Dáil Eireann

02/Nov/2004

Prelude

Ceisteanna — Questions.

Legislative Programme.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Priority Questions.

Aer Lingus.

Traffic Management.

Road Network.

Heavy Goods Vehicles.

Other Questions.

Public Transport.

Rail Accidents.

Public Transport.

Adjournment Debate Matters.

Leaders’ Questions.

Resignation of Member.

Requests to move Adjournment of Dáil under Standing Order 31.

Order of Business.

Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill 2004: Second Stage (Resumed).

Child Care: Motion.

Adjournment Debate.

Medical Smart Cards.

Public Nursing Homes.

Flood Relief.

Asbestos Waste.

Written Answers.

Road Safety.

Rail Network.

Light Rail Project.

Rail Network.

Rail Services.

Air Services.

Landing Rights.

Road Safety.

State Airports.

Road Network.

Light Rail Project.

Public Transport Integration.

Road Network.

Rail Network.

National Car Test.

Rail Network.

Road Network.

Departmental Expenditure.

Road Network.

Road Safety.

Road Traffic Offences.

Landing Rights.

Rural Transport Integration.

Airport Development Projects.

Public Transport.

Speed Limits.

US Immigration Procedures.

Road Network.

Driving Tests.

Public Transport.

Air Transport Agreement.

Taxi Regulations.

Railway Stations.

Heavy Goods Vehicles.

Public Transport.

Driving Tests.

Airport Landing Facilities.

Road Traffic Offences.

Light Rail Project.

Road Safety.

Road Accidents.

State Airports.

Road Safety.

Driving Tests.

Road Network.

Air Services.

Decentralisation Programme.

Road Network.

Road Safety.

Light Rail Project.

Infrastructural Projects.

Traffic Management.

Airport Development Projects.

Taxi Hardship Panel.

Rail Network.

Departmental Strategy Statements.

Departmental Staff.

Seirbhísí Bord Sláinte.

Health Board Services.

Health Board Allowances.

Health Board Services.

Children in Care.

Ambulance Service.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Long-Term Illness Scheme.

Community Employment Schemes.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

General Practitioner Co-Operatives.

Medicinal Products.

Departmental Staff.

Medical Cards.

Departmental Records.

Cancer Research.

Health Board Services.

Hospital Services.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Health Board Services.

Water Quality.

Hospital Services.

Hospital Accommodation.

General Register Office.

Hospital Services.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Hospital Staff.

Health Board Services.

Drugs Payment Scheme.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Hospital Admissions.

State Property.

Hospital Services.

Health Board Services.

Hospital Services.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Hospital Services.

Cancer Strategy.

Care of the Elderly.

Hospital Services.

Health Board Services.

Bullying in the Workplace.

Medical Cards.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Financial Services Regulation.

Telecommunications Equipment.

Motor Vehicle Registration.

Garda Stations.

Child Care Services.

Tax Code.

Decentralisation Programme.

Departmental Staff.

Offshore Accounts.

Tax Code.

State Property.

Tax Code.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Fishing Vessel Licences.

Post Office Network.

Departmental Staff.

Marine Safety.

Heritage Projects.

Telecommunications Services.

Prospecting Licences.

Telecommunications Services.

Prospecting Licences.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Departmental Staff.

Military Incursions.

Departmental Staff.

Emigrant Support Services.

Support for Irish Prisoners Abroad.

Emigrant Support Services.

Departmental Staff.

Sports Capital Programme.

Decentralisation Programme.

Motor Fuels.

Working Conditions.

Community Employment.

Internal Audit Unit.

Insurance Industry.

Patents Applications.

Industrial Development.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Departmental Staff.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Safe Home Programme.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Social Welfare Regulations.

Social Welfare Statistics.

Welfare Organisations.

Driving Instructor Register.

Legislative Programme.

Disabled Drivers.

Toll Revenues.

Air Accident Investigations.

Departmental Staff.

Driving Instructor Register.

Rail Services.

Rail Network.

Cycle Facilities.

Air Services.

Road Safety.

Driving Tests.

Decentralisation Programme.

Public Transport.

Rail Services.

Road Network.

Road Safety.

Public Transport.

Road Safety.

Dublin Port Tunnel.

Road Network.

Rail Services.

Departmental Staff.

Community Development.

Dormant Accounts Fund.

Irish Language.

Proposed Legislation.

Grant Payments.

Departmental Staff.

Milk Quota.

Grant Payments.

Live Imports.

Grant Payments.

Sugar Beet Industry.

Animal Diseases.

Potato Sector.

Garda Deployment.

Citizenship Applications.

Identity Cards.

Asylum Applications.

Child Care Services.

Departmental Staff.

Temporary Travel Documents.

Control of Fireworks.

Drug Seizures.

Child Care Services.

Drug Seizures.

Registration of Title.

Garda Stations.

Child Care Services.

Status of Person.

Deportation Orders.

Criminal Legal Aid.

Crime Prevention.

Prisoner Releases.

Garda Strength.

Work Permits.

Child Care Services.

Visa Applications.

Garda Recruitment.

Garda Strength.

Crime Prevention

Garda Stations.

Travel Documents.

Extradition Arrangements.

Higher Education Grants.

School Transport.

Special Educational Needs.

Schools Building Projects.

Special Educational Needs.

Higher Education Grants.

Vocational Education Committees.

Special Educational Needs.

Schools Refurbishment.

Departmental Staff.

Physical Education Facilities.

Schools Building Projects.

School Staffing.

Physical Education Facilities.

School Staffing.

Schools Building Projects.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

School Staffing.

Schools Building Projects.

Special Educational Needs.

Schools Building Projects.

Special Educational Needs.

School Staffing.

Schools Refurbishment.

Special Educational Needs.

Teachers’ Remuneration.

Special Educational Needs.

Arts Council.

Teaching Qualifications.

School Placement.

Youth Services.

Schools Refurbishment.

Site Acquisitions.

Schools Building Projects.

Schools Refurbishment.

Capitation Grants.

Higher Education Grants.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

Institutes of Technology.

Departmental Staff.

Defence Forces Property.

Pension Provisions.

Defence Forces Training.

Defence Forces Strength.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Departmental Staff.

Local Authority Housing.

Residential Tenancies Board.

Local Authority Funding.

Housing Grants.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Dublin Docklands Development Authority.

Local Authority Housing.

Environmental Policy.

Housing Levies.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

House Prices.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

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

Paidir.
Prayer.

  1.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Taoiseach    his Department’s legislative priorities for the remainder of the Dáil; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21326/04]

  2.  Mr. J. Higgins    asked the Taoiseach    his Department’s legislative programme for the current Dáil session; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22393/04]

  3.  Mr. Sargent     asked the Taoiseach    his Department’s legislative programme for the remainder of 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22468/04]

  4.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    his Department’s legislative priorities for the remainder of this Dáil; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23420/04]

  5.  Mr. Kenny     asked the Taoiseach    his legislative priorities for the remainder of 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24030/04]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.

My Department has two Bills before the Oireachtas this session, the National Economic and Social Development Office Bill 2002 and the Interpretation Bill 2002. The National Economic and Social Development Office Bill is awaiting Committee Stage. The Interpretation Bill, which has passed all Stages in this House, is awaiting Committee Stage in the Seanad. My Department also has one Bill included on the A list of the Government’s legislative programme. This is the statute law revision Bill 2004, which will repeal irrelevant statutes and will be published this session.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Given that this group of questions is confined and that a large number of questions on Northern Ireland issues is coming [702]up, I suggest that one supplementary question should be taken from each Member who submitted a question, followed by a reply from the Taoiseach. We will then move on to questions on Northern Ireland issues. Is that agreed?

Mr. Sargent:  On a point of order, the Taoiseach has been asked about legislative priorities. Are we to understand from his reply that legislation from other Departments is not a priority, even in terms of wanting it to be enacted?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach is responsible to the House on Question Time for his own Department.

Mr. Sargent:  I appreciate that but as Taoiseach he has an overall responsibility which goes beyond that.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy will have an opportunity. I do not mind suggesting to the House that in order not to curtail questions on Northern Ireland, we should limit the time we devote to this particular question.

Mr. Sargent:  The spirit of the question was certainly not to confine it to the reply that has been given.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy will have an opportunity to ask a supplementary question. Deputy Rabbitte submitted the first question.

Mr. Rabbitte:  I defer, Sir.

Mr. Sargent:  I repeat my question whether there is any procedure in this House for asking the Taoiseach about matters for which the Government has overall responsibility but which may not strictly be the responsibility of the Department of the Taoiseach. Is such a question ruled out under Standing Orders and if so, what is the avenue available to us?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Yes, Deputy, that is ruled out under Standing Orders in respect of questions to the Taoiseach. As the Deputy is aware, there are many other ways, Leaders’ Questions being one of them.

Mr. Sargent:  I did not ask for an example. If the House is to deal with the legislative programme as it stands, with 11 out of 19 bills on the B list now promised for 2005 instead of 2004, is that not something for which the Taoiseach has responsibility?

An Ceann Comhairle:  No, Deputy. That is not the responsibility of the Taoiseach at this particular Question Time. The Taoiseach’s responsibility in these questions is entirely to his own Department.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Government’s White Paper on regulatory reform contains a list [703]of actions relating to the legislative process. Will the Taoiseach inform the House to what extent the promises made in that White Paper are being kept or will be kept in terms of better information flow to Members about upcoming legislation, for instance, the prior publication of the heads of a Bill? There is currently a less than sufficient information flow. How does the Taoiseach propose to better improve that flow in line with the commitments already stated by Government?

An Ceann Comhairle:  In reference to his own Department.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Yes.

Mr. Kenny:  I do not wish to become obstreperous with the Ceann Comhairle as he has spoken to me already on this matter. Question No. 5 addresses the point made by Deputy Sargent and some clarification is required as to whether the Taoiseach has responsibility for the legislative programme as published under his stewardship. I appreciate that the first four questions are directed specifically to the Taoiseach and his Department’s legislative programme. Question No. 5 concerns his own legislative priorities for the remainder of 2004. It is specifically directed to him in his capacity as Taoiseach because this programme is published by the Chief Whip in the Taoiseach’s name. I ask the Ceann Comhairle for clarification as to whether the Taoiseach is debarred from addressing supplementary questions on other legislative priorities other than those relating to the Department of the Taoiseach and if so, by which Standing Order.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Under Standing Order 33, I think, but I will come back to the Deputy on that information, questions to the Taoiseach at this stage refer exclusively to his own Department. On the Order of Business, the Taoiseach answers questions on legislation specifically in regard to other Departments. If the Deputy wishes more detailed information, he should submit a question to the line Minister.

Mr. Kenny:  The Ceann Comhairle will know from long experience in this House that if one manages by whatever contrivance to have a question on the Order Paper, one is entitled to ask supplementary questions. The person to whom the question is addressed must give a response under the stewardship of whoever is Ceann Comhairle.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Chair rules on this particular set of questions in accordance with precedent, that the questions refer specifically to the Taoiseach’s own Department.

Mr. Kenny:  I ask the Ceann Comhairle to send me a further clarification of the ruling. I know the Taoiseach does not wish to be protected by the Chair and he is well able to answer for himself.

[704]An Ceann Comhairle:  I do not wish the Deputy to go down that road.

Mr. Kenny:  I know that and I will not go down that road. I am just suggesting that if there is a question on the Order Paper it should be answered.

An Ceann Comhairle:  These questions deal specifically with the Taoiseach’s Department. Only supplementary questions relevant to the questions are entitled to be asked.

The Taoiseach:  On the legislation of my Department, I assure Deputy Ó Caoláin that whenever we can we put out the proposals in advance and I think we have done that. In regard to the Bills we are talking about, the interpretation Bill and the statute law revision Bill, we have put out the purpose of them and I have answered a number of questions on the record on the detail of them. Some time ago we did the same with the national economic and social development office Bill. I will raise with my colleagues the more general point the Deputy made.

  6.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Taoiseach    when he last met the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair; when he expects to next meet him; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21328/04]

  7.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on his most recent contacts with the Northern Ireland political parties. [21329/04]

  8.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his most recent contacts with the United States Administration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21340/04]

  9.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on recent developments in the Northern Ireland peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21420/04]

  10.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent contacts with the political parties in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21421/04]

  11.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent contacts with the British Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21422/04]

  12.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    when he next expects to meet the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21423/04]

  13.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    when the Forum on Peace and Reconciliation will next meet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21428/04]

  14.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    when he next expects to visit the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21429/04]

  15.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his role in the peace process since 8 July 2004, including his discussions with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21562/04]

  16.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on the outcome of the Leeds Castle talks. [22143/04]

  17.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on his contacts with the Northern Ireland political parties during the Leeds Castle talks. [22144/04]

  18.  Mr. J. Higgins    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on the matters discussed and conclusions reached at his recent meeting with the British Prime Minister in Leeds Castle; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22380/04]

  19.  Mr. J. Higgins    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent contacts with the parties in Northern Ireland. [22383/04]

  20.  Mr. J. Higgins    asked the Taoiseach    when he next expects to meet the President of the United States of America; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22386/04]

  21.  Mr. J. Higgins    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent contacts with the US Administration. [22387/04]

  22.  Mr. J. Higgins    asked the Taoiseach    when he next expects to meet the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22388/04]

  23.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on the Leeds Castle meeting on Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22460/04]

  24.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on recent developments in the Northern Ireland peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22461/04]

  25.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent contacts with the Northern Ireland political parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22462/04]

  26.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on recent contacts with the US Administration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22466/04]

  27.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    the progress in establishing a judicial inquiry into the murder of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22469/04]

  28.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting with a delegation from the DUP on 30 September 2004. [23238/04]

  29.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Taoiseach    the contacts he has had with the British Government and the political parties in Northern Ireland since the ending of the Leeds Castle talks; his assessment of the prospects of concluding an agreement based on the Leeds Castle talks on the basis of these contacts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23239/04]

  30.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Taoiseach    his views on the announcement made by the British Government regarding the proposed inquiry into the murder of a person (details supplied); his further views on whether the announcement made meets the agreement entered into with the Irish Government at the Weston Park talks; if he has raised or plans to raise the matter with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23240/04]

  31.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his meeting with the DUP leader, Dr. Ian Paisley, in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23296/04]

  32.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Taoiseach    if there are plans to convene a meeting of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation; his views on the future role of the forum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23378/04]

  33.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his participation in, and the outcome of, the Leeds Castle talks. [23421/04]

  34.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    when the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation is next scheduled to meet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23511/04]

  35.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent meeting in Dublin with the DUP leader, Dr. Ian Paisley; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24031/04]

  36.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his meeting with Sinn Féin in Dublin on 4 October 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25069/04]

  37.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Taoiseach    the discussions he had with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, on the margins of the ceremonies in Rome for the signing of the new European treaty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27164/04]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 37, inclusive, together.

After three days of intensive discussion at Leeds Castle with the Northern Ireland parties in September, both Prime Minister Blair and I said that we believed we could resolve the issues to do with ending paramilitary activity and putting weapons beyond use.

Immediately after the Leeds Castle talks, all the parties, supported by the two Governments, engaged further on a range of issues, including the review of the Good Friday Agreement, on [707]which it was not possible to conclude agreement at Leeds Castle.

I met Dr. Paisley and Peter Robinson of the DUP on Thursday, 30 September, the first time that Dr. Paisley had come to Dublin to discuss political matters. It was an important meeting which lasted two hours and at which we discussed how we could make progress without interfering with the fundamentals of the Agreement.

At my meeting with Sinn Féin on Monday, 4 October, we had a further opportunity to discuss outstanding issues and to try to advance matters.

I met Prime Minister Blair again in the margins of the treaty ceremony in Rome where we briefly discussed developments. I hope that we can have further discussions at the European Council in Brussels later this week.

It is clear what is now necessary. We want to see a restoration of the Assembly and the Executive as soon as possible which would take account of the review of the operation of the Agreement. There must be a genuine, lasting and stable commitment to power-sharing. There must be the complete end to violence in all its forms and decommissioning of weapons. We want to see support across all sections of the community for the new policing arrangements in Northern Ireland and, of course, we want to see full implementation of the Joint Declaration which will also allow demilitarisation to move ahead.

After so many decades of conflict and turmoil the outstanding issues, while difficult, are very few indeed. If there is a will on all sides to finish this once and for all, I believe sincerely that it can be done. If agreement cannot be reached between the parties when it is clear it should be, we have said that we will find a different way to move this process forward.

I was very grateful to the US special envoy, Mitchell Reiss, for his attendance at Leeds Castle and the constructive role he played. While I have no immediate plans to visit the US, I know the special envoy is keeping the administration informed of progress.

While any meeting of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation is primarily a matter for the chairman and the parties, I would not anticipate an early meeting of this body.

I met Geraldine Finucane and the Finucane family on Thursday, 21 October. It has been my consistent view that this case necessitates a public inquiry. It was agreed at Weston Park in July 2001 that if a public inquiry was recommended following a thorough investigation of the allegations of collusion in this case, that recommendation would be implemented. Judge Cory’s subsequent investigation stated that he was satisfied that there was a need for a public inquiry and that that inquiry should be held as quickly as possible. The inquiry announced recently by the British Government requires the introduction of new British legislation. It is obviously important that this legislation fulfils the Weston Park commitment and the requirements of Judge Cory.

[708]Mr. Rabbitte:  In respect of the remarks made after the Leeds Castle talks — I believe the quote was something like “reasonable in substance and historic in meaning”— does the Taoiseach still believe the process is imbued with the same sense of optimism or does he think that optimism, in the immediate wake of the Leeds Castle talks, has waned somewhat? Will he indicate what he envisages now as the likely timeframe for developments in the process at this stage? What is his assessment of the prospects of agreement being reached between the parties? Is there any set of circumstances where the two Governments would have to advance their own proposals in the event of agreement not being forthcoming between the parties?

The Taoiseach:  After three days in Leeds Castle, we stated we believed we could resolve the issues related to ending paramilitary activity and putting weapons beyond use. We did not get as far on the institutional matters, mainly due to time factors. There were also differences in substance and content but insufficient time was put into the discussions. We said we believed that, subject to a satisfactory outcome to the consultations, we could resolve the issue of arms and the politics of Northern Ireland and allow the two Governments to implement the remaining elements of the Joint Declaration agreed last year. That is the stage to which we brought the discussions.

As regards strands one, two and three, we said we believed we could get agreement but could not do so by changing the fundamentals. We made clear, from the Irish Government’s point of view, how far we could go in this regard which, perhaps depending on how one argues, is not very far but at least we tried. A review was built into the Agreement in 1998 after the multi-party talks so obviously the intention was to have a review. Therefore, we must try at least to make some movement, particularly in areas where it is desirable to make moves.

On the Deputy’s question regarding a date, since June we have been working on the basis that if we came to the anniversary of the election, which is on 26 November, and had not made sufficient progress, we would have to look at where we go from there. That has been the view since the meetings we had at Lancaster House in late June. More recently, if a change in legislation were required — most people believe legislative change would be needed — it would have to be included in the Queen’s speech to the House of Commons on 23 November. That has been the timeframe to which we have been working.

On the Deputy’s third question, the prospects have slowed since Leeds Castle. That is my view which is not one shared by everybody, but I will always give it as I see it on these questions. There are a number of reasons for this, some of which are related to negotiating positions and some to tactics. It is perhaps also because some people have not been involved previously in the process, [709]particularly the DUP, which has not been engaged in this kind of discussion. Perhaps its systems are not yet geared up to the kind of arrangements one needs to make for these discussions, which is understandable since the party has tended, regrettably, either not to have been involved or only peripherally involved for the past six or seven years. It would have been better if it had been engaged. A further reason is that the DUP is holding to the position that it will not talk to Sinn Féin. Since the essential element of what we are trying to do is to reach a conclusion to these issues so that the DUP and Sinn Féin would become the central drivers in a new Executive with the other parties, that they are not talking to each other in any direct form makes the process slow and cumbersome. That is the way it is and one must follow what people set down as their negotiating positions.

I wish to place on record the other matter which probably worries me more. I hope it is not the intention of any party to play this long in tactical terms or play it out to the other side of the British election or, with certainty, the Northern Ireland local elections which are due next May. I cannot be certain that is the case but neither can I tell Deputy Rabbitte that I am certain it is not the case. I remain to be convinced. That would be worrying because then we would go past this date and a few more dates. If the British election is held in the summer, as is expected by many and has not been denied, the British then proceed to holding the EU Presidency and the G8 presidency. We can see where we will be on the agenda in that case and would certainly be drifting into 2006.

This is 2 November so we have 20 days. Otherwise it will drift along. I have taken the opportunity to talk and consult with all the parties on this and anybody I have not met has been met by the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern. I will talk to David Trimble tomorrow and I have talked to everybody else. I talked to the president of Sinn Féin last week and to the other parties recently — the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, has been doing the same — to emphasise that we must come to a resolution on this.

Deputy Rabbitte’s last question was on our own proposals. This is where I did not want to go but we might get there. If we go past 25 November, the two Governments will have to consider the best way of progressing. Naturally, we have given some thought to that but not a lot because we did not want to go onto that ground. We will have to see the best way of advancing. That will be a key part of our discussions on Friday, when we hope to have a lengthy meeting in Brussels, if we cannot make progress in moving on. We will make one final effort. Some of the leaders of the parties will not be available during the next week but immediately on their return we will put our final position to the key parties and see if they will agree to move on. At that stage it will be clear what they want to do.

[710]Nothing has changed. There are no new items. There is not much deviation from the old items either. It is well rehearsed ground at this stage. I never get to the stage where one gives up but the issues have been endlessly discussed to the point of frustration and I do not lead the list of the frustrated. We have talked inside out and upside down the issues of putting arms beyond use, demilitarisation, re-establishment of the institutions and the devolution of policing. There are not many issues, frankly, and all of them have been well and truly analysed. Everybody knows everybody’s position. Even though they are not talking to each other, we have tried to act as a go-between.

That is my assessment of the current position.

Mr. Kenny:  Obviously, people are cynical about politicians in the South. Perhaps if something were done about the two thirds of people’s salaries being paid when nothing is happening, it might focus attention.

The Taoiseach was in Vietnam when the Minister for Foreign Affairs made his comments about Sinn Féin. Those comments were clear from the Minister’s point of view, namely, that he hoped a day would come when Sinn Féin would serve in Government in the Republic and that it was only a matter of time before that would happen. Did the Minister make those comments with the Taoiseach’s imprimatur? What is the Taoiseach’s understanding of what the Minister meant? Does the Taoiseach envisage any circumstances, in the unlikely event that he has an opportunity after the next election to form a Government, of forming it with the Sinn Féin Party?

In respect of the meeting of the Secretary of State, Paul Murphy, with representatives of the UVF and the UDA, has the Taoiseach been consulted about the assurances the Secretary of State will seek from the representatives of these groups with regard to decommissioning? Will the issue of racially motivated attacks in Northern Ireland be an element of these discussions?

It is very worrying to see the increase in racially motivated attacks in Northern Ireland. There is now a higher incidence of racially motivated attacks in Belfast than in Britain and it appears British based fascist organisations have been involved in promoting racist activity in Northern Ireland. Has the Taoiseach had consultations with the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, in this regard? Has the Government discussed the issue or had any contact with the Northern Ireland parties about it? As sectarian violence decreases, it is unacceptable to see it being replaced with a weekly increase in the incidence of racially motivated attacks. The Taoiseach might comment on this.

The Taoiseach:  On the Deputy’s first question regarding Sinn Féin serving in Government, I made a political speech at the annual Fianna Fáil commemoration at Bodenstown where I comprehensively dealt with this issue. What happens in [711]the future is for the future, but until we satisfactorily complete the Agreement and resolve all of the issues before us, there will be no change to the position I outlined in 2001. I am not prepared to speculate or make a guesstimate about what might happen in the future — that is a matter for the future. However, until we complete all of the business, there will be no change to the position.

I am glad the Secretary of State, Mr. Paul Murphy, is meeting with the loyalist organisations. We made that move earlier, at the beginning of this year. It is important he liaises with them and emphasises his position to them. We all condemn the racially discriminative actions in the North, and I discussed this issue with the Secretary of State in Leinster House in recent weeks. However, some 75% of all violence in Northern Ireland, which admittedly is declining in respect of shootings and violent attacks, is caused by loyalists, with most of the remainder caused by dissident republicans. There has been a huge shift. It is important to engage with the loyalists, although this engagement is not yet about getting them to decommission their arms but, as a first position, to try to get them to stop their activities. I understand the monitoring commission’s most recent figures and figures to be published shortly will show the escalation of attacks on the loyalist side has been quite sharp while there has been a continuation of the significant drop in shootings, assaults and punishment beatings on the republican side.

I of course join with the Deputy in condemning racist attacks by whatever groups are involved. From what I could gather from the Secretary of State, Mr. Murphy, it is not clear from where the attacks are coming, what motivates them or what group is behind them. Although there is a feeling in Belfast that some groups are involved, he did not have a clear position on this.

As I stated recently to Dr. Paisley and have continually stated to Sinn Féin and to all parties, with regard to the move from paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland to criminality and the escalation of criminality of whatever type, whether in regard to drugs, fraud, trafficking of whatever type, robbery, including the stealing of large trucks carrying cigarettes, or otherwise, the ultimate resolution of this is policing in every community. I never quite understand and in debate usually totally disagree with those in Northern Ireland who state the devolution of policing should not happen in the shorter term. It should happen in the shorter term because only then will one get a stable and acceptable police force, representing all traditions, into areas to deal with criminality. As paramilitary activity ceases, if these issues are not replaced there will be difficulties. It would be nice if there were another way. I believe that an essential part of this settlement, or whenever we reach a final settlement, will be policing. The devolution and preparation of policing and Sinn Féin becoming part of it is an essential part of the next phase.

[712]Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Will the Taoiseach accept that, in his earlier reply to Deputy Rabbitte, the phrase he employed “the fact that they are not talking to each other” could be construed that there were two parties which were refusing to engage with each other?

The Taoiseach:  There is only one.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It is important that is clarified. Will the Taoiseach accept there is no middle ground between those who seek to hollow out and cut away the critical elements of the Good Friday Agreement, particularly the power-sharing and equality provisions, and those who seek its full implementation? Will he clarify his absolute commitment to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, with no dilution of its terms, endorsed by the majority of the people on this island? That is fundamental to moving forward at all times.

  3 o’clock

Will he agree it is absurd, a scandal and a disgrace that ten years after the cessation of the IRA and six years after the Good Friday Agreement, there are more British soldiers on the streets and roadways of the North than are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined? Some 12,000 British troops are based in the North. Is the Taoiseach aware that there is an increasing intrusiveness on the part of this military presence in the day-to-day lives of ordinary citizens? I experience being stopped at these road checks on a regular basis when travelling between Dundalk and Monaghan. This has not been a feature of life for a long time.

On 17 October, there was a British army helicopter incursion over Clones, County Monaghan. What steps has the Taoiseach taken to impress on the British Prime Minister the importance of earnest demilitarisation on the part of the British Government? This is not predicated on the resumption of the Assembly or establishment of a new Executive.

The Taoiseach:  Sinn Féin is totally prepared to engage in discussions. There is no difficulty with it in terms of any of these discussions, in which it is more than ready to play its full part. It is regrettable the Democratic Unionist Party does not take the same view. If it did, it would make my life easier, as Deputy Ó Caoláin well knows. However, we must continue to find a resolution to that. I know that we will some day, particularly since Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party seem to work well together in many local authority areas. However, these things take time. There is no difficulty with the other parties working together and as time goes on I hope we will reach a similar position with the Democratic Unionist Party.

I have no difficulty with what Deputy Ó Caoláin said on the Good Friday Agreement. We are totally committed to the full implementation of the Agreement, as voted on by the people. [713]That includes the clause that there would be a review of the Agreement. I have had this argument with many people. One cannot say that one wants full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement except for one section, namely, the review. It is a fair position that if we included the provision for a review in April 1998, we did not do so for the sake of it. It was included so that we would review the Agreement some day. That is all we are doing. I do not believe there is anything that fundamentally changes, alters or affects the Good Friday Agreement.

As Deputy Ó Caoláin is aware, issues around that arose at the Leeds Castle meeting. It would have been entertaining for me if it were not so serious to see that Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the UUP all said there should be no change in the Agreement and I was almost put in a position where I had to defend the rights of the DUP, mainly because it was not in the meetings with the others. Deputy Ó Caoláin will understand why I took on the defence of the rights of the DUP for those three days. If the provision for a review is included in the Good Friday Agreement, one cannot say that a review that does not do much other than improve it is changing the fundamentals. I argued that for three days at Leeds Castle and I continue to argue it because it is an unfair position on the DUP. It is a funny situation to have me defending the rights of that party but fairness in this is important. It has a valid position on this, namely, to have a review for six months and make no changes, because all the time we said there would be legislative changes. Other than that I have no argument with the other points the Deputy made and I agree with them. We are trying to get the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and that is what we will continue to try to implement one way or the other.

On demilitarisation, it is the case, as Deputy Ó Caoláin and every other Member of the House is aware, that in the same week when everybody was getting excited about a sizeable number of British troops — 780 — moving into Iraq, there was, as described by Deputy Ó Caoláin, for some reason an activation of about 4,500 British troops and nobody said anything. I assure Deputy Ó Caoláin that I raised the matter with the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We raise every incident. I am not too sure why the troop activation took place. I thought they might have been getting ready to go back to the acceptable levels which we want to achieve.

Deputy Ó Caoláin knows what we have agreed, namely, to return to an acceptable level of 6,500 troops or whatever number is in the Joint Declaration. That has already been negotiated and agreed. If we can get everything else ready, then we will move to that position. We have moved from larger numbers and it is in all our interests to try to complete matters and move to the much lower figure that has already been negotiated.

[714]Mr. J. Higgins:  Is it not clear that whatever about Sinn Féin, the DUP will not finalise agreement before the general election due to be held in Britain and Northern Ireland next year because it seeks to maximise its vote in that sectarian part of the divide and trump its rivals? Does the Taoiseach accept that, unfortunately, after ten years of a so-called peace process, polarisation in the communities, including their physical separation, is as never before, is at a higher level than ever and the Agreement has not changed that?

It is a long time since we asked the Taoiseach to report on his discussions with Prime Minister Blair or representatives of the United States Administration on the situation in Iraq. Will he do so now because since we last discussed it, several reports have conclusively stated there were no weapons of mass destruction and that it was a lie to say there were? Has Mr. Blair apologised to the Taoiseach——

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is not appropriate to use the word “lie” in the House. Will Deputy Higgins ask a brief question, please?

Mr. J. Higgins:  Has Mr. Blair apologised to the Taoiseach for misleading him and causing him to mislead the people when he faithfully repeated the claims that were made? Should he not now explain that situation, particularly when it has emerged in Lancet magazine that 100,000 innocent Iraqis may have died as a result of violence? Is it not time to stop the ongoing logistical support for the US occupation?

The Taoiseach:  Deputy Higgins asked me three questions. In response to the first, it is not clearly obvious, as he states, that the DUP does not want agreement. There are elements within the DUP who I fear might hold that position but they not have said so privately or publicly. As I said to Deputy Rabbitte earlier, in a matter of 20 days or so we will know what the tactic is and will have to see that through. I hope that is not the position because it would create difficulties for everyone. From a political point of view in Northern Ireland it is not that clever on the basis that it will maximise the DUP vote. That is not the position at all. It will open up a new situation for the UUP party which is ready and will relish the effort of exploiting it if that becomes the position. So be it. That is a fair position for Mr. Trimble to take because he was berated for not completing a deal a year ago this week.

On the issue of sectarianism it depends where it is. In many areas the communities are working together as are the political parties. I have already mentioned that in many areas the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP and other parties are working more closely than ever on local issues, in communities, on councils, and going very well. In parts of Belfast and some other areas it is very bad. The Deputy’s comment would definitely relate to them. There is more polarisation, more segregation and more movement of decent, [715]respectable people from the communities because of harassment by various paramilitary or criminal elements, which is worrying. I do not want to set aside the great effort that has been made, and was made this summer, by all the political parties, to different degrees. In Belfast Sinn Féin worked during the difficult days in July and August to try to cool the tensions in these areas. While there are problems in these areas much progress has been made in other areas.

I had no discussion Mitchell Reiss about the situation in Iraq. It is not his area. He was here to help us with the Northern Ireland peace process. I answered questions last week on the visit by Kofi Annan and explained what he said and my response. I have nothing to add to that.

Mr. Sargent:  From time to time I have mentioned a truth and reconciliation commission. Is the Taoiseach aware of the interest expressed by the Independent Monitoring Commission in how such a commission has come into being in post-conflict situations in different parts of the world? Was there any discussion of, or reference to, such a commission at the meeting in Leeds Castle? Would the Taoiseach look into this to explore when the time comes whether it is appropriate to have some research to suit the circumstances pertaining on this island?

Does he agree the racist attacks which have been mentioned reveal not so much a degree of sectarianism but a difficulty with “otherness”? Anything that seems different from one’s own position seems to cause inordinate problems in Northern Ireland but not only there, it applies also in this jurisdiction.

There may be no great desire amongst parties north of the Border to revive the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation but does the Taoiseach accept that in this jurisdiction there is a gaping hole in the Oireachtas approach to the peace process? The Government parties and Sinn Féin are fully engaged but the other Opposition parties are effectively disenfranchised, as are the people who supported the Good Friday Agreement because there is no vehicle for Opposition parties other than what, unfortunately, we must call megaphone diplomacy in the forum in which we are currently engaged. I often hear this decried in the North as inappropriate but it seems to be the only option here.

An bhfuil eolas ag an Taoiseach faoin obair mhaith atá ar siúl ag Foras na Gaeilge ar an dá thaobh den Teorainn, go mórmhór maidir le nuachtán atá faoi bhagairt faoi láthair, ? Tá urlabhraí thar ceann na teanga Albainnis Uladh ag iarraidh an deontas a bhaint den nuachtán sin. Baineann sé sin leis an dá thaobh den Teorainn agus ba mhaith liom go ndéarfadh an Taoiseach leis na h-údaráis ó Thuaidh go bhfuil suim againn agus gur mian linn leanúint ar aghaidh leis an nuachtán sin agus nár cheart an deontas a bhaint de.

The register of persons who are considered unsafe to work with children arose from the [716]North-South Ministerial Council. That legislation has been promised to give effect to the child protection joint working group from September 2003. Can we see it, given that it is the fruit of work that has been done across the North-South Ministerial Council? When will it be brought to the House?

Mr. Kenny:  Has the Taoiseach had any direct contact with the Reverend Ian Paisley since his meeting with him in Dublin? Has the Taoiseach planned a trip to the US to meet either a returned or new President to continue or renew assistance for co-operation in having the Northern Ireland peace process brought to a conclusion?

Mr. Rabbitte:  Has either of the two Governments taken the report of the International Monitoring Commission? Does the Taoiseach think it is helpful? I presume we can take the Taoiseach’s earlier answer on the fears articulated, especially by the SDLP, that to enlist the support of the DUP, fundamental changes might be made to the Agreement. We can take from what the Taoiseach has said that his Government is certainly committed to protecting the core principles of the Agreement.

As the Taoiseach knows, the British Irish Agreement (Amendment) Act 2002 provides for special arrangements to be made for the implementation bodies during what was described at the time as a temporary suspension of the Assembly and the Executive. The word “temporary” is used no less than 11 times in the Act. Does the Taoiseach accept that these temporary arrangements cannot remain in place indefinitely? If they do, serious questions will arise about the compatibility with those parts of the Good Friday Agreement that are enshrined in Article 29.7 of the Constitution.

The Taoiseach:  In 1995 and 1996 we did much work on a truth and reconciliation commission in the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, when President de Klerk visited. On three or four occasions since, the issue surfaced. There is not great interest on taking it up, but it remains an issue. If at any time we believe it might be useful in the process and might help the communities, then we would use it. I am fairly certain that that is not the road they would go. I take the Deputy’s point on a forum for peace that at times it can be useful. When we see which way this is going in the next few weeks, the chairman and the parties can look at it.

I have spoken to the chairperson of Foras na Gaeilge recently about a number of difficulties that it had. I have arranged meetings between Foras na Gaeilge and the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív. Some of them are about funding, some are about newspapers, some of them are on other issues. We are dealing with those issues. The element regarding the North-South bodies is continuing. In answer to Deputy Rabbitte’s question, [717]it would be very difficult to continue indefinitely. We had quite a task with the UUP to get this arrangement to start and to keep the bodies going.

We had quite a difficulty at Christmas 2002. It settled down and they operated the system. As the Deputy is aware, it was to operate for six months, or a maximum of nine months. Ultimately, if somebody was to challenge these issues, the present arrangements probably would not stand up and we are all aware of that. It is another reason we should try to find a resolution.

We have to be very careful because the North-South bodies comprise a major part of the fundamental Agreement. I refer not only to the implementation bodies but to all the other bodies which have been built around them. If it were to happen that we did not have an Executive or an Assembly, I do not doubt that it would be argued, by one side or the other, that we should not have the North-South body structures. Up to now, all sides, including the Unionist and loyalist groupings, have been prepared to work it as per the arrangement, thankfully.

A small group of my senior officials has had a number of face-to-face meetings with Dr. Paisley. I have not had such direct involvement, but I have been in touch with DUP members. Two of my senior officials have had a number of face-to-face meetings with him in the recent past.

I was also asked about the US presidential election. The new President or the re-elected President will not be inaugurated until the end of January. There would normally be a meeting with the President on St. Patrick’s Day, but not before that.

Deputy Rabbitte also asked about the latest IMC report. I am broadly familiar with it because I have been briefed on it. I have not seen all the details of the report, which will be issued by both Governments. We hope to finalise it this week after some further work has been done. I hope it will be done this week. Under the relevant procedure, the two Governments have to act simultaneously on it. I understand that will be on Thursday or Friday, but I am subject to correction.

In response to Deputy Rabbitte’s final question, the SDLP has been very helpful on this. It has expressed its concerns about the Agreement during a number of detailed and lengthy meetings with the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern. I met representatives of the SDLP in September and they met the Minister in October. We have worked with them because, in fairness to them, they have followed the detail of this from the start. They have taken a particular interest in the cross-strand issues. Mr. Mark Durkan has been one of the foremost people on the detail of this for several years. We have been through it with him on a number of occasions.

Mr. Sargent:  What about the register of persons considered unsafe to work with children?

[718]An Ceann Comhairle:  That concludes Taoiseach’s questions.

Mr. Sargent:  Why is it uncertain?

  111.  Ms O. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the full or partial privatisation of Aer Lingus; the Government’s position with regard to the future development of Aer Lingus; when a final decision will be made on the airline’s future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27077/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  As I indicated in response to Question No. 411 on 19 October last, my officials and I are considering the Goldman Sachs report on the future of Aer Lingus. The report has been circulated to the members of the Cabinet sub-committee that was established to examine all issues relating to the future ownership of the airline and to report to the Government. A meeting of the sub-committee will take place in the near future. The report relates primarily to the implications of maintaining the current ownership arrangements, to the airline’s future funding requirements and to the strategic and public policy issues arising in the event of the State reducing its shareholding in Aer Lingus or exiting from the ownership of the airline. The report will form an input into my deliberations and those of the Cabinet sub-committee before the Government makes a decision on the future of Aer Lingus.

In accordance with the terms of Sustaining Progress, the Department of Transport and the social partners will discuss the future of Aer Lingus before the Government finalises its consideration of the matter. While I cannot pre-empt the outcome of the Government’s consideration, I strongly believe clarity on the future of Aer Lingus is needed as soon as possible. It is important that the main shareholder clearly signals its intentions regarding the company to facilitate the essential future planning of the airline from an operational and financial viewpoint.

Ms O. Mitchell:  I understand the Minister cannot pre-empt any decision that may be made by the Government. What is the Government’s response to Aer Lingus’s immediate short-term request for funding? The airline wants the funds necessary to purchase the aircraft needed to allow it to continue its expansion plans and to pursue its business plan. I realise the decision cannot be taken outside the broader context of the future ownership and funding of the airline. Has the Government responded to Aer Lingus’s request? Does it envisage a timeframe in that regard? The airline regards the allocation of funds as a critical short-term and immediate necessity, regardless of [719]long-term and strategic considerations. I realise that the matters are connected.

Mr. Cullen:  All Deputies are aware of the problems Aer Lingus faced. It has had an extraordinary turn-around, for which I congratulate the trade unions, management and board. It is an extraordinary achievement when considered in the context of the national carriers that have already disappeared from our skies and those that are in serious trouble. Aer Lingus has put itself in a very good position. The aviation industry market is fragile, as we know. The Government’s objective is to do all it can to ensure that Aer Lingus continues to grow and to be a major aviation player in the years to come. Therefore, the point made by the Deputy about Aer Lingus’s funding requirements is crucial. I have received the Goldman Sachs report, which has been circulated to the Cabinet sub-committee. I am studying the report with my officials. We hope the sub-committee will meet soon to consider the matter.

Ms O. Mitchell:  I thank the Minister. While he was right to congratulate Aer Lingus on its turn-around, I am sure he appreciates that it is constrained in its activities. The airline sector is prone to jolts, which are often caused by matters outside its control. Given that things are quite rosy — options are open to the Government and the company — would it not be better to make a decision at this point rather than allowing things to drift? It may be that no options will be open to the Government or Aer Lingus when we find ourselves in a further crisis. I am anxious that a decision be made. I am conscious that Deputy Cullen is the third Minister in recent times to be charged with dealing with the future of Aer Lingus. The company is entitled to some clarity about its future.

Mr. Cullen:  I believe, as I am sure all Deputies do, that Aer Lingus has potentially significant opportunities in the European and American markets, particularly on the transatlantic route. The company needs to make substantial investment at this point, therefore. It will take some time to come on-stream because one cannot make a decision today and turn on the tap, in terms of the delivery of airlines, tomorrow. That is important. I am conscious of all the views and the need to get it right. The decision we take now will have a major effect well into the future on the company’s ability to be a major and substantial player in the airline sector, as it has always been. We can make the necessary decisions, in conjunction with the relevant players, all of whom I have met, because Aer Lingus has put itself in that position.

I have had good discussions with the Central Representative Council, management and the chairman of the board. Everybody has praised the work that has been done to date and accepted that substantial investment is necessary for the [720]company’s future. We can study the contents of the Goldman Sachs report instead of a range of options. I have said that I do not want to create the impression that the report represents a Holy Grail or gives an obvious answer. A suite of options requires careful judgment as we consider the best way to proceed, which should involve a consideration of the best interests of the company, the flying public and taxpayers, who ultimately own the airline.

Ms O. Mitchell:  Did they make a recommendation?

  112.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Transport    if his attention has been drawn to the recent report produced by IBEC which found that traffic congestion had got worse in Dublin over the past two years; the steps he intends to take to deal with this problem in view of the social and economic cost; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27200/04]

Mr. Cullen:  I am aware of the survey which IBEC carried out in May 2004 on traffic and congestion. Plans to tackle congestion in Dublin are being dealt with under two strands, the first being increasing the supply of public transport, strategic road construction and traffic management, and the second reducing the growth in travel through complementary land use and other policies designed to encourage a transfer of journeys, especially at peak periods, from private car to sustainable modes of transport, such as public transport, cycling and walking.

Significant progress has been made in recent years under those two strands. Major increases in the capacity of the public transport system are being achieved. With the coming introduction of new DART cars, the fleet will have doubled since 2000. Some 80 new diesel rail cars were introduced earlier this year on suburban commuter services, and a further 36 are to be delivered next year. The capacity of Dublin Bus has been extended, with an increase of over 25% in capacity at peak times. Bus Éireann has increased its services by around 40% from commuter towns such as Drogheda, Navan and Naas to the city centre.

To facilitate buses, my Department is funding a major programme to expand the quality bus corridor network and improve traffic management in the greater Dublin area, or GDA. The Luas is now in operation on the Sandyford, or green, line and on the Tallaght, or red, line. Major road improvements are also under way in the GDA. In addition, the Dublin Transportation Office works closely with the planning authorities to influence land use policies in the GDA to favour more sustainable forms of transport at the planning stage. That is being achieved through integrated land use and transportation plans at local level and commenting on major planning [721]applications and appeals which are of strategic transport importance.

There is expected to be a sustained increase in the population of the GDA over the coming years and increasing levels of car ownership. Good progress has been made to date in countering the growth in car ownership in that public transport, walking and cycling have increased their share of all journeys in the city centre.

I am confident that measures such as those that I have mentioned, together with the opening of the port tunnel and the completion of the south-eastern motorway section of the M50 in 2005, will go a long way towards addressing Dublin’s congestion problems.

Ms Shortall:  I thank the Minister for the theory behind what is supposed to be happening. However, I am sure he will agree that the reality regarding traffic congestion is completely different from what he suggests. Does he accept that transport and traffic congestion are now the major source of stress in most people’s lives, especially in the Dublin area where the working day is lengthened because of journey times and the fact that the current provision of public transport is completely inadequate to meet demand? I do not know how much the Minister travels around the city, but it seems that evening peak traffic problems are now starting at approximately 3.30 p.m. and going on until approximately 7.30 p.m. It is increasingly difficult for people to do business in the city centre or even to move around or conduct daily business such as going to work, shopping or visiting people. They are faced with congestion both in the city centre and in the suburbs throughout the day.

The findings from IBEC are extremely stark regarding the impact on business. It says that 95% of its members are adversely affected by traffic congestion and that many report increased production costs of up to 20% as a result of the congestion they face. What specific steps will the Minister take to relieve that congestion which, irrespective of what he is reading from the answer before him, is worsening by the day, as we can all tell him?

Mr. F. McGrath:  I blame the Minister of State, Deputy Callely.

Mr. Cullen:  I understand and appreciate the Deputy’s point. If the Government or I thought that the public transport network in the city, and access to it, were adequate, the sort of investment that we make would not be necessary. By implication, we recognise that serious, substantial and sustained investment in all forms of public transport and roads in Dublin is clearly necessary to deal with its population base in future.

As the Deputy knows, neither I nor anyone else can resolve Dublin’s infrastructural problems overnight with a click of the fingers. That is not possible. However, we must make a sustained impact on the difficulties of the city and the [722]greater Dublin area. I would not dismiss — as I am sure the Deputy was not doing — the investment that I have laid out which is part of the process of making a contribution. I would hate to think how much worse it might be if that investment had not been made. I view Dublin in three different specific ways, the first being the internal dynamics of the city centre area itself and those parts that interact with it, with an internal transport solution. Essentially, one wishes to reduce the need to bring cars into the city centre area and make all parts of the city centre as accessible as possible. The second phase is suburban Dublin access and how we deal with it. A substantial amount of resources is going into that. The Luas is but one cog in the big wheel of the ongoing rolling out of infrastructure. The third element is the connectivity from the region around Dublin, which now reaches out to Kildare, including Maynooth, and up to such areas as Drogheda.

Putting the necessary level of infrastructure in place for the future of Dublin will take several years. We can take some decisions that I am examining and discussing with current operators such as Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann, Iarnród Éireann and the Rail Procurement Agency to see how we might consider other ideas in some areas to add to what is being rolled out or enhance the network in whatever way that we can.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The time for this question has expired. I will hear a brief supplementary question from Deputy Shortall.

Ms Shortall:  There are two serious structural problems regarding Dublin traffic. The first is that more than 20 organisations have a role in traffic and transport, rendering matters completely unwieldy. Does the Minister accept that there is a strong case for a single transport authority for the Dublin area? Second, owing to the problem of people breaking the traffic laws by parking in clearways, driving in bus lanes and so on, is there not an urgent need for a traffic corps? At Christmas, when there is a special initiative, we see the difference that it makes when gardaí are out on the street. Does the Minister accept the need for a full-time traffic corps to keep traffic moving in the city centre?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Minister should be brief in his reply.

Mr. Cullen:  The Garda places considerable emphasis on traffic, to which it has people assigned. I agree with the bigger question of a traffic corps which the Deputy raised and which is being examined in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in consultation with the Garda Commissioner. There is no doubt that the presence of gardaí, especially in the areas that the Deputy has highlighted, helps enormously with traffic movement around the city.

Ms Shortall:  What about——

[723]Mr. Cullen:  In the time that I have, I will turn my attention to delivering decisions on infrastructure. It is no longer possible for me to spend my time trying to reorganise the structures around me.

  113.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Minister for Transport    the position regarding the construction of the Dublin Port tunnel, particularly regarding the height of the tunnel, delays in construction, the concerns of local residents and public safety issues. [27226/04]

Mr. Cullen:  I announced on 21 October 2004 that the operational height of the Dublin Port tunnel would not be changed. My decision was based primarily on safety grounds, but cost and time delays to the opening of the project were also factors.

The options for increasing the height of the tunnel were considered by the National Roads Authority, independent consultants, Atkins, and Dublin City Council. In addition, the contractor, the NMI consortium, priced the work that would be involved in increasing the height of the tunnel. It was clear from that work that raising the height of the tunnel would not be justified having regard to safety considerations and additional cost and delay factors.

The safety issues concerned reducing lane widths, which would, in the context of a tunnel carrying a very high percentage of heavy goods vehicles, including fuel tankers and other hazardous cargoes, constitute a reduction in overall tunnel safety. It is intuitively apparent that wider traffic lanes offer greater vehicle separation than narrower lanes. As for increasing the kerb height, it is apparent, on both an engineering and intuitive basis, that a 150 mm kerb must represent a safer provision than one of 200 mm. It is the NRA’s position that the lower kerb height is preferable from a safety perspective. Also considered were overheight heavy goods vehicles, HGVs, on the existing national road network and the implications of facilitating higher vehicles through the tunnel than the national motorway and road network can safely accommodate. Bridges and other structures on motorways and national roads are not designed to cater for vehicles higher than the current tunnel height, and safety concerns would arise over the discharge of such vehicles from a revised tunnel onto the national road network. Increasing the height of the tunnel would mean substantial potential additional costs of at least €33 million to €65 million, and at least a seven month delay to the completion of the tunnel.

I understand from the NRA that the construction of the tunnel is expected to be complete in December 2005. Extensive arrangements are in place to meet the concerns of local residents about the impact of the project. These were of particular value during the tunnelling, which is now complete. These arrangements included pre and post construction property surveys, the use [724]of vibration monitors to monitor vibration from the works, and settlement surveys. Any damage attributable to tunnelling works is covered by the property protection guarantee issued by Dublin City Council. I am informed that over 176 claims have been received, of which 155 are subject to ongoing negotiation, claiming in most cases minor damage to properties. An independent loss adjuster has assessed or is in the process of assessing these damage reports and I am advised that any verified damage connected with the tunnelling will be made good by Dublin City Council.

Mr. F. McGrath:  Is the Minister genuinely aware of the concerns of local residents about the Dublin Port tunnel project and does he understand them? Is he aware of the recent relevant statistics? He mentioned 176 cases of property damage reported by residents. This damage is not minor. There are 117 cracks in houses, 35 hairline cracks, 12 jammed doors and windows, three damaged roofs, four major plumbing problems, four glazing problems and 11 other problems. That is a total of 176 homes damaged, while there are hundreds of other complaints about noise, vibration and disruption.

Will the Minister comment on the recent consultants’ report which stated the tunnel’s entrance and exits are unstable, that water has been seen leaking into the massive tunnel through openings and that experts say the tunnel has design deficiencies? These are major health and safety issues which need to be addressed.

The Minister said he had to take health and safety issues into consideration with regard to the large trucks not using the port tunnel. These massive trucks will be driving through residential areas. Will the Minister explain how this will impact positively on the safety of local residents?

Mr. Cullen:  The trucks the Deputy refers to make up somewhere between 0.6% and 1.7% of the total traffic going to Dublin Port, a very small percentage. Dublin City Council is also putting in place a very specific traffic management plan for HGVs, while the Minister of State, Deputy Callely, will soon launch an important consultation report on the height of vehicles in the country.

Ms Shortall:  Another report. The Minister’s predecessor launched such a report two years ago.

Mr. Cullen:  This is not the same one. This is the one which will lead to a decision being made on the issue. The decision on the tunnel has already been taken.

Regarding Deputy McGrath’s contribution, I do not dispute that there have been difficulties for residents in the area. That is normal when huge projects are involved. There is naturally going to be some disruption and one can only ask for the forbearance of those directly affected when such projects are being put in place. Every[725]thing possible is being done to mitigate interruptions to the quality of life of people who might be directly affected. That is the stated position regarding the cases whose numbers the Deputy has confirmed. These are minor issues with regard to the houses. There is a proper process in place with Dublin City Council to deal with these problems and the council should be left to go through that process with the residents.

The allegation that cracks and water are appearing in the tunnel are quite unfounded.

Mr. F. McGrath:  They were noted in an independent consultants’ report. The Minister is rubbishing genuine concerns.

Mr. Cullen:  If the Deputy intends to heighten concerns, to scare-monger in his constituency——

Mr. F. McGrath:  It is the residents who are objecting.

Mr. Cullen:  If the Deputy wants to bring forward the benefit of the facts, and to lessen people’s concerns and reassure them that all of the systems are in place to deal with their concerns, he should listen to what I am saying.

Mr. F. McGrath:  I object strongly to the way in which the question is being answered. Many residents have major, genuine concerns. They have tried to be very pro-active and work with Dublin City Council and local councillors but every time they raise the issues, they are not treated with respect. For example, when they telephone the advice helpline, there is no-one there to answer it. The Minister should not say that the people of Marino and Fairview are getting a fair crack of the whip. They are not.

Mr. Cullen:  I do not accept that.

Mr. F. McGrath:  The Minister does not know the reality.

Mr. Cullen:  The Deputy appears to know more than any other Deputy in the House. We all share the same concern for the people we represent. Nobody has a monopoly on concern regarding any particular matter. The Deputy should not present matters in that way.

Mr. F. McGrath:  I have the right to represent my constituents.

Mr. Cullen:  I, the Government and other Deputies share the concerns equally. We want these projects dealt with quickly and in the fairest way possible for the residents.

Public Transport.

  114.  Ms O. Mitchell     asked the Minister for Transport    if he will bring forward legislation before the end of 2004 as promised to allow for the break-up of CIE into three separate compan[726]ies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27078/04}]

Mr. Cullen:  The Government is committed to reform of public transport. A considerable amount of work on the detailed technical aspects of the restructuring of CIE has taken place in my Department and this work is ongoing. I am reviewing this work as well as consulting with stakeholders. When I have completed the review and my consultations with key stakeholders I will consider how to proceed generally and with regard to legislation.

Ms O. Mitchell:  I have a sense of déjà vu because I recall asking the same question of the Minister before the previous one. With the metro project gone down the tubes, if the pun can be excused, the future of buses has taken on a new urgency. I know the Minister has not said the metro project is definitely gone, but it has certainly been set back by ten years. Even if a decision was made in the morning, we would not have a metro or even a new Luas line within ten years. Buses therefore take on a special importance in the future.

Previous Ministers have said that we cannot have competition without breaking up CIE. Is that still the case or was it merely a distraction in order to postpone a decision? Can we have competition and still leave the Transport Act in place? It seems this is always the excuse for nothing being done. Dublin Bus is currently screaming for buses. It built a garage for buses it never acquired. It was promised 150 buses under the national development plan but they never arrived. Dublin Bus now has so much garage space that it is closing garages, though the promise under the national development plan was that the company would be fully resourced. Either Dublin Bus provides the buses, or competition must be allowed. There is currently a great need for extra buses, not merely for new routes but for existing routes.

Is the legislation responsible for the hold up or is there a lack of will to engage with CIE? What is the Minister’s thinking in this area? Do we need to break up CIE in order to provide competition and put a few extra buses on the roads in Dublin? That is the only way in which a complete clogging up of the city can be prevented.

Mr. Cullen:  The Deputy raised many issues beyond the scope of the question. I have had very good discussions with the various trade unions and the management involved in the various aspects of transport in Dublin. All accept the terms of opening up the market in the future. There is only one matter on the agenda. What decisions can we make in this House which will improve the delivery of public transport to the customer in Dublin? It is that simple. I have no ideology in this area and am not interested in it. I am interested only in trying to reach a decision [727]in conjunction with the different components involved in the public transport sector.

Many people have said to me recently that the improvement in Dublin Bus services in the past few years in terms of quality and increased service has been remarkable.

I want to be in a position to make decisions. I do not intend to involve any more consultants and I am engaged in direct discussions with the people involved in the delivery of the system.

The Deputy is correct that the 1932 Act is out of date and needs to be overhauled. The relevant legislation is being prepared. Not to proceed with reforming the legislation would be a serious mistake and we should proceed to do so.

I want to reach conclusions relatively quickly in respect of the market and Dublin Bus. I also want to see where investment can be made in the market. I am aware that Dublin Bus is seeking investment for itself and we want to see the best possible transport service put in place for the citizens of Dublin and for those from the rest of the country who visit the city on a regular basis.

Ms O. Mitchell:  Is the Minister stating that he is committed to competition but not necessarily to the legislation, the lack of which we have always been informed provides the barrier to competition? The legislation has been in preparation for at least five years and we were informed that there could not be competition until it was introduced. Is that the barrier?

Mr. Cullen:  Is the Deputy asking if the legislation is the barrier?

Ms O. Mitchell:  Yes.

Mr. Cullen:  The legislation is necessary and I am not stating that we do not need it. However, I do not want to present the matter in a way that would make it appear that it is merely about an ideological point of view. This matter involves the Dublin bus market and the delivery of services therein.

Ms O. Mitchell:  I understand that but we were previously informed that there cannot be competition until the legislation is passed. Is the Minister now saying something different?

Mr. Cullen:  No, I am not saying that. I said that there would be competition and that there will be an open market in Dublin.

  115.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Minister for Transport    the research which has been done on the impact of supercube trucks on roadways. [26992/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Mr. Callely):  Supercubes and other similar height vehicles can, in comparison to lower vehicles, present additional challenges, partic[728]ularly with regard to road safety, rail safety and environmental damage. However, they differ essentially from road haulage vehicles in general only by reason of their greater than usual height. This difference gives rise to concerns that the use of such vehicles, combined with certain height constraints such as those imposed by bridges, tunnels, street lighting etc. on certain routes, poses inherent safety risks. As a consequence, the research to date is mainly concerned with the nature and extent of that risk by establishing the current number of supercubes in use and likely future penetration of such vehicles into the overall haulage fleet.

Two vehicle height surveys of HGVs using Dublin Port have been carried out by the Dublin Port Company and the National Institute of Transport Logistics, respectively. The results of both surveys indicate that only a limited number of trucks, between 0.6% and 1.7%, are over 4.65 metres in height. I will arrange to provide a copy of the report of each survey for the Deputy.

As a result of its geographical base, this research may not be definitive in terms of national use of high vehicles. Nevertheless, it provides a good basis on which to extrapolate the national usage by reference to the share of national imports and exports handled through Dublin Port. In this regard, it is the view of both Dublin City Council and the National Roads Authority that most of the vehicles using Dublin Port will be no higher than 4.65 metres. On that basis, the overall proportion of the national road haulage fleet accounted for by supercubes is unlikely to be substantial.

The collection of statistics on the transport of goods in, into and out of Ireland is done on a weight basis rather than a volume basis and records of vehicle dimensions such as height are not collected. I understand that researchers and policy-makers face similar constraints with research on vehicle characteristics in other jurisdictions. I have met a number of road hauliers who have provided statistics which differ greatly from those to which I referred.

In a reply to a number of parliamentary questions today on the matter of a vehicle height limit, I am committed to early public consultation on the subject with a view to bringing forward measures to deal with the risks involved in using supercubes and vehicles of similar height. To this end, a consultation paper is being prepared by my Department which will deal with a range of issues, including road and rail safety, business competitiveness, environmental considerations, implications for infrastructure, alternatives to a specific height limit and legal options for dealing with a specific height limit.

Mr. Crowe:  I thank the Minister of State for his detailed response. I gather from it that very little research has been carried out in respect of these vehicles because they are new to the market. How many supercubes or super trucks are in operation in Ireland? As a result of the [729]debate on the Dublin Port tunnel etc., concerns have arisen. Do these vehicles represent the way forward? Is the Minister of State aware of recent media reports regarding a ban on super trucks and so on? He referred to the fact that a review is taking place. Is there a timescale for that review? There will be a collective groan when people hear that another report is on the way.

The Irish Road Haulage Association argues that there is no significant difference between the weight of supercubes and other trucks. I am aware that these vehicles are more prevalent on the Continent and in Britain. A British professor who carried out a study on these vehicles referred to the positive effect of their use on the environment and stated that it would lead to a reduction in the number of trucks on the roads. Statistics show that the State’s haulage business grew by 220% in the past ten years, with an increase in vehicles from 30,669 in 1993 to more than 81,000 in 2003. Does the Minister of State or the Department have a view as regards the way forward? Will there be more trucks? Will it be the case that larger will be better? The current position is unsustainable. I have a view as regards the use of rail transport but that is a matter for another day.

Mr. Callely:  Deputy Crowe posed a huge number of questions and, in view of the time constraints, I will not be able to answer all of them. He asked about the number of trucks currently operational in the haulage fleet. I draw his attention to the surveys carried out by the Dublin Port Company and the National Institute of Transport Logistics, one of which relates to the period from October 2002 to July 2003 and the other to May 2003. I concur with his view that there have been major developments in the area of transport. Supercubes are relatively new and we do not have statistics available as regards the actual number in the fleet.

We can address the issue of supercubes. On how we would go about doing so, all stakeholders would be asked to place their chips on the table to see if consensus can be reached as regards the best height. In that context, matters such as road and rail safety and the various issues relating to infrastructure to which I referred would have to be taken into account.

Ms Shortall:  The former Minister of State, Deputy McDaid, has been doing that for the past two years.

Mr. Callely:  On whether there are matters other than height restriction to which consideration could be given, as a person who thinks outside the box, I believe there are. In the coming weeks, the Department and I, working with the stakeholders, will be in a position to commence consultations on reaching consensus and a conclusion that will be satisfactory to all concerned.

  116.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Minister for Transport    the position with regard to discussions between his Department and trade unions representing workers in CIE on the future of the company; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26971/04]

  129.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Minister for Transport    if it is his intention to proceed with plans, announced to franchise out up to 25% of the Dublin Bus routes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26972/04]

Mr. Cullen:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 116 and 129 together.

Talks on the reform of public transport between officials in my Department and the CIE unions, under an independent chair appointed by the Labour Relations Commission, were adjourned in mid-September. I am reviewing the developments which have taken place during these talks and the technical work which has been undertaken by my Department on the reform programme. I am also consulting key stakeholders. When I have completed that review and my consultations, I will consider how to proceed to give effect to the Government commitment to reform public transport.

Ms Shortall:  Those talks were suspended, largely because of the provocative approach taken by the Minister’s predecessor. I hope the Minister will not follow in his footsteps and that he will engage with the various players and the Opposition on transport issues.

  4 o’clock

The talks were held under the chairmanship of Kevin Foley. Does the Minister intend to reconvene talks with the unions? What approach will he take on the future of CIE? I am heartened by his earlier response to Deputy Olivia Mitchell, in which he indicated that he will not have the same hang up about ownership as his predecessor. Will he confirm that his priority in respect of public transport services will be to increase capacity?

Mr. Cullen:  Because I brought myself into the process I would not say that the talks are not now happening. I have had rounds of discussions directly with the unions on this issue. I have asked my officials to resume the talks with their representatives to move the process forward. I was equally heartened by what people coming from different perspectives had to say because there was a common thread. One always tries to find common ground to move a process forward. The common ground on this issue is market opening and the realisation that everybody wants to improve the service. Given the growth in population and the changing shape of suburban Dublin, increased and improved public transport [731]services are needed. Equally, more innovative bus routes are needed.

My approach is not based on ideology. I am examining different available options and I have not ruled anything out. I have examined all the issues that form the picture. Experts in the public and private sectors have expressed different views on this issue. I am guided by only one premise, which is to make a decision, reach agreement and implement it.

Ms Shortall:  Presumably the motivation will be to increase capacity rather than concentrate on ownership.

Mr. Cullen:  Yes.

Ms Shortall:  I refer to the legislation that will underpin these changes. Does the Minister accept a significant number of operators are competing in the national bus market? Within the Dublin area, a recent survey of traffic movement across the canal cordon highlighted that almost 30% of buses were privately owned. The difficulty from a legislative point of view is there is no facility for charging operators for licences. Licences to operate busy bus routes are valuable commodities but a charge is not provided for in legislation. Does the Minister intend to address that?

CIE workers are greatly concerned about the proposed break up of the company and its implications for their pensions, which are currently guaranteed by the company. The Department of Transport recently commissioned a report. Will the Minister place that report in the Oireachtas Library? When does he expect to bring the discussions to a conclusion?

Mr. Cullen:  Bringing the discussions to a conclusion depends on everybody and not only me. However, there is a will on all sides to achieve a good outcome from this process. I accept Bus Éireann’s response to competition in the national bus market has been good for everybody, including the company itself and the travelling public.

Ms Shortall:  That was a response to investment.

Mr. Cullen:  Yes, but it was also in response to public demand. It proves that if the service is provided, the public tends to avail of it. That needs to be transferred to Dublin to make public transport the mode of choice for people at least some days, if not every day. That would make an enormous difference as people would not constantly use their cars without it crossing their minds to use public transport. All the issues raised by Deputies Shortall and Olivia Mitchell are in the mix. I do not have an absolute view on them. However, I have ideas that I think can work. I want to work them through with the stakeholders on all sides to see if agreement can be reached to implement them. The market needs to be opened up more because that is what the public wants. [732]That will be good for everybody. I also want to invest further in Dublin Bus. Continued investment in the company is on the table in the context of opening up the market.

The report on pensions has been received and, once I have considered it, I intend to publish it at an appropriate time.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  The Minister is probably still being briefed on issues, given his brief time in the Department. Has he considered whether the regulation of the type of services should be separated from the provision of services? In other words, regardless of whether CIE services are open to competition, there may be a case for establishing a separate body to set the level of services the transport companies should provide. A regulator could be an authority to provide that. Will the Minister pursue legislation to appoint a regulator?

Mr. Cullen:  That is a separate question. I am aware of the issue but I have not considered it in great detail in the few weeks I have been in the Department. I will examine the issue in more depth. It is on my agenda.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Does the Minister agree it is the same issue because consideration should be given to the public transport services that should be provided, as Deputy Shortall said? A regulator is an independent body who could analyse and provide details. The Minister could then decide whether public or private operators should provide the service. Surely that comes first, before the Minister examines ownership structures.

Mr. Cullen:  That comes into the equation. I have not gone into the issue in detail because I have spent my time, rightly, meeting the different stakeholders as quickly as possible. I want to take on board all the views and I want to understand what people are saying and where is the common ground. I will move forward on that assessment. Issues such as a regulator must form the basis of the way forward.

  117.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has received a report regarding the investigation into the accident involving two Luas trams at St. Stephen’s Green on 17 September 2004 in which four persons were injured; if he is satisfied safety procedures for the Luas are adequate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26976/04]

Mr. Cullen:  Connex Ireland Ltd., which operates the Luas system, is carrying out an investigation into this accident in close liaison with the interim railway safety commission and the Railway Procurement Agency. The commission is expecting an interim report from Connex in the next week or so. The primary duty of care from a safety perspective lies with the operator — Connex — but there is also an onus on [733]road users and pedestrians to take due care along the Luas routes.

