Colombia lodged an appeal against the verdict which acquitted the three men on the principal charge of providing training for terrorists. That appeal is being considered by a panel of judges and their decision is awaited.

Pending the outcome of the appeal, the three men have left the prison in Bogotá. However, the appeal judges ruled that they must remain in Colombia until the appeal is decided.

In a letter to the Taoiseach last July, in response to the representations made by the Taoiseach at his meeting with President Uribe on 29 May in Guadalajara, the President indicated that he was hopeful of an early decision in the appeal but he also emphasised that he could not guarantee this because of the independence of the judiciary in Colombia.

My predecessor, the Minister, Deputy Cowen, had a discussion with the Colombian Foreign Minister at the United Nations in New York on 21 September. He again stressed the importance of an early decision on the appeal. Minister Barco, while emphasising the independence of the courts in Colombia, indicated that she shared our wish for an early decision and that she was hopeful that the appeal would be concluded some time in the autumn.

  355.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he has made representations on behalf of the Chagos islanders; if he has raised the matter with the British and American Governments and at EU level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25468/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The demand of the Chagossian natives to return to the Chagossian archipelago is a complex issue which also involves competing sovereignty claims. At present, the matter of the Chagos islanders’ right of return and claim for compensation is the subject of legal proceedings in both the UK and US. In a November 2000 ruling, the high court in England ruled that the “wholesale removal” of the islanders was an “abject legal failure” and that they could return to the small outlying islands in the group but not the largest, Diego Garcia. The ruling also granted the islanders British citizenship. Following this ruling, the British [1070]Government commissioned a study on island resettlement and concluded that it was “impractical and inconsistent with the existing defence facilities”. A study commissioned by the islanders refutes the idea that resettlement is “impractical”. In November 2002 the islanders launched a separate case in the high court in England claiming that they had been treated in such a way by the British Government as to entitle them to compensation and return of their property. In October 2003, the islanders lost this claim for compensation. On 10 June last, a royal decree was issued in Britain banning the Chagos islanders from returning to the islands. On 7 October the high court agreed to a judicial review of the royal decree.

The Government will continue to monitor the situation of the Chagossian archipelago. We would wish to see the issue resolved by agreement between the parties, and in a manner which properly addresses the unfortunate situation of the Chagos islanders. The EU has not addressed the issue of the demands of the Chagos islanders for the right of return to their homeland.

  356.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the extent to which he intends to influence the EU and UN addressing human rights issues on the African continent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25516/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  Africa is a continent beset by often seemingly insurmountable problems including conflict, debt, poverty, HIV-AIDS and the abuse of human rights. The European Commission and member states collectively are the largest global donors of development assistance to Africa and the EU is thus in a position to play an important role in helping Africans address the problems of the continent especially in multilateral fora.

The EU conducts a process of political dialogue with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries that are party to the Cotonou Agreement. Human rights are a central theme of political dialogue.

Ireland sought to strengthen political dialogue with African countries and organisations during our recent EU Presidency. To this end, two important meetings took place with the African Union and ECOWAS under Irish chairmanship. The discussions with the African Union troika took place in a very positive and constructive atmosphere and covered peace and security and good governance issues, as well as regional integration and trade and development issues, such as external debt and food security. The discussions with ECOWAS took place in a very positive and open atmosphere, with good discussions on peace and security, conflict prevention, economic integration and trade, institutional matters and political dialogue follow-up as well as the issue of human trafficking.

[1071]During the most recent session of the UN Commission on Human Rights the EU was active under the co-ordination of the Irish Presidency in securing a number of initiatives on Africa. These included the establishment of a special EU mechanism on the Sudan, the agreement with the African Union of a resolution on the DRC and the adoption of a resolution regarding assistance on human rights in Somalia. The EU also supported resolutions tabled by the African Union on Chad, Sierra Leone and Burundi.

The EU thematic resolution on the death penalty was adopted with a record margin of victory and a record number of co-sponsors. The resolution on the rights of the child, which we co-tabled with the Latin American-Caribbean grouping, and the resolution on religious intolerance were also adopted. All these resolutions are universal in their application and naturally include Africa.

In addition, at the initiative of the Irish Presidency, the EU, for the first time, delivered a strong statement to the Commission, in which the EU reaffirmed its strong commitment to work for the elimination of all contemporary forms of slavery.

Although the EU was not successful in pursuing a resolution on Zimbabwe, the commitment of the Irish Presidency and its promotion of active engagement with the African Union bore fruit in that there is now a clear African concern about the situation in that country which was expressed in Nigeria’s explanation of its vote for the no-action motion which caused the EU resolution to fail.

With regard to the situations in countries such as Sudan, Liberia and DRC, Ireland has been actively involved in their discussion at bilateral, EU and UN levels and continues to attach utmost importance to the issue of human rights in Africa. The European Union intends to table draft resolutions in the current session of the UN General Assembly regarding the human rights situations in Sudan and DRC, and Ireland will continue to play an active role in the discussion of these resolutions.

Question No. 357 answered with Question
No. 200.

  358.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the extent to which democracy has progressed in Nigeria; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25518/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  Nigeria is the most populous democracy in Africa. The high turnout and largely peaceful conduct of the elections held in 2003 marked a further important step towards the consolidation of that democracy. There is still some way to go, however. An EU election observation mission, which included two Irish observers, monitored [1072]the presidential, parliamentary and other elections and regrettably noted some grave irregularities in the voting processes of some states. On 14 May 2003, the EU issued a declaration on the elections which expressed concern at the findings of the observation mission and which urged President Obasanjo to use his mandate to improve the quality of democracy and accountability in Nigeria.

In 2002, the EU adopted a common position on Nigeria, which was updated by Council conclusions approved last November. A key element of the Union’s position is to maintain a constructive and regular political dialogue with Nigeria. The Irish Presidency was the first to initiate EU-Nigeria political dialogue at a ministerial level. My colleague, former Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, led an EU troika which addressed a range of issues including peace and security, governance and development matters.

Ireland acknowledges and appreciates the strong leadership role President Obasanjo has played, not only in defusing recent tensions in his own country, but in facilitating the peace process in Liberia and also the peace talks on Darfur which are ongoing in Abuja under Nigeria’s current chairmanship of the African Union.

Ireland and the European Union continue to support and encourage Nigeria’s transition to democracy and look forward to maintaining our strong relationship with a most important partner in Africa.

Question No. 359 answered with Question
No. 183.

  360.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will initiate through the UN and the EU a major programme to alleviate strife and starvation in various trouble spots on the African continent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25520/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. C. Lenihan):  Ireland’s programme of development assistance is primarily focused on the African continent. This programme addresses issues related to poverty, including conflict and food security. This assistance is delivered through a number of channels, directly through our embassies in a number of African countries and indirectly using NGOs, UN agencies and other international organisations.

As well as directly assisting many of the poorest countries in Africa, Ireland is a strong advocate for the developing world and for international peace and security through our membership of the EU and the UN. During the Irish Presidency of the EU, we were deeply involved in major conferences, including to consider post-conflict reconstruction in Liberia and to highlight the appalling situation in Darfur, Sudan.

[1073]Conflict has many causes and many manifestations in Africa and is exacerbated by poverty, inequality and exclusion. It is no coincidence that the majority of wars occur in the poorest countries. Conflicts affect the poorest and most vulnerable people, particularly women and children. Food security is undermined by conflict and populations with diminished coping strategies are forced to turn to international aid for survival.

The Government responds in two ways to the issues of conflict and poverty in Africa. In the short term, we focus on saving lives in the most effective way possible, through direct assistance via the UN system, international agencies and NGOs. Our current programme of assistance to the Darfur region of Sudan is a good example of this approach.

In the longer term, Ireland’s development programme tries to tackle the structural causes underlying extreme poverty, including through our strong development partnerships with six countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Through these partnerships, Ireland fully engages with the governments, communities, donors, EU and UN agencies on the basis of poverty reduction strategy plans, PRSPs. The valuable development work of our civil society partners, including NGOs and missionaries, is also supported on an ongoing basis.

Ireland, therefore, adopts a comprehensive and inclusive approach to the challenges of conflict and poverty. This approach, embracing all stakeholders, stands the best chance of reversing the negative trend of economic and social indicators in sub-Saharan Africa and facilitating real and positive change in the lives of millions of people.

Question No. 361 answered with Question
No. 195.

Question No. 362 answered with Question
No. 165.

  363.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the role he sees for the UN in the context of international peacekeeping or peace enforcement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25525/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  Peacekeeping is a central part of the work undertaken by the United Nations in fulfilling the first of the purposes for which it was established, to maintain international peace and security.

Conflicts and tensions in the Middle East, Africa, Central America and elsewhere have ensured a continuing demand for United Nations peacekeepers through the years. The need for UN peacekeeping continues to increase, especially in Africa. Secretary General Annan made it clear in his address to the National Forum on Europe on 14 October that the demands on the member states for troops and [1074]funding for peacekeeping operations is likely to grow in the years immediately ahead.

During the Cold War, a peacekeeping operation typically acted as buffer between parties to a conflict, in support of a ceasefire or a peace process, and to permit the affected population to resume normal life in reasonable security. These operations were generally mandated by the UN Security Council under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, which is concerned with the pacific settlement of disputes.

Since the end of the Cold War, peacekeeping operations have grown in number and complexity. The United Nations Security Council has been increasingly called upon to address intra-state conflict, where state institutions have broken down and gross violations of human rights have taken place, or are threatened. The Security Council has resorted more and more to the deployment of peacekeeping troops, and authorising peacekeeping operations under Chapter VII of the Charter which is concerned with action with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, or acts of aggression.

Along with the increased resort to robust Chapter VII mandates, the UN has turned to regional organisations and “coalitions of the willing” to undertake and lead missions under the overall authority of the Security Council. Examples include the operations launched to liberate Kuwait in 1991, to stabilise Bosnia, SFOR, and Kosovo, KFOR, and to restore order in East Timor, INTERFET. In many cases, these operations, having dealt with the immediate crisis, made way for a more traditional UN peacekeeping operation. This took place, for instance, in East Timor, facilitating the emergence of the independent Timor Leste, in Sierra Leone, in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the French-led EU “Operation Artemis” restored stability, and in Liberia, where US and west African troops acted under the authority of the Security Council to restore order and handed over to a UN operation.

It is the firm belief of the Government that the United Nations will remain centrally involved in peacekeeping. We welcome the Brahimi report, which was directed at making UN peacekeeping operations more efficient and effective, and look forward to its full implementation.

In the coming years, regional and sub-regional organisations can be expected increasingly to develop crisis management capacities, and to exercise them under the overall authority of the Security Council. This applies particularly to the European Union. During the recent Irish Presidency, important progress was made in implementing the EU-UN joint declaration on co-operation in crisis management. Secretary General Annan, in his address to the National Forum on Europe, emphasised the importance that he attached to the capacities that the EU can make available to the UN in its task of maintaining international peace and security. The African [1075]Union is also developing its capacity for crisis management, and under the Irish Presidency, agreement was reached on an African peace facility, under which the EU would make €250 million available to the AU to help it to develop its capacities. It is facing its first big test in the Darfur area of the Sudan where it has mounted a monitoring mission under the authority of the UN Security Council.

As the Secretary General made clear in Dublin last week, peacekeepers from the developed countries will continue to be required to provide capacities not yet available in the defence forces of developing countries. As an indication of Ireland’s commitment to the region, 480 members of the Irish Defence Force are serving with the UN mission in Liberia.

In the Government’s view, the security of states rests ultimately on the international legal order and in the mutual guarantees that reside in the UN Charter. When this order is under threat, states are called upon to act in its defence. Peacekeeping under the authority of the United Nations is therefore an essential expression of our foreign policy. This is reflected in Ireland’s continuous involvement in peacekeeping operations, mandated or authorised by the United Nations Security Council, since 1958.

Ireland is currently providing personnel for UN peacekeeping operations in Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Western Sahara, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cyprus, Lebanon, Kosovo, Timor Leste and the Middle East. Ireland also provides military personnel to multinational operations authorised by the United Nations Security Council in Kosovo, KFOR Bosnia-Herzegovina, SFOR, and Afghanistan, ISAF. A number of Permanent Defence Force personnel participated last year in EU Operation Artemis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which was mounted at the request of the United Nations Secretary General and on foot of UN Security Council Resolution 1484.

  364.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the extent to which he and his EU colleagues are monitoring the situation in the Balkans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25526/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The EU has taken the lead role in working with the countries of the western Balkans to consolidate peace and stability in the region and to promote economic development and respect for human rights and the rule of law. The situation in the western Balkans remains a regular item on the agenda for the monthly meetings of the General Affairs and External Relations Council.

The EU-Western Balkans summit, which was held in Thessaloniki in June 2003, agreed a shared agenda for progress towards the objective of the eventual integration of the countries of the [1076]region into EU structures. Progress is based on the implementation of wide-ranging administrative, political and economic reforms, in the framework of the Union’s stabilisation and association process.

The Government ensured that during Ireland’s Presidency, the priority which the EU has attached to the western Balkans was fully maintained. Ireland worked to strengthen the Union’s overall policy framework, which provides for individual progress by the countries of the region, in the context of closer regional co-operation. Significant progress was made in the implementation of commitments made by the EU under the Thessaloniki agenda, notably with the adoption in June of European partnerships for each of the countries of the region. The partnerships draw on the experience of the latest enlargement process. As agreed at Thessaloniki, the Union has also strengthened its political dialogue with the countries of the western Balkans.

The decisions taken by the EU in the first half of this year on the applications for membership by Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia should be an encouragement to the other countries of the region to persevere with the reform process. On 6 October, the European Commission presented its strategy paper on the enlargement process, which recalled the June European Council decision to begin accession negotiations with Croatia early in 2005. The Commission put forward suggested elements for a negotiating framework, which I expect will be adopted by the Council in the coming months.

As agreed by the Council in May, the Commission is preparing its formal opinion on the application from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The process is expected to take about one year. Progress on the application will depend in large part on the full implementation of the Ohrid framework agreement, which ended the conflict in the country in 2001 and which provides for the creation of a truly multi-ethnic society in which the rights of the ethnic Slav and ethnic Albanian populations are fully respected. One of the most important elements which remains to be implemented is the decentralisation of local government, which involves the redrawing of administrative boundaries with the objective of safeguarding the rights of minorities and their participation in decision making. The necessary legislation has been adopted by Parliament, but it will be the subject of a referendum on 7 November following the organisation of a petition by members of the ethnic Slav community who oppose the measures.

At the most recent meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, which I attended in Brussels on 11 October, discussion on the western Balkans focused on the prospects for progress towards negotiations for a stabilisation and association agreement with Serbia and Montenegro and on the situation in Kosovo. The Council welcomed the results of the joint visit to [1077]Belgrade on 5 October by Commissioner Patten and High Representative Solana. The purpose of the visit was to discuss the details of the twin-track approach which Ministers agreed in September should be adopted towards negotiations with Serbia and Montenegro on economic and trade matters. The Council welcomed the decision of the Commission to resume work on its feasibility study, which I hope will enable progress on the opening of negotiations with Serbia and Montenegro early next year. The Council was also briefed by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Ms. Carla del Ponte, following which the Council emphasised the need for all the countries of the region to fulfil their pledge to co-operate fully and unequivocally with the tribunal.

The Council also considered the situation in Kosovo, which will remain an important subject for attention in the months ahead, in preparation for the review of progress on the implementation of standards which will be carried out in mid-2005. The Council emphasised the importance of the Kosovo Assembly elections, which will be held on 23 October, and welcomed the statement by the President of Serbia calling on the Kosovo Serb parties to participate. The EU will continue to work closely with the UN, with the wider international community and with the authorities in Belgrade and Pristina in the interests of a multi-ethnic, democratic Kosovo, consistent with EU values and standards, and contributing to the stability of the region.

The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina remains under review by the Council. The country has made considerable progress this year in implementing reforms in the 16 major areas identified by the Commission’s feasibility study in November 1993. I hope that progress will be sufficient to enable a Council decision in the coming months on the opening of negotiations for an agreement with Bosnia. The June European Council adopted a comprehensive policy towards Bosnia and Herzegovina, which sets out practical arrangements to enhance the coherence and effectiveness of the EU’s developing political, economic and security role in co-operation with the Bosnian authorities. A further significant development will be the transition by the end of the year from the UN-mandated, NATO-led SFOR peacekeeping force in Bosnia to an EU-led force.

Negotiations for a stabilisation and association agreement with Albania have been continuing since early 2003. Progress has been relatively slow and it is important that the pace of implementation of reforms is stepped up to enable the conclusion of the negotiations. I recognise the strong desire of the Albanian Government to implement the necessary reforms, and I hope that this will ensure sufficient progress to enable the conclusion of the negotiations during 2005.

Question No. 365 answered with Question
No. 166.

  366.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will include CORI justice commission policy recommendations (details supplied) in all policy areas within his Department. [25735/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. C. Lenihan):  I refer to the issues raised in the CORI policy recommendations relating to official development assistance.

With regard to the UN target, the programme for Government commits the Government to spend 0.7% of GNP on ODA by 2007. The Government will make every effort to meet that target. ODA has increased dramatically in recent years from €158 million in 1997 to an expected outturn of €475 million for the current year. Based on current GNP estimates, we will reach 0.4% of GNP this year. The 2005 Estimates process is under way and I will urge that substantial progress be made to enable us reach the UN target quickly.

On the WTO, CORI recommends that the budget should resource the development of Ireland’s policies in the WTO to ensure they support a fair deal for developing countries. The Government agrees that the current round of WTO negotiations must focus on the needs and interests of developing countries to promote their integration into the world trading system. If developing countries are to achieve the millennium development goals by 2015, they must be facilitated and supported towards their fullest participation, on an equal and fair basis, in the global trade system. Least developed countries in particular often lack the resources to articulate fully and advance their national interests in the WTO negotiations. Ireland is conscious of the need to provide developing countries with the means to engage in the trade negotiations and to implement complex WTO rules and to that end we have been involved, both with the WTO and other relevant multilateral organisations, in funding trade capacity-building, particularly in recent years.

With regard to developing country debt, in July 2002, Ireland adopted a progressive policy on developing country debt which, among other issues, advocates debt cancellation for heavily indebted poor countries under certain circumstances. The strategy also concluded that, where debt cancellation was agreed, it should be accompanied by strong monitoring and accountability mechanisms to ensure that the additional funds would be directly channelled into increased social expenditure. Ireland also believes that debt cancellation must be financed by financial resources in addition to those earmarked for official development assistance.

  367.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    his views on the solidarity and the [1079]mutual defence clauses in the proposed EU Constitution; the impact of same on Ireland’s neutrality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25373/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The solidarity clause and so-called mutual defence clause are separate issues in the European constitution.

As regards the solidarity clause, Article I-43, it is for each member state to determine how to respond to a request from another member state in case of terrorist attack or natural or man-made disaster. No member state is bound to take any particular course of action. The European Constitution also contains a declaration on the solidarity clause, which clearly states that none of the provisions of the solidarity clause are intended to affect the right of another member state to choose the most appropriate means to comply with its own solidarity obligation towards another member state. Any decisions having military implications under the solidarity clause would be taken by unanimity. The Government has welcomed and supported this provision which is fully consistent with our traditional policy of military neutrality.

With regard to the so-called “mutual defence clause”, Article I-41.7 of the treaty, the constitution states that if a member state is a victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other member states will have a obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter. Importantly for Ireland, the article goes on to make clear that this obligation shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain member states.

As the Taoiseach and my predecessor have consistently made clear, in the event of another member state coming under attack, we would continue, as we do now, to determine our own response, consistent with our own constitutional and legal arrangements. Ireland is not bound by any mutual defence commitment and the entry into force of the European Constitution will not change this. Our traditional policy of military neutrality is not altered or compromised by this Article in the constitutional treaty.

Question No. 368 answered with Question
No. 174.

  369.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if he intends to award further sports partnerships; and if he has other initiatives in hand to promote sport at school and in localities. [25001/04]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  As the Deputy is aware, the Irish Sports Council is the statutory body with responsibility for the development of sport, [1080]including initiatives to promote sport in local areas. The provision in funding for the Irish Sports Council in the 2004 Estimates is more than €30 million, in comparison with just over €13 million in 2000.

The Programme for Prosperity and Fairness committed the Government to the introduction of local sport partnerships to help promote and develop sport at local level. In its first strategy document, A New Era for Irish Sport-2000-2002, the Irish Sports Council included the establishment of local sports partnerships as one of its main priorities.