The interim railway safety commission issued a letter of approval on 28 June 2004 for the commencement of passenger services on the St. Stephen’s Green to Sandyford Luas line, the green line. The letter of approval for the commencement of passenger services on the Tallaght to Connolly line, the red line, was issued on 27 September 2004.

The letters of approval issued by the commission followed the submission by the Railway Procurement Agency and Connex of draft “safety cases” earlier this year in respect of Luas. The “safety case” submitted by the agency was to demonstrate the management of the safety aspects of the infrastructure and rolling stock, while the Connex “safety case” related to the management systems for the safe movement of trams and the safe operation of passenger services. The interim commission continues to meet regularly with Connex to review the operation of both lines from a safety perspective.

The Railway Procurement Agency and Connex have engaged in an extensive publicity campaign in relation to Luas safety, which included both national and local media. They have also conducted targeted campaigns in areas close to the particular routes and covering specific categories of road users such as cyclists or motorists. Both companies are continuing with the safety communications programmes, including regular school visits in the Luas catchment area and other targeted communications. These initiatives are being reviewed in light of the first few months of operating experience.

Ms Shortall:  The incident referred to in questions relates to a collision between two Luas trams and not to pedestrians or drivers. What information has the Minister on that incident? Does he know how it happened? Does he know the cost of the damage to both trams? Does he consider it appropriate that Connex should investigate itself in this matter?

Mr. Cullen:  I presume the Deputy is referring to the collision on 17 September. Two trams collided——

Ms Shortall:  That is the subject of the question.

Mr. Cullen:  ——during a crossing movement at St. Stephen’s Green terminus. A defect in the system has been ruled out. Connex is the operator of Luas and is investigating the accident in close liaison with the interim railway safety
commission which is directly involved and with the Railway Procurement Agency. Following the incident, two inspectors from the interim railway safety commission inspected the scene of the
accident and since then they have been in close liaison with Connex and the Railway Procurement Agency. One tram driver was taken to hospital, three people were treated for shock at [734]the scene. An interim report is expected in the next week. When I receive that report I will be in a position to answer the question in the fullest terms.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Is the Minister aware that such has been the success of the Luas, particularly the green line, that the morning trams are packed with passengers which is very welcome but which raises concerns about safety in the event of any further accident occurring involving congested trams? Will the Minister request the RPA to increase the frequency of the service in the morning period to make it a safer and more comfortable trip for the passengers who are flocking to use the service?

Ms O. Mitchell:  On a point of information and as follow-on from the question asked by Deputy Shortall about the appropriateness of self-investigation, will the new railway commission when established take over the role of investigation of accidents both on Luas and on the railways?

Mr. Cullen:  That is a matter I will consider. I acknowledge the wisdom of what the Deputies have said. It is my instinct also that it would be better if it was independent. In response to Deputy Ryan’s question, clearly the RPA takes on board the success of Luas. I am pleased to say it has been a success more quickly than people may have anticipated. The RPA is examining options for line capacity. I understand the Luas is currently running at less frequency for safety reasons. These issues are being considered. The justification for the investment in Luas and its success is apparent to all. We will consider putting Luas in other areas of Dublin.

  118.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for Transport    the infrastructure projects under his Department’s remit, current, planned or proposed, which will be funded by PPPs; and if he will make a statement on the matter [27009/04]

Mr. Cullen:  My Department has an involvement in public private partnerships both in the national roads and in the public transport sectors. The planning, design and implementation of national road improvement projects, including projects being implemented on a PPP basis, is a matter for the National Roads Authority.

I understand from the NRA that ten national road projects are being implemented on a PPP basis. The second Westlink bridge has been completed. PPP contracts have been awarded for and work is under way on the Kilcock-Kinnegad, Dundalk western bypass and Fermoy bypass projects. The procurement process is under way for the Clonee-Kells, Waterford city bypass and the M50 upgrade projects. The PPP projects for Limerick southern ring road phase two, Ballinasloe to Galway east on the N6 and the Portlaoise-Cullahill project on the N7-N8, are at earl[735]ier planning stages. The use of the PPP approach on national roads will ensure earlier delivery of vital national road infrastructure. Through PPPs, private sector innovation will be harnessed in the areas of project design, construction and long-term operation and maintenance.

The Railway Procurement Agency has submitted a detailed PPP business case to my Department for a metro from the city centre to Dublin Airport. I am examining this proposal in the context of the overall needs of the greater Dublin area and I expect the Government to give consideration to these matters at an early date.

Ms O. Mitchell:  I have two brief questions. What is the Minister’s response to the concerns expressed by IBEC of an over-dependence on private investment to make up the Government’s target of 5% of GNP spending on capital investment and infrastructure? Disappointment has been expressed at the failure of PPPs to develop in the manner anticipated. Many of the benefits of innovation, expertise and skills that are available in the private sector have not been capitalised upon because of the over-prescriptive nature of Departments and the manner in which environmental impact assessments are carried out prior to the involvement of the contractor. Does the Minister intend to deal with those problems in order to capture more of the potential benefits of PPPs?

Mr. Cullen:  I disagree with the Deputy. The involvement of the private sector in roads development is very successful. It is regarded as a standard that is being examined by many other countries who wish to achieve the same success——

Ms O. Mitchell:  The Minister misunderstands my question.

Mr. Cullen:  ——in investment in roads projects. I do not accept the Deputy’s point of an over-dependence on private sector money invested in projects in order to supplement public sector moneys. A good balance exists between the two. The benefit of private sector funding is that investment in projects can be increased——

Ms O. Mitchell:  Above the 5%.

Mr. Cullen:  ——and projects can be delivered. The Cashel bypass is eight months ahead of schedule. The Monasterevin bypass will be opened next week, ten or 11 months ahead of schedule. All concerned in the system, contractors, building firms, the State, are giving value for money. Contracts are finished on time or ahead of schedule and on budget. Delivery is currently excellent. That pace must be continued as well as quality and value for money.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 21 and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy Ring — calling on the Minister to immediately visit the town of Westport, County Mayo to discuss the recent job losses and to indicate what measures are in place to protect the remaining jobs in the company (details supplied); (2) Deputy Devins — to ask the Minister if she will consider the introduction of a medical smart card for improved communication re patients’ medical details; (3) Deputy Cowley — to ask the Minister his plans in relation to the loss of 320 jobs in Allergan Pharmaceuticals, Westport and if he will outline what steps he intends to take to preserve the remaining jobs and to replace those lost: (4) Deputies Sherlock and Coveney — the urgent need for the early implementation of the flood relief programme for Fermoy, County Cork and to outline the plans or strategies to reduce the risk of flooding in the future in key vulnerable areas; (5) Deputy Upton — that the medical costs associated with treatment by a person (details supplied) be covered by either the health board or the national treatment purchase fund as this couple are unable to meet these costs; (6) Deputy McManus — the restrictions imposed by the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street on admissions during the summer months and the severe difficulties this will create for pregnant mothers; (7) Deputy Breeda Moynihan-Cronin — the delay in the provision of a new hospital in Dingle, County Kerry; (8) Deputy Kirk — that the Minister clarify the future position in view of recent speculation in relation to North Eastern Health Board lands (details supplied); (9) Deputy Durkan — the circumstances alleged in a Sunday newspaper (details supplied) article that a special deal was offered to a particular telecommunications service provider; (10) Deputy Crawford — the steps the Minister will take to deal with the serious and unacceptable situation with the Cavan-Monaghan hospital group where Monaghan General Hospital is still off call since July 2002; (11) Deputy McGuinness — the urgent need to improve the infrastructure and provide funding for the delivery of education to people with autism (details supplied); (12) Deputy Cooper-Flynn — the loss of 325 jobs at the Allergan Pharmaceuticals Plant in Westport, County Mayo which will have a huge economic impact on the town of Westport and the county generally; (13) Deputy Kenny — the proposal to site an asbestos recycling plant at Killalla, County Mayo and what Government policy is on asbestos disposal and recycling; (14) Deputy Boyle — that the Minister make a statement regarding the leaking of a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency on the granting of a draft waste licence for a toxic waste incinerator at Ringaskiddy, County Cork; (15) Deputy Perry — to call on the Minister to clarify the illegal charge of more than [737]8,000 persons over the age of 70 in respect of charges for long term care in community-district hospitals, community nursing units and private nursing homes; (16) Deputy Gilmore — the proposed relocation of Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, from Dún Laoghaire to Clonakilty, County Cork. The matters raised by Deputies Devins, Perry, Sherlock and Coveney and Kenny have been selected for discussion.

Mr. Kenny:  Ten days ago this House united in the common objective of pleading with the captors of Margaret Hassan for her early release to the safety, comfort and love of her family. I thank the Taoiseach for his courtesy in briefing me that another video about this matter has been produced and given to the Al-Jazeera television station. Margaret Hassan is not sitting in silence in her cell. I understand this video is quite disturbing and shows Mrs. Hassan being subjected to severe physical and psychological pressure. She is shown to suffer severe emotional and physical distress. We have all heard of the work of Mrs. Hassan, an Irishwoman by birth and Iraqi by marriage and adoption. Her work has been described as goodness itself. That goodness apparently means nothing to her captors. They appear to be intent on exploiting her work to maximise publicity for their cause. I take this opportunity again to reiterate to the Taoiseach, on behalf of those on this side of the House and, I am sure, other speakers, as representatives of the Irish people, the affection and concern we share for Mrs. Margaret Hassan. While I understand Margaret Hassan’s captors use the Koran as part of their defence, in the Christian world this is All Souls Day and this is her hour of need. Perhaps the Taoiseach will give an update on the contacts, official or unofficial, the Government has had with authorities and organisations in Iraq to help bring about her release as an Irish and an Iraqi citizen.

The Taoiseach:  I had an opportunity during the day of briefing both Deputy Kenny and Deputy Rabbitte in the limited time available. Around lunch time yesterday, the family of Margaret Hassan were made aware that there was a further video from Margaret’s captors and that it was in the hands of Al-Jazeera. As Deputy Kenny said, it was a distressing video and it was decided by the station, on humanitarian grounds, not to show it but it made it available early this morning, with the text of what was on the video. I have not seen the video but I have seen the text, and a report of the text has been outlined to me as well. A number of dangerous and serious things, and timescales, have been stated in that.

I thank the House for reiterating again what we said here just short of two weeks ago — it is two weeks ago today that Margaret was taken. I had a meeting today with her family — her sister from Kenmare, her brother from Cork and her [738]two sisters who are based in the London area — and at their request and in their presence I made a direct appeal to the people holding Margaret to release her and allow her return to her husband, Tahseen. I thank RTE for going to considerable effort to make sure that appeal was communicated to Al-Jazeera for circulation and presentation. I hope the words of this House can be conveyed as quickly as possible.

The appeal, and our efforts here, is to the international media but mainly to the key Arab media organisations. That is what the family requested us to do. They stressed her devotion to the Iraqi people and to the humanitarian work she has done on their behalf over many years. Obviously, this is a very difficult time for her family and I assure them that the Government and the Opposition parties, who had a special debate here, will do all they can on Margaret’s behalf.

In reply to Deputy Kenny, the family is particularly concerned. This is an Iraqi family. Margaret’s husband is Iraqi born but he holds an Irish passport. She is a citizen of Ireland and her family are Irish. The family want to ensure that people in the Arab world understand that they are Irish and Iraqi. They made that clear in their statement. They pleaded that their sister would not be hurt. She spent her life working in Iraq, not for any political organisation or pushing any political views. All she has done is help the poor and the homeless in her adopted city, the city of her husband. I join everybody in the House in making this appeal and I appeal directly to those holding Margaret to release her and allow her return to her husband and family, and her brothers and sisters, who are extremely concerned about the latest position.

Mr. Kenny:  The House should again respond to the pleadings of Margaret Hassan’s family on this day of world political importance. It is opportune to focus on her Irishness and her Iraqiness. It should be remembered that Irish organisations played a major part over many years in working in hospitals in Iraq and helping the Iraqi people. Margaret Hassan’s work during her adult life has been totally dedicated to the benefit of Iraqi men, women and children, and the Taoiseach should use his efforts to ensure that the words of the representatives of all the people of Ireland expressed in this House today are broadcast, if possible, on the Al-Jazeera television station in a desperate effort to bring some sanity to this situation. Time is of the essence, but time may be short and in that sense I support fully the efforts being made by the Government to bring about Margaret Hassan’s return to the safety and love of her family as soon as possible.

The Taoiseach:  I appreciate the support of Deputy Kenny. I appreciate also the support of Deputy Rabbitte and, I am sure, that of every Member of the House. I did not have time to consult everybody, I would have done that if it were possible. Margaret Hassan has done humani[739]tarian work and we will make an effort to have the views of this House conveyed — I think we can do that — to the Arab network. I thank those in Jordan and Egypt who have been very helpful to us, and the Palestinian Foreign Minister who has made a direct appeal. Over recent days efforts were made through the humanitarian aid organisation on the ground. We did not want to interfere with those efforts but today we make a direct appeal to her captors in response to the entire family asking us to make this effort in Dáil Éireann. We do that and will continue to make every effort we can to assist Margaret.

Mr. Rabbitte:  The Irish Parliament is united in this plea for the early release of Margaret Hassan. She is an Irish citizen who has devoted most of her working life to humanitarian work for the weakest and most vulnerable people in Iraq. I speak as the leader of an Irish party that has consistently opposed the illegal war in Iraq and expressed solidarity with the Iraqi people in all their suffering over the years. I join the Taoiseach and the Fine Gael leader in asking for a positive response from people in this Parliament who are friends of the Iraqi people to the request that Margaret Hassan be released forthwith.

I raise with the Taoiseach the discovery by the Tánaiste over recent days that there is a problem with people being inappropriately accommodated in acute hospitals who might better be located in step-down facilities. The Tánaiste told us there are 250 such patients on any given day in the Dublin hospitals and that she has decided this is one way to make progress in terms of relieving the pressure on acute hospitals.

We have all known about that for many years. The Tánaiste’s predecessor, Deputy Martin, knew all about it when, on 29 July 2002, he announced the provision of 850 additional beds in community nursing units within three years. The Tánaiste now says, in answer to my colleague, Deputy Stagg, that not one of those beds has been provided but that she will examine it in detail very soon. We all know the Minister, Deputy Martin, ran the hospital service on the basis of announcements and reports, and that his presentation was usually extremely slick and clever. Will the Taoiseach explain how two years’ after this particular announcement, made on 29 July 2002 to provide 850 additional beds to accommodate what are crudely called bed blockers, not one bed has been provided? Why did the then Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, make the announcement? Why did he go down the road of public private partnerships to alleviate this acute need? What is the reason for the delay?

At the time, it was specified that the community nursing units would be located on public land. The Tánaiste is making announcements that she will sell off this public land, assuming there is anything left after the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, is fin[740]ished. He would sell Christ Church Cathedral if he thought he would get away with it. Where will the community nursing units be established? When will they be established? How has a project announced with such fanfare by the previous Minister for Health and Children been discovered by his successor not to have provided a single additional bed?

The Taoiseach:  We all know that the provision of step-down services for patients ready to be discharged from hospital is a key element of ensuring that health services are matched exactly to patient needs. It is a priority to increase the availability of community nursing and other units which would meet the needs of people who need care and would not be adequately provided for at home. As the Deputy stated, the Minister made the announcement in question two years ago. Work on the proposal for a public private partnership investment for 850 beds in community nursing units in two locations has continued in the Departments of Health and Children and Finance where discussions on how best to obtain the beds, whether through a PPP scheme with a developer or by some other means, continue.

As the schemes are complex, it is important to have a clear view of the benefit which would accrue given the complexity of the PPP structure. Instead of constructing the units, the previous Minister and the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children have continued, in 2003 and 2004, to use a better, more direct approach of providing money to the health boards and, in the most pressing area, the Eastern Regional Health Authority to facilitate the discharge of some 280 patients, mainly elderly people, into private nursing homes and other more appropriate settings. An additional €5 million was provided in recent months to facilitate the transfer of a further 200 patients, including some chronically disabled patients. In August this year the Department provided a further €3 million to the ERHA to transfer a further 120 patients.

I understand the Tánaiste stated in a recent parliamentary question that she was examining whether the work being done on the PPP is the best approach to this issue or whether it would be much quicker and better to continue to try to use the facilities already available, as has been the case for two years, and transfer patients directly. The Department of Health and Children takes the view that having some stand alone community nursing units outside the private area is a better approach. This is the issue the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children is examining and on which she will report back.

None of the 850 community nursing home beds has emerged using the public private partnership approach. We have taken a different approach by sourcing and using the facilities in the private sector.

Mr. Rabbitte:  The Taoiseach has rambled off into a number of areas about which I did not ask [741]him. I referred to a particular announcement by the former Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, that he would provide a number of 50-bed community nursing units specifically for the purpose I have outlined. Not one of the beds has been provided, as the answer to a parliamentary question on 28 October makes clear, nor has any work been done — certainly not according to the reply — which suggests a breakthrough is imminent.

Why was it resolved to go down the PPP road? When will beds come on stream? The Taoiseach said he knows all about the issue and noted the Tánaiste is examining whether the PPP route is the correct one. Her predecessor made the announcement with much fanfare in July 2002. The Taoiseach seems to want to give the impression that he has just moved over to the Government benches and somebody on this side is responsible for this matter. I do not care when the Tánaiste became Minister for Health and Children. The Government has been in power for seven and a half years and we still have a crisis in the health service.

My questions relate to a specific announcement by a specific Minister. The Tánaiste, the current Minister for Health and Children, stated she would examine the matter in detail very soon. When will the beds come on stream? Where will they be? How many will there be? Why did the Minister go down the PPP route? Is the public land in question still available? When will the crisis in our acute hospitals be alleviated?

The Taoiseach:  The public land, which belongs to the Department of Health and Children, is available. The question which has arisen between the Departments of Finance and Health and Children is whether this is the best way of providing stand-down facilities or whether it would be better to use facilities available on a contract basis with the hospitals. That is what has been happening in 2003 and 2004.

The Tánaiste has the benefit of the work undertaken on the PPP process in doing this. As the Deputy is aware, we have had a number of difficulties with some of the PPP schemes in a number of areas. The Tánaiste must report on whether this is the best, most cost-effective and speedy approach. In the meantime, we continue to discharge patients from hospitals and the State, through the ERHA and the health boards, continues to fund their beds in different private facilities. The argument is that we should continue to do this as it may be a better approach.

Mr. S. Ryan:  Elderly people will wait 20 years to get into a nursing home if that is the case.

Mr. J. Higgins:  The National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street has declared that next year it will put a monthly limit on the number of births allowed to take place in the hospital. Today’s edition of The Irish Times refers to a comment by Dr. Peter Boylan, a consultant [742]obstetrician in the hospital, speaking on the “Morning Ireland” programme, that the Department of Health and Children has been aware of the pressure on the hospital for at least ten years. He also stated: “The persistent answer we get is you’re fine, you don’t need more people, you don’t need more nurses, you don’t need more doctors, the hospital is fine, go away and stop annoying us.” The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform told the House last spring that the maternity hospitals were bursting at the seams with alleged baby tourism. He constructed a referendum he said would resolve the problem, held it and had it passed. Then we hear the comments I cited from a consultant in the premier maternity hospital. If the Minister was correct, what has happened? Was the whole episode a propaganda hoax by the Minister and the Government? Will the Taoiseach explain the matter?

Dr. Boylan also recommended that expectant mothers showing up at Holles Street Hospital and unable to receive care should visit their local Deputy.

Mr. F. McGrath:  They cannot deliver.

Mr. Rabbitte:  It is another form of family planning.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow the Deputy to continue without interruption please.

Mr. J. Higgins:  I presume he meant they should approach Deputies from the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats parties since they are in power. It occurred to me that the Ceann Comhairle might advise the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to assign each Government Deputy a qualified midwife, rather than a researcher. At least they might make a positive contribution to an aspect of the health crisis. It certainly would allow what is now called “advice centres” to be properly labelled “TDs’ clinics”.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Delivery units.

Mr. J. Higgins:  What is going on? What will the Taoiseach say to reassure people who will be in this difficult and nervous situation next year? If that happens in Holles Street, will resources be available elsewhere? What is the plan?

The Taoiseach:  Dr. Boylan is correct that the number of births increased between 1998 and 2003 by 8%, a large increase. For the preceding 20 years the number of births had been decreasing. There has been a number of meetings between the Department of Health and Children and the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street. The last meeting was held on 22 July this year, when the Minister met the representatives of the National Maternity Hospital.

Proposals were approved at that meeting for interim developments aimed at relieving the infrastructural deficits. The measures are [743]designed to increase capacity in delivery rooms, neonatal, ICU and theatres, as well as improving the postnatal facilities for mothers and babies. The Department of Health and Children, the ERHA and the hospital have progressed the proposals through the hospital project team which has been in place for some time. The Department has approved the appointment of staff to oversee and manage the project and the process of selection of a design team to progress the improvement works at the hospital. The works are under way.

Deputy Higgins’s assertion that people have been told to go away is not in line with the facts, either in the past or more recently. The Department is advised that the ERHA has worked closely with all three hospitals to address the pressures caused by the increase in the number of births over the past five years after years of the numbers declining. This affects the Coombe and Rotunda hospitals as well, so the Department is dealing with all three.

Mr. J. Higgins:  Will the Taoiseach answer the point I made with regard to the assertions of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform about the pressure that was allegedly put on the maternity hospitals as a result of the law at that time? Has anything altered fundamentally? If the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform was correct, there should be less pressure. The Taoiseach should explain that contradiction, for a start.

Sometimes it is hard to follow the Taoiseach when he answers — I use that word advisedly — our questions. Is the Taoiseach saying there will not be a limit or a necessity to impose one in Holles Street next year? What has he to say about catering for the need of every expectant mother to be properly looked after and treated?

The Taoiseach:  With regard to the first question, I made it clear that the number of births had increased by 8% in the three maternity hospitals in a four-year period. This is a reversal of what happened over preceding years. If the Deputy is asking me for the relevant figures since the referendum, I do not have them. However, the number of births increased considerably and that was Dr. Boylan’s point, which was correct. It increased from approximately 21,000 to more than 23,000 births.

With regard to what is happening, the Department has approved the appointment of staff to oversee and manage the project to increase capacity in delivery rooms, neonatal, ICU and theatres, as well as improve postnatal facilities for mothers and babies. The Department has also progressed the proposals with the project team. That work has been ongoing for some time. The last meeting of which I have a record was held on 22 July. As I understand it, the work Dr. Boylan wishes to see take place is at the design team stage. Obviously, the units must be built. One [744]cannot simply click one’s fingers and make them appear.

Ms McManus:  What about the women?

The Taoiseach:  The work has been approved and is being processed.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I wish to announce for the information of the House that I received the following communication from Deputy John Bruton yesterday, 1 November.

Dear Ceann Comhairle,

I write to inform you that I intend to resign my seat in Dáil Éireann as and from 1 November 2004 to allow me to take up appointment as EU Head of Delegation in the United States.

I take this opportunity to thank you, your predecessors in office and my fellow Members, and the staff of the Houses, for their kindness to me over so many years.

Yours sincerely,

John Bruton.

In accordance with the provisions of Standing Order 167, the resignation took effect upon my receipt of the notice.

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

Mr. Sherlock:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to debate the following urgent matter: the urgent need for the early implementation of the flood relief programme for Fermoy, County Cork, which is already approved following consultation, in view of the considerable damage caused to business and residential property by the flooding last week. In view of the importance of this issue, I hope the Ceann Comhairle will approve my request.

Mr. Ring:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to debate the following urgent matter: the loss of several hundred jobs this week in Westport, County Mayo, and the need for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to visit the town of Westport immediately to discuss these job losses and to indicate what proposals he has to protect the remaining jobs in the company.

Ms McManus:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to debate the fol[745]lowing urgent matter: the restrictions imposed by the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street on admissions during the summer months, the severe difficulties this will create for pregnant mothers, the alarm expressed by general practitioners about this decision regarding the welfare of their patients and the need for a statement from the Minister for Health and Children and a debate in the Dáil about this decision.

Mr. Durkan:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to debate the following urgent matter: the full circumstances relating to the recent disclosures in The Sunday Business Post wherein it was alleged that a special offer was made by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources on behalf of the Government to one communications service provider; if it can be ascertained that the alleged deal was in accordance with EU competition rules; if a similar deal was offered to other service providers and under what conditions; and if the interests of the industrial and domestic consumer and taxpayer were best served in such circumstances.

Mr. Hayes:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to debate the following urgent matter: the recent flooding of Clonmel town and the urgent need for action to assist residents and business people who face economic hardship as a result.

Mr. Healy:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to debate the following urgent matter: the devastating flooding that affected Clonmel last week, the necessity to fast-track the Clonmel flood alleviation scheme to protect the people and property in the town, and the urgent need to put a meaningful compensation scheme in place for families and businesses affected.

Mr. Ferris:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to debate the following urgent matter: the need to discuss the potential threat to the future of the sugar beet industry on foot of the current proposals from the European Commission and the implications of changes to the WTO.

Mr. Morgan:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to debate the following urgent matter: the necessity for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to intervene as a matter of urgency on behalf of workers at Irish Ferries who have been given until 5 November to accept a package which gives 150 workers the ultimatum of accepting redundancy or transferring from Wexford to Dublin with no guarantee of retaining existing grade of pay scale if the company operates the ferry under a professional ship management agency based in another state and replaces existing management and crew with low paid staff from other states.

[746]An Ceann Comhairle:  Having considered the matters raised, they are not in order under Standing Order 31.

Mr. Ring:  On a point of order, I raised a very important issue. With your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, how can I raise this issue in the House today? I put the matter in for the Adjournment debate but the Ceann Comhairle decided to allow for discussion the issue of a medical smart card. Some 350 people are losing their jobs in my town but I cannot raise this in Parliament today. Will the Ceann Comhairle guide me as to how I can raise the matter?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy has raised it under Standing Order 31.

Mr. Ring:  I want the Minister to answer. This is a serious issue.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are other ways in which the Deputy can raise the matter.

Mr. Ring:  Some 350 jobs are gone from my town but you have allowed a Deputy to raise an issue regarding medical smart cards that has probably already been arranged by the social welfare services.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The decisions of the Chair will not be challenged in this House. The Chair has a formula for the Adjournment.

Mr. Ring:  I followed it.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy’s party received a fair allocation, well beyond its allocation.

Mr. Ring:  A Cheann Comhairle, you think a smart card is more important than 350 jobs or anything else.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Three members of the Deputy’s party will raise matters on the Adjournment tonight. The Chair will not be challenged on these matters.

The Taoiseach:  It is proposed to take No. 12, Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill 2004 — Second Stage (resumed); No. 13, Water Services Bill 2003 [Seanad] — Second Stage (resumed); and No. 3, Grangegorman Development Agency Bill 2004 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. Private Members’ business shall be No. 32, motion re child care.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are no proposals to be put to the House on the Order of Business.

Mr. Kenny:  Arising from the consistent number of Standing Order 31 notices put in the House, when is it proposed that the Chief Whip [747]will bring in his proposals for Dáil reform so that Deputies on all sides can raise matters of current importance?

  5 o’clock

Given that just eight weeks are left for the Government to make arrangements for the transfer of authority from health boards and their chief executive officers to county managers for health and directors for health, when is it likely that the health Bill will be published? Are interviews taking place, in advance of the legislation being produced, to give effect to this transfer and transition of authority? Will the Taoiseach confirm that under the health Bill there will be no diminution in status and that we are not likely to be flooded with legal cases arising from the statutory authority that the chief executive officers currently hold, which they will lose on 1 January next?

The Taoiseach:  On the first issue, the Government, through the Chief Whip, will be glad to deal with the issue of urgent matters. The Government and the Opposition have proposals and we would be glad to discuss these with the Opposition.

On the second matter, I hope the health Bill will be available shortly. The Tánaiste was last week involved in discussions on this. It is hoped to have everything in place by 1 January, at the least to set up the health services executive and recruit the staff. Enormous attention has been paid to industrial relations issues to make sure that staff are facilitated and transfers are organised. An entire group has been working on this for several months.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Although the Government supported its passage on Second Stage in the House, can we take it that the Whistleblowers Protection Bill 1999 is considered dead by the Government?

The Taoiseach:  The last time I reported on this, the work had been undertaken in the Department. We accepted the Bill and it is being retained. The main purpose of the Bill is to provide protection from civil liability to employees who make certain disclosures reasonably and in good faith in regard to the conduct of the business affairs of employers. The Bill is on the Order Paper but, while considerable drafting work has been done with a view to progressing the legislation, it is considered that the provision of statutory protection for whistleblowers on a sectoral basis might provide a better and more focused approach to dealing with the issue. For example, the protection of persons reporting child abuse might be dealt with under different legislation.

In such circumstances, proceeding with the 1999 Bill, as it is five years old, is not viewed as a priority. It may be addressed at some future time when the priorities of the legislative programme will be implemented. For the information of the Deputy, the two countries which intro[748]duced whistleblowers Bills have altered the legislation because it is not workable.

Mr. Rabbitte:  I take it from that answer that the Bill is dead and that the work to which the Taoiseach refers and which has been prepared will not be undertaken.

The Taoiseach:  It will, on a sectoral basis.

Mr. Howlin:  What does that mean?

The Taoiseach:  If there is legislation on competition or health, for example, it will be put into that.

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

Mr. Sargent:  Given newspaper reports, what is the responsibility of the Chief Whip in regard to IT matters? The Minister for Education and Science is known as the e-Minister. While she did not announce it in the Dáil, is the Chief Whip doing this job? I want to clarify this because the information is in the newspapers but has not been announced in the House.

The Taoiseach:  It is in the same statutory order.

Mr. Sargent:  On promised legislation, the Foyle and Carlingford fisheries Bill, which deals with areas north and south of the Border, a date is not indicated. I asked about this matter during questions to the Taoiseach but did not receive a reply. The register of persons who are considered unsafe to work with children also arises in the context of the North-South Ministerial Council. Until the institutions are up and running again, will this kind of important legislation also be moribund or marking time? Given the importance of the matter, is there any way it can be progressed without waiting for the tortuous reinstatement of the institutions?

The Taoiseach:  Yes. We can of course go ahead with the drafting and preparation of the legislation and not lose time. Publication must coincide with publication by the Northern Ireland Assembly and, therefore, without the Assembly, it is not possible to move on this. However, as I understand it, while the heads of the Bill have been drafted for a considerable time, all the preparatory work can be done. The answer to the question is yes.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  Has a definite timetable been established in regard to reform of the libel laws and-or the establishment of a press council?

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy should put down a parliamentary question to the Minister. I have no information on the matter.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  Is legislation promised?

[749]The Taoiseach:  It is, but I do not have a date for it.

Mr. Howlin:  Last week I raised on the Order of Business a matter arising from the enactment of the Nice treaty, namely, our correct decision not to have a restriction on citizens of the new member states coming to work in this country. When I raised it, the Minister for Finance indicated that the issue of the undermining of wage rates and so on would be best addressed by referring this matter to the central review committee. Will the Government, specifically the Taoiseach, as is his right, cause this matter to be considered by the central review committee because of its implications not only for seafarers in the context of the Irish Ferries matter but, ultimately, for all employees in the State?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That does not arise on the Order of Business. The Deputy should put down a question to the appropriate Minister.

Mr. Howlin:  Perhaps the Taoiseach will respond.

The Taoiseach:  I will examine the matter.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Disability Bill is due to come before the House on Thursday next. Is the Taoiseach aware that the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights has scheduled hearings with representatives of various disability groups and that they have called on the Government to defer--——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should ask about the Bill itself.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  My question relates to the scheduling of the Bill. The disability groups have called for a deferral of Second Stage until after the hearings so that all Members of the House would be fully appraised of the concerns they have expressed regarding the Bill. Will the Taoiseach consider the request of those groups?

The Taoiseach:  As there is much interest in the Bill, I presume Second Stage will continue for some time. As the Deputy knows, I have often answered questions in the House on the consultation process. We have been through this. While I do not know whether the Deputy is aware, everyone else seems well aware of the issues.

As the Bill goes through Second Stage, amendments are put down for Committee Stage. It will go on for a considerable time.

Mr. Hayes:  Is it proposed to introduce a Supplementary Estimate to alleviate the hardship caused to many families and people in Clonmel last week?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is a statement promised?

[750]The Taoiseach:  A statement will be made either later this evening or tomorrow morning by the Minister of State at the Department of Finance who is responsible for this matter.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  Well done, Deputy Hayes.

Mr. Gilmore:  Nearly two years ago the Taoiseach asked the All-Party Committee on the Constitution to examine the cost of building land and its implication for house prices. The committee reported last April and for a number of weeks I have asked for a debate on the report in the House. Will the Taoiseach inform the House when the debate on the report of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution will take place?

The Taoiseach:  I will raise it with the Whips.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Boyle.

Mr. Boyle:  My question on the Supplementary Estimate was already raised by Deputy Hayes.

Mr. Crawford:  In light of the ongoing crisis in the health service, will the Taoiseach inform the House when the health complaints Bill will be introduced? With ongoing problems concerning post mortems, when will the coroners Bill be introduced so they can be debated? When will the Bill allowing the Director of Public Prosecutions to appeal unduly lenient sentences in serious cases before the District Court be introduced? Some unacceptable sentences are being handed out.

The Taoiseach:  The health complaints Bill is part of the health Bill, which it is hoped the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children will deal with shortly. The coroners Bill will be published in 2005. Regarding the DPP provision, I am not sure if there is legislation on that matter. It would have to be examined in the context of legislation but I do not believe there is a Bill.

Mr. Crawford:  It is No. 91 on the Government legislation programme.

Mr. Kenny:  Shell International hopes to harvest the Corrib gas field by 2007, one of the largest proposals for offshore exploration in over 25 years. The gas regulation Bill dealing with the restructuring of the gas industry is No. 40 on the Government legislation programme. When will that Bill be published as it is important to have it finalised by the House before the gas field starts to flow?

I suppose the Taoiseach does not want to comment on the disappearance of certain matters relating to horses. I am not speaking of Shergar.

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

The Taoiseach:  The heads of the gas regulation Bill which gives effect to the restructuring of the [751]gas industry are expected to be ready before Christmas and the legislation will be drafted next year.

Mr. Broughan:  This time last year I asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, to address the 1875 legislation on fireworks and the associated mayhem that took place this time last year. The Taoiseach will be well aware that it took place again last Sunday night. Will he assist the Minister over the coming months——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Has the Deputy a question on legislation?

Mr. Broughan:  Yes, my question is on the 1875 British law on fireworks. Will the Taoiseach assist the Minister in bringing amending legislation forward?

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  The Deputy had better be careful or he will blow up.

Mr. Broughan:  Are there any ongoing negotiations with Eircom or Esat BT on the roll-out of broadband, given that——

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

Mr. Broughan:  ——in 2003 such negotiations were held and the then Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, never reported them to the House? Members were treated like fools by him.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is legislation promised on fireworks?

The Taoiseach:  It is not——

Mr. Broughan:  The House was misled by the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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

The Taoiseach:  The electronic communications (miscellaneous provisions) Bill which will deal with the broadcast network is expected late this year.

Mr. R. Bruton:  On a point of order, the legislation on fireworks was widely promised in the media by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the run-up to Hallowe’en. It seems to have evaporated since then. The issue should be answered by the Taoiseach as it has been promised in public.

Mr. Durkan:  It has gone up in smoke.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Broughan has raised the matter.

[752]Mr. Durkan:  My party leader has already raised the first part of my intended question.

(Interruptions).

Mr. Durkan:  It is indicative of the synchronisation of minds on this side of the House. When will the petroleum Bill, which has been around for some time, be published? I note 2006 has been mooted as a possible time. In view of increasing petrol prices, it might be advisable to bring it before the House before then.

Mr. S. Ryan:  The Deputy will be a Minister by then.

The Taoiseach:  It is still expected in 2006.

Mr. Rabbitte:  The Taoiseach has clarified the additional functions of the Government Chief Whip. However, does the Minister of State with special responsibility for overseas development and human rights, Deputy Conor Lenihan, have a role in the peace process?

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

The Taoiseach:  He is Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Mr. Rabbitte:  I appreciate that, but does he have a role in the peace process?

The Taoiseach:  The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs has always attended and assisted at meetings in Northern Ireland.

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

Ms F. O’Malley:  The overwhelming result in the June referendum on citizenship highlights the need for order and clarity in this area. Although the citizenship provision in the Good Friday Agreement existed for a short period, it still had an impact on the country. I find it objectionable that it is described as a loophole. Those with entitlements under our laws should not be described as having the benefit of or utilising a loophole. If the provision exists, it is then a citizen’s entitlement and should be described as such. However, the provision should be subject to some degree of change. Like every citizen, citizenship matters to me. I welcome the Bill as it deals with an area where clarity did not previously prevail. The Bill also ties in with our asylum laws. There were difficulties arising from claims that people were engaged in citizenship tourism. It is an unfortunate term but the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform had to act on it. Undeniably there was a certain pull for [753]people to this country because of the existing constitutional provision.

It is important that our citizenship laws are regulated because what it means to be a citizen of Ireland matters. It is not just about having a cover on a passport. It is a complex set of responsibilities and obligations to which an individual who is granted citizenship is subject. It also demonstrates a certain obligation on the part of people who hold common nationality. We should not be shy about requesting a certain gradation in our citizenship, as is proposed in the Bill, whereby people must demonstrate that they have a certain connection to this country through their very welcome involvement in society at whatever level rather than just acquiring it by virtue of the fact that they were born here.

During the debate which took place prior to the referendum, Paul Cullen had a rather good article in The Irish Times about this. He outlined the case of a Lebanese man who had experienced certain difficulties in the Lebanon. The one thing that sustained him was that his son had an Irish passport. When this man and his wife discovered the Irish citizenship rules his family prolonged their stay so their son would become an Irish citizen. There is nothing wrong with that. They did what was in the interests of their child, as all parents do. They wanted to give him the best possible start in life and they believed that Irish citizenship, and thereby EU citizenship, would be of benefit to their son. Is it right that we do not require people to demonstrate a commitment or loyalty to the country? I believe we should grade our citizenship in the manner proposed.

There are different levels of Irish citizenship. Not every citizen is entitled to vote, one has to be a certain age, and there are certain restrictions on our ability to participate in our country. Why should that not be the same here as it is in most other countries? Why should we not bring ourselves into line with other European countries?

The Minister stated that Governments have a duty to safeguard the institution of citizenship so as to ensure it continues to fulfil the requirement of its role as a manifestation of a nation where membership of that nation has an intrinsic value, not just a price. That brings me to section 11 which proposes to cease the connection between investment and citizenship. That was a disgraceful practice and I very much welcome its abolition. Excuses were made at the time it was introduced that we needed to encourage investment into the country. Selling off one’s citizenship is not the answer to encouraging people to invest in and bring prosperity to a country. That is an extremely important part of the Bill which I very much welcome.

I have a concern regarding section 6 and seek clarification on cases where a child is born to parents who do not fulfil the period of residence criteria of three out of four years preceding the birth. In such cases, his or her citizenship is the same as that of his or her parents. If in a year or two a sibling is born, the second child will auto[754]matically become an Irish citizen as the parents would have subsequently fulfilled the criteria. I would like to think it possible that the non-Irish citizen sibling would have the ability to acquire citizenship, but I am not sure if provisions in the Bill effect that. I see the Minister’s officials nodding. I welcome that fact in terms of family unity.

By and large, this is not the end of the debate on our citizenship — I hope it is the beginning. As a country, Ireland has changed so much from what it was like in the 1980s. We are now a destination country for immigrants and we need to be more confident about who we are and what are our rules and regulations, and that these are enforced. People get apoplectic at the idea of having clear definitions about the status of people living here, as to whether they are seeking asylum or work. The Minister often comes in for a great deal of criticism whenever the definitions are adhered to, which is unwarranted. If we are to have systems, we must make sure they work. In that way, our systems will be respected and honoured and they will mean something. The question of citizenship should be part of a wider debate about immigration policy. I welcome the Bill as the first part of a response to the recent referendum and I look forward to a cool, calm and informed debate on immigration policy in the near future.

Mr. Howlin:  I am pleased to have an opportunity to make a contribution on the Bill, which is not an earth shattering one in terms of its scope. Other legislation in the area of immigration and citizenship matters will undoubtedly come downstream.

In essence, the Bill is the legislative response to the referendum and I wish to make a few general points in regard to that because the previous speaker, Deputy Fiona O’Malley, made some interesting comments. She said citizenship matters. Yes, citizenship matters, but I profoundly disagree with her when she said there was no clarity on this matter in advance of the referendum. Of course there was clarity. Irish citizens were people born on the island of Ireland and people born on the island of Ireland were Irish citizens. That was clear. She correctly stated that we now have degrees of Irish citizenship, depending on length of stay and the legal basis of one’s parents’ period of residence here. No doubt a range of anomalies will arise in future. She is wrong to say we moved from a position of lack of clarity to clarity. We have not, but I do not intend rehashing the debate as that would be unproductive and unhelpful. The people have spoken decisively on this matter and as a democrat I respect their judgment although I do not agree with it and I do not expect anybody to assume I should have changed my view on it.

I wish to make a couple of general observations on the debate. After the people spoke and after a very divisive debate, I thought it very unwelcome to have the type of Second Stage contribution we had from the Minister for Justice, [755]Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell. I listened to his speech and I read it subsequently. I regard it as self-congratulatory, smug and ungenerous. I also regard it as, in part, inaccurate. People hold strong views on an issue like this. Some have made mistakes in terms of the presentation of arguments and, in the past, Members of this House have been racist or quasi-racist in their comments on these matters.

The Minister for equality in particular has responsibility not to be ambivalent in any way in regard to these matters. I do not suggest he is personally ambivalent, but to ascribe all the inaccuracies to one side of the debate, as he did in his Second Stage contribution, does not calm but aggravates the situation and frustrates people who have strong, carefully thought-out and well held beliefs. People on that side of the argument make mistakes occasionally. Does that mean they should be vilified as the Minister wants to dismiss them, in a self-satisfied, smug way, although dealing with people’s lives? I regret that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform chose that line and I am glad he is in the House to hear my comments.

In my judgment, the timing of the referendum was based on a calculation that it could act as a useful backdrop for the Government in the local and European elections. It was a particularly inept judgment because while it swelled the voting numbers, people voted in favour of the Government’s proposals but ironically against the Government candidates for various other reasons. I regret the Minister’s contribution because he is capable of better. He said it was a pleasure to make a case for the referendum proposals calmly and reflectively in the other House, in contrast to this one. My only wish is that he will have many opportunities in the future to address the other House rather than this.

Several issues have arisen since the referendum was passed that this legislation does not address. I hope the Minister will listen calmly to what I have to say on these matters. He may be rather bored by them because I have rehearsed some of the cases in an Adjournment debate. Since the response to that was prepared in advance and was entirely unrelated to the case I made I hope the Minister has had a chance to reflect more fully on some of the residual matters. The word “residual” is not intended to diminish or understate their importance because they are matters of great importance. It is interesting the Minister in his Second Stage contribution said: “The changes we make to citizenship law must show that there is a continuing céad míle fáilte for those who migrate legitimately to Ireland with a view to establishing a substantial connection with the State by creating new livelihoods for themselves.” Most people in this House would strongly support that thought but it is no more than an utterance because it is not matched by reality.

We are very ungenerous in the way we treat the relatives of those whom we not only allow to [756]come here but invite, and on whom we depend. I have discussed directly with the Minister the case of a senior physician in Wexford General Hospital who wanted his aunt to visit him last summer. We would not grant a visa for his aunt to visit him although she had a valid visa to visit the United Kingdom. The man has been here for seven years, for five of which he has been a senior, vital member of staff in Wexford General Hospital. His colleagues and staff provided a range of supporting observations for that application. If we ask senior medical people to come to work and maintain our medical system but do not allow their relatives to visit them temporarily, we do not offer a céad míle fáilte to those who migrate here or who work here legitimately. We invited Filipino nurses to work and provide and maintain an essential service here, yet it took great effort to ensure that their spouses could come and work or even reside here. We have a long way to go before the céad míle fáilte to which the Minister referred becomes a reality. It is no more than a glib throwaway phrase.

There are three cases with which I am dealing in my constituency and which I will continue to raise. The general issue concerns the families of Irish-born children who have been here for up to five years, who have deep roots here, whose children remember no other country, who in many cases have received an Irish education for three, four or five years and whom the Minister wishes to deport. That is nothing short of an absolute scandal. Once this Bill is enacted, will the Minister please rectify this situation because nothing less than torture faces these families? When I mentioned them on an Adjournment debate the Minister said they were among 11,000 and that the Government had underestimated the numbers for its own political reasons. These are not idle numbers, they are real families with friends, school mates and colleagues in my constituency, and I want to put their cases directly to the Minister tonight. I hope that having heard them yet again he will pay particular attention to them and that he will rescind the deportation orders he has signed in two of the cases. It would be a cruelty beyond my understanding to go ahead and deport these people. I speak with whatever passion I can command.

The first is a Bulgarian family, Kamen and Ivalina Kaltchev who live in my home town, Wexford. They have resided there for five years, have an Irish-born child and their son aged 11 has received his primary education from second to sixth class in Wexford. He is as Irish as any child in that school, good at hurling, speaks English with a Wexford accent and has only a vague recollection of Bulgaria and Bulgarian. They are rooted in Wexford. Out of the blue they received a deportation notice. The Minister is reflecting on this again in light of the information submitted in my parliamentary question.

The principal of the CBS wrote to me stating:

I am writing in relation to the family of one of my pupils and respectfully request your [757]assistance. Stefan Kaltchev enrolled in second class in our school five years ago and is now in sixth class. Stefan and his mother Ivalina and his father Keman arrived in Ireland from Bulgaria. They have successfully become part of the school community and the wider community of Wexford. Seventeen months ago Ivalina and Keman’s daughter was born in Wexford General Hospital. [This was written in October of this year]. The Kaltchev family have just received notification that they face deportation. I feel very strongly that a case should be made on humanitarian grounds to allow this family to continue to stay.

The principal goes through how the school has responded to the boy and how entirely he is involved in the school community. The rest of my file contains correspondence from other supporting organisations in Wexford regarding this case.

The second case concerns Alexander, Svetlana, Julia and Alina Lishenko. This couple and their family have resided in Ireland for five years. Their two Ukrainian-born children speak perfect English, with Wexford accents. The younger of the two Ukrainian-born children has little or no memory of life in the Ukraine, having left at the age of five. The older daughter, Julia, is the mother of an Irish-born child and is totally integrated into Wexford society, with a Wexford partner. They have set up home together. All those people face deportation out of the blue. The eldest daughter’s partner asked me whether he should look for custody of their child as well. It would be cruelty to do that. I ask the Minister to review that situation. There is much supporting documentation, which I can give to the Minister, referring to the fact that they have established themselves in Ireland.

The third case is that of a mother of a child, a Nigerian national whose name is Oluwadolapo Adebiyi. What concerned me about this case is that this woman was arrested and incarcerated. I will read the Minister’s own declaration to me:

On 22 September 2004, she attended the Garda National Immigration Bureau to make enquiries about her social welfare payments which had been suspended because of an earlier evasion. She was arrested on the same date and lodged in the Dochas centre in Mountjoy while arrangements were made to remove her to Nigeria. The provisions of section 12 of the Childcare Act 1991 were invoked by the gardaí and the child was taken into the care of the South Western Area Health Board and placed with foster parents.

This woman, in a foreign land, was put into Mountjoy jail and her son was put into foster care in the Midlands for three weeks. In response to my parliamentary question, the Minister concluded that the facts of the case were clear and he was satisfied that this person had been treated in a fair and humane manner in all respects. The Minister’s judgment is as the Minister’s judgment is, and others can judge as they judge. I just sim[758]ply say that if an Irish citizen, a young mother with a child, had been put in jail in Romania, Bulgaria or Nigeria, and her child taken into care, then we in this House would have something to say.

The Minister has an extremely difficult job and I will not gainsay any of that. He has many people to deal with and there are many who want to abuse our law. I simply return to two essential issues. First, there are a number of people with deep roots in our society right now and I have instanced three of them, two of whom I know particularly well; the Ukrainian and Bulgarian examples. I ask the Minister to reflect on these cases, take the people involved out of their dreadful misery and grant them the right of permanent residence in Ireland. What happens with all new applicants will happen on the basis of a new law that we have now enacted.

When I was spokesman on justice in my party more than four years ago, I published a document called “Ending the Chaos”. It was not a comprehensive document but it had three strands to it. The first strand was that we would have the resources to deal effectively and efficiently with asylum applications. The second strand was that we would separate asylum seekers from economic migrants and have a green card system to deal with those who are real economic migrants. This would entail a quota system so that such migrants would not be forced into the asylum stream. We have been promised many things. We have been promised a reform of the work permit system that will take the work permit away from the employer and give it to the successful employee so that we do not have bonded servitude as we had in one or two instances. However, we have none of these reforms and I ask the Minister to do something about these matters.

The third strand in my proposal was to have a properly funded and structured integration system for migrants in this country that goes well beyond the inadequate anti-racism measures undertaken by the Minister’s Department to date. We need to have a much better system to prepare for the type of multi-culturalism that is happening apace in our country. We certainly have not resourced or structured that in a satisfactory way.

I want to return to the comments made by Deputy Fiona O’Malley on general policy. Some of her comments are extremely worrying if they represent the thinking of the Progressive Democrats. For the first time, she has suggested a notion of graded citizenship. I do not know what she means by that but I want to signal my gravest concern at the notion of it. It is probably motivated by the concept in the UK where an old imperial power, torn between loyalty to its former colonial citizens but afraid to allow them citizenship rights, created tiers of citizenship. If we go down that route it will be a disaster and I counsel the Minister against it. Deputy O’Malley also spoke about a declaration of loyalty to the State. That will be an interesting one. Maybe we could have our very own “Patriot Act”, so that we can [759]measure loyalty. In 20 years in this House, it is my experience that those who consider themselves most loyal to the concept of the Republic have been the most destructive in the building of the real Republic in Ireland over the past 30 years. Our history indicates that.

This is a Bill that is consequent on the vote of the people. I do not agree with it but I have to accept the decisive democratic decision taken by the people on the day of the referendum. I regret the tone of the Minister’s contribution and I invite him to have a different tone in his summation. It would be much better received on this side of the House. We have not entirely written off the Minister yet.

Mr. McDowell:  The Deputy should look at section 15 of the Act which requires people to make a declaration of loyalty to the State as a condition of naturalisation. That is in our law at the moment.

Mr. Howlin:  That is very interesting in our law. I am sure the Minister will make all these points in his Second Stage conclusion.

Mr. McDowell:  They are required to do it before a judge of the District Court.

Mr. Howlin:  That is something that also causes me some concern about the way we deal with citizenship rights. The Minister will have ample opportunity in his Second Stage retort. The Minister is clearly not in listening mode. He is much more content——

Mr. McDowell:  I am listening and I am amazed at what I hear.

Mr. Howlin:  He is much more content to seek conflict with this side of the House than engage with real issues and real families and real people which is the kernel of what I am trying to put to him this evening. I am sure the Minister will put on his best lawyer’s hat and he——

Mr. McDowell:  It is not a lawyer’s hat. It is a fact that one has to make a declaration of loyalty before becoming an Irish citizen.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy should conclude.

Mr. Howlin:  There are those who are entitled to Irish citizenship under existing law by virtue of having an Irish grandparent. It is interesting that when it comes to affinity or connection to the State, people can live here for many years and not be deemed to have such an affinity or tie. Yet someone from South Africa or New Zealand who happens to have an Irish grandparent and who may never have set foot here or know anything about its history, is entitled to citizenship. We have not changed that provision.

[760]I hope the Minister will be generous in evaluating the position I have put, particularly to those families who are now caught in the aftermath of this situation, where they have a long established tie in this State and where the Minister has signed deportation orders. I beg him to reconsider.

Mr. Crawford:  I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on this important Bill. I am interested in the Minister’s speech and how he claimed he did not want to go back into history. He then spent time doing that and questioned the right of Opposition colleagues to make any comments or raise any questions. The only issue my party raised was the timing of the referendum and we do not apologise for that. There is no need to criticise my party in raising issues. In general, we went along with it because we saw that there were problems. The Bill provides a legislative framework for the decision of the people of Ireland in last June’s referendum. That is what it is all about.

The Minister suggested in his speech that if Fine Gael was working with others to provide leadership, it would not have handled the situation well. It seems the Minister thinks there are no problems because he is so brilliant. I would like him to say that to a lady who lives 500 yards from the hospital in Monaghan town. Is he prepared to suggest that her rights as an Irish citizen were looked after by this supposedly competent Government? No ambulance was available to go 500 yards up the road. We have to deal with competency rather than criticise everybody for the sake of criticising them. I feel very sore that the Minister has suggested that nobody other than members of his party and possibly the other Government party can do anything.

I recall that Deputies representing the main Government party were elected to the House after they tried to raise the heat on foreigners, or non-nationals, living in Cork and similar places. It was unreal, especially when one considers that thousands of Irish people went abroad in the past. We have all worked to try to improve this country. We should thank God that rather than have to leave in such large numbers, people are keen to come to Ireland. We should not forget the millions of Irish people who live abroad because their only choice was to leave. I have visited the places where they went in Canada, the US, England and elsewhere after they left this country. They were given the opportunity to work in such places, albeit in difficult circumstances, but at least they were allowed to do that. Many of those who did well abroad returned to Ireland to say how well they got on, but many others never reached the shores of the places to which they were going because they died on the way, or lived in absolute poverty in other countries. We cannot forget such things very easily.

As I said at the outset, Fine Gael generally supports the Minister’s ideas in this regard. It accepts the need to ensure that the potential for the [761]abuse of our citizenship laws is dealt with in a sensitive way. It is convinced that the Minister is introducing the Bill for all the right reasons. He can be assured of the support of Fine Gael Members. It would have been logical, however, to have brought this proposal before an all-party committee to try to reach consensus on the best possible policy. The House establishes internal committees, rather than external quangos, to deal with such matters. I was informed today that the Minister for Health and Children spent €30 million on external quangos to deal with matters which should have been considered by the House.

Fine Gael’s only source of opposition to the Bill relates to the time limit provisions, but I would like to discuss a number of other issues. There is no coherent policy to deal with people coming into this country. As somebody who represents a constituency in which many low-paid jobs are filled by non-nationals, I constantly have to deal with delicate family problems. Unlike the previous speaker, I will not speak about individual cases. I have to deal with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to get work permits and with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform on matters relating to family members. One sometimes does not know where one is going because it is very difficult to get direct telephone lines to Departments. My colleague, Deputy Jim O’Keeffe, has asked for direct telephone lines, similar to those available to Deputies when dealing with social welfare and other matters, to help us to get concise answers for those who contact us on behalf of their families.

A foreigner came to see me in my office yesterday. It can be difficult at times to understand their language. One can spend over an hour dealing with a family’s needs. If I encounter great difficulties in getting answers at departmental level, what difficulties must be faced by those who try to address such matters themselves? The lady in question has been given great service in the medical field. If we are to bring people in to give services to them, we must ensure that they are looked after properly. If one wishes to ensure that nobody is sent out of this country without having enjoyed due process, it can be complex because one may have to deal with the Departments of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Foreign Affairs, the authorities dealing with residency issues and the Garda Síochána. I would like a structure to be put in place to give Members of the Oireachtas, or the public, the right to access their entitlements.

I am aware of the Minister’s attitude to children who were born in Ireland before the legal case and the referendum. We have to be somewhat reasonable in this regard. People may have come to this country for the wrong reasons, but many others were advised to come here. They may have paid money because they believed the only way to solve their problems was to come to this country. We are in the process of closing off the relevant legal loophole.

[762]I am sure the Minister has been contacted by church leaders and others to discuss this issue, just as I have been. There is a need for understanding and leniency in that regard. The new circumstances which will be in place after this Bill has been passed, as I believe it will be, will have to be publicised and people will have to abide by them. Certain arrangements will have to be made for those who are caught in the interim. That we are still looking for people to come to this country to fill the jobs which are vacant gives us an opportunity in that regard. Some people would say that the relevant number is 9,000, while others would say that it is 11,000, but it is finite at this stage. Surely we can try to cope with that as best we can.

Many people continue to come to this country following the enlargement of the EU. We were freely taking people from Africa and other places before 1 May, but such people now face great difficulties when they try to extend or renew their work permits. I recently encountered the case of a person from Bulgaria, which hopes to join the EU soon. The person in question, who has waited for months for her situation to be clarified, has not been given any indication of when her case will be dealt with. She has been a good citizen, in the real sense of the word, because she has worked and paid taxes in this country, but she is finding it hard to get answers.

I know of a company which has employed many drivers from South Africa and east European countries such as Lithuania. The South African drivers can speak the English language and can drive on the same side of the road as us. When they end up in Belfast or London, they know exactly what they are doing. We all know that many accidents have been caused by drivers with a lack of knowledge of the roads. Some Lithuanians create problems in that regard. We need to show some common sense if we want to keep our country moving. Lorry drivers in the constituency I represent, Cavan-Monaghan, have a different context from their colleagues in Dublin, who may encounter trains and trams. The Minister might not appreciate that this is such an important matter. His party leader did not think there was any need for jobs in County Monaghan, but that is another day’s work. We hope that her replacement as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment will show us some sympathy.

I wish to touch on the issue of children born outside the country who are Irish citizens. I return to my first comment concerning Monaghan General Hospital. We have a major problem in that a good few children are born on the road between Clones and Wattlebridge in County Cavan. It is quite difficult to designate exactly what country they have been born in, the South or the North. From that point of view, I certainly welcome that we have an all-Ireland passport. At least they are sure of having one of them. It is rather funny for those of us not involved in the situation, but not for the poor parents.

[763]The Bill closes off the issue of passports for sale. As one who knew of companies which benefited from the scheme, I must say that it served a purpose in difficult times. Unfortunately, like many initiatives of that nature, it was very much abused. In closing off a loophole, we should not close off the idea that we continue to investigate those who abused the system. People should not be let off with such abuse. A company in my county not far from the Louth border provided an extra ten years’ good employment for many people as a result of that structure. Another company in Monaghan got off the ground, is now run by another firm, provides 70 jobs and will certainly expand. The scheme served a purpose, but it has outlived it, and I welcome its being closed off.

That brings me to another area of citizenship whereby people can spend only half the year outside the country and retain all the tax benefits of an exile. In recent weeks we have seen this type of behaviour with abuse of the tax code. We need to tie up that element of abuse as well. If someone wishes to retain Irish citizenship, he or she should pay tax.

Those are the main issues that I wished to raise on this Bill. As I said, in principle, we have no problems with its outline and purpose, but it is important that those who find themselves in limbo are sorted out in an amicable and reasonable way without undue pressure being brought to bear on them. Above all, someone who is willing to work should be allowed to do so. There is a group of people in the country, perhaps a great deal smaller than previously, who are on the dole or some sort of benefit because they simply do not want to work. I heard of a case not long ago of someone who did very good service at a fairly senior level in a meat company, but because her permit ran out, she had to decide to go into one of the encampments to wait and see how her legal situation would develop. That is wrong. That girl was willing to work, provide a badly needed service to the company, pay her taxes and abide by whatever decisions were ultimately made. However, if she had to go back, it would be with a very poor review. Since her permit ran out, she had to enter one of those encampments with people who did not share her ideas and might not necessarily wish to work in the same way. Then others in social welfare accuse her of haemorrhaging money from the State. She does not want to abuse the State but to get out to work. I support the Bill.

Mr. J. Higgins:  Ba mhaith liom mo chuid ama a roinnt leis an Teachta Boyle.

There is one section of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill 2004 with which I can agree, namely, the removal of the provision enabling citizenship to be conferred on individuals because they have bags of money, allegedly to invest in useful ventures in this country — so-called investment-based naturalisation. It invited corruption [764]and there is at least circumstantial evidence that points in the direction of corruption in the administration of the scheme. The Minister, in proposing the revocation of the measure, should launch an investigation into citizenship granted under the provision. It is quite clear that some buccaneers and venture capitalists of dubious ethics availed of the scheme and disgraced the very concept of an Irish passport where they were active. The Minister should not only investigate but revoke passports granted to such people.

The Bill flows from the Government’s initiative in holding the referendum on citizenship rights alongside the local and European elections last June. I invite the Minister to take the opportunity in the Dáil to answer serious questions that have come into my mind in the last 24 hours regarding assertions that he made in arguing for the necessity of the referendum. The Minister quoted senior authorities from the maternity hospitals that they were under severe pressure — bursting at the seams — because of alleged citizenship tourism. On several occasions, the Minister drew a line under those grounds, but now the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street says that it must limit the number of deliveries that it is prepared to carry out or supervise next summer because of pressure.

That begs the question why, if the situation was as the Minister outlined and the referendum was the solution, the maternity hospitals are now apparently under even more pressure. If that alleged problem was resolved, surely there would be much less pressure on the maternity hospitals and therefore an ability to cope with the deliveries of those who are not alleged citizenship tourists or whatever is the appropriate term applied by those favouring the referendum. I hope that the Minister will address that contradiction.

  6 o’clock

The referendum was of course seen as an opportunity by individuals to use immigrants and immigration as an attempt to gain a base of support for themselves by appealing to very backward instincts which exist only among a minority of people on this island. I do not go along with the claim sometimes glibly made that all Irish people are racists. Nevertheless we had an indication of how some people see the situation and the Minister’s proposal of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill 2004. A Government backbencher disgracefully and disgustingly exploited immigrants and immigration in Cork a few years ago for base political motives. Last week he rushed into the Dáil waving the Minister’s Bill and claiming he had been vindicated.

In the penultimate paragraph of his address to the Dáil when moving Second Stage, the Minister said that he was satisfied that the proposals in the Bill will result in a fair and sensible citizenship law, one which will acknowledge the stake that non-nationals established in Ireland have in Irish society by ensuring that their children born in Ireland are entitled to Irish citizenship. The Minister says we are not concerned with their skin col[765]our, the language they speak or their appearance, but that what matters is that they have a substantial connection with Irish society and that accordingly their children will be part of the Irish nation by operation of law.

The Minister should use his summing up of the Second Stage phase of this debate to outline his thinking on that cohort of immigrants who have been left in the limbo outlined by many people following the various Supreme Court judgments and the citizenship referendum. The Minister knows from the briefs he has received that many people who were progressing asylum requests were advised by weighty lawyers that they did not need to proceed along those lines on the grounds that while they were in Ireland, with asylum requests pending, they had children born as Irish citizens and the parents could therefore hope to be granted residence in Ireland. Such a cohort exists of people who have been in Ireland for many years and whose children know no other country but Ireland, and who are often well integrated in their local communities, befriended and loved by people there. Their children too are similarly treated by local children. The parents are in an appalling nightmare of uncertainty, never knowing when there will be a knock on the door.

It would be greatly appreciated if the Government gave these people the right to remain in Ireland and their children the right to continue their education and be fully integrated as citizens. Many of these people already contribute well to their communities. I know such people and would be happy to have them as neighbours or fellow workers.

The Minister featured prominently in the print media today urging an end to workplace racism and racism generally, a sentiment with which we agree and an end towards which we have constantly worked. However, other aspects of Government policy, in particular the scarcity in housing and the difficulties in health, provide a material basis for certain people to be wrongly resentful of immigrants in our community. While we should counter head-on any tendency by any individual or minority towards racism, getting rid of the bottlenecks in our society, confronting the scarcity of social and affordable housing and solving the health care problems will also make a crucial contribution towards ensuring that we have an island where everyone, immigrant or native born, can have a reasonable expectation of access to good services.

Mr. Boyle:  It cannot be denied that in the recent referendum, the people spoke. The beauty of living in a democracy is that the decision of the people is sacrosanct. That is not to deny that collectively the people can be wrong, or subsequently proved to be wrong. We are democrats, abiding by the decisions democratically taken, and we try to legislate accordingly. Nevertheless, the reservations many of us had in opposing the referendum were not only with regard to the con[766]tent and wording of the referendum but the rush to judgment and the standard of the debate that accompanied it. The nature of this Bill, in its narrow focus, is justification for the arguments that we made then and still make now.

Irish citizenship is in need of a wide-ranging debate about what it is, can be and should be. Unfortunately the referendum we had and the Bill presented to us by the Government only skirt around the issue. Despite what has been said, the referendum was taken by many voters to be about issues other than the referendum itself. It taps seams in too many people which are ugly in terms of a national psyche. One hopes that can be overcome in time and that people’s motivations will not be questioned as we learn to live with our new and emergent society. It is fairly obvious that for some of the people who voted, the referendum related to whether the Government was dealing with the wider issue of immigration. Even though we had this debate in the Chamber, we still have no coherent immigration policy.

The Minister’s office will be aware that in terms of my constituency workload, one of the areas in which I most write representations — though not my busiest area — is with regard to immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees. I do so because many of them cannot vote. Certainly, none of them can vote for me, but as a Member of this House, anyone who seeks to make contact, phones me or visits my constituency office is entitled to receive whatever help can be offered. I see in many of these people not the motivation ascribed by some elements of the wider debating society and even some elements of the media, namely a need to abuse the system, I see people whose main motivation is a better life. That has been the motivation of generations of Irish people, and I speak as the child of an immigrant. I speak as someone who has birthright citizenship of another country. Today of all days it is particularly ironic that an election is taking place which will have ramifications for a policy that will affect many countries and citizens for generations to come. The people voting in that election are doing so on the basis of birthright citizenship. The Minister and the Government seek to undermine the future contribution of many thousands of Irish citizens who will be placed in a legal limbo as a result of this Bill’s enactment.

I would have hoped that if more consideration had been afforded to this matter, the debate we would have had — in the proper time and context — would have looked at every aspect of citizenship. Not only would we have considered matters such as asylum seeking, refugees and immigration but also those of residency and the Minister’s overweening power to decide who can or cannot be a citizen. The latter is much too great a power and it should have been contemplated by the debate and addressed in the legislation.

We could also have discussed the fact that being a citizen does not revolve around oaths of loyalty such as those which exist in the current [767]legislation. The rights and responsibilities of Irish citizenship are not codified anywhere in legislation. On the question of an oath of loyalty, the Minister is finally tackling, by way of some type of red herring, the question of citizenship granted through investment. How many of the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people who were granted citizenship in this spurious way swore oaths of loyalty before a District Court judge? The Minister has access to all the relevant files and I am sure that few, if any, of the individuals to whom I refer have sworn such oaths. If that is the case, why not, as Deputy Joe Higgins stated, revoke the citizenship of those who received it in this manner?

We must also debate the value of Irish citizenship, particularly when it is seen as being of assistance to people in distressing situations. I refer here to the unfortunate Kenneth Bigley and to Margaret Hassan. As a result of our perceived status of ourselves in the world, it is believed that Irish citizenship can somehow extricate individuals from awkward situations. However, I recall a time when an Irish passport was abused by the American Government. I refer here to the use of a false Irish passport by Colonel Oliver North of the US Army to sell American arms into Iran, which did not recognise the American Government at the time. I do not know what moves the then Irish Government made to make its American counterpart aware of the fact that the use of an Irish passport in that way was utterly inappropriate.