The Irish Sports Council, following the receipt of proposals from local bodies, approved and funded the establishment of eight partnerships in May 2001 and a further four were established in early 2002. These are located in Clare, Donegal, Fingal, Kildare, Laois, Roscommon, Sligo, Tipperary North, Cork, Limerick, Meath and Waterford.

At my Department’s request the Irish Sports Council commissioned a review of the operation of four of the original eight partnerships. Following the completion and consideration of this review, I gave approval in 2003 to the Irish Sports Council to extend the network of local sports partnerships by a further four, bringing the total number of LSPs to 16. These four partnerships are now being established and are located in Kerry, Westmeath, Kilkenny and Mayo. In 2004, €2.3 million has been allocated to the LSPs to cover the 12 existing and four newly established sites. Since 2001, a total of almost €6.7 million has been allocated to the LSPs by the Irish Sports Council.

An independent appraisal and review of the entire local partnership process will be carried out by my Department later this year to obtain confirmation that this element of sport policy continues to have an impact at local level. The question of extending the partnerships to further areas of the country will be considered in the light of the outcome of that appraisal.

The Irish Sports Council is responsible for a number of initiatives aimed at promoting sport in local areas. The sport for young people grant scheme is distributed through the vocational education committees to promote sporting opportunities for young people, particularly those in areas of social and economic disadvantage. That grant scheme is open to the vocational education committees, which do not currently have local sports partnerships in their areas.

The designated areas scheme and underage participation scheme provide significant funding to the FAI, GAA and IRFU, to assist these organisations to develop programmes for increasing participation in sport by young people in the three main field sports.

The Buntús programme is also being rolled out by the Irish Sports Council through the local sports partnership network to primary schools. The programme aims to support the primary PE [1081]curriculum by providing equipment, resource cards and training to teachers and allows teachers and introductory level coaches introduce sport to children in a safe and fun way.

The code of ethics and good practice for children’s sport was launched in 2000 by the Irish Sports Council and provides guidelines to sports organisations in promoting good practice in children’s sport. The core message in the code is that sport must be safe, must be fun and no matter what young people are involved in, that it takes place in a spirit of “fair play”.

The European Year of Education through Sport 2004, EYES 2004, is an important European Commission initiative in the area of education and sport, which I launched along with my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, in Croke Park in January this year. As part of our national programme in this regard, this initiative will be used to promote the importance of sport within the education system, particularly in promoting social inclusion.

The national lottery-funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, is run on an annual basis and allocates funding towards the provision of sporting and recreational facilities to voluntary and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country. A total of €330 million has been allocated to over 4,200 projects under the programme since 1998. Subject to certain conditions, schools and colleges are included provided that their applications are made jointly with local sports clubs or community groups.

It is my intention that a proposed national audit of local sports facilities be carried out in conjunction with the development of a sports facilities strategy. As the Deputy will appreciate, completion of a review of the sports capital programme is a necessary precursor to the development of overall strategy in this area. As this review is now in its final stages, I intend to set up an inter-agency steering group to oversee the project.

The Department of Education and Science will be represented on this group. I have no doubt that the facility needs to cater for school children and this will be one of the key issues to be considered in the sports facilities strategy, the development of which will heavily influence the scope and requirements of the national audit of sports facilities.

  370.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if the historic vessel, the Asgard, is in safe keeping at its location; the Department with responsibility for it; the plans for its conservation; when it is intended to put the Asgard on public view; the resources being made available for its long-term development; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25106/04]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  The historic vessel, the Asgard, by [1082]arrangement with the National Museum of Ireland, is in safe keeping at John’s Road, Inchicore, under the care of the Office of Public Works. The vessel is an archaeological object as defined by the National Monuments Act 1930 as amended by the National Monuments (Amendment) Act 1994 and, as such, my Department takes responsibility for its preservation.

The Office of Public Works is carrying out a feasibility study for a new permanent exhibition space-location to house the Asgard. Further progress on the conservation of the vessel and putting it on public view will depend on the resources available to my Department in 2005.

  371.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the assistance available to choirs to enable them to purchase equipment, rent rooms, and so on; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25204/04]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  The availability of assistance for choirs is a matter for the Arts Council and not one in which I have any function.

  372.  Mr. Ó Fearghail    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the status of Kildare County Council’s proposal for a new swimming pool for Athy, County Kildare; the likely timescale for the delivery of the programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25246/04]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  The contract documents, submitted by Kildare County Council, for the refurbishment of the swimming pool in Athy are under consideration in my Department. Kildare County Council has also applied for grant aid for the replacement of the swimming pool in Naas and the contract documents for that project are also under consideration.

Under the local authority swimming pool programme, projects are considered on a case-by-case basis and consideration is given to such issues as to the number and geographical spread of projects within and between counties, whether the area is classified as disadvantaged, the viability of the project, particularly in relation to operational and maintenance issues, overall funding package for the project and technical details. The Department’s annual Estimates provision for the programme also has a significant influence on the flow of projects through the approval process.

  373.  Ms Burton    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the role his Department has in relation to the horse and greyhound fund; if the income and expenditure of the fund are available, including the main expenditure of the fund in [1083]each of the past three years and the sources of income of the fund. [25394/04]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  Under Section 12 of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001, the horse and greyhound racing fund was established “for the purpose of giving support to horse and greyhound racing”. The fund is controlled by the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism and is split 80%-20% between Horse Racing Ireland and Bord na gCon.

In accordance with section 12(3) and (4) of the Act, the Minister shall pay into the fund out of [1084]moneys provided by the Oireachtas, in the year 2001, an amount equivalent to the revenue paid into the Exchequer in the year 2000 from excise duty on off-course betting. In the year 2002 and in each subsequent year, an amount equivalent to the revenue from excise duty on off-course betting paid into the Exchequer in the preceding year or the year 2000 increased by reference to the consumer price index, whichever is greater.

The amounts paid each year, up to and including the end of September 2004, to Horse Racing Ireland and Bord na gCon are set out in the following table:

Year Amount of Fund provided in Vote of the Department Amount paid from the Fund to 30 Sept 2004 Allocation paid to Horse Racing Ireland Allocation paid to Bord na gCon
2001 58,890,000 58,890,000 47,112,000 11,778,000
2002 68,065,814 68,065,814 54,452,611 13,613,203
2003 64,186,000 64,186,000 51,349,000 12,837,000
2004 66,914,000 59,004,400 45,621,600 13,382,800
Total 258,055,814 250,146,214 198,535,211 51,611,003

[1083]The fund income in 2001 and 2002 was equivalent to the actual revenue from the duty on off-course betting in the preceding years. In 2003 and 2004 the revenue generated from the duty on off-course betting was supplemented by an Exchequer subvention of €16.2 million and €28.5 million respectively.

Section 12(5) of the Act states the aggregate amount paid into the fund shall not exceed £200 million, €254 million. As this amount will be exceeded by the end of 2004 by €4 million, the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2004 have been prepared with the purpose of increasing the limit to not exceed €550 million and were laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas in draft form on 22 September 2004.

  374.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if he will include CORI justice commission policy recommendations (details supplied) in all policy areas within his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25730/04]

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O’Donoghue):  In terms of public services, the national lottery-funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, is run on an annual basis and allocates funding towards the provision of sporting and recreational facilities to sporting and voluntary and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country.

One of the programme’s four stated main objectives is the prioritisation of the needs of disadvantaged areas in the provision of facilities. This objective is being met by prioritising appli[1084]cations for projects which are located in designated disadvantaged areas by requiring that that they need contribute less of their own funding towards projects than other applications and also by giving them a higher assessment score. In addition, applications which include programmes improving social inclusion also receive higher assessment scores.

In consultation with the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and Area Development Management, ADM, which is the agency with responsibility for the administration of the RAPID programme, disadvantaged areas under the sports capital programme are those designated by Government for special support through the schemes administered by DCRGA, namely, RAPID 1, RAPID 2, local drugs task force areas and CLÁR. The improved targeting of RAPID projects under the sports capital programme is regularly praised by ADM and also by the RAPID national monitoring committee.

In the past four years, a total of €120 million has been allocated under the sports capital programme to almost 1,300 projects in respect of the provision of facilities in areas categorised as disadvantaged.

  375.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the total State expenditure on research and development and on science and technology in each year since 1997; the way in which it is distributed across the main economic sectors; and the main criteria of evaluation used for approving research programmes and the systems for ex post evaluation against critical performance indicators. [25131/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  In response to the first part of the Deputy’s question, the following statistical tables provide the main sectoral breakdown of science and technology expenditure. The table is compiled from Forfás statistical data produced in [1086]the context of the Forfás publication entitled State Expenditure on Science and Technology, otherwise known as the science budget. A range of more detailed statistical analyses are available in the Forfás publication.

Current prices Table 1: Total State Expenditure on R&D, 1997- 2003, €m

1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
195.8 209.1 248.9 318.5 378.3 391.2 450.8

Table 2: Total State Expenditure on R&D broken down by socio-economic objectives, 1997-2002, €m

Socio-economic objectives 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002
Exploration and exploitation of the earth 0.8 1.0 1.0 1.3 11.4 2.8
Infrastructure and general planning of land-use 5.0 6.2 6.1 3.4 10.1 8.2
Control and care of the environment 3.9 3.6 3.6 4.6 6.4 10.5
Protection and improvement of human health 5.2 6.5 7.4 12.6 15.3 19.8
Production, distribution and rational utilisation of energy 0.3 0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
Agricultural production and technology 57.5 44.1 51.1 47.4 88.3 79.8
Industrial production and technology 58.6 62.8 76.3 69.6 58.1 54.0
Social structures and relationships 10.4 9.9 10.7 12.6 15.3 17.8
Research financed from general university funds (GUF) 44.4 51.3 60.4 63.3 69.2 81.2
Non-oriented research 9.8 23.5 32.3 103.8 104.3 117.2
Total 195.8 209.1 248.9 318.5 378.3 391.2

Table 3: Total State Expenditure on Science and Technology, 1997- 2003, €m

1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
929 1,124 1,159 1,360 1,693 1,784 1,778

[1085]With regard to the criteria for the evaluation of research programmes, a range of different approaches are employed by the implementing agencies under the aegis of my Department as follows: Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, utilises a rigorous international peer review process as its method of evaluation of research projects submitted in response to its calls for proposals. In terms of ex post evaluation, SFI’s terms and conditions require that a detailed annual report outlining progress on the research project be prepared by the research body or principal investigator and submitted to SFI for examination. Additionally, SFI carries out site visits in advance of the annual report process. Each project is measured against agreed performance indicators and progress recorded.