As a result of situations such as those to which I refer and the way in which we deal internationally with other issues, questions must be asked about the value of Irish citizenship and whether it is perceived as highly as we would like to believe to be the case. By putting in place unnecessary restrictions of a sort which, ironically, do not exist in the United States, are we further diminishing and devaluing the concept of Irish citizenship? I would like to believe that the kind of economic theory to which the Minister subscribes involves an open borders approach and greater integration. With its many flaws, the United States can at least be said to be a good economic melting pot. The latter has proven to be to that country’s advantage.

I often find it difficult to understand the arguments put forward by the Minister and his party, particularly in respect of economic liberalism and the fact that it is supposed to be a social and liberal party. In reality, both of the party’s policies in these areas are divergent. Those policies are not about economic liberalism but about closing off opportunities; they do not involve social liberalism but rather revolve around narrow and confined ways to define what it is to be Irish. That is not a vision I share of being Irish. I am concerned that, in the future, the many thousands of citizens with backgrounds similar to mine who were born outside the country will be viewed as less valued citizens.

[768]The alternative will be for the Minister to come forward at the earliest opportunity with a wide-ranging citizenship Bill which will cover the various areas to which I have referred. This legislation must, on a deep level, try to rationalise and identify the nature of Irish citizenship. Ultimately, I hope the Minister will take the opportunity to divest himself of a power which is too wide-ranging and which should allow people — who would do so in other jurisdictions — to receive citizenship automatically. In light, however, of the Minister’s contribution and the fact that the tenor and tone thereof were backed up by Deputy O’Flynn, I am afraid that we will not obtain the balanced debate and the future legislation to which I refer. The Bill before us is nothing less than a missed opportunity. Through it, the Irish people are being cheated of a real chance to discuss what Irish citizenship is and what it should be.

Mr. Kehoe:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill, which is the natural legislative follow-up to the referendum on citizenship which was held in June. Fine Gael took a responsible and constructive approach to the proposal to amend the Constitution and will adopt the same approach to the Bill.

It was not until the referendum in June that we discovered the number of racist people in this country. I supported the referendum and when I was in the count centre in Wexford, I could not believe some of the things that had been written on ballot papers. Some people are very narrow-minded and do not remember what happened to Irish people who were obliged to emigrate to England, America and other far away fields and who were made quite welcome. I accept that we must defend Ireland and Irish citizenship. People should be very proud to be Irish citizens.

This is a sensitive issue. We must welcome people who come to Ireland to work as nurses, doctors or whatever because they bring with them expertise in their fields. I thank these people for coming here and helping out, particularly those who have come into the health services in which there is a staff deficit.

I wish to refer to work visas. Many illegal immigrants and refugees enter the country who may remain on social welfare payments for two to three years. This has provided a perfect opportunity for ordinary Irish citizens to become racists. The Minister is in a position to take action in respect of this matter. When a person enters the country — at Dublin, Rosslare or wherever — if he or she is dealt with as soon as possible — or even if a technical hitch arises — he or she should not need to draw social welfare payments or rely on the State for a long period. If these people want to work, they should be allowed to do so as long as they can fend for themselves. Irish people are being given the chance to become racists under the current system and they ask why these individuals are being allowed to sponge off the State. I ask the Minister to give consideration to [769]this matter. I am not a racist but there are those who have, perhaps, obtained votes by making statements similar to those to which I refer in this House.

I do not want to rehearse what Deputy Howlin stated. I am aware of the case of a Filipino nurse in my constituency who came here to work in a nursing home for two years. She came to Ireland without her children and husband. Her husband wanted to visit her but I encountered significant red tape in securing a visa for him to visit. He only sought a holiday visa for two to three months. It was a genuine case and he has returned home while his wife has continued nursing in Wexford. I could not understand what was going on because she was recruited to work in the nursing home by an agency recognised by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. As Deputy Jim O’Keeffe stated in his contribution, Ireland has a mish-mash asylum system which gives rise to total confusion. It was not until my colleagues and I were discussing the Bill at a parliamentary party meeting that I heard of other cases similar to the one I encountered. My colleagues experienced the red tape involved. One must ring various Departments but no official will provide an answer. Cases usually involve calling the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Foreign Affairs.

Deputy Jim O’Keeffe proposed the establishment of an Oireachtas helpline and I ask the Minster to examine this proposal as soon as possible because it would reduce the workload for Departments. All Members want is a little help and guidance regarding which direction they should take in such cases. It would be simpler if a helpline were in place.

Deputy Howlin spoke passionately earlier about the case of the Kaltchev family — Kamen, Ivalina, Stefan and Diana — and I feel the same. Children born in Ireland before the referendum should be allowed to remain in Ireland together with their families. The Kaltchev family is in this position. I thank the Minister for his help in the case to date. I rarely make representations on behalf of such people but this is a genuine case.

I refer to an article published in my local newspaper, The Wexford People, on 14 October, which contained a letter written by an 11 year old attending the Christian Brothers primary school in Wexford. The article stated:

The best friend of an 11-year-old Bulgarian boy who is due to be deported this week after spending half his life in Wexford, has written a personal letter to the Minister for Justice, asking that he be allowed to stay.

‘He is my best friend. Please could you let him stay in Ireland,’ pleaded Conor Hanton of 19 Tuskar View to Minister Michael McDowell about his friend, Stefan Kalcheva of Goodtide Harbour.

Stefan who is also 11, arrived here with his parents, Kamen and Ivalina Kaltcheva five [770]years ago and started his primary school education in the CBS where he is now in sixth class.

‘Despite his lack of English, he was very keen to learn. He is a bright lad and very well-behaved. He is now fluent in English and doing very well. I think it would be terrible for him if he was deported,’ said the Principal, Joss Furlong.

The family visited my clinic on a number of occasions. When he first spoke I thought Stefan had been born and reared in the middle of Wexford town because I could not believe his Wexford twang. It is extremely saddening that this family will be deported.

I received a letter recently about Stefan from Joss Furlong, the principal in the CBS. He stated:

When Stefan arrived in our school I was struck by his enthusiasm for learning, in spite of the fact that he could not speak English. We organised extra tuition for him in English. As a result of this, the work of a variety of class teachers over the years and Stefan’s own internal motivation, he has made fantastic progress. He is now fluent in English, his work is of a very high standard, his application is excellent and his behaviour impeccable. To deport him and his family, having become so settled, would be extremely unfair and in my opinion very damaging, especially for Stefan.

I ask the Minister to taken into account the humane aspect of his story because I was touched by it.

I refer to the kernel of the asylum problem. Twelve members of the Garda national bureau of immigration based in Cherbourg were recalled in June. I am not sure if the Minister remembers that eight Turkish nationals were found dead in a trailer in Rosslare in December 2001. Five of their countrymen survived and some are still living in Wexford town. I will never forget the day I visited the harbour where these people were found. It was saddening and it took me a long time to get over it. The gardaí based in Cherbourg searched boats and lorries and checked passports and visas. Many asylum seekers and stowaways were prevented from entering Ireland on boats and lorries as a result.

Two weeks ago two Iraqi Kurds were found in the back of a container in Rosslare. We could have faced the same scenario as in 2001. Fortunately, the men were in a curtain side lorry in which air was circulating, but they were dehydrated. Following this incident, my colleague, Deputy Jim O’Keeffe stated Ireland would become known as a soft touch for refugees as more and more refugees try to escape to Ireland in the back of lorries and vans. These men survived unlike the Turkish nationals in 2001. I implore the Minister to examine this issue. If he thinks the 12 gardaí based at Cherbourg will make up the numbers for the promised additional [771]gardaí, it is a sad reflection on him and his Department.

I hope the Minister acknowledges the human element to this issue. I spoke about this on local radio last Friday and I met other people who could not believe the gardaí based at Cherbourg had been redeployed. The Garda can deploy as many members as it wants in Rosslare but, once refugees arrive in Rosslare, they must be looked after. Gardaí must be based at the points of departure of ships and so on. I ask the Minister to re-examine this issue.

Last week in The Irish Times, a report by Kitty Holland outlined the number of asylum seekers who have gone missing from care in the past year. I was amazed at the number of young people aged eight, 13 and 16, teenagers and children, who have gone missing. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s explanation of this. I hope the Minister will take some of my points on board and perhaps act on them accordingly. I ask him to inquire into the matter of gardaí based in Cherbourg as a matter of urgency.

Mr. Gilmore:  I take this opportunity to raise with the Minister an individual case which is highly relevant to the content of the Bill and to the circumstances which gave rise to the legislation before the House. The individual case concerns a six year old Romanian child. I raised this case in the House last Thursday by way of a written question to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I will quote the question and the reply since both are short.

To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if a visa will be granted to a person (details supplied) on whose behalf an application has been made to be reunited with their parents and four year old twin brothers due to the fact that the parents have legal status in Ireland since 2001 [that both parents are in employment, that one of their children has a disability, that the stated reason now for the refusal is different to the initial reason and that it is inhumane to continue to refuse this application].

The reply I received — I will deal with the details in a moment — was as follows:

Parents of the person in question have permission to reside in Ireland based on their parentage of an Irish-born child. The visa application in question relates to their daughter who wishes to join them in the State. Following the decision of the Supreme Court in the cases of L & O, the separate procedure which then existed to enable persons to apply to reside in the State on the sole basis of parentage of an Irish-born child, ended on 19 February 2003. The Government also decided that the general policy of allowing such parents to be joined in the State by other family members would no longer apply. Accordingly, the immigration division of my Department does not generally [772]approve visas in respect of such visa applications.

I do not propose to name the applicants because they wish to keep their identity confidential. I intend to explain to the Minister the circumstances of this case and I take the opportunity of this debate to do so. I appreciate that the Minister may not be familiar with each individual case which is dealt with in his Department or which may be the subject of a parliamentary question or of representations.

The parents are a Romanian couple who came here in 1998. Twin children were born to them in 2000. One of the children suffers from cerebral palsy. Based on the birth of the twins, the parents qualified for the right to remain in Ireland. Their position was regularised some time in 2001. They received their green card and they are both now working in the State. He drives a bus for Dublin Bus and she works as a sales assistant in a department store. They rent an apartment privately, which they pay for themselves. There is no question of a rent allowance. This is a couple who are working in the State, paying their taxes and not drawing benefits of any kind.

They have an older child who is now aged six. The child was four months old when the parents left Romania. When I met the parents recently, I asked them the reason they left their four month old child when they embarked on their journey. They explained to me that when they embarked on their journey to Ireland, they did not wish to expose a four month old baby to the dangers of the journey. They travelled largely overland and they considered the journey too dangerous for the child. In any event they did not expect that they would have been separated from the child for as long as six years.

Following the regularisation of their position in Ireland and the receipt of a green card, they applied through a solicitor to have the six year old rejoin them in this country. Their solicitor wrote on 10 September 2002 to the Department stating that the enclosed application was for their only other child who is resident in Romania in the care of her grandmother. They stated: “Our clients desperately seek to have their daughter ... united with them and now are applying for family reunification of their only daughter to complete their family unit.”

The application for the visa was refused on 28 February 2003. The reason given for the refusal was that the solicitor had not enclosed the child’s birth certificate with the application. The solicitor had apparently enclosed the passport, photographs, fee and application form but did not submit the birth certificate. The solicitor then appealed the decision to the appeals office. The appeal was submitted on 8 April and the birth certificate was enclosed with the appeal. I have a copy of the birth certificate in the file which the parents gave to me.

On 20 May 2003, the visa office of the Department refused the appeal. The solicitor then wrote for an explanation as to why the appeal was [773]refused. The letter is dated 22 May 2003 and points out, not unreasonably I suppose, that the reason which was given initially for the refusal was that the birth certificate was not enclosed. The solicitor was now enclosing the birth certificate and asked what was causing the difficulty. Based on telephone inquiries made by the solicitor, there is a further letter dated 24 June 2003 in which the solicitor refers to what appears to be some new policy decision which had been made and under which the child was now being refused a visa.

A more substantial reply was received from the Department on 23 July 2003. I wish to put this reply on the record of the House. It is addressed to the solicitor.

I am directed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to refer to your letters dated 24th June and 21st July 2003.

I would like to point out that the application was refused initially because there was no birth certificate enclosed with the application. This has now been rectified but the underlying issue is now the Minister’s policy in relation to individuals who have been granted residency on the basis of parentage of an Irish born child. As you can appreciate since the L and O judgement case in January, we are awaiting definite guidelines from the Minister.

If the Minister grants permission to remain to this particular family on the basis of parentage of their Irish born child, I will gladly reconsider [the visa] application to join her family here.

There was a further letter on 4 September, obviously on the basis of further representations made by the solicitor. The reply states:

The visa application in question refers to a dependant of a person who has been granted permission to remain in the State based on the parentage of an Irish born child. This type of visa application is not currently being processed by this Department, pending a decision by the Minister on the general policy to be adopted with this and related Irish born child issues.

That was in September 2003. I became aware of this case in my constituency work about two weeks ago. The six year old child is still in Romania. Her two parents are here. They are working and paying tax. The six year old has two brothers living here with whom she has never had contact. The child is being cared for by her grandmother. The parents have been back to Romania to see the child on a number of occasions, most recently last summer, and they described to me in very disturbing detail the nature of that visit and the circumstances of their separation from the child. It is simply cruel to keep this child separated from her parents and brothers. It is clear from the correspondence that this problem is not an administrative one. It is a policy one for which the Minister is responsible, as is stated in the [774]correspondence. I am aware the Bill we are addressing deals with this whole issue in general terms but I ask the Minister to go back to his Department and have this case addressed and resolved.

Mr. McDowell:  I will do that.

Mr. Gilmore:  I thank the Minister and appreciate his assurance on that. I am quite happy to conclude on that assurance from the Minister.

Ms Burton:  I am glad to have the opportunity to make some comments on the Nationality and Citizenship Bill. Over the weekend, the statements emanating from Holles Street hospital in regard to women who expect to deliver a baby in that hospital gives the lie to what the Minister’s referendum was about. We were told, in a series of highly declamatory and colourful interviews and statements by the Minister in the run-up to the referendum, that the referendum was a response to the abuse of citizenship tourism. One would have thought that since the referendum has removed the apparent pull factor in regard to tourists for birth purposes in our maternity hospitals, this Government might at least have got its act together in respect of the maternity hospitals. Instead, we hear that since the referendum was passed overwhelmingly by the population, on foot of the Government’s scare-mongering, the situation in our maternity hospitals has become infinitely worse. Will we be told shortly that it is because children from Wexford are being born in Dublin that maternity hospitals in Dublin are in crisis, and they are going to expel everybody from Wexford?

This Government has to get a grip. The position in maternity hospitals is a disgrace. It is a shame, in terms of the policy enunciated by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, that since the passage of this unwise referendum the crisis in the maternity hospitals has worsened to the point where the position is now worse than it was 100 years ago when hospitals like the Rotunda were set up primarily to cater for poor women who were at risk of dying in childbirth. Instead, we have returned, at the height of the prosperity of the Celtic tiger, to a position where throughout Dublin — the Minister may laugh but it is not a laughing matter — if somebody is expecting a baby——

Mr. McDowell:  Is the Deputy seriously saying we are worse off now than we were 100 years ago?

Ms Burton:  ——they can legitimately expect, as a taxpayer, to be able to use the services of one of the major maternity hospitals in Dublin but unless they get a number they cannot even enter the system and be guaranteed that they will receive attention and deliver their baby in the hospital of their choice. That may be fine for women who are sufficiently well off to give birth [775]to their children in Mount Carmel Hospital but it is not good enough for the many Dubliners and others from throughout the country who give birth in Holles Street hospital and who expect to be able to use the hospital they pay for from their taxes. It is a shame on the Government that this crisis in our maternity hospitals has become even worse since the passage of the referendum which, apparently, was about sorting out the crisis in the maternity hospitals.

Like all of us, I believe the Minister is capable of taking a humane interest in the welfare of other people. What does he propose to do to sort out the current shambles regarding people applying for visas to visit relatives here for legitimate family reasons? I have spoken to the Minister about this issue on a number of occasions and I believe he is well-intentioned but he does not appear to be able to put anything in place which would offer people a reasonable expectation that if their relatives wish to come here on a visit, they will not be treated in the way many applicants currently are being treated.

I draw the Minister’s attention to three typical cases on my files and in his office for months and years. I want to highlight, first, the case of two Nigerian doctors working in our health service, and I understand our health service is delighted to have them. They are working in two of the major hospitals in Dublin city. They are well-regarded doctors. They are active members of their local church and are highly regarded citizens in the community in which they live. They have four boys but, unfortunately, their third child has spina bifida. From time to time that child is under the care and attention of the Central Remedial Clinic in Clontarf, and it has been suggested that the child should get the support of continuous home care.

The family has a direct blood aunt in Lagos, Nigeria, who is willing to come here either by arrangement of a visitor’s visa or by way of a work permit. The aunt is a civil servant in her late 40s or early 50s and she is willing to give up her job to mind her sister’s special needs child while that child is very young and in need of care and attention. That would allow both parents continue their important job of working as doctors in the Irish health system. What is difficult about that? The doctors want to go through all the correct mechanisms yet there does not appear to be a way to address what is a reasonable request in the context of the humanitarian needs of a particular family who are important employees in the Irish health system.

The second case I want to bring to the Minister’s attention is that of a doctor from Pakistan who is married to an Irish nursing sister in one of our maternity hospitals. He has received awards for entrepreneurship from the Government. Recently he and his wife happily had a second child. As is perfectly reasonable, particularly for someone from the Indian sub-continent, the doctor wants his mother to spend about a month [776]here on a family visit with the newborn child. He has worked in the health service, is an Irish citizen and has been given an award for entrepreneurship by the Government, while his wife is Irish born, of Irish parentage and works as a sister in one of our maternity hospitals. Despite repeated requests to the Department, it is impossible to arrange for the mother to make a short visit.

As I told the Minister on previous occasions, we could introduce a guarantee system or points system whereby persons who have been here for a period and perhaps made contributions, as is the case with the couple to whom I have referred who work in the health service, would take out an insurance bond. Such systems are in place in other countries. Why should the State deny such people ordinary family visits?

The Minster made a very good speech yesterday on anti-racism measures in the workplace. Will he explain the reason for the policy of blanket refusal of applications on behalf of family members living outside the European Union who wish to make short visits following the birth of a child? I understand the Minister’s officials are terrified that we will be burdened by people overstaying and abusing visits. While this may be a legitimate concern, it is a measure of the Minister’s performance that he should address the reasonable needs of multicultural families living here.

Is there a Member who does not have a member of the family, whether a child, niece or nephew, married to somebody from another country, probably outside the European Union? I have nieces and nephews married to people from the Indian sub-continent and the Chinese community. It is part of life. Our young people travel around the world on their gap year, in the year after college or to work for a couple of years. It is unbelievable that we expect that a percentage of them will not marry people from far away. Some of them will make their homes here, in which case their in-laws will legitimately wish to visit. It is a measure of the Minister’s ingenuity that he should be able to address this need because, as he is aware, the system causes considerable grief to families and is unfair.

Celebrations normally attend the birth of a child, whether in the form of a christening, blessing or other ceremony, in all the various communities. There is not a community on earth which does not celebrate the birth of a child and not a grandparent on the planet who does not wish to see a grandchild. It is one of the bases of human celebration, yet the Department, unfortunately, appears to have a policy of blanket refusal with regard to reasonable applications from foreign residents to allow family members to visit on special occasions. If the Minister fears the system will be abused, there are examples around the world of schemes established to eliminate abuse.

I will give a third example from my case file. It concerns a married couple from the Ukraine who have lived and worked in Dublin for a long time. They have a right to stay and will, in due course, [777]become citizens. Happily, the woman, who is in her early 40s, has become pregnant for a second time with a much longed for child. Her mother still lives in the Ukraine. Is it unreasonable that in a late pregnancy the woman should have the comfort of a visit from her mother? What part of the Department’s system would collapse if a mother from the Ukraine visited her expectant daughter?

The Department issued several refusals, the last of which included a nasty comment that only one appeal would be permitted. In other words, the couple should not bother the Department again. As a result, the expectant mother was forced to ask her mother to get a visa for Germany, which is relatively easy, and travel there to visit her. If Germany, part of the European Union, did not have a problem with the mother visiting and her daughter meeting her there, why is the Department terrified that a visit by a Ukrainian grandmother with a job, a house and a family to which she wants to return will undermine its entire foundations? If the Minister were on the Opposition benches, he would chortle at the policy his officials are imposing. I pay him the compliment of assuming he does not have the opportunity to see most files of this nature.

Another important issue is the time required to process legitimate citizenship applications from people working here. Processing is taking longer and longer. I believe there is a room in the Department filled to the ceiling with files, from which an official occasionally selects a bunch. This room is getting increasingly stuffed with applications but nothing is happening. The Minister is responsible for giving guidance to his Department. I recall that he talked about providing a one-stop shop to facilitate the different queries that arise in a society with so many people born elsewhere. Where is the one-stop shop? Despite all the money spent on the Department, the position seems to be getting progressively worse. I am not the only Member who must try to explain to people the reason the immigration system appears to be in such chaos.

  7 o’clock

The Minister spoke yesterday of this being a country of immigration. He discussed the need for people in the workplace to behave properly and not to discriminate against people from other countries working here. Why does he not apply these precepts in his Department? Why do his officials, when dealing with visa applications, not show some modicum of efficiency and humanity or explain the rules?

I listened to my colleague, Deputy Gilmore. Unlike many others, I am aware from experience that complicated residence applications must be accompanied by original documents or certified copies thereof. I compliment the Irish Refugee Council on providing an excellent service to those seeking information but not all applicants are aware of the service. The system the Minister has [778]allowed to fester in his Department is shameful given our history and experience.

Debate adjourned.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I move:

That Dáil Éireann,

—noting that

—over five years since the publication of the national child care strategy, child care provision is still, in the words of the strategy, “uncoordinated, variable in quality and in short supply”;

—the Government’s failure to ensure comprehensive child care provision, has negative consequences for children, women, families, society and the economy;

—the complete lack of adequate child care, including pre-school, after school and out of school child care, continues to restrict the participation of parents of young children, particularly women, in the workforce, education and training, as confirmed by the OECD thematic review of early childhood education and care policy in Ireland;

—delivery of child care places and improved infrastructure under the equal opportunities child care programme has been subject to long delays due to the protracted review of funding by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform;

—there is an urgent need to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy for child care provision up to and beyond the completion of the equal opportunities child care programme in 2006; and

—the development of quality child care is self financing through increased tax returns from women’s work and less dependency on social security.

—affirms that the State shall have the following goals, which the Government shall work to achieve within a definite timeframe to:

—enable all parents to reconcile their child care needs with participation in the labour force, education and training;

[779]—enable all parents to exercise their choice to care for their children full-time up to one year of age;

—enable all parents to access affordable child care for their children;

—establish universal State provision of pre-school for all children from the age of three to five years; and

—establish universal provision of early childhood care and education based on the Swedish system.

—and calls on the Government, in the interim, to:

— harmonise maternity leave on an all-Ireland basis by increasing maternity leave to 26 weeks paid and 26 weeks unpaid;

—increase maternity benefit to 80% of earnings immediately;

—harmonise paternity leave on an all-Ireland basis by introducing paid paternity entitlements of two weeks per child;

—increase adoptive leave to 24 weeks paid and 26 weeks unpaid;

—introduce paid parental leave and legislate without further delay to implement the terms agreed in respect of parental leave under the Sustaining Progress agreement;

—assist parents with the cost of child care by increasing child benefit to €150 per month for the first and second child and to €185.50 for third and subsequent children and by increasing child dependent allowance to a single weekly figure of €26 for all recipients;

—introduce a child care supplement to be paid as a top-up for child benefit for under fives;

—increase revenue for the equal opportunities child care programme, including capital, staffing and operational funding and immediately expedite all outstanding applications which have been delayed due to the review of the programme;

—reinstate the crèche supplement and the VTOS child care supports, the cutting of which have caused severe hardship to parents and children in disadvantaged communities;

—raise awareness of and increase funding for the childminders’ grant scheme;

[780]—review the “Childcare Facilities: Guidelines for Planning Authorities” to assess effectiveness of the guidelines and investigate the possibility of introducing legislation in line with Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 to require developers to construct child care facilities in housing developments and to transfer these to the ownership of the local authority upon completion; and

—bring forward legislation to effectively address the need for employers to share responsibility for provision of child care for their employees.

I will be sharing time with Deputies Crowe, Ferris, Finian McGrath, McHugh, Gormley and Eamon Ryan.

I welcome those who have travelled to attend tonight’s debate. I extend a particularly warm welcome to those who have travelled from my constituency especially as this is a sad evening for Monaghan people. We have lost a dear friend and colleague this afternoon with the death of Monaghan town councillor, Gerry Loughran. I measc laochra na hÉireann go raibh a anam dílis.

There is no more important concern for parents, families, communities and our society than the care of our children. All parents aspire to the best quality of life for their children and make sacrifices in their own lives to ensure their children receive the best possible care and attention. However, now more than ever, the care of children is affected by the working lives of their parents. More people than ever before are working full-time and part-time in this State and there has never been a greater need for a comprehensive and accessible child care infrastructure.

The primary reason for that demand is not the requirement of industry for more labour or of parents for the opportunity to work. No, the primary reason for demanding child care provision is the right of all children to proper care. Everybody in this society must share responsibility for vindicating that right, which is at the core of the motion we are presenting. This is a quality of life issue. It is, first, about the quality of life of children who deserve the best care at all times. It is about the quality of life of parents who should be able to spend as much time as possible with their children, especially during their first three years. It is about whether we as a society value quality of life above the current drive for material gain and the greed of the Celtic tiger.

In Éirinn na linne seo tá brú mór ar thuismitheoirí, ach go háirithe ó thaobh chostais na tithíochta de. Bíonn ar an mbeirt tuismitheoir, ma tá beirt ann, dul amach ag obair go lán-aimseartha chun na morgáiste a íoc. Bíonn sé deacair orthu ach go háirithe nuair atá páistíóga acu.

If our society is judged by the quality of its health services and of its care of children, we fall short of the highest standards. In 1999 the [781]national child care strategy was published and it stated that child care in this State was “uncoordinated, variable in quality and in short supply”. Five years later that is still the reality. After seven years in office this Government has failed to ensure comprehensive child care provision. The lack of comprehensive child care is restricting the participation of parents of young children, especially women, in the workforce, in education and in training.

Child care is nominally within the remit of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. With all due respect to those in the Department who work on the issue, it is totally inappropriate for that Department to be responsible for this vital area. The child care issue is clearly not a priority for the Minister, Deputy McDowell, and it should be taken out of his hands and out of his Department.

However, it is not only the Minister who sees child care as a low priority. This Government’s abysmal record is visible to all. There is a shortage of pre-school, after school and out of school child care places. Many of the places that do exist are beyond the affordable reach of most parents.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has pointed out that for many working parents the cost of child care is now second only to mortgage payments as the biggest weekly expense. Indeed, it has been described as being like a second mortgage. That is confirmed by the survey carried out by the National Children’s Nurseries Association. It shows that the average weekly cost of a full-time place is €156 for a private facility, €88 for a community place and €141 for the workplace.

Clearly these costs are crippling for many parents and totally prohibitive for others, with the result that many simply cannot exercise their option to take up full or part-time work, education or training. It is predominantly but not exclusively women who are barred in this way. Our economy is losing out hugely as a result. In the motion we argue that the development of quality child care is self financing through increased tax returns from those who, as a result, will be able to take up paid employment and less dependency on social welfare.

The Government’s approach to child care is almost totally dependent on the equal opportunities child care programme which runs out in 2006. While much good work has been done under that programme — no doubt Government speakers will tell us about it ad nauseam— the programme cannot provide the comprehensive child care provision that is essential. The delivery of the programme has been fraught with problems. In the course of researching and framing this motion, many child care providers told us of the delays and excessive bureaucracy they have experienced. In fact, opportunities to provide extra child care places have been lost due to these delays.

I will just give one example from my constituency. It typifies the ramshackle nature of this [782]Government’s child care provision. Farney community crèche in Carrickmacross, County Monaghan, operates out of three different buildings — one houses the crèche, another is rented for pre-school children and an after school club operates out of the local school. Early last year the community crèche identified a building in the town that would be suitable as a new home for these facilities. It put in an application for capital funding under the equal opportunities child care programme in May 2003 but, to date, has received no response from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. A full 17 months has passed and the people involved are disappointed and disheartened.

In March 2002, the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O’Donoghue, visited Farney community crèche and I have a copy of the letter of thanks he sent to the crèche. He stated:

The [Equal Opportunities Childcare] Programme could not succeed without the dedication and commitment of those members of the local community involved in the management of childcare facilities in their area. . . . . I am aware that your Committee has plans for the further development of the service provided by the Farney Community Crèche and want to assure you that my Department will provide every assistance possible in enabling you to achieve your goals in this matter.

Fine words but the delivery has not happened. Similar experiences can be found throughout the country and throughout the region I represent, as the Border Counties Childcare Network can testify. The Government must increase revenue for the equal opportunities child care programme, including capital, staffing and operational funding, and it must expedite all outstanding applications which have been delayed due to the protracted review of the programme.

However, even that will not be enough. The programme alone cannot provide what is needed. A multifaceted approach is required. This is a motion, not a Bill or a detailed policy, but it outlines the range of measures that are required in the short and medium term. Paid maternity and paternity leave needs to be extended so that parents can spend the most vital formative months with their infant children. There are many families who would choose to rear their children on the income from one working parent, with the other parent caring full-time in the home. However, that option is now closed off for many families, primarily because of the outrageous cost of housing, with massive mortgages being serviced by two working incomes as a result of the disastrous housing policies of this Government.

Parents need assistance with the cost of child care. We propose substantial increases in child benefit and child dependent allowance and the introduction of a child care supplement to be paid as a top-up in child benefit for under fives. Others have proposed tax credits for child care costs and [783]capitation grants for child care places. These and other options need to be considered and, in all this, it is essential that disadvantaged communities and families on low income are not excluded. Of course, this Government is good at excluding people. The petty and penny pinching 16 cuts last year, including in crèche supplement and VTOS child care support, were perfect examples of this Government’s disposition. Parents and children lost out so the Department of Finance could save a miserly couple of million euro. Those cuts must be reversed.

Our motion sets out goals Government should work to achieve within a definite timeframe. We should look to the best practice in other countries and this is why we cite the example of Sweden, where child care provision is comprehensive and among the best in the world. We should strive for nothing less. We need to enable parents to reconcile their child care needs with participation in work, education and training. We need to allow parents to look after their children full-time up to one year of age. We should aim for accessible child care for all parents and for universal provision of early childhood care and education from the age of three to five years. We should aspire to the very best for our children and for our society. For that reason, I urge all Deputies to support the motion. I urge the Government representatives to abandon their amendment and to join us in a unanimous statement from this House of our commitment to child care needs into the future.

Mr. Crowe:  The longer a child is poor, the greater the subsequent deprivation in later life and the greater likelihood of leaving school early, becoming unemployed or getting a low paid job. Some 66,000 children are currently living below the poverty line. Everyone agrees that education is the key that breaks the cycle that traps people in poverty and early intervention is also critical. Therefore, child care is an essential ingredient in breaking the cycle of social exclusion, poverty and disadvantage.

Government policy is to encourage more and more people to enhance their education, up-skill and hopefully move on to greater employment prospects. If one has a young family, the only way to access training, education or employment is by getting someone to care for one’s children. This is the dilemma faced by tens of thousands of parents every day. Availability, location, suitability and cost are the other key elements. With regard to cost, Government adjustments were responsible for the short-sighted decision to remove hundreds of individuals or 20% of parents from vocational opportunities training scheme child care funding, despite this being a scheme specifically designed to help parents back into education and paid employment.

Just 4% of three year olds have received publicly funded pre-school education in Ireland compared to 90% in other European countries. Because of the extremely low base, we are play[784]ing catch-up in regard to facilities and new legislation requires suitably trained personnel. Community child care centres based in areas of high disadvantage also face other problems, even where suitable facilities exist, including the constant battle to generate funding to keep the centres open.

I am not aware of any community child care facility that is not experiencing problems relating to financial sustainability. The equal opportunities child care programme is currently undergoing a mid-term review and there is a complete lack of clarity as to the supports available to projects following their initial three year allocation. Similarly, the FÁS active labour market programme is under constant review and has experienced constant cutbacks.

The lack of clarity in long-term supports undermines the ability of projects to strategically plan for the future. One Tallaght child care centre has gone through seven managers in seven years, which reflects the instability in the sector. There are currently four mechanisms available to subsidise the cost of child care for families in disadvantaged communities: the EOCP, the FÁS active labour market programme, user purchase and private purchase. The EOCP has a cap on staffing grants of €65,000 per annum over three years, which is insufficient and is at the heart of the problems being experienced by child care providers.

Another factor is that without part-time community employment and those on job initiatives from FÁS, the child care centres as presently structured could not and would not exist. The child care centres’ over-reliance on trainee and part-time workers because of the cap on staffing is unfair to the workers, interferes with their training and is another example of the stop-gap, short-term policy that permeates the whole sector.

The funding element is holding back the development of quality child care and needs to be addressed on a long-term basis. Private purchase is not an option in many disadvantaged areas because, increasingly, traditional groups establish their own child care facilities. User purchase is also a problem because the user in many disadvantaged areas cannot afford the service, and, with rising costs, the problem is getting worse.

I will provide one example for the Minister. One facility in Jobstown expects to receive €1.7 million in capital funding and staffing grants but, even with this, it will have to charge €130 to €140 per week. Those for whom this scheme is designed will not be able to afford the service. I know of another child care scheme in the Tallaght west area that charges €30 per week for shorter hours but is having extreme difficulties in finding clients to use the service. We are moving towards having facilities suitable for child care while pricing out the very people the schemes are designed to help. We need to assist parents with the cost of child care by increasing child benefit to €150 [785]per month for the first and second child and to €150.50 for the third and subsequent children.

Mr. Ferris:  I will raise a number of issues in support of my party’s motion on the area of child care. One of the first issues that comes to mind is the withdrawal of the crèche supplement and child care support for people taking part in VTOS schemes. Last year, I dealt with a case in my constituency where a number of women were forced to give up places on schemes because their community employment supports had been withdrawn and they were unable to afford alternative child care. In effect, the cuts meant the women concerned had to reluctantly give up what was, for many, an important pathway back into the education system and the workforce.

What is more disgraceful is that these women came primarily from areas most in need. While they were from the 20% caught in the poverty trap and were determined to try to break out of this, the system prevented them from doing so. Apart from the potential improvement in their financial situation due to their participation, VTOS was an important means of facilitating people to once again become an integral part of the community in which their personal circumstances made them marginalised.

Another issue with which I and other Members who represent rural areas have to deal is a difficulty facing particular women in securing child care in more isolated areas. While many people still rely on extended families to look after their children and while this may be the best option in some circumstances, many people do not have that choice available to them. There is also the fact that this can place a burden on other family members in the absence of proper provisions.

A further issue that needs to be urgently addressed is the conditions of employment of people in the child care sector as it currently exists. I am aware of a number of cases where workers, almost exclusively young women, are employed at extremely low rates of pay. The recently formed child care professional association has taken up the cases of individual child care workers and hopes to pursue these through industrial relations channels. These workers are as entitled to proper recognition and protection as any other and I hope the issues involved are addressed.

The real way to ensure child care workers are not exploited is to make sure the sector is properly regulated. This is best achieved by increasing the State’s responsibility for the sector, as proposed in this motion. If the State assumes its proper responsibilities in providing adequate child care places and ensuring that the sector is properly financially supported, this will stop being a sector in which there will be an incentive to provide cheap services at the expense of workers and children.

Much has been achieved in recent years in regulating the sector from the point of view of ensuring that only adequate, qualified and responsible [786]people are allowed to run private services. The State should take the next logical step by assuming direct responsibility for the overall provision and administration of this vital area. We need to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to address the needs of children, as well as the mothers who are willing to contribute to our economy. These women are prepared to contribute, to pay their share and to help society but the system is preventing them from doing so. Provision for pre-school, after-school and out-of-school child care must be a right for both child and mother. Legislation must be introduced to address the need for employers to share responsibility for the provision of child care for employees. A large amount of work is needed to be done and the onus is on the House and the Government to address this matter.

Mr. Gormley:  I wish to share time with Deputy Eamon Ryan.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  For the Chair’s information the order is Deputies Finian McGrath, McHugh, Gormley and Eamon Ryan.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Gormley:  I thank the proposers of this motion as it highlights a growing and significant problem that affects many young families. The family is central to the Constitution, yet for many parents with young children, life in modern Ireland means smaller families but limited and expensive child care, long hours of commuting and great financial pressures in paying mortgages. Few young couples can afford that one parent stay at home. This would be the ideal solution which would suit many mothers and their children and serve the needs of society. However, the Government’s policies are not about serving society but the needs of the economy. Children are second class citizens under the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government. Some 46% of local authorities do not provide playgrounds. There are twice as many golf courses as playgrounds.

Mr. B. Lenihan:  Every local authority received a playground grant this year. The Deputy should properly research his facts.

Mr. Gormley:  The statistics show Ireland is not a child-friendly country and as such cannot be parent-friendly. It is unsafe for children to walk and cycle to school, yet we wonder how the problem of childhood obesity emerged. It is due to the lack of exercise and facilities.

While tax individualisation enticed more women out of the home, the extra money earned is spent on child care. For many working class families, the cost of monthly child care is the equivalent of a second mortgage. According to the Vincentian Partnership, for a couple or a lone parent with two children the greatest barrier to enhancing their capacity to improve their [787]incomes is unaffordable child care. The ESRI recently published figures which showed a 2.5% drop in female workers between the ages of 20 and 24 and a 1.6% drop in those aged between 25 and 34 years. According to the ESRI this is the first time a drop in this category has occurred. The obvious conclusion for this is the lack of affordable child care.

It may also be the case that more women want to stay at home. The Green Party believes in providing parents with real choice and quality of life. Quality child care places that are accessible and affordable for parents must be provided for all children. However, statutory paid family-friendly policy must be established in private and public sector employment, starting in the Houses of the Oireachtas. Dáil Éireann is not a family-friendly institution. When I was first elected I was informed that it was only a matter of months before a crèche would be provided. My children are now too old to enjoy such a facility. Recently, I met a former Deputy who also campaigned for a crèche facility when she was first elected. Her child celebrated his 21st birthday recently. This highlights how long we have been waiting for the facility. Changes need to be made in Leinster Houses and we need to lead by example.

If ever the Green Party gets the opportunity to be in government, we will make important changes for child care provision. We will support the continued increase in child benefit as the most equitable way of providing support towards the cost of raising children. We will reverse the discriminatory policy of individualisation introduced by the former Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy. We will also enshrine the right to part-time work within employment legislation in co-operation with employers. In addition, the Green Party will promote and support businesses which offer family-friendly flexibility time to parents at work. It is not a simple case of providing more child care places. A holistic approach is needed as the most important job anyone can do is raise children.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  I commend the Sinn Féin Members for tabling this motion allowing for this important and needed debate. However, I am critical of some aspects of the motion. Some of its sections could have come from a Government motion, particularly the section that sets out the goals to be established by the State for child care. These goals are again centred around economic issues. The main criticism of Government policy in child care is that it looks at the economic interests first, those of parents next and those of the child last. The priority must be to examine what is the best care we can give to the child. That must be the foundation block in our child care policy.

I would have preferred if the motion had set this out as its priority. If we get it right in the first five years of their lives, it will be easier from there on, as stated by Deputy Crowe. The motion does [788]not set this out in express terms. To be child-centred must be the most important part of policy-making. Following this, we need to be parent-centred, find out what they want, and then we can worry about the economy. This is the exact opposite to what the Government does. For it, the economy comes first, parents second and the children’s needs do not come into the equation.

It is hard to know what children need. However, we know they need access and time with their parents in their early years, and parents must be given the freedom to do so. Many people are stressed out working to pay ridiculous mortgages for the speculative housing boom created by the former Minister for Finance. This must be changed to allow parents time with their children in their early years. If they do not have the time, legislation must be introduced to provide part-time working rights for employees with young children. If the first three years of a child’s life are the most important, why not have three year parental leave? There are cases where it is in the best interest of the parents and the children for the parents to avail of education and training outside work. A distinction should not be made that discriminates those parents who wish to spend time with their children in those first early years. As this does not come through strongly enough in the motion, I believe it is not properly child-centred.

The Lisbon Agenda is specific in terms of increasing the level of female participation in the workplace from below 50% to 60%. During the Irish Presidency of the EU, the agenda was the be-all and end-all, forever mentioned. Child care remains an economic issue when most of the crèches provided are situated on companies’ premises. In certain cases, such as Leinster House, a drop-in facility may be appropriate. However child care and crèche provision must be community-based, equal and available to all, a social service. I agree with Deputy Ó Caoláin that it is not appropriate for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to handle this service. We can extend individualisation in the tax system to the social welfare system. Why should those who decide to stay at home be discriminated against? Why is it not valued as work? Looking after a young child can be the hardest yet most important work. This must be recognised as work, paid for through the social welfare system and enshrined in legislation. I am very pleased this debate has been brought forward but five minutes is a very short time to raise the points one wishes. I will leave it at that.

I would like to see some questioning of what is good for Irish children. It is important that we get the early years right. The Jesuits have a clever saying, “Give me the boy of seven and I will give you the man.” They postulated that by the age of seven the person is formed for good or ill. They are just being smart in taking credit for all the good work that has been done, but they have not done anything; the real work is in getting the early seven years right.

[789]The success of our economy is based on the work which was done for decades past by parents who provided the creative, secure, confident people that are driving this economy. I believe that, more than anything else, has been behind our success in recent years. We need to recognise this fact and the work that has been done and provide the proper opportunities for parents and others to provide the required child care. The Government is failing completely in that regard.

Mr. F. McGrath:  I support the motion because I believe quality child care has a beneficial effect on children and poor quality child care has a negative effect on them. I urge the Minister to heed this.

Parents want to choose the best for their children. People working in child care need to be valued for the important service they provide. Quality child care systems are essential elements in the country’s infrastructure and lack of accessible, affordable and quality child care is a major block to accessing work or training. These are the core issues in the motion which I firmly believe is child centred. I urge all Deputies to support the motion because it is a common sense one and the proposals we make are also based on common sense.

We need to work towards the objectives set out in the motion. This debate is part of the wider equality debate. We must enable all parents to reconcile their child care needs with participation in the labour force, education and training. We must enable them to exercise their choice to care for their children full-time up to one year of age. All parents should have access to affordable child care for their children. The State must provide universal pre-school for all children from the age of three to five years. We must establish universal provision of early childhood care and education based on the Swedish system. I welcome this section in the motion because it is most relevant. The Swedish system is proven internationally.

I strongly welcome the section which calls on the Government in the interim to harmonise maternity leave on an all-Ireland basis by increasing maternity leave to 26 weeks paid leave and 26 weeks unpaid leave. Maternity benefit should be increased immediately to 80% of earnings. We also need to harmonise paternity leave on an all-Ireland basis by introducing paid paternity entitlement to two weeks per child. We need to increase adoptive leave to 24 weeks paid leave and 26 weeks unpaid leave. I would also like to see the introduction of paid parental leave and legislation to implement without further delay the terms agreed in respect of parental leave under Sustaining Progress.

We should assist parents with the cost of child care by increasing child benefit to €150 per month for the first and second child and to €185.50 for the third and subsequent children. Child dependant allowance should be increased to a single weekly figure of €26 for all recipients. A child [790]care supplement should be paid as a top-up for child benefit for under five year olds.

We also need to increase revenue for the equal opportunities child care programme, including capital, staffing and operational funding and immediately expedite all outstanding applications which have been delayed due to the review of the programme. I also call on the Minister to re-instate the crèche supplement and the VTOS child care supports, the cutting of which have caused severe hardship to parents and children in disadvantaged communities. These are the nuts and bolts of a sensible programme for change.

In a society which should value the care of children, it is inappropriate to continue with the expectation that parents pay the full cost of child care from their net income. I support the National Children’s Nurseries Association in its four key demands. Parental expenditure on child care incurred while accessing work, education or training should be a deductible, tax credit-allowable expense. This is cited as one of the key measures in the National Child Care Strategy 1999. Parents and children deserve immediate action on this issue.

I agree that all child care rates should be charged on a sliding fee scale system with the State paying the balance at an agreed annual rate, irrespective of whether the service is private and is based in the community or the workplace. I support the proposal to extend paid maternity leave to one year, thus allowing mothers to stay with their babies for that period. Alternatively, paternity leave could be used in the final four months. I also support the notion of 14 weeks fully paid parental leave.

I support these proposals because of the benefits that would accrue from them. They support parents in regard to child care expenditure and in accessing work, training and education. They also support parents, particularly mothers, in their decision to return to work following maternity leave. In terms of the way society values people, we must examine the situation where a construction worker can start off at €35,000 per year, and good luck to him or her, but, in contrast, a fully trained child care worker may start on €18,000 a year and sometimes less. We have to nourish and value people who work with children, which is not the case at present. Some smart alecks appear to spend their lives slagging off child care workers and teachers generally, but most of them would not last five minutes in a classroom, never mind five hours. Society has to stand with the people who work with children and the Government has a duty to assist them.

We must support early intervention on child care, poverty and educational disadvantage. Thousands of four year olds in junior infants classes throughout the country are two to three years behind their middle income peers in reading, mathematics and other basis skills. They will spend the next five years trying to catch up. If the Government does not supply the necessary support in a wealthy economy, we will fail thou[791]sands of our young people and the cycle of poverty will continue. The failure to address poverty in a sustained, effective and meaningful way is one of the major failings of the Government over the past decade.

Despite the high level of economic growth which resulted in an increased number of people in employment and a dramatic decrease in unemployment, the numbers living in relative poverty are not being reduced. Over 700,000 people now live in poverty, an increase of almost 84,000 since 1994. More than 250,000 of these are children and 80,000 of those included in this figure live in dire need. In 2004 the poverty line was €180.30 per week for a single person, that is €9,375.60 per year. For a couple with two children the poverty line is €418.30 per week which is €21,750.60 per year. These are the minimum amounts required if people are to provide the basics that will enable them to live life with dignity.

What has changed dramatically in the past decade is the composition of those living in poverty. For example, more than a decade ago, over 40% of all those living in poverty lived in a household headed by a person who was unemployed. This has now fallen to 7.3%, which I welcome. Today, more than 60% of those living in poverty live in households headed by a person who is not in the labour force. These are people who are retired, are ill, have a disability or are in a category entitled “home duties”, which includes many carers. For these, social welfare rates are critically important.

The sustained high rates of poverty and income inequality require greater attention. Tackling these problems effectively requires a broad brush. Action is needed on many fronts ranging from health care to education and accommodation to employment. However, the most important requirement in tackling poverty is the provision of sufficient income to enable people to live life with dignity. No anti-poverty strategy can possibly achieve success without an effective approach to address low incomes.

This is a critical time for Ireland. Sustained economic growth has not delivered a fairer society. The economic recovery delivered jobs and higher incomes but it has not led to a more just society. Significant inequalities continue to exist with respect to income, wealth, health and education. A new approach is needed, part of which features in this debate. I commend Deputies Ó Caoláin, Crowe, Ferris, Morgan and Ó Snodaigh for bringing this progressive motion before the House and I urge all Deputies to support it. It is a common sense motion, containing some sensible ideas about child care and it puts children first.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. B. Lenihan):  I move amendment No. 1:

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

[792]

“notes:

—the considerable progress which has been achieved in the implementation of the recommendations of the national child care strategy over the past five years, through the equal opportunities child care programme and other Government initiatives;

—that each county of Ireland has already benefited considerably from an increase in the provision of child care places through the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme 2000-2006 and that the programme is already ahead of target in this regard;

—the increased provision in capital funding following the mid-term review of the EOCP for the community based not for profit child care sector to develop new child care facilities;

—the positive impact that the availability of these new places is having on the parents of Ireland and their children;

—the many positive comments of the OECD in relation to child care in Ireland, the development of which has been made a priority by the Government;

—that increased female participation is being encouraged through a range of measures, including family-friendly working arrangements, child care provision and changes to the tax and benefit systems;

commends the Government for the:

—complete implementation by way of the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004 of improvements to maternity leave entitlements recommended by the maternity review group;

—immediate implementation in March 2001 of increased periods of maternity leave as recommended by the maternity review group and the application of the same increases to adoptive leave;

endorses the:

—Government’s policy on the development of child care which offers parents in employment, education and training a range of choices with regard to the availability of quality child care at local level;

—Government’s policy in relation to the provision of appropriate pre-school education in areas of social deprivation and for those with [793]special needs to help combat disadvantage and promote education;

and continues to deliver that policy in:

—making further provision to enhance adoptive leave entitlements in the Adoptive Leave Bill 2004 currently before Dáil Éireann;

—implementing improvements to parental leave in accordance with the commitment made in the Sustaining Progress partnership agreement by way of a Bill to be published during the current Dáil session;

—supporting the early start scheme which funds centres that aim to expose children from disadvantaged areas, aged three to four years, to a positive pre-school environment to improve their overall development and long-term educational experience and performance;

—establishing the Centre for Early Childhood Development and Education, CECDE, by the Department of Education and Science in October 2002 to develop, within a three year period, a quality framework for early childhood education and to develop, through active research with existing programmes, targeted interventions for children who have special needs or who are disadvantaged;

—the provision of funding to vocational education committees to assist towards the child care expenses of participants in vocational training opportunities schemes, Youthreach and senior Traveller training centres to facilitate the attendance on certain further education programmes of people for whom they were designed but who are precluded from availing themselves due to their child care responsibilities;

—the Government’s commitment to restoring maternity benefit to 80% of reckonable earnings from its current level of 70% as recently agreed at the mid-term review of part two of Sustaining Progress and the commitment to implement the measure over the lifetime of the agreement;

—the Government’s continued use of child benefit as the main instrument through which support is provided for parents;

—the commitment of the Government to the child benefit scheme is reflected in the significant resources invested in the child benefit scheme since 2001 where the combined child [794]benefit-child dependant allowance payment has increased by more than double the rate of inflation;

—the Government’s commitment to taxation measures which favour the supply of child care places;

—the equal opportunities child care programme, including the need to increase capital funding to the programme to sustain the dynamic which has developed at local level through which community groups and private providers are prepared to establish and manage child care facilities; and

the Government affirms that the guidelines for planning authorities on child care facilities that were issued by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in June 2001 are delivering on the provision of child care facilities.”

I thank the Deputies for tabling this motion. The amending motion in the name of the Government is a common sense one with which we will deal tomorrow night but before we join in the merits I wish to make some points arising from the debate so far. Deputy Ó Caoláin opened up in a constructive spirit and made the point, which was echoed by Deputy Eamon Ryan, that it was inappropriate that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and that Department should have responsibility for this matter. That is because it is responsible for equality. The substantial funding committed to this area under the equal opportunities child care programme is €449 million, of which €177 million is obtained by the Department through an arrangement with the European Union in Brussels.

Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Is that a good enough reason to have it there?

Mr. B. Lenihan:  The Deputy must bear with me for a moment. The Department is indemnified to the extent of €177 million on its expenditure. That comes from the European Social Fund relating to equality and equal participation in the workforce so the equality-driven measure as far as the Commission is concerned is the increased participation of females in the workforce. I agree with Opposition Deputies who made some very valid points about child care policy in general. However, as a matter of good diplomacy the Government secured for the Exchequer €177 million, a not inconsiderable sum. That is why administration of these matters is vested in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I have had the pleasure of launching many county child care committee reports and the officers of the Department have given great satisfaction to and liaise with the people who have recourse to the development of child care facilities. That is separate from questions of policy which we are debating this evening.

[795]Mr. Eamon Ryan:  Is the Lisbon Agenda driving child care?

Mr. B. Lenihan:  The Lisbon Agenda is not driving child care. The Government has adopted a national children’s strategy that has been highly commended by the United Nations organisation. The strategy envisaged that children should be at the centre of public policy decision-making. The Lisbon Agenda does not take priority over the interests of children.

I was endeavouring to explain to Deputies opposite why responsibility for this matter lies with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The issue of the standards which apply in child care centres is a matter for the Department of Health and Children. I was intrigued by the canvassing of the Swedish model in this motion echoed by some speakers. There is no doubt the Scandinavian countries have a very good record in the area of child care provision, but I respectfully suggest to the Opposition Deputies that they look at the Finnish model ahead of the Swedish one. Finland has one of the best literacy and educational statistics in the world because its child care is integrated with the kindergarten system. We have not decided to adopt the Swedish model. It is universal and a very substantial increase in taxation would be required to fund such a model. That is a matter about which we can have political debate in this House but it is important to note that would be the implication of adopting the Swedish model. Our model is not perfect, far from it.

Deputy Finian McGrath spoke about relative poverty. Of course the Government is concerned about the bloc of children who remain in consistent poverty. Although the figures for consistent poverty have improved, the latest available figures show a group in that area. This is a matter which the Ministers for Social and Family Affairs and Finance must consider when preparing this year’s budget. Despite considerable increases in child benefit in recent years, they have not reduced that number. We must adopt more wide-ranging policies and strategies to deal with that.

I refute the comments made by Deputies which failed to acknowledge the achievements that have been made since 1997 since the present Government configuration took office. The Government’s implementation of a wide range of measures in accordance with the programme for Government has had a major impact on the child care needs of parents. Real choices have been offered.

There has been major economic and social change in the past three decades which has totally transformed the position and status of women in modern Irish life and the Government has responded to those changes. It was not until the early 1980s that in general women remained in employment following marriage and even then many women withdrew from the labour market on the birth of the first child. There were various reasons for this, including the lack of available [796]child care options. Many of those who chose to remain in the labour force relied on family members or neighbours to provide child care.

Until the 1990s the provision of formal child care was somewhat limited with few centre-based child care facilities. Much of the so-called child care provision offered only pre-school education and socialisation opportunities in very small and unstructured settings usually for the academic year prior to the first year in junior infants at primary school. That was the requirement for most at the time. In the 1980s and 1990s as more mothers tended to remain in or return to the workforce the child care needs of parents continued to be most frequently met by family or neighbours. The Central Statistics Office survey of child care in 2003 shows that the involvement of the extended family to provide child care support remains the preferred choice for child care in many families. I welcome the fact that the Central Statistics Office made a detailed extrapolation from the 2002 census which is a very interesting document and I commend it to Deputies who are interested in this subject.

The potential of the female labour force as an impetus for further economic growth together with the economic needs of many couples continued to contribute to an increase in female participation in the labour force. EU equality legislation endorsed the need for expanded opportunities for women. The result of these changes was an increased awareness of the need for expanded child care services to support the participation of both parents in the labour market.

The first meeting of the expert working group on child care established under the partnership arrangements was held within a month of the Government changeover in 1997. All the evidence shows that child care has been high on the Government’s agenda since then and the Government has moved to facilitate the development of top quality child care services across the length and breadth of the country. The social partners recognised the need to develop child care to meet the needs of working parents under Partnership 2000. The equality division of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform chaired the expert working group on child care which reported in 1999. The group’s recommendations were published in 1999 and the Government proceeded to implement them through the budget of 2000 and the National Development Plan 2000-2006.

The expert working group looked at the supply and demand sides of child care. The supply side was supported through major investment in the national development plan as a result of which over 20,000 new centre-based child care places have been put in place. This represents an increase of at least 35% in the supply of child care places since 1999. The Government addressed the demand side through a series of fiscal measures. These included supporting the development of privately-owned child care facilities by making [797]capital tax facilities for expenditure incurred in the construction, extension or refurbishment of a building or part of a building for use as a child care facility as well as for expenditure on the conversion of an existing building or part of a building for use as a child care facility. This incentive applies to facilities which meet the required standards for facilities envisaged in the Child Care Act 1991 for expenditure incurred on or from 1 December 1999 — 100% capital allowances are allowable in one year.

Certain free or subsidised child care facilities provided by employers are exempt from a benefit-in-kind charge on employees benefiting from the facilities as provided for in the Finance Act 1999. The benefit-in-kind exemption applies if the employer provides the facilities in-house or in premises made available by the employer in another location. The exemption also applies if an employer provides child care facilities jointly with others, such as other employers or a voluntary body. In such circumstances, the employer must be wholly or partly responsible for financing and managing the child care facility. This exemption was subsequently extended in the Finance Act 2001 to cover situations where an employer makes a contribution to the capital costs of an independent supplier of child care facilities. It is fair to note that a number of fine facilities have developed through reliance on that facility. The exemption from benefit-in-kind taxation does not apply where an employer simply pays for or subsidises the cost of child care provided by an independent child care provider. The cost borne by the employer is a taxable benefit and PAYE and PRSI must be applied accordingly.

The Government has continued to make increased child benefit available to parents to enable them to exercise child care choices for the care of their children while they are at work, in training or in education. Government policy in the area of child support aims to provide assistance that will offer real choice to parents and that will benefit all children. In that context it has been decided that child benefit will be the main fiscal instrument through which support will be provided to parents with dependent children. Child benefit provides assistance to all parents in whatever caring choices are most appropriate for them and their children. In addition and unlike tax relief, it provides support to parents irrespective of their income status. The Government’s commitment to the policy of concentrating resources for child income support on the child benefit scheme is reflected in the significant resources invested in the child benefit scheme since 2001 as evidenced by increasing monthly payments to €131.60 for each of the first two children and €165.30 for the third and subsequent children — increases of 144% and 132% respectively. It is important to recognise that since 1994 the combined child benefit or child dependant allowance payment has increased by more than double the rate of inflation.

[798]Unlike child dependant allowance, child benefit is neutral vis-à-vis the employment status of the child’s parents and does not contribute to poverty traps, as the loss of child dependant allowances by social welfare recipients on taking up employment can act as a disincentive to availing of work opportunities. Consequently, universal child benefit, which is not taxable and is not assessed as means for other secondary benefits, has proved more effective than child dependant allowance as a child income support mechanism. I know there was an interesting submission on the demand side from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions on various tax measures the Government should consider in this area. I will draw them to the attention of the Minister for Finance, but in adopting any tax incentives in this area, we must be careful not simply to increase the cost of the provision of child care. By providing a particular tax relief, we must be careful not to indirectly increase the profits of the child care supplier rather than passing on the real advantage to the ultimate user of the service.

On the supply side, apart from the capital taxation incentives, the benefit-in-kind scheme for employers and increases in child income supports, the implementation of the equal opportunities child care programme 2000-06 represents the Government’s major response to the development of child care in Ireland. The programme now has an investment package of more than €449 million over the eight year period 2000-07 during which expenditure will take place under the National Development Plan 2000-2006. The programme directly implements the supply side recommendations of the Partnership 2000 expert working group, which included the provision of financial supports towards the development of new services and enhancement of existing services, supports towards the development of quality awareness in Irish child care and the development of a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of child care services. The programme was launched as an element of the National Development Plan 2000-2006 and it is largely funded through the two regional operational programmes for the Border, midlands and western region and the southern and eastern region. The main objectives of the programme are to improve the quality of child care; to maintain and increase the number of child care facilities and places; and to introduce a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of child care services.

The programme originally made available €317.4 million in funding, including €177 million in European Social Fund support. This was subsequently augmented by a further allocation of €33.6 million of Exchequer funding from the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness social partnership agreement together with transfers of almost €86 million from other Departments. This brought the total allocation for the development of child care over the seven year period to 2006 to €436.7 million. The mid-term review of the national development plan brought a further [799]increase in funding provision for child care of about €9 million in funding from the European Social Fund while the mid-term review of the BMW regional operational programme led the Assembly to transfer about €2.7 million in funding from the European Regional Development Fund and €0.9 million of Exchequer matching funds to the child care measure. These constant increases in funding illustrate the demand that speakers from the Opposition have highlighted this evening and I accept that. They also show that the Government has not been lacking in imagination in seeking additional financial resources to match that increased demand. The increase brings the total funding now available over the lifetime of the programme to €449.3 million and the total allocations committed to this multi-annual programme will always be a matter under consideration by the Government.

Each of the operational programmes referred to the lack of centre based child care and pointed out that this was a significant contributor to exclusion from available education, training and employment opportunities, particularly at a time when increasing numbers of women were choosing to remain in or return to the labour market. The regional operational programmes noted that this lack of centre based child care impacted most severely on women, in particular disadvantaged women and single parent families. Accordingly, the programme is structured to have both a labour market and a social inclusion focus, where labour market participation is seen as a key medium to break the cycle of disadvantage. This parallels European Union social policy and must be adhered to as an emphasis for the programme because of the important contribution to the funding that comes from the European Social Fund.

The programme is structured into two measures of the regional operational programmes. The facilities measure makes capital grant assistance available to create new and enhanced child care facilities, with significant European Regional Development Fund and Exchequer support. The staffing and quality sub-measures make European Social Fund and Exchequer supports available to assist with the staffing costs incurred in child care facilities that support disadvantaged parents in employment, education and training and towards projects that enhance quality awareness in the child care sector. The equal opportunities child care programme makes capital grant assistance available to community based not for profit child care groups and to private child care providers to facilitate the creation of new and enhanced child care places. Community based not for profit groups that meet the programme criteria can avail of 100% funding, subject to the availability of funding. Private providers can receive a grant of up to €50,790 towards the cost of developing a new or enhanced facility. This level of funding to the private sector is capped because of competition and State aids [800]issues. Community based not for profit groups that provide services for very disadvantaged families can also receive grant assistance towards their staffing costs, to enable them to support parents who would not be able to afford the full costs of child care.

To date, the Department has allocated more than €222 million in funding to child care providers under the programme through a mix of capital funding for community based, not for profit and private child care facilities as well as staffing funding for community based and not for profit groups. This funding allocated to date will lead to the creation of 31,200 new child care places, showing that the original target of 28,300 new places will be exceeded. The original programme targets were set on the basis of what was thought possible with the funding package available and did not aspire to address the full child care needs of Irish parents but to take a step in that direction. Of these 31,200 new places, the latest statistics covering the period to June 2004 show that 20,500 of these new places are already in place. These include 8,000 new full time places that offer child care services for more than three and a half hours per day, and 12,500 new part time places that offer less than that amount per day. Every county in Ireland has already benefited from the creation of additional child care facilities under the programme. All groups benefiting from the programme are encouraged to provide services to the maximum allowed in respect of their particular service under the child care regulations and to remain open for at least 46 weeks per year to facilitate parents in employment.

As a result of the high adult carer to child ratios that are essential to ensure the delivery of a safe, quality child care service, the cost of delivering child care is necessarily high. One of the key objectives of the programme has not just been to increase the quantity of child care available, but to increase the quality. It is in this context that the programme helps new community-based facilities with their staffing costs in their early days as they move towards sustainability. It is likely that a number of community based services located in areas of significant disadvantage will require ongoing contributions towards their staffing costs. Given the importance of labour market participation in breaking the cycle of disadvantage, the advantages to society in the long term of these supports will outweigh their costs in the short term.

Mr. Morgan:  The Minister cut back those by 25%.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow the Minister to finish.

Mr. B. Lenihan:  The creation of 30,000 new child care places is likely to lead to the creation of over 3,000 positions for child care practitioners. The opening of quality facilities will afford progression opportunities to trained staff. [801]Such developments will contribute to the creation of a better child care sector in which people can work in well-appointed facilities and seek promotion opportunities in their present settings or in other services. Such factors are important if we are to sustain a high quality workforce in the sector.

  8 o’clock

The availability of tax benefits has also stimulated the availability of child care places. I understand that the child care directorate of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is concluding a survey of facilities in each county which will help the future planning of services. The survey will help us to assess Ireland’s progress towards the Barcelona targets for child care provision, under which each EU member state aims to provide child care places for one third of children under the age of three and an early education place for 90% of those over the age of three who have not yet started compulsory education. Ireland is unusual among European countries in that children start primary school at a young age. The social practice in this country is to enrol children in junior infants when they are slightly younger than the age at which education is compulsory. The Barcelona targets are linked to labour market participation, especially by women.

The Government is attempting to increase and develop labour force participation in a manner that will enable women and mothers, and men and fathers, to balance family and work commitments. Increased female participation in the workforce is being encouraged through a range of measures, including family-friendly working arrangements, child care provision and changes to the tax and benefit systems. The improved macro-economic environment is helping to attract more people, including women, into the labour market. Other measures, including the introduction of a minimum wage, also help in that regard. Resources being spent on passive income support measures will be transferred to active measures to support the transition to employment, with financial support being provided on a sliding scale. There have been improvements in the retention of non-cash benefits. Job seekers have been assisted, for example by means of systematic identification, with the introduction of a preventative and activation plan. The operation of conditionality for unemployment payments has been made more efficient through closer integration between benefit payment and job placement services.

It should be noted that the rate of female participation in the workforce increased by approximately one third during the 1990s. Cultural changes, improving labour market conditions and rising educational attainment contributed to the increase.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  As did the forced cost of mortgages.

[802]Mr. B. Lenihan:  Measures that encourage greater levels of female participation in the workforce include tax incentives, making child income support more neutral vis-à-vis the employment status of parents and a greater commitment to flexible and family-friendly working arrangements. I was astonished by Deputy Eamon Ryan’s reference to a “speculative housing boom”. The so-called speculative housing boom was a response to the demand of thousands of young Irish people to buy their own homes. It is a clear sign——

Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  They cannot be housed anywhere else.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It resulted from the Government’s failure to provide social housing and the abuse of the property market for domestic purposes by speculators who are driving house prices beyond the reach of ordinary parents.

Mr. Neville:  That is a myth.

Mr. B. Lenihan:  If Deputy Ó Caoláin ever has occasion to sit on this side of the House, he will discover that the supply of houses is a market like any other market. It is a market that has seen exceptional demand in recent years as a result of very high rates of economic growth and inward migration to this country. To describe the increased demand for housing as a speculative housing boom is the kind of fantasy to which one is led by Green Party economics. It has nothing to offer the future planning of this country.

Mr. Glennon:  Hear, hear.

Mr. B. Lenihan:  Almost two years ago the OECD undertook a thematic review of early childhood care and education in Ireland on behalf of the Minister for Education and Science. It noted that the launch of the ambitious equal opportunities programme was a real achievement in the Irish context, in which few or no models were available. The OECD, a reputable international observer, praised the efforts of the Government by saying that the programme maintained a focus on equality of opportunity, staff support, affordability and social inclusion. Its report praised all those involved in the delivery of the programme, including the programme’s administrators, applicants and project developers from the community and private child care sectors.

I agree with the Opposition that fundamental questions will have to be asked in the run-up to the end of the programme in 2006. The Government has made clear that it will continue to fund the programme and make the case for additional funding from the European Commission. I am not certain how successful that case will be, but it is certain that a strong case can be made in the context of the BMW region, given the continued inclusion of that region in a particular category [803]for EU funding. It is clear that the experience we have gained from the administration of the programme is important in planning for the future.

The 33 city and county child care committees are central to the development of child care services at local level. The remit of the 33 committees is to advance child care service provision in local areas by developing co-ordinated strategies for child care provision in each area, providing information on the provision of child care and local countywide networks and supporting initiatives which target all categories of child care providers, from highly structured centre-based crèches to child minding. The membership of the committees is broadly based and intended to be representative of key stakeholders in each county’s child care sector. Committee members give freely of their time to the process. It was recommended that the structures be balanced to include representation from a wide variety of local interests.