Turning to research funding delivered through Enterprise Ireland and the other industrial development agencies which is provided on the basis of criteria set out in a number of schemes established under a general framework set out in the Industrial Development Acts, these schemes are part of the productive sector operational programme, PSOP, under which they are continuously monitored and evaluated against estab[1086]lished performance indicators. A mid-term evaluation of the PSOP was completed and published in late 2003.

Working in conjunction with Forfás, my Department also sponsors independent evaluations of key research programmes. Such evaluations are undertaken on a regular basis as a way of assessing performance in the context of overall policy development and providing a basis for any necessary adjustment. During the course of 2004 it is intended to complete evaluations of a number of Enterprise Ireland’s collaborative and applied research programmes. These individual evaluations will provide input to a review of applied research being undertaken by the Department under the established expenditure review process overseen by the Department of Finance. This review is scheduled for completion early in the new year.

A review of the outcomes arising from Ireland’s participation in the European Space Agency will also be completed shortly. In addition, an overall evaluation of Science Foundation Ireland will shortly commence. This evaluation is expected to be completed during the first half of 2005.

  376.  Mr. McGinley    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if he will consider engaging with the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the Department of Transport to address the lack of proper road access to the north west, the adoption of an open skies policy to Derry City Airport and Carrickfin, the provision of an all-encompassing broadband fibre optic and radio broadband infrastructure and to co-ordinate services that will enable development agencies to attract investment and foster indigenous job creation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25268/04]

  377.  Mr. McGinley    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the contingency plans being put in place to address the spiralling jobs crisis in Donegal; if he intends to introduce initiatives, for example, tax breaks, to sustain existing businesses and to stimulate business expansion; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25269/04]

  378.  Mr. McGinley    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if he intends exploring mechanisms through the North-South Ministerial Council to address the jobs crisis in Donegal; if he has plans to designate the north-west Border area as a pilot area in order to stimulate investment and foster job creation through the indigenous sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25270/04]

  379.  Mr. McGinley    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    his plans to resurrect the 1999 task force on jobs in Donegal. [25271/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 376 to 379, inclusive, together.

In regard to the infrastructure issues referred to by the Deputy, I have raised these with my colleagues, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the Minister for Transport. I am advised that the national roads serving the north west have benefited from the major increase in investment in the national roads programme in recent years. Major upgrade projects completed include the Donegal bypass, the Mountcharles bypass and the Clar-Barnesmore section of the N15. Major upgrade projects have also been completed on the M1, N2, N3, and N4, the main access routes to the north west. In addition, work is currently underway on the Sligo inner relief road, N4, the Ashbourne and Carrickmacross bypasses, N2, and the Ballyshannon-Bundoran bypass, N15. It is clear, therefore, that roads serving the north west have been major beneficiaries of the increased investment in the national roads programme. The north west, in [1088]common with the rest of the country, will continue to benefit from the national road development programme underway.

As regards air transport, I am advised that under European air transport liberalisation measures, any air carrier licensed by a member of the European Economic Area, EEA, may introduce air services on any route within the EEA without Government or EU controls, subject only to the availability of airport slots at either end of the route and, of course, overall safety considerations. As a result, the provision of air services on any particular route is essentially a matter for the commercial judgement of the individual airline.

As regards telecommunications services, I am advised that their provision is primarily a matter for the fully liberalised private sector. However, because investment in infrastructure by the sector has failed to keep pace with the demand for broadband, the Government’s regional broadband programme is addressing the infrastructure deficit with a number of targeted interventions that will enable the delivery of broadband to all areas.

An indicative €200 million from ERDF and Government funding under the NDP 2000-2006 is being invested in State-owned broadband infrastructure that includes the 26 metropolitan area networks in the major centres including Letterkenny and Gaoth Dobhair, and community broadband exchanges in over 90 towns with a population of more than 1,500. In addition to these, the group broadband scheme offers funding assistance of up to 55% to smaller towns and rural communities to pool their requirements and obtain broadband in their area using the most suitable delivery platform such as wireless or satellite technology.

With regard to possible initiatives in the tax area, I should state that responsibility for tax policy rests with the Minister for Finance in the first instance. However, I would point out that the current low rate of corporate taxation of 12.5% represents a significant incentive for business to establish and develop here in Ireland, as does the low tax burden on employment.

With regard to the North-South Ministerial Council, the Deputy will be aware that it cannot meet at present due to the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, the various implementation bodies set up pursuant to the Good Friday Agreement continue to carry out their important functions. InterTradeIreland is the North-South body responsible for trade and business development on an all-island basis. It is committed to establishing and facilitating business networks and developing and deepening trade and business co-operation throughout the island of Ireland, including the Border and north-west regions. I look forward to the restoration of the institutions set up under the Good Friday [1089]Agreement and to working with northern colleagues to promote business development and co-operation across this island.

I very much regret the recent job loss announcements in County Donegal. Finding alternative employment for the workers affected is a priority for FÁS and the State development agencies. FÁS has been in contact with the companies concerned and has offered its full range of support services to those who will lose their jobs.

IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland are committed to the development of the north-west region and continue to strive to secure new investment for Donegal. Both agencies are working closely with their existing base of companies in the region. In its efforts to secure investment, IDA Ireland is working with Invest Northern Ireland, on a virtual cross-Border park which will involve joint marketing efforts and planned improved telecoms infrastructure on a cross-Border basis. Construction of the Letterkenny Business Park has been completed and construction by Donegal County Council to extend Letterkenny ring road to this park is well advanced. Work has now been completed on the provision of a second 25,000 sq. ft. advance factory at the park and planning permission has been granted for a third advance facility. Planning permission has been obtained for a new facility at Ballyshannon and IDA Ireland has undertaken a significant amount of site development work recently on the site. In addition, further land has been purchased in Buncrana and planning permission has been obtained for a 20,000 sq. ft. factory. IDA Ireland is currently working with a local private developer in the provision of advance space within this estate.

Enterprise Ireland works with companies in the north west to assist them grow their sales and exports and improve innovation in order that they can compete on world markets. The agency is encouraging these companies to adopt new technologies and to move up the value chain. Its range of supports include strategy development, production and operations, marketing, human resources development, finance and research and development.

With regard to the Donegal employment initiative taskforce report, the Donegal county development board, CDB, was charged with its implementation in 2000. The CDB which includes the State development agencies, local interest and representative groups, as well as the local authorities, was viewed generally as the most appropriate vehicle for taking forward the task force recommendations. The recommendations of the task force were incorporated into the CDB’s ten year strategy, An Stráitéis, for Donegal. I understand that a review of the original taskforce report and An Stráitéis is currently being finalised and will be considered shortly by the Donegal county development board.

[1090]At the request of my predecessor, An Tánaiste, the expert group on future skills needs, which operates under the aegis of Forfás, is, in conjunction with IBEC, undertaking a detailed analysis of the education and skills requirements of the north west region. I understand that this work will be completed shortly.

I wish to assure the Deputy that the Government, with the State development agencies, is committed to balanced regional development, particularly through the implementation of the national spatial strategy and the Government’s decentralisation programme. The State development agencies will continue to work together to promote the north west, to attract investment and foster job creation there.

  380.  Mr. Aylward    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    when a decision will be made on the application under the equal funding scheme by a group (details supplied) in County Carlow. [25390/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  My Department received a total of 59 applications for ESF funding under the EQUAL community initiative, by the closing date of 17 September 2004. The EQUAL selection committee will meet on 17 November 2004 for a preliminary review of the selection process. The selection committee will meet again on 1 December 2004 to approve approximately 20 development partnerships for ESF funding under the second round of EQUAL community initiative.

All applicants will be advised of the outcome of the selection process in mid December 2004 with the intention of successful projects commencing activity in January 2005.

  381.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if he will give a breakdown of the number of companies supported by IDA Ireland in each county here; the number of employees employed in those IDA Ireland supported companies per county; the amount of grant aid awarded to the IDA Ireland supported companies over the past ten years; and if he will give a breakdown per county. [25397/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  The following tables show the following data: the number of IDA Ireland supported companies in each county from 1994 to 2003, inclusive; the number of employees in IDA Ireland supported companies in each county from 1994 to 2003, inclusive; and the amount of grant aid awarded to IDA Ireland supported companies in each county from 1994 to 2003, inclusive. IDA Ireland does not provide a company-by-company breakdown of the grant aid awarded in each county for confidentiality and competitive reasons.

Number of IDA supported Companies in each county from 1994 to 2003, inclusive.

County 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
Carlow 7 7 7 7 8 8 8 8 8 8
Cavan 11 11 10 10 10 10 10 9 8 7
Clare 13 13 14 13 13 13 13 10 9 8
Cork 112 113 110 109 121 133 134 132 134 134
Donegal 14 14 11 11 11 12 14 13 13 13
Dublin 372 426 511 565 593 690 667 577 535 499
Galway 38 38 42 44 45 46 51 52 54 52
Kerry North 11 11 11 10 10 11 11 11 11 11
Kerry South 14 13 13 13 14 14 12 12 11 12
Kildare 25 27 27 27 25 27 28 28 27 27
Kilkenny 8 8 8 9 9 9 9 10 10 8
Laois 7 7 7 8 8 5 5 6 5 5
Leitrim 4 4 4 6 5 5 5 6 6 6
Limerick 47 46 44 44 48 44 40 40 39 39
Longford 9 9 9 10 10 9 7 8 7 8
Louth 26 26 27 28 29 27 25 22 19 20
Mayo 21 21 18 18 19 21 26 25 26 24
Meath 14 14 14 15 18 18 20 20 20 18
Monaghan 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 7 8 8
Offaly 13 13 12 11 12 14 13 12 11 10
Roscommon 10 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 8
Sligo 17 17 17 17 19 19 21 21 24 24
Tipperary North 10 8 8 8 8 8 8 7 5 6
Tipperary South 10 12 11 12 12 10 12 12 12 12
Waterford 28 29 28 28 32 33 31 31 32 32
Westmeath 16 16 16 17 19 18 20 19 19 18
Wexford 19 20 19 20 20 20 19 16 16 15
Wicklow 26 23 24 24 25 27 26 25 24 22
Total 908 961 1,037 1,099 1,158 1,266 1,250 1,148 1,102 1,054

Number of employees in IDA supported companies in each county from 1994 to 2003, inclusive.

County 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
Carlow 1,405 1,224 1,156 1,135 1,200 1,176 1,123 1,102 1,058 1,019
Cavan 1,266 1,312 1,236 1,239 1,257 1,218 1,218 1,231 1,236 1,169
Clare 1,103 1,114 1,141 1,162 1,130 1,188 1,211 1,081 914 890
Cork 10,775 11,453 11,953 12,499 13,763 15,037 18,025 18,532 18,204 18,162
Donegal 4,362 4,497 4,199 4,134 3,838 2,772 2,739 2,574 2,640 2,287
Dublin 22,707 25,559 29,305 34,187 39,454 45,951 52,250 49,082 47,858 46,081
Galway 4,836 5,484 6,140 7,266 7,798 7,875 9,256 9,114 8,296 8,406
Kerry North 1,131 1,064 971 736 683 840 1,027 1,190 1,083 1,004
Kerry South 1,114 979 1,029 1,123 1,253 1,356 1,619 1,771 1,361 1,201
Kildare 3,901 5,199 6,793 8,766 8,785 8,871 10,670 10,100 10,214 10,222
Kilkenny 333 370 326 384 434 392 304 357 429 338
Laois 874 862 852 808 707 337 344 298 285 270
Leitrim 385 370 393 326 259 311 242 576 674 1,244
Limerick 6,442 6,942 7,412 7,849 8,860 9,778 10,651 10,061 8,937 8,443
Longford 815 816 811 699 744 437 369 402 423 559
Louth 3,564 3,713 3,200 3,409 3,476 3,518 3,771 2,621 2,524 2,339
Mayo 2,979 3,111 2,932 2,711 3,170 3,195 3,749 3,874 3,502 3,468
Meath 1,205 1,255 1,281 1,296 1,340 1,232 1,289 1,246 1,173 1,097
Monaghan 478 507 498 476 490 457 438 442 469 335
Offaly 1,447 1,533 1,516 1,479 1,534 1,884 1,620 1,308 1,198 1,109
Roscommon 603 653 864 924 970 974 1,026 1,009 984 1,068
Sligo 1,943 2,069 2,183 2,295 2,461 2,508 2,551 2,419 2,502 2,397
Tipperary North 1,193 1,255 1,349 1,383 1,330 1,355 1,486 1,413 946 714
Tipperary South 1,273 1,535 2,130 1,992 1,178 1,400 1,703 2,102 2,202 2,028
Waterford 3,757 3,765 3,873 4,345 4,971 4,912 4,697 4,943 5,294 5,669
Westmeath 2,155 1,912 2,077 2,402 2,430 2,293 2,687 2,797 2,776 2,177
Wexford 1,572 1,742 1,924 1,989 1,972 1,997 2,016 1,822 1,897 1,851
Wicklow 1,979 2,129 2,039 2,217 2,377 2,935 3,044 2,810 2,925 3,446
Total 85,597 92,424 99,583 109,231 117,864 126,199 141,125 136,277 132,004 128,993

Amount of grant aid awarded to IDA supported companies in each county from 1994 to 2003, inclusive.

County 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
€000s €000s €000s €000s €000s €000s €000s €000s €000s €000s
Carlow 7 0 220 103 71 333 238 19 0 0
Cavan 660 444 716 769 629 261 0 57 95 80
Clare 239 157 390 431 233 244 254 124 279 712
Cork 9,881 16,022 20,474 13,807 32,521 22,082 16,449 21,831 16,970 12,370
Donegal 5,354 109 252 229 148 723 1,981 983 4,697 203
Dublin 29,235 33,573 39,903 74,612 71,710 112,760 49,250 48,220 15,105 25,796
Galway 4,017 10,366 13,295 19,257 13,846 9,147 11,255 7,766 2,502 9,040
Kerry 1,576 1,236 2,434 804 630 2,913 4,635 3,244 1,931 1,123
Kildare 16,857 22,628 44,670 44,513 16,706 6,729 6,263 7,156 61,293 23,917
Kilkenny 273 986 258 477 1,111 451 57 111 35 262
Laois 45 44 79 367 321 119 336 184 79 149
Leitrim 116 255 45 228 52 174 25 274 154 1,464
Limerick 18,537 15,388 22,337 11,073 19,268 19,844 15,531 1,141 1,923 654
Longford 1,119 843 208 71 413 539 0 23 1,311 490
Louth 3,232 5,550 1,642 2,079 4,053 2,387 21,880 34 321 41
Mayo 2,400 1,672 3,136 2,068 1,920 2,101 8,705 4,119 2,526 1,567
Meath 191 2,302 726 283 680 374 946 408 586 209
Monaghan 1,039 233 131 68 61 75 0 52 0 0
Offaly 2,484 113 1,342 108 293 392 885 509 399 592
Roscommon 584 1,326 1,541 1,479 748 1,026 658 537 516 1,102
Sligo 1,067 2,590 1,242 289 1,542 1,519 1,149 1,558 1,335 1,801
Tipperary North 650 173 254 144 144 23 0 619 0 1,579
Tipperary South 135 378 14,868 7,092 1,464 6,087 4,013 4,463 2,101 1,101
Waterford 2,306 2,446 3,819 2,752 3,194 4,479 2,988 1,481 2,747 4,795
Westmeath 1,219 141 1,495 3,959 2,536 306 1,610 833 2,735 1,599
Wexford 1,851 3,076 2,175 2,952 666 1,487 1,585 894 128 1,000
Wicklow 2,455 4,376 1,659 1,728 1,013 3,278 2,354 1,107 875 7,231
Total 107,529 126,427 179,311 191,742 175,973 199,853 153,047 107,747 120,643 98,877

  382.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the position regarding a work permit for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25404/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  A work permit application was received in respect of the individual concerned on 27 September 2004. A decision will be [1094]made in this case shortly and the employer will be notified.

  383.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    further to Parliamentary Question No. 242 of 5 October 2004, the position regarding an issue (details supplied). [25469/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. M. Ahern):  Unfortunately, due to an administrative error within my Department, incorrect information was given in the reply to the Deputy’s question on this issue on 5 October last. The full position regarding the issue was outlined by me in a reply to a question on the same matter on 6 October — reference 23741/04. Also on 6 October, a reply was issued to Amnesty International on the same lines.

  384.  Mr. O’Shea     asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    his views on whether the number of years a person can spend on the community employment scheme should be extended beyond the present three-year cap; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25470/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  As part of the Government’s decision in 1999 to restructure community employment, CE, future participation in CE by an individual was capped at three years, effective from April 2000. The three-year cap was amended in August 2001 to allow FÁS greater flexibility with regard to the retention of particularly disadvantaged persons on the programme.

The terms and conditions of participation on CE are currently under review. There has been extensive consultation with key stakeholders and the social partners, including CORI, over the past year on the future direction of FÁS labour market programmes. All submissions received as part of this process are being fully considered and will help inform the outcome of the review.

  385.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number of jobs created by IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland in Counties Sligo and Leitrim in 2001, 2002, 2003 and to date in 2004; the number of jobs lost in each county for that period; the sectors of the economy which have suffered the worst losses; the steps taken to promote employment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25481/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  Support for job creation and retention in individual counties is a day-to-day operational matter for the industrial development agencies. The agencies are actively promoting counties Sligo and Leitrim for new investment and jobs on an ongoing basis, with IDA Ireland actively marketing the county as a location for additional foreign direct investment through its network of overseas offices and Enterprise Ireland concentrating on the development of indigenous industries. Both agencies are also working with existing clients in the counties with a view to helping them expand their activities.

[1096]Job creation and job losses are a feature of economic development in all countries as various sectors expand and contract in response to market demand for goods and services, competitive forces, restructuring and technological change. The Forfás annual employment survey records jobs gained and lost, and figures are published for the previous year on a cumulative basis at the beginning of the following year. The latest figures available are for 2003.

According to IDA Ireland overseas investment in both counties is performing well with a number of projects announcements and expansions over the period, including the following: Abbott Laboratories announced in July 2001 that the company planned to establish a major new pharmaceuticals manufacturing facility in Sligo, which will employ 195 people. Construction of the project has been completed and production has commenced; in March 2003 Abbott Laboratories made a further announcement that the company planned to invest €45 million in the expansion of its diagnostics facility at Finisklin and a further €55 million in the development of a new facility in Longford. The projects will create 350 jobs in Sligo and 600 jobs in Longford. Construction of both facilities is well underway and recruitment is ongoing; MBNA, the world’s largest independent credit card lender has established a new contact centre at Carrick-on-Shannon and the company has recruited aggressively over the past three years in Leitrim and the surrounding counties; and Eaton Corporation has established a new operation in Manorhamilton and now employs approximately 200 persons. The company has plans to develop the business further in Manorhamilton and has been recruiting over the past 18 months.

Job losses in IDA Ireland supported companies in Sligo and Leitrim have occurred in the engineering and consumer products sectors.

Enterprise Ireland has approved funding of almost €2.4 million and made payments of approximately €1.7 million to client companies in Counties Sligo and Leitrim, since the beginning of 2003 to date. It has approved funding of €460,000, under its competitiveness fund, to five companies in Sligo and Leitrim. It is working with Sligo and Letterkenny ITs on an enterprise development programme called commercialising enterprise in management, which provides training for graduates wishing to set up their own business. It has helped to fund the construction of three community enterprise centres in County Sligo and seven in County Leitrim. In addition, two further centres have been approved for County Leitrim under the community enterprise centre programme 2002 at Ballinamore and Drumshambo. Enterprise Ireland also instigated the setting up of a north-west region community enterprise centre association in October 2003. It has approved €2.54 million in 2003 in support of the Sligo IT campus-based business incubation [1097]cFÁS. Some €157,000 has also been approved towards the cost of a centre manager.

In terms of job losses in Enterprise Ireland supported companies in the counties, the most job losses were recorded in the food, plastic-rubber and furniture-wood related sectors.