I never cease to be amazed at the amount of work done by such committees, which are not established under statute. The committee members, who are not entitled to draw down expenses for attending meetings, exhibit a high degree of motivation. They try to work out the most appropriate form of investment in their local authority functional areas. They consider the measures which can be adopted to improve the quality of child care in their areas. They determine where the quantitative needs are in the relevant local authority areas.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I join the Minister of State in praising the committees.

Mr. B. Lenihan:  I thank the Deputy. The equality for women measure is designed to tackle barriers to equality for women, including attitudinal, structural and institutional barriers. A programme is under way in that regard. Tax benefits, welfare payments and employment and training initiatives aim to reduce the number of working people who are poor and eliminate inactivity, unemployment and poverty traps.

Measures that have helped encourage participation in the labour force include structural changes to the taxation and social welfare system designed to make work pay and strengthen conditionality for unemployment payments. The current programme lists the priorities to be achieved over the next five years. It is hoped to ensure that those on the national minimum wage are removed from the tax net and that 80% of all earners pay tax only at the standard rate.

The county child care strategy is implemented through a series of annual action plans which are subject to a thorough appraisal before applications are approved for funding by the Minister through the programme appraisal committee structure.

A high level group on child care and early childhood education, chaired by the National [804]Children’s Office, was established to consider co-ordination in the child care and early education areas and the national policy implications arising from the OECD’s review of this area. The decision to establish the high level group arose from a paper prepared last year by the National Children’s Office for the Cabinet committee on children. The terms of reference of the high level working group on child care include to recommend an integrated national policy on child care and early education which will result in improved co-ordination at national and local level and which incorporates a child-centred approach to service delivery. The group is chaired by the National Children’s Office and comprises representatives of many Departments. It is intended to bring a policy paper to the Cabinet by the end of 2004.

The Government is committed to the development of pre-school education. The enhancement of early childhood services, in accordance with the White Paper on Early Childhood Education, Ready to Learn, is being undertaken on a collaborative and phased basis. It will draw together and build on the many examples of best practice in early childhood education that have emerged over recent years. Special emphasis will be placed on the provision of appropriate pre-school education in areas of social deprivation and for those with special needs to help combat disadvantage and promote education. The Department of Education and Science supports the early start scheme to this end. The scheme funds 40 centres which aim to expose children from disadvantaged areas aged between three and four to a positive pre-school environment to improve their overall development and long-term educational experience and performance.

The Department has made substantial funding available to the VECs to assist the child care expenses of participants in VTOS, Youthreach and senior Traveller training centres. I would like to have discussed a number of issues pertaining to the equality agenda, including adoptive leave, but my time is up. I thank Members for their attention and I commend the amendment to the House.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I thought the Minister of State had forgotten about the motion.

Mr. Neville:  I would like to share time with Deputies Twomey and Coveney.

I welcome the motion. The Minister said that children should be central to any public policy, and I support him wholeheartedly. However, to say that it is happening in effect is another matter. I know that the Minister’s wishes are such and that he is committed to it, but there are certainly areas of extreme concern when it comes to children being central to certain policies. I will give one example that I may have raised with the Minister already.

Describing psychiatric services for children as a disgrace is mild. There is no dedicated psychiatric [805]service for those aged 16 to 18. It is accepted by all psychiatric professionals that adult psychiatric services are totally inappropriate to children of 16 to 18 — our definition of a child is under 18. The child psychiatric service is totally underfunded and because children aged 14 to 16 tend to have a great many problems, it concentrates on that group. Younger children are ignored and the effect is that one is really not tackling their problems. The psychiatric services are surely just one example of children not being central to a policy. I recently attended an international conference where the fact was raised that we do not have such services for children aged 16 to 18. In our area, we have seen children as young as 11 with adult psychiatric patients, which is totally inappropriate and unacceptable.

With regard to the motion, Ireland has changed over the past decade and a half. We have seen many changes in the economic and employment area. They have all been very welcome and have shown a level of success. However, they have caused social and cultural changes that have had as much effect on the population as the economic development itself. We have not dealt with those as effectively, or paid the same attention to them, as we did with economic and employment developments. We have not examined the cultural and social changes that have arisen because of economic development. The quality of life has not kept pace with the standard of living. Many families find themselves under pressure. Housing issues were raised. Any couple wishing to own a home has had no choice for the past decade but for parents, father and mother, to be in employment. While occasionally people are able to be house husbands or housewives, that is extremely rare because of the economic pressures of economic development. We have not dealt with that.

Many families now have two parents at work and must seek to juggle the needs of their children with the demands of their career and education. Some parents have child and elder care responsibilities. Recently we discussed the elderly in this House. It is not unusual for a family to concern themselves with their parents and children while both parents are in employment. Modern pressures are of great significance in the area. Time is a new pressure. More families’ time is spent working, but there is less direct support through extended family networks, with which I will deal later. It is often harder on those lower down the income scale and those caring alone.

The traditional pattern of the family with a male wage earner and a female dependant at home caring for the children is no longer the norm. An OECD study shows that women’s employment in Ireland is at the EU average of 56%, an increase of 140% since 1971. Women’s participation in the labour force is expected to grow by a further 218,000 by the year 2011. The number of parents raising their children alone has risen, a new phenomenon in Irish society. Employment rates among lone parents are low, and lone parent families are disproportionately at [806]risk of poverty. Child care and other supports are necessary to allow them to access work, training and education where needed to support their families. A major initiative is required to allow young single parents in particular — mothers in most cases — to access education so that they might be allowed the life opportunities they deserve. Being a mother should not inhibit a person from furthering her education.

The last Estimates withdrew the crèche supplement, a vital payment to families on low incomes that helped people get out of the poverty trap by enabling parents to work. For other families on the average industrial wage, there is a need for both parents to work to pay the mortgage or provide for the family’s medical bills. For many, there is no element of choice about whether one parent works or stays at home to care for children. The growing pressures facing families have been ignored. Rapid development has heaped a disproportionate burden on young families, especially young mothers. Work-life balance has become an issue because of wide-ranging economic and social changes. In recent decades, the supports of extended families and communities have been weakened, another substantial change in Irish society. Previous generations had support from their extended family of grandparents, uncles, aunts, in-laws and first cousins, but the new nuclear family where people move in modern society dictates that people are alone, without such support systems. That is a key change affecting many young people, for example, through the loss of assistance with child minding, which was previously available through the extended family.

Parents at work need more flexibility to deal with longer-term child care and emergencies for their children during the day. Employers must remember that they are employing members of families rather than just productive units. Having previously been involved in personnel, I abhor the new term that came in ten or 15 years ago, “human resources”. People are regarded by most employers as human resources, but there is more to them than that. They are families, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and so on. There is a great deal more to a human than just the resource value. If families are dislocated, the firm will not be immune to the effects. Employers must accept responsibility for that, as must the State. Labour law should be reviewed to recognise the changes needed to accommodate a situation where both parents are at work and sharing the obligations of parenting. Employers should be incentivised to assist the development of family-friendly work practices.

I spoke of lone parents, and it is important that we recognise the child’s right to know and be parented by both parents — we have stated that on numerous occasions. I approach this not from the point of view of the rights of fathers or mothers, but from those of the child. We have not studied, and do not fully understand, the implications of changes in society where one third of children are [807]born to single mothers. We do not know how many of those are reared in one-parent families since the statistics on partnerships do not exist. However, the vast majority of those are reared by one-parent families. We must change our culture to demand that a child has the right to parenting from both parents. There is an obligation on both to do so and both have a right to such involvement.

Increasing the provision of adequate child care means more than encouraging women back to the workforce and allowing them to stay there.

Dr. Twomey:  No matter what the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, said, there are huge deficits in the provision of child care, child welfare and the education of our children. When the Disability Bill goes through this House we will see how bad are these weaknesses in the system.

It is impossible for me to consider all the issues raised tonight, but two have stood out clearly since I was elected to Dáil Éireann. They are the equal opportunities child care programme, which has been a fantastic success, and the VTOS child care supports. Sometimes I believe the Government has no social conscience. It sets up these excellent social programmes for children and parents, yet when they are barely established it seems it is hell-bent on tearing them down again. That is often the impression of many of the people who benefit from these schemes.

Some people say the Government is pathologically or at least psychologically unable to consider the Swedish, Finnish, Danish or any other socially progressive child care model. There is a mindset which sees a need to support the schemes I have mentioned for only three years or less, with the schemes then expected to support themselves. Many schemes are supposed to become businesslike in that space of time and raise the funds to keep going. These are social programmes for looking after child care issues. Many other countries have such programmes as a norm. They do not view them as something special to be brought to a community for three or four years before being dismantled. They should be built on. In my constituency I have seen hard work put into such schemes, yet they are not funded by the Government in a way that would allow them develop and become stronger. No matter what we say about EU or Government funding, the Government does not seem committed to child care schemes but presumes it can extract the maximum work from parents and forget about what is coming for the next generation.

We have exploited the Celtic generation and now we are letting down what we might call the Celtic cubs. In the past seven years to which the Government regularly refers, since 1997 or so, many people in this country have made between €50 million and €500 million, yet we are letting down the people who sustained the progress for [808]this country during those years. It is time the Government faced up to these important responsibilities. Vital funding is wasted with people having to go through a maze of bureaucracy when reapplying for funds. They have to go to four or five different organisations for pre-approval and post-approval and whatever further layers are required for people to get funding for systems which are up and running and working well.

Parents also suffer huge anxiety as the Government fails to decide whether it wants to look after the child care needs of the next generation of children. If we have forced people out to work because of our tax policies and the way we have run the economy, the least we can do is deliver a proper child care system to the people left at home.

Many of the aims mentioned here tonight are achievable. Some will be dismissed immediately by many of those on the Government benches because the Government finds it hard to accept even the most basic programmes such as the equal opportunities child care programme. It certainly would find it difficult to accept the VTOS child care supports because it has attempted to dismantle them so quickly after they were set up. It is odd how such things happen immediately after an election. Now that we are facing into another period of crisis for the Government, we will surely hear a great deal more about these schemes again. That is not the way to look after the child care needs of this generation, whether those of single mothers who would like to go out to work or get an education, single fathers who would like to get support in looking after their children or would like to further their education, or the cases we are seeing more often where both parents are expected to go out to work. Often they are not going to work to pay off big mortgages but to maintain a basic standard of living because in the past seven to ten years there have been huge cost increases for even the most basic commodities. These people are forced out to work and are merely trying to maintain a standard of living they might have had 15 years ago.

We must wake up to what child care provision, child welfare, child education and child health issues mean. We will leave it to the Government parties to see if they can come up with something better in their amendments than what we have seen so far this evening.

Mr. Coveney:  I thank the other Opposition parties for bringing this motion before the House and affording us an opportunity to discuss child care. For a certain sector of Irish people, child care has been an important issue for some time. As many Deputies noted tonight, Ireland has changed dramatically, almost unrecognisably, in the past two decades. Incomes and employment have increased and our physical infrastructure
[809]has improved. There are nevertheless serious quality of life questions which apply to many people, which the Government has let slip. Family circumstances have changed as dramatically as our road systems. In most families, particularly young ones, both parents are working out of necessity or choice. Family structures have also changed because there are more single parent families which need State support different from that provided in the past. As the workforce increases and more Irish people are working, there is less time for parenting, which poses problems. As a party which prides itself on the promotion of family values and the support of family life, Fine Gael is interested in such issues.

Many people agree with these sentiments but are too busy to stand up and say so. When surveyed in 2002, 62% of mothers and 86% of fathers in Ireland said that they would like to spend more time with their families but were unable to do so because of work commitments. Time has become a key commodity for parents and all too often parents are forced to choose between spending time at work and spending time with their children or their elderly family members. Unfortunately, work is the priority, most of the time, out of necessity. The Government needs to find ways of providing more family-friendly successful policies. IBEC estimates that four out of five companies countrywide have some form of family-friendly work policies within the structures of their businesses. Further support is needed there.

I will concentrate on two key areas of child care, provision and cost. I welcome the Government policy of providing capital tax incentives to companies to continue to provide physical child care facilities in the workplace. That must continue. We must strongly encourage companies in this regard and make it financially worth their time. I am a great believer in using the taxation system as a way of incentivising a progressive change. We should continue with the policy referred to even more aggressively than in the past. The State must take a more proactive approach towards building a physical child care infrastructure where the workplace clearly cannot provide it. There are blackspots in every constituency. Even if every company in the country were to provide child care facilities, there would still be parents in need of State assistance with community child care facilities. Previous speakers mentioned other working models in Europe. We need to look at them and copy them. It is not a matter of re-inventing the wheel.

I will make an important but perhaps controversial point regarding the cost for parents. The time has come to allow middle-income earners, in particular, to write off at least a portion of the cost of child care against income tax. As the [810]debate must now adjourn, I will, perhaps, explain that point to the Minister.

Debate adjourned.

Dr. Devins:  We are in the midst of reform of the health service and it is hoped this reform will take many different shapes and sizes. I welcome the fact that information technology or IT services will be centralised. Until now, IT services have been run on an ad hoc basis by each health board. In the past, certain health boards could not communicate with others through their IT services. I hope this problem will soon be a thing of the past.

Arising out of the fact that IT services will be centralised, I ask the Minister of State to give serious consideration to the introduction of medical smart cards. Everyone is aware that patient records are extremely important. Most GPs now keep comprehensive computerised records of their patients’ histories, including information on drugs they are taking, their relevant past medical details, allergies they may have, their blood groups, etc. When a patient is referred to a hospital, it is frequently the case that all that accompanies them is a letter. Sometimes such letters are comprehensive and outline in great detail the information to which I have just referred. In many cases, however, tests are duplicated in hospitals.

Let us consider a case where a patient becomes ill while away from home. A doctor in a hospital or the GP who sees him will frequently not have access to the information relative to him. I propose, therefore, that each patient should have a smart card, similar to a bank card, to carry. All the relevant information could be stored on the card. Whoever sees the patient would then be able to access the information immediately. There will be situations where patient confidentiality could be disturbed. I propose, therefore, that each patient would be given a unique PIN number — again, similar to that which accompanies one’s bank card — of which only he or she would have knowledge. Introducing smart cards would represent a strong step forward, while PIN numbers would ensure that patient confidentiality would be totally and utterly maintained.

In light of the reforms being put in place, I ask the Minister of State to seriously consider the introduction of such a card. I understand that such cards are available in certain states in Australia and that the system is working well.

[811]Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  At present, there are no plans to introduce medical smart cards. The national health information strategy was launched earlier this year. This sets out a strategic direction for the future application of information technology in the health services. Following on from this, an information technology strategy is being finalised under the auspices of the Health Boards Executive. This will be more technology oriented and is designed to facilitate, in due course, consideration of the appropriateness of specific technology tools and services which would include smart cards.

In general the use of smart cards in health is being considered internationally for patient identification only, patient identification and emergency medical data or patient identification, emergency medical data, and some part of the patient’s medical record. However, the use of smart cards in health is not widespread. Various pilot trials are in operation and the jury seems to be still out on the precise role smart cards will play in the future in health. The predominant view seems to be that they will be used for patient identification only, with medical information held on a separate database rather than on the card itself. Considerations of data security, costs and acceptability to patients are high on the agenda in discussions about the use of smart cards in the area of health. While the concept of using smart cards in health has been discussed for a considerable period, this has not been reflected in implementation on the ground.

The Department of Health and Children is participating in a recent initiative of the Department of Social and Family Affairs regarding the development of a standards-based framework for the public service card, using the personal public service number as a unique identifier. This will mean that any initiative for a public service card to access services, including those relating to health, will be fully compatible with the framework, rather than a client having to carry multiple cards that would, perhaps, require different types of access equipment. It is envisaged that use of the personal public service number as a unique identifier in the health service will be covered by legislation which will follow as part of the overall e-Government programme.

As well as our national initiative under the e-Government programme, the European Commission is also active in this area and is planning adoption of an electronic health insurance card by 2008. Discussion on this is at a very early stage. This would replace the European health insurance cards introduced this year as a replacement for E111 cards.

While there are no smart cards in use in the health services, the general medical services payments board uses a card with a magnetic strip for drug refunds. This can be used in a community [812]pharmacy to validate eligibility. The general medical services board is participating in the Department of Social and Family Affairs initiative to which I referred earlier and any future developments of cards, including medical cards, managed by the board will be in compliance with whatever outcome emerges from that initiative.

Mr. Perry:  I am delighted the Minister of State is present and I hope he will be able to provide answers on this important issue.

Since 2001 the Government has illegally charged thousands of elderly pensioners in public nursing homes. Prior to that date, health boards were legally entitled to seek a contribution from medical card holders in long-term care. In other words, their full eligibility to free inpatient service was reduced and the health boards could legally seek a contribution from them. For anyone 70 or over, the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2001 clearly confers full eligibility to free inpatient services. The Act does not allow for that eligibility to be diminished of for charges to be levied.

Does the Minister of State accept that all persons aged 70 or over in public nursing homes have been illegally charged since 2001? Will he quantify the number of pensioners affected and the amount of money they have paid in the past three years? How long has the Department of Health and Children and successive Ministers been aware of this illegal charging? Will he arrange to have those patients who have been overcharged reimbursed from the central Exchequer and not from the already over-stretched health budget?

I will now set out the position in respect of charges for persons in long-term care units. These units include community-district hospitals, community nursing units and those private nursing homes where the State contracts beds for the provision of long-term care. Under section 45 of the Health Act 1970, a chief executive officer is empowered to change the eligibility status of a card. However, under section 1 of the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2001, section 45 of the 1970 Act was amended to include the term “a person who is not less than 70 years of age ... shall have full eligibility”. This cannot be diminished.

The Department must be aware that this illegal charging has been implemented for the past three years and that it is ongoing. Has it sought an opinion from its legal advisers since 2001? What has it done about such advice and when will it remedy the situation? Has the Tánaiste been apprised of the huge liability that will befall the State?

There is no ambiguity about this illegality. The Minister must take immediate and decisive action to initiate a thorough inquiry into how her Department allowed this unacceptable scenario [813]to arise and continue for more than three years. The Government must indicate whether the decision to give full eligibility to all persons over 70 years was intended so that they would not have to contribute towards long-term care. If such a person has been illegally charged, how much is estimated to be involved and what steps will be taken to refund the amounts charged? Will compensation be paid to those persons as a result of the losses they incurred?

The Ombudsman’s reports of 2002 and 2003 highlighted cases in which refunds had been made. There is, therefore, a precedent. The health boards have raised this matter with the Department. What advice has been received? What is happening about these charges? Responsibility rests entirely with the Government, not the health boards, which sought legal opinion on this matter in the past three years. No decisive action has resulted.

The scheme was introduced prior to the last general election and the number of people eligible under it was miscalculated. Full eligibility was given to people in long-term care. Prior to that, the medical card could be diminished once the patient went into long-term care. These cards, however, cannot be diminished. There is a legal obligation on the State in this regard. I have dealt with several cases in which probate was taken out and the State recovered debt where people illegally received pension entitlements. It was taken from their estate. The State has taken money illegally from the most vulnerable people in society. I call on the Minister to ensure all illegal charges are refunded. This serious issue stretches back over three and a half years.

Mr. T. O’Malley:  I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. Eligibility for health services is primarily based on residency and means. Under the Health Act 1970, determination of eligibility for medical cards is the responsibility of the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board other than for persons aged 70 years and over, who are automatically eligible for a medical card.

Medical cards are issued to persons who, in the opinion of the chief executive officer, are unable to provide general practitioner medical and surgical services for themselves and their dependants without undue hardship. It is open to all persons to apply to the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board for health services if they are unable to provide these services for themselves or their dependants without hardship.

However, the principle that it is fair and reasonable that those who can afford to contribute to the cost of their long stay care should do so is central to our system of publicly funded long-term care. The health strategy reinforces this point and states:

It is recognised that quality care is expensive and that the bulk of the cost of providing a high [814]standard of quality care should be borne by the exchequer. Nonetheless, it is fair that all those in receipt of publicly provided residential long-term care should make some payment towards accommodation and daily living costs, if they can afford to do so, just as they would if they were living in the community. This principle supports the aim to provide as high quality a service as possible and to make the most equitable use of resources and thus to help maximise the availability of these services.

The current position reflects this approach.

Charges for long-stay care in health board institutions may be raised under the Health (Charges for Inpatient Services) Regulations 1976, as amended in 1987. These regulations enable charges to be made towards the cost of providing hospital inpatient services for persons with income who have been in receipt of such services for more than 30 days or periods totalling more than 30 days within the previous 12 months. Inpatient service charges are payable only by persons with limited eligibility. Medical card holders are exempt from the charges, as are persons with dependants.

Charges may also be made under the Institutional Assistance Regulations 1965 where the patient receives “shelter and maintenance” rather than treatment. These charges apply from the date of admission and are payable by all patients in receipt of incomes, including medical card holders and persons with dependants.

Health boards have regard to the person’s individual circumstances in deciding the amount to be contributed. Allowance is made for the financial commitments the person may have and a reasonable amount is left to meet the person’s needs. Charges may be waived if, in the opinion of the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board, payment would cause undue hardship. Different arrangements apply to financial contributions from people availing of public long-stay care, as opposed to those accommodated in private nursing homes, for example, under the Health (Nursing Homes) Act 1990.

The health strategy, Quality and Fairness — A Health System for You, acknowledges the need to clarify and simplify eligibility arrangements and sets down a commitment to introduce new legislation to provide for the introduction of clear statutory provisions on entitlement and eligibility. A review of all existing legislation in this area has been carried out in my Department and this will inform the approach to the drafting of new legislation in this area. As part of this exercise, my Department will attempt to resolve the current differences in approach in the consideration of individuals’ ability to pay under the various regulations in this area. My Department is consulting the Attorney General on these issues and will address this situation in light of the advice [815]received. I trust this assists in clarifying the position for the Deputy.

Mr. Sherlock:  I am glad of the opportunity to raise the matter of the urgent need for the early implementation of the flood relief programme for Fermoy, County Cork, which was approved following public consultation, and the urgent need for the provision of finance at an estimated cost of €24.4 million, especially given the substantial damage to business and residential property. Business and residential premises were badly flooded in the Brian Boru Square and Rathealy Road area of the town.

Flood relief plans, which were drawn up simultaneously for Mallow, have received the go-ahead. They will be implemented in the new year at a cost of €25 million. Both schemes were drafted at the same time and I call on the Minister of State to commence the Fermoy scheme. It would be better to implement it rather than compensate people for damage to their property.

Mr. Coveney:  I am glad the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, is present. He visited Clonmel to view the damage caused last week but I do not know whether he visited Cork. It is also nice that the new Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, is present and showing interest in this issue.

Mr. Kenny:  Is he not from Ballincollig?

Mr. Coveney:  He is Minister for the incinerator. A significant number of households and businesses in Cork were destroyed or severely damaged by flooding last week. Many of the businesses affected are not insured because of their location. It was too expensive for some to take out insurance while others were not quoted at all, particularly in the heart of Cork city and Carrigaline. The Minister of State was on radio discussing this issue earlier and he correctly informed people about what is happening. How much compensation is available to households and businesses? What are the criteria? How can people apply? How long must they wait before they get it? What plans has the Government to put funds and strategies in place to ensure the likelihood of such carnage is reduced in future? The flooding in Carrigaline, which the Minister of State, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, will know well, mirrors the flooding of four years ago. Engineering solutions to the problems have been put on the long finger because the necessary grant aid from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is not forthcoming in order to move forward schemes such as the Cork harbour main drainage scheme that affects areas like Carrigaline. The housing estate of Mount Rivers had between 30 and 35 houses under five [816]or six feet of water at certain times during the flooding. We must ensure that everything possible is done to minimise the chance of that happening in the future. Generous and swift relief must be provided for people who do not have insurance cover for the damage caused. Some areas will not be provided with insurance cover in the future. Insurance companies have informed householders that they will be covered on this occasion but not in the future. The State needs to step in when instances such as these occur. The State has allowed development to proceed and this has added to the engineering problems that resulted in the flooding of last week.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  I express sympathy on my own behalf and that of the Government to everyone affected by the flooding throughout the country over several days during the last week of October 2004. This has been a traumatic experience for everyone affected.

The Government has today approved and announced a humanitarian aid package to relieve hardship arising from the flooding of people’s homes as a result of this severe rainfall. OPW officials will meet the Irish Red Cross Society in the morning to progress the matter and details of the scheme will be announced as quickly as possible. The Irish Red Cross Society has much experience in handling such schemes and invariably does so in the most efficient and humane way.

The Government is committed to a strategic flood management policy. Just last month the Government approved the recommendations of the flood policy review group. This confirms the lead role of the OPW in taking a strategic approach to flood management in the future and working in co-operation with the relevant local authorities. The programme of flood relief schemes currently on hand will be implemented as resources permit in the context of an integrated, long-term strategy on flood management. This strategy calls for considerable emphasis on non-structural flood management measures, for example, flood warning systems, flood mapping, guidelines on development and formulation of catchment flood risk management plans to foster a catchment-based approach to flood management. Account will be taken of the need to prioritise expenditure in the areas of greatest need and to be mindful of the implications of climate change.

The OPW has conducted feasibility studies to assess flood risk and to develop flood alleviation schemes in several areas throughout the country prone to flooding. These studies have been undertaken either by OPW’s engineering services or through external consultants and include such areas as Clonmel, County Tipperary, Mallow and Fermoy in County Cork, Waterford city, Carlow town, Mornington, County Meath, and Ennis, County Clare. Other areas, which include Enniscorthy County Wexford, Templemore, County [817]Tipperary, Arklow, County Wicklow, and Tullow, County Carlow, are currently in the process of having feasibility studies completed. The OPW works closely with local authorities in the development and implementation of flood relief schemes.

A number of these proposed schemes will be placed on formal public exhibition by the OPW early in 2005. Phase one of the Mallow flood relief scheme is currently being exhibited by the local authority under Part 8 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, and subject to it successfully completing the planning stage, will commence construction work in March 2005. These works will be funded by the OPW and executed by the local authority. The timetable for completing all phases of all these schemes will depend on the availability of funds and prioritisation of the large number of schemes that are required in the various locations.

Deputy Sherlock raised the issue of exhibiting the Fermoy flood relief scheme by a Part 8 process, but this will not be possible as most of the lands affected are in private ownership, which means that the best method of exhibition and construction will be under the Arterial Drainage Acts. In any case, before the Fermoy scheme is built it is essential to have an effective flood warning system in operation and the OPW has already commenced this development as part of phase one of the scheme. The formal public exhibition of this scheme, as required under the Arterial Drainage Acts, will take place early in 2005.

Mr. Kenny:  I wish to share my time with Deputies Cooper-Flynn and Cowley. I was surprised last Sunday evening to receive a message on my telephone that it was proposed to unveil a new proposal for thermal treatment of asbestos to be sited at the old Asahi plant at Killala, run by Irish Environmental Processors Limited of Dublin, in association with ARI Technologies of Washington, USA. This has given rise to grave concerns in the area. Local people have expressed fears about the disposal of asbestos.

I wish to highlight the Government’s policy on the disposal of asbestos. As the Minister of State will be aware, the Asahi plant was the recipient of acrylonitrile, a very dangerous substance that was transported by rail to Ballina station for many years and from there to the Asahi plant at Killala by special container. The road was specifically developed for that purpose. Six hundred people attended a meeting last night on the situation. I wish to ask the Minister of State about Government policy on thermal treatment of asbestos as distinct from disposal of asbestos in landfill as licensed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Whatever proposal was made for an incinerator at Ringaskiddy, Cork County Council refused to zone the land for that purpose and the application could not proceed. Twenty thousand [818]objections were received. The proposers brought their proposal to Bord Pleanála and the board’s inspector gave 15 reasons the incinerator should not go ahead. However, it did go ahead, by virtue of an extraordinary decision by Bord Pleanála, because it was based on “Government policy”. What is Government policy in regard to the disposal of toxic asbestos by thermal treatment? We know nothing about this. I understand that ARI Technologies has been licensed and certified by the EPA in the United States. This seems to be a proposal that will cause a great deal of controversy. The road system in that region is not capable of dealing with this proposal. If this is to be the only asbestos disposal treatment unit in Europe, does this not mean that imports of other contaminated and toxic waste could end up on the shores of County Mayo? For the sake of an investment of €10 million and 31 jobs, it does not appear to be a very favourable solution for an area that has been suffering from unemployment for some years. If it is possible I wish the Minister of State to inform the House of the Government policy on the disposal of asbestos by thermal treatment. Is the Government in support of that method?

With reference to Ringaskiddy, if the Government supports this method, there is little we can do about it but if it does not, then we can fight it.

Ms Cooper-Flynn:  I thank Deputy Kenny for allowing me a few brief moments of his time. One thing on which we know Government policy is the issue of job creation. Government policy states that through the Government agencies, 50% of all new jobs created will go to the BMW region. In light of that fact, the House will be surprised to know that in 2002 and 2003, the net jobs created in County Mayo was minus 366 in 2002 and minus 87 in 2003. A cynical person and a cynical Deputy, which I do not believe I am, would say that the only two new projects that came to my county in recent years were a sludge drying plant for Geesala and this proposal for an asbestos thermal treatment plant at the old Asahi site near Killala. This will create a maximum of approximately 30 jobs over a period of ten years. Some 600 people from the local community, a large proportion of the people from the Killala area, attended a local meeting last night. They are totally opposed to this project. It means three to five truck movements carrying asbestos through the town of Ballina out to the plant every day. It might represent a €10 million investment at the plant but that is of no benefit to the people of the area. An examination of the risk benefit analysis, would cause one to ask what is in it for the people of Mayo. What is known about the pioneering technology that this company proposes to use? Does the Government know anything about it? Does it consider it to be safe? What is the track record of this company in the area in asbestos thermal treatment? What are the policies of the Government with regard to bringing asbestos from other countries into Ireland and treating it [819]here thermally? What is the current level of asbestos?

Dr. Cowley:  I am very grateful to Deputy Kenny for the opportunity to speak on this important matter. I attended the meeting last night, which was attended by several hundred people, and not one person spoke in favour of this project because Mayo is getting the jobs no other area wants. We do not want the jobs other areas do not want. We want the same jobs as other areas but we have not been getting them because we do not have the necessary infrastructure. The Indecon report and the mid-term review of the national development plan proved that we did not get the investment for infrastructure that was given to other areas. There is underinvestment in Mayo.

  9 o’clock

We already have too much waste in Mayo. The waste from Sligo is brought to Ballina. A super-dump is planned for Carracastle to take the waste from Roscommon. These are dirty jobs. There was supposed to be 1,000 jobs in Asahi but it turned out to be 300. Those people are gone now but the mess has been left behind, yet it is intended to bring all the asbestos in the State to Mayo. Moving asbestos is dangerous. It causes fibres which can cause fibrosis and cancer of the lungs. That is a fact. It is obvious this project will create a major problem. The people of the area are not prepared to take these dirty jobs. They want proper jobs but they will be powerless if a Ringaskiddy type job is done on this. Will that happen or will the Minister allow democracy take its course because no one in Mayo wants these jobs?

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. B. O’Keeffe):  I thank Deputies Kenny, Flynn and Cowley for raising a matter that is obviously of major importance to them.

I am aware from media reports of the apparent intention of a company to seek to develop a waste facility for asbestos in County Mayo. I understand also that the proposers of the project have had discussions with the local authority. There is nothing to prevent individuals or companies from seeking to develop waste management facilities. Indeed, the private sector plays an important and growing role in the provision of waste management services and infrastructure. Any such development, however, must comply with our stringent planning and environmental standards. It would be necessary for such a facility to obtain planning permission from the relevant local auth[820]ority and to secure appropriate licensing from the Environmental Protection Agency. These processes operate independently of the Government.

The EPA has prepared a national hazardous waste management plan, as it is required to do under the Waste Management Act, and established an associated implementation committee. This national plan recommends that Ireland strive to become self-sufficient in the management of hazardous waste. In this context, it recognises that the lack of hazardous waste disposal capacity is the principal bottleneck in dealing with this waste stream. Consequently, the plan recommends that hazardous waste disposal capacity in the form of thermal treatment and landfill be developed. Such developments would reduce or eliminate the unsustainable situation whereby significant and increasing quantities of hazardous waste are exported for recovery and disposal. There is an onus on Ireland to address this problem and to take responsibility for the waste we generate.

Proposals for hazardous waste treatment facilities will be examined by the EPA bearing in mind the national hazardous waste management plan’s target that we move towards self-sufficiency in dealing with this waste stream. In dealing with licence applications, however, the EPA is precluded from licensing a facility unless satisfied that the activity, when carried out under licence, will not cause environmental damage. The agency sets stringent emission value limits to meet the accepted EU standards and guidelines as a minimum requirement. It also evaluates the potential impact of the maximum licensed emission on the environment surrounding the facility to ensure that all EU standards for the environment and all guidelines of the World Health Organisation are met. The agency takes the view that if the licensed emission limit is complied with, human health is protected in line with best international practice. Appropriate monitoring and auditing of the operation of the facility is carried out by the agency to ensure compliance.

The reality is that additional capacity is required nationally to deal with the hazardous waste we generate. However, proposals on the provision of such facilities will be subjected to the normal stringent and independent planning and environmental assessments. I am satisfied that these processes are sufficiently robust to ensure that necessary facilities are developed only to a scale and in locations compatible with the highest standards in terms of the protection of human health and the environment.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 3 November 2004.

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

Questions Nos. 1 to 37, inclusive, answered orally.

Questions Nos. 38 to 110, inclusive, resubmitted.

Questions Nos. 111 to 118, inclusive, answered orally.

  119.  Mr. Sherlock    asked the Minister for Transport    the number of persons killed and injured in road traffic accidents to date in 2004; the way in which it compares with 2003; the steps he intends to take to cut road fatalities and injuries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26957/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Statistics relating to road accidents, based on information provided by the Garda Síochána, are published by the National Roads Authority in its annual road accident facts reports. The most recent report is in respect of 2002 and that report, along with reports relating to previous years, is available in the Oireachtas Library.

Provisional figures for the number of road deaths in 2004 up to 1 November show there were 313 fatalities compared with 288 for the same period last year, which represents an increase of 25. While the increase in road deaths so far this year is a cause of immediate concern, it should be looked at against the background of the significant progress achieved, especially in recent years. In that context, the number of road deaths in the first ten months of this year is the second lowest figure since 1998, which was the first full year of the first road safety strategy.

The primary target of the new Government strategy on road safety is to realise a 25% reduction in road collision fatalities by the end of 2006 over the average annual number of fatalities in the 1998 to 2003 period. Achievement of the target will result in no more than 300 deaths per annum by the end of the period of the strategy and will assist in the achievement of the longer term EU target of a 50% reduction in road deaths across the EU by 2010.

To support the development of the new strategy, a major independent review of the previous strategy was carried out by an international expert on road safety. His report, which has been used to inform the development of the new road safety strategy, confirms that basing the primary targets on the achievement of progress in the areas of speeding, drink driving and seat-belt wearing, was the correct approach. For that reason, these remain the key areas of the new strategy. The strategy proposes a range of [822]measures in the enforcement, engineering, education and legislation areas in order to target further reductions in deaths and injuries. An integrated strategic approach will ensure that the road safety agencies work together to achieve the targets set out in the new strategy.

  120.  Mr. Stagg     asked the Minister for Transport    when he expects to receive the report of the working group evaluating the potential for the phased reopening of the Sligo-Cork rail route; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26985/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  My predecessor set up an expert working group to carry out an examination of the western rail corridor proposal and to examine the potential for reopening the line. The working group, which is chaired by Mr. Pat McCann, chief executive of JurysDoyle Hotel Group plc, has held two meetings to date as well as a number of sub-group meetings. I understand that the next meeting of the group is to be held in Sligo on 5 November.

The working group is comprised of county managers, directors of the regional authorities, representatives of city and county development boards, the Western Development Commission, West-on-Track and the intercounty rail committee, Iarnród Éireann, the Railway Procurement Agency and my Department. The working group is examining and evaluating all aspects of the western rail corridor and while the group has been asked to conclude its deliberations as quickly as possible, no time limit has been set on how long this might be. I am, however, planning to meet the chairman of the group shortly to hear about how the work of the group is progressing.

  121.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the recent call by the Dublin City Business Association to join up the Luas lines in the city centre; if he intends to progress this project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27014/04]

  197.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will consider joining the two new Luas lines via an overground rail section through the city centre; and his views on whether such an overground section is merited regardless of whether approval is given for the first stage of the Dublin metro as proposed in the Platform for Change document or the city centre rail interconnector between Heuston Station and Spencer Dock also proposed in the same document. [26885/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 121 and 197 together.

In order to improve integration between public transport services in Dublin, I see value in joining together the red and green Luas lines. I understand that the board of the Railway Procurement [823]Agency, RPA, has considered a preliminary analysis of the feasibility and cost of linking both lines in the city centre and that a more detailed proposal will now be prepared for consideration by the board. Dublin City Council, together with the Dublin City Centre Business Association, have indicated strong support for such a link. I await the proposals from the RPA.

  122.  Mr. Boyle     asked the Minister for Transport    if an analysis has been carried out within his Department on the possible introduction of on-street light rail services in Cork city. [26891/04]

  195.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Transport    the progress which has been made in relation to reopening the rail link to Midleton in east Cork; the amount of money that has been made available; the timescale involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26759/04]

  196.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the continuance of the Cork to Midleton line into the city centre in view of the recent announcement of its reopening; if funding will be provided; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27028/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 122, 195 and 196 together.

In May of this year, the Government agreed to the development of a commuter rail service for Cork between Mallow and Midleton. This involves the relaying of track and signalling between Glounthaune and Midleton as well as the construction of a number of new stations along the length of the route.

Iarnród Éireann is currently undertaking an engineering feasibility study of the proposed Cork to Midleton section of the line. On completion of the study, Iarnród Éireann will be in a position to provide a more detailed projection of the costs involved. Funding for the project will be provided by the Exchequer, the EU and by special contributions schemes established by the local authorities in Cork.

A steering group, chaired by my Department, with representatives from Iarnród Éireann and Cork City and County Councils has been established to monitor the progress on the rail project and the concurrent residential and commercial development along the line. While there are no proposals in the Cork Area Strategic Plan 2020 to extend the line beyond Kent Station and provide an on-street light rail service, a bus service will integrate with rail services to bring commuters to the city centre.

  123.  Mr. Coveney    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the decision taken by Iarnród Éireann to increase by 25%, from January 2005, the rates it charges to its business customers to [824]transport rail freight; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27023/04]

  187.  Mr. Coveney     asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the opinion of Iarnród Éireann that the Government should provide State subsidies to businesses which use rail freight; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27024/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 123 and 187 together.

Iarnród Éireann receives significant funding annually from the Exchequer by way of capital grants and subvention towards operating expenditure. Such funding has been increasing annually in recent years and the company has succeeded in improving its overall financial performance. The allocation of subvention to different business areas is a matter for the company. I have no additional funds at my disposal for the provision of subsidies to private sector business for using rail freight.

As part of Iarnród Éireann’s plans to reshape its loss making operations the company has restructured its rail freight operations to refocus on the more profitable elements of rail freight and seek out new business in those areas where the rail mode is best suited to the traffic. I understand from the company that it has had some success in this regard and that its efforts are continuing. Iarnród Éireann’s decision to increase its charges is in line with its plans to return this aspect of its operations to profitability.

  124.  Mr. Costello    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has had discussions with the board or management of Aer Lingus on the way in which best to meet the company’s capital requirements to finance the company’s fleet replacement requirements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26956/04]

  138.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will be able to provide new finance capital to Aer Lingus to part finance the purchase of new aircraft. [26889/04]

  146.  Mr. Costello    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has received a report (details supplied) on the future of Aer Lingus; if it is intended to publish the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26955/04]

  170.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Transport    the Government’s proposals for the future of Aer Lingus; if the Government has decided not to proceed with proposals for the privatisation of Aer Lingus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26953/04]

  175.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will outline the recommendations contained in a report (details supplied) examining the investment options for Aer Lingus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27021/04]

  194.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    the position in regard to the future of Aer Lingus; if discussions are taking place or have concluded on the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26585/04]

  344.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Transport    the Government’s proposals for the future of Aer Lingus; if the Government has decided not to proceed with proposals for the privatisation of Aer Lingus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27201/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 124, 138, 146, 170, 175, 194 and 344 together.

I have already outlined the current position in regard to the future of Aer Lingus and the Goldman Sachs report in my response to Question No. 111. It will be a matter for the Cabinet sub-committee to decide whether to publish this report.

With regard to meetings with Aer Lingus, as part of a series of introductory meetings with chairmen and managements of all the semi-State bodies under my remit, I recently met the chairman and senior management of Aer Lingus. I have also met with the various trade unions at Aer Lingus. During the course of these meetings, there was some discussion on both future strategy and funding requirements but it was recognised that these matters would be dealt with in the context of the considerations of the Cabinet sub-committee. Officials from my Department meet on a regular basis with senior management to discuss normal business issues.

  125.  Mr. Boyle    asked the Minister for Transport    if the foreign soldiers landing in Shannon Airport on approved military refuelling flights have been counted as tourist visitors here within the statistical analysis that is carried out at the airport on visitors to the country. [26890/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The Central Statistics Office produces quarterly statistics on the number of tourists visiting Ireland. It has confirmed that the Central Statistics Office does not count foreign soldiers landing at Shannon on military refuelling flights as tourist visitors, since the soldiers do not actually leave the airport.

Shannon Airport management also keeps statistics on passengers passing through the airport. They do not count the soldiers as terminal traffic, that is, as passengers arriving into Shannon Airport who then go on to travel around Ireland. However, they do count the soldiers as part of the transit traffic using Shannon Airport. Shannon Airport does not classify passengers, in either terminal or transit traffic, as being either tourist or business-related.

  126.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Minister for Transport    if he proposes to ban the use of larger supercube trucks over the coming years. [26993/04]

  132.  Mr. Stagg    asked the Minister for Transport    when he expects to introduce the promised regulations restricting the height of trucks using roads here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26986/04]

  144.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Transport    the research which has been done into the potential safety hazards attached to supercube trucks. [26995/04]

  163.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Transport    if he proposes introducing a national height strategy in line with clearance height of the Dublin Port tunnel. [26994/04]

  178.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Minister for Transport    when the publication of draft regulations to reintroduce a maximum height for vehicles will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27020/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Mr. Callely):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 126, 132, 144, 163 and 178 together.

I am deferring any decision about supercube trucks and vehicle height in general until I have had the opportunity to consider the views of all parties with interests or concerns in the matter. To assist me in this process I will shortly publish a consultative paper that will outline the main issues and that will invite substantive observations on them. The consultation process will be open and inclusive and is being undertaken without any predetermined outcome. For that reason, a proposed maximum vehicle height will not be specified in the paper. It is my intention that the public consultation phase would be concluded by the end of the year.

  127.  Ms O’Sullivan     asked the Minister for Transport    if he will make a statement on the operation to date of the three new airport authorities, established following the abolition of Aer Rianta; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26948/04]

  180.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Transport    the future of the Great Southern Hotel Group in the context of the abolition of Aer Rianta; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26949/04]

  373.  Mr. Durkan     asked the Minister for Transport    if his attention has been drawn to the negative comments on the breaking up of Aer Rianta; the extent to which the proposals have been costed or set against the existing structures and net benefit identified; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27286/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 127, 180 and 373 together.

In keeping with the provisions of the State Airports Act 2004, the newly appointed board of the Dublin Airport Authority has a statutory mandate to do everything necessary to give effect to [827]the restructuring of the State airports. The new Shannon and Cork airport authorities have also been incorporated and in line with the framework provided by the State Airports Act 2004, these two new authorities will, in due course, own and operate their respective airports once sufficient distributable reserves are available to transfer the relevant assets.

Prior to the assets of Shannon and Cork airports being vested in their respective authorities, their boards are charged with preparing to assume full responsibility for the management and development of their airports. They are also empowered to undertake functions delegated to them, on an agreed basis, by the Dublin Airport Authority and the three airport authorities are currently discussing the scope and scale of such delegated functions. Each of the airport authorities are also required to prepare comprehensive business plans for their airports.

In accordance with the 2004 Act, the transfer of assets to Shannon and Cork airport authorities cannot take place earlier then 30 April 2005 and, thereafter, a phased approach will allow one of the new airport authorities to be vested first, that is, Shannon Airport, while Cork Airport will be vested once sufficient distributable reserves have been built up within the Dublin Airport Authority. Both I and the Minister for Finance must be satisfied as to the state of operational and financial readiness of the Shannon and Cork airport authorities before the assets of the airports are vested in those authorities. The formulation of comprehensive business plans by the new boards will be a key aspect of achieving operational and financial readiness. In furtherance of Dublin Airport Authority’s new role, the position of its principal subsidiaries, including the Great Southern Hotels Group, must be considered by the authority in the first instance and then by me.

Dublin Airport Authority will also engage fully with the Commission for Aviation Regulation which is charged with making a new regulatory determination of airport charges in respect of Dublin Airport. The new determination must be made as soon as practicable but in any event not later than 1 October 2005. The outcome of this process, which the Commission launched last month, will be a major factor in the dynamic effort required on the part of Dublin Airport Authority to address capacity provision at Dublin Airport where passenger traffic is projected to grow from almost 16 million in 2003 to 30 million by around 2018.

I am confident that the new boards of the three airport authorities will successfully meet the challenges ahead. Through more focused commercial operation, all three airports can play a greater role in stimulating and supporting regional and national economic activity to the benefit of their customers, both airlines and passengers, and of Irish tourism, trade and industry.

In tandem with the ongoing work to give effect to the restructuring, my Department will main[828]tain the engagement process with ICTU and the airport unions on the relevant areas of concern arising from the new legislative environment. In this regard, I recently appointed four worker directors, who were nominated by the unions, to the board of Dublin Airport Authority to fill the casual vacancies which were created on 1 October, pending the holding of worker elections. My Department has also asked the authority to accelerate the election process and it is the intention that the procedures required by the worker participation legislation will commence as soon as possible. In the case of the Shannon and Cork airport authorities, I am awaiting a full list of nominees from the unions for appointment as worker directors to the boards of those authorities on a temporary basis pending their establishment on a fully independent basis.

  128.  Dr. Upton    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will make a statement in relation to the authority which has responsibility for the Dublin Port tunnel in the event of a fire breaking out either now or when it is operational; if the project has been certified in respect of fire safety; if so, the person by whom; the specialised appliances available to deal with such occurrences; and the training which has been provided for the relevant authority. [26990/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The planning, design and implementation of national road improvement projects, including the Dublin Port tunnel project, is a matter for the National Roads Authority, NRA, and the local authority concerned — in this case Dublin City Council. The issue of fire safety is a matter for the contractor and Dublin City Council. As the employer of any staff engaged in the course of tunnel construction, the responsibility for the health and safety of those employees resides with the contractor on site.

I understand from Dublin City Council that in the event of a fire in the tunnels, Dublin Fire Brigade will render whatever assistance is necessary, including rescue and retrieval, to the incident controller in charge. The ultimate decision as to whether a Dublin Fire Brigade crew can enter a structure, including a tunnel, will always reside with the fire brigade officer in charge. I am informed that selected crews of Dublin Fire Brigade are currently being given specialised training for dealing with fire incidents in tunnels and that all specialist equipment, as may be appropriate, will be provided to Dublin Fire Brigade fire officers.

Dublin City Council has informed me that the tunnel boring machines are now finished and are being removed off site. The tunnels and escape passages are all open and the risk of a fire incident in the tunnels has been dramatically reduced. I understand that all the contractor’s workers have been trained in the use of fire extinguishers and evacuation procedures before [829]they were granted a pass which permits them to enter or work in the tunnels.

Question No. 129 answered with Question
No. 116.

  130.  Mr. Quinn    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the proposed route for the extension of the red Luas line to Spencer Dock; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26975/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The further development of the Luas network is the responsibility of the Railway Procurement Agency, RPA. The Railway Procurement Agency, RPA, is developing a proposal for an extension of the Tallaght to Connolly Station Luas line from Connolly Station to a terminal stop in the vicinity of the Point Depot. At present, my Department is awaiting a business plan from the RPA to assist in its evaluation of this extension.

I am aware that some concern has been expressed about possible disruption to operations of the IFSC if a Luas extension to the Point Depot is routed along Mayor Street and that an alternative alignment has been suggested. The RPA has prepared a technical analysis of the relative merits of the alignment options and is consulting widely with, among others, the Dublin Docklands Development Agency, Dublin Transportation Office and Dublin City Council. The board of the RPA will make a final decision on the alignment of the extension only when these consultations are completed. The proposals will also be the subject of a full public inquiry before a railway order can be granted.

  131.  Ms Shortall     asked the Minister for Transport,    further to Question No. 401 of 5 October 2004, the outcome of his discussions regarding the introduction of a combined bus, Luas and rail ticket pending the introduction of integrated ticketing. [26945/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  It has been agreed by the Railway Procurement Agency, Bus Átha Cliath and Iarnród Éireann that limited joint ticketing for light rail, bus and DART-commuter rail services will be introduced. The details of pricing and distribution are now under discussion by those parties and will be announced shortly.

Question No. 132 answered with Question
No. 126.

  133.  Mr. Gogarty    asked the Minister for Transport    when he expects the Dublin Port tunnel open for public use. [26894/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The planning, design and implementation of national road improvement projects, including the Dublin Port tunnel project, is a matter for the National Roads Authority, NRA, and the local authority concerned — in this case Dublin City Council. Traffic management issues are a matter, in the first instance, for Dublin City Council.

I understand from the NRA that construction of the tunnel is expected to be completed in December 2005 and I am informed that Dublin City Council is in the process of preparing a heavy goods vehicle, HGV, management plan for the city centre and which will also address non-port related HGV traffic movements. Dublin City Council has indicated that this plan will have three objectives, to ensure the optimal use by HGVs of the port tunnel, to minimise adverse effects of remaining HGV movements in the city and to manage the movement of vehicles not within permitted dimensions, for example, through permit systems. I am informed that Dublin City Council published a report on HGV management as a basis for a widespread public consultation exercise, that the public consultation period is now concluded and that the responses received are being evaluated in Dublin City Council. I understand that the HGV management plan, revised to take account of the submissions received, will be published by Dublin City Council shortly.

  134.  Mr. Cuffe    asked the Minister for Transport    the analysis he has carried out on the construction of a new direct rail line between Dublin and Navan; the projected cost of building such a line; the projected demand for a commuter service from the areas serviced by such a line; and the length of time it would it take to construct the line. [26887/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  At present, Iarnród Éireann, in conjunction with Meath and Fingal county councils, is undertaking a feasibility study, including a cost-benefit analysis, into providing a spur off the Dublin-Sligo railway line at Clonsilla as far as Dunboyne. This study I am informed is to be completed early next year. I understand all of the issues raised by the Deputy will be addressed in the feasibility study and the cost-benefit analysis. Under the DTO’s Platform for Change, the need for a rail line from Dunboyne to Navan before 2010 is not identified.

  135.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Transport    his plans to include the inspection of tax and insurance certificates as part of the NCTS; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26762/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Mr. Callely):  On behalf of the State, NCTS carries out periodic roadworthiness tests on pass[831]enger cars that are four or more years old in accordance with Directive 96/96/EC. I have no plans to include the inspection of tax and insurance certificates as part of the NCT or to involve NCTS in checking tax and insurance certificates generally.

  136.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has completed an evaluation of the CIE strategy document; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27022/04]

  145.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Transport    if he remains committed to the development of a metro link between Dublin Airport and the city centre by 2007 as outlined in the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27018/04]

  147.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Transport    when he will make a decision regarding the proposed first stage of the Dublin metro. [26888/04]

  168.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the proposal for a new 5.3 km. rail interconnector that would connect Pearse Station with Heuston; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26974/04]

  192.  Mr. Penrose     asked the Minister for Transport    the position with regard to his plans to bring forward to Cabinet proposals for the construction of a metro system in Dublin; when a final decision will be made on this matter in view of the continuing serious traffic problems; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26973/04]

  193.  Mr. Gormley     asked the Minister for Transport    if and when he intends to fund the proposed rail interconnector between Heuston Station and Spencer Dock as was proposed by Iarnród Éireann and the Platform for Change document produced by the Dublin Transportation Office. [26892/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 136, 145, 147, 168, 192 and 193 together.

The programme for Government contains a number of commitments for the further development of the rail network and includes a specific commitment to develop a metro for Dublin with a link to Dublin Airport. Arising from that programme, the Railway Procurement Agency has submitted to my Department a detailed business case for a metro from the city centre to Dublin Airport while Iarnród Éireann submitted to my Department in July last proposals for an integrated rail network in the greater Dublin area. These latter proposals include the electrification of the Kildare and Maynooth lines and an interconnector tunnel linking Heuston Station to the Docklands to enable greater integration of rail services. The proposals from the RPA and more [832]recently from Iarnród Éireann represent significant investments.

I am now examining these various proposals in the context of the overall needs of the greater Dublin area transport investment needs of the country as a whole and multi-annual funding available for transport investment. I will bring my proposals to Government when I have completed this review.

  137.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has made a final decision regarding whether the height of the Dublin Port tunnel should be raised; if not, when he expects this decision will be finally made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27019/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I announced on 21 October 2004 that the operational height of the Dublin Port tunnel will not be changed. My decision was based primarily on safety grounds but cost and time delays to the opening of the project were also factors.

The options for increasing the height of the tunnel were considered by the National Roads Authority, NMI Consortium, by independent consultants, Atkins, and by Dublin City Council. In addition, the contractor priced the work that would be involved in increasing the height of the tunnel. It was clear from this work that raising the height of the tunnel would not be justified having regard to a number of factors, including safety considerations relating to reducing lane widths which would, in the context of a tunnel carrying a very high percentage of heavy goods vehicles, including fuel tankers and other hazardous cargoes, constitute a reduction in overall tunnel safety. It is intuitively apparent that wider traffic lanes offer greater vehicle separation than narrower lanes. Another safety consideration relates to increasing the kerb height. It is apparent, on both an engineering and intuitive basis, that a 150 mm kerb must represent a safer provision than a 200 mm kerb height. It is the NRA’s position that the lower kerb height is preferable from a safety perspective. A further safety consideration relates to the overheight HGVs on the existing national road network and the implications of facilitating higher vehicles through the tunnel than the national motorway and road network can safely accommodate. Bridges and other structures on the motorways and national roads are not designed to cater for vehicles higher than the current tunnel height and safety concerns would arise over the discharge of any such vehicles from a revised tunnel onto the national road network. Additional cost and delay factors include a potential additional cost of at least €33 million and up to €65 million and seven months delay or more to completion of the tunnel.

Question No. 138 answered with Question
No. 124.

  139.  Mr. Eamon Ryan    asked the Minister for Transport    if the Government will carry out a review of the ratio of spending in the capital budget between investment in public transport and roads in view of the recent 75% increase in the cost of oil. [26884/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Investment in road and rail infrastructure is based on a long-term assessment of the transport infrastructure required to meet forecast economic and social demand for transport in the years ahead. The investment priorities are subject to periodic review taking account of all parameters which might affect future transport demand.

  140.  Mr. S. Ryan    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has plans to introduce new toll routes to fund completion of motorways linking Dublin with Cork, Galway, and the M50 upgrade; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26983/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The national development plan provides for significant private sector investment in the national roads development programme. In line with this policy, a number of major road upgrade projects throughout the country are being implemented by the NRA by means of public private partnerships, with the private sector being remunerated, in part, by user tolls. This will ensure earlier delivery of vital national road infrastructure.

The NRA’s current PPP programme comprises ten projects. In selecting these PPP projects the NRA had regard to a number of factors, including a geographical spread of tolls across the network; the extent of service improvement to be provided by the improved route; the availability of sufficiently high traffic volumes to ensure commercial viability; and the setting of tolls at an affordable and acceptable level to reduce diversion and gain public acceptance.

Having regard to these criteria it is clear that there is limited capacity, over and above the projects already identified by the NRA, across the national road network to support viable tolling arrangements. Nevertheless the increased cost of the national roads programme, combined with the demands of the other sectors which limit the capacity to allocate more Exchequer funding, require that all possibilities for generating additional funding to accelerate the implementation of the national roads programme be considered. In this context, and that of a broader review of the arrangements for the delivery of the programme, the NRA has identified a number of options for the development of tolling policy to enable the NRA to raise additional funding for the national roads programme. The proposals submitted by the NRA are currently being considered, in the first instance, in my Department.

  141.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Transport    the speed limit increases that were suggested by him for 43 specific sections of roadway around the country which have been agreed with the relevant local authorities. [26893/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  In the context of an overall review of speed limits carried out against the background of the metrication of such limits generally, county and city managers were asked in January 2003 to examine the position in regard to their areas. The primary focus of the examination was to ensure that the dis-application of default speed limits and the application of special speed limits were supported by by-laws. In addition, the authorities were asked to look at instances where speed limits might not be appropriate and to take any action they deemed to be appropriate.

My Department subsequently wrote to managers in March 2004 repeating the request to examine possible instances of inappropriate speed limits and outline the overall position in regard to the progress for metrication of speed limits. Both the Automobile Association and the Society for the Irish Motor Industry subsequently submitted to the then Minister for Transport lists of more than 70 locations in respect of which they had received representations questioning the speed limits currently in place.

To assist managers in the review referred to, they were advised of the locations identified in the submissions of the two organisations. The Minister did not request or direct in any manner that the speed limits in question be increased or decreased at any of the locations concerned. The relevant managers were requested to examine the locations to see if the speed limits that have been the subject of complaint can either be justified as being appropriate by reference to the prevailing road safety, engineering or traffic considerations and if the local authority considers that the speed limit is not appropriate, that steps should be taken to refer the matter to the elected members for review and appropriate action. The local authorities have in many instances determined that they are content that the speed limits are appropriate. However they have indicated that they are prepared to review the current speed limits at 25 of the locations in question.

  142.  Mr. Howlin     asked the Minister for Transport    when the full penalty points system will be in place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26962/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The penalty points system currently applies in respect of the offences of breaching a speed limit, motor insurance, careless driving and the failure of a driver to wear a seat belt or to ensure that passengers under 17 years of age are appropriately restrained in a mechanically propelled vehicle. [835]The system was first introduced in October 2002 in respect of speed limit offences. In the intervening period more than 180,000 drivers have had penalty points endorsed on their licence records.

The full application of the penalty points system will be achieved when the relevant IT systems being developed by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda are completed. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has indicated that the systems in question will be operational following the completion of a live pilot operation, which is currently being applied in a number of Garda divisions.

  143.  Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will verify that no US military or chartered civilian aircraft, permitted to overfly Irish airspace or land in Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, has transported prisoners captured in Afghanistan or Iraq en route to non-US jurisdictions or to Guantanamo Bay; and the steps he has taken to prevent this from occurring. [24537/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The regulation of military and diplomatic flights through Irish airspace is a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs. The regulation of Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel is a matter for the Department of Defence.

As previously indicated to the House in reply to a similar question on 30 June 2004, under the Air Navigation and Transport Acts, there is no requirement for my Department to be notified of the transportation of prisoners through Irish airspace. However, I understand that the US authorities have confirmed to the Department of Foreign Affairs that the US has not used Irish airports for the transit of prisoners to or from the detention centre at Guantanamo or elsewhere. I also understand that the US side has confirmed that they would not transit Irish airspace or use Irish airports for this purpose without seeking the authorisation of the Irish authorities.

Question No. 144 answered with Question
No. 126.

Question No. 145 answered with Question
No. 136.

Question No. 146 answered with Question
No. 124.

Question No. 147 answered with Question
No. 136.

  148.  Mr. Neville     asked the Minister for Transport    the reason he has opted to continue the rural transport initiative on a pilot basis; the reason, despite a recent review by ADM, no decision on [836]mainstreaming was taken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27016/04]

  352.  Ms O. Mitchell     asked the Minister for Transport    the action proposed following the completion of the pilot rural transport initiative; the analysis which has been done; the cost benefit which has been completed; if it can be rolled out nationally; and the cost overall and the cost per trip. [26921/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 148 and 352 together.

The NDP makes an overall provision of €4.4 million for the rural transport initiative. The funding available has been increased to €3 million per annum. The decision to extend the rural transport initiative to 2006 follows an appraisal of the initiative, carried out by Fitzpatrick Associates, economic consultants on behalf of ADM. The appraisal was completed in July last and its principal recommendation was that the RTI be extended for a further two years to end-2006. In making this recommendation the consultants noted that, “The commitment of funding to the end of 2006 will provide greater certainty to RTI groups and should improve the overall effectiveness of the Initiative and will give a longer pilot period during which the full lessons of RTI models can emerge.” Among other things, the appraisal found that the RTI gives good value for money. While there was a wide variation in cost per trip among the 34 projects, the appraisal found that the average cost per passenger trip was €13.

As suggested by the consultants, I am extending the existing schemes for a further two years to enable the full lessons of the scheme to emerge and to ensure that the lifespan of the RTI will dovetail with the scope of the National Development Plan 2000-2006 where the initiative was first mooted. A further review of the scheme including the implications of mainstreaming it or rolling it out nationally will be undertaken at that time.

  149.  Mr. O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the proposed new runway at Dublin Airport, announced recently by the Dublin Airport Authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27000/04]

  152.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Transport    his view on proposals for a new 3,110 m runway at Dublin Airport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26950/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 149 and 152 together.

Proposals in regard 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 air[837]craft and passengers. 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. Passenger traffic through Dublin Airport is expected to grow 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 around 2018. It is also noteworthy that the national spatial strategy has 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.

The Dublin Airport Authority is currently completing an environmental impact statement, EIS, to accompany its planning application for the new runway to Fingal County Council. I am conscious that some local communities have concerns about the runway project. In this regard, 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. As a major capital investment project, the proposed new runway will be the subject of a comprehensive submission from the Dublin Airport Authority to my Department in due course.

  150.  Mr. Connaughton     asked the Minister for Transport    the progress which has been made to establish an independent authority to procure public transport services; the nature and functions of the authority envisaged; when enabling legislation will be published to give effect to such an authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27034/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I refer the Deputy to my reply to Questions Nos. 116 and 129. I am considering the proposal to establish an independent authority to procure public transport services in the context of my review of work undertaken by my Department to date and my consultations with key stakeholders.

  151.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Minister for Transport    his plans for the changeover of all speed limits from miles to the metric system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26961/04]

  182.  Mr. Hogan     asked the Minister for Transport    his views on whether the speed limit changeover will be introduced on time by January 2005 as promised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26998/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 151 and 182 together.

As I indicated in reply to Question No. 395 of 5 October last a Metrication Changeover Board is working to the timeframe of 20 January 2005 for the introduction of new metric speed limit structures on the public road network. To facilitate the changeover it is necessary to amend the [838]Road Traffic Acts to provide for the introduction of new speed limit structures expressed in metric values. To that end I intend to progress the passage of the Road Traffic Bill 2004 through the Houses of the Oireachtas over the coming weeks.

Following the enactment of the primary legislation, I will advance secondary legislation, including regulations, to prescribe ordinary speed limits, that is, vehicle-related speed limits, in metric values, new traffic signs regulations and amending traffic and parking regulations. It is intended that a multi-media public information and public awareness campaign will be undertaken in the lead-up to speed limits going metric countrywide on 20 January 2005.

Question No. 152 answered with Question
No. 149.

  153.  Ms Lynch     asked the Minister for Transport    if he received a request from the US authorities for clearance to start finger-printing US bound passengers at airports here under the terms of the Air Navigation and Transport (Preinspection) Act 1986; if such permission was granted; and if he will make a statement on the matter/ [26968/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  My Department and the US authorities have been in contact about this matter. My Department has also sought the advice of the Attorney General’s office in regard to the additional procedures which are required by the US Government for entry by all visitors to the US since 30 September last and which are implemented by the US immigration authorities at the pre-clearance facilities at Dublin and Shannon Airports. The Attorney General’s office has advised that, as part of the application process for entry into the US, the new finger-printing and photographing procedures at the pre-clearance facilities come within the scope of the Air Navigation and Transport (Preinspection) Act 1986.

The new procedures have been well publicised and, as part of the current US Government immigration requirements, all Irish travellers to the US must comply with them regardless of where the procedures are implemented, whether in Ireland or on arrival in the US. The often lengthy queues and inevitable delays on arrival in the US for immigration processing can be avoided by Irish travellers who have been pre-cleared at Dublin and Shannon Airports.

  154.  Mr. Gogarty     asked the Minister for Transport    when the Government approved the proposal for the widening of the M50 motorway and the upgrade of several junctions on the motorway; and the cost estimate that was provided for the works at the time such a decision was made. [26895/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The planning, design and implementation of national road improvement projects is a matter for the National [839]Roads Authority, NRA, and the relevant local authority. The Government, at its meeting on 10 February 2004, noted the current position relating to the upgrade of the M50. The estimated cost of the upgrade at that time was €590 million in 2002 prices.

  155.  Mr. Stanton     asked the Minister for Transport    the number of provisional licence holders awaiting the driving test; the number of these who are to sit the driving test for the first time; the average waiting times in respective centres; the numbers waiting in each; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26760/04]

  186.  Ms Lynch     asked the Minister for Transport    the average waiting time for driver tests at each centre in the State; the steps that are being taken to reduce the long waiting times; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26965/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Question Nos. 155 and 186 together.

The average waiting times and numbers waiting for a driving test as at 28 October 2004 are set out in the following table. Details of those applicants who are taking their driving test for the first time are not recorded at application stage. My Department is in communication with the Department of Finance regarding measures to reduce the backlog of driving test applicants including the recruitment of additional driver testers.

Test Centre Average Weeks Waiting Number of Applicants Waiting
North Leinster
Finglas 25 8,967
Dundalk 22 3,164
Mullingar 26 1,518
Navan 39 4,558
Raheny 37 7,796
South Leinster
Churchtown/Rathgar 38 11,618
Gorey 33 1,935
Naas 33 6,269
Tullamore 30 1,699
Wicklow 34 2,172
Tallaght 36 8,332
West
Athlone 22 1,221
Birr 28 1,216
Castlebar 34 2,120
Clifden 24 355
Ennis 16 1,054
Galway 25 2,760
Loughrea 19 916
Roscommon 26 939
Tuam 27 1,104
North West
Ballina 29 1,003
Buncrana 30 678
Carrick-on-Shannon 30 1,167
Cavan 31 1,722
Donegal 30 1,058
Letterkenny 31 1,954
Longford 33 907
Monaghan 32 1,444
Sligo 26 1,384
South East
Carlow 41 2,493
Clonmel 36 1,892
Dungarvan 32 1,510
Kilkenny 36 2,210
Nenagh 39 743
Portlaoise 37 1,505
Thurles 44 1,197
Tipperary 42 996
Waterford 38 2,890
Wexford 29 2,284
South West
Cork 21 6,252
Killarney 36 2,134
Kilrush 26 453
Limerick 33 3,729
Mallow 25 1,937
Newcastle West 26 1,617
Shannon 36 918
Skibbereen 28 1,847
Tralee 28 1,904
Total 119,541

  156.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Transport    the progress made with regard to the review of the location of bus stops announced following the serious accident at Wellington Quay, Dublin on 21 February 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26970/04]

  368.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has given direction to Bus Atha Cliath or Bus Éireann with regard to the provision of adequately protected bus shelters with the objective of encouraging the public to use public transport and the need to comply with current health and safety standards in view of experience; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27222/04]

  369.  Mr. Durkan     asked the Minister for Transport    the extent to which new health and safety procedures have been put in place at bus stops in Dublin and throughout the country having particular regard to the issues arising from the tragedy at the bus stop on the city quay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27223/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 156, 368 and 369 together.