The following tables provide details of total employment, jobs gained, jobs lost and the net change in Counties Sligo and Leitrim for each of the agencies for the years 2001 to 2003 inclusive.

Job Data for Enterprise Ireland supported companies in County Sligo from 2001 to 2003, inclusive.

Enterprise Ireland County Sligo 2001 2002 2003
Permanent Employment 1,782 1,814 1,789
Jobs Gained 166 240 187
Jobs Lost -216 -208 -212
Net Change -50 32 -25

Job Data for Enterprise Ireland supported companies in County Leitrim from 2001 to 2003, inclusive.

Enterprise Ireland — County Leitrim 2001 2002 2003
Permanent Employment 1,070 961 926
Jobs Gained 53 73 28
Jobs Lost -55 -182 -63
Net Change -2 -109 -35

Job Data for IDA Ireland supported companies in County Sligo from 2001 to 2003, inclusive.

IDA Ireland — County Sligo 2001 2002 2003
Permanent Employment 2,419 2,502 2,397
Jobs Gained 92 163 102
Jobs Lost -224 -80 -207
Net Change in Employment -132 83 -105

Job Data for IDA Ireland supported companies in County Leitrim from 2001 to 2003, inclusive.

IDA Ireland — County Leitrim 2001 2002 2003
Permanent Employment 576 674 1,244
Gross Gains (New Jobs) 336 117 575
Job Losses -2 -19 -5
Net Change in Employment 334 98 570

  386.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if he will include CORI justice commission policy recommendations (details supplied) in all policy areas within his Department. [25733/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  Account is taken in relevant policy areas within the ambit of the Department [1098]of the views of all of the social partners, including CORI.

  387.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if disabled children will be included on a carer’s travel pass; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24984/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The free travel scheme is available to all people living in the State aged 66 years or over, to all carers in receipt of carer’s allowance and to carers of people in receipt of constant attendance or prescribed relative’s allowance. It is also available to people under age 66 who are in receipt of certain disability type welfare payments, such as disability allowance, invalidity pension and blind person’s pension.

Children who are registered as blind or visually impaired with either the National Council for the Blind of Ireland or the National League of the Blind of Ireland are also entitled to free travel. Further extensions to the free travel scheme would have to be considered in a budgetary context.

  388.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if a person who is in receipt of carer’s allowance is debarred from going on a further education course which would involve 27 hours per week; and if their carer’s allowance will be affected if they take up this course. [25035/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The principal conditions for receipt of carer’s allowance are that full-time care and attention is required and being provided and that the means test which applies is satisfied.

Where a person in receipt of carer’s allowance takes up an educational course or part-time employment which exceeds ten hours per week, then that person would generally no longer satisfy the qualifying conditions for receipt of the allowance and consequently payment of the allowance would cease.

However, persons who have been in receipt of carer’s allowance for over 15 months and take up an approved education course that is certified as being full-time, may have an entitlement to back to education allowance. This is subject to certain qualifying criteria being satisfied.

If the Deputy has a particular case in mind and provides further details, my Department will then be in a position to advise accordingly.

  389.  Mr. O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the changes in regulations which will allow persons who have class D stamps to qualify for social welfare payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25036/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  Permanent and pensionable public servants employed, including for example teachers and those working in local authorities, who were [1099]employed before April 1995 are liable for PRSI class D contributions. Class D contributors have traditionally been insured for a limited range of social insurance benefits: widow’s or widower’s and orphan’s (contributory) pensions; bereavement grant; occupational injuries benefits; and carer’s benefit. The level of benefits available broadly reflects the level of social insurance contribution paid and the reduced need for protection or coverage against the main other contingencies such as illness, unemployment and old age.

Public servants and civil servants recruited after 6 April 1995, however, are insurable at PRSI class A. These contributions can provide entitlement to the full range of social welfare benefits and pensions.

The number of public and civil servants paying PRSI class A is steadily increasing and will over time come to represent the norm throughout the public sector. At this stage, there are no plans to make any further changes to the PRSI arrangements for public servants.

  390.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the position on the payment of the rent allowance to a recipient of the lone parent’s allowance who is now on FÁS and in receipt of €175 per week from FÁS; if their rent allowance will be reduced in view of this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25054/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  Subject to certain conditions the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on behalf of my Department by the health boards, provides for the payment of rent supplement to eligible people whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs.

The regulations governing rent supplement stipulate that, in addition to a minimum contribution, currently €13, each recipient is required to contribute towards his or her rent any additional assessable means he or she has over and above the appropriate basic supplementary welfare allowance rate.

In the case of a person who has additional income as a result of participation in an approved training course, such as those run by FÁS, the means test provides for a weekly disregard of up to €50 of such additional income for rent supplement purposes. It is likely that the rent supplement payable to the person, in the position as outlined by the Deputy, will be reduced in view of the increase in his or her income.

  391.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo is not receiving unemployment benefit, and when they can expect to receive payment. [25075/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The person concerned made a claim for unemployment benefit from 24 August 2004. [1100]The deciding officer disallowed the claim on the grounds that the person is not unemployed.

The person concerned has appealed this decision to the social welfare appeals office. The appeal has been referred to the appeals officer who is of the opinion that an oral hearing is required. She will be advised of the date and venue for the hearing when the necessary arrangements have been made.

Under social welfare legislation decisions on claims must be made by deciding officers and appeals officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.

  392.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be awarded and receive invalidity pension. [25076/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  An applicant must be permanently incapable of work and satisfy certain PRSI conditions to qualify for invalidity pension.

The person concerned applied for invalidity pension on 23 August 2004. Although she fulfilled the medical eligibility criteria the social insurance, PRSI, conditions were not satisfied. She was refused invalidity pension and was notified of this decision on 14 October 2004, the reasons for it and of her right of appeal to the social welfare appeals office.

Under social welfare legislation, decisions on claims must be made by deciding officers and appeals officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.

  393.  Mr. O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Louth was refused mortgage interest supplement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25079/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  Subject to certain conditions, the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on behalf of my Department by the health boards, provides for the payment of a weekly or monthly supplement in respect of mortgage interest to eligible people in the State whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation needs.

One of the conditions for receipt of mortgage interest supplement is that the applicant must have been in a position to meet the mortgage repayments when he or she entered into the loan agreement originally.

The North Eastern Health Board was contacted regarding this case and has advised that the person concerned did not satisfy the board that she was in a position originally to meet the repayments. Her application was refused accord[1101]ingly. The board has no record of an appeal from the person concerned.

  394.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be awarded the fuel allowance. [25087/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  Free fuel allowance is payable to persons on certain long-term social welfare or health board payments who live alone or with other social welfare recipients and where they are unable to provide for their own heating needs.

There is no record of a free fuel application for the household concerned. While carer’s allowance, which the person concerned is receiving, is not a qualifying payment for receipt of free fuel allowance, the care recipient may have an entitlement to the allowance based on his old age pension entitlement. An application form has been forwarded to him for completion. His entitlement to the allowance will be further examined on receipt of this application.

  395.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the position with regard to a person who will qualify for a contributory old age pension (details supplied) in the near future; if, in view of the fact that it is usually a six day week for social welfare, this person can sign for the three days; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25127/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  Social welfare legislation provides that all unemployed persons must satisfy the conditions of being available for full-time employment and genuinely seeking work to be entitled to an unemployment payment. A person who fails to satisfy these conditions on an ongoing basis is not entitled to an unemployment payment.

The amount of unemployment benefit payable for any day of unemployment, Monday to Saturday, for casual and part-time workers, is one sixth of the weekly rate. However, in the case of a systematic short-time worker, the amount of unemployment benefit payable for any day of unemployment is one fifth of the weekly rate. In addition, the number of days worked and the number of days of unemployment paid cannot exceed five in any working week.

Social welfare legislation provides that a person is regarded as being engaged in systematic short-time working where his or her full-time working week is reduced by his or her employer due to a downturn in business and where there is a clear repetitive pattern of employment each week. The number of days of benefit payable each week to a systematic short-time worker is limited to ensure that the total number of days paid and the number of days worked do not exceed five. Unemployment benefit and assistance are payable up to age 66.

If the Deputy supplies details of the case in question I will have the matter examined.

[1102]

  396.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the reason the unemployment assistance appeal by a person (details supplied) in County Mayo was disallowed considering that letters have been submitted to prove that this person is actively seeking employment but just cannot work; and the reason their payment stopped when they are genuinely seeking work. [25157/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  A deciding officer disallowed the unemployment assistance claim of the person concerned and an appeals officer upheld this decision. A letter outlining the grounds of the appeals officer’s decision was issued to her on 2 September 2004. An appeals officer’s decision is final in the absence of new facts or fresh evidence.

The person concerned made a repeat application for unemployment assistance on 8 October 2004. However, the application form was incomplete. The person concerned has been contacted and on receipt of the completed application her case will be re-examined. When a decision is made, she will be notified of the outcome.

Under social welfare legislation, decisions on claims must be made by deciding officers and appeals officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.

  397.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the estimated cost of extending the Christmas bonus payment to all persons in receipt of short-term payments which include short-term unemployment payments, disability, maternity benefit, carer’s benefit; family income, supplement and supplementary welfare allowance; and the number of persons currently receiving these short-term payments. [25158/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  As the Deputy will be aware, the Christmas bonus will again be paid this year to all recipients of long-term social welfare payments, at a rate equivalent to 100% of the person’s normal weekly payment, subject to a minimum payment of €30. The measure will cost an estimated €127.4 million in 2004 and will benefit some 1.2 million persons comprising 816,000 recipients and 386,000 dependants.

The estimated cost of extending the Christmas bonus to all persons in receipt of short-term payments, including short-term unemployment payments, disability, maternity benefit, carer’s benefit, family income supplement and supplementary welfare allowance, is €28.3 million. The number of persons receiving these short-term payments is 196,000.

  398.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if the case of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin will be investigated. [25169/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  Subject to certain conditions, the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on behalf of my Department by the health boards, provides for the payment of a weekly or monthly supplement in respect of rent to eligible people in the State whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation needs and who do not have accommodation available from any other source.

The South Western Area Health Board was contacted regarding this case and has advised that the person concerned made an application for rent supplement in October 2003 following her move from local authority accommodation in Athlone. Her application was refused in accordance with the legislation governing the payment of rent supplement which stipulates that a supplement is not payable to a person who has vacated accommodation provided by a local authority unless the board is satisfied that there is reasonable cause for so doing.

The person concerned appealed this decision to the health board appeals officer and my Depart[1104]ment’s chief appeals officer. On both occasions the appeals officers determined that the reasons put forward for her move from existing local authority housing did not represent reasonable cause. Her appeals were disallowed.

The person concerned recently made further inquires regarding entitlement to rent supplement. She was again informed that she does not satisfy the conditions for receipt of rent supplement. As happened at the time of her original application in October 2003, she was advised that she should contact her local authority with regard to her housing needs.

  399.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the total level of social insurance contributions and details of that paid by employers, by employees and by the self-employed in each year since 1997 including his estimate for 2004 based on the returns for the year to date. [25280/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The requested information is contained in the following table.

Table: The total level of Social Insurance Contributions paid by Employers, Employees and the Self-Employed from 1997 to 2004.

Year Employer Employee Self-Employed Other Total
€ 000 € 000 € 000 € 000 € 000
1997 1,370,009 450,346 124,389 346 1,945,090
1998 1,580,740 427,163 130,555 1,444 2,139,902
1999 1,834,010 489,014 161,810 2,733 2,487,567
2000 2,763,419 745,569 190,051 26,801 3,725,838
2001 3,251,639 819,752 189,191 45,773 4,306,355
2002 3,520,443 974,219 252,455 51,126 4,798,243
2003* 3,692,896 1,077,203 277,696 40,737 5,088,532
2004** 4,050,000 1,170,000 342,000 35,000 5,597,000

  400.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if he will amend the guidelines for the living alone allowance in the budget for 2005 in order that persons in receipt of the pre-retirement allowance who live alone can receive this payment. [25310/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The living alone allowance is an additional payment of €7.70 per week made to people receiving certain social welfare payments who are living alone. In general, the payment is made to those who have reached pension age and are receiving a social welfare pension and those under that age receiving certain invalidity type schemes.

Extending the allowance to recipients of the pre-retirement allowance would involve granting eligibility to a category of people who are not old age pensioners or incapacitated. Such an extension would have implications for other social wel[1104]fare recipients under 66 years of age. Any change in policy in relation to the living alone allowance would have to be considered in a budgetary context.

  401.  Ms Lynch    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if persons in receipt of social welfare and who hold SSIA accounts will have their payments affected once their accounts mature; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25349/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  In assessing means for social assistance purposes account is taken of any cash income the person may have, together with the value of capital and property. Capital may include the following: stocks and shares of every description, which are assessed according to their current market value, and savings certificates, bonds or national instalment savings, which are assessed according [1105]to their current market value. Money invested in a bank, building society etc. and any monetary amounts held in SSIA accounts are treated in the same manner as all other capital outlined above.

New arrangements for the assessment of capital were introduced in October 2000. Under these arrangements, the first €12,697.38 of capital is disregarded and the assessment is on a sliding scale for amounts above this. In the case of old age pension, for example, a single pensioner with capital of up to €21,585.53 qualifies for a full pension while a single pensioner with capital of up to €68,565.84 qualifies for a minimum pension.

The new system continued and enhanced the policy of ensuring that those with modest amounts of capital receive the greater share of available support, whereas the small proportion of people with large amounts of capital are in a position to avail of it to contribute towards meeting their needs.

  402.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    when agreement will be made on whether the PRSI refund for personal pension payments should come from the Collector General or his Department; and when this matter will be decided. [25410/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  Provision has been made to exempt from PRSI contributions payments made to personal retirement savings accounts, PRSAs, introduced under the Pensions (Amendment) Act 2002 and payments to other personal pensions in the form of ordinary retirement annuity contracts, which are paid through the payroll system. These arrangements were provided for in the regulations that govern the PAYE system.

Contributions to PRSAs and other personal pensions may also be made in a personal capacity outside the payroll system. Social welfare legislation provides for the return, subject to certain conditions, of PRSI contributions paid in respect of payments made to such pensions by employees or proprietary directors outside the payroll system.

My Department and the Revenue Commissioners are in consultation to agree mechanisms to refund in these cases, as the calculation of a refund requires input from both the Revenue and social welfare systems. I expect that the necessary procedures will be agreed in the near future. As soon as the necessary mechanisms are in place, information as to how to claim a refund will be publicised and all refunds due will be paid in full.

  403.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    when it is proposed to introduce the promised all-Ireland free travel scheme for pensioners. [25440/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  Under the existing free travel scheme, [1106]pass holders who reside in the Republic of Ireland can travel free within the South. Similarly, people who live in Northern Ireland and who hold a concessionary travel pass can travel free within the North. Under the special cross-Border arrangements in place since 1995, both southern and northern pass holders can undertake cross-Border journeys free of charge.

The introduction of free travel on an all-Ireland basis would enable southern pass holders to make free onward journeys within the North. Similarly, Northern Ireland pass holders would be able to make internal journeys within the South free of charge.

There are a number of issues to be resolved to implement an enhanced all-Ireland free travel system on these lines. These issues will require co-operation between my Department and the department for regional development in Northern Ireland as well as the relevant northern and southern transport operator companies.

My predecessor met with the Minister of State at the department for regional development in Northern Ireland last month to explore the potential for co-operation between the two Departments with regard to the proposal. Contacts are continuing between officials of the two Departments.

  404.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if he will include CORI justice commission policy recommendations (details supplied) in all policy areas within his Department. [25737/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The recommendations to which the Deputy refers form part of CORI’s most recent policy briefing in which it sets out its main recommendations for budget 2005.

In the latter regard, I recently held a pre-budget forum, attended by 27 different organisations, including CORI. These organisations, representing the welfare interests of a wide variety of people, put forward a range of proposals and initiatives relevant to my Department. At the forum, I also extended a personal invitation to each of the organisations attending to meet with me on an individual basis over the next number of months and this process is already in train.

I will be developing budget proposals on the various proposals within my own area of responsibility, having regard to the views expressed by the various organisations who attended the forum, including CORI, and in the light of existing Government commitments on social welfare schemes.

  405.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will support the case of a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary. [25045/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Mr. Callely):  The holding of a certificate of professional competence, CPC, is one of the requirements introduced by the European Council Directive 74/562/EEC for any person wishing to engage in the occupation of road freight and passenger transport manager. To comply with this requirement there must be some person in the haulage company acting as transport manager. This person must hold the CPC and will effectively manage and control the haulage operation.

In this particular case the holder of the road haulage licence does not hold a CPC and his brother, who holds a CPC, is the designated transport manager for the business.

However the CPC is specific to the person who obtains it and is, consequently, non-transferable. A CPC can only be obtained by passing one of the examinations approved by the Chartered Institute of Transport and Logistics, which is the competent authority in Ireland for CPCs. Full details of courses and examinations in the Tipperary area can be obtained from the Chartered Institute of Transport and Logistics.

  406.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Transport    if an aircraft citation jet with a call sign N379P has been given permission for landing and take-off at Shannon Airport within the past four years. [25160/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  In accordance with the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, aircraft may come into Ireland for technical stops such as for refuelling purposes, as this aircraft has done, without notifying the Department of Transport, and no notification about this aircraft was received by my Department.

However, as I indicated in an earlier reply to a parliamentary question on 7 October 2004, my Department has been informed by Shannon Airport management that this particular aircraft, number N379P, owned by Premier Executive Transport Services, a small US airline, has used Shannon airport 13 times in the past five years, 2000 to 2004. The aircraft has not used any other Irish airport. Each landing was a technical stop, that is, for refuelling or other technical reasons. On no occasion did any passengers join or leave the flight at Shannon.

The aircraft used Shannon once in each year of 2000, 2001, in September of that year, and 2003, and ten times in 2002, and not at all so far in 2004. On these occasions the aircraft was routed from Shannon to airports or airbases in the UK, USA, or Canada.

Furthermore, I understand that the US authorities have confirmed to the Department of Foreign Affairs that prisoners are not being transported through Irish airports to Guantanamo or elsewhere. The US side also confirms that it would not seek to use Irish airports for this pur[1108]pose in the future without seeking the authorisation of the Irish authorities.

  407.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Transport    if the report that was due to be completed by Iarnród Éireann on the future of rail freight business here promised in April 2003 has been completed; and if he will provide a copy of the same. [25161/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Since the publication of the strategic rail review in 2003, my Department has held a number of meetings with Irish Rail at which the company has reported on its progress in improving the performance of its freight business.

Iarnród Éireann informs me that it has secured new contracts, has consolidated the business and has been targeting train load traffics which are best suited to the rail mode of transport.

  408.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Transport    if his Department’s review of the National Roads Authority’s internal restructuring which is due to go to the Cabinet early in the autumn will include a possible re-organisation of the authority’s remit to include broader transport and environmental considerations. [25162/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The NRA engaged management consultants, PricewaterhouseCoopers, to review its arrangements for the implementation of the national roads programme and to make recommendations on the optimisation of these arrangements to secure further efficiencies in the implementation of the national roads programme and ensure value for money. The review has been submitted to my Department by the NRA. The contents and recommendations of the review are being considered in my Department.

The NRA, as an integral part of its approach to project appraisal and management, takes broader transport and environmental considerations fully into account in the planning and appraisal of road improvement projects. In particular the NRA has strengthened its arrangements for taking environmental considerations into account including the appointment of an environmental manager and archaeologists to the staff of the NRA; the inclusion of clear requirements in its project management guidelines relating to the identification and avoidance of environmental impact; and the publication of guidelines on the treatment of noise and vibration in road schemes and on ecological impact. Work is under way on further guidelines on environmental impact assessment, landscape mitigation, storm water run-off and water quality and waste management.

  409.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Trans[1109]port    if he will provide information on the primary legislation or other statutory instrument which bans the pulling of a trailer by a two-wheel drive vehicle; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25274/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Mr. Callely):  Road traffic law on the drawing of trailers by motor vehicles is set out in Part 4 of the Road Traffic (Construction and Use of Vehicles) Regulations 2003. The regulations contain no specific prohibition on the drawing of a trailer by a two-wheel drive vehicle and I have no plans to introduce such a prohibition.

  410.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Minister for Transport    if the Government provides the finance for the purchase of Aer Lingus aircraft; if so, the relevant figures for the past 20 years; and if it is the Government’s intention to provide such finance for this company in the future. [25362/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Over the past 20 years, the Government has invested a total of €260.3 million in Aer Lingus, the details of which are set out in the following table.