The Garda Síochána is the responsible authority for the location of bus stops in Dublin. This power is vested in the Garda Commissioner under section 85 of the Road Traffic Act 1961. Under that section the commissioner may issue a direction to a bus operator identifying the specific location of bus stops in respect of any bus route. I understand that the Garda engages in a consultation process with the local authority and the bus service provider before issuing a direction under section 85.

The review of the location of bus stops following the Dublin Bus tragedy is ongoing by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann. Dublin Bus has completed the development of a database to facilitate this review process. It is anticipated that this joint review will be completed by mid 2005.

To date there are in excess of 1,200 bus shelters in the Dublin area. Dublin Bus is proposing to introduce a further 400 over the next five years. Dublin Bus has a contract with a shelter provider company to erect shelters at stops. The cost of erecting shelters is financed from the advertising revenue. I am informed by Dublin Bus that it is policy that all relevant planning and safety legislation is complied with.

To date there are in excess of 470 Bus Éireann shelters erected throughout the country. Bus Éireann is in the process of finalising the award of a contract for the design, manufacture, installation and maintenance of between 180 and 220 additional bus shelters at bus stops along the Bus Éireann route network.

There are a number of external factors that influence the erection of shelters. These include the width and condition of the footpath, the layout of the stop and the fact that shelters are subject to planning permission and have to comply with local authorities’ requirements regarding visual presentation of street furniture etc.

  157.  Ms O’Sullivan     asked the Minister for Transport    the position in regard to the Shannon stopover; the position in regard to negotiations between the EU and the US on the open-skies policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26947/04]

  166.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe     asked the Minister for Transport    the position regarding negotiations between the US and the EU on the proposed air transport agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27029/04]

  191.  Mr. Gilmore     asked the Minister for Transport    if he has sought consent from the EU Commission, under Regulation 847/2004, to negotiate and conclude a separate bilateral agreement with the United States; the response he has received from the Commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26989/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 157, 166 and 191 together.

At a number of recent Transport Councils, the Irish position has been that while we are in favour of an open skies agreement between the EU and the US, Ireland’s support would be contingent on an acceptable arrangement on Shannon being agreed between Ireland and the US, and that arrangement being reflected in the EU-US agreement. Negotiations between the EU and the US on an open skies agreement will recommence in early 2005, when the new US Administration is in place. Both EU and US officials have maintained contact over the summer, but no negotiations have taken place since last June. Detailed negotiations took place up to June 2004, with the objective of reaching an agreement in time for the EU-US summit in Ireland at the end of that month. However, when the proposed agreement, which would have brought in open skies between all EU member states and the US, was discussed at the Transport Council in June 2004, Transport Ministers felt that the deal on offer was unbalanced in favour of the US.

In the lead up to June 2004, and in line with Ireland’s position as outlined at the beginning of this reply, in May 2004 Department of Transport officials travelled to Washington to discuss this issue with the US. An official from the European Commission also attended those discussions. While the Irish delegation was not authorised to conclude any agreement with the US, good exploratory discussions were held. I understand that had an EU-US deal emerged from the Transport Council, a suitable phasing-in over a period of years of open skies between Ireland and the US would have been agreed for inclusion in the EU-US deal that would have been signed at the summit at the end of June 2004. Currently, there are no EU-US negotiations taking place. There is no doubt in my mind, however, that an EU-US open skies agreement is inevitable, once a properly balanced agreement is reached. My officials are maintaining contact informally with the US side to keep open all options for progress on this issue.

It is very difficult to estimate the timeframe in which an EU-US agreement might be reached. I am in the process of familiarising myself with the positions of the various Irish stakeholders involved. I am conscious of the fact that the new board of Shannon Airport is now required to produce a business plan for the airport and that clarity on the open skies issue would be very helpful to that business planning process. I am also conscious that Irish airlines are currently restricted in the routes they can serve under the [843]existing bilateral arrangement and that expanding scheduled services across the Atlantic is of great importance to the growth of Irish airlines and Irish tourism. In any future dealings with the US on this issue, we will be aware of our European Union obligations.

  158.  Mr. Rabbitte     asked the Minister for Transport    the progress made to date with regard to the implementation of the report of the taxi advisory council on new regulations to be introduced to the taxi industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26982/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  By letter dated 24 February 2004 the advisory council to the Commission for Taxi Regulation provided advice to my predecessor, the then Minister, Deputy Brennan, on a number of matters relevant to small public service vehicles and their drivers. The council recommended the removal of the exemption on the wearing of seat belts by the drivers of small public service vehicles, the early commencement of section 37 of the Taxi Regulation Act 2003 which requires small public service vehicle drivers, licence holders and applicants to hold a current tax clearance certificate, and the introduction of a new identification badge for all drivers of small public service vehicles to replace the existing metal badge.

The then Minister, Deputy Brennan, advised the council on 31 March 2004 that he had accepted its advice on these matters and had asked his Department to proceed with the consideration of the proposals in consultation with the Revenue Commissioners, the Garda authorities and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Regulations were made on 22 May 2004 to remove, with effect from 1 July 2004, the exemption whereby the driver of a taxi, hackney or limousine is not required to wear a seat belt while driving such a vehicle.

A ministerial order was signed on 1 June 2004 to commence section 37(1) of the Taxi Regulation Act 2003 with effect from 2 August 2004. From that date a taxi, wheelchair accessible taxi, hackney or limousine licence or a licence to drive such vehicles will not be granted or renewed unless the applicant produces to the licensing authority, that is, the local authority or the Garda as appropriate, a tax clearance certificate issued by the Revenue Commissioners under section 1095 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997.

The proposals in regard to driver identification have been the subject of correspondence with the Garda authorities and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The question of colour coding according to whether a taxi, hackney or limousine service is being provided, however, raises some wider issues, as the current driver licensing system does not differentiate between drivers of different vehicle categories. It was suggested to the Council that this aspect mer[844]itedfurther consideration by it. I also understand that the taxi regulator, Mr. Ger Deering, intends carrying out a review of all aspects of the taxi industry including the issue of driver identification.

  159.  Mr. McCormack    asked the Minister for Transport    when he expects discussions between
his Department and Iarnród Éireann regarding
the future development of a commuter station at Spencer Dock will be completed; the proposals he supports in relation to this development; the outstanding issues between him and Iarnród Éireann; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27007/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Iarnród Éireann recently submitted to my Department a strategy document that sets out the business case for the development of a greater Dublin integrated rail network over the medium term. The strategy refers to the necessity to expand network capacity in and around Connolly Station by improving signalling capacity, platform capacity and constructing a new station in the area. The Department is in discussion with Iarnród Éireann on the detail of the strategy document and the company is to present further information in that regard.

  160.  Mr. Sherlock    asked the Minister for Transport    if his attention has been drawn to the call made by a recent inquest in Dublin into the death of a cyclist for a review of blind spots in cabs of articulated trucks which can prevent drivers from seeing cyclists and pedestrians; if he intends to ask the industry to undertake such a review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26987/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Mr. Callely):  I am aware from the media reporting of this inquest of the jury’s recommendation concerning a review by the freight industry of blind spots around high vehicles. Last month the Irish Road Haulage Association, the National Safety Council and the National Council on Ageing and Older People launched a joint safety campaign targeting HGV drivers and vulnerable road users, particularly older pedestrians. The aim of the campaign is to highlight the existence of danger zones or blind spots around trucks.

Developments at EU level will result in new HGVs having to comply with higher standards in relation to the fields of vision of drivers. In November 2003, the EU adopted Directive 2003/97/EC, which provides for an extension of the field of vision so as to address the issue of blind spots. The directive harmonises the rules relating to the type-approval of devices for indirect vision, including mirrors and cameras-monitors, on motor vehicles and of vehicles equipped with these devices.

The directive requires all new heavy goods vehicles and buses entering into service from 26 [845]January 2007 to meet the revised standards for field of vision set in the directive. Subject to practical engineering constraints and the agreement of the European Commission, it is my intention, when implementing the directive, to require existing vehicles of the types covered by the directive to be retrofitted with the necessary mirrors and/or cameras and monitors.

  161.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Minister for Transport    if he remains committed to the break up of CIE into three separate companies, as set out in the programme for Government 2002; when legislation will be published to advance this proposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27033/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The Government is committed to reform of public transport. A considerable amount of work on the detailed technical aspects of the restructuring of CIE has taken place in my Department and this work is ongoing. I am reviewing this work, as well as consulting with stakeholders. When I have completed that review and my consultations with key stakeholders I will consider how to proceed generally and in relation to legislation.

  162.  Mr. Murphy    asked the Minister for Transport    if he intends to increase the fee to sit the driving test; if so, the amount of such increase; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27026/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I have no proposals to increase the driving test fee at this time.

Question No. 163 answered with Question
No. 126.

  164.  Ms McManus    asked the Minister for Transport    the number of United States troops who landed at Shannon Airport in 2003 and 2004 to date; if he has plans to review permission for such landings in view of the recent view expressed by the Secretary General of the United Nations that the US led invasion of Iraq was illegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26969/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Civilian air carriers carrying weapons or munitions wishing to land or over-fly Irish airspace are obliged to seek exemption from the provisions of sections 6 and 7 of the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order 1973. This order applies only to the carriage of munitions of war, weapons and dangerous goods and not to military personnel. There is no limitation on the carriage of military troops on civilian aircraft if they are unaccompan[846]ied by weapons or munitions, as is sometimes the case. My Department, therefore, does not collate information with regard to the number of military troops.

On the basis of information collected by Shannon Airport management, the numbers of troops travelling on civilian aircraft for all of 2003 was 121,943 and for 2004 to 26 October 2004 is 126,504. These are the most recent statistics compiled by Shannon Airport management. I have no intention to change the current policy regarding the transit of US troops carrying munitions of war through Shannon Airport.

  165.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Transport    the progress to date in addressing the long delays between motorists being observed breaking the speed limit or other road traffic offences which merit penalty points and the awarding against them of those points; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26946/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Where a person either pays a fixed charge for a road traffic offence or is convicted of a penalty point offence in court, data necessary to ensure that penalty points are endorsed in the person’s licence record must be forwarded to my Department by the Garda or the Courts Service, respectively. The average period between receipt of such notifications by the company that is engaged to process this data for my Department and the subsequent issue of a notification to a person of the date on which penalty points will be entered on their licence record is ten days.

Responsibility for ensuring the timely submission to my Department of the notifications of payment of a fixed charge or of a conviction in respect of offences that attract penalty points are matters for the Garda Síochána and the Courts Service.

Question No. 166 answered with Question
No. 157.

  167.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Minister for Transport    if the RPA is undertaking a review of all aspects of the Luas project; when such a review will be completed; if it will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27032/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I understand from the Railway Procurement Agency, RPA, that it is carrying out a “look-back study” of Luas to see what lessons can be learned from implementation of the red and green lines. A review of costs, procurement and decision-making is under way at present and a retrospective cost-benefit analysis and environmental impact assessment will be carried out early next year after both lines have been in full operation for a period. I understand it is the intention of the [847]RPA to make the report on the matter public when it is completed.

Question No. 168 answered with Question
No. 136.

  169.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Transport    the way in which he proposes to meet the targets in the new National Road Safety Strategy 2004-2006 in view of the fact that many of the targets set out in this document were also included in the previous Road Safety Strategy 1998-2002 and were not realised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26999/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The primary target of the new Government strategy on road safety is to realise a 25% reduction in road collision fatalities by the end of 2006 over the average annual number of fatalities in the 1998-2003 period. Achievement of the target will result in no more than 300 deaths per annum by the end of the period of the strategy.

The strategy proposes a range of measures in the enforcement, engineering, education and legislation areas to target further reductions in deaths and injuries. An integrated strategic approach will ensure that the road safety agencies work together to achieve the targets set out in the new strategy.

The Government strongly pursued the implementation of its first Strategy for Road Safety 1998-2002. The strategy prioritised a systematic and co-ordinated set of measures for preventing and reducing road accidents. The principal target was to reduce road deaths and serious injuries each by at least 20% by 2002 relative to 1997. Priority was accorded by the strategy to actions targeted at speeding, alcohol, seat belt wearing and vulnerable road users. The primary target was achieved in the case of road deaths and surpassed in the case of serious injuries. The interim targets fixed by the strategy for achievement by 2000 were also well met. The target in extending low cost accident measures across the national road network to 400 locations was achieved and exceeded, with 418 schemes completed by end of 2002.

Garda enforcement activity was intensified and improved in accordance with the road safety strategy and speed limit enforcement was also supported by an increase in mobile speed detection, the use of laser speed detection as well as in-car and motorcycle cameras. The road safety strategy also provided for the implementation of a penalty points system in support of road safety enforcement. Penalty points have been introduced in relation to speeding offences since the end of October 2002 and have since been introduced in relation to seat-belt wearing, driving without insurance and careless driving. Evidential breath testing was introduced and has been rolled out over the lifetime of the strategy and a number [848]of hard-hitting advertising campaigns were developed. An extended basis for breath testing was introduced in 2003 on foot of a commitment in the first road safety strategy.

By the end of the period of the first strategy almost all of the measures set out were either fully or partially implemented. During the intervening period between the completion of the first strategy and the introduction of the new strategy, my Department and all the agencies concerned with the implementation of road safety measures ensured that the successful measures brought forward under the road to safety continued to be implemented. New targets have been set in the key areas of speeding, seat-belt wearing and drink driving, as well as a revised target for reductions in the number of deaths. These targets differ from those set in the first road safety strategy and are based on progress made in these areas over the past six years. In addition, initiatives will be pursued that will progress measures identified in the previous strategy in respect of which full implementation was not realised. This is particularly the case in respect of the achievement of the rollout of the penalty points system and the supporting fixed charge system. That will be facilitated by the early passage of the Road Traffic Bill 2004, which is due to be debated in the House this week.

Question No. 170 answered with Question
No. 124.

  171.  Mr. Murphy    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the need for an independent road accident investigation unit in view of the high number of road fatalities and casualties on roads annually; if he will introduce legislation to enact such a provision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27027/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The primary immediate investigative role in relation to road accidents is vested in the Garda Síochána. Priority in the pursuit of such an investigation must be given to the determination of the causes of road accidents and in particular to the determination of whether a breach of the road traffic laws contributed to the occurrence.

The Garda Síochána is the only body empowered to make such a determination and to launch criminal proceedings against any person whom the Garda considers should be accused of the commission of an offence. In the final instance it is a matter for the courts to decide on the guilt or innocence of an accused person. The Garda reports relating to an accident provide information to assist the courts in making decisions in such matters.

Given the pivotal role played by the Garda in accident investigation, they are tasked with the preparation of detailed reports in relation to each accident they attend. These reports are passed on to the National Roads Authority and sub[849]sequently to each local authority for the purpose of the establishment of accident trends and causes generally and to facilitate the carrying out of remedial works relating to road infrastructure where such action is deemed to be necessary. I have no immediate proposals to establish alternative arrangements for investigating road accidents.

  172.  Ms Burton    asked the Minister for Transport    the position with regard to the establishment of a second terminal at Dublin Airport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26951/04]

  179.  Mr. G. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Transport    if a decision has been taken to proceed with a second terminal for Dublin Airport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27001/04]

  372.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    his proposals for the future of air transport here with particular reference to Dublin and other airports and required terminal facilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27285/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 172, 179 and 372 together.

It is the policy of the Government to encourage as wide a range as possible of reliable, regular and competitive air services to and from Ireland. The central tenet of this policy is the belief that a strong, competitive and efficient network of air links are vitally important for developing our trade and tourism sectors, particularly having regard to our island status and peripheral location.

Passenger traffic through Dublin Airport is expected to grow from last year’s level of almost 16 million passengers to 30 million by around 2018. New infrastructure capacity and facilities, both airside and landside, will be needed to cater for this growth including further terminal capacity. With regard to the latter, the programme for Government includes a commitment to examine proposals for a new independent terminal at the airport and to progress such proposals if the evidence suggests that such a terminal will deliver significant benefits.

The question currently at issue, therefore, is not whether new terminal capacity should be provided at Dublin Airport but rather the most appropriate mechanisms for providing such capacity.

Last year a report by a panel of experts chaired by Mr. Paddy Mullarkey assessed the independent terminal concept taking account of the expressions of interest submitted to my Department on the development of an independent, competing terminal at Dublin Airport.

I recognise that an early decision is desirable in relation to this matter so that, regardless of how it is provided, adequate terminal capacity is in place at Dublin Airport when required to meet [850]the growth in passenger traffic. In this regard, my Department is consulting the new board of the Dublin Airport Authority and I intend to bring proposals on the matter to the Government in due course.

Shannon Airport has capacity to handle up to 4.5 million passengers per annum compared to a passenger throughput of 2.4 million in 2003 while work is proceeding on the major new terminal development works at Cork Airport.

In terms of capital funding for our regional airports, grant aid of approximately €9 million has been paid under first round allocations of the regional airports measure of the national development plan. The primary objective of this measure is to facilitate continued safe and viable operations at regional airports. A further round of projects is being considered.

  173.  Mr. M. Higgins    asked the Minister for Transport    if he intends to respond to the call made by the Chairman of the National Road Safety Council for a more structured investment in road safety in the December 2004 budget, especially in view of the continuing level of road deaths; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26960/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Between 1998, the first full year of the operation of the Government Road Safety Strategy 1998 — 2002, and 2004, there have been significant and sustained increases in the funding made available to the road safety agencies under the aegis of my Department. Overall funding has grown from a total of €11.372 million in 1998 to €22.488 million in 2004, a rise of 97.7%.

The funding made available by the Exchequer to the National Safety Council has risen from €1.148 million in 1998 to €2.886 million in 2004 — a rise of more than 150%. In addition to Exchequer funding, the Irish Insurance Federation contributes to the National Safety Council’s budget, and funding is also received from sponsorship sources.

The overall Exchequer provision for road improvement and maintenance works, which have a significant impact on road safety, in 2004 on the national road network is €1,280 million. This compares with an expenditure outturn of €1,223 million in 2003.

Local authorities receive funding for road improvements and remedial measures on non-national roads, which is not included in this figure. In addition, the funding made available for Garda operations supports the enforcement of road traffic law. That is a matter for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

The success of implementing road safety policy as set out in the road safety strategy is critically dependent on major investment in resources by various Government Departments and their agencies, including the National Safety Council. [851]The Government remains committed to ongoing support for the pursuit of road safety policies.

In addition, my Department is chairing a steering group overseeing a cross-departmental review of road safety expenditure which will examine expenditure incurred over the lifetime of the road safety strategy. This will seek to evaluate the effectiveness of all public spending on road safety and, if necessary, recommend an adjustment in spending on particular policies and measures based on their effectiveness.

The review will also seek to establish the impact of road safety performance on other areas, such as health and emergency services.

The steering committee consists of representatives from the Departments of Transport, Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Health and Children, Finance and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. A consultant has been engaged to carry out an analysis of road safety expenditure and is expected to report to the steering committee shortly.

  174.  Mr. Crawford    asked the Minister for Transport    the reason the European Commission has decided to take Ireland to the European Court of Justice for its failure to implement a road safety directive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27004/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  EU Directive 2000/56 amends Annex 1 and Annex 2 of Council Directive 91/439 on driving licences by substituting some additional requirements and was to be implemented by 30 September 2003. The revised Annex 1 relates to some additional harmonised information codes on a driving licence which indicate restrictions on the type of vehicle to be used in certain circumstances, for example, adaptations to the vehicle in view of the medical circumstances of the licence holder. The revised Annex 2 relates to changes in the minimum requirements for driving tests principally relating to certain additional technical checks to be performed during the practical test. The annex also revises minimum vehicle standards and dimensions for vehicles that can be used in a driving test shortly. The European Commission will then be advised of the regulations

Question No. 175 answered with Question
No. 124.

  176.  Mr. J. Bruton    asked the Minister for Transport    the reason, despite the fact that 130,000 persons are on the waiting list for the driving test, that eight driving tester vacancies remain unfilled; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27025/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The authorised complement of driver testing staff in my Department is 130 which includes supervisory-management grades and both permanent and contract staff. My Department is in discussions with the Department of Finance with a view to [852]filling eight existing vacancies in this area definitively. I am confident that these discussions will conclude satisfactorily before the end of the year. However, as an interim measure the driver testing corps has been supplemented by the engagement of six driver testers hired on a short-term basis.

  177.  Mr. G. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on recent statements (details supplied) that major national roads projects are likely to be significantly delayed due to the Government’s decentralisation programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27002/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  In the context of its decentralisation implementation plan, prepared in accordance with Department of Finance requirements, the NRA has indicated significant concerns about the impact of decentralisation to Ballinasloe, County Galway, on its ability to deliver the national roads programme. These concerns will be taken into account and addressed in the ongoing implementation of the decentralisation programme.

Question No. 178 answered with Question
No. 126.

Question No. 179 answered with Question
No. 172.

Question No. 180 answered with Question
No. 127.

  181.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Transport    the Government’s view on the role Aer Lingus should play as a national carrier; if his attention has been drawn to serious concern expressed by major companies based here at the decision of the company to end virtually all its cargo services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26954/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Aer Lingus is mandated by my Department to operate in a commercial manner. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the board and management to operate the airline so that it can compete successfully and generate profits in this very difficult sector. It is my strong view that maintaining a strong, commercially successful airline is the best way of ensuring that Aer Lingus continues to meet the needs of the business and tourism sectors.

Specifically in relation to cargo, I have been advised by Aer Lingus that the decision to terminate cargo interline and short-haul cargo was taken following a thorough examination of all relevant commercial, operational and financial matters. Aer Lingus has advised that the company’s decision will affect less than 3% of the total cargo volume through Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports.

[853]Question No. 182 answered with Question
No. 151.

  183.  Mr. Crawford    asked the Minister for Transport    if it is still proposed that Bus Éireann employees will be decentralised to Mitchelstown; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27003/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Under the decentralisation programme Bus Éireann headquarters posts are to be relocated to Mitchelstown. That position remains unchanged. To date, 86 posts suitable for decentralisation have been identified by the company. Whether existing employees move to fill these posts is a voluntary decision for those involved. To date no employee has indicated a wish to move and this clearly presents an issue, which has to be examined.

  184.  Mr. McCormack    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the recent calls by the National Roads Authority for additional funding to complete its road building programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27006/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The National Roads Authority is currently undertaking the largest road building programme in the history of the State, made possible by record levels of Exchequer funding supplemented by private investment in respect of public private partnership schemes. Good progress is being made in the implementation of the programme. Over the period since 2000, 45 projects — 310 km. — have been completed, 21 projects — 213 km. — are in construction and nine projects — 147 km. — are at tender stage.

During 2003, my Department requested the NRA to investigate the scope to increase the overall level of funding available for improvements on the national roads network. Possibilities in this regard were subsequently identified by the NRA and are currently under consideration in my Department.

  185.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Minister for Transport    the steps he proposes to take in order to create safety awareness around Luas traffic. [26996/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I understand that the Railway Procurement Agency and Connex are availing of every opportunity through the media and in direct meetings with community groups to remind people of all safety aspects of light rail operating in city streets. Consultation is also taking place between the RPA, Connex and the Garda Síochána on how to encourage motorists to respect red lights and other road regulations. RPA has also run extensive advertising [854]campaigns relating to safety and further advertising in this regard is planned. There is a corresponding onus on road users and pedestrians to comply with the rules of the road and operate with due care and attention, particularly at traffic junctions.

Question No. 186 answered with Question
No. 155.

Question No. 187 answered with Question
No. 123.

  188.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Minister for Transport    the progress to date to extend the two existing Luas lines at Cherrywood and at the Docklands; the progress that has been made in negotiating PPPs to fund these extensions; the nature of the difficulty in attracting private investment to fund these extensions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27015/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The further development of the Luas network is the responsibility of the Railway Procurement Agency. The RPA is at present advancing plans for extensions of Luas to the Dublin Docklands and Cherrywood. These plans are based on private sector funding, captured through development levies from developers who own land along a proposed route. I understand from the RPA that good progress is being made in the negotiations with developers and the relevant local authorities — Dublin City Council and South Dublin County Council — with regard to these extensions. At present, my Department is awaiting business plans from the RPA in order to assist in its evaluation of both extensions.

  189.  Mr. Naughten    asked the Minister for Transport    the status within his Department of the Iarnród Éireann proposal for an interconnector south of the River Liffey; the timetable for the completion of the inter-urban motorways; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26761/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Iarnród Éireann recently submitted to my Department a strategy document that sets out the business case for the development of a greater Dublin integrated rail network. The proposal to construct an interconnector rail tunnel between Heuston Station and the docklands is a part of the plan. My Department is in the process of evaluating the business case at present.

The current position in relation to the upgrading of the five major inter-urban routes to motorway and high quality dual carriageway standard is that the M1 is expected to be fully complete by the end of 2006. Work is under way on major projects on the N7 — Monasterevin bypass, on the N8 — Cashel bypass, on the N4-N6 —[855]Kilcock-Kinnegad. Work is expected to start this year on the Dundalk western bypass and Dundalk to Newry on the M1, on the N8 — Fermoy bypass , and on the N7 — Naas Road widening.

Completion of these projects will eliminate many of the major bottlenecks on these routes. In addition it is expected that compulsory purchase orders and environmental impact statements for the remaining projects in planning on these routes will either be approved by, or be before, an Bord Pleanála by the end of 2004. Regarding the national roads programme overall it should be noted that since 2000 a total of 44 projects — more than 310 km. — have been completed. Work is in progress on 21 projects — 213 km. — and another nine projects — 147 km. — are at tender stage.

  190.  Dr. Upton    asked the Minister for Transport    if his attention has been drawn to the recent report produced by IBEC which found that traffic congestion had got worse in Dublin over the past two years; the steps he intends to take to deal with this problem in view of the social and economic cost; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26988/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 112, to which I replied earlier today.

Question No. 191 answered with Question
No. 157.

Questions Nos. 192 and 193 answered with Question No. 136.

Question No. 194 answered with Question
No. 124.

Questions Nos. 195 and 196 answered with Question No. 122.

Question No. 197 answered with Question
No. 121.

  198.  Mr. S. Ryan    asked the Minister for Transport    the progress made with regard to the proposal to allow bus lanes on the hard shoulders of motorways; the precise timescale proposed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26984/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I wish to ensure that as many practical measures as possible are taken to improve the movement of buses on the road network and thereby reduce journey times and congestion. In that regard, my Department is engaged in discussions with Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus, Dublin Transportation Office, the quality bus network project office and the National Roads Authority regarding the use of the hard shoulder on roads of motorways for bus lanes, particularly in and around the Dublin area. [856]Necessary changes to traffic signs and parking regulations to support this initiative are being prepared at present.

Separately, the application of a separate speed limit to vehicles using a reserved hard shoulder may be required in certain circumstances and this is not currently provided for in primary legislation. To deal with this, the Road Traffic Bill 2004, published on 11 June, proposes to provide a legal basis for the introduction of a separate special speed limit on a hard shoulder in lieu of the speed limit that normally applies to that road. The Bill is currently before the Houses of the Oireachtas. Pending enactment of the necessary legislation, the NRA and the quality bus network project office are identifying locations and making the necessary preparations at those locations where buses will be permitted to use the hard shoulder. Details will be announced in due course.

  199.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Transport    the funding which has been given to facilitate development and improvement project works to regional non-State owned airports under the current NDP; if a second round of funding is envisaged for such airports; when this will be allocated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27011/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Under the regional airports measure of the National Development Plan 2000-2006, funding has been made available towards infrastructural works and upgrades in facilities to maintain continued safe and viable operation of the six regional airports in Kerry, Waterford, Galway, Sligo, Knock, and Donegal.

The programme is being implemented under two separate rounds, the first covering the period 2000 to 2004 and the second covering 2004 to 2006. More than 30 projects were undertaken at the six regional airports under round one and grant aid of approximately €9 million has been paid to the various airport companies to date.

Round two of the regional airports measure of the NDP was launched recently and the six regional airports have submitted their applications for funding under this round. These applications are currently being assessed and it is anticipated that decisions on these applications will be taken shortly.

The level of funding available for approved projects under round two will have to be carefully assessed in the light of prevailing Exchequer resources. My Department will continue to assist the regional airports as they develop into the future. However, financial assistance will be carefully evaluated in line with the general scale of operations at the airports and wider aviation and transport policy.

  200.  Mr. Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will make a statement on the work to date of the taxi hardship panel. [26977/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The taxi hardship panel was an independent three-person panel established in February 2002 to report in general terms on the nature and extent of extreme personal financial hardship that may have been experienced by individual taxi licence holders arising from loss of income as a direct result of the liberalisation of the taxi licensing regime, including an estimate of the numbers of individual licence holders involved, the likely financial implications and the recommended criteria for assessment of extreme personal financial hardship under any subsequent proposed response by Government. Some 2,000 submissions were received by the panel and the panel also met with taxi representative groups and with some individuals who made submissions before finalising its report.

The report of the panel recommended the establishment of a scheme to provide payments to individual taxi licence holders who fall into one of six categories that the panel assessed as having suffered extreme personal financial hardship arising from taxi liberalisation. The payments recommended by the panel range from €3,000 to €15,000 depending on the category of hardship involved. The Government approved the implementation on a phased basis of these recommendations.

Area Development Management Limited has been engaged to administer the taxi hardship payments scheme which is implementing the recommendations of the taxi hardship panel report in accordance with the relevant Government decision.

The taxi hardship payments scheme was formally launched in November 2003 with application forms being issued to all persons who made submissions to the taxi hardship panel. In addition, newspaper advertisements were placed in the national newspapers on 6 November 2003 and 27 February 2004 inviting applications under the scheme from individual taxi licence holders at 21 November 2000 who could demonstrate that they have suffered extreme personal financial hardship following loss of income arising from the liberalisation of the taxi licensing regime, who fall into one of the six categories in which payment was recommended by the taxi hardship panel report, and who are tax compliant. The closing date for receipt of applications under the scheme was 30 April 2004.

A total of 1,953 applications have been received by ADM. Hardship payments totalling €13.617 million have been made to 1,158 qualifying persons under the scheme to date. To date, 98 applicants have not qualified for a hardship payment. The remaining applications are under consideration. The time taken to process applications and to make payments depends on the [858]completeness of the information and supporting documentation in each individual application.

  201.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Transport    his plans to re-open the rail line between Sallins, County Kildare and Tullow, County Carlow; if discussions or meetings have been held regarding this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26758/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I understand that the opening of a rail line between Sallins and Tullow does not form part of Iarnród Éireann’s medium-term strategic plan for the development of the rail network.

The strategic rail review, conducted on behalf of my Department in 2003 to advise on the approach to be taken to rail development in the country over the next 20 years did not include the provision of services on this line as part of its recommended strategy.

  202.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the five measurable performance indicators he regards as targets of greatest priority within his Department; the way in which this measure has changed in each year since 1997; his views on whether confining priorities to five indicators gives too partial a picture of departmental priorities; and if he will report on the movement over the period from 1997 to 2004 of other primary indicators of performance. [26763/04]

The Taoiseach:  The mandate of my Department is to provide the Government, Taoiseach and Ministers of State at the Department with the support, policy advice and information necessary for the effective conduct of Government and for the dynamic leadership, co-ordination and strategic direction of Government policy from policy formulation through to decision-making, implementation and monitoring.

  203.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Taoiseach    if there is a dedicated auditing unit in his Department assessing and monitoring the day-to-day spend of his Department with particular reference to major projects; if so, the number of staff involved; if the staff have accountancy qualifications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26838/04]

The Taoiseach:  Specific responsibilities and authority for financial management within my Department are assigned to the finance officer and to the finance unit. The fundamental role of the finance unit is to provide central services to the Department relating to its financial management responsibilities. Therefore, the unit provides certain services for the rest of the Department in the following areas. These are completion of the Estimates process to forecast the financial [859]resources required by the Department in future years; ensure compliance with the legal requirement to account for expenditure from the Vote (appropriation account); facilitate all audit inspections and queries; ensure speedy discharge of financial services, including compliance with prompt payment legislation; provision of accounts payable and accounts receivable services; effective monitoring of resources allocated to the Department; provision of appropriate financial information for management; ensure progress by the Department on financial management reform, including the requirements of the management information framework and the Mullarkey implementation group; co-ordinate the programme of expenditure reviews.

Staffing of the finance unit is as follows:

Number of Staff Staff
1 Assistant Principal (Part-time)
1 Higher Executive Officer
1 Administrative Officer (Part-time)
2 Executive Officers
3 Clerical Officers

The assistant principal with responsibility for this unit is a qualified accountant.

There is also an internal audit unit within my Department, the primary role of which is to provide independent assurance to the accounting officer on the system of internal controls in place.

Staffing of the internal audit unit is as follows:

Number of Staff Staff
1 Principal Officer (Part-time)
1 Higher Executive Officer (Part-time)

Give the modest size of my Department and the absence of responsibility for major projects, I regard these arrangements as satisfactory.

  204.  D’fhiafraigh Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    den Tánaiste    agus Aire Sláinte agus Leanaí cén fáth nach bhfuil teiripe urlabhra do pháistí ar fáil trí Ghaeilge i nGaeltacht Chorca Dhuibhne; cén fáth nach bhfuil traenáil do theiripe urlabhra ar fáil trí Ghaeilge; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina leith. [26941/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  Tá ceist solathár seirbhísí, ina measc teirípe urlabhra agus teanga, do dhaoine le míchumas fisiceach agus-nó míchumas céadfach mar dhualgas ar Udarás Réigiúnda Sláinte an Oirthir agus ar na mbórd sláinte ar an gcéad dul síos. De bharr seo, tá mé tar éis ceist an Teachta a chur chuig an príomh oifigeach feidhmiucháin i mBórd Slainte an Deiscirt agus iarradh air go ndéanfadh sé dianscrúdu [860]ar an gceist agus an freagra a chur díreach chuig an Teachta, mar ábhar práinneach.

  205.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason speech therapy for children from Irish speaking families is not available through Irish in the Kerry Gaeltacht; the reason training for speech therapy through Irish is not available; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27045/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  The provision of health services, including speech and language therapy, to people with a physical and-or sensory disability rests with 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 Southern Health Board with a request that he examine the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy, as a matter of urgency.

  206.  Mr. McCormack    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if an audiologist will be appointed for County Galway to cater for the needs of deaf children; when it is envisaged to appoint a person to this post; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27116/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  As the Deputy will be aware, responsibility for provision of audiological services is a matter for the health boards-authority in the first instance. My Department has therefore requested the chief executive officer of the Western Health Board to prepare a report on the matter and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  207.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she has negotiated a new deal with private practitioners offering chiropody and dental services to medical card holders in order that eligible persons may gain access to these services without having to make contributions or travel long distances to find a practitioner willing to offer the service; and if she will make a statement on the progress that has been made resolving these issues. [26769/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  There is no statutory obligation on health boards to provide chiropody services to medical card holders. I understand that health boards make arrangements for the provision of such services. The nature of the arrangements and the level of chiropody services provided are a matter for the individual boards.

As regards dental services, the Deputy will be aware that primary dental care for adult medical cardholders, that is persons, aged 16 years or over, is provided under the dental treatment services scheme, DTSS. This dental care is provided free of charge to medical card holders. In the [861]main, private dental practitioners participating in the DTSS under contract arrangements with health boards provide this dental care. Salaried dentists from the health boards also provide some services under the scheme.

The objectives of the scheme are to improve the oral health of adult medical card holders and thereby reduce the equity gap between this population and the population as a whole by providing a high quality dental service, and to provide dental services to adult medical cardholders in a cost-effective and equitable manner.

My Department will, in the near future, embark on a review of the DTSS in conjunction with the health boards, the general medical services payments board and Irish Dental Association. This review will be aimed at ensuring that the aims of the scheme are being met and that the service to medical card holders is timely, appropriate and accessible and that the service provides best value for money.

  208.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her proposals to significantly increase the health board travel allowance (details attached); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26770/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  A strategic review of disability services is currently being undertaken by my Department. The issue of travel allowances will be considered in the course of this review.

  209.  Mr. Ring    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of persons who have taken up the support accommodation scheme; and the amount being awarded per week. [26771/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  As the Deputy will be aware, the provision of health services in counties Galway, Mayo and Roscommon is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the Western Health Board. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply direct to him as a matter of urgency.

  210.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if minors temporarily staying in Garda stations for want of suitable accommodation have been assigned a social worker. [26786/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. B. Lenihan):  I assume the Deputy is referring to young homeless people presenting to Garda stations. I have been advised [862]by the Eastern Regional Health Authority and health boards that it is extremely rare that children or young people are accommodated in Garda stations due to a lack of appropriate health board accommodation. Where children present to Garda stations, the relevant health board social work service is contacted, for example, the crisis intervention service in the Eastern Regional Health Authority. The children are assessed as a priority and are allocated a social worker if deemed appropriate. Some children presenting at Garda stations may already have an allocated social worker.

  211.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she has received correspondence from persons (details supplied) requesting a meeting to discuss the future of the provision of emergency ambulance cover in Dublin; and if she will hold such a meeting in the immediate future in view of the impending dissolution of the health boards. [26787/04]

  212.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the way in which emergency ambulance cover will be provided in Dublin city and county, and the structures and procedures that will be put in place following the dissolution of the health boards. [26788/04]

  213.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her views on whether the level of emergency ambulance provision for Dublin city and county is adequate to meet the needs of the growing population. [26789/04]

  214.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the proposals to make Dublin City Council the statutory emergency ambulance provider for Dublin city and county; if her attention has further been drawn to the fact that the management and workers of Dublin Fire Brigade support such a change; and her views on this suggestion. [26790/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I propose to takes Questions Nos. 211 to 214, inclusive, together.

I have agreed to a request from SIPTU on behalf of their members in Dublin Fire Brigade to discuss issues in relation to the provision of emergency ambulance services in the Dublin area following the establishment of the Health Services Executive. I do not consider that it would be appropriate to make any further comment in advance of the meeting.

  215.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her plans to deal with the crisis at accident and emergency [863]departments in hospitals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26791/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Many of the difficulties and delays experienced in emergency medicine departments reflect system-wide issues. It is, therefore, necessary to take a whole-system approach involving primary care, acute care and sub-acute and community care in tackling the problems in emergency medicine departments. This Government has already during the past few years, introduced initiatives aimed at improving the delivery of acute services and alleviating the pressures on accident and emergency departments.

I have previously said the delivery of accident and emergency services will be an area for particular attention during my term as Minister for Health and Children. I intend to identify the particular pressure points within the health system that affect the efficient delivery of emergency services and to address them in the context of the Estimates process.

  216.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will extend the long-term illness list to cover Crohn’s disease; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26792/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Under the Health Act 1970, 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, LTI, 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 [864]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.

  217.  Mr. McHugh     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will work closely with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, to mainstream health-related community employment scheme participants; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26812/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  My Department is in regular contact with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment regarding the mainstreaming of community employment scheme participants engaged in the provision of assistance to people with disabilities. However, as the Deputy will appreciate, I cannot at this stage give specific commitments in relation to levels of expenditure in 2005 for any particular service as these matters will be decided as part of the discussions on the Estimates and budget for that year between my Department and the Department of Finance.

  218.  Mr. Ring    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason the Mater Hospital did not respond to faxes sent to it in relation to a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; and the further reason the Western Health Board has not yet replied to Question No. 142 of 13 October 2004 in this same matter. [26819/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I understand from the Western Health Board that a reply, dated 1 November 2004, has issued to the Deputy.

  219.  Mr. Murphy    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if the general practitioner co-operative service will be implemented in 2005 for the people of north Cork (details supplied). [26835/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The funding provided for out of hours co-operatives in the Southern Health Board to date is over €10 million. The funding provided for general practitioner out of hours co-operatives between 2000 and 2003 totalled €46.5 million. The total funding available in 2004 amounts to in excess of €26 million. This dedicated funding does not include fees paid to participating general practitioners for attending patient [865]calls. Further expansion will be considered in the context of service requirements, health board proposals and funding availability.

  220.  Mr. Neville     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will provide a list of restrictions on the sale of products (details supplied). [26837/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Restrictions on the sale of medicinal products containing paracetamol are set out in regulations 13 to 16 of the Medicinal Product (Prescription and Control of Supply) Regulations 2003, SI 540 of 2003. In summary, these regulations establish maximum pack sizes for such products depending on the size of the pack and whether the packs concerned are sold in pharmacies or in other outlets. All solid unit dosage forms must be in blister packs and in all cases prescribed statements must appear on the labelling and on the package leaflets.

  221.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if there is a dedicated auditing unit in her Department assessing and monitoring the day-to-day spend of her Department with particular reference to major projects; if so, the number of staff involved; if the staff have accountancy qualifications; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26839/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The day-to-day spend of the non-administrative budget element of the Health and Children Vote is the responsibility, in the first instance, of the health boards and health authority. The functions referred to by the Deputy are performed by a number of areas within my Department.

The non-capital element of the Health and Children Vote is assessed and monitored on an ongoing basis by the finance unit. The unit is staffed by 13 officers, a number of whom have accounting qualifications. The chief executive officer of each health board and health authority is required to submit a monthly information management report, IMR, together with a commentary on the spend to date. Cash is monitored and the drawdown is agreed on a continuous basis through similar reporting arrangements. Officials of my Department meet regularly with the health boards and health authority to review service plans, including financial reviews on spending and cash issues.

The health capital programme, including expenditure is reviewed and monitored on an ongoing basis by the hospital planning office. The unit has nine officer posts and 13 professional adviser posts, comprising architects, engineers [866]and quantity surveyors. The professional advisers have a significant input into the briefing, planning, construction and equipping of all major capital projects. Health boards or other health agencies, who are the clients for health capital projects, have primary responsibility for the delivery of projects in line with national public procurement requirements, hospital planing office guidelines and funding approved by my Department.

The professional accounting unit monitors and updates the Department’s accounting standards, reviews the annual financial statements from all statutory-audited health agencies, reviews and develops the speciality cost reporting systems and the national casemix programme, and provides professional accounting assistance to the Department. The unit is staffed by two officers and two professional accountants.

The internal audit unit monitors the activities of the various divisions within the Department to provide assurance on the effectiveness of the Department’s system of internal control. The unit is currently staffed by one officer with a vacancy for one further officer.

  222.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the steps she has taken to recoup the €6 million overpaid to general practitioners under the medical card scheme; if any of the money has been repaid; if she will comment on the response she has received from the general practitioners representative body; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26853/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  An examination of the GMS register has identified, at the end of February 2004, overpayments of €8.468 million to general practitioners. During the course of consultation with the Irish Medical Organisation on the issue, my Department agreed to examine alleged underpayments in respect of certain categories of GMS patients. This matter is being examined. While no repayments have, as yet, been made by any affected general practitioner, my Department remains committed to recouping the overpayments identified, in line with the commitment given to the Committee of Public Accounts.

  223.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if information technology systems operated by each health board are compatible and if they are linked to the Department’s system; if the numbers employed by the health boards and Department can now be quantified by grade and location; if the systems can give an accurate figure on information such as the number of medical card holders in the [867]country and their age profile; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26854/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  In recent years, my Department has implemented a policy of enterprise-wide systems in relation to the development of all new information systems, thus providing for the compatibility and interoperability of systems on a health service-wide basis. Major enterprise-wide systems implementations are ongoing in a number of areas. A major system is currently being rolled out throughout the service in the human resources area, PPARS systems, and system design and development is ongoing in the financial resources area. Plans are at an advanced stage for similar implementations in the patient care area. A national client index is being developed in the health service which will underpin client oriented systems.

The general medical services (payments) board is satisfied that they can provide comprehensive high quality information on medical card holders from their systems and this may be analysed in a variety of ways, including age profile of card holders. Analysis of information on health services personnel is vastly improved in those health board areas where the PPARS system is already running. It is anticipated that the PPARS system will be implemented in all health board areas by the end of 2005.

All new information systems developments will be conducted in the context of the national health information strategy, which was published earlier this year, and the more technically oriented information and communications strategy, which will follow shortly. This will ensure that comprehensive information systems are available in all areas which will support operational requirements and provide comprehensive management information at local and national level.

  224.  Mr. F. McGrath     asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding research into the causes of breast cancer; and if she will report on new recent developments in cancer research. [26874/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I am advised the factors that are generally recognised as predisposing women to breast cancer include lifestyle, diet, obesity in post menopausal women, alcohol and hereditary factors. Genetic factors contribute to approximately 5% of breast cancers and mutations in specific genes are probably accountable for the majority of genetically determined breast cancers. Significant international research is ongoing in relation to these factors.

Under the Ireland-Northern Ireland National Cancer Institute Consortium, an all-island infrastructure to co-ordinate the clinical trial activity [868]of hospitals on both sides of the border is being developed. Awards to the value of €3.5 million have been made through the Health Research Board, HRB, to support this initiative in major teaching hospitals throughout the country.

In addition, the HRB, the statutory body that promotes, conducts, funds and commissions medical and epidemiological and health services research in Ireland, has awarded grants of almost €500,000 to fund research into breast cancer.

  225.  Mr. Curran    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if the South Western Area Health Board is engaged in providing services at a location (details supplied) in Dublin 22 directly; if not, if it funds some other body, agency or person to provide services at this premises; the details of the services being provided; and the cost of these services. [26917/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. B. Lenihan):  Responsibility in relation to the matter referred to by the Deputy rests with the South Western Area Health Board and Eastern Regional Health Authority. Accordingly, my Department has asked the chief executive officer of the authority to reply directly to the Deputy.

  226.  Mr. McHugh    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will ensure patients needing radiotherapy treatment in Galway will receive treatment in the private clinic in Galway until the new radiotherapy facility in University College Hospital, Galway, comes on stream; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26924/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Referral of patients to a private treatment facility is in the first instance, a clinical matter. Factors which are relevant to such a decision include assessment of patient need, existing service availability, indemnity and quality assured service delivery. The Western Health Board has informed my Department that it has agreed to work with the private clinic in Galway to develop protocols or care pathways to deal with patients who require radiotherapy for palliative purposes.

The supraregional radiation oncology centre at University College Hospital, Galway, will be fully commissioned and ready to treat patients in early 2005. Earlier this year, €2.5 million ongoing revenue funding was made available for this development. Approval has now issued for additional ongoing revenue funding of €9.5 million and 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 com[869]mitments to the North Western and the Mid-Western Health Boards.

As recommended in the report on 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 will also advise on quality assurance protocols and guidelines for the referral of public patients to private facilities.

  227.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the statement of need for a new accident and emergency department submitted in March 2002 by Kerry General Hospital management and staff; and when a response will be expected and a commitment to take prompt action on this request. [26928/04]

  230.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if there are proposals to develop a new accident and emergency department at a hospital (details supplied) in County Kerry; if plans for such a development were received by her Department circa March 2002; the reason there has been no response to the plans submitted; if revised plans have subsequently been received by her Department; if those plans are being considered; if such plans will be approved and funding provided; if she will respond to the needs of the accident and emergency department at the hospital by considering these plans speedily; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27052/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 227 and 230 together.

My Department has been aware since 2002 of a proposal to develop new accident and emergency infrastructure at Tralee General Hospital. It has not been possible for my Department in the intervening period to commit to this proposal, in the light of competing demands generally on the health capital programme and given the significant capital and non-capital funding implications involved in this particular case. The proposed development has, however, been included this year within the new health capital investment framework 2004 to 2008.

The proposed scheme consists of renovation works at, and a new extension to, the existing accident and emergency department at Tralee General Hospital. A draft brief has been prepared by the Southern Health Board. The next step in relation to this proposal would be formal [870]approval of the brief and appointment of a design team, followed by detailed planning. These issues are at present being examined by my Department in the context of new capital commitments that can be progressed under the framework for 2005 or beyond, in line with overall funding resources available during the period of the framework.

  228.  Mr. N. O’Keeffe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding the provision of funding to the Southern Health Board to develop a project (details supplied). [26991/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Southern Health Board, SHB, has submitted to my Department a public private partnership, PPP, proposal for eight community nursing units, CNUs, which will provide an additional 400 beds for respite, convalescence, long stay and rehabilitation services, to elderly patients in its catchment area. One of the proposed CNUs will be located at Sarsfield Court Hospital, Glanmire. It has been agreed with the SHB that in view of the health services reform programme that the central services unit, CSU, which was to be located at Sarsfield Court Hospital, is not being included as part of the consideration of the PPP project. It will now be considered separately in the context of the health services reform programme.

Work has been under way in the Department of Health and Children on a proposal for a public private partnership investment scheme for 400 community nursing units in the Southern Health Board region. There have also been discussions between my Department and the Department of Finance in the development of this PPP scheme, as is normal and entirely appropriate with PPP projects.

These are complex schemes and it is important to have a clear view of the benefits that will accrue given the complexity of the PPP contracting structure. The work that has been done so far has helped to clarify a number of issues. I intend to examine this project in detail very soon. The putting in place of a large number of nursing units will greatly help people make the transition from an acute hospital setting to care matched to their needs.

  229.  Mr. Connolly    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the expenditure in the two years since the inconclusive outcome of the fluoridation forum on total ongoing operational costs incurred by the 400 fluoridating suppliers across 10 health boards; the total capital costs incurred to upgrade or replace plant since September 2000 when the forum began its work and commitments entered into to acquire new plant or equipment associated in any way with [871]fluoridation; if she will provide details of the fluoridating schemes involved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27043/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Forum on Water Fluoridation in Ireland was established to carry out a review of the fluoridation of public water supplies in Ireland. The forum produced a comprehensive and conclusive report which it presented in 2002. In its report the forum set out a number of conclusions and made a number of recommendations with respect to the fluoridation of public piped water supplies in Ireland. The main conclusion reached by the forum was that the fluoridation of public water supplies should continue as a public health measure. The forum also recommended the establishment of an expert body to implement the forum’s recommendations.

The expert body, to be known as the Irish expert body on fluorides and health, was set up earlier this year. The terms of reference of the expert body are to oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the forum on fluoridation; to advise the Minister and evaluate ongoing research, including new emerging issues, on all aspects of fluoride and its delivery methods as an established health technology and as required; to report to the Minister on matters of concern at his-her request or on its own initiative.

Responsibility for the fluoridation of public water supplies is a matter for the health boards-authority in the first instance. I have, therefore, requested the CEOs of the health boards-authority to reply to the Deputy’s question directly.

Question No. 230 answered with Question
No. 227

  231.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if a full-time radiologist will be appointed at Ennis General Hospital in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27053/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The provision of hospital services at Ennis General Hospital is the responsibility of the Mid-Western Health Board. My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the position in relation to the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  232.  Mr. Howlin    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the ongoing bed crisis at Wexford General Hospital; if her attention has further been drawn to the fact that there are up to 25 persons on trolleys in the accident and emergency area of Wexford General Hospital; when the [872]additional 19 inpatient beds will be provided; if she will provide a date for commencement of the construction work on this unit; if all funding difficulties have been resolved to provide staff for these beds; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27055/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  My Department accepts the need for an additional 19 inpatient beds at Wexford General Hospital. It is hoped to progress this development in the context of the health capital investment framework 2004 to 2008 in line with overall funding resources available under the framework.

  233.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the difficulties experienced by Irish citizens in obtaining copies of their birth certificates from or in late registering their birth at the General Register Office in Dublin; if there is a dedicated staff member assigned with the office to deal with Irish-born emigrants; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27074/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The administration of the registration system for births, stillbirths, deaths and marriages is statutorily a matter for an tArd-Chláraitheoir or Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and for the superintendent registrars and registrars who operate under his general direction. An tArd-Chláraitheoir has advised me that there is a dedicated section within the General Register Office which deals with applications for birth certificates from Irish centres in Britain. I understand that all current applications from these centres have been dealt with and that there are no outstanding applications from the centres.

Where it is established that a birth has not been previously registered, it is possible to effect registration provided the information required by law to be registered is available, particularly information with regard to the date and place of birth. The authority of an t-Árd Chláraitheoir is required for the registration of a birth where more than 12 months has elapsed since the date of birth. A statutory declaration setting out the particulars to be registered is required. In addition, an t-Árd Chláraitheoir will seek some independent confirmation of details, as set out in the declaration. I understand the minimum information required to, be entered in the birth register is the prenames, commonly called Christian names, surname, date and exact place of birth, the parents’ names, or at least the mother’s name, and the marital status of the parents.

Authorisations for the late registration of births issue within four to six weeks from the date of application. The Deputy will appreciate that [873]where incomplete details are submitted with the application, some delay is unavoidable.

  234.  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. [27093/04]

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.

  235.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when her Department will grant approval for the development of a village complex for 60 residents with an intellectual disability on the campus at a hospital (details supplied) in County Dublin in view of the fact that health board approval was granted nearly three years ago and the present facilities are most unsatisfactory. [27094/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  One of the key priorities for my Department is to progress as quickly as possible the development of purpose-built residential and day facilities on the campus referred to by the Deputy. My Department has been working with the Eastern Regional Health Authority to progress the programme to provide more appropriate accommodation and to maximise the outcome from the capital resources available to my Department and from other sources. This work will be facilitated by the multi-annual revenue and capital investment programme for disability-specific support services recently announced as part of the national disability strategy.

  236.  Mr. Neville    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    her proposals to appoint neurological posts at the Mid-West Regional Hospital, Limerick. [27105/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The Mid-Western Health Board has identified the need for a consultant neurologist for the region and a requirement for additional funding. The post will be considered in the context of future priorities and overall resources available.

  237.  Mr. Neville    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of per[874]sons waiting for assessment for orthodontic services in the mid-west region. [27106/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The provision of orthodontic services is the statutory responsibility of the health boards or the Eastern Regional Health Authority in the first instance. The chief executive officer of the Mid-Western Health Board has informed my Department that there were 2,737 patients awaiting assessment at the end of the September 2004 quarter. This means the assessment waiting list in the board has, been reduced by 859 since the end of 2001. The chief executive officer has also informed my Department that at the end of the September 2004 quarter, there were 1,863 patients receiving orthodontic treatment in the board.

The chief executive officers of the health boards or authority have informed my Department that at the end of the September 2004 quarter, there were 22,168 patients receiving orthodontic treatment in the public orthodontic service. This means that there are more than twice as many patients getting orthodontic treatment as there are waiting to be treated and more than 6,000 extra patients are getting treatment from the health boards or authority since the end of the September 2001 quarter.

  238.  Mr. Cregan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if the three-monthly maintenance costs incurred by patients using a defibrillator will be included in the drugs and prescription refund scheme. [27113/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Community drug schemes do not make provision for maintenance costs associated with machines of the nature referred to by the Deputy. Reimbursement of expenses incurred on certain aids and appliances, such as oxygen equipment, is a matter for the relevant health board.

  239.  Dr. Fitzpatrick    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of patients on the orthodontic waiting list that have been treated under the national treatment purchase fund from health authorities (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27134/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  In June 2002, my Department provided additional funding of €5 million from the national treatment purchase fund towards the treatment of persons on the orthodontic waiting lists. My Department instructed the health boards and authority that the funding was to be allocated on the basis of several principles. These are the treatment of clients longest on the waiting list in accordance with the severity of their treatment [875]need, allocation to provide additional treatments over and above what was provided in the normal way, efficiency and value for money, and equitable delivery across health board populations.

The chief executive officers of the health boards and authority have informed my Department of the following information regarding patients receiving treatment under the national treatment purchase fund as at the end of September 2004:

Health board/authority TPF allocation €(1) Numbers in treatment
ERHA (2) 1.815m 721
MHB 0.289m 198
MWHB (3) 0.451m 179
NEHB (4) 0.421m 196
NWHB 0.285m 119
SEHB (5) 0.554m n/a
SHB (6) 0.720m 258
WHB (7) 0.465m 132

Patients in treatment in the health board orthodontic service receive between 18 to 24 appointments over the course of their treatment period of approximately two years.

The chief executive officers of the health boards and the Eastern Regional Health Authority have informed me that at the end of the September 2004 quarter, there were 22,168 patients receiving orthodontic treatment in the public orthodontic service. This means there are more than twice as many patients getting orthodontic treatment as there are waiting to be treated.

  240.  Mr. Neville    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of patients that were readmitted to hospital within one week of discharge in 2003. [27135/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  In 2003, there were 30,527 readmissions to hospital within one week of discharge. This figure is derived from the hospital inpatient inquiry, HIPE, system which gives details of activity in all publicly funded acute hospitals in the State as well as in two private hospitals. HIPE data only allows the identification of a readmission if it is to the same hospital [876]as the original admission. The above figure includes all inpatient readmissions, that is, readmissions for the same condition, for an unrelated condition and planned readmissions, and excludes day cases.

  241.  Mr. J. Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if, in view of the recent sale of part of Our Lady’s Hospital for €5.2 million, she will conduct an inquiry into the sale of this hospital and 60 acres of land by the Mid-Western Health Board for €3.2 million; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27136/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  I am informed by the Mid-Western Health Board that the sale of the property was conducted in adherence with best practice and policy protocols at the time and with the involvement of the Valuation Office. The Mid-Western Health Board agreed the sale of the hospital in 1998 for £2.444 million, or €3.1 million, and the actual closure of the hospital took place in September 2001.

  242.  Mr. J. Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she will instruct the chief executive officer of the Mid-Western Health Board as a matter of urgency, having received correspondence from consultants of Ennis Regional Hospital to provide on-site CT scanners, appoint two consultant radiologists, an additional consultant surgeon, two additional consultant physicians, one with an interest in geriatrics and an interest in respiratory medicine; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27137/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The provision of services at Ennis General Hospital is a matter for the Mid-Western Health Board. The development of services and the appointment of additional consultant posts at Ennis General Hospital will be progressed as part of the Government’s reform and investment programme.

  243.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children,    further to Question No. 266 of 19 October 2004, if she previously made inquiries into the same unit regarding the case (details supplied); and if so, if she will detail her refusal to do so in the case referred to her by Deputy Gregory. [27154/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  As I indicated in response to previous questions from the Deputy, the clinic in question is privately operated and my Department has asked the regional chief executive of the Eastern Regional Health Authority to inquire into the case raised by the Deputy. I understand [877]the authority will shortly be in touch with the Deputy regarding the matter.

  244.  Mr. Wall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding persons seeking respite care in areas in which no facilities exist for such care; the position regarding the applications by such persons for private nursing home placement; if her Department will provide the funding necessary to qualified persons in order that applicants may avail of such private nursing home placements; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27175/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The information which the Deputy requires is not routinely collated by my Department. My Department has therefore requested a report from the Eastern Regional Health Authority on the subject and will respond direct to the Deputy as soon as this information is received.

  245.  Mr. Wall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of beds not in use in hospitals in the South Western Area Health Board area; the plans she has in addressing such bed closures; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27177/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Responsibility for the provision of hospital services in the South Western Area Health Board rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has therefore asked the chief executive officer of the authority to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

  246.  Mr. Wall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of successful applications for nursing home subvention and enhanced subvention in the South Western Area Health Board area; the number of applications pending a decision; the number of applications refused in each of the past three years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27178/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  As the Deputy is aware, the administration of the nursing home subvention scheme is a matter for the South Western Area Health Board, acting under the aegis of the Eastern Regional Health Authority, in the first instance. My Department has therefore requested the chief executive of the authority to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply direct to him as a matter of urgency.

  247.  Mr. Wall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the plans she has to review nursing subvention and enhanced subvention payments in regard to nursing home placements for persons in need of such care; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27179/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  In accordance with the Nursing Home (Subvention) Regulations 1993, three rates of subvention are payable, that is, €114.30, €152.40 and €190.50 per week in respect of three levels of dependency, which are medium, high and maximum. The subvention rates were increased by 25% with effect from April 2001.

Under the terms of sections 22.3 and 22.4 of the Nursing Home (Subvention) Regulations, a health board may, at its discretion, pay more than the maximum rate of subvention in particular circumstances, such as, for example, where an individual’s personal funds are exhausted or where an individual is unable to meet the gap between the nursing home charge and the amount which he or she can contribute. The application of these provisions is a matter for the individual health board concerned in the context of meeting increasing demands for subvention 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.

As the Deputy may be aware, a review of the nursing home subvention scheme is, being undertaken by my Department. The ultimate aim of the review will be the development of a system, which will be transparent, provide equity, be less discretionary and be financially sustainable. The review group has been working for a number of months and is comprised of a wide variety of stakeholders representing the many and varied interests associated with long-term care. All aspects of the nursing home subvention scheme are, being looked at by the group, including rates of payment.

  248.  Mr. Wall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the position in regard to the provision of the necessary funding to ensure the re-opening of the X-ray unit at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Athy, County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27180/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  As the Deputy is aware, the provision of health services in Athy is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the South Western Area Health Board acting under the aegis of the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has therefore asked the chief executive of the authority to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply direct to him as a matter of urgency.

  249.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if she received a report on radiotherapy from the Irish Society of Medical Oncologists in 2003; if that report recommended radiotherapy centres in eight hospitals; the way in which the report was [879]considered by her; the reason the proposed configuration was rejected; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27181/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  The submission referred to by the Deputy was made by the Irish Society of Medical Oncologists to the national cancer forum in the context of the development of a new national cancer strategy and was discussed by the forum at its meeting in May 2003. The national cancer forum is the national advisory body on cancer services and is a multidisciplinary group of experts and includes representatives of all modalities of cancer care.

The context of these discussions was the current fragmented delivery of cancer services nationally. In developing the new national cancer strategy, the forum’s considerations have been informed by the broad strategic context in which the cancer strategy exists, a comprehensive review of the current status of cancer care, a review of the literature evidence concerning key aspects of the organisation of cancer services and a review of international models of care. The forum has concluded that the current arrangements for the delivery of cancer services are not generally in accordance with best practice and cannot be recommended to deliver the best quality cancer care.

With regard to the development of radiation oncology specifically, the Government’s policy is based on the report entitled The Development of Radiation Oncology Services in Ireland. The expert group which developed the report comprised a range of experts involved in the provision of radiation oncology in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Some of the leading experts in their respective fields were represented on the group, including radiation oncologists as well as physicist and radiation therapy expertise. Two patient advocate representatives were also members, one from the Irish Cancer Society and the other from Aid Cancer Treatment. The group is the most authoritative voice in radiation oncology in this country and its report should be seen in that light. The report has been the subject of significant national and international endorsement from organisations such as the Irish Cancer Society, the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute in the United States.

The predominant view of the group, based on international guidelines of best practice, is that radiation oncology services would be best developed in the context of a clinical network model of four large centres in Dublin, Cork and Galway, where new treatment centres have appropriate staff and equipment resources based around a minimum four to six linear accelerator treatment capacity. This report was discussed and unanimously endorsed by the national cancer forum at its last meeting on 17 September 2004 as the framework for the future development of radiation oncology services in this country.

[880]The model proposed by the report will provide a framework that meets national and international standards. It will adhere closely to the World Health Organisation and US National Institutes of Health concept of a “gold standard” of cancer treatment delivered within the context of a comprehensive cancer centre model. The proposed model will enable the development of specialist clinical teams with both tumour-specific and technology-specific expertise. It mandates the development of more extensive and integrated multidisciplinary care and meets the stated and expected medical and paramedical training programmes and their associated national and international accreditation mechanisms. It facilitates the most rapid implementation of new radiation technologies, particularly those with significant complexity and expense. and will fundamentally address the issue of access where a profound shortage of national treatment capacity is no longer the dominant limiting factor.

  250.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if thousands of persons over 70 have been charged illegally for nursing care despite their exemption from such charges under the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2001; the way in which it is proposed to reimburse those affected; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27182/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Central to our system of publicly funded long-term care is the principle that it is fair and reasonable, and that those who can afford to contribute to the cost of their long stay care should do so. The health strategy reinforces this point and states that:

It is recognised that quality care is expensive and that the bulk of the cost of providing a high standard of quality care should be borne by the Exchequer. Nonetheless, it is fair that all those in receipt of publicly provided residential long-term care should make some payment towards accommodation and daily living costs, if they can afford to do so, just as they would if they were living in the community. This principle supports the aim to provide as high-quality a service as possible and to make the most equitable use of resources and thus to help maximise the availability of these services.

The position in this matter reflects this approach. Charges for long-stay care in health board institutions may be raised under either of two sets of regulations. The Health (Charges for In-Patient Services) Regulations 1976, as amended by the Health (Charges for In-Patient Services) (Amendment) Regulations 1987, enable charges to be made towards the cost of providing hospital inpatient services for persons with income who have been in receipt of such services for more than 30 days or for periods totalling more than 30 days within the previous 12 months. The regulations provide that a charge is made at a rate not exceeding a person’s income. Medical card hold[881]ers and persons with dependants are exempt from these charges. Charges may also be made under the Institutional Assistance Regulations 1965, where the patient receives “shelter and maintenance” rather than treatment. These charges apply from the date of admission and are payable by all patients who are in receipt of incomes, including medical card holders and persons with dependants.

In deciding the amount to be contributed, health boards have regard to the person’s individual circumstances. Allowance is made for any financial commitments the person may have and a reasonable amount is left to meet the person’s personal needs. Charges would be waived if, in the opinion of the chief executive officer of the relevant health board, payment would cause undue hardship.

Arising from concerns with regard to the current practice of charging, bearing in mind the provision of the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2001, which extended on a statutory basis full eligibility for services to those aged 70 and over, I have referred the matter to the Office of the Attorney General for advice.

  251.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    when the CT scan machine in Wexford General Hospital will be in operation 24 hours per day, seven days per week in order that patients needing to use the machine out of operating hours are not sent elsewhere; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27197/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Responsibility for the provision of services at Wexford General 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 in relation to the issue raised.

  252.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the details of the guidelines she gives to health boards regarding the operation of the long-term illness scheme and the medical card scheme, in particular the discretionary element operated by the CEOs of health boards with regard to medical cards issued on health rather than income grounds to ensure that there are no anomalies in the operation of these schemes countrywide; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27210/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Entitlement to health services is primarily based on residency and means. Under the Health Act 1970, determination of eligibility for medical cards is the responsibility of the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board, other than for persons aged 70 years and over, [882]who are automatically eligible for a medical card. Medical cards are issued to persons who, in the opinion of the chief executive officer, are unable to provide general practitioner medical and surgical services for themselves and their dependants without undue hardship. It is open to all persons to apply to the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board for health services if they are unable to provide these services for themselves or their dependants without hardship.

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.

It should also be noted that 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 health 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 justify this.

With regard to the assessment of means and circumstances for a medical card, and in particular the discretionary element operated by the CEOs of the health boards, I have been advised that health board staff have been using an interim set of guidelines for the administration of the medical card scheme, drafted by HeBE in 2003, which addressed this issue along with other guidance aimed at a more standardised approach to the consideration of medical card applications generally. A revised final set of such guidelines is under consideration by the chief executive officers of the boards, which, I understand, will be circulated to the health boards and the Eastern Regional Health Authority shortly.

For those who do not qualify for a medical card, there is a number of schemes that provide assistance towards the cost of medication. Under the Health Act 1970 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 and conditions arising from thalidomide and acute leukaemia. There are currently no plans to amend the list of eligible conditions. Under the drug payments scheme, a person and his or her dependants does not have to pay more than €78 in any calendar month for approved prescribed drugs and medicines.

[883]Persons aged 16 to 25, including students, who are financially dependent on their parents are entitled to a medical card if their parents are medical card holders. Those who are dependants of non-medical card holders are not normally entitled to a medical card except where they have an entitlement under EU regulations or where they are in receipt of a disability allowance. Students who are financially independent of their parents are entitled to apply for a medical card in their own right and are assessed on the same criteria as all other applicants.

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 CEOs under the PPF. These include streamlining applications and improving the standardisation of the medical card applications process to ensure better fairness and transparency, providing clearer information to people about how and where to apply for medical cards, and proactively seeking out those who should have medical cards to ensure they have access to the services that are available.

The Government is fully committed to the extension of medical card coverage as set out in the health strategy, with a particular focus on people of low incomes. This should be viewed in the broader context of the strategy’s emphasis on fairness and its stated objective of reducing health inequalities in our society. The timing of the introduction of the extension will be decided having regard to the prevailing budgetary position. In addition, my Department is committed to the preparation of new legislation to update and clarify the entire legal framework for eligibility and entitlements in regard to health services.

  253.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Galway has been refused entry to the long-term illness scheme and a medical card despite the fact that their condition means that they have intellectual, developmental and physical disability; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27211/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Under the Health Act 1970, 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, LTI, 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, and conditions arising from thalidomide and acute leukaemia. There are no plans to amend the list of eligible conditions.

[884]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 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.

My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the Western Health Board to investigate the position with regard to this case and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  254.  Mr. Neville    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    the number of cases of bullying of health board employees either formally or informally investigated by each health board in each of the years 2002, 2003 and to date in 2004. [27297/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  My Department does not hold information on the number of bullying cases formally or informally investigated by health boards or the Eastern Regional Health Authority. Responsibility for human resource management, including the matter referred to by the Deputy, in each health board or the authority rests with the relevant chief executive officer. My Department has therefore requested the CEO of each health board and the authority to respond to the Deputy directly.

However, the Deputy may wish to note that the dignity at work policy for the health service came into effect on 1 May 2004. This policy was agreed between the HSEA, representing health service employers, and the health service trade unions. This new policy incorporates appropriate best practice drawn from the Health and Safety Authority’s prevention of workplace bullying code of practice, the Labour Relations Commission’s procedures for addressing bullying in the workplace and the Equality Authority’s Sexual Harassment and Harassment at Work policy document.

Training, which is supported by the health services national partnership forum, is taking place on the implementation of the policy in all public health service agencies.

  255.  Ms Lynch    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if persons who have taken out savings accounts under the Government’s SSIA scheme who are also eligible for a medical card will still be eligible for a medical card once their SSIA accounts mature; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27302/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Entitlement to health services is primarily based on residency and means. Under the Health Act 1970, determination of eligibility for medical cards is the responsibility of the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board, other than for persons aged 70 years and over, who are automatically eligible for a medical card. Medical cards are issued to persons who, in the opinion of the chief executive officer, are unable to provide general practitioner medical and surgical services for themselves and their dependants without undue hardship.

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. The last such increase was notified in January 2004.

It should also be noted that 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 health boards when assessing medical card eligibility. Despite a person having an income that exceeds the guidelines, a medical card may still be awarded if the chief executive officer considers that his or her medical needs or other circumstances justify this. It is open to all persons to apply to the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board for health services if they are unable to provide these services for themselves or their dependants without hardship.

With regard to investment income generally, health board staff have taken interest from savings into consideration in the assessment of means for a medical card. 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.

  256.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children    if a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath will be admitted to hospital as soon as possible; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27303/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney):  Responsibility for the provision of hospital services to residents of County Westmeath rests with the Midland Health Board. My [886]Department has therefore asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the position with regard to this case and to reply to the Deputy directly.

  257.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has estimated the number of mortgage-payers affected by the endowment policy scandal and if existing legislation and statutory requirements were adhered to by the sellers of these policies. [26862/04]

  269.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Finance    if he intends to ask insurance and mortgage providers to give compensation to endowment policy holders, in view of the serious allegations made in a recent investigation (details supplied). [26861/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 257 and 269 together.

The Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority, IFSRA, is studying the situation with regard to endowment loan shortfalls, having commenced a survey earlier this year, to determine whether and to what extent there will be difficulties for customers. It would be inappropriate to reach any conclusions on this issue in advance of IFSRA’s consideration of the outcome of the survey. At this juncture, I do not see any need for ministerial intervention. I will continue to review the adequacy of the relevant legislative framework as information from IFSRA becomes available.

There is no reliable data on the overall numbers of cases where there may be a shortfall. However, endowment loan approvals in the past five years represent just 3% of the overall mortgage market, although it has been considerably higher in the past. Since 1989, a total of 90,000 endowment loans were approved, roughly 10% of total loan approvals since 1989. These types of mortgages operate on the basis that, instead of making capital payments on a mortgage, the client pays only the interest on the mortgage. Therefore, the capital amount owed does not decrease. However, the client also makes an investment with a life assurance company, the aim of which is to cover the mortgage and, possibly, provide some additional benefit beyond that. The products provided additional benefits, for example, in the form of higher tax relief, which were attractive to borrowers. These products inherently require customers to take some risk. They are exposed to market fluctuations, just like any market-based life assurance investments. That a person does not gain as much as expected is not in itself an indication of inappropriate practices on the part of the bank or insurance company concerned.

The consumer director of IFSRA, Ms Mary O’Dea, has encouraged people to come forward if they are worried about the possibility of having been mis-sold an endowment mortgage. They [887]should complain in the first instance to the company from which they bought the policy.

As regards the legal framework, there is a substantial volume of legislation in place relating to these financial products. Following the enactment of the Insurance Act 1989, a code of conduct for insurance intermediaries and guidelines were drawn up by the industry in consultation with the then Department of Industry and Commerce. Key requirements of the code were that the intermediary should know the client and give best advice.

The Consumer Credit Act 1995, which commenced in May 1996, contains specific provisions with regard to endowment loans and in particular prescribes certain information which must be included in any application form or information document issued to consumers applying for such loans. For example, since the commencement of the Act all endowment loan application forms must contain a prominent notice to the effect that “there is no guarantee that the proceeds of the insurance policy will be sufficient to repay the loan in full when it becomes due for payment”.

The Act also obliges that in instances where the borrower may be required to increase premium payments on the insurance policy during the lifetime of the loan, any document approving the loan must contain a prominent statement of this possibility. Similarly obligations apply where a policy is surrendered early resulting in a net loss to the consumer. The Act also places an obligation upon insurers underwriting policies relating to endowment loans to issue a statement to the consumer every five years setting out not only the value of the policy at the time of issue but also a comparison of this valuation to the valuation at such date projected at the time the policy was first written and a revised estimate of the valuation at maturity.

In addition to the provisions of the Consumer Credit Act, the Life Assurance (Provision of Information) Regulations, which came into being in 2001, oblige insurers to provide policy holders, including holders of policies relating to endowment mortgages, with an annual written statement containing, inter alia, information on the current surrender or maturity value of the policy. More recently, the Government considerably enhanced the regulatory and supervisory regime governing the financial services industry, primarily through the enactment of the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland Act 2003, which established IFSRA.

The Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland Act 2004, complements the Act passed last year and further enhances IFSRA’s powers and strengthens the regulatory environment. This Act will provide for an enhanced structure for dealing with consumers who have complaints about financial institutions and provides consumer and industry consultative panels for the financial regulator. The consumer panel [888]will have an important role in ensuring that the regulator correctly reflects the interests of consumers in its protective, issue of codes of conduct and educational, information pamphlets and so on, roles. These provisions will help IFSRA to ensure consumers have all necessary information to allow them to make considered and informed choices between different financial products, including mortgages.

  258.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will report on the procedures and criteria whereby telecommunications masts on Garda stations are also used by private companies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26900/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  In 1997, the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Minister for Finance and the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána entered into a non-exclusive agreement with O2 Ireland Limited, formerly Esat Digifone Limited, with regard to the erection of telecommunications equipment on certain Garda premises. Under the terms of the licence agreement, O2 Ireland Limited was allowed to install telecommunications equipment on certain Garda premises for an initial term of five years. O2 pays a licence fee to the Commissioners of Public Works in respect of all premises where such equipment is located. In addition, O2 provided some telecommunications equipment for Garda purposes as part of the overall agreement.

Under the agreement, O2 had an option to renew the agreement for a second five-year term and it exercised this option in 2002. At present, O2 Ireland Limited is the only mobile operator that has equipment installed on Garda masts. However, the Commissioners of Public Works are in consultation with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda authorities with regard to the terms and conditions of an agreement under which all interested mobile operators would be allowed to install equipment on Garda premises in the future.

  259.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Minister for Finance    if agricultural tractors and trailers can be reallocated as goods vehicles by re-registration; and if so, the costs and conditions that are involved. [27048/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  From a vehicle registration tax, VRT, perspective, the rate of tax payable depends on the characteristics of the vehicles and not their use. Agricultural tractors and most goods vehicles are classified as category C vehicles, attracting a VRT liability on registration of €50. In general, once a vehicle has been registered in the State, and allocated a per[889]manent registration number, it is not re-registered. It should be noted that trailers are not required to be registered for VRT purposes.

Matters in connection with the classification of vehicles for annual motor tax are the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

  260.  Mr. English    asked the Minister for Finance    the stage the transforming state assets initiative is at with regard to the pilot scheme to replace the existing Garda accommodation at the eight chosen sites in Tipperary and Limerick; the timescale to complete the pilot scheme; if a feasibility study is underway to extend the scheme nationwide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27095/04]

  261.  Mr. English    asked the Minister for Finance    if, in relation to the transforming state assets initiative with regard to Garda stations, he intends to give first option to local authorities to allow them to acquire the central sites; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27096/04]

  273.  Mr. English    asked the Minister for Finance    the stage the transforming state assets initiative is at with regard to the pilot scheme for Garda stations; the timescale to complete the pilot scheme; if a feasibility study is underway to extend the scheme nationwide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27139/04]

  274.  Mr. English    asked the Minister for Finance    if he intends to give first option to local authorities to allow them to acquire the centrally located sites with regard to the transforming state assets initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27140/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 260, 261, 273 and 274 together.

A pilot equity exchange programme was developed to test the feasibility of exchanging clusters of small Garda stations which cannot be viably maintained on an ongoing basis in return for new modern facilities. The aim was to speed up the process of providing new modern facilities for the Garda Síochána and to do so as economically as possible from the viewpoint of the State. If the pilot proved successful, consideration would be given to extending it nationwide.

A firm of consultants was selected to manage the pilot programme. However, following an advertising campaign in the national press, the level of interest expressed was not adequate to meet the requirements of the programme. Accordingly, the consultants advised against the award of a contract to complete the pilot programme. In the pilot programme, proposals were invited from any interested party. No proposals were received from any local authority. The Commissioners of Public Works are considering how best to progress matters in the future.

  262.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of employees per Civil Service crèche; the average cost per child of the service for parents; the cost per child to the Exchequer of providing the service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26797/04]

  278.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of child care places provided for parents who work in the Civil Service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27300/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 262 and 278 together.

In the budget of 2001, the Minister for Finance allocated €12.7 million for the provision of crèches for the children of civil servants throughout Ireland. The allocation was part of a major initiative by the Government to improve child care provision and increase the number of child care places available.

There are five crèches in operation under the Civil Service child care initiative. Each of these can accommodate approximately 30 children, giving a total of some 150 places. There are two crèches in Dublin, in Mount Street and Marlborough Street, and three in regional locations, Ennis, Athlone and Sligo. A total of €4.357 million has been allocated by the Minister for Finance to date for the provision and fitting out by OPW of these premises. In addition, an operator has recently been appointed to the crèche built as part of the Government laboratories campus at Backweston, County Kildare. This crèche is expected to open in January 2005 and will accommodate approximately 33 children. It will also be managed under the Civil Service child care initiative.

An interim board arranges for the selection of operators for the crèches. Selections are made following open tendering competitions and operators manage the crèches under licence. The operators are independent in the day to day running of the crèches and the employment of staff, but are open to appropriate inspection, including value for money audit, under the terms of the licence. Under the initiative, the crèche premises are provided to the operator free of rent, together with appropriate fittings and furnishings. Security, heating and electricity in respect of the ordinary operation of the crèche are also provided. The average annual cost for the security, heating and electricity of each crèche is estimated to be in the region of €7,500. All other running costs of the crèches, including the remuneration of the provider, are met from the fees charged to parents.

The fees are paid entirely by parents and are agreed by the board with the operator. Any increases are subject to board approval. The fees vary depending on the location of the crèche and the age of the child. The weekly fees set out in the licences and agreed between the operators and the board for full time care range from €92 [891]to €100 for toddlers and €110 to €123 for babies in the regional locations. In Dublin, prices range from €134 for toddlers to €155 for babies per week.

The Government is committed to creating a working environment which allows staff to balance work and family responsibilities. The provision of child care places is an important element in helping our employees to achieve this balance and in attracting and retaining experienced staff. The future direction of the Civil Service child care initiative will be reviewed in light of the decentralisation programme, with consideration given to the provision of child care in the decentralised locations.

  263.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has received representations regarding the new regime for charging benefit-in-kind in respect of the use of a company car; if these queries have caused him to reconsider any elements of the operation of this scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26798/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  A relatively small number of representations on the use of company cars have been received since the introduction of the new benefit-in-kind arrangements in January 2004. Queries have principally related to the fact that PRSI and the health levy now [892]apply to the benefit of a company car with some issues also being raised about the new structure.

As announced in the budget for 2003, the general change was intended to ensure equity of treatment of taxpayers receiving remuneration in different forms. The new system introduced a revised and simplified structure on company provided cars with four different tapered rates applying where previously there were seventeen. This simplification was aimed at making it easier for employers to operate PAYE and PRSI in respect of company cars. It is estimated that the move to this new structure will result in a reduced tax take of €4 million to the Exchequer.

At the operational level, the Revenue Commissioners have indicated that the new system is being implemented generally without difficulty and is operating as intended. The queries raised thus far have not led me to reconsider the new regime.

  264.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    the buildings sold by the Office of Public Works to date to finance decentralisation; the location of same; and the total raised in each case. [26805/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  The following table shows details of the properties disposed of by the Office of Public Works in 2004 to date.

Date Property Location Sale Amount
16 March 2004 Blacklion Former Customs Post Blacklion, County Cavan 21,586.23
5 May 2004 Lad Lane Baggot St., Dublin 2 22,500,000.00
12 May 2004 Former SWO 2 Church Street, Dungarvan, County Waterford 337,000.00
13 August 2004 Former Garda Station Kilmacthomas, County Waterford 100,000.00
30 August 2004 14-16 Lord Edward St. Dublin 2 8,780,140.48
15 September 2004 72-76 St. Stephen’s Green Dublin 2 52,300,000.00
21 September 2004 Former SWO Dungloe, County Donegal 300,000.00
20 October 2004 Thomastown Former G.S. County Kilkenny 450,000.00

[891]The bulk of the proceeds of these sales will go to finance the decentralisation programme. Approximately €10 million of the proceeds has been applied to priority projects mainly in the Garda area.

  265.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    the location of sites and buildings acquired for the Government’s decentralisation programme; and the cost involved. [26806/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon):  To date, eight property solutions have been identified for decentralisation purposes and a further 20 locations are at an advanced stage in the acquisition process. The locations involved are Carlow, Longford, Newcastle West, Athlone, the Curragh, Sligo, Dundalk and Furbo. The Chief State Solicitor is processing [892]contract documents in respect of sites at Carlow, Longford and Newcastle West and it is expected that the associated acquisition phase will be completed as quickly as possible. State-owned land will accommodate the decentralised buildings scheduled for Athlone, the Curragh and Sligo, while the proposed location of the Dundalk building will be on land at the Dundalk Institute of Technology. It is proposed to locate the staff at Furbo in an extension to an existing building. The cost of the sites at Carlow, Longford and Newcastle West will be of the order of €1.8 million.

  266.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    when he proposes to commence the Dublin applications facility; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26807/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  Detailed discussions have been held with the Civil Service and public service unions on the procedures used to deal with applications under central applications facility. A document which records the main features of these discussions on human resource issues is on the central applications facility website. The Government and the decentralisation implementation group, chaired by Mr. Phil Flynn, have continually stressed the voluntary nature of the decentralisation programme. They have noted that special attention must be paid to the interests of those staff who for a range of personal and other reasons have decided not to relocate from Dublin. The personal and career needs of those who opt to remain in Dublin are just as important as the needs of those who decide to relocate.

In the light of the information on numbers and grades already available from the central applications facility, further discussions are underway between management and unions on the next stage of the programme. These discussions will concentrate on the transfer arrangements for staff who have applied under the central applications facility for moves within and between Departments as well as on the most appropriate ways of supporting those staff who do not wish to relocate. Staff serving in areas which are being decentralised and who wish to remain in Dublin will also have to be reassigned if possible to other posts in their existing Departments and offices. Detailed arrangements for managing this will be an important feature of the new round of discussions. It is clearly in the interests of all staff and of the efficient implementation of the programme that the approach adopted meets staff needs and the business needs of their employing Departments and organisations.

  267.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    the sum total of Dublin-based civil servants who have applied to CAF and who indicated their willingness to remain with their current Department and in their current grade. [26808/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  A total of 1,029 Dublin-based civil servants lodged priority applications to relocate with their own Department or office up to the closing date for priority applications on 7 September 2004. An exact grade match for each Department and office is not yet available. The CAF is still open to receive applications. Full details of the priority applications to the CAF have been published and are available at www.finance.gov.ie.

  268.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Finance    if there is a dedicated auditing unit in his Department assessing and monitoring the day-to-day spend of his Department with particular reference to major projects; if so, the number of staff involved; if the staff have accountancy qualifi[894]cations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26840/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  Vote 6 for my Department makes provision for an allocation of €127.341 million for 2004. This is made up of administration expenditure of €47.168 million, €33.045 million of which is pay; programme expenditure of €80.585 million, €41.682 million of which is current expenditure and €38.903 million is capital; and appropriations-in-aid of €412,000. The capital allocation of €38.903 million is divided as follows: decentralisation fund —€20 million; Northern Ireland peace programme and related items* —€8.103 million; disbursements to Departments in the context of Civil Service reform* —€4.534 million; child care initiative on the provision of child care facilities across the Civil Service- €2.25 million; grants in aid* —€2.016 million; and consultancy services —€2 million.

Given these levels of allocation plus the fact that the amounts marked with an asterisk are paid to other Departments or bodies, the Deputy will appreciate that my Department does not have expenditure on major projects. Like all Departments, mine must and does comply with the Department of Finance guidelines for the appraisal and management of capital projects. These guidelines are available on my Department’s website at www.finance.gov.ie.

As regards monitoring and assessing the Department’s expenditure, every officer who has been allocated a budget in my Department has a responsibility to ensure it is used responsibly and that spending is closely monitored. The Department’s financial management system is geared to enable them to do so by making available to them the necessary reports, some of which, for example, show expenditure against profile. In addition, my Department has a finance unit which monitors the expenditure of all departmental business units against their budget allocations and reports to the Department’s management advisory committee on a monthly basis. The finance unit is staffed by a half-time principal officer, an assistant principal officer and an administrative officer. There is currently a vacancy for an executive officer. The assistant principal has an accountancy qualification.

My Department also has an internal audit unit which, although not engaged in monitoring day-to-day expenditure, has the role of determining whether the systems, procedures and controls which management operates are being complied with and are capable of achieving policy objectives in the most economic, efficient and effective way. The internal audit unit is staffed by two assistant principal officers, a higher executive officer and a staff officer. One of the assistant principals has an accountancy qualification and the other holds a certificate in internal auditing and is currently undertaking a course in computer audit. The higher executive officer has attended a general course in internal audit. The unit is [895]supervised on a day-to-day basis by a principal officer but reports directly to the audit committee appointed by the accounting officer.

On a more general note, the national development plan community structural funds evaluation unit comes under my Department. The unit has a role in the evaluation of programmes under the national development plan. The unit is staffed by three evaluators, an executive officer and a clerical officer. There are also two vacancies for evaluators. While none of the staff has an accountancy qualification, two of the evaluators hold economics qualifications which are more relevant to the evaluation process required by the CSF which provides that evaluations must address the key evaluation questions relating to rationale, relevance, effectiveness, efficiency and impact of programmes. The European regional development fund financial control unit also comes under my Department. The unit carries out ex-post audits of ERDF and cohesion fund claims to the European Commission. The ERDF unit consists of five staff, of whom four have accountancy qualifications. The unit will take on a further three accountants prior to 31 January 2005.

Finally, the Deputy may be aware of developments such as the expenditure review initiative which involves Departments, including mine, in analysis over a three-year horizon of their programme expenditure and the Capital Investment Framework 2004-2008, which is a multi-annual investment framework. The objectives of the latter include meeting Government priorities for capital investment in the sectors for which the various Departments are responsible; ensuring where appropriate that a proper balance is maintained between different areas of investment; and enabling Departments and their agencies to plan and manage their capital investment programmes more efficiently and effectively. The general conditions of Department of Finance sanction of expenditure under this framework, which was introduced this year, require, inter alia, that Departments report regularly to their management advisory committees on the evaluation, prior to approval, of capital projects, the management of capital projects and progress on their capital programmes.

Question No. 269 answered with Question
No. 257.

  270.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    the reason some elderly relatives of offshore account evaders are being forced to pay fines of over €100,000; and if urgent assistance will be given to these persons. [26872/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that where a person has used an offshore account for the purposes of concealing income or gains which were not disclosed for tax purposes, they take [896]steps to pursue the outstanding tax liabilities together with interest and penalties. Where the person in question is deceased, the law provides that the tax liability together with interest and penalties are payable out of his or her estate. Accordingly, Revenue seeks to recover the appropriate sums from the executor or administrator of the relevant estate. Under the recent voluntary disclosure scheme for offshore accounts, penalties for all periods after 5 April 1991 were mitigated to 10% of the tax outstanding. However, the Revenue Commissioners are precluded from mitigating penalties for earlier periods as those periods are governed by the 1993 amnesty provisions. The Revenue Commissioners have asked that where a taxpayer has difficulty in meeting a liability, he or she should contact the local revenue district.

  271.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Finance    the rationale behind applying capital gains tax on pensioners who get a small windfall, when their overall income, including the total gross amount of the windfall, falls short of the €15,500 tax exemption limit for over 65s; if he will take measures to correct this anomaly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27114/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  A charge to capital gains tax, CGT, arises in respect of chargeable gains accruing on the disposal of assets. Such gains are computed in accordance with the provisions of the Capital Gains Tax Acts. The charge extends to individuals, companies and unincorporated bodies of persons. CGT has no connection with income which is the basis for income tax. The CGT liability of an individual is computed, irrespective of age, 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 of assets chargeable to CGT 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 20%.

As the Deputy is 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.

  272.  Dr. Upton    asked the Minister for Finance    if the Revenue Commissioners could contact the family of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 6W as they are anxious to settle the liability arising from the First Active share pay-out to their late father; if his attention has been drawn to the long delays in contacting the Revenue phone line [897]provided to deal with First Active claims; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27138/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that an official from their office has been in touch with the person concerned regarding this matter. I am informed that lo-call numbers were provided to deal with queries from former shareholders in First Active plc who made gains arising from its buy-out in January of this year. The provision of these lo-call numbers was one of a series of initiatives undertaken by Revenue to inform First Active shareholders of the capital gains tax implications which arose from the take-over of the company. Among other initiatives, the Revenue Commissioners decided to write to each of the former shareholders, as many would not ordinarily be expected to be familiar with capital gains tax provisions. The letters informed them of a potential tax liability arising from the disposal of the shares and how to make the consequent payment. Extensive material was placed on the Revenue Commissioners’ website to enable former shareholders to calculate any resultant CGT liability. This included responses to the most frequently asked questions and an on-line CGT calculator. Material was placed on Aertel. The Revenue Commissioners set up special lo-call 1890 helplines in each of the Revenue regions to enable the former shareholders to speak directly to a tax official. Details of the relevant numbers were included in the letter that issued to the former shareholders.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that they are aware that delays in getting through to these lines occurred from time to time. The Revenue Commissioners regret any such delays and assure me that every effort was made to minimise the inconvenience to the public. For example, the helplines include a pre-recorded message that is intended to answer the more frequently occurring inquiries. I also understand that additional staff were deployed to deal with these queries as the number of phone calls increased. However, there is a limit to the additional staff who can be deployed as significant resources are necessary at this time of year to assist people with general pay and file matters. I am assured that the measures taken recently have significantly reduced the level of delays. Nevertheless, the Revenue Commissioners continue to monitor the situation.

Questions Nos. 273 and 274 answered with Question No. 260.

  275.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Finance    his plans to reduce new motor taxation in budget 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27191/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  I assume the Deputy is referring to vehicle registration tax. Any change in the rates of vehicle registration tax is normally considered in the context of the annual budget. As is normal, I do not comment on such matters in advance of the budget. Matters in connection with annual road tax are the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

  276.  Mr. Morgan     asked the Minister for Finance    his views on the removal of the exemption for State occupied buildings from rates under section 15(3) of the Valuation Act 2001; if he will bring forward legislation to remove this exemption; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27298/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  State occupied buildings have been exempt from rates since before the foundation Valuation Act 1852. Section 63 of the Poor Relief (Ireland) Act 1838 exempted all buildings of a public nature which included all State occupied property. The exemption on public grounds generally was removed by the Valuation Act 2001 but the exemption for State occupied property was specifically continued and provided for under section 15(3). I have no plans at present to amend the existing legislation.

  277.  Mr. Morgan     asked the Minister for Finance    his views on the introduction of a hotel bed tax of €2 a night to be collected by local authorities and from which bed and breakfasts and guest houses would be exempted. [27299/04]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  There are no plans to introduce such a tax at this time. The introduction of a hotel bed tax would inevitably place an additional cost on an increasingly price conscious tourist thereby having a detrimental effect on Ireland’s tourism competitiveness internationally. Established tourism policy, as set out in the document New Horizons for Tourism describes competitiveness as one of the key factors central to the future success of Irish tourism.

Question No. 278 answered with Question
No. 262.

  279.  Mr. McHugh    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    his views on wind energy; the measures he has taken or proposes to take to give maximum support to the industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26817/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The promotion of renewable energy, of which wind energy is the predominant technology, is a key Government priority. The Green Paper on Sustainable Energy 1999 established a target to add 500 mw of new renewable energy based electricity generating plant to the electricity network by 2005. This target has since increased to 718 MW. The wind resource is random and cannot increase or decrease the electricity generated in immediate response to consumer demand. While the current support target for wind powered projects does not raise serious technical issues for system stability, planning for future programmes at increased penetration levels of wind powered electricity generating plant raises significant technical issues which must be addressed to maintain system security for electricity consumers. The Commission for Energy Regulation which is independent in the discharge of its functions is examining issues of immediate relevance regarding the grid code for wind powered generators. In addition, in May of this year a renewable energy development group chaired by my Department was established. The group which includes CER participation will advise on future options on policies, targets, programmes and support measures to develop the increased use of renewable energy in the electricity market to 2010 and beyond.

A major portion of the group’s current work is to resolve the challenges arising from future increased connection of intermittent wind powered generating capacity to the electricity network. The group’s report which is due before the end of this year will form the basis of my future policy proposals to Government to further increase the penetration of renewable energy sources to electricity production.

  280.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he will extend the time limit for the implementation of the code of practice for fishing boats due to the financial hardship involved for many fishermen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26830/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The Department has an ongoing safety programme involving an appropriate combination of statutory regulation, enforcement and safety awareness promotion with the aim of achieving the highest level of safety at sea, particularly on fishing vessels. There is a requirement under the Sea Fisheries Amendment Act 2003 that all fishing vessels are in a safe and seaworthy condition before a sea fishing vessel licence is issued. The Department published a new code of practice for fishing vessels of less than 15 metres [900]in length earlier this year. The code sets minimum standards of safety for vessels to protect all persons on board them. It covers vessel design, construction, machinery, safety equipment and stability issues. A panel of surveyors has also been established by the Department to ensure that fishing vessels comply with the requirements of the code. There are currently 11 surveyors on the panel and this is due to expand. It is a matter for the fishing vessel owner to select an authorised person from the panel to inspect a vessel for compliance with code of practice. All fees and expenses are a matter between the authorised person and the vessel owner or other person commissioning the survey.

Prior to the introduction of the code, the Department undertook an extensive consultation process with fishing industry representatives and BIM. BIM also administers a scheme of grant aid towards the purchase of safety equipment for fishing vessels. This grant scheme covers essential equipment including life-saving, fire fighting, navigation and occupational safety gear. The grant aid is paid at 40% of eligible cost, 5% State aid and 35% EU aid subject to maximum permitted levels of expenditure based on the normal commercial per item cost of such equipment.

I appreciate that financing improvements to fishing vessels is expensive. In promoting the application of the new code of practice my overall concern is to enhance safety at sea. Compliance with this new safety regime is the best way to ensure the safety of fishing vessels and their crew. I do not, therefore, propose to extend the time for the implementation of the code.

  281.  Mr. Murphy    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    his views on the social dimension of the post office network; and if he will grant a subsidy for the computerisation of the smaller post offices along with a subvention for offices in locations in which the population is insufficient to attract and retain the postmaster. [26834/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The Government is committed to a viable and sustainable rural post office network. However, consideration must be given to the climate in which An Post is operating while bearing in mind the serious operational losses the company has suffered and the measures which must be implemented if it is to achieve its target of profitability. The Government has already provided an equity injection of €12.7 million to An Post to facilitate the modernisation of the post office network. The equity injection was paid to the company in 2003 and, with this in mind, the Government is not considering providing a subsidy or subvention towards the post office network.

[901]The company’s programme of automation for certain post offices was completed in 1997 and it is, therefore, only in very exceptional circumstances that offices are automated today. Such circumstances might consist of an existing automated office closing and its equipment being transferred to a suitable neighbouring location which transacts significant volumes of welfare business. The automated network accounts for over 95% of An Post’s counter business. This level of automated coverage is considered by An Post to be extremely comprehensive by any objective standard. It is the company’s view that there has never been a justifiable customer service or economic argument to support the extension of automation to all offices, regardless of their location or business volumes. Given the minimal business volumes and small customer base of the remaining non-automated post offices and the prohibitively high costs, both capital and ongoing, of automating them, An Post advises me that it has no plans to increase the number of automated offices. That decision is entirely a commercial operational matter for the company.

  282.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if there is a dedicated auditing unit in his Department assessing and monitoring the day-to-day spend of his Department with particular reference to major projects; if so, the number of staff involved; if the staff have accountancy qualifications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26841/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  My Department has a dedicated internal audit unit which monitors and examines the day-to-day spend of the Department based on a risk assessment of the activities relating to this expenditure. The unit has four full-time staff and is headed by a fully qualified professional accountant. The unit has recently been independently evaluated as being in compliance with the standards for professional practice of internal audit set by the Institute of Internal Auditors.

  283.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he will request funding in budget 2005 for an ocean-going rescue and salvage tug with a large towing capability following the recent Chicoutimi tragedy and in view of the ongoing danger to coastlines here from oil tankers and nuclear submarines. [26863/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The feasibility of deploying emergency towing vessels, or ETVs, in Irish wat[902]ers is still under consideration. In 1998 the then Department of the Marine and Natural Resources commissioned a study to investigate the feasibility of deploying ETVs around the coast. Following an assessment of the study, which was published in 1999, it was decided that Ireland should have access to ETV capacity to protect the coast from the consequences of major oil pollution and vessel stranding; the Department would consult with the Departments of Finance, Defence and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on cost-effectiveness, location, financing, operational aspects, possible other uses etc.; and Ireland and the UK would consult on the possible sharing of an ETV to cover the east coast.

The Department set up an internal working group to manage the consultation process referred to above and to progress the matter generally. The likely significant costs associated with the provision of ETV capability and complex operational requirements were recognised. The working group concluded that an ETV capacity be provided to service the west coast via a public private partnership process and an ETV for the east coast provided to ensure an acceptable level of cover at minimum cost, including if possible on a joint PPP approach with the UK for the Irish Sea. The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources is currently examining how these proposals can be pursued.

  284.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    if he will report on the programme of activities for a vessel (details supplied) over the next three years, in view of the hugely successful impact of the vessel on its maiden voyage as an ambassador for the marine industry here and as a training vessel for Irish crews and shipwrights and in the context of the opening of the Irish Maritime College in Cork. [26864/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Gallagher):  The Department’s primary role concerning this vessel was to oversee the allocation of the Government’s grant funding to ensure construction was completed to the highest possible safety standards and that the vessel undertook its planned trans-Atlantic voyage to north America. At the start of 2003, a consortium comprising Kerry County Council, Tralee Town Council, Shannon Development and Kerry Group plc took over ownership of the Jeanie Johnston replica famine vessel. Under this ownership structure, the ship completed its successful maiden voyage to North America in 2003 and has continued to operate as a tourism and heritage attraction in 2004. All of the grant funds, which were allocated by Government through this Department to the Jeanie Johnston project, have [903]now been paid. The Department has no role in the operation or management of the vessel and any plans for the future of the vessel are a matter for its owners to decide.

  285.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    following the recent incident involving a company (details supplied) if he is intending to greatly strengthen the range of sanctions and penalties available to ComReg on issues of this kind. [26865/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I have no function in the matter raised by the Deputy. This is a matter for the Commission for Communications Regulations, or ComReg. ComReg has statutory independence in the exercise of its functions. Responsibility for the protection and promotion of consumer interests for electronic communications networks and services and the integrity of the network rests with ComReg under the European Communities (Electronic Communications Networks and Services) (Universal Service and Users Rights) Regulation SI 308 of 2003.

  286.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the present rate of royalty payments made in respect of all dolomite quarry and mine operations here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26933/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  There are two mining leases under which the lessees are authorised to extract dolomite and dolomitic limestone. One is dated 2 December 1968 and the rate of royalty, which is not subject to review, is €0.0312 per tonne of minerals extracted. The other lease is dated 1 June 2004 and the rate of royalty per tonne of minerals, which is subject to review every four years, is €0.38. Any new lease for extraction of dolomite and dolomitic limestone will be subject to the current rate of royalty of €0.38 per tonne extracted and will be reviewed every four years in accordance with changes in the consumer price index.

  287.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the type of laboratory or chemical tests that were carried out on the rock samples taken from the site of the proposed quarry extension lands at Dunbell, County Kilkenny by a company (details supplied) and presented to his Department as evidence of a viable dolomite mineral presence in the context of the new road developments at that [904]location; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26934/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The rock samples collected from the site of the proposed quarry extension at Maddoxtown, Dunbell Big townland, were analysed at a recognised Irish laboratory. The rock samples were prepared for analysis by the laboratory and each was analysed for 46 elements, including calcium and magnesium. The calcium and magnesium content determines whether the rock is dolomitic. The samples were analysed using a modern spectroscopic analytical technique, ICP-AES — inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry. This analytical method is accurate to 0.01%. It is accepted that best practice analytical procedures were followed, including repeat analysis of standards and analysis of blanks.

  288.  Mr. Walsh    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the plans he has to roll out broadband connectivity to the Houses of the Oireachtas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27141/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  I do not have responsibility for broadband connectivity to the Houses of the Oireachtas. Responsibility for the Oireachtas is under Comisiún Thithe an Oireachtas, the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. The Oireachtas has its own internal information technology unit which works under the guidance of the commission.

  289.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources    the number of licences in respect of mineral exploration with his Department in regard to the exploration of such minerals in the Leinster area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27188/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  There are 152 prospecting licences held for the exploration of minerals in the Leinster area which authorise prospecting mainly for base metals, barytes, gold, silver, gemstones and gem minerals.

  290.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources,    further to Question No. 702 of 29 September 2004, if he will again review this application in view of correspondence (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27206/04]

Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. N. Dempsey):  The alternative energy requirement, AER, programme, which is administered by my Department, is the only support mechanism for renewable and alternative energy under my direct control and it is not a grant aid type of support. Sustainable Energy Ireland administers a research, development and demonstration programme for renewables with an overall budget of €16.25 million to 2006. The programme is open to all renewable energy technologies and covers a range of proposal types including policy studies, field research, feasibility studies and technology research and development. The programme aims to stimulate the deployment of renewables close to market and address the need for information and education which are required to raise the awareness and willingness of all relevant players to actively engage in the market.

The main focus of the programme is on stimulating increased application and deployment of renewable technologies. Sustainable Energy Ireland is an independent non-commercial State body and as such I have no function in the administration of its programmes.

  291.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if there is a dedicated auditing unit in his Department assessing and monitoring the day-to-day spend of his Department with particular reference to major projects; if so, the number of staff involved; if the staff have accountancy qualifications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26842/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The Department of Foreign Affairs is responsible for Vote 28, Foreign Affairs, and Vote 29, International Co-operation. For each Vote, a dedicated audit unit has been established namely. These are the inspection and audit unit for foreign affairs and the evaluation and audit unit in Development Co-operation Ireland for international co-operation. The inspection and internal audit unit consists of three staff and has an appropriately qualified internal auditor. The evaluation and audit unit in Development Co-operation Ireland has six staff including two internal auditors, both of whom have accountancy qualifications. In addition, the work of the internal auditors at headquarters is supported by internal auditors with appropriate qualifications who are based at our embassies in three of Development Co-operation Ireland’s programme countries. These are Ethiopia, Lesotho and Tanzania.

It is the responsibility of the audit units to provide assurance to senior management as to the adequacy of the Department’s internal control systems. The role of assessing and monitoring the day-to-day spend of the Department, including [906]spending on major projects, however falls to the relevant line manager in conjunction with the finance units responsible for each Vote. The finance units, in addition to being staffed by officers at management and clerical levels, also employ professionally qualified accountants. While most staff in the finance units do not have accountancy qualifications, they receive the necessary training to enable them perform their duties in a satisfactory manner.

  292.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he has raised with the British Government the overflight incursion some two miles into County Monaghan, and over the town of Clones, by a British Army helicopter on 17 October 2004; if he will report on the response he has received; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26876/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  As the Deputy is aware, the Government regards unauthorised incursions by the British security forces into the State as a serious matter. On each reported occasion, the matter is immediately raised with the British Government. In this connection, officials met with members of the British Army’s civil policy team during the summer to discuss incursions into this jurisdiction. It was emphasised to the British side that the issue of incursions be tackled vigorously by them. The British side assured us that incursions are taken seriously by their security forces, accepted that potential dangers to both local people and security personnel exist when such incidents occur and undertook to reinforce the seriousness of these matters with British Army headquarters.

In this particular case, my officials raised this alleged incident through the office of the British-Irish inter-governmental secretariat in Belfast. In response, the British side have indicated that on 17 October, at approximately 5.30 p.m., a helicopter crossed into County Monaghan for a brief period of time. The authorities have stated that this was due to navigational error on behalf of the pilot and that once the mistake was realised the helicopter immediately returned to the North.

  293.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the number of temporary posts in his Department for each year since 1997; the average duration of the contract for temporary staff for each year; the number of staff officer posts filled for each year since 1997 within the Department and by interdepartmental competition; the number of executive officer posts filled in the Department for each year since 1997 within the Department by interdepartmental competition and by open competition; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26927/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I presume the Deputy is referring, in the first part of his question, to the employment of temporary clerical officers each year by the Department of Foreign Affairs to work in the passport offices in Dublin, Cork and Balbriggan during the spring-summer period, when the demand for passports reaches a seasonal high. The number of temporary clerical officers employed in the years 1997 to 2004, inclusive, was as follows:

Year Total number of TCOs employed
1997 72
1998 78
1999 102
2000 96
2001 150
2002 135
2003 78
2004 159

The December 2004-January 2005 timetable for the introduction of the new automated passport system and the related comprehensive training programme which is currently under way have resulted in a need for increased numbers of temporary clerical officers in 2004 and 2005. The number of temporary clerical officers required from late summer 2005 onwards will be assessed in the light of a planned review of passport office staffing needs following the implementation of the new automated passport system and anticipated further annual increases in demand for passports.

The duration of temporary clerical officer contracts varies widely. Normally, approximately half [908]of each year’s intake of temporary clerical officers are employed from March and April to September and the remainder from late January or early February until November or December. Overall, the average duration of contracts has been of the order of seven months. A small number of other temporary staff have been employed since 1997, in particular in the context of Ireland’s EU Presidency in the first half of this year. In addition to officers temporarily assigned to the Department of Foreign Affairs from other Departments and offices, approximately 30 stagiaires were employed on short-term contracts prior to and for the duration of the Presidency. The Department also employs a small number of stagiaires on an annual basis. These are one in its development co-operation directorate, one in the human rights unit, and two in the legal division, as well as 42 specialist staff on fixed-term contracts assigned to the development co-operation directorate.

Staff officer and executive officer posts in the Department are, in the main, filled through internal, interdepartmental or open competitions. Other factors such as restructuring agreements, the redeployment or transfer of staff from other Departments and the integration of the staff of the National Committee for Development Education in 2003 and the Agency for Personal Service Overseas in 2004 have also resulted in the filling of posts in these grades. The arrangements for filling staff and executive officer posts are agreed centrally between the Department of Finance and the Civil and Public Service Union, which represents officers in the clerical officer and staff officer grades. The following table gives a breakdown by year of the numbers of promotions to each grade, excluding promotions to executive officer and junior systems analyst.

Promotion to Staff Officer.

1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
Internal 1 7 * 6 10 13 16 3 0
Interdepartmental/open 1 0 2 1 0 6 1 0

Promotion to Executive Officer.

Internal 0 8* 9 3 6 6 1 0
Interdepartmental/open 1 2 12 9 22 17 4 6

  294.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the estimated number of Irish persons assisted by Irish welfare agencies based in the UK, through DÍON funding in 2003; if he expects that this figure will increase in 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27059/04]

  295.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the funding that has been given since 1997 to voluntary organisations working with Irish-born emigrants based in Scotland and Wales; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27060/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 294 and 295 together.

[909]In 2003, an estimated 37,000 Irish people benefited from services provided by Irish and non-Irish organisations in Britain which have been grant aided by the Government through DÍON funding. I am pleased to note that DÍON funding has more than quadrupled in the past five years. This year’s initial allocation to the fund was €3.57 million. An additional €1 million was allocated by my Department for emigrant services in the course of this year, most of which is being directed to the DÍON fund. I am confident that the significantly increased funding secured for this year together with the inclusion of a number of new projects for funding will result in an even greater number of Irish people benefiting from the support of these organisations this year.

Research into the patterns of Irish emigration show that large numbers left Ireland for Britain in the post-1945 period, particularly in the 1950s. Most of these people settled in England, particularly in the greater London area, the west midlands including Birmingham and Coventry, as well as in cities in the north west such as Manchester. Most welfare groups which focus on the needs of Irish people are based in London and the other main centres of Irish communities in England. Since 1997 only one organisation in either Scotland or Wales has made an application for DÍON funding. The organisation in question was OGWR, a housing association in Wales, and it received a grant of IR £5,000 in 2002.

I want to see DÍON funding extending beyond its traditional points of concentration in England. To this end, I have asked the embassy in London and the consulates in Edinburgh and Cardiff as well as the director of the recently established Irish abroad unit to stimulate an awareness of the DÍON fund in Britain within the Irish community and the voluntary sector. This process will allow the needs of the Irish community, especially its more vulnerable members to be identified and our support targeted effectively at groups working to meet these needs.

  296.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he has granted funding to Irish voluntary groups which provide assistance to Irish-born prisoners who are newly released from jail; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27061/04]

  304.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if a research study has been undertaken to identify the needs of Irish prisoners abroad, as promised under the programme for prosperity and fairness; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27072/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 296 and 304 together.

My Department provides financial assistance to the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas, the ICPO, the body established by the Bishops’ Com[910]mission for Emigrants to identify and respond to the needs of Irish prisoners abroad and their families. Since 1997, an annual grant of €25,000 has been made to the ICPO here in Ireland. Assistance is also provided through the DÍON fund to the ICPO office in London which deals exclusively with Irish prisoners in Britain. This year the London office of the ICPO received €110,000 and I expect it will also benefit from the extra moneys allocated to the DÍON fund earlier this year.

In the programme for prosperity and fairness, the Government agreed to carry out a research project to identify the number of Irish prisoners abroad and their needs for services in prison. My Department held off commissioning a study pending the report of the task force on policy regarding emigrants, which noted that, in some cases, prisoners may have special needs which do not arise in the case of other emigrants. Following discussions with the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas, it was agreed that the focus of the study should be on Irish prisoners in Britain. Draft terms of reference for this study have been drawn up and it is proposed to initiate the study in the near future.

  297.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if his attention has been drawn to circumstances in cases in which Irish-born emigrants receive less than their full social and health entitlements; the number of Irish emigrants that are affected by this problem; the measures that have been taken to overcome this problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27064/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  While I recognise fully the responsibility of the Government to our people living abroad, the welfare of those who live, work and pay taxes abroad is also, of course, a matter for the Governments and authorities in the countries of residence of the Irish people concerned. I am especially aware that some of our emigrants need help in accessing their entitlements abroad, though the exact number is not known. Some, for instance, may need the advice and even advocacy of people who are sensitive to their needs.

This year my Department’s funding for emigrant support stands at some €5 million, representing an increase of two thirds over 2003. This funding is directed to organisations in Britain, the United States and Australia which provide Irish citizens with a wide range of advice, counselling and support services. These services include expert advice on entitlements to social welfare, health and housing. Many of these organisations assist Irish people in making representations directly to the appropriate authorities. I am confident that this front-line and culturally sensitive support actively helps and will continue to help many Irish living abroad to access fully their just entitlements.

[911]

  298.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he has conducted research into the position of Irish-born women emigrants in the UK; if the disadvantage experienced by a section of Irish-born males in the UK as highlighted in a recent programme (details supplied) is also mirrored in Irish female emigrants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27066/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  The experience of emigration has been a mixed one for Irish men and women. While many who have emigrated have prospered, emigration has presented some people with very particular difficulties. We are able to draw on a range of studies on the situation of Irish emigrants in Britain. I am aware of the difficult circumstances experienced by the individuals featured in the television programme, which the Deputy refers to in his question. A recent study published in the July 2004 edition of the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies finds that the experiences of the single Irish men in the sample covered by the study stood out in contrast to the experiences of married people of either sex and of the single women. The study considers that the lives of these single Irish men were more difficult, both economically and emotionally. This and other studies report that many Irish women found employment in occupations such as nursing or personal services where accommodation was provided. Many of these jobs were arranged through agencies before the women left Ireland. These circumstances may have provided a certain level of social stability to the women concerned.

In contrast, many Irish men left home without a secure job and found work in the construction sector. The temporary and transient nature of work in this sector may have exacerbated for some men the stresses which emigration involved by impeding their prospects of settling in one place, within a community. People react in different ways to the stresses of emigration and can find themselves faced with problems. The agencies that offer front-line assistance and advice services to vulnerable Irish people provide, therefore, a critically important support structure. I intend to ensure that their invaluable activities, which benefit so many Irish men and women living in Britain, continue to be strongly supported by the Government. Furthermore, I have asked the DÍON committee, which advises me on Irish emigrant welfare issues in Britain, to monitor closely the needs of Irish women in Britain and keep under review whether further research should be commissioned concerning their circumstances.

  299.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the funding since 1997 that has been given to social and voluntary organisations based in the US who work with Irish emigrants; the funding that has been allocated for 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27067/04]

  300.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if his Department is involved in political engagement with US authorities which seeks to regularise the status of undocumented Irish emigrants in the US; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27068/04]

  306.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the number of US green cards awarded to Irish-born emigrants each year since 1995 to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27109/04]

  307.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the estimated figure of the number of undocumented Irish-born emigrants currently living in the US; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27110/04]

  308.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he has held discussions with his US counterparts, to facilitate an increase in green card quotas awarded to Irish-born emigrants who wish to obtain legal residency status in the US; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27111/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 299, 300 and 306 to 308, inclusive, together.

The Deputy can be assured that the Government’s concern for the undocumented Irish people in the United States is raised on an ongoing basis in our bilateral contacts with the US authorities, including when the Taoiseach and my predecessor met with President Bush at the EU-US summit in Dromoland in June 2004. I welcome the various proposals on immigration reform, which have been made by President Bush and members of Congress. These initiatives reflect an awareness of the importance of addressing the situation of the undocumented in the USA in a constructive and sympathetic way. The US Congress will, of course, have to give consideration to these proposals and, realistically, it is very unlikely there will be any movement until after the Presidential inauguration in the new year.

The number of Irish citizens who may be resident in the United States without the appropriate authorisation is difficult to estimate. While the United States citizenship and immigration services have estimated that the number may have declined to 3,000 in the year 2000, many of the agencies working with our emigrants regard this figure as a very low estimate indeed. Figures published by the US citizenship and immigration services report that 15,056 permanent resident cards, known widely as green cards, were issued to Irish people between 1995 and 2003. Figures for 2004 have not yet been published. A summary follows of the number of cards, which issued in each year. I stress that the Government’s commitment to support efforts, which improve the circumstances of vulnerable Irish living in the USA is strong and growing. Our embassy and network of consulates [913]in the USA work closely with voluntary Irish organisations there, which provide invaluable assistance and support to vulnerable Irish people. Since 1997, the Government has allocated some $2.9 million to these organisations. This year they received an allocation of $607,000, which represented an increase of 70% on last year. A summary follows of the grants made in each year since 1997.

I assure the Deputy that through the ongoing efforts of our embassy and my own contacts and those of my Cabinet colleagues with political leaders in the USA, I will continue to encourage and support all measures that benefit Irish citizens in that country.

Permanent Resident Cards issued to Irish Citizens, 1995-2003.

Year Number
1995 5,315
1996 1,731
1997 1,001
1998 944
1999 812
2000 1,315
2001 1,522
2002 1,425
2003 991

Government Funding to Irish immigration centres in the United States.

Year $
1997 253,300
1998 253,300
1999 300,000
2000 300,000
2001 600,000*
2002 300,000
2003 356,000
2004 607,000

  301.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if his Department intends to establish an Internet site dedicated to the needs of Irish emigrants abroad and capable of providing both information and a link to Ireland for emigrants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27069/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  Many of the Irish organisations at home and abroad, which are active in the delivery of services to Irish emigrants, have established their own websites. Others have amassed a set of skills and knowledge, which would be of value to all of us with an interest in this issue. It is clearly desir[914]able to link up the resources already available and make them more accessible. I also feel that we should be able to add to our knowledge in a way that is both efficient and effective in reaching all of the interested parties. The Internet offers us the ideal tool to do all of this. I value greatly its potential to help Irish people living abroad to feel more connected to home.

Officials of the Irish abroad unit in my Department are currently meeting a wide range of people engaged in the provision of services to our emigrants. These intensive contacts are, inter alia, deepening our knowledge of what information is already available and what areas should be developed further. In the light of these consultations, I will be happy to consider further how best to use the Internet to help meet the needs of our emigrants.

  302.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    his views on the concept of an awards scheme to recognise the service of Irish persons overseas; if he will progress this project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27070/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  Many Irish people who have emigrated have made, and continue to make, a distinctive and invaluable contribution to developments in their adopted countries. In doing so, they have brought great credit to themselves and to Ireland. Many have also contributed to the success story that is Ireland today. We value deeply their contribution both at home and abroad.

The matter of an awards scheme to recognise the service of Irish persons abroad arises in the context of wider discussions on a national honours system. As the Deputy may be aware, it is the Department of the Taoiseach rather than my Department, which takes the lead in this matter.

  303.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    his views on the establishment of a budget from his Department to provide financial assistance towards the cost of Irish community, cultural and sporting activities abroad; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27071/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  This year my Department’s funding for emigrant support stands at some €5 million, representing an increase of two thirds over 2003. This funding is directed to organisations in Britain, the United States of America and Australia which provide Irish citizens with a wide range of advice, counselling a and support services. By their very nature, the centres we support financially perform a critical service for their local Irish community. In addition to their advisory functions, some also act as a centre for community activities, including cultural activities. While my immediate priority is to get funding to the people and the organisations at the front line which provide invaluable services to vulnerable Irish people living abroad, I am [915]open to considering in the future, in consultation with my colleague the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, proposals for funding which would help Irish people living abroad to maintain and express their Irish identity.

Question No. 304 answered with Question
No. 296.

  305.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties experienced by Irish citizens in obtaining copies of their birth certificates from or in late registering their birth at the General Register Office in Dublin; if there is a dedicated staff member assigned with the General Register Office to deal with Irish-born emigrants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27073/04]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I am pleased to note that there is now a dedicated section within the General Register Office which deals with applications for birth certificates submitted, for example, from Irish centres in Britain.

Questions Nos. 306 to 308, inclusive, answered with Question No. 299.

  309.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if there is a dedicated auditing unit in his Department assessing and monitoring the day-to-day spend of his Department with particular reference to major projects; if so, the number of staff involved; if the staff have accountancy qualifications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26843/04]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Mr. O’Donoghue):  My Department has a dedicated internal audit unit which acts as an appraiser of the adequacy, application and effectiveness of the systems of internal financial control in place. There are three officials working in the unit, none of whom has a professional accountancy qualification. The accounting officer, who has overall responsibility for ensuring the effectiveness of the system of internal administrative and financial controls, has put in place structures to enable the continuing review of such controls. These include the designation of an independent head of internal audit who reports directly to him; the adoption of an internal audit charter and the appointment of an audit committee with an external chairman. Furthermore, a committee, chaired by the finance officer, is in place to monitor the implementation of the recommendations of the working group on the accountability of Secretaries General and accounting officers.

  310.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    when a sports recreation grant will be awarded to a group (details supplied) in [916]County Kilkenny; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26939/04]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Mr. O’Donoghue):  A grant of €20,000 was provisionally allocated to the group in question under my Department’s 2004 sports capital programme. Approval of grants under that programme is subject to recipients meeting the terms and conditions of the programme. The group was advised in June 2004 of the conditions to be met and the documentation required by my Department to approve and pay the grant. While the group submitted some of the documentation required, further documentation is outstanding and the group has been made aware of the position.

  311.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    if the best possible advice, support and the maximum assistance will be given to a group of persons who aim to start a GAA club at adult and junior level. [27098/04]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Mr. O’Donoghue):  My Department is not involved in providing advice to persons wishing to start a GAA club at adult and junior level. Any such group of persons should contact the headquarters or the relevant county board of the GAA for guidelines and advice on how to proceed. The national lottery-funded sports capital programme administered by my Department allocates funding to sporting and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country towards the provision of sport and recreational facilities. The programme is advertised on an annual basis. Under the 2004 sports capital programme, I allocated €61 million in respect of 738 projects. It is open to a GAA club to apply for funding under the programme should it have a project which meets the programme’s terms and conditions. I will make an announcement shortly about the timetable for submission of applications for grants under the 2005 sports capital programme.

  312.  Mr. Sherlock    asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism    the number of requests for decentralisation in respect of Fáilte Ireland staff to Mallow, County Cork; if he is facilitating an early response to this request. [27144/04]

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Mr. O’Donoghue):  According to the latest figures available from the central application facility, there have been 83 applications for decentralisation to Fáilte Ireland, which is proposed for relocation to Mallow, County Cork. Of the applications, ten are from officers serving in Dublin and the remainder from officers serving in provincial locations. I will not be in a position to state when the transfers will take place until a decision has been made on sequencing and timing. In this regard, the Flynn group will shortly [917]make recommendations to the Cabinet sub-committee on decentralisation as to the organisations and locations to be included in the first batch of relocations. The recommendations will be based on the latest figures emerging from the central applications facility together with information on the availability of existing property or a suitable site for development of office facilities.

  313.  Mr. Wall     asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    his views on the major discrepancies in regard to diesel and petrol prices here; the plans his Department has to address the problem; the effect this is having in regard to potential employment losses due to the huge increase in travel costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27187/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  The significant oil price increases that have occurred since the beginning of this year have been caused by a combination of strong demand, tight capacities, political uncertainty and some market speculation. The International Energy Association has warned that sustained high oil prices will adversely affect the economic performance of eurozone countries. Ireland has no control over world oil prices. However, given their impact on economic performance the Government is determined to ensure that any adverse effects are limited by strengthening our competitiveness and ensuring that we are in a position to adapt to changing global economic circumstances.

The Competition Authority, which is an agency of my Department, is charged with enforcing Irish competition law to ensure that our markets are working efficiently and for the benefit of consumers and of the economy as a whole. I am not aware of any competition difficulties in relation to the market for diesel and petrol. However, if the Deputy is aware of any such difficulties I would recommend that he bring them to the attention of the Competition Authority.

Under the Retail Price (Diesel and Petrol) Display Order 1997, sellers of petrol and diesel are legally obliged to display their selling prices. I would urge all consumers including businesses to empower themselves by availing of the lowest price in their locality.

  314.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number of work days lost through sickness by exposure to chemicals including as a result of asthma, allergies and exposure to asbestos. [26793/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Killeen):  The Central Statistics Office quarterly national household survey estimates that 30,370 work days were lost in 2002 due to breathing or lung problems and that 8,810 work days were lost [918]due to skin problems. The survey does not have a breakdown of days lost due to the specific matters referred to in the question.

  315.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number of child care facilities employing staff via community employment programmes currently and in each of the past three years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26795/04]

  316.  Mr. Morgan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number of community employment participants working at child care facilities currently and in each of the past three years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26796/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 315 and 316 together.

At present 1,815 community employment child care places are ring-fenced for clients on community employment directly involved in the delivery of child care services. These places have been ring-fenced for the past three years. Further numbers are involved in support and provision of other services for projects with child care facilities, for example, playgroup assistants, administrators, general maintenance etc.

  317.  Mr. McHugh    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    his views on a statement (details supplied) in the review of the Government programme in August 2004, in view of the fact that the Irish Wheelchair Association is dependent on community employment workers who after a one-year period may have to be replaced resulting in no continuity of services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26811/04]

  318.  Mr. McHugh    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if he will work closely with the Department of Health and Children to mainstream health related community employment scheme participants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26816/04]

  320.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the action he intends to take in relation to the thousands of jobs initiative and community employment workers who are currently reaching the end of their contract; and if he has given consideration to a new community work programme for older persons in the jobs initiative programme who carry out important and necessary tasks for their communities. [26860/04]

  323.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the plans he has to re-examine FÁS and community employment schemes with respect to the position of applicants over 50 years of age seeking further [919]placement after their period of three years in view of the difficulties that such persons have in obtaining employment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27190/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 317, 318, 320 and 323 together.

The community employment, CE, and jobs initiative, JI, programmes provide work experience and training opportunities for the long-term unemployed and other disadvantaged groups with the aim of progressing participants to a job in the open labour market. Participants move from these programmes after an agreed period of support and development, which is usually from one to three years. Vacancies become available on a rolling basis as participants finish their term and are replaced by long-term unemployed and other disadvantaged persons.

The terms and conditions of participation on CE and the future direction of JI are currently under review. In this regard there has been extensive consultation with key stakeholders and the social partners 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.

FÁS is endeavouring to support local communities and organisations such as the
Irish Wheelchair Association in the services they wish to deliver while keeping the focus of the scheme on securing jobs for participants in the open labour market. There are no plans at present to mainstream community employment programmes.

  319.  Mr. McGuinness     asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if there is a dedicated auditing unit in his Department assessing and monitoring the day-to-day spend of his Department with particular reference to major projects; if so, the number of staff involved; if the staff have accountancy qualifications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26844/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  A dedicated internal audit unit has been in place in my Department since the mid-1990s. The internal audit unit provides an assurance to the accounting officer on the internal control systems and the extent to which these systems contribute to the achievement of policy and business objectives in the most economic, efficient and effective way. The unit also has specific audit responsibilities to the European Commission in relation to some Structural Funds expenditure, in particular the European Social Fund.

In March 2004, the Secretary General of my Department, as Accounting Officer, signed a [920]statement on internal financial control in respect of the 2003 appropriation account, acknowledging responsibility for ensuring that an effective system of internal financial controls is in place, maintained and operated by the Department. This statement was informed by the work of the internal audit unit, the audit committee, the managers who have responsibility for the development and maintenance of the controls systems, comments made by the Comptroller and Auditor General and, where relevant, the work of other audit bodies, for example, EU auditors in the case of Structural Funds expenditure.

The ongoing assessment and monitoring of expenditure referred to by the Deputy is primarily the responsibility of line management. Subsequent review, by internal audit, of the adequacy of the controls in place is undertaken in accordance with the annual audit plan.

The internal audit unit has a staffing complement of nine, including two work-job sharing posts. The unit is headed by a professional accountant and two of the other posts are at professional accountant level. The remaining members of the unit have a broad range of experience and backgrounds and have all received extensive training in internal audit. The adequacy of the expertise and resources available to the internal audit unit is kept under review by the audit committee.

Question No. 320 answered with Question
No. 317.

  321.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if, in consultation with the IFSRA and the Department of Finance, he will order an immediate inquiry into the endowment policy scandal headed by independent inspectors under company law legislation. [26862/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  I am not aware of company law infringements being at issue in the selling of the financial products in question. However, if the Deputy has any information on possible infringements he should bring it to the attention of the Director of Corporate Enforcement who is responsible for the investigation of suspected breaches of company law.

As I understand it, the Deputy is concerned about the manner in which certain financial services products were sold to consumers, the regulation of the providers of such products and the appointment of authorised officers under the relevant legislation to investigate these matters. This is a matter for the Minister for Finance and the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority and I have no function in the matter.

  322.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Minister for [921]Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if there is evidence that patents pending can be disclosed out of the Patents Office, particularly in relation to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 13; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27112/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. M. Ahern):  In common with legislation in most other countries, Irish law, section 28 of the Patents Act 1992, provides that a pending patent application shall be published, that is, made open to public inspection and therefore disclosed, as soon as practicable after the expiry of a period of 18 months from the filing date, or if the priority of an earlier application for the same invention is being claimed, 18 months from the date of filing of the earlier application. Up until the expiry of the 18 month period the description of the invention remains secret and is not disclosed by the Patents Office to anybody. An application which is withdrawn by the applicant prior to the expiry of the 18-month period is also never disclosed by the office.

The person involved currently has no applications pending at the Patents Office. He did submit four national applications for short term patents in the period from April 1999 to date. These applications were dealt with in accordance with the relevant national legislation. Three were deemed to be withdrawn prior to the expiry of the 18-month period and were, therefore, not published or made available to the public. A fourth application was published after the expiry of the 18-month period and was subsequently refused as the applicant had failed to remedy substantive defects in the application notified to him by the office.

This person also filed three international patent applications under the Patent Co-operation Treaty in the period June 2001 to October 2002. The Irish Patents Office acts as a receiving office for such applications and transmits them to the International Bureau of the World Intellectual Property Organisation and the European Patent Office following completion of a formalities check. Each of these applications claimed the priority of an earlier corresponding Irish application and each was published 18 months from the priority date in accordance with the provisions of the treaty.

I am advised that the Patents Office has had considerable correspondence with the person in question, in which it has repeatedly sought to explain the procedures and provisions in both Irish and international law which result in patent applications being published after 18 months unless withdrawn and to assure him that his patent applications which were withdrawn prior to the publication date have not been disclosed by the office.

Question No. 323 answered with QuestionNo. 317.

  324.  Mr. Kenny    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number of IDA site visits there have been in Donegal since January 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27301/04]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin):  IDA Ireland is the agency with statutory responsibility for the attraction of foreign direct investment, FDI, to Ireland and its regions. Support for job creation in individual counties is a day-to-day operational matter for the agency. IDA Ireland is actively promoting County Donegal for new investment and jobs on an ongoing basis.

There have been nine site visits to Donegal since January 2004. In addition to actual visits, the county has been promoted to companies who, because of time constraints on visits to Ireland, were unable to visit the county. This took the form of detailed presentations on the county and answering any questions that the prospective companies had on the area.

IDA has been successful in attracting new investment in emerging sectors such as international services, medical technologies, software and high-end engineering. IDA Ireland job figures show 2,080 jobs created by IDA Ireland client companies over the last five years in the north west region.

IDA Ireland is working closely with Donegal County Council, local service providers, colleges and others to ensure that the challenges facing the county are being addressed. The metro area network project, funded by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources is now complete in Letterkenny.

IDA Ireland is working with Invest Northern Ireland on a virtual cross-Border park, which will involve joint marketing efforts and planned improved telecommunications infrastructure on a cross-Border basis. The construction of Letterkenny business park by Donegal County Council is now complete, and the extension of the Letterkenny ring road to this business 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 also 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 to this, 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.

I am confident that the strategies and policies being pursued by IDA Ireland, together with the ongoing commitment of Government to regional development, will bear fruit in terms of maximis[923]ing new investment and jobs for the people of Donegal.

  325.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    his views on the issuing of free travel passes to elderly Irish-born emigrants when they return here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27062/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The free travel scheme is available to all people aged 66 years or over who are permanently residing in the State. It is also available to carers and to people with disabilities who are in receipt of certain social welfare payments. Accordingly, those emigrants who return to live permanently in the State are entitled to free travel.

Any extension to the free travel scheme for temporary visits would have financial implications and be difficult to administer effectively. Any proposal of that kind could only be considered in a budgetary context and taking account of other needs and priorities.

  326.  Mr. Allen    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the reason the Southern Health Board has refused a person (details supplied) in County Cork a diet allowance in view of the fact that their only income is social welfare benefit and they cannot afford the special diet that they require for their medical condition. [27133/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  Recipients of social welfare or health board payments who have been prescribed a special diet as a result of a specified medical condition, and whose means are insufficient to meet their needs, may qualify for a diet supplement under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme.

The amount of supplement payable depends on which of two categories of diet, that is, a lower cost diet costing €44 per week or higher cost diet costing €57 per week, has been prescribed by the applicant’s medical adviser, as well as on the income of the individual and his-her dependents. In the case of a single person with no dependants, a supplement is payable if the cost of the prescribed diet is more than one third of the applicant’s income.

The Southern Health Board was contacted regarding this case and has advised that the application by the person concerned for a diet supplement was refused on the grounds that his income is sufficient to meet his dietary needs, as the cost of the diet that he has been prescribed is less than one third of his income.

The board has further advised that the person concerned was unsuccessful in his appeal against this decision. The basis for the diet allowance and related matters will be reviewed when a report [924]commissioned from Dr. Muireann Cullen of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute, is finalised at the end of November.

  327.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if the supplementary welfare allowance will be approved for a person (details supplied) in County Sligo in view of financial difficulties. [27204/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on behalf of my Department by the health boards, provides for exceptional needs payments to help meet essential, once-off expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of his or her weekly income.

The North Western Health Board was contacted regarding this case and has advised that the person concerned applied for assistance in respect of replacing household appliances but was refused. The board has further advised that the person concerned has appealed against the decision to the health boards appeals officer.

The determination of entitlement to exceptional needs payments is a matter for the health board and neither I nor my Department have any function in deciding entitlement in individual cases.