Year Aer Lingus €m
1983 19.05
1984 19.05
1993 95.23
1994 63.49
1995 63.49
Total 260.31

All the investment was provided to assist with re-structuring of the company in times of crisis. In the 20-year period, the company has replaced and grown the fleet with funds generated from internal resources and from borrowings.

  411.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Minister for Transport    if the Government has made a decision to act on a report (details supplied) commissioned by it on the future of the national airline; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25363/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The Goldman Sachs report on Aer Lingus is being considered by me and my officials. It has also been circulated to the members of the Cabinet sub-committee and a meeting of this committee will take place in the very near future.

This report will form an input into my deliberations and those of the Cabinet sub-committee prior to any decision by Government on the future of Aer Lingus. In accordance with the terms of Sustaining Progress, there will be engagement between my Department and the social partners on the future of Aer Lingus before the Government finalises its consideration of this matter.

  412.  Mr. Curran    asked the Minister for Transport    if, given that the Tallaght Luas line is operational, the feasibility of providing an extension to this line will be investigated to provide Luas facilities to Clondalkin village and its environs. [25414/04]

  415.  Mr. Curran    asked the Minister for Transport    if, given that the Tallaght Luas line is operational, the feasibility of providing an extension to this line will be investigated to provide Luas facilities to Lucan and its environs. [25521/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 412 and 415 together.

Responsibility for the development of specific proposals for the expansion of Luas services lies with the Railway Procurement Agency. In considering future lines and extensions, the RPA will have regard to the overall Dublin Transportation Office strategy, as set out in A Platform for Change. I understand from the RPA that inquiries are received frequently from developers and community groups as to whether Luas lines could be extended to particular developments and neighbourhoods. However, neither my Department nor the RPA have to date received formal proposals about an extension to Lucan and its environs or Clondalkin village and its environs.

  413.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Transport    further to Parliamentary Question No. 467 of 15 June 2004, the response to the investigation he initiated; the reason an international road freight carriers licence continues to be held when the person is clearly in breach of the existing planning laws as regards the haulage business; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25471/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Mr. Callely):  The responsibility for the enforcement of planning laws rests with the relevant local authority in the first instance. The matter has been investigated and my Department has been informed by Kilkenny County Council that the haulage operations can continue to operate from the existing premises.

  414.  Mr. Kehoe     asked the Minister for Transport    the action which must be taken to drive here by a person who holds a western Australia class C driving licence having previously held two provisional Irish licences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25493/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  A temporary visitor to Ireland from Australia who holds an Australian driving licence or an international driving permit may drive here for the duration of the visit up to a maximum period of 12 months. Where a person who holds an Australian driving [1111]licence takes up residence in Ireland, he or she may exchange his or her licence for an Irish driving licence, without the need for a driving test. Application to exchange the licence is made to the local licensing authority.

Question No. 415 answered with Question
No. 412.

  416.  Mr. Crowe     asked the Minister for Transport    his position on the proposal by the Dublin Airport Authority to construct a new runway at Dublin Airport; if he has had contact with local residents and community groups on this matter and the nature of this contact; and his views on the suggestion that the development of new or existing airport facilities in the Dublin region might alleviate the need for a new runway at Dublin Airport and contribute to balanced planning. [25552/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Proposals relating to the development of Dublin Airport, including the planning and provision of runway capacity, are in the first instance a matter for the Dublin Airport Authority, which has statutory responsibility to manage, operate and develop the airport and to provide such facilities and services as it considers necessary for aircraft and passengers. The airport authority has announced its intention to submit a planning application to Fingal County Council for a second parallel runway before the end of the year.

Dublin Airport will remain the country’s main airport serving the needs not just of the travelling public in our capital city and the surrounding counties but also of the country’s tourism, business and freight sectors generally. Notwithstanding the greatly welcome increase over recent years in traffic at Shannon and Cork airports, and to a lesser extent at the regional airports, Dublin Airport will remain crucial to the economy. In this regard, passenger traffic through Dublin Airport is expected to increase from almost 16 million last year to more than 20 million by the end of this decade and is forecast to increase to 30 million by approximately 2018.

The national spatial strategy has also acknowledged that the expansion of the level of air services from Dublin Airport to a wider range of destinations is essential in the interests of underpinning Ireland’s future international competitiveness. Dublin Airport has considerable scope and capacity to expand to cater for future growth in air traffic for the foreseeable future and accordingly, in their report of 1999, consultants Warburg Dillon Read confirmed that Dublin does not need a second airport. The lands necessary for the new runway began to be acquired in the late 1960s and, as far back as 1972, the then Dublin County Council included the proposed new runway in the county development plan.

[1112]The Dublin Airport Authority is completing an environmental impact statement to accompany its planning application for the new runway to Fingal County Council. In this regard, the company has consulted local communities and the public in general on the range of environmental impacts, for example, noise, water quality, drainage, etc., of the proposed runway and the EIS will outline the company’s plans to manage and mitigate any such impacts. The planning process will provide the appropriate forum for all interested parties, including local communities and residents, to have their views on the proposed new runway heard and taken into account by the planning authorities.

  417.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will include CORI justice commission policy recommendations (details supplied) in all policy areas within his Department. [25738/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I have noted the recommendations made by CORI with regard to the budget for 2005 and transport. While a number of the recommendations form part of current policy, others will be considered in the context of future policies and investment programmes being undertaken by my Department over the coming years. Under Sustaining Progress, there is in existence a public transport partnership forum on which the social partners are represented and which makes recommendations and offers advice on various aspects of transport policy. CORI is represented on the community and voluntary pillar of the forum.

  418.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    if there is a group or association funded by his Department which would provide a pendant alarm for persons (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if there is a grant for which they can apply. [24987/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Mr. N. Ahern):  Under the scheme of community supports for older people, grant aid is available towards the once-off costs of purchase and-or installation of small-scale physical security equipment and socially monitored alarm systems. I have asked my officials to make the necessary arrangements in respect of an application for a pendant alarm and I understand that the local family resource centre will shortly contact the people referred to by the Deputy. Once the application is received, it will be assessed for eligibility against the scheme criteria. It is anticipated that the successful applicants will be notified early in December.

[1113]

  419.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    if a claim for payment under the alarms for the elderly scheme submitted in 2003 to his Department will be awarded in view of the fact that the SEHB has honoured its commitment for 2003; and if the application forms and scheme details for groups and communities will be sent to a person (details supplied) as soon as possible. [24989/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Mr. N. Ahern):  Under the scheme of community supports for older people, grant aid is available towards the once-off costs of purchase and-or installation of small-scale physical security equipment and socially monitored alarm systems. It is a condition of the scheme that approval must be received in advance from the Department before any work is carried out. Department records indicate that the last application under this scheme from the group in question was received in respect of the 2001 scheme. In October of that year a grant of £5,400, €6,856.59, was paid to this group by the then Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs, which was then responsible for the scheme. An application form and guidelines in respect of the 2004 scheme have been sent to the person referred to in the Deputy’s question.

  420.  Mr. O’Connor    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    the contacts he has had with community drugs groups in the Tallaght area in respect of problems with drug abuse considered by many to be worsening; the results of those contacts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25137/04]

Minister of State at the Department Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Mr. N. Ahern):  Earlier this year, I met representatives of a number of community based local drugs task force projects from Tallaght to discuss a range of issues of concern to them. I found this meeting useful and a number of the issues have since been progressed, including the question of funding shortfalls for projects that have been mainstreamed through the Departments of Health and Children and Education and Science. The mid-term review of the national drugs strategy is under way. The objective of the review is to examine the progress made to date in achieving the goals and actions set out in the strategy and to enable priorities for future action to be identified and a re-focusing of the strategy, if necessary, for the remaining period up to 2008. It is open to the Deputy or any of the drugs groups in Tallaght to make a written submission to the review on any issue of ongoing concern to them. In addition, it is open to them to attend the Dublin consultation session which is being held as part of the review in the Burlington Hotel on Thursday next, 21 October, at 6 p.m.

  421.  D’fhiafraighMr. O’Shea     den Aire Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta    cén moladh atá aige, má tá, chun seans a thabhairt do limistéir taobh amuigh den Ghaeltacht stádas Gaeltachta a bhaint amach agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina leith. [25144/04]

Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Éamon Ó Cuív):  Mar is eol don Teachta, tá conradh chun staidéar teangeolaíoch ar úsáid na Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht bronnta ar Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge, Ollscoil na hÉireann, Gaillimh, i gcomhar leis an Institiúid Náisiúnta um Anailís Réigiúnach agus Spásúil, Ollscoil na hÉireann, Má Nuad. Beidh an staidéar mar bhunús chun forbairt theangeolaíoch na Gaeltachta mar cheantar labhartha Gaeilge a threisiú agus athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar na limistéir oifigiúla Gaeltachta. Tuigim go mbeidh na roghanna éagsúla tíreolaíocha agus deimeagrafaíochta, a mheastar a bheith oiriúnach mar bhunús chun na limistéir oifigiúla Ghaeltachta a shainiú, á scrúdú mar chuid den staidéar.

  422.  Mr. Ring     asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be awarded a Gaeltacht house grant, given that the work is complete and the delay in issuing payment is causing hardship to this person. [25152/04]

Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Éamon Ó Cuív):  The grant has been paid.

  423.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    the position regarding a funding application by a group (details supplied) in County Mayo; if the application has been approved; and the funding they will receive. [25466/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Mr. N. Ahern):  My Department received an application for funding from the group in question under the 2004 programme of grants for locally based community and voluntary organisations. Assessment of the large number of applications received under this scheme is nearing completion and all applicants will be notified of the outcome of their application shortly.

  424.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    the details of the ownership by the Government, past and present, of an area (details supplied) in County Roscommon. [25476/04]

Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Éamon Ó Cuív):  The site referred to is in the ownership of Waterways Ireland, one of [1115]the six North-South Implementation Bodies established under the British-Irish Agreement Act 1999. It is held by Roscommon County Council under agreement dated 2 January 1945 between the Minister of Finance and Roscommon County Council.

  425.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the action taken by her Department in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny relating to the poor state of health of the animals on their farm and the difficulties they have experienced in this regard over a seven-year period; if a cross-agency approach will be adopted in regard to this problem and immediate action instigated on foot of all the r