  328.  Mr. Gogarty    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if a person (details supplied) in Dublin 10 is entitled to receive assistance towards essential repairs of an existing Bord Gáis heating system in their home. [26815/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on behalf of my Department by the health boards, provides for exceptional needs payments to help meet essential, once-off expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of his or her weekly income. In certain circumstances a board will provide assistance towards the cost of minor repairs but the scale of repair in question does not appear to fall into this category. Alternatively, support might be sought through the essential repairs grant scheme operated by local authorities which provides assistance to elderly and disabled people towards necessary repairs.

  329.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if there is a dedicated auditing unit in his Department assessing and monitoring the day to day spend of his Department with particular reference to major projects; if so, the number of staff involved; if the staff have accountancy qualifications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26845/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  My Department has a dedicated internal audit unit, which is free of other duties and independent of the activities it audits.

The unit is headed by a professional accountant and also includes two assistant principals, four higher executive officers, five executive officers and one clerical officer. Apart from the head of internal audit, HIA, other members of the unit has accounting expertise gained either from accounting modules in third-level courses passed and/or from participation in internal audits and other accounting-related areas of the Department.

The internal audit unit derives its authority from the Secretary General, to whom the HIA has the right of direct access. On audit and related matters, the HIA reports to the Department’s audit committee and the HIA reports on a line basis to the assistant secretary whose responsibilities include human resources and other corporate service.

The unit provides advice and assurance to management on matters relating, inter alia, to the Department’s systems of business control, to quality of performance and to business risk. This includes regular audit work and assessments in relation to the scheme and administrative expenditures of the Department and to the various projects in train within the Department at any given time. The day-to-day monitoring of expenditures is undertaken by the line management of the Department and by the Finance branch and other central branches operating under the Department’s business controls, procedures and practices which are subject to ongoing and regular review.

  330.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo did not receive carers allowance from 21 September 2003 to 22 January 2004. [26897/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  An application for carer’s allowance from the person concerned was received by my Department on 22 January 2004. Following the necessary investigations to determine her entitlement, she was awarded carer’s allowance on 21 April 2004 with effect from 22 January, 2004. The person concerned has not requested that consideration be given to backdating the claim prior to the date of her application.

Under social welfare legislation decisions of 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.

[926]

  331.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if a person (details supplied) in Dublin 7 will retain deserted wife’s allowance; and if this person’s case will be re-examined and the award of this allowance continued. [26980/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  In the case of the person concerned she applied for a deserted wife’s benefit in December 1994. Entitlement to this payment, for those applicants whose claim was made on or after 31 August 1992, is subject to an earnings limit.

According to the information available to the Department, the gross earnings of the person concerned for the income tax year 2003 exceeded the maximum earnings limit. Therefore, her continued entitlement to deserted wife’s benefit is currently being reviewed and her payment is being suspended to avoid any potential overpayment. As soon as a formal decision on her entitlement is made she will be notified of the outcome, including her right of appeal.

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.

  332.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the amount of funding to date that has been allocated to the safe home programme; if his Department intends to expand this scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27075/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The safe home programme is core funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs, through the DÍON fund, and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. My Department has funded the safe home programme for various information projects since 2001 amounting to €56,245 to date. Among the projects funded were the setting up of a website, www.safehomeireland.ie; the production and distribution of a monthly newsletter to applicants to the safe home programme. The funding was provided in response to applications from the safe home programme to the Department and any applications to date have received favourable response.

  333.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo is not being awarded the full rate of old age non-contributory pension; the further reason her pension is reduced; and if [927]he will provide a detailed copy of the assessment calculations in this case. [27097/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  Entitlement to old age non-contributory pension is based upon a claimant’s means. In the case of a married couple, the means of each individual is taken to be half their joint means.

In August 2004, the person concerned was awarded an old age non-contributory pension of €136.50 per week with effect from 30 July 2004, the first payment date after she reached pension age 66. Her entitlement to this pension is based upon weekly means of €23.42 derived from half her husband’s occupational pension.

  334.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the progress made in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Laois; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27107/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The person concerned was in receipt of disability allowance from 11 April 2001. Payment was disallowed by a deciding officer from 10 February 2004 on the grounds that the person’s means were in excess of the limit. These means were held to be derived from benefit of a partner’s earnings from employment.

The person appealed this decision to the social welfare appeals office. Following an oral hearing and having considered all the available evidence, including that adduced at the hearing, the appeals officer disallowed the appeal.

The issue in this case did not concern the person’s medical condition but rather whether the person was cohabiting and thus fell to be assessed with means derived from her partner’s earnings. Having considered all the available evidence, the appeals officer was satisfied that the person had in fact been cohabiting and as a result the appeal was disallowed.

Following representations from the Deputy the appeals officer reviewed the case and concluded that there were no new facts or evidence that would warrant a revision of his decision. The person has now made a new claim for disability allowance which is currently under consideration by my Department.

Under social welfare legislation decisions in relation to 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.

  335.  Ms Shortall    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if he will examine the circumstances of a person (details supplied) in Dublin [928]11 as a typical example of inadequate welfare support for welfare dependent persons in their early sixties; and the actions he intends to take to address this face of Irish poverty. [27122/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The person concerned, who is 64 years of age, is currently in receipt of a widower’s contributory pension at the rate of €134.30, based on a yearly insurance average of 32. In addition he is in receipt of a national fuel allowance of €12.90 per week. The fuel allowance is paid from October to April each year. The person concerned is also in receipt of a travel pass. He does not qualify for electricity allowance or telephone allowance as he does not reside alone or with an excepted person. A bereavement grant of €635 and a widowed parent grant of €2,500 was paid to him following the death of his spouse.

The current rates structure, comprising an under 66 and over 66 rate, reflects the fact that age 66 is the standard qualifying age for old age pension purposes. The question of increases in the rates of payment will be a matter for consideration in a budgetary context.

Subject to certain conditions, the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on behalf of this Department by the health boards, provides assistance to eligible people whose means are insufficient to meet their basic needs. Assistance may be given in the form of supplements which may be paid in respect of rent, mortgage interest or special dietary or heating needs. The scheme also provides for exceptional needs payments to help meet essential, once-off expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of his or her weekly income.

The social welfare provisions available to widows and widowers are kept under ongoing review. Any enhancements are considered in a budgetary context, subject to availability of resources.

  336.  Mr. Haughey    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the rationale for articles 57 and 58 of SI 312 of 96 in relation to disability benefit credits; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that this will work against a sick person who has returned home from abroad after many years with no reckonable contributions paid or credited; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27126/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  Section 57 of the regulations in question provides that where, for any two complete consecutive social insurance contribution years, there are no employment contributions paid or credited in respect of an insured person, a contribution cannot be credited to such person until a further 26 employment contributions have been paid in respect of him or her.

[929]Section 58 provides that employment contributions shall be credited to an insured person in respect of days of incapacity for work, of proved unemployment and on receipt of certain social welfare benefits.

The reason for this limitation on the award of credited contributions relates to the general principle in the social insurance system that there should be a reasonable link between entitlement to benefit and a recent participation in the active labour force. This reflects the contributory principle and the “pay as you go” nature of the social insurance system in Ireland.

Awarding credited contributions to where there is no recent record of insurable employment would undermine the basis of this system and have serious implications for qualification for benefits and expenditure from the social insurance fund.

Special arrangements are in place to protect the accumulated social security rights of persons who travel between European Economic area, EEA, countries. Furthermore, the regulations governing social insurance contribution records make special arrangements to accommodate volunteer development workers.

Also there are a number of bilateral agreements with some non-EEA countries to safeguard the accumulated rights to certain social welfare benefits of persons who spend time in these countries. However, this might not extend to short-term benefits such as disability benefit.

If an individual does not have a sufficient number of contributions to qualify for an insurance based benefit such as disability benefit, he or she may subject to a means test be able to qualify for disability allowance and further details in relation to this can be obtained from my Department.

  337.  Mr. Haughey    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the reason a person’s yearly average contributions rather than total contributions is used to determine eligibility for contributory old age pension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27127/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The basic qualifying conditions for the old age (contributory) pension date from the introduction of the pension in 1961, though they have been eased considerably in recent years to make qualifying easier.

The average contributions test was intended to ensure that those qualifying for pension had made an adequate contribution to the social insurance fund while at the same time minimising the impact of gaps in insurance on the pension a person received.

In 2000, the Department published a review of the qualifying conditions for the old age contributory and retirement pension, phase 1, and this [930]proposed that consideration be given to changing the basis of assessment to one based on total contributions paid or credited.

A change in the contribution conditions to one based on total contributions would have significant financial and other implications for entitlements under the system. These issues are being addressed in the second phase of the review. The report of that review is at an advanced stage of preparation and it is hoped to finalise it in the coming months.

  338.  Mr. Crawford    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    if changes are proposed to the structure where persons on social welfare present themselves to the Garda station to sign on for their entitlements; his views on whether this is a valuable process for identifying those in need and keeping them in touch with the authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27155/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  Currently, recipients of unemployment payments who reside more than six miles from their nearest social welfare local or branch office sign a declaration at their local Garda station for the purpose of proving unemployment. This service was instituted, as a service to customers, at a time when transport was less frequent and travel was more difficult than today.

My Department is currently implementing a modernisation action plan aimed at improving customer service and at enhancing control. In this context the role of signing at Garda stations has been reviewed and it has been concluded that the service has long since ceased to be appropriate and is taking from, rather than adding to quality customer service.

The new signing arrangements, which balance customer service requirements with effective control measures, will be introduced in two phases. At the end of November 2004, all customers who currently sign on at Garda stations will self-certify and return their signing docket directly to the social welfare local-branch office.

In the early part of 2005 the following revised signing arrangements will apply: customers residing up to ten miles, 16 kilometres, from their social welfare local-branch office will attend that office once every four weeks for certification purposes; customers residing over ten miles from their local-branch office will self-certify every four weeks and attend that office every 12 weeks. These customers will be offered the flexibility to attend at the office on any day in a designated week. A flexible approach to certification will be adopted for customers on offshore islands and other remote areas of the country and they will not, as a general rule, be required to attend the local-branch office.

[931]These changes represent a significant improvement in customer service by enabling all unemployed customers to have direct contact with their social welfare local branch office where they can be directed to the many educational and work supports available to the unemployed.

  339.  Mr. Stanton     asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the number of persons who received the social welfare allowance supplement for each month in each health board area for the years 2002, 2003 and to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27293/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on behalf of my Department by the health boards, provides assistance to people whose means are insufficient to meet their basic needs, subject to certain conditions.

In addition to the basic weekly allowance, assistance can be given by health boards under the scheme in the form of supplements in respect of rent, mortgage interest, special dietary or heating requirements, or once-off payments for exceptional needs.

Details of the number of recipients of basic supplementary welfare allowance for each month from January 2002 to date are shown in the following tabular statement.

Nos. of recipients of basic Supplementary Welfare Allowance in 2002.

Eastern Regional Health Authority Midland Health Board Mid Western Health Board North Eastern Health Board North Western Health Board South Eastern Health Board Southern Health Board Western Health Board
January 12,145 1,534 2,203 2,542 1,125 3,413 3,765 3,425
February 12,253 1,544 2,252 2,473 1,121 3,34 3,759 3,270
March 12,419 1,582 2,414 2,480 1,044 3,305 3,806 3,108
April 12,488 1,529 2,388 2,456 1,029 3,280 3,649 3,110
May 12,377 1,560 2,314 2,560 1,102 3,266 3,672 3,139
June 12,451 1,570 2,410 2,648 1,185 3,394 3,872 3,437
July 12,606 1,532 2,513 2,742 1.206 3,386 4,014 3,736
August 12,928 1,497 2,419 2,931 1,184 3,476 4,109 3,795
September 13,008 1,507 2,400 2,830 1,184 3,513 3,942 3,725
October 13,037 1,502 2,388 2,753 1,169 3,482 3,860 3,544
November 13,336 1,526 2,355 2,687 1,143 3,393 4,010 3,495
December 13,479 1,533 2,356 2,763 1,095 3,343 4,020 3,454

Nos. of recipients of basic Supplementary Welfare Allowance in 2003.

Eastern Regional Health Authority Midland Health Board Mid Western Health Board North Eastern Health Board North Western Health Board South Eastern Health Board Southern Health Board Western Health Board
January 13,877 1,637 2,341 2,875 1,177 3,442 4,208 3,412
February 13,827 1,575 2,418 2,826 1,209 3,352 4,235 3,301
March 13,935 1,506 2,360 2,751 1,249 3,250 4,256 3,271
April 13,872 1,515 2,342 2,775 1,271 3,287 4,166 3,139
May 13,923 1,523 2,261 2,810 1,250 3,255 4,109 3,150
June 13,972 1,538 2,405 2,804 1,271 3,345 4,227 3,254
July 14,117 1,536 2,434 2,854 1,350 3,394 4,196 3,274
August 14,333 1,465 2,359 2,898 1,373 3,378 4,095 3,358
September 14,425 1,431 2,350 2,929 1,365 3,313 4,122 3,207
October 14,519 1,423 2,271 2,836 1,337 3,238 4,046 3,077
November 14,050 1,511 2,180 2,717 1,296 3,159 4,001 2,927
December 13,926 1,376 2,211 2,567 1,213 3,125 3,911 2,996

Nos. of recipients of basic Supplementary Welfare Allowance in 2004.

Eastern Regional Health Authority Midland Health Board Mid Western Health Board North Eastern Health Board North Western Health Board South Eastern Health Board Southern Health Board Western Health Board
January 13,842 1,398 2,291 2,578 1,244 3,213 3,940 3,030
February 13,763 1,407 2,325 2,552 1,237 3,175 3,865 3,028
March 13,666 1,369 2,216 2,471 1,201 3,100 3,805 2,908
April 13,528 1,374 2,135 2,402 1,168 3,076 3,831 2,838
May 13,349 1,319 2,111 2,434 1,167 3,019 3,739 2,764
June 13,241 1,319 2,149 2,426 1,216 3,098 3,824 2,911
July 13,331 1,397 2,209 2,529 1,254 3,190 3,770 2,971
August 13,164 1,419 2,228 2,627 1,237 3,128 3,766 2,941
September 13,010 1,360 2,247 2,647 1,304 3,133 3,786 2,928
October 12,846 1,312 2,138 2,585 1,246 3,140 3,807 2,860

  340.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs    the names of the 30 welfare organisations that he has invited to meet him over the coming months. [27294/04]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan):  On 11 October 2004 I hosted the annual pre-budget forum to which a wide variety of organisations with interests in social welfare issues had been invited. In all, 27 organisations attended on the day and I extended an invitation to each of them to meet with me over the coming months to outline their work and to make their concerns known to me. The following organisations attended the forum:

Accord

Age Action Ireland Barnardo’s (Solas)

Care Alliance

Carers Association

Children’s Rights Alliance

CORI

Crosscare (Centrecare)

Disability Federation of Ireland

Family Solidarity

ICTU (Centres for the Unemployed)

INOU

Irish Countrywomen’s Association

Irish Senior Citizens Parliament

Marriage and Relationship Counselling Services

NAMHI

National Federation of Pensioners Association

National Association of Widows in Ireland (NAWI)

[934]

National Women’s Council of Ireland

One Family (Formally known as CHERISH)

One Parent Exchange and Network (OPEN)

Pavee Point

Retired Worker’s Committee (ICTU)

St. Vincent de Paul

Tallaght Welfare Society

TREOIR

Women in the Home

I have already met a number of these organisations in recent weeks and I intend to meet the remaining groups over the coming months.

  341.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Transport    the plans his Department has to address the concerns expressed (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27444/04]

  342.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Minister for Transport    if the proposals from the DIR (details supplied) will be considered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27442/04]

  350.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Transport    his views on the campaign to clarify the position of driving instructors with RDI status, that is, registered on the driving instructor register of Ireland in the context of the Driver Testing and Standards Authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26902/04]

  351.  Mr. McHugh    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will confirm the validity or status of driving instructors on the driving instructor register of Ireland within the Driver Testing and Standards Authority or within any entity outsourced by him; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26920/04]

  359.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Transport    the position as to the validity of the registered [935]driving instructor status within the Driver Testing and Standards Authority; if he has an intention if any to pass this decision over to the board of the driver testing and standards authority in view of the effect this would have on driving instructors who are registered with the driver instructor register of Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27118/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 341, 342, 350, 351 and 359 together.

I refer the Deputies to my reply to Question No. 154 on Thursday, 14 October, 2004.

Proposals being developed by my Department for the regulation and quality assurance of driving instruction will involve a test of the competence of individual instructors. A working group comprising representatives of my Department and of instruction interests has formulated the design of the standards that a driving instructor must meet. I am considering what arrangements will be put in place to oversee implementation of the standard in the context of the establishment of the Driver Testing and Standards Authority. The Driver Testing and Standards Authority Bill 2004, which provides for the establishment of the Authority was published on 6 July 2004 and the Second Stage debate commenced on 14 October 2004.

Regulations will be required to give effect to the proposals for introducing regulation of driving instruction and the position of existing driving instructors will be considered in the context of drafting of the regulations.

  343.  Ms O. Mitchell     asked the Minister for Transport    when legislation will be published to replace the Transport Act 1932, in order to allow for increased competition in the bus market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27079/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Talks on the reform of public transport between officials in my Department and the CIE unions, under an independent chair appointed by the Labour Relations Commission, were adjourned in mid-September.

I am reviewing the developments which have taken place during these talks and the technical work which has been undertaken by my Department on the reform programme. I am also consulting with stakeholders. When I have completed that review and my consultations, I will consider how to proceed to give effect to the Government commitment to reform public transport.

Question No. 344 answered with Question
No. 124.

  345.  Mr Crowe    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will investigate the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 24; and if he will apply some flexibility in this case. [26804/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The Road Traffic (Traffic and Parking) Regulations 1997 empower local authorities, the Irish Wheelchair Association and the Disabled Drivers’ Association, to grant a disabled person’s parking permit where they are satisfied that the applicant is suffering from a disability that prevents him or her from walking or causes undue hardship to the person in walking.

The qualifying criterion is therefore a question of personal mobility and no specific medical condition is stipulated in the regulations. It is a matter for each of the issuing organisations to determine whether or not a disabled person’s parking permit should be granted based on each application submitted to it. I have no involvement in respect of the determination of individual applications made to any of those bodies.

  346.  Ms O. Mitchell     asked the Minister for Transport    the annual yield to the State in each of the years 2004, 2003, 2002 and 2001 from the West-Link toll bridge. [26810/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The State’s share of the West-Link gross toll revenue, also referred to as the licence fee, in each of the years 2001-03 is set out as follows. The licence fee payable in a year is based on the previous year’s traffic volumes and is paid in May of the following year. Consequently the licence fee payable for 2004 is not as yet available. 2001 €9,219,706; 2002 €7,584,901; 2003 €8,044,361; 2004 not payable until May 2005.

In addition, the State benefits from VAT on tolls since September 2002. Fingal County Council also benefits from commercial rates.

  347.  Mr. Curran    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will provide a list of incidents that have occurred at Weston Aerodrome, Lucan, County Dublin; if any have been reported to the Irish Aviation Authority or to his Department over the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26833/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The following is a list of all accidents and incidents, as such events are defined in SI 205 of 1997, which occurred at or near Weston Aerodrome, Lucan, County Dublin, since October 1999 and which were reported to the air accident investigation unit of my Department. The Deputy may note that the reports of these events that are of a [937]serious nature can be found on the web site of the air accident investigation unit, www.aaiu.ie, [938]with the exception of the more recent events which are still under investigation.

Date Type of Event Aircraft type Nature of event
22/01/2000 Incident Aerospatiale MS880B Engine stoppage on the ground during a touch-and-go.
11/04/2001 Accident Robinson R22B While practising an autorotation, the aircraft landed heavily and the main rotor stuck the tail boom, severing the tail rotor section of the tail boom.
21/05/2001 Accident Piper PA28 Aircraft landed long and struck hedge at end of runway.
24/07/2001 Accident Yakolev Yak 52 Aircraft landed with undercarriage retracted.
07/09/2001 Incident Cessna C172 Aircraft on ground was blown over by helicopter arriving from UK.
26/04/2002 Accident Piper PA28-180 Aircraft over-ran the end of runway and came to rest on a minor public road.
31/03/2003 Incident Bell B206 Helicopter landed heavily; landing skid partially severed.
23/11/2003 Accident Piper PA32-300 Aircraft landed, in error, on taxiway under construction. Right undercarriage sheared off.
21/02/2004 Accident Schweizer 269C Main rotor blades struck the ground in a turn while practising a downwind turn and flare quick-stop during an instructional flight.
23/05/2004 Incident Cessna C172 Take-off abandoned due to power loss.
16/06/2004 Incident Brittan Norman BN-2A Islander Aircraft’s RH aileron struck refuelling pump.
06/08/2004 Incident Schweizer 269C-1 Loss of tail rotor control due to technical failure.
09/09/2004 Incident Piper PA23 Aircraft experienced control, engine and hydraulic problems while en-route from UK. Pilot had to take evasive action to avoid a kite encountered on final approach to Runway 25 at Weston. Aircraft subsequently landed without further incident.

  348.  Mr. McGuinness     asked the Minister for Transport    if there is a dedicated auditing unit in his Department assessing and monitoring the day-to-day spend of his Department with particular reference to major projects; if so, the number of staff involved; if the staff have accountancy qualifications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26846/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  My Department has an internal audit unit, which is currently staffed by three officers. Officers assigned to the unit receive appropriate education and training for the performance of their duties. The unit also has access to consultancy support in carrying out its functions.

  349.  Mr. Wall     asked the Minister for Transport    the position regarding the validity of the status of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare within the DTSA; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26882/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  It is assumed the person concerned is a member of the voluntary driving instructor register of Ireland, DIR.

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 154 of Thursday 14 October, 2004 which sets out the position in regard to existing driving instructors in the context of the proposed regulation of driving instruction.

[938]Questions Nos. 350 and 351 answered with Question No. 341.

Question No. 352 answered with Question
No. 148.

  353.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Transport    if he will take steps to ensure that the railway line which links the two major towns in Westmeath, namely Athlone and Mullingar, is immediately re-opened; his views on whether such a reopening would by in line with the national spatial strategy objectives which advocate the linkage of the three gateway towns of Athlone, Mullingar and Tullamore by way of infrastructural developments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27035/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I am informed by Irish Rail that it has no immediate plans to re-open the Mullingar to Athlone railway line. The strategic rail review, commissioned by my Department in 2003, recommended the re-opening of the line as a long-term proposal. The recently published regional planning guidelines for the Midlands Regional Authority also adverted to the strategic rail review conclusions. The alignment is still in CIE ownership and can be opened at a future date if a business case can be proven and resources are available. In the interim both Mullingar and Athlone are well served with both commuter and intercity services.

  354.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Transport    the reason Iarnród Éireann has spent only less than half of the transport budget allocated to the BMW region under the National Development Plan 2000-2006; if he will support the re-opening of Killucan Station, County Westmeath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27036/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The national development plan covers the period 2000 to 2006 and while the mid-term review of the plan indicated a lower than expected spend in the BMW region, Irish Rail has, since then, commenced or planned a number of projects in the region. The network resignalling project that originally included Sligo has been extended to include Westport and Ballina. As well as the upgrade of a number of stations in the BMW region, Irish Rail also has plans for the automation of a number of road crossings along rail lines in the region. In addition, the rolling stock acquisition programme being undertaken by the company at present will result in higher quality services on all lines into the midlands and west.

I am informed that Irish Rail has been having ongoing discussions with the local bodies and the local authorities regarding the re-opening of Killucan station. The existing station has no immediate catchment area and the discussion has centred around the possibility of housing developments which could improve the viability of the station.

  355.  Mr. Sargent    asked the Minister for Transport    when he proposes to implement effectively the promise made in the programme for Government that investment will take place in expanding the national network of cycleways in order to encourage more persons to cycle and to promote cycling as a safe and healthy mode of travel. [22630/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The provision of cycle ways and cycle parking is, in the first instance, a matter for the relevant local authorities. My Department does, however, support the commitment to cycling in the programme for Government, and provides funding to local authorities in the greater Dublin area through the Dublin Transportation Office traffic management grants scheme. The total investment in cycling facilities from 1994 to end 2003 has been €26.4 million. More than €3 million is being made available this year to fund cycle network and cycle parking projects. In the greater Dublin area, currently well over 220 km of cycle network exists in the greater Dublin area. There has been success to date in getting more than 25,000 people, or 4% of morning commuters, to cycle to their destinations. This shows that incorporating cycle lanes as part of Dublin’s quality bus network has been hugely instrumental in providing a safer envir[940]onment for cyclists and in contributing, in yet another way, to modal shift from the private car.

In June 2005, Dublin city will host the 25th anniversary of “Velo-City”, the premier international cycling planning conference series that takes place biennially in a European city. Velo-city will be hosted by the DTO, together with Dublin City Council and other state agencies, and cycling groups. As regards developments in other cities, I would point out to the House that in Cork the planning and implementation of green routes, which is being funded by my Department, incorporates the provision of dedicated space for cycle lanes as well as improved facilities for pedestrians.

Other cities are developing their public transport strategies, including the provision of cycling facilities. For example, Limerick City Council approved a cycle strategy for Limerick in May 2004 while the Galway city development plan and the Waterford planning land use and transportation study 2003 include proposals for improving facilities for cyclists.

  356.  Mr. Gormley    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has investigated reports that a Gulfstream jet (details supplied) which was used to illegally transport al-Qaeda suspects to Guantanamo Bay and Egypt, has been recorded as landing at Shannon Airport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24286/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  As I indicated in earlier replies on this matter to parliamentary questions on 7 and 19 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 thirteen times in the last 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 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 the US has not used Irish airports for the transit of prisoners to or from the detention centre at Guantanamo or elsewhere. I also understand that the US side has confirmed that they would not transit Irish airspace or use Irish airports for this purpose without seeking the authorisation of the Irish authorities.

  357.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for Transport    when the new EU regulation to replace [941]the existing drivers’ hours rules, as set out in Regulation 3820/85 will be finally adopted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27080/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Mr. Callely):  At the Transport Council in Brussels on 11 June last, the council reached political agreement on its common position on the Commission proposal to replace the existing drivers’ hours rules.

Following this political agreement, the text is subject to finalisation by legal and language experts in all of the languages of the community before the common position is formally adopted. This is scheduled to take place at the Transport Council next December. The European Parliament will then consider the common position in its second reading of the proposal. There is a time limit of three months on the second reading after which a further three months is provided for the council to consider the outcome of the parliament’s second reading.

If the council is unable to accept the outcome of the parliament’s second reading then the conciliation procedure is invoked with a view to finding a compromise. The whole procedure leading to final adoption, assuming that an agreement can be reached between the council and parliament, is likely to take between six and 12 months.

  358.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Transport    the process involved concerning the renewal of the contract for the national car testing franchise; if he has given consideration for changes in the existing testing structure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27117/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport (Mr. Callely):  National Car Testing Service Limited holds a ten year contract until the end of 2009 to carry out testing on behalf of the State. The arrangements for car testing after 2009 have not yet been determined in any detail.

The contract provides for independent monitoring of NCTS by a supervisions services contractor, SSC, which involves financial legal and engineering experts drawn from PWC and the AA. The contract also provides for a mid-term review to be carried out by the Minister after the mid point of the contract which will occur in January 2005. It is envisaged that the review will be carried out in conjunction with the SSC and will review the performance of NCTS and address a range of strategic issues including the content of the test, the quality of service provided and the location and number of test centres.

Question No. 359 answered with Question
No. 341.

  360.  Mr. Sherlock    asked the Minister for Transport    the number of requests for decentralisation [942]in respect of Bus Éireann staff to Mitchelstown, County Cork; and if he is facilitating an early response to this request. [27143/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Data received from the Central Applications Facility indicate that there have been no expressions of interest in relocating to Mitchelstown received from Bus Éireann staff. The decentralisation implementation group will submit their views on sequencing and timing of relocations to the Cabinet sub-committee on decentralisation shortly.

  361.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Transport    if his attention has been drawn to the changes by Bus Éireann in regard to collection points that are causing towns and villages (details supplied) in County Kildare to be isolated with respect to bus services; the plans his Department has to address such problems; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27186/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Changes in Bus Éireann services are an operational matter for the company. However, since 10 January 2001, Bus Éireann is required to notify my Department of proposed new services or proposed changes to existing services at least four weeks prior to their introduction. The sole purpose of this notification procedure is to ensure a level playing field between public and private operators from a market regulatory perspective. In considering there notifications my Department makes no judgment on the operational merits of the proposed service changes.

Where a proposal conflicts with a prior application from a private operator to licence a service under the Road Transport Act 1932, Bus Éireann, when notified by my Department, is required to defer the introduction of the proposed service changes until the prior licence application from the private operator concerned is decided. Where there are no conflicts, once the notification has been processed, Bus Éireann is advised that the Department has noted their proposed service change and the company is free to proceed.

On 9 July 2004, Bus Éireann notified my Department of proposed changes to the Number 131 Kilkenny to Dublin service. My Department had no conflicting licence applications for services on the route on hand and proceeded, therefore, to note the proposed changes on 28 July 2004. The 08.15 Kilkenny-Dublin weekday service formerly served Ballytore Cross and Moone, which are located off the main road, and both locations were designated as request stops.

Bus Éireann has advised my Department that the service to these locations was curtailed for operational reasons and the service now operates between Kilcullen and Dublin only. However, following further inquiries to Bus Éireann, the company has indicated that, taking into account safety and suitability considerations, it may be [943]feasible to provide a request stop on the main road on specific services that would facilitate the residents of Moone and Ballytore. I have arranged for the contact details of the relevant official in Bus Éireann to be forwarded to the Deputy.

  362.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    the current capacity of the commuter rail services at Kilcock, Maynooth, Leixlip and Confey stations in County Kildare; the extent to which capacity has been increased in the past five years; the degree to which further thoughput of passengers is possible or achievable; if full compliance with health and safety requirements and the relief of overcrowding is being maintained; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27216/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Irish Rail has significantly increased the capacity of services along the Maynooth rail line over the past five years and is committed to further increases in line with growth in commuter demands. In particular a step change increase in the order of 35% was implemented during peak periods from December 2003 onwards. This was achieved through the introduction of 80 diesel railcars for use on commuter services.

Plans are currently in place to further increase capacity along the line with the deployment of new units of rolling stock to be introduced during 2005. I understand further service enhancements for commuters along this line are currently being planned by Irish Rail.

  363.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    if, in respect of proposed toll roads or bridges, consideration has been given to a design, build and hand-over process which would give the State use of both the revenue accruing and the low maintenance of a new construction for the first 20 years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27217/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  An integrated design, build, finance and operate approach has been adopted for the implementation of user toll funded public private partnership, PPP, projects in the national roads programme. It is considered that this is the optimum approach in terms of ensuring innovation and value for money in the design, funding, construction, and operation of projects. The separation of the funding and design and construction elements, as suggested by the Deputy, would limit the scope for potential consortia to be innovative in their approach to the funding and implementation of projects.

  364.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    the estimated revenue accruing to the [944]owners of toll roads or bridges to date; the extent to which the State benefits from this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27218/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Over the period 1990 to 2003 the gross toll revenue, before costs, on the Westlink toll bridge amounted to €261.9 million of which €49.097 million was paid to the State. The NRA has received €14.89 million, nett, to date from the toll on the Drogheda bypass.

  365.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    the number of recorded motor accident black spots throughout the country; the most serious of these locations in respect of which no road alignment or other remedial action has been taken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27219/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The planning, design and implementation of national road improvement projects is a matter for the National Roads Authority, NRA, and the relevant local authority. I understand that an extensive programme of engineering measures is funded by the NRA to improve road safety and deal with accident black spots on national roads.

  366.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    the extent to which it has been established that the Luas has replaced other modes of transport; if its current users are mainly bus, train or motorcar commuters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27220/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The Railway Procurement Agency, RPA, and the Dublin Transportation Office are carrying out a comprehensive assessment of the effect of Luas on travel patterns. The “Before Luas” survey was carried out in the spring of 2004 and the “After Luas” survey will be carried out in 2005, by which time travel patterns should have become established after the introduction of the new service.

The RPA has also carried out less formal research on its customer base and it is clear that the majority of Luas users are not transfers from other modes of public transport. Apart from car transfers, there also appear to be a significant number of new trips to the city centre for business and recreation. This view is shared by city centre businesses, which report substantial increase in business as a result of Luas.

  367.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    if the number of road accidents involving the Luas was anticipated; if so, the extent; if remedial action is likely; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27221/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  Although several minor accidents have occurred since the commencement of Luas services, none of the incidents to date has resulted in a fatality or serious injury. The RPA is satisfied that the safety record of Luas since its launch has been superior to that of the early days of operation of light rail systems in other cities.

I understand that the Railway Procurement Agency, RPA, and Connex are availing of every opportunity through the media and in direct meetings with community groups to remind people of all safety aspects of light rail operating in city streets. Consultation is also taking place between the RPA, Connex and An Garda Síochána on how to encourage motorists to respect red lights and other road regulations. RPA has also run extensive advertising campaigns relating to safety and further advertising in this regard is planned. There is a corresponding onus on road users and pedestrians to comply with the rules of the road and operate with due care and attention, particularly at traffic junctions.

[946]Questions Nos. 368 and 369 answered with Question No. 156.

  370.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    if he has quantified the impact of the inadequacy of the Dublin Port tunnel to accommodate higher vehicles with particular reference to the number of such vehicles likely to be forced on to the existing overcrowded streets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27224/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  The operational height, 4.65 m, of the Dublin Port tunnel will be greater than the operational height applicable in most other EU member states.

It was, and continues to be, the view of Dublin City Council and the National Roads Authority that the tunnel will facilitate almost all of the truck traffic currently using Dublin Port. Two vehicle height surveys of HGVs using Dublin Port have been carried out — one by the Dublin Port Company and one by the National Institute of Transport Logistics. Their results are summarised as follows:

Dublin Port Company Survey National Institute of Transport Logistics Survey
Period of study Ongoing (data Oct 02 to July 03) One week in May 2003
Measurement location Tolka Quay Road Exit All entry and exit points except Tolka Quay Road Exit
Number of vehicles surveyed 785,580 Approx 53,000
Number over 4.65m (total) 4725 920
Number over 4.65m (percentage) 0.60% 1.74%
Number over 4.65m (average per day) 24 137

[945]It will be clear from the foregoing that a very limited proportion of HGVs using the port will not be able to use the Dublin Port tunnel.

  371.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    further to Parliamentary Question No. 475 of 16 December 2003, if consideration has been given to transferring negotiations in regard to land acquisition in respect of the link from the N4 at Enfield to Edenderry from Kildare County Council to the NRA in view of the fact that this is the preferred option of the landowners involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27284/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  As the road — R402 — referred to by the Deputy is a regional road, the acquisition of land in respect of the upgrade of the road is a matter for the local authority and does not come under the remit of the NRA.

Question No. 372 answered with Question
No. 172.

Question No. 373 answered with Question
No. 127.

[946]

  374.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    the extent to which he has instructed local authorities to make adequate provision for relief roads or bypasses with particular reference for such in the context of the creation of county, city or town development plans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27287/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  My Department has not instructed local authorities in regard to the content of their development plans. The preparation and adoption of local development plans is a matter for local authorities in accordance with the Planning and Development Act 2000. Local development plans must include, inter alia, objectives relating to the provision of transport infrastructure and may include reservations for relief roads and bypasses.

  375.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport    the number of commuters currently using the rail services from Monasterevin, Kildare, Newbridge, Sallins and Hazelhatch in County Kildare; the extent to which this usage has increased in the past five years; the extent to which further capacity exists; the degree to which overcrowding and compliance with health and [947]safety regulations has been met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27289/04]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Cullen):  I am informed by Irish Rail that it carries out an annual census in November each year. Based on the census carried out in November 2003, the total number of journeys made to and from the listed stations i.e. Monasterevin, Kildare, Newbridge, Sallins and Hazlehatch was in the region of 1.5 million.

The average annual increase in passenger carryings is in the region of 8%. In December 2003 the commuter capacity on the south west corridor was increased by 30% with the introduction of some of the 80 new diesel rail cars on the route. Irish Rail has plans to further expand services on these routes over the coming years. Diesel rail cars operate the commuter services between Heuston Station and Kildare. On some peak services some passengers are required to stand but the vehicles are specifically designed for commuter operations which incorporates both standing and seating. Also, during morning and evening peaks, services to and from these stations are supplemented by conventional rolling stock which operate the outer suburban services.

  376.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    if there is a dedicated auditing unit in his Department assessing and monitoring the day-to-day spend of his Department with particular reference to major projects; if so, the number of staff involved; if the staff have accountancy qualifications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26847/04]

Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Éamon Ó Cuív):  My Department has a dedicated independent internal audit unit in place with four staff members, whose primary function is to review and report on the adequacy and application of the Department’s internal controls, including the financial arrangements in place in the Department for the assessment and monitoring of the day to day spend for all programmes and projects.

The work of the internal audit unit is overseen by an independent audit committee, of which both the chairperson and an ordinary member have accountancy qualifications. Responsibility for the ongoing monitoring and assessment of the day-to-day spend and project progress in the Department is primarily the responsibility of the principal officer in whose area of responsibility that expenditure has been incurred, consistent with delegations made under the PSMA.

In tandem with this the finance unit of my Department with four members of staff, undertake an overall co-ordination role in relation to the monitoring, supervision and assessment of the [948]day-to-day spend across the Department, including on major projects.

The Department employs a chartered accountant on a contract basis who has primarily been involved in the installation and development of the Department’s MIF system. This system has provided the Department with enhanced financial and non-financial systems and practices including the provision of accurate and up to date quality management information in relation to expenditure by the Department.

  377.  Mr. Perry     asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    if funding will be granted to an association (details supplied) in County Sligo under the sheme for community support for the elderly; the amount of funding that will be granted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26877/04]

  378.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    when funding will be granted to an organisation (details supplied) in County Sligo; the amount of funding that will be sanctioned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26878/04]

  379.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    if he will ensure that the necessary funding is granted to Gurteen Community Alert, County Sligo as this local voluntary community group are working with and providing invaluable supports for older persons in the region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26879/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Mr. N. Ahern):  I propose to take Question Nos. 377, 378 and 379 together.

My Department has received applications for funding under the scheme of community support for older people 2004 from the three groups in question. Applications received under the scheme are currently being processed and grants will issue to eligible community groups at the earliest possible date.

  380.  Mr. Aylward     asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    when the next round of applications for grant aid under the Dormant Accounts Scheme is likely to be advertised. [26935/04]

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Mr. N. Ahern):  Decisions on the disbursement of funds from dormant accounts moneys are currently a matter for the Dormant Accounts Fund Disbursements Board, an independent body established under the Dormant Accounts Acts. In June 2004, the Government announced an increase in the overall amount that the Dormant Accounts Fund Disbursements Board may spend from €30 [949]million to €60 million under the initial round of funding.

The board has engaged Area Development Management Ltd., ADM, to administer this initial round of funding on its behalf and the process of assessing and approving applications received is currently ongoing. Up to the beginning of October, the board had approved 133 projects for funding totalling approximately €12.5 million. I understand that at its meeting last week on 26 October 2004 the board considered a large number of applications for funding and decisions in this regard are expected shortly. Over the coming months further allocations will be made by the board up to a total figure of €60 million.

The Dormant Accounts (Amendment) Bill 2004 was published on 24 June 2004 fulfilling a commitment given by Government in December last following its review of arrangements in relation to dormant accounts funding. The Bill proposes key changes to the role of the board and in regard to decision making on disbursements. The Bill is currently before the Oireachtas. Subject to its enactment, a round of applications for funding may be anticipated during 2005.

  381.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    his views on the involvement of Foras na Gaeilge in providing assistance to Irish speakers abroad and in promoting cultural activities, which promote the Irish language; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27057/04]

Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Éamon Ó Cuív):  Having regard to its statutory remit and to its approved business and corporate plans, I regard an involvement by Foras na Gaeilge in providing advice and assistance to Irish speakers abroad and in supporting cultural activities which promote the Irish language abroad as forming an appropriate part of its overall activities. My Department also funds, albeit in a minor way, certain Irish language activities abroad and it is clearly important to ensure that all our activities in that regard do not result in any funding overlaps.

  382.  Mr. Ferris     asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    if it is planned to hold a review of the White Paper on Rural Development; and if so, the terms of reference of same. [27196/04]

Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Éamon Ó Cuív):  The White Paper on Rural Development was published in 1999. No decision has been made at this time to review the White Paper.

  383.  Mr. Murphy    asked the Minister for Agri[950]culture and Food    the position regarding a force majeure application made by a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if, in view of the fact that all requested documentation has been submitted, this person will be considered for full entitlements. [26825/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan):  The person named has submitted an application requesting that his entitlements be calculated under the single payment scheme measure relating to new entrants or inheritance.

Following processing of the application under this measure, it has been deemed that the more beneficial calculation of single payment entitlements, for the person named, is to exclude the years 2000 and 2001, and as a new entrant to farming, the year 2002 will be utilised for the calculation of his single payment entitlements.

  384.  Mr. Murphy    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the status of an application under the single payment scheme by a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [26826/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan):  The person named has submitted an application requesting that her single payment entitlements be calculated under the single payment scheme measure relating to new entrants or inheritance.

Following processing of her application, it has been deemed that the most beneficial calculation is to exclude the years 2000 and 2001, and as a new entrant to farming, the year 2002 will be utilised for the calculation of the single payment entitlement for the person named.

  385.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if there is a dedicated auditing unit in her Department assessing and monitoring the day-to-day spend of her Department with particular reference to major projects; if so, the number of staff involved; if the staff have accountancy qualifications; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26848/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan):  There is a dedicated internal audit unit in the Department. The role of the internal audit unit is to give assurance as to the adequacy of my Department’s internal control systems. This is done through the performance of systems audits of the Department’s expenditure. The internal audit unit also has certain prescribed duties under a number of EU regulations. The internal audit unit has 21 staff, four of whom have accountancy qualifications, two chartered accountants, a CIPFA accountant and an accounting technician. In addition, the unit also has a qualified information technology systems auditor and a postgraduate with a master’s degree in agricultural science. All staff of the internal audit receive dedicated internal audit unit training provided either by the Civil Service training [951]and development centre or the Institute of Public Administration.

  386.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the penalty imposed by the EU for exceeding the national milk quota for 2003. [26899/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan):  Ireland’s total levy liability for exceeding the national milk quota in 2003-2004 amounted to €9.5 million.

  387.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the entitlements under premium payments to which a person (details supplied) in County Wexford is entitled; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26912/04]

  388.  Mr. Kehoe    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if a person (details supplied) in County Wexford will be considered for a single farm payment, in view of her special circumstances; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26913/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary:  Coughlan): I propose to take Questions Nos. 387 and 388 together.

The person named, having been notified that the circumstances outlined by her did not satisfy the criteria for force majeure or exceptional circumstances under article 40 of Council Regulation EC 1782 (2003), submitted an appeal to the independent single payment appeals committee. Following a full examination of the circumstances outlined in the appeal, the independent single payment appeals committee made a recommendation and a letter issued to the person named on 5 October 2004. The findings of the appeals committee were that the original decision taken by my Department should be upheld. A statement of provisional entitlements will issue shortly to the person named.

  389.  Mr. Crawford    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the way in which the thousands of farmers who have not received the information on their entitlements regarding the single payment entitlement scheme appeal their case; when the closing date for appeals is 29 October 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27044/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan):  The closing date of 29 October 2004 does not apply to farmers who have not yet received a statement of provisional entitlements under the single farm payment scheme. All such farmers will have a period of four weeks from the date of receipt of their statement of provisional entitlements to seek a review. If they are unhappy [952]with the outcome of this review they will have a further two weeks to submit an appeal for consideration by the independent single payment appeals committee. A covering letter confirming this position will issue with each statement of provisional entitlements.

  390.  Mr. Breen    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if the penalties for over claim which were imposed on a person (details supplied) in County Clare have been taken from his payments and if future payments will be free from penalties; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27054/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan):  In 2003 the person named had included a land parcel on his area aid application that had also been claimed by another applicant. The other herd owner had entitlement to that parcel and the person named was, therefore, found to have an over-claim of more than 50% of eligible forage area found. He successfully sought a review of the over-claim penalty and his area was reduced without penalty to 28.59 hectares. Subsequently the person named was found also to have included a parcel of land on his 2003 application that had been submitted by another person to the forestry services for grant aid under the afforestation premium scheme. Consequently the area aid application for the person named was further reduced to 20.48 hectares, attracting an over-claim penalty of 39.60%. This resulted in an overpayment of €2,541.08 under his 2003 area based compensatory allowance scheme, which has now been recouped in full.

The person named was paid his full entitlement of €3,999.60 on the maximum of 45 hectares under the 2004 area based compensatory allowance scheme on 13 October 2004.

  391.  Mr. Hayes    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if there have been breaches of the regulations by the lamb processing factories or importers, in respect of live lamb imports from Northern Ireland or other sources over the past 24 months; and if so, if she will provide details of same. [27100/04]

  392.  Mr. Hayes    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the details of regulations and requirements on lamb slaughter factories in respect of lamb exports from Northern Ireland and other sources, particularly in relation to the exact times during which imported lambs may be admitted to a lamb processing plant and her Department personnel which must be present at these times; the responsibilities of these personnel; the documentation which must accompany lamb imports; the nature of the requirements placed on lamb processors and hauliers and those in respect of sheep identification and documentation. [27101/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 391 and 392 together.

The trade in slaughter sheep between Northern Ireland and the South is subject to the provisions of a general authorisation which provides, inter alia, that sheep must be identified and certified by the competent veterinary authority in Northern Ireland, according to their health status. There are also administrative requirements that must be complied with, for example, the importer must be registered with my Department as a registered importer and an advance notification must be received at least 24 hours in advance of the import.

Plant management are required to notify the veterinary office by 24 hours advance notification of all consignments of imported sheep which have been booked in for slaughter and they must notify the veterinary office when consignments of imported sheep arrive at the plant. Management at the plant are required to check that imported sheep comply with the requirements of the general authorisation, in particular that the animals are correctly tagged and accompanied by the proper veterinary certification. Any non-compliance must be reported to veterinary office staff. A separate record must be kept by plant management of all sheep imported from Northern Ireland to include: time of entry; registration number of the vehicle; name of the person who delivers the consignment; place from which the animals were collected; the nature of the consignment; name, address and flock number of [954]flock owner or supplier; and then umber of sheep presented for slaughter.

While primary responsibility for recording details of consignments lies with plant management, my Department’s veterinary office staff are required to carry out random checks on consignments of imported sheep to ascertain whether the provisions of the general authorisation have been complied with, including checks on the accompanying documentation and physical checks of correlation between tag numbers and details recorded on veterinary certificates.

During the foot and mouth disease emergency of 2001, legislation was introduced to provide for the resumption of trade in sheep from Northern Ireland subject to certain conditions. One of these conditions stipulated that sheep from Northern Ireland intended for slaughter could arrive at a meat plant only between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on the day of slaughter. This legislation has since been revoked. There have been no prosecutions initiated by my Department in respect of illegal imports of sheep in the past 24 months.

  393.  Mr. Hayes    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if she will provide the statistics on the number of imported lambs from Northern Ireland and other sources being slaughtered at plants here on a weekly basis during 2004 and 2003. [27102/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan):  Some 249,000 lambs from Northern Ireland were slaughtered in Ireland in 2003, while 215,000 have been slaughtered so far this year. A weekly breakdown is given in the following table.

No. of Lambs from N.I Slaughtered in Export Plants in 2003 & 2004.

2003 2004
Week No. w/e N.I. Lambs Week No. w/e N.I. Lambs
1 05/01/2003 5,357 1 03/01/2004 3,519
2 12/01/2003 11,155 2 10/01/2004 6,151
3 19/01/2003 7,881 3 17/01/2004 5,356
4 26/01/2003 8,939 4 24/01/2004 5,958
5 02/02/2003 5,720 5 31/01/2004 6,177
6 09/02/2003 6,060 6 07/02/2004 4,151
7 16/02/2003 5,960 7 14/02/2004 4,582
8 23/02/2003 3,661 8 21/02/2004 2,748
9 02/03/2003 5,291 9 28/02/2004 2,939
10 09/03/2003 3,330 10 06/03/2004 3,543
11 16/03/2003 2,406 11 13/03/2004 3,535
12 23/03/2003 1,927 12 20/03/2004 2,950
13 30/03/2003 2,232 13 27/03/2004 1,698
14 06/04/2003 2,883 14 03/04/2004 2,722
15 13/04/2003 3,041 15 10/04/2004 922
16 20/04/2003 3,178 16 17/04/2004 1,537
17 27/04/2003 2,972 17 24/07/2004 3,530
18 04/05/2003 3,083 18 01/05/2004 7,771
19 11/05/2003 3,162 19 08/05/2004 3,128
20 18/05/2003 3,494 20 15/05/2004 3,413
21 25/05/2003 3,798 21 22/05/2004 3,306
22 01/06/2003 3,357 22 29/05/2004 2,592
23 08/06/2003 2,211 23 05/06/2004 2,254
24 15/06/2003 1,997 24 12/06/2004 2,898
25 22/06/2003 1,408 25 19/06/2004 4,014
26 29/06/2003 4,132 26 26/06/2004 3,824
27 06/07/2003 3,687 27 03/07/2004 3,642
28 13/07/2003 4,746 28 10/07/2004 3,628
29 20/07/2003 1,876 29 17/07/2004 1,113
30 27/07/2003 8,349 30 24/07/2004 4,694
31 03/08/2003 5,570 31 31/07/2004 5,269
32 11/08/2003 3,007 32 07/08/2004 2,494
33 17/08/2003 4,753 33 14/08/2004 3,314
34 24/08/2003 5,986 34 21/08/2004 5,937
35 31/08/2003 5,994 35 28/08/2004 7,072
36 07/09/2003 6,320 36 04/09/2004 6,827
37 14/09/2003 6,068 37 11/09/2004 7,856
38 21/09/2003 5,916 38 18/09/2004 9,307
39 28/09/2003 5,672 39 25/09/2004 12,064
40 05/10/2003 6,898 40 02/10/2004 10,734
41 12/10/2003 7,748 41 09/10/2004 10,929
42 19/10/2003 6,419 42 16/10/2004 12,291
43 26/10/2003 5,414 43 23/10/2004 12,829
44 02/11/2003 5,382 44
45 09/11/2003 5,306 45
46 16/11/2003 4,350 46
47 23/11/2003 4,809 47
48 30/11/2003 7,088 48
49 07/12/2003 6,358 49
50 14/12/2003 6,268 50
51 21/12/2003 5,209 51
52 28/12/2003 1,385 52
Total 249,213 Total 215,218

  394.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the position regarding renewal payment of farm retirement pension for a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [27142/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan):  The person named is a participant in the 1994 early retirement scheme introduced under EU Council Regulation 2079 (1992), which she entered in joint management with her husband. It is a requirement of the council regulation that any national retirement pension to which a scheme participant — and his or her spouse or partner in a joint management arrangement — becomes entitled must be deducted from the early retirement pension.

My Department was recently informed that the husband of the person named has been awarded a contributory old age pension with effect from 15 March 2002. As required under the early retirement scheme, the amount of his old age pension must be deducted from her early retirement pension and amounts overpaid must be refunded to my Department. My Department has [956]notified the person named of the overpayment and will be in touch with her further as soon as the extent of the debt has been established. The restoration of the early retirement pension will be considered once issues relating to the debt have been satisfactorily resolved.

  395.  Mr. Hayes    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary will be considered for force majeure. [27192/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan):  The person named has been notified that the circumstances outlined in his single payment scheme application does not satisfy the criteria for force majeure or exceptional circumstances under article 40 of Council Regulation 1782 (2003). Following this decision the person named submitted an appeal to the independent single payment appeals committee. A full review of the circumstances of the case will be carried out by the independent single payment appeals committee and the person named will be notified shortly of the outcome.

[957]

  396.  Mr. Hayes    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary will be considered for force majeure. [27193/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan):  The person named has been notified that the circumstances outlined do not satisfy the criteria for force majeure or exceptional circumstances under article 40 of Council Regulation 1782 (2003) and has been advised to apply under the new entrant — inheritance measure of the scheme. To date, no application has been received for consideration under the new entrant — inheritance measure from the person named.

The person named has also been advised that he can appeal my Department’s decision to the independent single payment appeals committee which will carry out a full review of the circumstances of his case.

  397.  Mr. Hayes    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary will be considered for force majeure. [27194/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan):  The person named has been notified that the circumstances outlined in his single payment scheme application did not satisfy the criteria for force majeure— exceptional circumstances under article 40 of Council Regulation 1782 (2003).

Following this decision the person named submitted an appeal to the independent single payment appeals committee. A full review of the circumstances of the case will be carried out by the independent single payment appeals committee and the person named will be notified shortly of the outcome.

  398.  Mr. Hayes    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    if a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary will be considered for force majeure. [27195/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan):  The person named has been notified that the circumstances outlined do not satisfy the criteria for force majeure— exceptional circumstances under article 40 of Council Regulation 1782 (2003) and has been advised to apply under the new entrant — inheritance measure of the single payment scheme.

The person named has been advised that he can appeal my Department’s decision to the independent single payment appeals committee who will carry out a full review of the circumstances of his case. Processing of applications for consideration under the new entrants measure of the scheme is ongoing and the person named will be notified shortly of the decision on his application.

  399.  Mr. Ferris    asked the Minister for Agri[958]culture and Food    if she will make a statement on the future of the Irish sugar beet and sugar processing industry in the light of the current proposals in relation to changes in the EU regime and within the WTO. [27209/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan):  Reform of the sugar regime has come high on the EU agenda because of developments at WTO level, other international pressures and having regard to the significant reforms already agreed for other CAP sectors in 2003 and 2004.

Legislative proposals for reform have not yet been put forward. However, the European Commission outlined its broad proposals for reform of the regime in a communication to the Council and the European Parliament last July. At that time it was made clear that the proposals would have serious repercussions for the Irish industry at both growing and processing level and, therefore, that they were not acceptable in their current form. The Commission’s proposals are expected to be discussed further at the Council of agriculture ministers later this month. It is my objective to protect the viability of sugar beet growing and processing in this country.

  400.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the status of Johne’s disease following the change in policy introduced in January 2003 when her Department discontinued culling infected cattle. [27295/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan):  Johne’s disease is a notifiable disease under the Johne’s Disease Order 1955. That position has not changed. Until early 2003, my Department’s approach was to slaughter the affected animals and on occasions other animals in the herd, and pay compensation. However, it was apparent that this approach was not effective.

Consequently this approach was dispensed with and a strategic review of the approach to tackling the disease was initiated. It is clear that nothing less than a fully integrated strategy involving all of the relevant stake holders and with each playing a defined role will be effective. Accordingly, the review has involved consultation with all of the relevant interests. The process generated a number of very useful proposals of a practical nature.

It is clear that effectively tackling the problem of Johne’s disease can only be achieved over a number of years. The strategy being developed will therefore involve both short-term and long-term elements. My Department, in conjunction with others, is now working on finalising a number of the short-term elements and will shortly be reverting to stakeholders in relation to these. Once this has been done, it is my intention that all elements of the new national strategy will be quickly drawn together. In recognition of the fact that research and the evaluation of a number of diagnostic and screening methods for Johne’s [959]disease and the interim provision of diagnostic support at the central veterinary research laboratory will be a feature of any effective national strategy, an amount of €240,000 has been allocated for this purpose in 2004.

  401.  Mr. Kenny     asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food    the reason there has been a 10% decrease in the use of Irish certified potato seed (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27296/04]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan):  The total production area for seed potatoes in 2003 was 2% up on the area planted in 2002. The two main sources of seed were Irish certified seed and home grown seed. While the quantities of Irish certified seed used in 2003 were down 10% on the previous year, there was a corresponding increase in the use of Irish farm saved seed, resulting in a small overall increase in the use of Irish seed during the year. There was a small increase in seed imports during 2003 for certain ware and processing varieties.

  402.  Mr. G. Mitchell    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if a part-time co-ordinator will be sanctioned for a policing forum (details supplied). [26778/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  As the Deputy is aware in December 2001, an independent evaluation of the community policing forum in Dublin’s Garda A district, Kevin Street — Kilmainham, recommended, inter alia, that a state funded co-ordinator be appointed to assist in the work of the forum.

Co-ordinators are provided in certain cases for fora through funding under the national drugs strategy. In a reply to Deputy Costello’s question on 9 December 2003, I described in detail the operation of such fora, the mechanisms for funding and my plans for the future in this regard. In my reply to the Deputy’s question on this topic also on 9 December 2003, I outlined the reasons it was not possible or appropriate for the Garda Síochána to fund the requested co-ordinator.

In May of this year, a delegation on behalf of the Rialto community policing forum, led by Deputy Ardagh met with me to discuss provision of funding for the forum. I indicated at the meeting that I am sympathetic towards the case and very supportive of the good work of the forum. At my invitation, the forum subsequently submitted a written proposal in this regard. Having considered the matter further in conjunction with the commissioner, I still agree that such funding is not appropriate for the Garda Vote. However, I have recently written to my colleague, the Minister for Community, Rural and Community Affairs to consider the matter both in the part[960]icular situation of the A district but also in the wider context of co-operation between the Garda and local authorities at community level. I await his reply.

I have also raised the matter with the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Councillor Michael Conaghan when I met with him in September 2004 in the context of his commission on crime and policing in the city. The Lord Mayor has indicated that it may be premature for the city to make special arrangements for one area in advance of the general structures and funding for all joint policing committees and local policing fora being determined following enactment of the Garda Bill. I gather that the city council is not involved in the Rialto forum and is not aware of what structures or processes for accountability to the community are in place. Perhaps this is an area which the forum should explore.

The growth of community policing fora in general needs to be delivered in the context of the development of an appropriate policy framework for what are relatively new partnership structures involving the Garda, local authorities and local communities. Such a framework will ensure that such fora can be appropriately developed in a consistent and properly planned manner rather than the ad hoc way in which they have tended to emerge in a number of different contexts to date.

Work is well under way in relation to the development of such a policy framework which will facilitate progress in this area. The Garda Síochána Bill 2004 represents the most significant legislative reform of Garda structures since the foundation of the State. Included in its draft provisions are mechanisms for enhanced co-operation between the Garda and local authorities through the establishment, on a statutory basis, of policing committees. It is intended that such committees will act as fora where matters relating to all aspects of policing can be discussed and where strategies and recommendations for dealing with issues arising locally can be decided. It is intended that these policing committees will facilitate the establishment of local policing fora to address specific issues in local areas.

  403.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if an application by persons (details supplied) in County Westmeath for naturalisation will be expedited; if it will be examined before 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26772/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  Applications for certificates of naturalisation from the persons referred to by the Deputy were received in the citizenship section of my Department on 7 July, 2004. The average processing time for such applications is 24 months. Due to this lengthy processing time, applications are usually dealt with in chronological order unless there are exceptional circumstances in a particular case for finalising it earlier. [961]I will give consideration to the matters raised by the Deputy and will communicate with him directly in the near future.

  404.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position in regard to an application for permanent residence by persons (details supplied) in County Westmeath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26773/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I assume that the Deputy is referring to applications for citizenship submitted by the two persons, both Romanians, referred to in this question. The first person referred to was granted temporary leave to remain in the State on 26 August 1999. This permission has now been extended until 15 September 2006. On 30 July 2001 he applied for a certificate of naturalisation in accordance with the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 and was refused on 16 August 2002 as he did not satisfy the relevant criteria. It is open to him to reapply when those criteria are satisfied.

A deportation order was signed in respect of the second person referred to on 30 November 2001, following consideration of her case file under section 3(6) of the Immigration Act 1999 and section 5 of the Refugee Act 1996. A notification of the deportation order issued to her last known address on 7 December 2001 requiring her to present herself to the Garda national immigration bureau on 14 December 2001. The person failed to attend and was deemed to have evaded deportation.

On 11 July 2002 the second person wrote seeking permission to remain in the State on the basis that she had married the first person concerned on 28 March 2002. As a matter of general policy and practice, such an application will not receive consideration while the deportation order signed in respect of her remains outstanding. An application has been made to revoke the order made in this case. This is receiving attention in my Department at present and a decision will be communicated to her in due course.

  405.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the documentation which persons who have neither a driving licence or passport can use as proof of their identity in order to leave the State to travel to the UK; and the reason they should have to pay for a passport when they do not wish to have one. [26799/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that for persons travelling within the common travel area, acceptable forms of ID can include a valid passport; driving licence with photograph; international student ID card with photograph; national ID card with photograph; [962]bus pass with photograph; and a valid work identification with photograph.

There is no requirement on any citizen to pay for a passport if they do not wish to have one. However, I understand that some carriers may apply a more restrictive list of acceptable IDs and this is entirely a matter for them.

  406.  Mr. Gogarty    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if a decision has been made on the case of persons (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26814/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  The wife in question arrived in the State in December 2001 and made an asylum application. She gave birth in March 2002. The husband arrived in the State in April 2002 and made an application for asylum. Both subsequently withdrew their asylum applications and applied for residency on the basis of parentage of the Irish born child.

Following the decision of the Supreme Court in the cases of L & O, the separate procedure which then existed to enable persons to apply to reside in the State on the sole basis of parentage of an Irish-born child ended on 19 February 2003. The Government decided that the separate procedure would not apply to cases which were outstanding on that date. There are a large number of such cases outstanding at present, including the case to which the Deputy refers.

Since the persons in question do not have an alternative legal basis for remaining in this jurisdiction, the issue of permission to remain will be considered but only in the context of a ministerial proposal to make a deportation order. In that context, a notification of a proposal to make a deportation order will issue to the persons in question and they will be given an opportunity to make representations in respect of it. If, in the light of those representations and the range of factors set out in section 3(6) of the Immigration Act 1999, I decide not to make a deportation order they will be given leave to remain on a humanitarian basis. Due to the large number of such cases in hand, I am unable to say at this stage when the file will be further examined.

  407.  Mr. Murphy    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if funding will be provided to an association (details supplied) in County Limerick to construct a community based child care facility in Broadford, County Limerick. [26832/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  The equal opportunities child care programme 2000-2006 is a seven-year development programme which aims to increase the availability and quality of child care to support parents in employment, education and train[963]ing. The progress of the programme was commented upon favourably by the mid-term evaluators of both the regional operational programmes and the National Development Plan 2000-2006 and following the mid-term review, additional funding of approximately €12 million was made available for the child care measures. This brings the total funding available for the programme to €449.3 million.

There has been considerable demand from community-based groups for capital grant assistance under the programme and every county has benefited significantly from grants to provide new and enhanced community-based child care facilities and indeed to support capital developments in the private child care sector. ADM, on behalf of my Department, is currently carrying out an extensive review of the programme’s capital commitments to date, numbering more than 1,100 and at a value of €114 million, to ensure that all the grant commitments previously entered into will be realised.

Projects may be awaiting planning permission or the completion of tender processes before reasonable assurance can be taken that they will proceed and if they do not, the funding set aside can be decommitted and made available to another project. Expenditure under the programme covers the period to the end of 2007 and must take place in a planned manner as must grant approvals to ensure that the programme can meet its financial commitments at all times.

In addition, my Department has recently reviewed the different budget lines under the EOCP, including the capital programme, to ensure that the most effective use is made of all remaining funding in accordance with the programme’s objectives and this has brought to €157 million the total allocation for the capital development of child care under the present programme. At the same time, an extensive review of child care provision on the ground has taken place to identify obvious service gaps, the filling of which will be a priority using the remaining capital funding which currently exceeds €30 million, of which approximately €25 million is earmarked for community-based not for profit child care groups which provide services for young children to support their parents who may be in employment, education and training.

I intend to allocate the remaining capital funding under this strand of the Government’s commitment to child care to address the most immediate service gaps. As a result, all the projects in the pipeline on 30 April 2004 have been reviewed again by ADM Limited on the basis of geographical need, the range of services being offered, value for money and the capacity of the groups to complete a project before the end of the programme in 2007. Those projects which best meet the criteria will receive priority funding from the capital funding which remains unallocated at this point.

[964]I have made enquiries and I understand that an application for capital grant assistance was received from this group on 10 August 2004. This application has been forwarded to Area Development Management Limited which has been engaged by my Department to carry out a thorough assessment against the programme’s criteria for grant assistance on my behalf. Given the relatively recent submission of the project, it will not be considered for funding under the current review process I have outlined above but it will be considered for funding should additional capital resources come available. The allocation of any additional funding which might come available to me will also be allocated on the basis of local need, levels of service being offered and value for money. In the interim, it would be premature of me to comment further on this capital grant application.

  408.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if there is a dedicated auditing unit in his Department assessing and monitoring the day-to-day spend of his Department with particular reference to major projects; if so, the number of staff involved; if the staff have accountancy qualifications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26849/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  My Department has had an internal audit unit in place since 1994. All areas of expenditure in the Department come under the remit of internal audit. The internal audit unit works to an annual audit plan in order to offer the secretary general, as Accounting Officer, reasonable assurance that transactions are authorised and properly recorded and that material errors are either prevented or would be detected in a timely manner.

In line with the recommendations of the report of the working group on the accountability of Secretaries General and Accounting Officers, an audit committee was established in my Department in January 2004. It consists of three external and two internal members with one of the external members serving as chairperson. The committee has met six times since its establishment.

Internal audit unit staff have many years of experience working in audit. Four of the unit’s five staff are currently completing the Chartered Institute of Public Financial Accountants accredited certificate in audit skills. Moreover, the internal audit unit has direct access at all times to two professionally qualified accountants who are staff members of the Department.

  409.  Mr. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will review his decision in respect of an application for temporary travel documents in the case of a person [965](details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26859/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I refer the Deputy to my answer to Question No. 184 of Thursday, 21 October 2004. My position remains unchanged.

  410.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will report on the contacts he has had with the UK Home Secretary, Mr. David Blunkett MP and the Northern Ireland Secretary, Mr. Paul Murphy MP, in regard to the illegal import of vast quantities of fireworks into the State and the advertising of these illegal products here. [26867/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I have had no specific contacts with the UK Home Secretary, Mr. David Blunkett MP, and the Northern Ireland Secretary, Mr. Paul Murphy, in regard to the matter raised by him.

With regard to the advertising of fireworks, under the provisions of the Explosives Act 1875, fireworks are deemed to be explosives. Accordingly, they may be imported into the State only under an importation licence granted by my Department. It is a long-standing policy that these licences are granted only for organised displays conducted by professional and experienced operators and in accordance with agreed safety procedures. It is not illegal to advertise in this jurisdiction for goods which may be legally sold in another member state of the EU. However, an importation licence is required to bring fireworks into the State.

  411.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position regarding the recent drugs seizures (details supplied) in the Clontarf area; the further position regarding seizures in the Raheny and Clontarf Garda districts in the past year and other recent figures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26873/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that responsibility for policing the J district, which comprises the stations of Raheny, Clontarf — incorporating the Clontarf postal area — and Howth, rests with the superintendent who is based in Raheny station.

In the J district there is a divisional drugs unit based in Clontarf station, consisting of one sergeant and five gardaí, who deal with drugs issues in the area. This local unit links in with the Garda national drug unit, as appropriate. Details of drugs seizures in the district since 1 January, 2004 are as follows:

Drug Type Quantity Value
Cannabis Resin 70.91 kgs 496,370
Cocaine 411.21 grams 28,785
Ecstasy 16,464 tablets 164,640
Heroin 6.0025 kgs 1,200,500

These amounts include the recent seizures made on the weekend of 23 and 24 October, 2004.

  412.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if his Department has received an application for capital funding from a group (details supplied) in County Monaghan; if the capital grant will be approved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26875/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I understand that a capital grant application for more than €1.4 million was submitted by the group to my Department some time ago.

The equal opportunities child care programme 2000-2006 is a seven-year development programme which aims to increase the availability and quality of child care to support parents in employment, education and training. The progress of the programme was commented upon very favourably by the mid-term evaluators of both the regional operational programmes and the National Development Plan 2000-2006 and following the mid-term review additional funding of approximately €12 million was made available for the child care measures. This brings the total funding available for the programme to €449.3 million.

There has been considerable demand from community-based groups for capital grant assistance under the programme and every county has benefited significantly from grants to provide new and enhanced community-based child care facilities and indeed to support capital developments in the private child care sector. ADM, on behalf of my Department, is currently carrying out an extensive review of the programme’s capital commitments to date, numbering more than 1,100 and at a value of €114 million, to ensure that all the grant commitments previously entered into will be realised.

Projects may be awaiting planning permission or the completion of tender processes before reasonable assurance can be taken that they will proceed and if they do not, the funding set aside can be decommitted and made available to another project. Expenditure under the programme covers the period to the end of 2007 and must take place in a planned manner as must grant approvals to ensure that the programme can meet its financial commitments at all times.

In addition, my Department has recently reviewed the different budget lines under the [967]EOCP including the capital programme to ensure that the most effective use is made of all remaining funding in accordance with the programme’s objectives and this has brought to €157 million the total allocation for the capital development of child care under the present programme. At the same time, an extensive review of child care provision has taken place to identify obvious service gaps, the filling of which will be a priority using the remaining capital funding which currently exceeds €30 million, of which approximately €25 million is being earmarked for community-based, not-for-profit child care groups which provide services for young children to support their parents who may be in employment, education and training.

I intend to allocate the remaining capital funding under this strand of the Government’s commitment to child care to address the most immediate service gaps. As a result, all the projects in the pipeline on 30 April 2004 have been reviewed again by ADM Limited on the basis of geographical need, the range of services being offered, value for money and the capacity of the groups to complete a project before the end of the programme in 2007. Those projects which best meet the criteria will receive priority funding from the capital funding which remains unallocated at this point.

I have made enquiries and I understand that the application for capital grant assistance in respect of this project has been reviewed as part of the review process to which I have just referred. I understand that the recommendations in relation to the allocation of the remaining funding are currently in preparation. If a project is recommended for funding as part of this process, its recommendation will be conditional upon its being able to establish that it can be completed within a fixed budget and a tight timeframe. If a project is not recommended for priority funding at this time, it may be considered again should additional capital resources come available and if the project has adequately demonstrated that it would merit funding under the programme during the review process. The allocation of any additional funding which might come available to me will also be allocated on the basis of local need, levels of service being offered and value for money.

I do not doubt that the success of the present strand of the programme and the need to continue to make child care available to support the child care needs of our still growing workforce will support my case for ongoing capital and current funding from Government for this key sector. Should any additional funding become available before the end of the present national development plan, I expect that the programme would again benefit from transfers. The Deputy may be aware that the group in question has previously been approved €190,461 in staffing support under the programme. In the interim, it [968]would be premature of me to comment further on this capital grant application.

  413.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number and location of seizures of crack cocaine in Dublin city to date in 2004; the number of persons charged with the supply of crack cocaine in 2004; the number of convictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26901/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that there has been one seizure of crack cocaine in Dublin in 2004 to date. This seizure was made in March in the Rathgar area of the city. The amount of crack cocaine seized was just over two grams in weight. One person is before the courts at present in respect of this offence. To date, no persons have been convicted in 2004 in respect of seizures involving crack cocaine.

  414.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if the Land Registry Office will expedite a dealing application by a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; and when it will be complete. [26918/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I am informed by the Registrar of Titles that this is an application for transfer of part which was lodged on 26 August 2004. Dealing Number D2004SM006989J refers. I am further informed that this application was completed on 29 October 2004.

  415.  Mr. Coveney    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when money will be made available for the upgrade of Ballyfeard Garda station, County Cork. [26922/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I have been informed by the Garda authorities that there is no application in hand for works to upgrade Ballyfeard Garda station.

Garda accommodation is kept under regular review to ensure that it meets the operational requirements of the Garda Síochána. Where it does not, the required refurbishment or construction work is carried out under the auspices of the Office of Public Works in accordance with overall priorities within the Garda building programme and the availability of financial and other resources.

  416.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the reason staffing grant assistance has been discontinued in the case of a group (details supplied) in east Cork; if he [969]will move to re-establish the grant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26937/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  As the Deputy may be aware, the equal opportunities childcare programme provides grant assistance towards the staffing costs of community based or not-for-profit child care services which have a clear focus on disadvantage. The programme has an underlying economic prerogative in terms of promoting opportunities for parents to participate in education, training or employment. Such applications are assessed against five distinct criteria, as set out in the programme’s guidelines, which are as follows: the socio-economic and demographic profile of the area; the general quality of the application; the capacity of the group to implement the project; the level of integration or co-ordination of the service; and the cost and value for money of the project.

With respect to the application referred to by the Deputy, I understand that this group was originally approved staffing grant assistance of €44,441 over one year while the group developed its service and in particular its focus on disadvantage.

The group sought additional staffing funding for a further two years and, in June 2004, was informed that its request had been unsuccessful as it had not adequately addressed the recommendations associated with the previous grant approval and had not demonstrated a clear focus on disadvantaged families, which is a prerequisite for staffing grant assistance.

I understand that the group in question has recently submitted an appeal for staffing grant assistance. This appeal has been forwarded to Area Development Management Ltd. and will be re-assessed in light of all new information submitted in connection with the project. On completion of this assessment process, the appeal will be considered by the programme appraisal committee, which will make a recommendation to me before I make my final decision on the application.

In the interim, it would be premature of me to comment further on this appeal for additional staffing grant assistance.

  417.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the status of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and when a final decision will be made in their case. [26942/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I am looking at the matter referred to by the Deputy and I will correspond with him as soon as possible.

  418.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if the deportation order issued in the case of a person (details [970]supplied) in County Kilkenny will be withheld pending the submission of further vital information in his case and in view of the medical circumstances as outlined by his general practitioner. [26943/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  The person concerned arrived in the State on 17 December 2000 and applied for asylum. His application and subsequent appeal were refused. He was notified of the Minister’s decision by letter of 14 May 2001, in which he was apprised of the options open to him at that time, namely, to leave the State before the Minister decided whether or not to make a deportation order in respect of him; to consent to the making of a deportation order in respect of him; or to make written representations, within 15 working days, to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform setting out reasons he should not be deported, that is, why he should be allowed temporary leave to remain in the State.

The person’s case was examined under section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 and section 5 of the Refugee Act 1996 (Prohibition of Refoulement), including all representations received on his behalf. On 9 April 2002, a deportation order was made in respect of him.

Prior to the making of the deportation order, representations were received concerning the person’s medical problems with an indication that further medical reports would follow. The only medical reports since received were dated 6 October 2004. No new information is provided in those reports which warrant a revocation of the order.

It might be noted that this person initiated judicial review proceedings in relation to the issuing of the deportation order but these were subsequently withdrawn. The deportation order remains, the effecting of which is a matter for the Garda National Immigration Bureau.

  419.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the number of cases granted legal aid has been severely curtailed and reduced due to funding restrictions; if a substantial increase in funding for the Legal Aid Board will be provided in 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26944/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  The level of resources provided to the Legal Aid Board has increased significantly in recent years. For example, in 1997 the grant-in-aid available to the board was €10.656 million. The figure for 2004 represents an increase of almost 73% during this period, and I expect that the funding for the board will be further increased in 2005.

I assure the Deputy that the Legal Aid Board continuously monitors the operation of its law centre network and operates a procedure [971]whereby priority is accorded for certain categories of cases, for example, domestic violence, child care, child abduction and other cases where there are time limits. These cases are dealt with immediately and such applicants are not placed on a waiting list. Such a system for priority treatment is necessary to ensure that persons subjected to domestic violence and cases involving the care of children are provided with a speedy service. It is important to note that in 2003, priority appointments offered by law centres amounted to approximately 22% of the total number of appointments offered to new clients during the year.

In addition, managing solicitors at law centres have authority to give priority to any case on the waiting list at their centre. For example, if an applicant is gravely ill or in cases where an applicant is in danger of losing assets or of losing title to a legal remedy if services are delayed, the managing solicitor can accord such cases priority status.

  420.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the action the Garda authorities are taking in response to the concerns of residents (details supplied) in Dublin 1; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26963/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that in response to the anti-social behaviour referred to, community gardaí, on the instructions of local Garda management, carried out a covert operation, with a view to targeting those involved.

I understand that as a result of this operation, eight youths were found to be involved in anti-social behaviour and were in breach of by-law 2 of Dublin Corporation (Prohibition of Consumption of Intoxicating Liquor on Streets and Public Places) By-Laws 2000 and are now being dealt with under the Garda juvenile diversion programme.

I am further informed by the Garda authorities the community gardaí along with Dublin City Council representatives also examined a number of vacant flats in the complex which residents believed were being used for anti-social activity. On examination, the flats were not found to be so used. Community gardaí will continue to monitor the position and liaise with Dublin City Council representatives to ensure there is no reoccurrence of the anti-social behaviour.

  421.  Mr. Carey    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if it is possible to change the signing in day for a person (details supplied) at a prison from Wednesday to Satur[972]day; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26964/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  The person to whom the Deputy refers was committed to custody on 15 September 2004 having been sentenced to three months’ imprisonment for having no insurance. Allowing for normal remission, he is due to complete his sentence on 20 November 2004. As part of the management of his sentence, he was granted temporary release for one week, subject to specific conditions, with effect from Wednesday, 13 October 2004. This period of temporary release was reviewed on his return and I have since approved further periods of temporary release.

With regard to the Deputy’s request to change the signing on day for the person concerned from Wednesday to Saturday, there is no “signing on” day per se. The day concerned is the expiration of the offender’s period of temporary release and the granting of one or more periods of temporary release confers no entitlement to further concessions. However, it is open to prisoners to make a request through the governor to have a period of release varied so as to terminate at a weekend. I understand that this was done in the present case and the prisoner was subsequently approved for temporary release until Saturday, 6 November 2004, at which stage his case will be considered again.

  422.  Mr. Connaughton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the strength of the permanent Garda force attached to the Garda station in Athenry, County Galway; if there is a holding or security room in Athenry Garda station; if a person apprehended on an offence must be transported to Galway city Garda station; if his attention has been drawn to the growing list of petty crimes committed in the general Athenry district; his views on whether the area is entitled to more gardaí; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26966/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I have been informed by the Garda authorities that there is no cell facility at the station. Athenry Garda station is currently undergoing refurbishment and persons arrested are transported to the district headquarters at Mill Street Garda station in Galway city.

In the period October 2003 to September 2004, 31 headline crimes and 50 non-headline crimes have been reported. The corresponding figures for October 2002 to September 2003 are 19 and 59, respectively.

The personnel strength of Athenry Garda station is one sergeant and three gardaí as at 1 November 2004. In addition, resources are augmented from within the district or division as required. Local Garda management are satisfied that the resources currently in place in Athenry [973]are adequate to meet the present policing needs of the area.

Garda management will continue to appraise the policing and administrative strategy employed in Athenry with a view to ensuring that an effective Garda service is maintained. The situation will be kept under review by Garda management and when additional personnel next become available the needs of Athenry will be fully considered within the overall context of the needs of Garda stations throughout the country.

On Garda resources generally, the Government has approved my proposal to increase the strength of the Garda Síochána to 14,000 members on a phased basis, in line with the commitment in this regard in An Agreed Programme for Government commitment. This is a key commitment in the programme for Government, and its implementation will significantly strengthen the operational capacity of the force. The Commissioner will now be drawing up plans on how best to distribute and manage these resources. Clearly, however, the additional resources will be targeted at the areas of greatest need, as is envisaged in the programme for Government. The programme identifies in particular areas with a significant drugs problem and a large number of public order offences, but it will be possible to address other priorities as well, such as the need to significantly increase the number of gardaí allocated to traffic duties. One promise I have already made is that the additional gardaí will not be put on administrative duties. They will be put directly into frontline, operational, high-visibility policing. They will have a real impact.

  423.  Mr. J. O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the reason for the delay in dealing with an application for renewal of a business permit for a person (details supplied) in County Cork lodged almost three months ago; and if the matter will be cleared without delay. [27056/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  Renewal of permission to remain in the State to operate a business has been granted to the person in question.

  424.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if funding is available for staffing purposes from his Department for a privately run crèche and pre-school (details supplied) in County Mayo. [27092/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  As the Deputy may be aware, the equal opportunities childcare programme 2000-2006 is a seven year development strategy which is funded through the two regional operational programmes of the national development plan. The programme makes capital grant assistance available to community-based not-for-profit [974]child care groups and to private providers to create new and enhanced child care facilities as well as providing grant assistance towards the staffing costs of community based not-for-profit based child care services that have a clear focus on disadvantage.

The conditions under which staffing funding can be made available to child care services are clearly set out in the guidelines to the programme and in the programme complements of the two regional operational programmes and as such this stream of funding is only available to the community and voluntary sector under the rules of the programme. In the circumstances, it is not open to privately constituted child care facilities to apply for funding under the staffing strand of the equal opportunities childcare programme.

  425.  Mr. Carey    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position regarding a visa application by a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27119/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  As I stated in my reply to Question No. 259 of 20 October 2004, the visa application in question was approved on appeal on 18 October 2004. The approval number on the application is 1273/10. The applicant should contact the consular office where the visa was lodged to arrange for the visa to be issued.

  426.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of new recruits into the Garda Síochána in 2004 and in each of the past three years; the persons who come from Dublin city and county in terms of recruits as against recruits from every other part of the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27120/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I have been informed by the Garda authorities who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the following are the intake numbers of students in each of the years 2002, 2003 and to date in 2004.

Year Number
2002 547
2003 687
2004 518

I am further informed that the remainder of the information requested by the Deputy is not readily available and can only be obtained by the disproportionate expenditure of Garda time and resources relative to the information sought.

  427.  Mr. R. Bruton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of officers within the Garda Síochána who are from Dublin city and county as against officers from every other part of the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27121/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I have been informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the human resource management function for Garda members, that the information requested is not readily available and can only be obtained by the disproportionate expenditure of Garda time and resources relative to the information sought.

  428.  Mr. O’Connor    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the plans he has to fund further Garda diversion projects in Tallaght; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27148/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  Garda youth diversion projects are a community-based, multi-agency crime prevention initiative which seek to divert young persons from becoming involved or further involved in anti-social and — or criminal behaviour by providing suitable activities to facilitate personal development, promote civic responsibility and improve long-term employability prospects. By doing so, the projects also contribute to improving the quality of life within communities and enhancing Garda-community relations. I am strongly committed to their continuing development and, as resources permit, their expansion.

There are currently three Garda youth diversion projects in the Tallaght Garda district, KEY in Killinarden, JAY in Jobstown and YEW in Whitechurch. These projects received total funding of €296,420 in 2003. Proposals made by the Garda Síochána to my Department on establishing further projects are examined within the context of available resources. While I cannot give any commitment as to future funding, in the course of the Estimate negotiations now under way I am committed to maintaining and, if at all possible, increasing the resources available to the projects.

  429.  Mr. O’Connor    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if the policing needs of Brittas, County Dublin are receiving special attention; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27149/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I have been informed by the Garda authorities who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including person[976]nel, that the Brittas area forms part of the Tallaght sub-district.

Uniformed gardaí from Tallaght together with the local traffic unit and district detective unit also patrol the area. These are augmented by patrols from the divisional crime task force and the divisional traffic unit.

In addition to Tallaght gardaí patrolling the area, Rathcoole and Blessington gardaí regularly patrol the area as their districts border Brittas. I am further informed that a garda has been allocated as the community rural policing officer for the Brittas area. This ensures that local concerns are brought to the notice of the superintendent for Tallaght. Coverage by mobile patrol and other policing services are effectively provided by gardaí based at Tallaght. In addition, there are one sergeant and four Garda juvenile liaison officers operating from Tallaght Garda station.

Juvenile liaison officers operate in accordance with the Children Act 2001, which came into law in May 2002, and it was at this point that the Garda diversion programme began operating on a statutory basis. One of these officers has been allocated the area of Brittas as part of his or her brief.

  430.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of gardaí residing in barracks in Kildare; the proposals his Department has to refurbish the living and other quarters of such barracks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27189/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  I have been informed by the Garda authorities that there are five gardaí residing in official accommodation in four separate Garda stations, including Clane, Kilcullen, Newbridge and Ballitore. I understand that work commenced recently to provide garage accommodation at the Clane station.

Garda accommodation is kept under regular review to ensure that it meets the operational requirements of the Garda Síochána. Where it does not, the required refurbishment or construction work is carried out under the auspices of the Office of Public Works in accordance with overall priorities within the Garda building programme and the availability of financial and other resources.

  431.  Mr. Perry     asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    further to Parliamentary Question No. 286 of 12 October 2004, if his attention has been drawn to the fact that an application has already been submitted to his Department (details supplied); when the documents will be issued; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27207/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  Where the holder of the type of travel document referred to by the Deputy notifies my Department that the document has been lost or stolen, a letter enclosing a standard application form for a replacement travel document issues to the person. The application form furnished to the person in question has not been returned to date. To assist in the matter a further application form has now issued to the person in question and on receipt of same the matter will be dealt with.

  432.  Mr. Costello    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if his attention has been drawn to an announcement by the British Home Secretary of changes in the criminal law in that country to provide that juries in child sex abuse and theft cases will in future be told of a defendant’s previous convictions as a matter of course; if he has discussed these proposals with the Home Secretary; if such a change in the law is likely to impact on extradition arrangements with the United Kingdom; if, in particular, he will be obliged by section 50(2)(bbb) of the Extradition Act 1965 to direct the release of a person arrested for extradition to Britain, on the grounds that it would be unjust, oppressive or invidious to deliver that person up for trial there under such rules; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27309/04]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell):  While I am aware of the changes referred to by the Deputy, I have had no discussions with the Home Secretary on these matters. In so far as extradition arrangements are concerned, the Deputy will be aware that, with effect from 1 January last, the European arrest warrant, EAW, has replaced previous extradition arrangements between Ireland and the United Kingdom. Those previous arrangements were based on Part III of the Extradition Act 1965. Part III, which included section 50(2)(bbb), was repealed by the European Arrest Warrant Act 2003.

The mechanism of the European arrest warrant is primarily a judicial process and, while based on a high level of confidence between member states and on the principles of mutual recognition of judicial decisions in criminal matters, both the framework decision on the EAW and the European Arrest Warrant Act 2003 provide that the courts retain a discretion to refuse surrender on a number of grounds relating to the protection of human rights and the observance of fair procedures and due process. For example, section 37 of the European Arrest Warrant Act 2003 provides, inter alia, that a person shall not be surrendered under the Act where his or her surrender would contravene the State’s obligations under [978]the European Convention on Human Rights or, subject to section 38(1)(b) of the Act which relates to dual criminality, would constitute a contravention of any provision of the Constitution.

  433.  Mr. Penrose    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if a person resident here who is offered an approved nursing course in the United Kingdom can obtain a higher education grant from their local authority; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26774/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  Under the terms of my Department’s higher education maintenance grant schemes, students from this State who are attending undergraduate courses in the UK, including courses in nursing, can apply for maintenance grants in respect of approved courses at higher national diploma level or higher, which are pursued in colleges approved for the purpose of the schemes.

Under the terms of the schemes, grants are not available in respect of tuition fees paid at undergraduate level outside of the State. However, all EU students, including students from this State, may be eligible for grant assistance towards the cost of tuition fees from the relevant UK authorities subject to the same conditions as apply to students who have been resident in the UK.

Tax relief has been available for tuition fees paid for full-time, qualifying undergraduate courses in publicly funded universities or similar third level colleges in any EU member state, including the UK, since 1999-2000.

  434.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when a decision will issue regarding school transport for children in an area (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26775/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  My Department has no plans to establish a school transport service to the school in question for those pupils residing in the area referred to by the Deputy. The pupils may, if they so wish, apply for concessionary catchment boundary transport and have their applications assessed in the normal way.

  435.  Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason for the extraordinary delay in her Department in issuing a decision on an application for an extension of a school bus service (details supplied); when a decision will issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26776/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  My Department has recently conveyed [979]its decision to the relevant transport liaison officer.

The Deputy will be aware that under the terms of the post-primary school transport scheme, routes are planned so that, in general, no pupil will have more than two miles to travel to a pick-up point. Furthermore, where eligible pupils attend a school at a centre other than the post-primary centre that caters for the catchment area in which they live, they may be allowed the concession of transport from the catchment boundary of the centre attended, provided there is room for them on a bus serving that centre.

Having considered the distances involved to the pick-up point and the fact that some of the children are living outside of the catchment area concerned, my Department is satisfied that a re-routing of the bus service could not be justified in this case at additional cost to the State.

  436.  Mr. Gogarty    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if the National Educational Psychological Service advised against, or voiced concern regarding the weighted system that is now being used to allocate resource hours to schools; if so, the nature of those concerns; the reason her Department chooses to ignore them; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26779/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  In December 2001, the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, produced a position paper on special educational needs as its contribution to the debate on the issue. In the position paper, it recommended that schools should be adequately resourced in the first instance to be able to cater for most of the range of abilities that they could expect to find among their pupil populations. Further resources should be available to schools only when they have identified students requiring further additional support.

This is, in effect, a recommendation for the revised system that has now been adopted by my Department, and NEPS has consistently promoted this system. This approach to allocating resources for special educational needs is substantively in line with current thinking in many European countries.

With regard to the actual details of the formulae to be adopted to determine the allocation for each school under the revised system, several sections of my Department, including NEPS, have been involved in exploring a number of options. There was a range of opinions and the views of all involved were taken into account when arriving at the current system. As I have already announced, I intend to review the revised [980]model with particular regard for the impact on small rural schools.

  437.  Mr. Gogarty    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when new building work will commence for a school (details supplied) in County Limerick. [26780/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The extension-refurbishment project for the school referred to by the Deputy is at an early stage of architectural planning. It has a band 2 rating.

My officials are nearing completion of a review of all projects which did not proceed to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme with a view to including them as part of a multi-annual programme from 2005. All projects are being assessed against the published prioritisation criteria, agreed earlier this year with the education partners. Each project will be assigned a band rating and the progress of all projects will be considered in the context of the programme from 2005.

Following conclusion of the current Estimates and budgetary process, I intend to publish the 2005 building programme, which will operate in a multi-annual framework.

  438.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if consideration will be given to sanctioning an extra five hours a week to a special needs assistant at a school (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26781/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  My Department received additional documentation in support of the application referred to by the Deputy on 22 October. This will be reviewed by the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, as quickly as possible.

The Deputy may be aware that my Department has established a team to review special needs assistant support in mainstream schools generally. The team commenced its task recently. The team is assessing the levels and deployment of such support to ensure that the needs of children are being met in the context of new applications for resources for the school.

I am making arrangements to have this review expedited with a view to having a response issued to Carrigaholt national school at the earliest date.

  439.  Mr. P. Breen    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if consideration will be given to sanctioning an extra five hours a week to a special needs assistant at a school (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26782/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I can confirm that an application for an increase in the level of special needs assistant, SNA, support from part-time to full-time has been received from the school referred to by the Deputy. The application is currently being considered and a response will be conveyed to the school at the earliest possible date.

  440.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo is not receiving the resource teacher hours as recommended by NEPS; and the action which will be taken. [26783/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The application for resource teaching support received from the school on behalf of the pupil in question was reviewed by the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS.

The outcome of this review was that the needs of this pupil should be catered for under the proposed new system of resource teaching allocation. This pupil’s special educational needs, SEN, are in the high incidence disability category and it would be expected that pupils within this category would have their SEN met from within the resource-learning support teaching allocation available to the school. The school authorities were advised of this decision on 23 September 2004. The school had confirmed that the pupil is currently receiving adequate learning support teaching.

  441.  Mr. Deenihan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if a special needs assistant will be approved for a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26784/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  My Department is considering an application for special needs assistant support to cater for the needs of a number of pupils in the school referred to by the Deputy, including the pupil in question.

My officials have been liaising with my Department’s inspectorate regarding the matter and a decision will be conveyed to the school authorities at the earliest date.

  442.  Mr. O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Louth cannot be given third level grant aid. [26813/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  Under the terms of the third level student support schemes, maintenance grants are not payable to candidates who already hold an undergraduate degree and are pursuing a second undergraduate degree. Similarly, tuition fees [982]under the free fees initiative, are not payable in respect of a second period of college attendance on a course at the same level. These restrictions apply to every student who already holds a qualification at any level, irrespective of where that qualification was obtained.

As the student referred to by the Deputy already holds a degree in architectural technology, she is therefore ineligible for a higher education grant or to benefit under the free fees initiative in respect of a degree course at NUI, Dublin.

Section 473A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 provides for tax relief on tuition fees at the standard rate in respect of approved courses at approved colleges of higher education, including certain approved undergraduate and postgraduate courses in EU and non-EU states. The maximum level of qualifying fee for tax relief purposes in the current academic year, 2004-05, is €3,175. Further details and application forms to claim tax relief on tuition fees are available from the Revenue Commissioners.

  443.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she will consider amending section 7 of the Vocational Education (Amendment) Act 2001 to ensure that representatives of parents of children under 18 years in VEC schools, elected to the VEC are themselves parents of such students; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26820/04]

  444.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if VECs will provide parents of children who are students in their schools with the opportunity to collectively organise for appropriate representation on VECs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26821/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 443 and 444 together.

The Vocational Education (Amendment) Act 2001 and the Composition of Vocational Education Committee Regulations 2004 represent a new departure by giving a statutory right to parents and guardians to participate in the election of members to VECs. Under the Act parents of students, who have not reached the age of 18 years and who are registered as students at recognised schools or centres for education established or maintained by VECs, may elect two members, male and female, to a vocational education committee. To stand for purposes of these elections, a person must be nominated by five eligible parent electors within the VEC concerned.

The election of parent representatives heralds a significant step in the partnership process when representatives of parents, VEC staff and other relevant community interests will sit alongside [983]elected local authority members on VECs for the first time. The term of office for each VEC corresponds to that of the local authority. Provision is made for parent representatives to have the opportunity of continuing to serve on committees for the full term on the same basis as other elected committee members. This is preferable to parent representatives having to resign on their child reaching the age of 18 years or where their child no longer is a registered student, in the event that such representatives were obliged to be parents.

The legislation does not require that the representative of parents be a parent. While it is a requirement of the legislation that the nominee be supported by at least five eligible electors, it is not required that the nominee himself or herself shall be a parent. This approach is open and democratic and I have no proposals to change it at this stage.

  445.  Mr. O’Shea    asked the Minister for Education and Science    her proposals to implement a structured transition programme in cases in which special needs entitlements of students transfer when they progress from primary to second level school; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26827/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  Where pupils with special educational needs enrol in a post-primary school, it is open to the school to apply to my Department for additional teaching and-or special needs assistant support for these pupils.

My Department allocates additional teaching support and special needs assistant support to second level schools and vocational educational committees to cater for pupils with special educational needs. Each application is considered on the basis of the assessed needs of the pupils involved and having regard to a range of factors including the overall resources available to the school.

The level of resources being made available to support students with special educational needs in the second level system has grown significantly in recent years. In the current school year, approximately 1,350 whole-time equivalent teachers and approximately 634 special needs assistants have been allocated to second level schools to cater for students with special educational needs.

The precise model of provision made available will depend on the assessed needs of the individual pupils involved. Some students are capable of attending ordinary classes on an integrated basis with resource teacher and-or special needs assistant support. In other cases, placement in special dedicated classes or units attached to the school [984]may be the more appropriate response. Such special classes operate at significantly reduced pupil-teacher ratios. My Department also supports arrangements whereby students attached to these special classes are facilitated in attending ordinary subject classes on an integrated basis wherever possible.

In addition to the measures I have outlined, I am confident that the advent of the National Council for Special Education will prove of major benefit in ensuring that all children with special educational needs receive the support they require when and where they require it.

  446.  Mr. Murphy    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if sanction will be given to a school (details supplied) in County Cork in 2005; and if not, the year in which she expects sanction to be given. [26828/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The refurbishment-extension project for the school referred to by the Deputy is at an early stage of architectural planning. It has a band 2 rating.

My Department’s technical staff are currently examining the stage 2-3 documentation, which pertains to detailed plans and costs. The school authorities will be kept advised of developments.

My officials are nearing completion of a review of all projects which did not proceed to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme with a view to including them as part of a multi-annual programme from 2005. All projects are being assessed against the published prioritisation criteria, agreed earlier this year with the education partners. Each project will be assigned a band rating and the progress of all projects will be considered in the context of the programme from 2005.

Following conclusion of the current Estimates and budgetary process, I intend to publish the 2005 building programme, which will operate in a multi-annual framework.

  447.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if there is a dedicated auditing unit in her Department assessing and monitoring the day-to-day spend of her Department with particular reference to major projects; if so, the number of staff involved; if the staff have accountancy qualifications. [26850/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  A dedicated internal audit unit has been established since 1990 in the Department of Education and Science. The internal audit unit is responsible, inter alia, for establishing that the accounting systems, procedures and controls operated by the Department are being complied [985]with and are capable of realising policy objectives in an economic, efficient and effective manner.

As part of its audit activity, the internal audit unit has, from time to time, undertaken audits of projects/programmes.

The number of staff involved is 5.5. The head of the internal audit unit holds a professional auditing qualification and is a Fellow of the Institute of Internal Auditors.

  448.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if the long promised and much needed physical education facility for a school (details supplied) in Dublin 13 will have its design team appointed on the priority list to be published in the next few months; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26870/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The school planning section of my Department is currently nearing completion of an examination of all building projects on hand in line with the project prioritisation criteria that were recently revised in consultation with the education partners. The proposed project for the school referred to by the Deputy is included in this review.

I expect to be in a position to provide an update in relation to the progress of individual projects in the context of a multi-annual building programme. I intend to publish this programme as soon as possible after the budgetary process.

  449.  Mr. Nolan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when approval and funding will be made available for the provision of an extension to a school (details supplied) in County Carlow; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26881/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The extension-refurbishment project for the school referred to by the Deputy is at an early stage of architectural planning. It has a band two rating. My Department’s officials recently wrote to the school authorities requesting additional information on their submission on stages 1 to 3, which pertains to detailed costs and plans, and a response is awaited. My officials are nearing completion of a review of all projects which did not proceed to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme with a view to including them as part of a multi-annual programme from 2005. All projects are being assessed against the published prioritisation criteria, agreed earlier this year with the education partners. Each project will be assigned a band rating and the progress of all projects will be considered in the context of the programme from 2005.

[986]Following conclusion of the current Estimates and budgetary process, I intend to publish the 2005 building programme, which will operate in a multi-annual framework.

  450.  Ms M. Wallace    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she provided full-time special needs assistant hours to a person (details supplied) with autism spectrum disorder when they commenced school in September 2002 but has not increased the hours now that they have entered first class in September 2004; her views on whether a child allocated full-time special needs assistant hours should be covered for the full school day; if her Department has received correspondence dated 8 October 2004 expressing concern regarding the 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. period not being covered; if, now that this person is at school for an additional hour each day, the full-time special needs assistant approved will be 27.5 hours as distinct from the 22.5 hours when they were in the infant classes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26883/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  An application for an increase in the level of special needs assistant, SNA, support from part time to full time has been received from the school referred to by the Deputy. The Deputy may be aware that my Department has established a team to review SNA support in mainstream schools generally. The team commenced its task recently. The team is assessing the levels and deployment of such support to ensure that the needs of children are being met in the context of new applications for resources for the school. The review team visited the school in recent days and a report is in preparation. A decision on the application will be conveyed to the school as soon as this report has been received and considered.

  451.  Ms Burton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    her plans in relation to the lands at Beechpark, Castleknock, currently occupied by a club (details supplied), in view of the understanding by the club that it is to continue in possession of playing pitches at this site to facilitate both the junior members of the club as well as primary schools in the area; if this arrangement will be continued together with the provision of the multidenominational primary school at this site. [26904/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The lands at Beechpark Avenue are owned by my Department and were purchased in order to provide educational facilities for the children in the Castleknock area.

[987]The design of the permanent school building has allowed for continued usage by the club in question. However, in order to construct the building, it is possible that some of this land may be required in the short term for a builder’s compound.

The permanent school has been designed in a manner that protects sports usage going forward, and my Department remains committed to putting in place a formal long-term agreement concerning the use of the land by the club in question. When the new school is ready for occupation, it will be necessary to put in place a legal agreement with the school authorities and it is intended to execute the legal agreement with the club at that point.

  452.  Mr. McCormack    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if a replacement teacher will be appointed to a school (details supplied) in County Galway; when it is likely that this appointment will be made; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26905/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The vacancy that exists in Galway is one of a number of current vacancies to be filled. In advance of a decision on the filling of these vacancies, my Department is carrying out an assessment of the role of the visiting teacher service in the context of the level and range of teacher supports now being provided for children with special educational needs. Account is also being taken of the evolving legislative and structural environment in which the service is expected to operate. I expect that the review will be completed in the near future. A decision on the filling of vacancies will be based on the outcome of the review.

  453.  Mr. Crawford    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when directions will be given to the principal of a school (details supplied) in County Monaghan to provide resource hours; the teacher who will provide the hours; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26906/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  As I advised the Deputy on 20 October, a letter issued to the school authorities on 23 September 2004 confirming sanction of four hours per week of resource teaching support for a pupil in the school. Responsibility for recruiting a teacher to provide this support rests with the board of management of the school.

  454.  Mr. Crawford    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position regarding the application by a school (details supplied) in [988]County Monaghan for refurbishment or extension; when the funding will be made available; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26910/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  My Department sanctioned a maximum grant level of €200,000 for the school in question as part of a devolved initiative under the 2004 school building programme. The initiative allows boards of management to address their accommodation and building priorities with a guaranteed amount of funding and gives them control of the building project. It is my understanding that the initial grant of planning permission has been received from the local authority, preparatory work is ongoing on the application for fire certificate and tender documents.

  455.  Mr. Timmins    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the position on an institution (details supplied) in County Dublin on the list of residencies on the Schedule to the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26914/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  In accordance with section 4 of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002, additional institutions may be included on the schedule of institutions contained in the Act, providing the facility was subject to inspection or regulation by a public body.

To date, no records have been identified that would indicate that a public body had a regulatory or inspection function in relation to the institution identified by the Deputy and as a consequence it can not be considered for inclusion at this stage. In the event that records are identified that would indicate that a public body had a regulatory or inspection function in respect of this institution, the matter will be given further consideration.

  456.  Mr. O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if a special needs assistant will be granted to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [26919/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  My Department has received an application for a special needs assistant, SNA, for the pupil in question. The Deputy may be aware that my Department has established a team to review SNA support in mainstream schools generally. The team commenced its task recently. The team is assessing the levels and deployment of such support to ensure that the needs of children are being met in the context of new applications for resources for the school.

[989]I am endeavouring to ensure that the review and the notification of schools regarding outstanding applications for SNA support are completed in the earliest possible timeframe.

  457.  Mr. Coveney    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when his Department will finalise the purchase of a site for a new school in Ballygarvan, County Cork. [26923/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The property management section of the Office of Public Works, which acts on behalf of my Department in relation to site acquisitions generally, is in negotiations for the purchase of a site for a new school in Ballygarvan, County Cork. Due to the commercial sensitivities of site acquisitions, it is not proposed at this stage to identify specific sites to be acquired.

  458.  Mr. Wall     asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Kildare has not been granted resource hours in view of the fact that the person was originally granted 2.5 hours and the fact that the person has been changed from a class of six to a class of 36; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26925/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  An application for resource teaching support for the pupil referred to has been considered in my Department. The school authorities were informed in a letter dated 19 October 2004 that the pupil did not meet the criteria for specific speech and language disorder in the context of the supporting professional documentation submitted with the application. My officials will provide further clarification in writing to the family on the matter shortly. Meanwhile, my Department’s inspectorate will liaise with the school in the context of the pupil’s educational needs.

  459.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason there is no special language class in Kildare with speech therapists and where most parents with children with speech difficulties bring their children; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26926/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  A board of management wishing to establish a special class for specific speech and language disorders should write to the special education section of my Department. The criteria for the establishment of special classes is outlined in Department Circular 9/99 which is available on my Department’s website, www.education.ie.

The provision of speech therapy support within specific speech and language disorder classes is [990]the responsibility of the Department of Health and Children.

  460.  Mr. Hogan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she will review the costings in respect of the extension to a school (details supplied) in County Kilkenny, in view of the substantial shortfall in finances; if she will increase the allocation in order to alleviate the financial pressure on the board of management and parents of this school; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26931/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  As part of an expansion of the devolved scheme for primary school building works, a grant of €100,000 was sanctioned to enable the management authorities of the school in question to provide additional accommodation.

The initiative allows boards of management to address their accommodation and building priorities with a guaranteed amount of funding and gives boards of management control of the building project.

My Department does not intend increasing the amount of the grant offered to the school. This is because a central tenet of the devolved scheme is that the school authority, granted discretion and funding, must equally accept responsibility for prioritisation, control of costs and ensuring value for money.

  461.  Mr. Stanton    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of children in primary schools with autism, ADD and ADHD; the gender breakdown; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26932/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The information requested by the Deputy is not readily available. I have asked my officials to have the available information compiled and forwarded to the Deputy as soon as possible.

  462.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if, in view of the exceptional circumstances, she will re-examine the decision to reduce the staff of a school (details supplied) in Dublin 9 by one teacher based on the pupil numbers of 85 on 30 September 2004 and in view of the fact that two weeks later the school had the required 87 pupils to retain its full staff complement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27037/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The staffing of a primary school is determined by reference to the enrolment of the [991]school on 30 September of the previous school year. This is in accordance with guidelines agreed between my Department and the education partners.

The agreement referred to above can only be deviated from where a school experiences rapid growth in its enrolment. In such cases, an additional post, referred to as a developing school post, may be sanctioned provisionally where the projected enrolment at 30 September of the school year in question equals or exceeds a specified figure. If the specified figure is not achieved on 30 September, sanction for the post is withdrawn.

The enrolment in the school referred to by the Deputy at 30 September 2003 was 59 pupils, which warrants a staffing of principal plus two mainstream posts for the 2004-05 school year. On the basis of projected enrolments, a developing school post was approved provisionally. However, the required enrolment figure at 30 September 2004 was not achieved and accordingly sanction for the post was withdrawn.

To ensure transparency and openness in the system, an independent appeals board is now in place to decide on any appeals on mainstream staffing. The staffing of the school in question for the 2004-05 school year was considered by the appeals board on 21 October 2004. The board, having considered the appeal with regard to the criteria outlined in Department Circular 19/02, was satisfied that a departure from the staffing schedule is not warranted in this case. The board of management of the school was notified of the decision of the appeals board on 21 October 2004. I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to intervene in the operation of the independent appeals board.

  463.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the steps she will take to ensure that resource teachers are not removed from national schools with disadvantaged status; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27038/04]

  477.  Mr. Gregory    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if small acutely disadvantaged inner city schools (details supplied) will each lose a resource teacher while larger schools in affluent areas, two national schools in Foxrock will between them gain up to seven resource teachers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27153/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 463 and 477 together.

I am conscious of difficulties that could arise in relation to the proposed mechanism for allocating resource teachers to primary schools, particularly [992]for children in small and rural schools, if it were implemented as currently proposed.

Accordingly, I will be reviewing the proposed model to ensure that it provides an automatic response for pupils with common higher incidence special educational needs, borderline mild and mild general learning disability and specific learning disability, and those with learning support needs, that is, functioning at or below the tenth percentile on a standardised test of reading and-or mathematics. The proposed model will obviate the need for cumbersome individual applications, while at the same time ensure that pupils currently in receipt of service continue to receive the level of service appropriate to their needs. The review will involve consultation with educational interests and the National Council for Special Education before it is implemented next year.

  464.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she has proposals for reviewing the supply of resource teachers for primary schools. [27046/04]

  465.  Mr. Crowe    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she has proposals for reviewing the learning support resources for primary schools; and if she will commit herself to ensuring that primary schools in rural areas are allocated adequate numbers of resource teachers and adequate learning support resources. [27047/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 464 and 465 together.

I am conscious of difficulties that could arise in relation to the proposed mechanism for allocating resource teachers to primary schools, particularly for children in small and rural schools, if it were implemented as currently proposed.

Accordingly, I will be reviewing the proposed model to ensure that it provides an automatic response for pupils with common higher incidence special educational needs, borderline mild and mild general learning disability and specific learning disability, and those with learning support needs, i.e. functioning at or below the 10th percentile on a standardised test of reading and/or mathematics. The proposed model will obviate the need for cumbersome individual applications, while at the same time ensure that pupils currently in receipt of service continue to receive the level of service appropriate to their needs. The review will involve consultation with educational interests and the National Council for Special Education before it is implemented next year.

  466.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when renovations will com[993]mence on a school (details supplied) in Dublin 7; the nature of the renovations that will take place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27050/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The building project for the school referred to by the Deputy has been cleared to advanced architectural planning. It has a band 1 rating. My officials are nearing completion of a review of all projects which did not proceed to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme including the school in question with a view to including them as part of a multi-annual programme from 2005. All projects are being assessed against the published prioritisation criteria, agreed earlier this year with the education partners. Each project will be assigned a band rating and the progress of all projects will be considered in the context of the programme from 2005.

Following conclusion of the current Estimates and budgetary process, I intend to publish the 2005 building programme which will operate in a multi-annual framework. The nature of the renovations at the school which will be considered for funding under the Department’s capital programme includes refurbishing the front section of the building, demolishing part of the existing buildings at the rear of the school and to build a new section to provide additional accommodation.

  467.  Mr. F. McGrath    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if a school (details supplied) in Dublin 4 will be allocated the additional special needs assistants it needs in order to provide a quality education service. [27086/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  My Department has received an application for special needs assistant, SNA, support to cater for the care needs of a pupils in the school. The school currently has an enrolment of 56 pupils and the staffing complement consists of a principal, 11 mainstream class teachers and 14 full-time SNAs. The application for additional SNA support is being considered in light of the current resources at the school and the recommended level of support as outlined in the report of the special education review committee. The recommended pupil teacher ratio for schools designated for physically disabled children is 10:1 and the recommended ratio for SNA support is one SNA for every class. A decision relating to the application will be conveyed to the school authorities shortly.

  468.  Mr. Ring    asked the Minister for Education [994]and Science    the entitlements of a teacher (details supplied) in view of the new resurgence in part-time teachers’ payments. [27088/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act came into operation on 20 December 2001 and provides that a part-time employee has a pro rata entitlement to the conditions of employment of a qualified full-time employee.

In the context of implementation of the Act a collective agreement was reached with the teacher unions in July 2003 which provides for pro-rata pay and conditions of service for fully qualified part-time teachers in line with those enjoyed by comparable full-time teachers with effect from 20 December 2001. The terms of that agreement were implemented in schools from the commencement of the 2003-04 school year.

Arising from discussions between my Department, ACCS and teacher unions, arrangements have now been agreed for an interim payment of arrears in respect of the period 20 December 2001 to the commencement of the 2003-04 school year to be issued shortly by schools to qualified part-time teachers, including the teacher referred to by the Deputy, who were employed in the period concerned and are covered by the agreement.

  469.  Mr. Deasy    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason part-time special needs assistants are on a different rate of pay to full-time special needs assistants; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27103/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  All special needs assistants employed in primary schools are paid on an incremental salary scale. Part time special needs assistants are paid a salary based on the hours that they actually work.

My Department has recently revised the rate of pay for all part time special needs assistants in primary schools and issued any arrears due for the period 1 September to 18 October 2004 in the salaries paid on 21 October 2004. A insert issued with the payslip notifying the part-time special needs assistants of the adjustment in pay and advising them of the relevant circular outlining the details. A copy of the circular is attached for the Deputy’s information. Similar arrangements are currently been finalised for special needs assistants that work in post primary schools and a circular outlining the relevant details will be issued when this process is complete.

  470.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Education and Science    her views on the report of the Arts Council, A Professional Dance Curriculum [995]for Ireland; the steps she intends to take in view of this report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27104/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I am aware of the report, A Professional Curriculum for Dance, published by the Arts Council in August 2004. It recommends the establishment of a curriculum providing academic studies and vocational training in ballet and contemporary dance for pupils in the 12-18/19 age group, and which would provide progression to a higher education Irish national diploma of dance. The proposal envisages a heavy load for students of 35 to 37 hours study per week, between dance and academic studies. My Department does not consider that it is a priority to establish a specialised dance school for this age group.

The primary objective of second level education is to ensure that students receive a broadly based education which balances their schooling with social and leisure time, enables young people to make the transition through adolescence to adulthood, prepares them for social and economic participation, and equips them for entry to a range of career options. My Department would have concerns with the model proposed in terms of plans to reduce the period of time spent on “academic studies” to a level of 20 hours per week, and in regard to the heavy combined workload proposed for pupils who are still at a young age.

In addition, it would be important to establish the level of demand which exists in Ireland for such a service for this age group.

  471.  Mr. Crawford    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if a teacher qualifying from a college (details supplied) in Belfast as a secondary school teacher can take up a job as a resource or remedial teacher in a primary school on a full salary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27115/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  Secondary trained teachers who have qualified outside the State must register with the registration council which is the statutory body which determines, with the approval of the Minister for Education and Science, the qualification requirements for the purpose of registration as a secondary teacher. Applications for the recognition of qualifications for the purpose of registration are considered by the council at meetings which take place on a periodic basis. In order for the council to assess the suitability of qualifications for teaching purposes, full details of the courses of study pursued must be submitted. If the person to whom the Deputy refers makes contact with the secretariat of the registration [996]council at the offices of my Department in Athlone, he or she will be advised as to how to apply for recognition of the qualifications in question.

Qualifications recognised for the purposes of teaching at second level are not accepted for the purpose of recognition to teach in a permanent capacity in primary schools. At primary level teachers are class teachers, rather than subject specialists, and must be qualified to teach the range of primary school subjects to children aged four to 12 years. To obtain recognition to teach in mainstream primary schools, persons holding qualifications recognised for teaching at second level must undergo a post-graduate primary conversion course.

However, under a temporary scheme currently being operated by my Department to address the shortage of qualified teachers at primary level, teachers holding qualifications recognised for teaching at second level are remunerated at the trained rate of pay when they take up substitute or temporary positions in primary schools. Under this scheme such teachers are eligible for posts as resource teachers for children with special needs in mainstream schools, but are not eligible to hold learning support, remedial, posts in mainstream schools. Remuneration for these posts is on a qualified teacher basis.

Teachers holding qualifications recognised for teaching at second level are also entitled to restricted recognition to teach in special primary schools where a proportion of the pupils attending the special school are of post-primary age, that is, 12 years or older, and where second level programmes are being provided by the school, for example junior certificate elementary programme, leaving certificate applied programme. If appointed to such posts, the teachers concerned are placed on the trained teachers’ common basic scale.

  472.  Mr. Healy    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the steps she intends to take to ensure second level education for a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary who has been refused admission to first year in two secondary schools in their home town. [27145/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The parents of the person referred to by the Deputy have been in contact with my Department. They have been advised of their right to appeal the refusals to enrol under section 29 of the Education Act 1998. An appeals application form and a copy of the procedures for hearing and determining appeals under section 29 of the Education Act 1998 has issued to the parents.

The National Educational Welfare Board is aware of this case and the educational welfare [997]officer for the area is actively engaged in assisting the parents to secure a school place for their son.

  473.  Mr. O’Connor    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if she will report on the implementation of the Youth Work Act 2001; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27146/04]

  474.  Mr. O’Connor    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if the appointment of a youth development officer in the Tallaght west area will be considered; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27147/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 473 and 474 together.

The Youth Work Act 2001 was enacted on 1 December 2001 and provides a statutory basis for the development of youth work in Ireland. The Act provides a legal framework for the provision of youth work programmes and services to be organised by the Minister for Education and Science, the vocational education committees and national and regional youth work organisations.

It was never the intention that the Act would be implemented fully at once. Section 1 of the Act provides for sections to be commenced at different stages. To date, sections 2 to 7, 17, 18 and 24 have been commenced. A sub-committee of the National Youth Work Advisory Committee was established to make recommendations on the requirements necessary for the implementation of the various sections of the Act. This sub-committee comprises representatives of both statutory and voluntary sectors, as well as my Department. The work of this sub-committee is ongoing and it is currently developing detailed guidelines and procedures for the further implementation of the Act.

It is considered essential to have agreement between all the interested parties on the necessary procedures, and to have these in place so that further implementation of the Act can take place in a satisfactory and structured manner. It is intended that further discussions will take place with the various parties involved. The implementation of further sections of the Act will be dependent also on the availability of the appropriate financial resources. The appointment of youth development officers in vocational educational committee areas will be considered as part of the overall implementation process.

I want to assure the Deputy of my support for the youth work sector and to say that it is my intention to make every effort to secure additional funding for the implementation of the Act through the 2005 Estimates process.

  475.  Mr. Crawford    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if her attention has been drawn to the fact that teachers and pupils working in the science department at a school (details supplied) in County Monaghan have to work in classrooms where the windows are in extremely poor condition; if the necessary funds will be made available to do the necessary repairs for the sake of the children especially; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27151/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The school authority in question was allocated a grant of €370,200 in July 2004 on a devolved basis for science laboratory refurbishment. It is not the practice of my Department to increase the amount of a devolved grant that has already been allocated to a school. It is a matter for school authorities and their design teams to tailor the overall projects to suit the grant amount allocated.

A central tenet of the devolved scheme is that a school authority granted discretion and guaranteed funding to enable immediate progress on its accommodation needs, must equally accept responsibility for prioritisation, control of costs and ensuring value for money. The school in question has been notified of the summer works scheme 2005.

  476.  Mr. P. McGrath    asked the Minister for Education and Science    , further to Parliamentary Question No. 146 of 12 October 2004, if Fingal County Council will reserve a secondary school site in the Castleknock electoral area as much of the increased population in the Dublin 15 area will be in this general locale and nowhere near the proposed sites in Mulhuddart-Tyrellstown and Castaheany-Ongar. [27152/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  Officials in school planning section of my Department are monitoring the educational requirements at primary and post primary level in Dublin 15 on an ongoing basis. My Department is in regular consultation with Fingal County Council and current providers on this matter.

My Department is satisfied that it is not necessary to reserve a site for a post primary school in the Castleknock electoral area at this point. This is because of the additional capacity to be provided by the construction of the new post primary school at Phibblestown and the greater mobility of students of post primary age. However, I can assure the Deputy that the unfolding situation in the area will be kept under constant review by school planning section.

Question No. 477 answered with Question
No. 463.

  478.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the reason for the delay in the construction of Athy Community College; when she expects it to commence; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27156/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The new school building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is at an early stage of architectural planning. It has a band three rating.

My officials are nearing completion of a review of all projects which did not proceed to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme with a view to including them as part of a multi-annual programme from 2005. All projects are being assessed against the published prioritisation criteria, agreed earlier this year with the education partners. Each project will be assigned a band rating and the progress of all projects will be considered in the context of the programme from 2005.

Following conclusion of the current estimates and budgetary process I intend to publish the 2005 building programme which will operate in a multi-annual framework.

  479.  Ms Enright    asked the Minister for Education and Science    when she intends to meet a delegation from Athy Town Council to discuss the delay in the construction of Athy community college; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27157/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  I am not aware of a request from Athy Town Council to meet with a delegation to discuss the provision of a new school building for Athy community college. The building project for the school is at early architectural planning and it has a band three rating.

The position generally is that my officials are nearing completion of a review of all projects which did not proceed to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme with a view to including them as part of a multi-annual programme from 2005. All projects are being assessed against the published prioritisation criteria, agreed earlier this year with the education partners. Each project will be assigned a band rating and the progress of all projects, including Athy community college, will be considered in the context of the programme from 2005.

Following conclusion of the current estimates and budgetary process, I intend to publish the 2005 building programme which will operate in a multi-annual framework

  480.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if her attention has been drawn to the fact that there are 160 pupils in a school (details supplied) in County Sligo which [1000]was built to accommodate four teachers and has a projected number of 180 pupils for 2005-06, and another teacher; when a new school will be built; the details of the negotiations to date; her views on whether the present facilities are inadequate; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27202/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The extension-refurbishment project for the school referred to by the Deputy is at an early stage of architectural planning. It has a band two rating.

My Department’s technical staff are currently examining the stage 1-2 documentation, site suitability-sketch scheme. The school authorities will be kept advised of developments. My officials are nearing completion of a review of all projects which did not proceed to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme with a view to including them as part of a multi-annual programme from 2005. All projects are being assessed against the published prioritisation criteria, agreed earlier this year with the education partners. Each project will be assigned a band rating and the progress of all projects will be considered in the context of the programme from 2005.

Following conclusion of the current Estimates and budgetary process I intend to publish the 2005 building programme which will operate in a multi-annual framework.

  481.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the applications lodged in her Department from 1997 to 2004 for refurbishment works to be carried out on schools in Counties Sligo and Leitrim; the schools in Counties Sligo and Leitrim at which refurbishment works have been carried out since 1997; the cost of the works; if all applications will be sanctioned; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27203/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The Deputy may be aware that since 1997-8 school year all primary schools receive an annual allocation for minor capital works. The rate of payment is €3809.21 per school plus €12.70 per pupil. Funding of €8.7 million and €20 million was provided in respect of primary and post primary schools respectively in County Sligo from 1999 to date. Funding of €5.7 million and €2.5 million was provided in respect of primary and post primary schools, respectively, in County Leitrim from 1999 to date. Details of individual schools which benefited is being compiled and will be forwarded to the Deputy.

All applications for capital works are currently being reviewed and being assigned a band rating in accordance with recently revised criteria with a view to inclusion in a multi-annual programme. The information in relation to Counties Leitrim [1001]and Sligo will be included as part of this publication .

Following conclusion of the current estimates and budgetary process I intend to publish the 2005 building programme which will operate in a multi- annual framework.

  482.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the progress made on the application submitted for a school (details supplied) in County Sligo for grant aid for major capital improvement works; when it will be approved in view of the inadequate facilities that exist; the progress made on its application for temporary accommodation; the reason for the delays; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27205/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  An application for grant aid towards an extension and refurbishment has been received from the management authority of the school referred to by the Deputy.

My officials are nearing completion of a review of all projects which did not proceed to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme with a view to including them as part of a multi-annual programme from 2005. Each project will be assigned a band rating and the progress of all projects will be considered in the context of the multi-annual programme. The accommodation needs of the school referred to are being considered as part of this review.

Following conclusion of the current Estimates and budgetary process I intend to publish the 2005 building programme which will operate in a multi- annual framework.

  483.  Mr. Perry    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if the higher education grant aid will be approved for a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27304/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The decision on eligibility for third level grants is a matter for the relevant local authority or VEC. These bodies do not refer individual applications to my Department except, in exceptional cases, where, for example, advice or instruction regarding a particular clause in the relevant scheme is desired. No such advice or instruction has, to date, been sought in the case of the student, referred to by the Deputy.

My Department understands from Sligo County Council, the body responsible for assessing the application in this instance, that further information has been requested from the student and that a decision on the application cannot be finalised until the requested infor[1002]mation is submitted and processed. If an individual applicant considers that s/he has been unjustly refused a maintenance grant, or that the rate of grant awarded is not the correct one, she or he may appeal to the relevant local authority or VEC.

Where an individual applicant has had an appeal turned down, in writing, by the relevant local authority or VEC, and remains of the view that the body has not interpreted the schemes correctly in his or her case, a letter outlining the position may be sent to my Department. Alternatively, as already indicated, the local authority or VEC may, itself, in exceptional circumstances, seek clarification on issued from my Department. However, it is not open to me, or my Department, to depart from the terms of the maintenance grants schemes in individual cases.

  484.  Mr. Costello    asked the Minister for Education and Science    the number of former residential institutions for children which have been designated under the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002; the number under Catholic management; the number under Protestant management; the number under State management; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27305/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  For an institution to be placed on the Schedule to the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002, the facility must have been subject to inspection or regulation by a public body. 128 institutions are listed on the original schedule to the Act. An order will be signed shortly providing for an further 13 institutions to be added to the Schedule.

The religious ethos of an institution was not a deciding factor in placing a facility on the schedule and, in the circumstances, my Department did not require full details of the religious ethos of all the facilities listed. However records within my Department would indicate that approximately 99 of the 141 institutions were under Catholic management with the remaining 42 being run either by the State or non-Catholic bodies.

  485.  Ms O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Education and Science    if it is proposed to reduce the number of courses provided at an institute (details supplied) in County Mayo; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27306/04]

Minister for Education and Science (Ms Hanafin):  The institutes of technology are statutory bodies established under the Regional Technical Colleges Acts 1992-1999 and the Dublin Institute of Technology Acts 1992 and 1994. Under the terms of these Acts, the governance [1003]and day-to-day activities of the Institutes, including the number of approved courses that Institutes wish to deliver in particular locations, are matters for which the governing bodies and the management staff of the institutes are responsible.

While proposals for new courses and proposed alterations to previously approved courses are subject to my approval in the context of the annual programmes and budgets process, decisions to discontinue delivery of previously approved courses are operational matters for the Institutes in the context of their regular internal reviews of course provision.

If an Institute decided to significantly reduce course provision in a particular campus it would normally inform my Department of the decision in advance of any such reduction. My Department is not aware of any proposal by Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology to reduce the number of courses provided in the institute’s Castlebar campus.

  486.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for Defence    if there is a dedicated auditing unit in his Department assessing and monitoring the day to day spend of his Department with particular reference to major projects; if so, the number of staff involved; if the staff have accountancy qualifications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26851/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  My Department has a dedicated internal audit unit which carries out a range of audits each year in order to provide assurance on the adequacy of controls in operation in the various areas of activity of the Department. The internal audit unit works to an annual plan which is approved by the secretary general and which comprises a range of audits of military stores and systems audits of expenditure programmes, including, from time to time, audits of major capital projects. The audit unit currently has a staff of 15, all of whom have received appropriate training to carry out their work. None of the staff is a qualified accountant.

  487.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of swimming clubs using the Curragh swimming pool; if he has satisfied himself that the pool is being used to its capacity; if not, his plans to exploit the use of the pool and the hours it is opened; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27166/04]

  488.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of schools using the Curragh swimming pool; if he has satisfied himself that the pool [1004]is being used to its maximum capacity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27167/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 487 and 488 together.

To date, a total of 14 schools have been granted permission to use the Curragh swimming pool. At present, the pool is open each weekday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is intended to further expand the use of the facility as soon as possible and arrangements will then be made to permit local swimming clubs and other groups to use the pool.

  489.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Defence    the position regarding the handing over of Orchard Park, The Curragh, to Kildare County Council; the position in regard to the urgent repairs needed to paths and roads within the estate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27168/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  In line with normal practice, Kildare County Council has been requested to take in charge the roads and services at Orchard Park. In the interim, the Department will continue to be responsible for the maintenance of the roads and footpaths and in that regard a contractor will shortly be engaged to carry out the necessary repairs.

  490.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Defence    the proposals to upgrade the residential quarters on the Curragh Camp for full-time members of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27169/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  The refurbishment of living quarters is an integral part of my Department’s building plans. Major contracts to improve the standard of accommodation in the Curragh were placed in recent years as part of the barracks reinvestment plan for the Defence Forces. These included contracts to the value of €5 million approximately in Connolly Barracks, students, and Clarke Barracks, other ranks. In addition, minor accommodation upgrade contracts to a total value of approximately €600,000 were carried out within the Curragh Camp, together with a €1.2 million refurbishment of accommodation at nearby Coolmoney Camp. The capital works programme for 2005 includes a €1.5 million project to provide modern living in/courses and transit accommodation in Connolly Barracks. I am committed to the ongoing development of accommodation facilities in the Curragh and throughout the Defence Forces generally and improvements will continue to be carried out in the light of competing demands and availability of financial resources.

My Department’s policy on married quarters has been set out on many occasions previously and this policy of discontinuing them in a managed and orderly manner, save in exceptional circumstances, will continue in the future.

  491.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Defence    the amount of pension money withheld by his Department and due to overholders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27170/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  The total amount of pension withheld by my Department under the Defence Forces pensions schemes from persons in unauthorised occupation of married quarters is approximately €330,000, net of income tax, PRSI, overholding and electricity charges.

  492.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Defence    if, further to previous parliamentary questions in regard to overholders, progress has been made in relation to having the matter resolved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27171/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  Personnel on being discharged from the Permanent Defence Force are obliged to vacate married quarters within a short period of the dates of their discharge. The provision of housing is primarily a matter for the local authorities and married military personnel have an equal claim on such housing as other members of the community in the same income category.

The individuals overholding 54 married quarters were written to in August, 2002, and requested to vacate the properties. To date seven of the quarters have been vacated and three others have been purchased by the occupants. A further eight of the properties have been offered for sale and a number of those sales are likely to be finalised in the near future.

My Department is continuing to examine all options, including affordable housing and voluntary and co-operative housing schemes, in relation to the re-housing of those overholders who would in the normal way be eligible for local authority housing. The Department will remain in contact with the overholders pending resolution of the issue.

  493.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of craft personnel trained by FÁS specifically for the Defence Forces over each of the past three years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27172/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  The number of Defence Force personnel who underwent training with FÁS over the past three years is as follows:

Year Army Naval Service Air Corps
2002 95 Figures not readily available Nil
2003 140 57 Nil
2004 139 39 Nil

[1006]

  494.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of craft personnel within the Defence Forces; the number of apprentices accepted into the Defence Forces over each of the past three years; the way in which this compares with the years during which the Army apprenticeship school was in existence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27173/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  The number of enlisted personnel in receipt of additional pay in respect of filling a technical appointment within the Defence Forces as at 1 November 2004 is 4,629. In total, 73 Air Corps apprentices have been enlisted in the Permanent Defence Force over the last three years. At present, a competition is underway from which it is intended to enlist a further 15 Air Corps apprentices.

Prior to the closure of the Army Apprentice School on 30 September 1998 the number of apprentices who qualified in the Defence Forces in each of the previous four years were as follows:

Trade Category 1995 1996 1997 1998
Electricians 9 8 5
Fitter Turners 9 4 5 6
Motor Mechanics 4 6 9
Radio Technicians 3 3 6 3
Carpenters 8 8 8
Electricians Servicers Technicians 3 2
Total 33 32 33 11

With the closure of the Army Apprentice School, Army trainee technicians attend at FÁS courses and-or courses provided by the various regional technical colleges-institutes of technology, as had been the situation with Naval Service apprentices.

The number of Defence Force personnel who underwent training with FÁS over the past three years is as follows:

Year Army Naval Service Air Corps
2002 95 Figures not readily available Nil
2003 140 57 Nil
2004 139 39 Nil

I am satisfied with the level of apprentice and trainee technicians training over the last number of years.

  495.  Mr. Wall    asked the Minister for Defence    the present strength of the Defence Forces; the number of new recruits for each of the past two years; the number of men and the number of women recruited; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27174/04]

Minister for Defence (Mr. O’Dea):  The White Paper on Defence of February 2000 sets out a figure of 10,500 personnel for the Permanent Defence Force, comprising 930 for the Air Corps, 1,144 for the Naval Service and 8,426 for the Army.

On 30 September 2004, the most recent date for which figures are available, the actual total strength of the Permanent Defence Force was 10,419. The number of general service recruits enlisted in each of the past two years is as follows:

Year Males Females Total
2003 393 43 436
2004 254 24 278

It is my intention to maintain the established Government policy of ongoing recruitment to the Defence Forces to fill vacancies as required.

  496.  Mr. Neville    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    when approval will issue of the chosen firm’s fee proposal for recruitment of a consultant engineer to prepare the detailed design and contract documents for the Patrickswell-Adare sewerage scheme; and when the scheme is scheduled to commence construction. [26836/04]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. Roche):  The Adare and Patrickswell sewerage scheme is being advanced as a grouped project and is included in my Department’s water services investment programme 2004-06 to commence construction in 2005. My Department has approved Limerick County Council’s brief for the appointment of consultants to prepare detailed design and contract documents for both elements of the scheme. The council’s fee proposal for the selected consultants is under examination in the Department and will be dealt with as quickly as possible.

  497.  Mr. McGuinness    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if there is a dedicated auditing unit in his Department assessing and monitoring the day-to-day spend of his Department with particular reference to major projects; if so, the number of staff involved; if the staff have accountancy qualifications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26852/04]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. Roche):  My Department has an internal audit unit which, is responsible for giving assurance to the accounting officer on the existence, adequacy and effectiveness of the Department’s internal control and risk management systems. In discharging this responsibility [1008]the Unit carries out a programme of systems-based audits in all areas of the Department. In compliance with EU regulations this unit also audits the manner in which the Department manages EU co-funded operations including major projects.

Most of my Department’s spending on major projects is channelled through implementing local authorities. Expenditure at this level is subject to audit both by the local authorities’ own internal audit functions and by the external local government auditors based in the local government audit service. The internal audit unit in my Department currently has three serving officers and it is intended to increase this number shortly. Two of these staff have professional accounting and auditing qualifications relevant to the work of the unit.

In addition one staff member in the water services investment programme unit is exclusively engaged in verification and systems audits of water services capital projects which have attracted EU co-financing. The person concerned is appropriately qualified.

  498.  Mr. Broughan    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the number of possible affordable and Part V housing units which have been replaced by cash levies by developers to local authorities over the past two years. [26868/04]

  506.  Ms Lynch    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the number of settlements, on an individual county council and city borough basis, which have been made with developers under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 in the period from the 1 January 2003 to 31 December 2003, in respect of the transfer of completed dwellings, the transfer of fully or partially serviced sites on site, the transfer of dwelling, sites or lands at another location and the payment of a monetary contribution; the number of housing units forfeited in lieu in cases in which monetary compensation was paid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27108/04]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. N. Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 498 and 506 together.

Information on the number of housing units acquired under Part V for each local authority area is published in my Department’s Annual Housing Statistics Bulletin 2003, a copy of which is available in the Oireachtas Library. Information supplied by local authorities in respect of 2003 indicates that 50 fully or partially developed sites were acquired by two local authorities: 48 by Carlow Town Council and two by Cork County [1009]Council. There were also two land transfers of 0.43 hectares to Fingal County Council and 0.81 hectares to Roscommon County Council. The data collected by my Department do not distinguish between on site and off site locations. Additionally, seven local authorities received payments in lieu totalling €829,565.

The transfer of land on site is the default legislative requirement necessary to comply with a Part V condition. However, there are a number of other compliance options available, including the transfer of housing units or a monetary contribution, in lieu of the transfer of land. Any alternative option chosen is subject to agreement between both the planning authority and the developer. Planning authorities have been advised by my Department to give priority in negotiations for the provision of housing units.

All moneys received under a Part V agreement by a planning authority mus